Today and Friday, the Press-Herald will be recapping the top 15 stories occuring in Webster Parish in 2015.
15. Minden Welcomes New Businesses
Minden welcomed many new businesses during the year. One of most anticipated openings was Roma Italian Bistro in downtown Minden. Owners Florenc Leshnja and Festim Raka brought Italian cuisine to Minden by opening an Italian eatery in the newly restored Gardner Building.
Other new business in Minden included Grace Estate, Easley’s Courtyard, Rocketfast! Car Wash, JDog Junk Removal & Hauling and Logan McConathy – State Farm Insurance.
14. Small Chamber, Big Award
The Minden-South Webster Chamber of Commerce brought home a big award in 2015.
During the Louisiana Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives annual conference in August, the Chamber was named the 2015 Small Chamber of the Year.
13. School Board Goes Against Common Core
The Webster Parish School Board, in March, resubmitted a resolution to ask the State of Louisiana to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards, a controversial set of standards that was vague on the curriculum.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls said at the time CCSS was implemented, 43 states were using the standards, and in March, that number was down to nine. He says the problem is not with the standards themselves, rather the implementation of curriculum or lack thereof.
Following this last legislative session, state legislators and state educators put together a review committee to look at CCSS and see what works and what does not. At the end of the school year, recommendations are expected to be made on how to best raise the standards of education for Louisiana and implement a curriculum that will work for all parties involved.
12. Minden Police Get Body Cams
Thanks to the generosity of the Minden community, MBL Bank was able to donate $22,000 to both the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Minden Police Department to purchase body cameras for patrol officers and deputies.
In July, Police Chief Steve Cropper spent the $11,000 the department received and was able to purchase enough cameras to outfit every shift plus two for detectives when they must serve a warrant.
The idea behind providing such equipment came from Jack Byrd, MBL Bank president, who said following the officer-involved shootings from the previous year, this was something that was needed.
Both Cropper and Sheriff Gary Sexton say the need for the cameras are great and it is there to protect both the citizens and law enforcement.
Due to budget laws, Sexton has not yet purchased cameras but will do so by the spring of 2016. According to the law, Sexton could not make purchases above five percent within six months before and after an election cycle. He was re-elected without opposition in October.
11. Coroner’s Office Arrest
In August, the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested 43-year-old Glenda Lewis, deputy coroner for Webster Parish, on allegations of malfeasance in office and felony theft.
The coroner’s office has been rife with allegations of malfeasance after Glen Guin was convicted of similar charges in 2012.
Boxes and boxes of financial records were seized in August by the district attorney’s office when they received information that Lewis was possibly misusing funds and the office’s vehicle for personal use. Officials say Lewis was working for the coroner’s office and Hospice as well as other contractual agencies to do medical work and she was billing both parties for the same time. She was also billing for mileage for one entity and billing another entity for the same mileage.
10. Valedictorian and Salutatorian Titles No More
The graduating classes of 2015 were the first in Webster Parish to do so without a valedictorian and salutatorian.
Minden High School Principal Robin Tucker says the policy to drop them went into effect four years ago, making this year’s class the first to graduate without the coveted titles.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls said the idea was to do away with favoritism and allow more students a chance for scholarships to college. It also helps alleviate any potential contamination of grades.
Students went to a cum laude system, which is based on grade point averages.
9. Two Crowned Miss Minden
Two ladies were crowned Miss Minden in 2015.
In February, Baylee Howell was crowned as Miss Minden 2015. Howell also won the Hannah McFarland Evening Gown Competition.
Also during the pageant, Madison Lemoine was named first runner-up, Sharity Brent was named second runner-up and winner of the talent contest, Morgan Phillips won the swimsuit contest and Hannah Parker was named Miss Congeniality.
The Young Women’s Service Club decided to move the pageant back a few months to allow Miss Minden more time to prepare for the Miss Louisiana pageant.
In December, Macey Colvin was crowned as Miss Minden 2016. She competed in 2014, coming in as first runner-up.
During the December pageant, Sharity Brent was named first runner-up and winner of the Hannah McFarland Evening Gown Competition and Abby Baker took second runner-up, Miss Congeniality and the winner of the talent award.
8. Charlie Walker Passes
Longtime Webster Parish Police Jury President Charles Walker passed away in March and many remember him as a problem solver, leader, father and friend. He served as the police jury’s president for 12 of his 21 years on the jury.
Following his passing, his wife of 65 years, Dorothy, was sworn in to hold his seat until a special election could be called. He is survived by his wife, two sons, Roger and Russell Walker, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was 83.
Dustin Moseley was elected in November to serve district 12.
7. Dorcheat Water Resistance
Resistance to using water from Bayou Dorcheat through a long-dormant water treatment facility near Camp Minden began gaining speed over the summer as backlash from a feasibility study surfaced at a Webster Parish Police Jury meeting in May.
It started with a concerned citizen who opposed pulling water from Bayou Dorcheat and steamrolled with opposition from municipalities throughout Webster Parish going all the way to the state level.
Sen. Robert Adley wrote a letter to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries stating his opposition due to concerns over the Sparta Aquifer as Webster Parish is a recharge area for the area’s groundwater and drinking sources.
The purpose of the study is to see if the Camp Minden system is feasible and to see what impact it would have on Bayou Dorcheat. The plant was built in the early 80s and approved for up to four million gallons per day.
Lanny Buck, of KSA Engineers, says the study is to see if the water is available. The first thing is to get the permit and then see what it will cost to get the plant back up and running.
To date, no word of permit approval has come forth.
6. St. Jude Sets New Record
The annual Minden St. Jude Auction continued to make history in 2015.
The four-day event ended with auction officials writing a check for $1,319,630 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. This year’s bottom line beat out last year’s total of $1,198,260 by $121,370.
Most of the credit for 2015’s increase is a new website and more raffle sales via the Internet. Raffle tickets were purchased in nearly every state, as well as some as far away as Italy. Christie Ruple, auction co-chairperson said Internet sales exceeded $360,000 in 2015.
Grand prize tickets sold out well before the auction ended. Three thousand of the $100 tickets are sold each year.
The two vintage Canned Ham campers that took the place of the playhouse brought in more than $88,800.
Read the top five stories of 2015 in Friday’s edition.