A look back at 2019

The Community News reviews the year that was for St. Louis County

Looking back, 2019 was an eventful year here in St. Louis County. As we flip the calendar to 2020, we at the Community News thought it would be a good time to look back at what transpired over the past 12 months. We have collected the highlights and remember all of the difference-makers in our community in 2019.

January

A valuable resource

“If you ever lose your compassion for what you’re doing and the people you’re helping, you’re no longer doing yourself a service or the people that you serve. It’s time to look for another job.”

Those were the words that Hazelwood Officer Timothy Benning recalled from one of his mentors when he started out as a young officer for Jennings. As of Jan. 16, the St. Louis native had served as a police officer for 36 years. Benning began his service in law enforcement in 1982 and has spent the last 30 years serving Hazelwood.

Benning, who was awarded a Police Officer of the Year Award by the Florissant Rotary Club in December 2018, shared what it means for him to serve the community, particularly as a school resource officer for Hazelwood West Middle School.

February

Upgrading the grid

On Feb. 15, Ameren Missouri announced its Smart Energy Plan that will transform Missouri’s energy grid and change how customers receive and use energy. Over the period of five years the plan will include more than 5.3 billion in capital investments in 2,000 projects across the state, including approximately $1 billion in electric investments in 2019. 

One of those projects includes the implementation of a $28 million Pershall Substation located at 8680 Pershall Road in Hazelwood.

Kevin Anders, Vice President of Operation and Technical Services shared, “The customers that will be affected by this particular project is (approximately) 12,000 businesses and residences in North County. The area is bounded by I-270 on the north side to West Florissant on the east side, I-170 on the west side, and I-70 on the south side. If you’re in that area your reliability will benefit. It is a substation that will replace four other substations in that area that were built in the 1950s and 60s. The energy that this substation receives will come directly from the transmission system; none of the four subs that we’ll replace does that. That alone will improve reliability.”

March

Breakfast in the classroom

A school district continues to make strides on one of its foundational pillars – collaboration. On March 5, Normandy Schools Collaborative introduced its fourth Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) program at Barack Obama Elementary School. The six-month roll-out of the program was previously launched at Normandy’s other elementary schools – Lucas Crossing Elementary Complex, Jefferson Elementary School and Washington Elementary School.

Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom worked together to make the initiative possible, including provision of a $107,000 grant to ensure free breakfast for Normandy’s students. 

Brian Wieher, Director of Child and Family Nutrition for Operation Food Search shared that the change in how breakfast is provided enables more students to partake in the first meal of the day.

“While breakfast is offered free at Normandy, not all students were partaking in breakfast,” stated Wieher. “When we do this, we see increased attendance, decrease in tardiness, decrease in poor behavioral issues.”

April 

Jump up and shout

The sidewalks along the 6100-6600 blocks of Delmar Boulevard tell a story of rich heritage for St. Louisans. These Delmar Loop sidewalks hold brass stars and informative plaques for St. Louis inductees in art, music, architecture, literature, journalism, civil rights, education, science, political activism, sports, acting, entertainment and broadcasting. 

On April 24, the St. Louis Walk of Fame inducted musical talents The Isley Brothers into the showcase.  Natives of Cincinnati, Ohio, the Isley Brothers moved to St. Louis in 1998 and sources state they have lived here more than 20 years. Their musical career has brought us popular songs such as “Shout,” “It’s Your Thing,” “Twist & Shout,” “Fight the Power,” “Contagious” and more. 

At the ceremony, Joe Edwards, Founder of the St. Louis Walk of Fame, unveiled the new star and read the plaque that will accompany it before introducing Ron and Ernie Isley. 

“This is an educational and lifetime achievement award that we want to get out around the country,” stated Edwards.

May

Improving park access

After just a little over a year since construction began, Great Rivers Greenway announced completion of the first phase of the seven-mile Maline Greenway in North St. Louis County. Residents and surrounding communities can now enjoy the 1.6 miles that has created a more efficient connection between both sides of Belle Fontaine County Park. 

The fully completed seven-mile Maline Greenway will be an east-west link that will connect the Mississippi and St. Vincent Greenways. This newest completion, which remained within budget as previously predicted at $2.6 million, makes it easier for people to connect to Metro Transit on Lewis and Clark Blvd.

“We’re encouraging people to get out, take a walk and enjoy the new greenway,” stated Anne Milford, Communications Coordinator for Great Rivers Greenway. “There was no crosswalk or light for people to get to the metro transit stop or to get to both sides of the park. Now we have an underpass that connects both sides of the park.”

June 

Viva Florissant!

For 17 years now, The Hispanic Festival, Inc. led by Haniny Hillberg, a native Bolivian and active member in the Hispanic community, has aimed to carry out that mission by hosting Fiesta in Florissant, one of its two annual Hispanic festivals. Fiesta in Florissant, a free event to the public, took place at the Knights of Columbus Park, June 22 and June 23 

Elisa Bender, one of HFI’s board members, shared what attendees could.

“Sit down in the shade under a tree or under the pavilion,” stated Bender, “and just enjoy the music and dancers. Enjoy the food all day long.”

July 

Remaking Union Station

Before the end of 2019, St. Louis welcomed two highly-anticipated main attractions to the St. Louis Union Station along with other amenities in a $187 million family entertainment complex. On July 11, Lodging Hospitality Management and ICON Attractions announced at a media-only event that the 200-foot-tall St. Louis Wheel would open for operation in October and the St. Louis Aquarium would open on Christmas Day.

