The COVID-19 pandemic rolled into 2021 and never really left with a lot of people probably wanting to put the past 12 months in the rearview mirror. Just when it appeared that life was getting back to normal, another surge would surface with threats from the newest variant.
Virus fatigue set in with parents wanting their kids back in school, employers hoping to find and maintain workers, educators fighting to stay sane amid the challenges and the general public just itching to get out of the house and socialize again.
In Philomath, the pandemic-related news wasn’t all negative. Sure, the school district delayed a return to classrooms on several occasions but students were back on campuses full-time by the fall. A few events chose to cancel out of caution but some significant activities returned to town in 2021, most notably the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo. In other words, it wasn’t all bad.
Elsewhere, there were changes among those in positions of city leadership and the school district hired a permanent superintendent. The issues at hand for the local governmental entities were often tough for those involved with satisfactory solutions seemingly out of reach.
Then there were the tragedies — those news items that no community wants to experience. A woman killed on her bicycle on the highway west of town, an elderly woman hit by two vehicles while trying to cross Main Street and the unspeakable, shocking murder-suicide that didn’t make sense.
Yes, 2021 had its good and bad. Before embarking on whatever lies ahead in these next 12 months, let’s take a closer look back at the past year, starting with the top 10 news stories as chosen by the Philomath News.
Philomath students started 2021 in distance learning, started to come back late in the 2020-21 academic year in a hybrid approach and then returned to full in-person learning by the beginning of the current school year.
“Everybody will be face-covered and we’re monitoring distance and we’re just keeping track of what we need to do in order to be as safe as we can,” Philomath Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday told the School Board during its meeting on Aug. 26. “Right now, we’re a go.”
Coming out of a statewide superintendents meeting before the meeting, Halliday said the state’s priority is to “implement protocols to reliably and safely hold school in person every school day, for all students, all year long.”
Earlier in the year, 11 months after last attending school in a physical classroom, the first groups of Philomath students on Feb. 23 began the transition to hybrid learning. And although a return to in-person learning created a certain level of pandemic-related anxiety, it’s a safe bet that most of the students, teachers and staff were wearing smiles under their face masks.
“It was my favorite first day that I’ve ever had,” Clemens Primary School Principal Abby Couture said.
Middle school and high school students later returned to classrooms in a hybrid model on April 6.
Philomath’s construction of a $16 million water treatment plant will be paid in full. That means annual debt payments over a 15-year period will not happen. And it appears that the city will recommend that local water rates be lowered.
City Manager Chris Workman delivered the exciting news to the City Council during a June 30 special meeting. The city had received confirmation that it would receive $12 million from the state through an appropriations bill focused on rebalancing the state budget and distributing millions in federal funds that Oregon received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
House Bill 5006 included funding for water and sewer projects throughout the state, including the $12 million to Philomath and $10.5 million to Corvallis to help rebuild sections of the Rock Creek intertie, a water transmission system that indirectly benefits Philomath as a backup source.
Workman said the city has been able to save $4 million to go toward the water treatment plant project, which when combined with the grant, means the total projected cost will be covered.
Later in the year, the City Council approved a water and sewer rate reduction to offset the financial sacrifices that residents had been making to raise money for the plant through a series of utility hikes.
Unrelated to the plant’s financing, the project did see opposition to the location of a new water storage reservoir in the northwest corner of Marys River Park. The project’s plans remained intact, however, after discussions at a Nov. 22 City Council meeting.
A new mayor and six city councilors each raised their right hands and took the oath of office on Jan. 4 to officially become Philomath’s newest city government representatives.
For the third time over the last three election cycles, Philomath has a different mayor. Rocky Sloan served his final term in 2017-18, Eric Niemann took over the seat in 2019-20 and now Chas Jones takes control of the gavel for the next two years.
Jones, 47, said he decided to run for mayor after other residents asked him to throw his name in the hat.
“It is not really something I was aspiring to but I was approached by numerous individuals and so when called upon, I just had a hard time saying no,” Jones said.
Philomath’s voters in the November election favored a new mix on the City Council and with that new team coming together, challenges are certainly to arise from time to time as they get to know one another.
“I’m looking forward to navigating all of the situations in meetings,” Jones said. “Some of the councilors I don’t know very well and so I’m looking forward to taking the opportunity in learning how to work with them and being effective.”
City councilors sworn in were Jessica Andrade, Catherine Biscoe, Ruth Causey, Matt Lehman, David Low and Teresa Nielson.
For the first time since 2006, the council includes four women.
Going through the superintendent mid-year evaluation process in recent weeks, the Philomath School Board realized it had a pretty good administrator on its hands while maneuvering through the twists and turns of operating a school district amid a pandemic.
