The Van Wert County Courthouse

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022

Derecho storm top local story of 2012

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Van Wert city workers and others clean up debris after the devastating windstorm on June 29. The storm, which downed thousands of trees and utility poles, was the top story in Van Wert County during 2012. (VW independent file photo)

The past year was an eventful one for Van Wert County, with both wonderful and tragic occurrences happening over the past 12 months. The top story was a disaster, though, in more than one way, as a big wind blew no one good in the county back in June.

The storm, a rare weather phenomenon called a “derecho”, brought 100-mph winds and plenty of destruction to the county on June 29. Thousands of trees and utility lines were downed by the storm, which knocked out power to nearly all county residents and businesses.

The derecho, called “the strongest storm ever to hit Van Wert County” by County Emergency Management Director Rick McCoy, who added that the storm was also the first derecho recorded in the county since weather records have been kept.

For many county residents, particularly in rural areas, it was all of a week — and more in some cases — before power was restored, while climbing temperatures made life miserable for those without electricity, and especially air conditioning.

Van Wert County wasn’t the only county hit hard, either, with 36 Ohio counties declared disaster areas because of the storm, which also swept across several other states and cut power to an estimated 3 million people overall.

In the county alone, storm-related costs for just government and non-profit entities was estimated at more than $500,000, with approximately $363,000 of that incurred by Paulding-Putnam Electric Cooperative to replace poles and lines downed in the storm.

That cost figure doesn’t even include expenses incurred by businesses and individuals or those paid out by American Electric Power, a for-profit electric power utility that serves a majority of local power customers and had to replace hundreds of utility poles and transformers downed in the storm.

This year also marked the 10-year anniversary of another huge storm: the F-4 tornado that smashed through the county on November 10, 2002, killing two people, destroying several plants in Vision Industrial Park, heavily damaging the Van Wert Cinemas and doing millions of dollars worth of damage.

While the derecho didn’t have the concentrated fury of the tornado, the damage was far more widespread, mostly affecting the county’s power grid, rather than destroying buildings as the tornado did.

Other important stories for 2012 include the following:

Leadership changes

Two of the longest serving county officials either retired or took new positions in 2012. County Commissioner Gary Adams, the longest serving commissioner in county history with 28 years in that position, announced his retirement early in the year, along with Commissioner Clair Dudgeon, who with 12 years as a commissioner is tied for second on the list with three other people.

Adams’ job went to County Sheriff Stan Owens, who was the longest-serving sheriff in Van Wert County with 24 years in that position. Attorney Todd Wolfrum was elected to Dudgeon’s position after a four-way primary race in March.

The county judiciary also saw big changes in 2012. County Probate-Juvenile Court Judge Rex Fortney announced his retirement after 20 years in that position and was replaced by attorney and assistant county prosecutor Kevin Taylor. This year was also the first for Van Wert Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman, who was appointed to replace Judge Phil W. Campbell in 2011 and then won a contested election against Wolfrum.

Festivals and fairs

Another county leader, although not a government official, also left his position in 2012. Fair Board Manager Paul Oechsle announced he was leaving a job he had held for 22 years at the end of 2011. Oechsle, who had spent an unprecedented 42 years involved in the fair’s operation, was honored in January for his many contributions to what has been the county’s biggest event, but has seen a decline in recent years.

This past year also saw another longtime community event return as the former Hot Air Affair was reconstituted as the Hot Air Festival in 2012. While weather wasn’t kind to the three-day event, held in September, attendance was good and plans are shaping for an even better second edition of the event this coming year.

School projects

This past year saw the culmination of two multi-million dollar school projects as the new Van Wert Elementary School was constructed and a construction-renovation project was mostly completed at Vantage Career Center.

Classes began in the fall at the new grades 1-5 elementary school, while work continues on a second phase of the project: the renovation of the former Jefferson Elementary School into a prekindergarten-kindergarten facility. Work on that building, renamed the Van Wert Early Childhood Center, should be completed sometime in January. Students who will attend that building are now being housed in the former Washington Elementary School, which is slated for demolition, along with its twin school, Franklin Elementary School.

Economic doldrums

While the effects of the 2008 recession are beginning to dissipate, it has been a long road back to recovery for Van Wert County and Ohio in general. The county has gone from a jobless rate that hit 15.2 percent in January 2010 back down to 7 percent this past month. Sadly, some county residents were forced to leave the county to find a job, lowering the county’s population and its available workforce.

On the plus side, economically, after several years of waiting for funding, the Jobs Ready Site project north of Van Wert is finally moving forward. Bids were recently accepted on the rail portion of the project and should be awarded early in 2013.

A new face on old buildings

Important renovation projects for two Van Wert landmarks were either completed or getting started in 2012. The Van Wert County Common Pleas Courtroom, located on the third floor of the 136-year-old county courthouse, was completely renovated this year. The project included replacing an antiquated heating and air-conditioning system and the restoration of the courtroom’s magnificent stained-glass dome, which had been covered by a false ceiling since 1951. An open house was held in early December for the project.

Drugs and deaths

Drugs — especially heroin — were also part of the dark side of Van Wert County in 2012. Several big drug busts were completed over the past 12 months, while Middle Point resident Lisa Hundley was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a 90-year-old woman in a traffic accident caused when Hundley blacked out after “huffing” a can of compressed air while driving along Lincoln Highway back in August.

POSTED: 12/31/12 at 9:28 am. FILED UNDER: News