By Jessie Reestman
Maybe they are a relative, or possibly a co-worker, a classmate, your teacher, or simply a friend, but most of us are now aware of someone who has tested positive for the virus, COVID. According to the North Central District Health Departments, cases in our area have continued to rise at a steady pace, and Antelope County residents are on the verge of moving into the high-risk zone.
Each Wednesday, the NCDHD gives updates on the number of cases reported in our area. Last week three new cases were reported, leaving Antelope County with a total of 128 cases, 39 recovered cases and one death. The difference between the total cases and recoveries and/or death is the county’s active case count.
With the case count teetering to move past the yellow-moderate risk, to the orange-high risk on the NCDHD Risk Dial, I decided to visit with a few individuals who could shed light on the impact this will have on our schools.
North Central District Health Department director, Carol Doolittle explained, “At the beginning of the year, each school was given a packet with all the guidelines and information from our office. For anyone interested, much of that information can be found on our website, but each school can take that information and develop their own plan. Each school will not do the same thing.”
Elgin High Principal Greg Wemhoff and Pope John Principal Betty Getzfred have been following the numbers since, even before the start of the school year and implementing safety measures accordingly. Principal Betty Getzfred explained, “On September 8th, following Labor Day, we made the decision to require masks to be worn throughout the school day, as well as on the bus. Just last week, we upgraded from recommending masks be worn at games to requiring masks be worn at games.” She continued, “All volleyball players on the bench should be wearing masks, and those on the court have the option to wear a mask.” Principal Wemhoff added, “Other than requiring masks, attendance and participation in games will not change.”
Both principals agreed that elementary students might be most impacted if we move into the high-risk zone. Principal Wemhoff stated, “I hope we don’t get there, but we are pretty close now.” He continued, “With little kids, it is obviously different, but we have already been working towards safety with that. We really try to do the best we can, and I am sure we are not perfect.” Pope John’s Principal Getzfred added, “We currently stagger our lunch schedules for all students to limit the number of students in the cafeteria at one time and have the students socially distanced at each table, but if needed, we will separate the students at lunch even more, going from three students per table to two.” She explained that additional changes considered for elementary students, if needed, are classes will have to participate in individual recesses and there will be limited sharing of equipment in the classroom and on the playground.
Despite the potential to move into the high-risk zone, it is apparent that both our local school administrators are dedicated to providing a safe, educational environment for their students, as well as doing everything they can to allow students to continue to participate in all the extra-curricular activities that are so important to the student’s lives.
Last week, after the announcement was made that mask were required to be worn at all Wolfpack games, I entered the gym, expecting to see a room filled with masks. Surprisingly, the gym was divided right down the middle. The vast majority of home team fans respected the newly stated requirement, while most of the visiting fans were mask-free across the gym. Although it is no secret there has been much debate on the effectiveness of the masks, I think it is essential to recognize our schools are working overtime to protect their students’ health and keep activities such as these going. If wearing a mask allows students the opportunity to compete, interact, and learn, I hope we all choose to do our part to ensure that it will continue.
As she stands doing dishes at her kitchen sink, very proud grandparent Rose Wiehn can now gaze out her window admiring the beautiful artwork which adorns their 60-foot farrowing shed.
The once all white shed was recently transformed by fifteen of her grandchildren during their annual family event they affectionately refer to as “Grandparents Week”.
For the past twenty years, Dennis and Rose Wiehn have welcomed their grandchildren to spend the third week in July at their family farm, taking part in activities such as waterfights, fort building, making zucchini chips, putting up corn, and now painting murals. I had the privilege of sitting down with the family to learn more about the unique and very special event.
Although I have lived in Elgin most of my life, I am sadly unfamiliar where most people live once I leave the city limits.
As part of my directions to find the Wiehn residence, I was told to turn down a long lane entrance.
To be honest, even as I traveled down the long lane, I wasn’t completely sure I had found the correct place until I saw the large shed featuring a beautifully painted American Flag, as well as paintings of windmills, barn quilts, crosses, birds and rainbows, just to name a few.
After being led inside by the Wiehn’s very polite 17 year old grandson Kyle, I took a seat at the kitchen table and was immediately surrounded by children from the ages of three to 26, ready to share their experiences of the annual get together, as well as their excitement about the their newest venture of painting the shed.
Initially Rose shared that, during a conversation with her husband Dennis, he had suggested that they have a 60-foot billboard in their yard, and it would be nice if someone could paint a mural on it.
Rose responded that they have artistic grandchildren and thus, an activity for this year’s Grandparents Week was planned. Rose added, “Grandpa Dennis told the grandchildren he wanted their art to represent something religious and something patriotic.”
One at a time, after introducing themselves, each grandchild shared the background behind each of their paintings.
Corbin, the twelve year old son of Jennie and Nathan Gollehon from Elkhorn, along with his cousins Justin Wiehn, 12 year old son of Jason and Patty Wiehn of Shelton and Kolton Wiehn, 16 year old son of Keith and Keli Wiehn of Battle Creek, designed and painted the large American Flag, which covers a 12-foot section in the center of the shed.
Rather than taking a four-foot section of the barn to each design something individually, the three boys decided to work together, painting an American Flag. To assure that the flag would proportionately accurate, they took the time to use a flag calculator, found on the internet, giving the appropriate dimensions for each star and stripe. I must say the results were nothing short of impressive.
The youngest to have his work featured on the shed was three-year-old Joshua, son of Jason and Patty Wiehn.
Joshua, being a little too young to understand his grandfather’s recommendations of faith and patriotic inspired work, showed off his talents by painting a sea monster.
One of the most personalized designs came from the polite, young man who first welcomed me as I arrived. Kyle, son of Jason and Patty Wiehn, shared his inspiration for his work as such, “ I decided for the background I would have everyone from the family dip one hand in red and one hand in blue paint and create a mash of handprints, because everyone has a unique hand in our family. In the center I will put a cross with my baby sized hand in the very middle, to remember we are family and where this all started.”
Speaking of where this all started, Rose explained, “We began Grandparent’s Week twenty years ago after our own children, Gloria, Keith, Denise, Jason, Karen and Jennie had begun to have children of their own. It was a way to get all the cousins together…to keep our families close….to create a bond. We put it on the calendar every year. We chose the third week in July to not interfere with summer activities like softball, etc.” Today, that family bond is stronger than ever as the Wiehn’s many grandchildren travel from the communities of Elkhorn, Battle Creek, Shelton, Norfolk, Central City and Lynch for the opportunity to spend this annual week together.
I smiled as drove away, traveling down that long lane that directed me to this beautiful farm and family.
I took one last glance back into my rearview mirror only to see a flurry of kids running out of the house to go back to the shed, excited and ready to finish the project they had started for their grandparents. I thought about all the stories the family shared about their annual week together and I realized I had been in the presence of something very special.
I believe Rose’s daughter, Jenni may have described it best, “ I don’t know too many grandparents that would do this year after year. The memories that they make are phenomenal. The kids simply love this time together and don’t want to miss a thing.”