Susan Halliday, hired in August 2020 to serve in an interim role, received high marks in eight performance standards. Meanwhile, the heat intensified on coming up with a strong approach to the effort of getting students back into classrooms.
Those two factors led the School Board to revisit its priorities with the desire to focus on the transition to in-person instruction. The board members also concluded that the right person was already in the superintendent’s seat.
Leading into a motion at the Feb. 18 meeting, School Board member Jim Kildea had this to say:
“Susan’s been our acting superintendent, she’s been our interim superintendent and I guess what I’d like to propose is I think we should just call Susan our superintendent.”
Board member Greg Gerding seconded and the motion passed on a unanimous vote.
Interestingly, Halliday had no initial interest in the superintendent’s job in 2020 but felt compelled to take a second look when the former interim, Philip “Buzz” Brazeau, announced that he needed to leave on short notice because of health issues.
Longtime Philomath teacher C.A. Rath and his wife, Merry Rath, were found dead on the morning of March 7 from apparent gunshot wounds, Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben said.
Rueben said police received a hang-up 911 call at 10:41 a.m. on that Sunday from the couple’s residence in Forest Meadows, a manufactured home community located off North 19th Street. Philomath Officer Brandon Thurman responded within 5 minutes of the 911 call, Rueben said.
Upon arrival, nobody answered the door and he ran license plates on a vehicle in the driveway to confirm that he was at the correct address. A Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived a short time later to assist and they forced entry into the home.
“They discovered C.A. Rath and his wife, Merry, both deceased in the house,” Rueben said. “We’re firmly believing that the scene’s been contained and there are no outstanding suspects … there’s no danger to the community.”
In April, police released the results of an investigation that confirmed a murder-suicide, stating that C.A. Rath shot his wife of 32 years multiple times, sent several text messages to relatives and other acquaintances informing them of what he had done and then killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
As the county, state and region gets back into the groove after a long stretch of pandemic restrictions, the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo provided an opportunity for folks to get back out there for a little fun this summer.
The annual community celebration wrapped up July 10 with the final rodeo performance and dance. Chris Workman, Frolic & Rodeo board member who organizes events and publicity, said it was great to see it all come together again this year after being limited to a fireworks display in 2020.
“Mostly, it’s fun to see neighbors and friends and people from the community come together and just enjoy being with each other, being outdoors and having a good time,” Workman said. “There were a couple of different times where I’d see friends kinda spy each other, come walking up and just hug and almost break down crying just being happy to see each other and you could tell it was the first time they’d seen each other in a while.”
The July 8-10 rodeo gate was a success with attendance numbers of 1,200 on Thursday night, 2,300 on Friday night and 2,414 on Saturday night — those last two considered to be sellouts. Standing-room only tickets are sold for people who want to watch from the beer garden either from a distance or on TV monitors.
“I was working the crowd in our general admission areas because we were sold out on tickets and people kinda like to spread out so I had to go to the crowd and ask them to scoot together and so I used that phrase, ‘Scoot together like you haven’t seen each other in a year and a half’ and I got some pretty good laughs,” Workman added. “But really that’s the truth of it — for a lot of people, this is the first big event they’ve come to, so it was a lot of fun to watch that happen.”
With the hour growing late and the Philomath City Council again unable to get through its latest meeting agenda, the contingent appeared to be on the verge of adjourning. The group had been talking for four hours, beginning with a 90-minute work session prior to the Aug. 16 regular meeting.
However, City Attorney Jim Brewer wanted to keep going for a bit longer to discuss a proposal for intervention designed to help improve City Council effectiveness, saying, “The goal is to try to help you function and work together better.”
City Council meetings have been an arduous process for those involved with long discussions on most agenda items — even the routine approval of meeting minutes. The atmosphere can become tense and unanimous votes do not occur as frequently with this council compared to others in recent years.
“Based on the last few meetings, it seems pretty clear to me that these are business meetings that are a challenge for all of you — both in terms of your interpersonal relations with each other and advancing your agendas,” Brewer said.
Further discussions on the matter followed and by the end of the year, the council had not been able to arrange a training session. Heading into the new year, it remains an option if all involved can determine an acceptable date and time.
Longtime teacher Joe Dealy along with Rick Wells and Erin Gudge will be the newest three members of the Philomath School Board, based on final results out of the May 18 special election.
Dealy earned the Position 3 seat on the board with a victory over challengers Abigail Kurfman and Brittany Kennedy. Dealy brought in 859 votes, or 44.12%. Kurfman finished second with 590 votes (30.30%) and Kennedy was third with 494 (25.37%).
The elections office released a late-night update that showed all 23 precincts reporting with a voter turnout of 39.2% among the county’s 59,728 registered voters.
