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In June, the YS Pride Committee planned a different kind of Pride Parade due to the ongoing pandemic. Rather than have villagers gather downtown, the parade drove through the village. (Photo by Kathleen Galarza)

2020 Year in Review: Feature Stories

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Yellow Springs kicked off the beginning of 2020, as always, with the traditional ball drop overseen by Lance Rudegeair; MTFR personnel handed out hot cocoa, and at least one marriage proposal greeted the new year.

The Reach Out Free Clinic, which was held each Tuesday evening at Central Chapel AME Church, celebrated a year of operation in early January. The free, donation-based clinic, a satellite location of Reach Out Dayton, closed due to the pandemic in March; the Dayton location shuttered permanently later in the year.

Nan Harshaw, longtime chair of the MLK Day Planning Committee, was awarded the annual Peacemaker Award at the 2020 Martin Luther King Day celebration. The late Willa Dallas was also recognized for her civil rights efforts and her role in initiating the annual local event.

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The Rev. Daria Schaffnit returned to Yellow Springs in January as new pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. Schaffnit succeeded the Rev. Aaron Saari, who had been the church’s pastor from 2014 to 2019.

In February, the YS Theater Company staged the 10th annual 10-Minute Play Festival. The event, which featured 12 plays by both local and out-of-town playwrights, was held in honor of the late Virgil Hervey, a longtime patron of theater in the village.

The paintings of artist and villager Jack Merrill were displayed concurrently at two venues — Glen Helen’s Vernet Building and Bruce Parker’s Y.S.-Fairfield Road studio — in February. Merrill, 82, is known by some in the village as a quiet and tenacious artist who painted exuberantly, if privately, through nearly five decades of living and working in Yellow Springs as both an artist and a local house painter. Though living with Parkinson’s disease, he continues to pursue his art.

Former villager Chloe Ramsay rounded up a cast of villagers to present her Ph.D. research, which focuses on diseases in frogs, in dance form. The effort was part of a submission to Science Magazine’s 12th annual “Dance Your PhD” contest. The six-and-a-half-minute dance was submitted in early 2020.

Filmmakers Julia Reichert, Steve Bognar and Jeff Reichert won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for their 2019 film, “American Factory,” at the 92nd annual Academy Awards. The film follows the lives of workers at the Fuyao Glass America automotive glass factory in Moraine. The couple was last nominated for an Oscar in 2009 for “The Last Truck: the Closing of a GM Plant,” in the same facility. Said Julia Reichert in her acceptance speech: “Working people have it harder and harder these days and we believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”

The Yellow Springs News was honored by its peers as the “Newspaper of the Year” among comparable papers in Ohio for the 10th straight year in 2020. All in all, News staff won 17 awards.

The first physical edition of “Blacks in Yellow Springs: A Community Encyclopedia” was released early this year. The encyclopedia project, initiated in 2016 under the oversight of The 365 Project, had until then existed as an online resource on the group’s website. The project was overseen by an editorial committee consisting of Joseph E. Lewis, Kevin McGruder,  Karen McKee, William B. Simpson, Isabel Adams Newman and Phyllis Lawson Jackson. Simpson died in December of 2019, before the volume’s publication, and Jackson died in July of 2020, followed by Newman in August.

Clarinetist and former villager Mark Battle, along with pianist George Lopez, had planned to return to the village to perform a benefit concert in Antioch College’s Herndon Gallery in mid-March. The duo, who first performed in the village in 2014, were set to give the concert to benefit the YS Youth Orchestra Association. The concert was canceled, however, due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The event was one of many that would be canceled in the following weeks as public buildings in the village and the state closed and Ohioans began to shelter in place.

In response to the pandemic, a group of villagers connected via Facebook in March and April to stitch cloth face masks for local healthcare workers, employees of essential businesses and other villagers. At the time, both disposable and reusable face masks were difficult to find. “The group wants to focus on donating them to those who need them most, but it’s hard to focus when everybody needs them,” said Kate Hamilton, who helped organize the group. “People are sewing nonstop.”

