H-M-S Elementary releases balloons

Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn Elementary students look to the sky as a round of balloons is released to honor staff members who have fought cancer. The balloon launch took place behind the Elementary following the “Put the Slime on Cancer” assembly.

The New Year is almost here, so I thought I’d use my final Take 5 of 2019 to look back on the stories I had the most fun covering this year.

6. 'Abe Lincoln lookalike at Sheldon library'

It’s been four months since actor Kevin J. Wood visited the Sheldon Public Library dressed up as the 16th president of the United States, but I still haven’t gotten over how well he portrayed Abraham Lincoln.

Wood didn’t just bear an uncanny resemblance to Lincoln — he pulled off a masterful work of acting as he spoke to the crowd completely in character as the Civil War-era president.

I was equal parts spellbound by Wood’s acting as I was by the historical account he told of Abraham’s life.

I had studied the history of the Civil War and Abraham’s presidency, but to hear it told the way Wood did was much more entertaining than a typical classroom history lesson.

5. 'Sibley man cuts down unlikely palm tree'

A story about a person cutting down a tree in their lawn in N’West Iowa normally wouldn’t be newsworthy — unless it’s a 20-foot-tall palm tree.

Hence my story of Sibley resident Dennis Poppen bringing down his palm tree after 20 years of tending to it.

I remember calling Poppen early the morning of the tree cutting and asking him when he planned on removing the palm tree from his yard. It was early October, so he had been busy with his harvest but nonetheless decided to do it that day.

Once I arrived, I saw his parents and neighbors were also there to help with the process of taking out the tree.

Since the tree had been a fun conversation piece for him and his neighbors the last two decades, there was a sense of bittersweet, almost solemn, excitement in the air as he set chainsaw to the base of the tree.

After the tree came down and Poppen sawed the trunk into smaller, more manageable parts, everyone — including myself — pitched in to pick up the pieces and throw them in the back of Poppen’s pickup.

4. 'Little Rock teachers visit D.C. museum'

I’ve written about this story in a previous Take 5, but I had such a good time working on this story, I had to include it on this list.

This story continues to stand out in my mind as an example of a teacher who goes above and beyond to make difficult, yet important topics accessible and fun to learn about.

3. 'Hull Christian principal camps in tree'

I didn’t intend to include two tree-related stories on this list, but my piece about Hull Christian principal Randy Ten Pas’ tree campout challenge deserves its place in my story lineup.

Seeing a school principal play catch with students while perched up in a tree wasn’t just entertaining, it was an encouraging example of a school administrator playing an active role in his students’ lives.

I also had been fascinated to learn this wasn’t a one-time occurrence for Ten Pas; he has been carrying out wild fundraising challenges for the past 10 years.

2. 'H-M-S school fights cancer with slime'

One recurring lesson I’ve learned from covering schools in N’West Iowa is that if principals agree to do something bizarre to raise money, their students will deliver big.

That was the case in my No. 3 pick and with this story about Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn Elementary School principal Cathy Jochims getting covered in slime after the school raised more than $1,600 for cancer research.

While watching her get slimed by students and staff members was fun, the releasing of balloons outside afterward was also neat to see. The occasion served as a tribute to current and former Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn Elementary staff who are fighting or have lost the battle with cancer.

The event was a reminder to me of how far we’ve come in the fight against cancer and how far we have yet to go.

1. 'Dogs enjoy swim at Orange City pool'

There’s no way my story about an evening at a pool filled with dogs wasn’t going to take the top spot.

The dog swim at the Orange City Municipal Aquatic Facility lasted an hour, but the time seemed to fly by while I took photos of the dogs playing in the water and speaking with their owners.

I particularly enjoyed the fact the dog swim attracted owners with canines of all sizes and attitudes: Some dogs were timid and could fit in the palm of my hand, while others stood half my height and couldn’t sit still for more than a few seconds.

There were also many dog breeds I had never heard of represented at the pool — such as blue heelers, American Akitas and Weimaraners — so I appreciated the learning experience.

I may have gone home that night smelling like wet dog, but it was entirely worth it to me.