“I”m a very calm, level-headed clear thinker and I don’t get highly emotional,” Dealy told the Philomath News in response to questions about his victory. “I try to think through problems as calmly as I can. I’ll do fine, I think it’ll be an interesting and a good challenge for me.”
Wells and Gudge were unchallenged for the other two open seats. Wells returns to the School Board with 96.68% of the vote with 3.32% casting write-in votes for the Position 1 seat.
Gudge had a challenger according to the ballot and voters’ pamphlet but Joey McGlinchy announced weeks ago a pending move out of the state and did not want to be considered. The word didn’t get out to several voters, obviously, with Gudge earning 1,057 votes (57.79%) to McGlinchy’s 762 votes (41.66%).
Remaining board members included Anton Grube and Karen Skinkis. Outgoing board members were Shelley Niemann, Jim Kildea and Greg Gerding.
By the time the 2020 farmers’ market wrapped up a 10-week experimental season, it became clear that Philomath could indeed support such a venture. Called a pilot project by its organizers, the market’s sustainability wasn’t exactly a slam dunk with the knowledge that other attempts over the years had all failed.
Mark McGuire, president of Bountiful Backyard, the nonprofit organization that oversees the farmers’ market, said that not only did the 2020 run succeed, but the operation has expanded to a full 16-week season. The Sunday markets have even added on an extra hour and hired a manager.
“We knew we wanted to expand based on pressure from our vendors in 2020,” McGuire said. “We actually started with six weeks last year and based on interest from vendors, we increased it to 10 and then we were still getting calls from a couple of vendors to increase it further. So we knew we wanted to go beyond 10.”
“We hired a market manager, so we’re not purely volunteer-run anymore,” McGuire said. “We have a few volunteers but most of the work will be done by Janel (Lajoie). She’s a wonderful addition and we are extremely excited to have her.”
The 16-week farmers’ market season ran from May 30 to Sept. 12, although one was canceled because of extreme heat.
In place at the center of town for the past 155 years, the old Philomath College building with its brick walls and large octagonal cupola has served as the focal point of the community. The cupola’s original hand-hewn support posts that went in place during the building’s construction in 1866 have survived the decades.
Although most of the cupola’s structure remains sound, one of those posts has been deteriorating from water damage. The Benton County Historical Society received funding to repair the post through a grant from the Kinsman Foundation along with donations from members.
“The post has had water damage through the years and it still looked pretty good from the exterior … but our maintenance person was up there and discovered how punky it was inside,” said Mary Gallagher, BCHS collections manager. “Once we realized that … if one post starts going bad, you have that risk of it starting to at least lean.”
The cupola posts are a little over 30 feet in length and run from the floor of the attic up to the top of the belltower.
“We were really hoping we were just dealing with sistering in a part of a post, but it’s looking like we may need a far larger piece,” said Gallagher, adding that a project of a larger scope wasn’t budgeted. “When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing, the whole thing. The upstairs, the whole construction up there, is remarkable.”
The BCHS hired Confluence Design & Construction, owned by local resident Scott McClure, to head up the effort to repair the post.
Here’s a rundown of notable news items from 2021:
• Jan. 4 — Former Philomath High principal Clement Arnold died at age 92.
• Jan. 4 — Kate Sundstrom began her job as executive director to become the first-ever full-time employee of Philomath Community Services.
• Jan. 5 — First responders from around Benton County started receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, including those from Philomath and the surrounding area.
• Jan. 6 — A fire broke out in a Philomath boarding house on Jan. 6 but a tenant acted fast to limit damage. There were no injuries reported.
• Jan. 11 — The Philomath School District announced the delay of a return to hybrid learning because of rising COVID infection rates.
• Jan. 13 — The Marys River overflowed its banks to flood areas in the southern part of town, including Grange Hall Road, Fern Road, Chapel Drive and Bellfountain Road.
• Jan. 14 — Philomath Police reported a successful campaign against holiday package thefts with only one delivery reported stolen.
• Jan. 20 — Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said students in grades kindergarten through the third grade would return to classrooms in a hybrid model beginning Jan. 26.
• Jan. 22 — When the first students begin to arrive through the doors of Clemens Primary and Philomath Elementary on Jan. 26, many of the teachers and employees on site will not have received their first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine.
• Jan. 25 — The Philomath School District delayed the beginning of a return to classrooms after the local teachers’ union expressed fears that the process had been rushed to a degree that could jeopardize workplace safety. The district announced it would remain only in distance learning until Feb. 9.
• Jan. 25 — The Philomath School Board on a 4-1 vote approved a motion to suspend the superintendent search process, putting the work on the back burner while the district focuses on the time-demanding tasks of getting kids back in school.
