It was a year of great change in the region in 2020, with a pandemic changing the way of life in the Lima region, the leadership of area governments on the brink of generational turnover and a push for greater equality among minorities.
These are the stories that most affected the area this year, as voted upon by the reporters and editors of The Lima News.
1. Coronavirus pandemic
The arrival of COVID-19 in the region in March changed the way we live our lives, from the preponderance of mask-wearing to a shutdown of non-essential businesses with a “stay-at-home” issue ordered March 22 that continued through Memorial Day weekend. Social distancing became part of the vernacular as people stayed 6 feet apart to avoid spreading the virus during the pandemic.
Allen, Auglaize, Hardin, Putnam and Van Wert counties saw more than their share of cases, becoming an epicenter of the pandemic over the summer. There were 17,678 cases reported in those counties through Thursday, with 292 people in those five counties dying with the coronavirus listed as a factor, according to Ohio Department of Health statistics. That amounts to 1.7 percent of people with the virus dying in the region.
There were economic costs too. Allen County’s unemployment peaked at 20.5 percent in April, with 10,000 people without work early in the pandemic. Double-digit unemployment remained through June but eventually fell back to a more palatable 5.3 percent in November.
The virus interrupted many of the regular events in the region, with many local fairs switching to junior fairs only, the high school and college basketball tournaments called off and entertainment venues shuttered in the name of “flattening the curve,” as former Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton called it early in the campaign. The curve never flattened, continuing to go up through the year. The numbers continued to increase as the year progressed. November marked highs of 2,369 new cases and 85 deaths in the region.
December brought hope, as newly approved vaccines began arriving late in the month, with hospital workers and nursing home residents and employees set to get the first shots in the coming weeks.
2. Berger retiring
Lima Mayor David Berger decided 32 years leading the city’s government would be enough. In September, Berger announced he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2021, ending a record streak of eight terms in office.
Berger said it was the right time to leave when his term ends Nov. 30, 2021, with major projects such as the Elm Street/Bellefontaine Avenue underpass and the Simmons Field water tank project near completion and the downtown Rhodes State campus under construction.
“I wanted to make sure that the projects we have underway got done,” Berger said. “We’re really finishing up major — in fact, historically large — projects this year. As those have been wrapping up, my wife and I have been talking about what’s next.”
So far, two candidates, chiropractor Joshua Hayes and current Lima Chief of Staff Sharetta Smith, announced their intention to run to replace Berger. The primary is in May, with the two top vote-getters facing off in November 2021.
3. Children Services shakeup
A pair of foster parents arrested on felony charges involving sexual abuse of minors led to three of the top people at Allen County Children Services losing their jobs.
Executive Director Cynthia Scanland and Program Administrators Brent Bunke and Staci Nichols were relieved of their duties in August. Scanland faces four felony charges of tampering with records and obstructing official business, with no trial date set yet.
Foster parents Jeremy Kindle and Scott Steffes were indicted in July on a combined 127 felony charges, including counts of rape, sexual contact with a minor and sexual battery. The couple were foster parents and adopted three boys, age 3 through 8, through Children Services. Kindle and Stefes already had legal custody of three boys between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time. Kindle’s trial is set for Feb. 23, and Steffes’ trial is planned for Jan. 19.
4. National election
The region showed its continued support for Republican candidates with a spirited election season, including motorcycle rallies and car parades supporting President Donald Trump. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the candidates didn’t come to the region this year, although Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., visited Lima in September.
The area had even more support for Trump than it did four years ago, with 68.9% of voters in Allen County pushing for a second Trump term, compared to 66.4% four years ago. Nationally, Joe Biden won both the electoral college vote and the popular vote and will likely be inaugurated in January.
The region also supported its Republican congressmen, keeping Jim Jordan and Bob Latta in their respective seats.
5. Black Lives Matter
The country re-evaluated racial relations in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of high-profile deaths of Blacks by police, and the region was no exception.
A pair of peaceful protests were held in Lima in May.
“This is a peaceful protest,” organizer Curtis Shannon said. “We’re doing this for every black person killed unjustly. We’re out here standing for George Floyd, Tatiana Brown. We will march to the Lima police station for Tarika Wilson who was killed in her home with her 1-month-old son in her hands. This is unacceptable that we have to do this, that we have to stand here and keep antagonizing you for our basic civil rights.”
A similar protest was held in Wapakoneta in September.
6. Cupp and Huffman
Lima’s representatives at the Ohio Statehouse find themselves leading their respective chambers in 2021.
In July, Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, took over as Speaker of the House after his chamber stripped Rep. Larry Householder of the role following a scandal involving a nuclear bailout bill. In November, his fellow Republicans endorsed him to keep the role when the House gets back in session in 2021.
State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, was selected as president of the Senate in early November.
No one from Lima has ever held either leadership position before Cupp’s election, and now Allen County’s representatives hold both positions of power.
7. Levels triple homicide
Three Lima men died at Levels Lounge, 122 E. North St., in downtown Lima on Feb. 4 after they were struck by gunfire. Terell McGraw, 28, and Devontae Upshaw, 24, both died inside the bar, while Timothy White, 25, was found on a sidewalk outside the bar, all dead from gunshot wounds.
Deontray Forrest, 24, of Lima, was named as a suspect in the case quickly but eluded authorities for nearly two months before U.S. Marshals arrested him March 31 in Cleveland. His jury trial is planned to begin April 12.
The owners of the bar agreed to put the property up for sale in mid-February, closing the business after a judge’s order.
8. Allen commisioners change
Two of the three Allen County commissioners are different than they were a year ago.
Beth Seibert won a five-way primary for one seat, was appointed to fill a vacancy and then won the seat in the November election. She replaced former commissioner Jay Begg, who died in October from injuries suffered in an accident at his home 11 months earlier. He had served eight years, formally resigning in March 2020.
9. Birch Solar
Lightsource bp announced plans to build the Birch Solar Project, a 375-megawatt direct-current solar farm located on 2,600 acres of farmland in Allen and Auglaize counties.
Some residents were less than welcoming, with dozens showing up to public sessions with signs, some yelling “you’re lying” when the project’s CEO spoke. As of Thursday, there were 81 public comments filed to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission.
The Ohio Power Siting Board is scheduled to consider the application for an electricity generating station this year.
10. Business closures
Difficult economic conditions in 2020 led to the closures of several well-known businesses.
In December, Macy’s confirmed it would close its store at the Lima Mall in March 2021.