Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
I hope all enjoyed the beautiful weather from this last week. March 7 (tomorrow) is the one-year anniversary of the first COVID case in Kansas. Here is what I wrote one year ago:
 
“Wow…what a crazy week! Can anyone remember a time or incident which has caused so much change of lifestyle in such a short time? In the last 24 hours we have seen the widespread cancellations of the NCAA Tournament, the NHL and NBA seasons and the suspension of the MLB baseball and MLS soccer seasons and the postponement of the PGA Master’s
Tournament. Colleges are switching to online teaching modalities and canceling all sports schedules…and communities are canceling major events which would cause large numbers of people to gather in a similar location, such as St. Patrick’s Day parades and large festivals. On some level we don’t want to give into the fear and panic that causes us to not continue our lives with a degree of normality…on the other hand we all have a societal obligation to do our part in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. It all seems surreal with a very eerie feel.
 
Locally our efforts of community protection are in full force…lead by Franklin County Health Administrator, Midge Ransom. Thursday this week she gathered community leaders to give more information about COVID-19 (pictures here) and to help our local leaders better understand the strategies being implemented which will stop the spread. Nationwide we are deploying social distancing which is a proven effective method in slowing the spread of an epidemic.
 
This pandemic is already a huge challenge to our community and society. We must have a human response to protect the most vulnerable which includes the elderly, disabled and (maybe most importantly) our healthcare workers and providers. At the same time community services must continue. We are going to be called to manage conflicting and uncertain values for not only ourselves but our organizations. Things will be different for a while…all this will require adaption, participation and leadership. Take care of yourself…be mindful of your circles of family and friends.     
 
There is an old ancient Chinese proverb which states, “May you live in interesting times”…I think we most certainly qualify!!”
 
At that time, we had no idea what we were about to face. The meeting with Midge was probably one of the last “real meetings” (as opposed to Zoom) I was in…we were all sitting next to one another with no masks. Just wanted to share this memory of how it began and what we have been through up to now…hopefully the worst is behind us.
 
COVID Update:
 
The whole pandemic is beginning to have a different feel now…at least locally. Down 2 positive cases from last week, Franklin County currently had 18 positive cases on March 10…and the March positivity rate is running at 2.57% (here are the numbers). I’ve been in several Zoom meetings this week where discussion broke forth regarding returning to “in-person” meetings…or at least offering the option. Also, I’m scheduled to attend 2 conferences (both cancelled last year) which I will attend in person this year…one in May in Branson, Missouri and the other in June in Washington D.C. I point this out only to demonstrate the world feels like it’s opening back up…at least a little. 
 
Locally, vaccinations are progressing smoothly and efficiently. Franklin County has received 5,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine which have all been administered or are the second dose for someone who has received the first dose. This number doesn’t include all the vaccinations which have happened at our local pharmacies or AdventHealth Ottawa. All Kansas is still in Phase 2 of the governor’s plan which are those over the age of 65, those in congregate settings and high-contact critical workers. Cherry got her first shot as a teacher…all teachers have now had the opportunity to be vaccinated. I received my second shot Wednesday this week…essentially no side-effects – soreness at the site of the injections and a little fatigue for about 12 hours. All-in-all it feels good to be completely vaccinated. 
 
This is good information if you are having reservations or need more information on the different vaccines…you can still get on the list by calling 785.229.3531.  
 
Ottawa Memorial Auditorium (OMA):
 
This week 100-years ago, OMA officially opened with their first show…Director Tiffany Evans is planning to celebrate the centennial occasion with special events all year long (announcements will be forthcoming). Actually a memorial dedicated to the local soldiers who served in WWI, the auditorium has been significant in the life of Ottawa for 100-years now. I can remember attending many special events there as a boy as well as more recently being able to see many of my favorite performers. Johnny Cash is a former performer of the OMA Stage.
 
The OMA Board is fundraising to earn enough money to purchase an electronic marquis for the front of the building (picture here). Local businessman and Chair of the OMA Board, Tim Van Leiden has offered a challenge…he will match every $100.00 donation with an additional $5.00 donation for the first hundred $100.00 donations. If you want to donate you can go to the OMA webpage to make your contribution…also to learn about events as they are scheduled for the celebration year ahead. 
 
Downtown Street Corners:
 
The Ottawa Main Street Association is already busy preparing corners for planting season ahead to once again cause our downtown to spring to life and beauty. Last fall they planted tulips…this week I see the tulips are beginning to peak through the ground. The corners are all done by volunteers…mostly groups wanting a community service project. They are assigned to keep a specific corner kept and beautiful all summer long. Main Street Association will provide the flowers if you want…you only need to plant and care for them all…or you can purchase the flowers you prefer. You are allowed to use your imagination in the design, and you can see many have emphasized their group or who they represent. Last I knew there were only 2 or 3 corners still available if gardening is your sweet spot…call or email Sharon Geiss if you are interested. I will say…our downtown is beautiful when the corners are in full bloom and spring and summer are in the air.
 
Mobile Food Pantry:
 
Our local mobile food pantry is a great success story from one of our Leadership Franklin County graduates…Amanda Stinebaugh – a science teacher at Ottawa High School who was in the Chamber Leadership class in 2018/19. Wanting to do a community project for her local service project in the Leadership Class, she felt a local mobile food pantry was needed in our community to better serve local citizens who are economically challenged and live in food deserts (areas which are a long way from a food source or grocery store). She began food drives and originally worked out of the basement of the Carnegie Cultural Center…since she has moved her food collections to the Ottawa High School and uses Cherry’s room for the collections and OHS Students help with collections and deliveries. With spring break coming next week, students worked hard to get enough food collected and packaged for delivery (picture here) during the break. Nationwide, the Mobile Pantry Program expands the capacity of the Feeding America network to make food more accessible in underserved communities and reduces the load of other local food pantries. I’ve always felt our local Leadership Class benefits this community in ways we do not even grasp…this is a good example. Well done Amanda!!
 
Chamber Champlins!:
 
This isn’t going to be what you think…my grandsons, Max and Newt Champlin, worked hard in Cedar Vale on a local clean-up community effort and were recognized as the Cedar Vale Chamber Champions (picture here)…you can see the local headline was Champlins Chamber Champions!! Just had to share!
 
Sounds like a wet weekend ahead…good weekend to stay in the house and relax. We can look forward to mowing the grass, planting garden and flower beds in the coming weeks…actually I can’t wait!
 
Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John 
 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000