• Jan. 25 — The City Council began a public process related to Comprehensive Plan analysis reports, a topic that would continue for most of the year.
• Jan. 29 — Philomath Fire & Rescue helped battle a major fire in Corvallis that destroyed part of the First Alternative Co-Op’s auxiliary building.
• Jan. 31 — A fire broke out at a Philomath boarding house on North Eighth Street, an incident that led to the arrest of 43-year-old Michael Lee Marquis on a felony arson charge. Marquis later entered a guilty plea with all charges dismissed except criminal mischief in the first degree. He was sentenced to 36 months of supervised probation.
• Feb. 1 — The Willamette Community and Grange Hall volunteers continued to work hard to bring the old structure, located about 10 miles southeast of Philomath on Highway 99W and Greenberry Road, back to life, complete with a major roof renovation.
• Feb. 3 — In the latest twist involving Philomath children returning to classrooms, School Superintendent Susan Halliday announced that plans to send K-3 students into hybrid learning beginning Feb. 9 had been called off. For now, all students would remain in the comprehensive distance learning program.
• Feb. 9 — City Manager Chris Workman told the City Council about hopes to begin the long-awaited streetscapes project in May 2022 with an estimated completion in November 2023.
• Feb. 10 — Organizers of the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo were preparing for a full return this summer. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 festivities were reduced to a fireworks show — an appreciated offering but not the same as the real deal. Said Chris Workman, “The Frolic will happen — one way or another.”
• Feb. 11 — The Park Advisory Board reviewed preliminary plans for a neighborhood park with a 1-acre pond to be constructed at Chapel Drive and South 16th Street as part of the Millpond Crossing development. Board members viewed examples of playground equipment that fit within the developer’s budgeted amount of approximately $30,000.
• Feb. 12 — A Philomath teenager who went missing in June 2019 was found Feb. 12 in Wyoming following the rollover crash of a semi-truck in winter weather, the Philomath Police Department reported. The 16-year-old girl, Carmella Gregor, had been taken into protective custody and on Feb. 13, was reunited with her family, who had moved from Philomath to Idaho.
• Feb. 15 — Public Works Operations Supervisor Garry Black reported that Philomath had earned the “Tree City USA” designation for the 27th straight year.
• Feb. 15 — Following the approval of operational blueprints and a memorandum of understanding with the teachers’ union, and with the blessing of the Philomath School Board during its meeting Tuesday night, Superintendent Susan Halliday moved forward with a decision to begin sending students into classrooms under a hybrid learning plan beginning Feb. 23.
• Feb. 25 — An informal series of outreach opportunities for the public to provide input to the city for the upcoming downtown design project kicked off Feb. 25. City Manager Chris Workman called the meetings an important part of the process for what he called a once-in-a-lifetime project. “We’re really setting the table for what the future of Philomath is going to look like for many, many years to come — probably the next two to three generations out,” Workman said. A timber town theme attracted overwhelming support during feedback the city received in 2020.
• March 5 — Philomath Middle School and Philomath High School students will transition into hybrid learning on April 6, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday announced March 5. “We are very excited to prepare for the return of our older students to our campuses,” Halliday said.
• March 15 — For the first time in several months, the sights and sounds of locals exercising in the water filled Clemens Community Pool on the morning of March 15. “There were a couple of people that hadn’t been in the water for months today and they got out and the first they said to me was ‘it’s just nice to do something,’” said Daniel Mikula, pool director. “It’s a great outlet for people that have traditionally done it or for people looking for something to do. We’re here, we’re available.”
• March 15 — In a matter that has been ongoing for several weeks, the Philomath School Board on March 15 approved a memorandum of understanding with the local teachers’ union that outlines details of a hybrid learning instructional model.
• March 21 — The Philomath School Board will see considerable changes this summer when its three newest members are sworn in following the outcome of the May 18 special election. One familiar face will return with an unopposed Rick Wells on the ballot. Running for Position 3 are Joe Dealy, Brittany Kennedy and Abigail Kurfman. Vying for the Position 4 seat are Erin Gudge and Joey McGlinchy (who later withdrew because of a move out of the district). Current board members Greg Gerding, Jim Kildea and Shelley Niemann all chose to not run again.
• March 22 — The process to create a social media policy for the city of Philomath will move into a subcommittee established to study the matter before it goes back to the City Council for a work session. The city’s approach to its social media — which at this time only involves its Facebook page — has been on meeting agendas for the past five months, emerging out of discussions on public participation concerns with online meetings.
• Jaymie Belcher finds herself in a never-before-seen situation as the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo queen for a second straight calendar year. The organization’s board of directors approached her about continuing on for another year after the 2020 event had been canceled. “I really want to represent my rodeo and one of my biggest things is being able to run in my rodeo and not being able to do that was really kind of heartbreaking,” Belcher said about why she wanted to come back.
