REGIONAL—Just as it was for the rest of the world, the year of 2020 was an unprecedented time for residents of southern O’Brien County.
The coronavirus pandemic upturned everyday life for inhabitants of Calumet, Paullina, Primghar and Sutherland; however, it did not prevent people in the communities from achieving accomplishments, starting new ventures or finding ways to support one another.
What follows are summaries of the top 10 stories published in The South O’Brien Sun in 2020, listed in order of their publication dates.
Feb. 1: MercyOne Primghar offers telehealth
PRIMGHAR—A new mental health treatment option is available for residents of southern O’Brien County.
Well before the pandemic made virtual communication the norm, MercyOne Primghar Medical Center added a mental-health care option that allows patients to speak with someone who lives more than 1,000 miles away.
The Primghar hospital rolled out a telehealth program that lets patients schedule video appointments with board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Beverley Allen to discuss mental-health treatment options.
Allen lives in rural Washington state near Spokane and works for a Chicago-based company called ReGroup, which specializes in telepsychiatry.
The hospital was able to start the program from a $277,660 grant it received from the Health Resource Service Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
March 21: Pandemic closes schools, courthouse
REGIONAL—Even though the South O’Brien School District has closed its doors for the time being, students’ classes are still in session.
The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Iowa shut down classes for the South O’Brien School District and Zion-St. John Lutheran School in Paullina in late March.
The closures were at first meant to be temporary but later were extended through the end of the 2019-20 academic year.
Distance learning options were soon adopted to allow students to stay engaged with their education while at home. Those options included online instruction or packets of homework families could pick up from the schools.
When schools did eventually reopen in August for the 2020-21 academic year, they did so with public-health measures — such as mask wearing, social distancing and increased personal hygiene — in place.
Likewise, the O’Brien County Courthouse in Primghar was closed to the public March 17-June 10, although county offices still were staffed during that time. County residents set up remote meetings with the offices via phone or e-mail.
When the courthouse initially reopened to the public, visitors were screened for COVID-19 symptoms and had to wear face masks inside the building.
April 18: 5th Gen Ag opens in Primghar
PRIMGHAR—Brett Peelen has been waiting years to be the boss of his own business.
Brett Peelen achieved his goal of being the boss of his own business in 2020.
The rural Sanborn man and his wife, Sheila, opened 5th Gen Ag in Primghar in March.
The business, located at 320 S. Hayes Ave., sells Ag Leader and Precision Planting precision agriculture products — its primary two lines — and several smaller lines to farmers. It covers 16 counties in northwest Iowa with sales and service.
Brett’s ultimate aim with his business is to make it the go-to place for people in need of precision agriculture products in the region.
June 6: Devereaux nominated for sheriff
REGIONAL—There’s a new sheriff in town for O’Brien County — unofficially, that is.
O’Brien County voters cast primary ballots in June for who they wanted to be the Republican candidate for sheriff: Chief deputy Bruce Devereaux of Paullina or Brenda Collier of Primghar.
Devereaux — who has worked for the sheriff’s office for three decades, including as chief deputy for nearly the past four years — took about 90 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in the November general election.
Incumbent sheriff Alan Schuknecht, a Republican from Primghar, chose not to run for re-election in 2020.
He was first appointed to the post in September 2016 by the county board of supervisors following the resignation of former sheriff Michael Anderson. Schuknecht later was elected sheriff in the 2016 general election.
June 20: Funeral homes recognized for excellence
REGIONAL—A longtime N’West Iowa funeral home business has been honored for providing people with excellent services.
Eldridge Family & Vander Ploeg Funeral Homes was one of 13 funeral homes in Iowa that received the 2020 Iowa Award of Funeral Service Excellence from the Iowa Funeral Directors Association.
The business — which has locations in Boyden, Paullina, Primghar and Sheldon — applied for the award for the first time last year.
To qualify for the honor, a funeral home must excel in four of five areas — presentation of public information, active membership in the state funeral directors association, sponsorship of community events or services, professional development and personal development — which Eldridge Family & Vander Ploeg Funeral Homes has done throughout its many years of operation.