Institutions around the village adapted to the pandemic by shifting their services, meetings and programs online. Places of worship began to hold services via livestream video and Facebook posts, and nonprofit organizations like the Senior Center and Agraria hosted programming via Zoom, YouTube and local Channel 5. “The sense of community was palpable,” said Len Kramer of YS Havurah, about gathering online. “And it was way better than the alternative of nothing.” At the end of 2020, many local nonprofits and places of worship continue to host online programming.

In late April, local environmentalists celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in a collection of pieces published by the News. Krista Magaw, executive director of Tecumseh Land Trust, wrote: “It isn’t the Earth Day we anticipated — with our native plant swap, renewable power demonstrations, recycling awareness and plans for gardens and farms. But the jolt of the coronavirus, and our sudden organizing to get through it together, might give us something more — the realization that everything in nature is connected.”

Villager Joe Cimoch was photographed making a joyful noise in April during the nightly bell ringing that was instituted in the community early in the pandemic. Each night at 6 p.m., villagers would step outside and ring bells — or bang drums or play trombones or make any number of noises — to remind one another that they were still a community during a period of isolation. (Photo by Audrey Hackett)

As the pandemic continued to necessitate physical distance, villagers found creative ways to connect. People held outdoor, physically distanced concerts, and celebrated birthdays with guerrilla car parades. Folks got together on the weekends — online, that is — to film themselves singing karaoke. Dungeons and Dragons players met online, trading 20-sided dice for computer mice. Residents planted colorful items in their windows for walkers to spot on a villagewide, outdoor scavenger hunt. On many evenings around 6 p.m., neighborhoods erupted in the sounds of bells, drums and wind instruments as villagers, separated, reminded one another that they were still there.

Yellow Springs was one of more than 350 cities and towns across the country to hold a demonstration after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota. Demonstrations continued each weekend into late fall, organized by youth activists.

In the summer, villager, environmentalist and filmmaker Catherine Zimmerman led an initiative to certify Yellow Springs through the NWF Wildlife Habitat Community Program.

Yellow Springs celebrated Pride Month on Saturday, June 27, with a parade — but one much different than in years past. As the pandemic continued, YS Pride organized a caravan of cars and villagers that wound through the streets of Yellow Springs as residents watched and cheered from sidewalks, porches and yards.

Former villager and author Shuly Xóchitl Cawood released a new collection of stories, “A Small Thing to Want,” published by Press 53. The collection features a cast of characters navigating relationships on the brink of collapse. Said Cawood: “I write about people in conflict, who either want to get closer or push each other away.”

Villager and author Scott Geisel published a mystery novel, “Fair Game,” set in Yellow Springs. The novel features protagonist Jackson Flint, a fictional hard-boiled detective  working to solve a long-cold — also fictional — missing persons case in real-life Yellow Springs. Geisel noted that he and his wife used to read mystery novels set in places they planned to visit. “I thought, why doesn’t Yellow Springs have a mystery series?” Geisel said.

In September, YS Library Head Librarian Connie Collett retired after 31 years of service. She is pictured here in 1989, just after she took on the position. (YS News archive photo)

In September, Connie Collett retired from her post as head librarian at YS Library after 31 years. Collett began her tenure with the Greene County Public Library system as an audio/visual coordinator at the main branch in Xenia in 1982, moving into the local head librarian position in 1989. Said Collett: “It’s not really ‘goodbye’ — I’ll still be there to check out books!”

The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions presented “Black Farming: Beyond ‘40 Acres and a Mule’” over two days in September. The event, which included small-group tours of agricultural programs at Central State University, online speakers, breakout sessions and a resource fair, focused on the history of Black farming as well as current Black farming efforts.

Though its doors remained closed to the public due to the pandemic, the YS Arts Council mounted a virtual art show highlighting the work of four up-and-coming area artists in late summer. The exhibition was filmed and available for viewing on local Channel 5 and online and featured livestreamed Q&A with artists John Wehner, Angie Hsu, Ryn McCall and Cheyenne Sandoval. The exhibition was part of the YSAC’s Emerging Artist Program.