• April 3 — An officer-involved shooting at a Corvallis motel left a 32-year-old Philomath man dead (identified in a later story as Jeffrey W. Appelt), according to a press release issued by the Corvallis Police Department. When police confronted the man, they reported that he was armed with a knife and called for emergency cover. A short time later, the situation led to the Corvallis officers shooting the suspect. The officer involved in the shooting was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
• April 6 — Philomath High students began the transition into hybrid learning and at the middle school, sixth graders only started on April 6 but they will be joined by seventh and eighth graders on April 7.
• April 8 — Black pioneer Reuben Shipley’s farmland donation in 1861 to establish Mount Union Cemetery near Philomath will be the subject of a new Oregon State Historical Marker to be erected along Main Street in the vicinity of Newton Creek Park, the Park Advisory Board learned at an April 8 meeting.
• April 12 — The Philomath City Council’s ability to function while making decisions for its citizens showed cracks during a three-hour meeting on April 12. Mayor Chas Jones adjourned the meeting just before 10 p.m. — not unusual for the lateness of the hour. But what was unusual were the back-and-forth frustrations aired that appeared to leave most of those at the virtual table emotionally drained.
• April 20 — Philomath Police released information on an investigation into the deaths of C.A. and Merry Rath on March 7 that confirmed a murder-suicide. Police were able to piece together what transpired in the final moments.
• April 23 — After a couple of short speeches and the reading of a proclamation, two new trees were planted in the 2800 block of Applegate Street during the city’s Arbor Day celebration.
• April 24 — Marys River Grange hosted the Plant Sale and Seed Swap, which represented an exciting opportunity to not only bring in some needed bucks, but to actually interact with people.
• May 4 — A small group of Philomath city councilors, planning commissioners, city employees and a few other guests got an up-close look at Lupine Meadows May 4 through a tour led by Greenbelt Land Trust’s Jessica McDonald and Matt Benotsch. Encompassing 58 acres of upland prairie and wetland habitats and stretching from north of the railroad tracks up to West Hills Road, the property is protected from development or agriculture.
• May 11 — Philomath officials said the city should break ground on its $16.1 million water treatment plant project on South Ninth Street late this summer or early fall if everything falls into place with the permitting process. The project’s first phase was to include the construction of the reservoir, which will double the city’s treated water capacity to 2 million gallons per day, while the second phase will include the physical plant. As it turned out, the project was not able to get going in 2021.
• May 15 — In its seventh year, the annual flag-placement event at Mount Union Cemetery featured a new look with a new twist. Memorial Day doesn’t arrive on the calendar until May 31, but organizers opted to expand those to be remembered with National Armed Forces Day and Peace Officers Memorial Day both falling on May 15.
• May 18 — Longtime teacher Joe Dealy along with Rick Wells and Erin Gudge each won seats on the Philomath School Board in the May 18 special election. Dealy earned the Position 3 seat on the board with a victory over challengers Abigail Kurfman and Brittany Kennedy. Wells and Gudge were unchallenged for the other two open seats.
• May 18 — Informational panels on the history of Philomath and the surrounding area were installed in the horse plaza at Skirvin Park.
• May 20 — In a scene that’s been a long time coming, Philomath neighbors gathered outside on the evening of May 20 to take in some tunes, renew friendships and enjoy the late spring beauty of a local park. The Music in the Park concert series kicked off and although the conditions were a bit windy, a fairly good crowd gathered at Philomath City Park with lawn chairs, blankets and smiles to listen to Double Play.
• May 27 — One of the largest lumber companies in the world acquired Georgia-Pacific’s sawmill in Philomath, Interfor Corporation announced May 27. “Interfor has communicated with us that they will offer employment to all of the employees at the facilities that are part of this purchase,” CJ Drake, Georgia-Pacific public affairs manager said. “The Philomath operation currently employs 125 people.”
• May 30 — The Philomath Farmers’ Market opens a 16-week run in the library parking lot with hours of 1-5 p.m. on Sundays, an expanded schedule from the Year 1 experiment. In addition, the operation hired a market manager.
• June 5 — Philomath High School awarded 123 diplomas Class of 2021 students in a full ceremony at Clemens Field. The ceremony was closed to the general public, however, each graduate could have up to four invited guests. The event was also streamed online. The Class of 2021 featured 13 valedictorians: Andrew Chatfield, Audrey Davis, Isaac Denzer, Justin Enghauser, Atira Fairbanks, Merrie Follett, Annalee Hiebert, Chloe Jurva, Caleb Matthews, Amey McDaniel, Mikaila Saathoff and Ada Wennstrom.