The business regularly sends out thank you and holiday cards to families it serves, holds an annual Christmas program and promotes bereavement programs.
July 4: South O’Brien graduate’s artwork praised
Anna Friedrichsen of Sutherland became an award-winning artist in 2020 when two of her drawings were recognized in the annual NW Iowa Visual Arts Show.
Friedrichsen, who graduated from South O’Brien High School in Paullina last year, finished in first place in the colored pencil drawing category and third place in the charcoal drawing category. Her charcoal drawing also placed third in the overall drawing category.
Her colored pencil drawing is called “Cool Soda” and features actress Madelaine Petsch — well-known for her role on the “Riverdale” TV show on The CW — drinking pop from a bottle through a straw. Her charcoal drawing is called “Time Marches On” and features an up-close view of a pocket watch.
Arts show winners were selected in late May, and Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon hosted the show virtually on its website.
Aug. 1: Sutherland church gains new pastor
SUTHERLAND—The Rev. Brett Witmer has always felt comfortable talking to others about his faith and eventually felt called to leave his career …
The Rev. Brett Witmer graduated from seminary this year and later was installed as pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Sutherland.
His entry into ministry came after the Pennsylvania native spent about eight years working for an engineering firm in the Keystone State.
He always has been one to talk openly about his faith with others, and when he visited Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN, he was convinced his pursuit of a future in ministry was the right choice.
As with other N’West Iowa churches, Bethel Lutheran Church has navigated challenges with the pandemic but still has found ways to worship remotely and in person.
Aug. 15: Riley takes reins at South O’Brien
PAULLINA—When Wade Riley accepted the position of superintendent of the South O’Brien School District in February, he had no way of knowing he…
The South O’Brien School District’s new superintendent, Wade Riley, hit the ground running when he took over the position July 1.
The district, like others in N’West Iowa, spent the summer carefully planning how best to reopen schools for the 2020-21 academic year.
Despite the challenges that come with the job, Riley was excited to move to Primghar this year with his family and be welcomed into the Wolverines’ community.
Nov. 7: South O’Brien’s agricultural excellence
PAULLINA—South O’Brien High School students involved in the county’s 4-H chapter have been noteworthy in a year unlike any other for the organ…
Fall 2020 was a time of success — albeit virtual — for members of South O’Brien FFA and the county’s 4-H chapter.
The meats judging teams for each organization, which consisted of South O’Brien High School students, earned top marks in competitions held virtually at the state level in the fall.
Members of the 4-H meats judging squad also were able to compete in person at the national level at the National 4-H Meat Evaluation & Identification Contest at Kansas State University in Manhattan, where they took fourth place. Several members also earned high individual rankings.
The FFA soils team was named district champion after competing in October at Buena Vista University near Storm Lake in a series of challenges.
Kaeley Einck, a senior at South O’Brien High School and FFA member, also received a gold rating in the plant science category at the virtual Iowa FFA Agriscience Fair.
The high school’s agriculture education teacher and FFA adviser, Eric Kumm, also was recognized for his commitment to excellence by receiving the Iowa Association of Agricultural Educators’ 2020 Outstanding Teacher Award.
Nov. 21: A home gets a new home
PAULLINA—A white farmhouse located on the southern O’Brien County line has long belonged to the Freed family of rural Paullina, but it recentl…
The longtime rural Paullina home of Lance and Jill Freed changed ownership — and geographic location — in 2020 after Matthew and Jessica Todd of Cleghorn purchased the white farmhouse.
The Todds spent years fruitlessly searching for a farmhouse to call home in Cherokee County until they learned of the Freeds’ house that was for sale.
A plan soon took shape to physically move the building from its spot on the southern O’Brien County border to about four miles west of Quimby.
The house made the journey in late October, although the Todds still have work to do before the house is ready for them to move into it.
Lance had grown up in the house as a child and later lived there for several years with Jill and their own children.
“It’s going to a nice family. They’re going to take good care of it. They’ll be able to use it for several generations because it’s been a well-built house,” Lance said.
This story was first published in the Jan. 2, 2021, print edition of The South O'Brien Sun.