Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday this weekend…his actual birthday is tomorrow – January 15. MLK would have been 92 this year. Born originally Michael Luther King, Jr., after his father traveled to Germany and learned about the famous Martin Luther, the German pastor who led church reform to Protestantism in Europe, the senior King had both his and his son’s names legally changed to emulate and honor the famous German Protestant reformer.
 
The summer of 1968 was pretty unsettling for a young boy…I was 12-years old at the time. MLK was shot on April 4…then 2-month later Bobby Kennedy was killed in cold blood. In my young mind, if leaders such as these could be killed…no one was safe; in my pre-adolescent mind, we were in near anarchy. The Summer of Love, led by the hippies in the Haight-Ashbury region of San Francisco had dominated the summer before…and though it was about “make love…not war”, it led to many protests and violent police actions (very comparable to recent protests and actions). It was a scary time!
 
My favorite MLK quote is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that…” If you read the Gospel of John’s prelude (John 1: 1-18) it brings relevance and revelation to the quote. The Gospel passage challenges us all to be the light in the world and drive out darkness…we still have a ways to go!
 
New Mayor:
 
Last Monday, City government transferred power peacefully…most recent Mayor Sara Caylor completed her fourth stint in the position and transferred the honor to Commissioner Eric Crowley. Commissioner Mike Skidmore will serve this year as Mayor Pro Tem and in all likelihood become mayor in 2023. We are fortunate to have great leadership and diversity on our current commission (here are pictures). Because of Facebook Live, more people view the commission meetings, probably than ever before…which is good. During their Monday study sessions they break down issues, ask questions and request city staff to provide additional information when needed. Sometimes items will be on the study session agenda 4 or 5 times. By the time a topic goes to the official Commission meeting on a Wednesday, they are prepared to pass the item…the vetting has taken place. It’s a good process…very democratic; the public has opportunities to intervene and join the conversation at appropriate times. On the local level, democracy is practiced at its highest level…at least in Ottawa!!
 
COVID-19 – Omicron Variant:
 
Admittedly the Omicron Variant is “kicking our butts” right now. Schools and healthcare facilities, including our own AdventHealth, are stressed and practically running on fumes physically and mentally. It stands to reason this all could have long-lasting repercussions as professionals seek other employment opportunities to take breaks from this incredibly strained time. At our own hospital we’ve had as many as 8 patients in ICU…we have 4 ventilators, and all are pretty much in constant use. There are currently 11 COVID hospitalizations at AdventHealth Ottawa.
 
In the county we have 502 active cases with and a positivity rate of over 25 percent…the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic – now almost 2-years and still running. Here is the most recent County update. Even though the Omicron variant is not as virulent, it is more contagious…and people continue to die.
 
Beginning Monday, Ottawa schools will require masks…Wellsville and Central Heights schools have paused until further notice. Many schools in Kansas are taking this same approach. Administrators and teachers are as stressed as healthcare workers…remember I live with a teacher. Thursday, Franklin County issued the following release:
 
“It has come to the Health Department’s attention that many businesses in Franklin County are requiring their employees to have a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 test in order to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis. This was a best practice throughout the pandemic up until this point. However, with the unfortunate high positivity rate in our community, along with the backlog of pending tests at the State lab, as well as the limited test supplies available, Dr. Bud Ransom – Public Health Official asks that you allow an at-home test diagnosis. These rapid tests have become much more accurate in the last 18 months. Please note: A negative test should NOT be required for employees to return to work. Employees must follow guidelines and fulfill their isolation period before returning.” 
 
You can read the official COVID quarantine guidelines here and the Household Contact Guidance here…both updated in January 2022. I’m still urging you to become fully vaccinated. In the last 2-weeks, I’ve had several longtime friends (all not vaccinated) who have passed from COVID. Being vaccinated does not keep you 100 percent safe…but it will save your life!!
 
Luther Koch:
 
Many know by now our “local greeter”, Luther passed away from COVID last Saturday…very sad indeed (here are some pictures of Luther). Admittedly Luther lived a tough life…but he was still a joyous person. Daily he came into the Chamber office to greet everyone with a smile. Sherri, our office manager, particularly worked hard to help Luther, making sure he had birthday gifts and Christmas presents. Luther would recognize my car wherever in town he saw me…he would stop and point – then wave. He was a pleasant soul.
 
I remember Luther’s father, Clarence…a tall man who was always very nattily dressed – most often a coat and tie. Clarence read the local news voraciously and if he had a disagreement with opinions would attend board meetings and also write letters to the Herald and board members…whether it was School Board, Hospital Board, City or County Commissions. In the 1990s when I served on the then Ransom Memorial Hospital board, he would be present often to hear firsthand…I would get letters often detailing what was right and what was wrong. Certainly a very interesting family. Luther’s memorial service is Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. at Dengel & Sons Mortuary. This coming summer, the Chamber and Main Street Association are planning some sort of a downtown memorial as well…I’ll keep you posted as it comes together. 
 
Red Coaters:
 
Here is some fun trivia…probably back in the 70s (maybe 80s) Chamber ambassadors wore Red Coats to Chamber events. Fred Searls passed away earlier this fall and as the family is cleaning his home they have found his Chamber Red Coat (picture here). They brought it, along with several of Fred’s Chamber awards to the office…we called the Franklin County Historical Society and they have indicated they would like the donation. So…the Red Coat will be preserved for posterity…and to a certain extent, Fred too. He was another very gracious and selfless servant who loved the Ottawa community. 
 
Bank Midwest:
 
Bank Midwest (BMW) hosted Chamber members this morning (pictures here)…mostly to introduce their new Community President, Katie Butts, but also to introduce several new faces and update the community on the bank and its presence and work in the community. BMW mortgage bankers are passionate about helping families live a better life! And, along with their expertise, they’ve managed to simplify the mortgage process by tailoring it to fit your specific needs and cut down on loan approval time. Katie works hard to make sure her workforce is engaged in the community and BMW is a strong local partner. Thanks to Katie and her staff for their commitment to lending and Ottawa!!
 
Cherry and I are planning on a quiet weekend…we’re going to Ottawa Memorial Auditorium this evening to see the magician and comedian Andy Gross. The show begins at 7:00…still good seats available – hope to see you there too.
 
Also it’s a 3-day weekend which is a nice break…hopefully the Chiefs can keep winning – Sunday night game: GO CHIEFS!!  
 
Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John 
 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000