• June 12 — Forty-two Philomath students earned degrees from Oregon State University.
• June 14 — The Philomath Community Library transitioned to “browse and go” services while reopening to the public following a long period of more strict pandemic restrictions.
• June 14 — The operators of the Roots Early Learning Center, sisters Jessi and Jill Williams, announced that they would begin accepting students for a launch in the fall to give Philomath parents a new preschool option for their 3- and 4-year-olds.
• June 21 — Proponents of an effort to rebuild Philomath’s 21-year-old skate park held up signs along Applegate Street to bring attention to the proposed project.
• June 25 — In place at the center of town for the past 155 years, the old Philomath College building with its brick walls and large octagonal cupola has served as the focal point of the community. The cupola’s original hand-hewn support posts that went in place during the building’s construction in 1866 have survived the decades. But during the summer, the building that now houses the Philomath Museum had to replace a large portion of one of the support posts.
• June 30 — City Manager Chris Workman announced that the city will be receiving a $12 million grant to cover the full estimated cost of the new water treatment plant project. The money originated with the American Rescue Plan Act and was included in a State Legislature appropriations bill.
• July 1 — The newest School Board members were sworn in — Joe Dealy and Erin Gudge in person and Rick Wells over the phone — at a July 1 meeting. It was also announced the students in all grades would return to full-time, in-person learning when classes begin Sept. 7-8.
• July 10 — First responders and medical personnel had an opportunity to shed their masks, enjoy the sunshine and take in the sights and sounds of the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo’s Grand Parade. The Frolic’s board of directors wanted to show support and appreciation for their efforts over the past 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, so they were invited to appear in the parade as grand marshals.
• July 12 — An engineer’s report connected to street improvements, social service agency funding decisions and an antagonistic atmosphere that developed over the course of the evening highlighted a July 12 gathering of the Philomath City Council. The meeting represented the first time that councilors had physically met at City Hall since before pandemic restrictions were implemented 16 months ago.
• July 26 — Philomath Fire & Rescue Capt. Rich Saalsaa talked about his experiences battling the nation’s largest wildfire, located in southern Oregon. At the time, Saalsaa was one of nine personnel from the local agency had had worked on fires around the state.
• July 27 — A house fire that broke out in a residential neighborhood of Philomath was contained to the garage and a home office with heavy smoke damage to a laundry room, Philomath Fire & Rescue reported.
• July 31 — Philomath Uncorked, a wine walk event organized by the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce, returned this year with 18 stops throughout the downtown area, including a dozen wineries.
• July 31 — A year after being canceled because of the pandemic, the Philomath Old-Timers Reunion returned to Philomath City Park, a group that included 90-year-old Norman Oleman. The reunion honored the Class of 1961, which marked its 60th anniversary.
• Aug. 12 — The Philomath School Board will not challenge Gov. Kate Brown’s indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools with approval of a motion to move forward with the state’s guidance. Under the state mandate, all students, employees and visitors in Oregon schools must be masked, aligning with the Centers for Disease Control’s latest recommendations. Six people shared their views on the mask mandate during the public comments portion of the Aug. 12 meeting and a seventh testified through email. Four of the seven voiced opposition to masks in the classroom while the other three were in favor.
• Aug. 14 — The Philomath Brew & Wine Fest was held at the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo grounds to give locals another opportunity to get out of the house for a social activity. However, the event attracted fewer people than organizers had anticipated.
• Aug. 17 — Former Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce director Shelley Niemann talked about why she stepped down from the position after 7-1/2 years. The chamber board appointed Lisa Watkins to serve as the interim director.
• Aug. 21 — In an interview with the Philomath News, wood craftsman Nick Clark talked about a national award that he won in marquetry as well as his life and career that led him from the United Kingdom to the United States and ultimately to Philomath.
• Aug. 21 — The Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail, which runs through Philomath, celebrated with a dedication event at the Benton County Fairgrounds.
• Aug. 26 — Various announcements by the state will not delay the start of school in Philomath with the district welcoming most students back on Sept. 7-8. “Everybody will be face-covered and we’re monitoring distance and we’re just keeping track of what we need to do in order to be as safe as we can,” Philomath Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday told the School Board during its Aug. 26 meeting. “Right now, we’re a go.”
• Aug. 29 — A 69-year-old Philomath woman trying to cross Main Street on Aug. 29 died after she had been hit by two vehicles. The incident occurred just after 7 p.m. when the woman started to make her way across the road near North Eighth Street. After a lengthy process to try to contact next of kin, the woman was identified as Sylvia Youngman.
• Aug. 30 — Pioneer Connect launched a massive fiber network project with a groundbreaking event at Philomath City Park.
