MOUNT GILEAD — A double homicide that shocked Morrow County was the top news story of 2021.
Below is a list of other significant events over the past 12 months, as chosen by the editors.
1. Brian Lee was arrested in Columbus after a chase that followed the fatal shootings of two residents in Harmony Township on May 24.
Lee remains held in the Morrow County Correctional Facility without bond after the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office charged the 39-year-old Marengo resident with two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of Linda Vannatta and Brandon Petty.
Two other people were injured in shootings at separate locations on County Roads 26 and 232 that morning.
No trial date has been set.
2. Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Elkin on Feb. 2 ruled in favor of Emerald Bioenergy (Renergy) in the trial brought against it by the Westfield Township Zoning Inspector and represented by former Morrow County Prosecutor Charles S. Howland.
This was the culmination of several years of complaints about the company dumping solid waste in its facility in Westfield Township.
After a two-day bench trial Elkin wrote: “The Court finds that Emerald is a public utility and is not subject to the zoning regulations of the Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s complaint for injunctive relief to enjoin Defendant, Emerald, from the use of non-agricultural feedstocks is denied.”
Renergy CFO Mike Oberfield took the stand for nearly an hour as the bench trial centering around the company’s zoning status concluded.
Oberfield, questioned by Howland, said the company no longer receives biosolids at its biodigester. He cited “community concerns that were quite public” and uncertainty of EPA regulations.
An Oct. 28 decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling. An amicus brief has been filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.
3. Residents passed several levies in the Nov. 2 general election.
The county seniors and county roads issues were both renewed with a 66 percent approval. 4,501 voted for the senior levy and 2,312 voted against. The roads levy was almost identical with 4,507 voting for the levy and 2,312 voting against.
The hospital levy approval was closer with 3,526 voting for the levy and 3,282 voting against. Voter turnout was 28 percent.
4. The county lost an icon when business and community leader Walter C. “Jack” Fishburn died at age 87 on June 14.
With an entrepreneurial spirit, he created a number of successful entities throughout his life. The Fishburns were owners of many local businesses in Morrow County, including Fishburn Services, Producing and Farms; the former Marengo, Mt. Gilead and Mansfield Auto Parts Stores; Ole Farmstead Inn and the Cardinal Center Campground and Shooting Center, and Karen’s Kids Campus.
His obituary read: “Jack was a longtime area farmer and community steward who engaged in many endeavors for the betterment of the Marengo community and Morrow County.”
5. Mount Gilead saw a veteran police chief retire and a new one sworn in.
After nearly 30 years spent serving and protecting the village, Police Chief Brian Zerman hung up his badge in January. The village hired Adam Lakey as its new police chief six weeks later. Lakey began with the village police department in March 2010.
Other notable events of 2021, in no particular order, included:
• The last remnants of the former Hydraulic Press Manufacturing Company facility were demolished. Demolition of the historic HPM plant began in late December 2020.
The HPM plastics and die-casting equipment operation closed in 2010, bringing an end to a century-plus of machinery manufacturing in the village. Records indicate that it had roughly 1,000 employees at its peak around 1980.
• After five months of meetings, guest speakers, and digging into volumes of healthcare information and documents, The Morrow County Healthcare Initiative Citizens group in June unanimously approved recommendations for the Morrow County Hospital Board and the Morrow County Commissioners.
This followed months of contentious debate and a legal settlement agreement reached between the commissioners and hospital board.
• The dog park in Mount Gilead is officially completed. This park is located on North Cherry Street next to the Mount Gilead Board of Education Offices.
A dedication was held Dec. 4 to the late Dr. Harry Riggs. Dr. Riggs ran the veterinarian clinic across from the soccer fields for many years.
• A late summer thunderstorm brought wind and heavy rains to the village in late August. Damage included uprooting many large trees and flooding basements with up to five inches of water.
• A new chapter opened in February for the Morrow County Community Center with its new name “Gilead Fitness,” a new logo and 24/7 access to the gym.
• The local United Way’s annual Radiothon raised more than $23,000 in April to benefit more than a dozen member agencies.
• Lincoln Center Manufacturing received bond financing for up to $125,400 and a grant of up to $20,000 in support of the business as it implements new air quality technology as part of its move into a new factory in Fulton.
• Cleanup progress continues at Hidden Lakes Campground. Resident and Maintenance Supervisor Jason Hubble calls the improvements “really fantastic.” Fifty people from five churches came out on the June 13 work day.
• A Civil War monument is back home in time for the Memorial Day observance.
The soldier was placed back on the Civil War Monument on April 28 in Glendale Cemetery. It had been removed in October 2020 and restored. It is inscribed with the names of 303 Cardington village and Cardington Township residents who served in the Civil War. It was erected in 1897.
• The man who pled guilty to charges stemming from a 2019 crash that severely injured an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper was sentenced to eight years in prison in July.
Michael Marchak pled guilty in April to two counts of aggravated vehicular assault and one count each of receiving stolen property and driving under suspension. Marchak was under the influence of methamphetamine and driving the wrong way in a stolen van in June 2019 when he collided head-on with Trooper Jason Phillips.
• Work to beautify the Morrow County Fairgrounds continued this year.
The log cabin underwent a complete makeover and has undergone extensive repairs in time for Farm Days and the Morrow County Fair. Other improvements at the facility included razing two deteriorating structures and adding more flowers to the landscape.
• A trio of outstanding citizens— Rita Barton, Stan Sipe and Bradley Wood — was recognized Aug. 16 by Mount Gilead Village Council for the annual Dr. Nathan Tucker Award.
All three have been extensively involved in the community in various capacities for many years.