“This is an exciting project,” stated Bob O’Loughlin, LHM Chairman and CEO. “As everybody knows in St. Louis, we’ve been involved with Union Station for 12 years now. We completely re-did all the guest rooms—150,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. When we got to the 120,000 square feet, we (asked) what has St. Louis always wanted that they don’t have? We’re the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have an aquarium. So, we decided we’re going to do an aquarium. We went all over the United States and literally all over the world to figure out what would go with (the aquarium). We (concluded) that not only a world class aquarium, but a 200 foot Ferris wheel would probably be fitting. St. Louis has a rich tradition with the Union Station which was the world’s largest train station at the turn of the century.”

August

Putting ‘super’ in superintendent 

Every year the National Association of School Superintendents (NASS), which represents and advocates for education leaders nationwide, bestows upon one individual from around the country the honor of National Superintendent of the Year. This year NASS’ semi-finalists included one superintendent from each of the following states: California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. However, the recipient of this year’s honor was Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, Superintendent of Hazelwood School District (HSD). She was officially honored at the NASS IgnitED Conference in Washington, D.C. 

“Dr. Collins-Hart is a champion for students and continuous improvement,” said Jon Roach, NASS Executive Director. “Her commitment to collaboration and mutual support in her district proved she is a leader with a demonstrated vision of building the next great generation of American students.”

Sonny Da Marto, NASS Assistant Executive Director adds, “If you look at what Dr. Collins-Hart has done within her district and community and what she is focused on, you’ll see why she is the type of school leader that our students really need.”

September 

School lunch reimagined 

Normandy High School (NHS) students not only returned to a new school year they returned to a new space that was created specifically with them in mind. The high school opened for students with two new food service lines – Viking Grill. 

Operation Food Search teamed up with Normandy Schools Collaborative to implement the changes at the high school that took the utilization rate for students partaking in lunch from between 45 percent and 50 percent to 86/90 percent in less than a month depending on school attendance on a given day.

A portion of OFS’ $180,000 grant from the Community Impact Network, was used to implement the changes. In addition, the OFS-NSC Food Service team collaboration helped the high school maximize the National School Lunch reimbursement model.  

“There are two lines in their cafeteria and up until this point (students) had been offered the same thing on both lines,” stated Brian Wieher, Director of Child & Family Nutrition for OFS. “Instead of making it seem like it was just the same old lunch line, we wanted to rename it something different. I wanted to make it restaurant flare. I wanted these kids to feel like this is the best restaurant in town. And you can’t have a restaurant without a name. So, we named it. We have menu boards inside there now. The cafeteria workers – when they serve – are wearing black chef coats and hats, and the ‘Viking Grill’ is embroidered on their coats so they feel a sense of empowerment when their serving this food.”

October

I-270 North to get facelift

Missouri Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced in October a Design-Build Project will focus on improving I-270 from I-70 to west of Riverview Interchange. Several municipalities will be affected by this project including: Ferguson, Florissant, Hazelwood, Dellwood, Bridgeton, Calverton Park, Bellefontaine Neighbors and Moline Acres.

These improvements include: reconstructing and rehabilitating deteriorated pavement along with bridges, increase traffic operations, enhancing safety, improving the interchanges and outer roads and improving the accessibility for transit, bicycles and pedestrians along and across the corridor. 

The concept of using design-build rather than having a plan and hiring a contractor to do the project was made because it allows for innovation.

Nina Thompson the Communications Coordinator for MDOT explained, “Design-Build invites the parties involved to propose new ways of tackling the improvements, allowing for innovation.” 

November

Thanksgiving on wheels

Thanks to collaboration between Healthy Schools Healthy Communities (HSHC) and its community partners with the nonprofit – St. Louis MetroMarket, the community had an opportunity to experience a difference in their spending this Thanksgiving. St. Louis MetroMarket’s market on wheels (converted metro bus) was on the grounds of the Emerson Family YMCA, located at3390 Pershall Rd in Ferguson on Nov. 26.

“We’re calling it Thanksgiving Feast,” stated Phedra Nelson, HSHC’s Community Wellness Director for the Gateway Region YMCA. “Everything that will be on the bus that day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. will be everything imaginable that you would cook for Thanksgiving dinner. This is when people buy cases of collard greens, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, yams, etc. They (will) have other traditional things on the bus as well as meat, corn meal, bread – everything will be centered around things you need for Thanksgiving dinner.” 

Nelson has collaborated with Reggie Jones, Mayor of Dellwood and Ella Jones, Ferguson Councilwoman in securing the traveling bus’s presence in North County annually between May and November.

December 

Fighting winter hunger

Operation Food Search (OFS) exercises its mission to fill the gap for child hunger by continuing awareness of what the nonprofit offers to the communities it serves. With school winter breaks quickly approaching, the organization aimed to remind the community that its programming structure which provides meals during the summer months when schools are closed, continues to do so during winter breaks. 

OFS’ afterschool meals program, now in its second year, picked up where the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) left off in August and provides continuous food service free of charge, through May 2020 to youth 18 years of age and younger.

“We recognize a child’s need to access nutritious food during breaks, and our mission is to address this gap that happens every time school is not in session,” stated Brian Wieher, OFS’ Director of Child & Family Nutrition.  “We partner with the library system throughout the year, so this continuation of a program that works well makes perfect sense.”

Participants received a meal consisting of a fruit, vegetable, protein, dairy and a whole grain.

“The traditional afterschool meal programs happen in schools. Schools close for winter break. (However), with (OFS) and our community partner site locations that are not in schools, we’re able to keep them open throughout the break and all the children (can) still get a meal. Even though winter break is happening and schools close, (these locations) are still offering a meal and an activity.”