• Sept. 5 — In an interview with the Philomath News, Benton Habitat for Humanity announced that the first two homes under construction in the Woodlands subdivision were getting close to completion.
• Sept. 7 — A common theme that seemed to be running through Philomath School District campuses as students returned to classrooms Sept. 6-7 — administrators would like to make it as normal as possible.
• Sept. 9 — In a Park Advisory Board meeting, member Sandy Heath proposed that Marys River Park’s name be officially changed to Marys River Park and Natural Area to better reflect the original intentions of its founders. The board approved a recommendation to the City Council that the name be changed.
• Sept. 11 — A 9/11 Memorial Ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks occurred at the rodeo grounds. The program included the reading of a detailed timeline by Fire Chief Tom Miller, Police Chief Ken Rueben and Mayor Chas Jones of what unfolded on that day.
• Sept. 11 — A Kryptic Films miniseries entitled “Dearest Eva” shot scenes at Mount Union Cemetery. “We were just extremely excited to find a place that had actual significance to Black lives in Oregon and it was also extremely beautiful,” Co-creator and producer Kamryn Fall said.
• Sept. 13 — The Philomath City Council chose to hold off on the final approval of reducing utility rates during its Sept. 13 meeting and sent the matter back to the committee level to give more attention to incentivizing conservation by charging incrementally higher rates for high usage.
• Sept. 16 — In a “State of the City” address at a Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Mayor Chas Jones delivered a positive message to those in attendance: “The state of the city is strong.”
• Sept. 21 — In an interview with the Philomath News, new Benton County Historical Society Executive Director Jessica Haugen said there are no plans to do anything different with the Philomath Museum now that the Corvallis Museum is open.
• Oct. 1 — PHS senior Ashlynn Barron talks about how she decided to organize an independent homecoming dance off campus after the high school had announced the milestone event’s cancellation on campus.
• Oct. 12 — Philomath is not immune from a school bus driver shortage that school districts nationwide have experienced.
• Oct. 19 — Reps. Dan Rayfield and David Gomberg talk to the Philomath News about the state’s redrawing of political districts. Philomath is impacted with a boundary change that will bring the area into Gomberg’s district in January 2023.
• Oct. 21 — Teachers showed up in force at the Oct. 21 School Board meeting amid concerns and allegations that the school district does not value its educators. The school district and the teachers union had not yet agreed on a contract through several months of negotiations.
• Oct. 21 — The Clemens Foundation Board of Directors notified the Philomath School District that it discontinued its annual scholarships awarded to the top two senior swimmers, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday announced at the Oct. 21 School Board meeting.
• Oct. 22 — Senior Sophie Robinson was crowned homecoming queen during a ceremony at halftime of Philomath High’s football game.
• Oct. 22 — An effort to place a historical marker at Newton Creek Park in recognition of Black pioneer Reuben Shipley continued with organizers raising money. When erected, it will become the second historical marker in Philomath, the other in front of the Philomath Museum that tells the story of Philomath College.
• Oct. 26 — A Dax delivery robot was hit by a car crossing 11th Street. The car sped away but the last thing the robot did before going dead was shoot an image of the vehicle’s license plate. Police soon had the driver identified and issued a citation for failure to perform duties of a driver when property is damaged.
• Oct 29 — Philomath High School Principal Mike Bussard was last seen on campus Oct. 18 and Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said Oct. 29 that she’s not able to give specifics on what’s involved with the situation, citing strict privacy rules that the school district has in place to protect staff and students. Asked if Bussard had been removed from the position, Halliday could only say, “He is currently not at the school.”
• Oct. 30 — Philomath resident Francis Gerding celebrated his 100th birthday (a day later than his actual birthday) with community members driving past his house with a parade. Gerding served in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army during the Battle of the Bulge, a pivotal moment that helped the Allies secure victory in Europe during World War II.
• Nov. 8 — Philomath residents could expect to see lower water and sewer bills with the City Council’s approval Nov. 8 of a rate reduction that goes into effect Jan. 1. Based on calculations provided by the city staff, the water portion of the residential customer’s utility bill will go down by an average of $19 per month.
• Nov. 18 — A Philomath Education Association teacher survey on working conditions painted a dismal picture to the Philomath School Board at its Nov. 18 meeting. Eighty-one of 102 teachers in the district participated in the survey and the high majority of those who answered indicated that they have stressful, less enjoyable jobs with a greater workload when compared to the period before the pandemic.
• Nov. 19 — After a decade of distributing information and planning special events in a room near the entrance of the police station, the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce moved into a new space with a spot at Timber Towne Coffee on Main Street.