After having been closed since March, the YS Senior Center made plans to reopen in October after the governor lifted the statewide closure of senior centers and adult day service centers in late September. Just days before the opening, however, Greene County was elevated to level 3, or “red,” by the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, which indicates “very high exposure or spread” of COVID-19. The Senior Center remained closed for the remainder of the year and plans to reassess the possibility of opening in 2021.

Villagers adjusted their Halloween plans to the ongoing pandemic in 2020, with the Village canceling the annual bonfires and Beggars Night. Many families opted to celebrate at home, holding scavenger hunts and Halloween parties. Neighborhoods and friend groups also planned outdoor, physically distanced activities like pumpkin glows and trunk-or-treat style candy giveaways. Some villagers even performed reverse trick-or-treat feats, anonymously leaving candy on the porches of neighbors and friends. On Livermore Street, the Highlander family erected an elaborate Halloween display featuring animatronic ghosts and ghouls, earning a Village Inspiration and Design Award.

The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions held its annual conference, this year titled “Pathways to Regeneration: Restoration, Resilience and Reciprocity” in November. The three-day event, held online, featured topics such as protecting seed biodiversity and recognizing the leadership of Indigenous communities in the effort.

In the fall, local artist Pierre Nagley painted a new mural in honor of Virginia Hamilton on the wall of the YS News building in Kieth’s Alley. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Local artist Pierre Nagley painted a new mural honoring the life and works of famed local author Virginia Hamilton on the wall of the YS News building this fall. The Kieth’s Alley mural is inspired by the illustrations of Diane and Leo Dillon in Hamilton’s book “The People Could Fly,” and was spearheaded by Help Us Make a Nation, or H.U.M.A.N., a recently revived local human rights organization founded in the village in the ’70s.

The Village Impact Project, a local youth mentoring program, celebrated its first full, independent year in town in 2020. Founded by high school intervention specialist Donna Haller, and initially launched in January 2019 under the auspices of the area Big Brother Big Sister organization, the local group struck out on its own and formed a governing board of trustees later that year.

In November, Bookplate Ink partnered with local artist Travis Tarbox Hotaling to create a new bookplate, the sales from which will benefit the Glen Helen Association. Bookplate Ink, owned and operated by villager Karen Gardner, has long ties to the Antioch Bookplate Company, founded here in 1926.

Near Thanksgiving, local playwright Kane Stratton debuted an eight-minute film vignette drawn from his script, entitled “Caesar’s Redemption.” The filmed play excerpt tells a fictionalized version of the story of Caesar, a Black man “marooned” among the Shawnee people of southwestern Ohio in the 1770s and beyond. The production features a cast of 11, including numerous Shawnee actors.

The ninth annual Winter Solstice Poetry Reading was held via Zoom this year, and featured eight poets, including Ohio Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour. Completing the lineup were Jaime Adoff, Kathy B. Austin, Mario Cosey, Furaha Henry-Jones, Robin Mullet, Frances Simon and Kerry Trautman. The theme of the 2020 event was “The Healing Earth.”

In December, the News spotlighted villager Chasilee Crawford, an intensive care unit nurse at Springfield Regional Medical Center, after she posted a raw Facebook testimonial about the grim realities of the ongoing pandemic that drew widespread village laudation and gratitude. Said Crawford to the News: “We’re nurses, we’re tired, but we continue to do this, and not because it’s our job. We love doing this. I’ve been working since March. I haven’t seen any extra benefits from the government. I don’t get hazard pay. This is basically our calling.”

Popular holiday destination Clifton Mill threw its hat into the ring for the top prize in USA Today’s “10Best” contest in December. The 200-year-old grist mill, which is decorated with millions of shimmering lights at the end of every year, came in second in a field  of 20 contestants.

After three decades of answering and saving letters from village children, Santa Claus deposited the archive of collected letters at the library for letter writers young and old to retrieve and take home. Santa was aided for many of those years by former villager Peggy Barker, for whom the volunteer job was a labor of love.

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