• Nov. 22 — The city of Philomath’s plans to use a half-acre in the northwest corner of Marys River Park for a water storage reservoir just across South Ninth Street adjacent to the proposed water treatment plant remained intact following a Nov. 22 City Council meeting. The city had seen recent opposition to the location of the water storage tank.
• Nov. 28 — In an interview with the Philomath News, the chief petitioner behind the Oregon People’s Rebate initiative sees an opportunity to help residents supplement their household budgets while providing a boost to local economies. Antonio Gisbert, chief petitioner and a Philomath resident, has no doubt that everybody can use a little extra and believes large corporations aren’t paying their fair share.
• Nov. 28 — A 78-year-old Corvallis woman riding her bicycle on Highway 34 south and west of Philomath lost her life when hit by a pickup near the highway’s intersection with Decker Road, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office reported.
• Nov. 29 — Philomath High School students will welcome a new principal on campus Dec. 1 with the arrival of Brent Belveal, who is coming out of retirement to serve in an interim role for the remainder of the academic year, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday announced. Former principal Mike Bussard will remain with the school district. Halliday has not publicly stated a specific reason for the change.
• Dec. 2-4 — When the curtain goes up Dec. 2-4 in the Philomath High auditorium for three performances of “Nunsense,” the five students on stage will undoubtedly enjoy the opportunity to act and sing in front of a live audience. Sure, they’ll be masked, but it’s an audience that they can entertain — folks tapping toes to the music and laughing at the right moments.
• Dec. 3 — On a pleasant evening on the front lawn of the local museum, Philomath launched into the holiday season with its traditional Christmas tree lighting celebration. Festive singing by a group of local schoolchildren, youngsters enjoying treats, a special visit from Santa Claus and of course, the countdown to the tree lighting up highlighted the evening.
• Dec. 5 — A single-vehicle crash that occurred in the early hours on Highway 20 claimed the life of a male and sent a female to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office reported. Deputies responded to the crash at approximately 1:15 a.m. Dec. 5 in a location near the intersection of Highway 20 and Kings Valley Highway.
• Dec. 7 — A high electricity bill and a vehicle registration helped law enforcement nab five individuals for their alleged involvement in a massive illegal marijuana grow and distribution operation just west of Philomath, the local police said. A search warrant served Nov. 29 at an address on Noon Road led to the discovery of nearly 4,000 marijuana plants, over $19,000 in cash and information that allegedly connects the group to Chinese organized crime.
• Dec. 13 — Two motorists involved in a head-on collision on Highway 20 near Blodgett both survived the crash, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office reported. Sgt. David Iverson said a 34-year-old man at the wheel of a sedan was heading east on the highway about 1 mile east of Blodgett when his vehicle swerved over the centerline and crashed into a semitruck that was hauling to Toledo.
• Dec. 13 — A discussion on the proposed formation of a local improvement district to pay for North 11th Street improvements will continue at a January work session, the Philomath City Council decided during its Dec. 13 regular meeting. At the same time, the council also has asked the Planning Commission to take a deep dive on the broader question of LIDs and how to finance public improvements in the future.
• Dec. 15 — Christmas may be less than two weeks away, but kids who want to write to Santa can still get their letters in on time. That’s because a magical mailbox — the “North Pole Express” can be found right here in Philomath and when a letter is placed in it, children will be sure to hear back from jolly old Saint Nick through one of his helpers here in town.
• Dec. 16 — In November, a group of Philomath High School students spread the word about the history of the Siletz Indians and the tribe’s importance to the region. And in January, the students will turn their attention to Martin Luther King Jr., who led the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. The Philomath High School Student Racial Equity Committee gave a presentation at the Dec. 16 School Board meeting.
• Dec. 20 — The Marys River near Philomath reached flood stage on Dec. 20 and was continuing to rise, according to reported observations from the National Weather Service. The river level surpassed 20 feet based on data reported at 1 a.m., and as of 5 a.m., was at 20.77 feet. The river has been steadily rising hour-by-hour since Dec. 18. A flood warning was later extended into Dec. 21.
• Dec. 20 — The Neighbor to Neighbor Soup Kitchen in Philomath will serve its final Christmas dinner Dec. 21 and on Dec. 28, the volunteers will distribute the College United Methodist Church program’s last-ever meal. Longtime coordinator Glenda Plant, 75, who had been involved with the program since 1998, announced several weeks ago that she would be stepping down and the church was unable to find a replacement to keep it going.
• Dec. 25-27 — A winter storm dumped 7 to 13 inches of snow in and around Philomath and in the following days, frigid temperatures hit the region.
• Dec. 28 — Philomath Fire & Rescue assisted the neighboring Corvallis Fire Department on separate responses to fires involving a house at 857 Northwest Tyler Avenue and a homeless encampment near Pioneer Park.