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Explorer visits Atchison | Students encouraged to pursue career dreams

ATCHISON, Kan.— For Robert Ballard, integrating the next generation into STEM fields is about more than promoting the life of an explorer and a scientist like himself, more than preparing for the future.

It’s fulfilling a debt of gratitude.

“When I was a kid, I wrote a letter, like a ‘Dear Santa Claus’ letter, to a scientist. I’m sure the words were misspelled. And I said, I want to be an oceanographer,” the discoverer of the wreck of the RMS Titanic said on Tuesday in Atchison, Kansas.

“And instead of throwing my letter in the trash, he sent me an application for a scholarship I got that changed my life. I have a moral obligation to do the same for all the kids today.”

It is this mission most of all that drives him now, Ballard said, in his ongoing quest for the lost Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft, flown by Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan in July 1937 before they vanished over the Pacific Ocean.

Ballard is partnering with National Geographic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Navy to attempt to solve the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance, or at least find some sign of where her aircraft went down.

An initial survey of the area around Nikumaroro Island, in the Phoenix archipelago of the Republic of Kiribati, has not produced any recovered Earhart artifacts, although search teams did find a possible camp site and a skull, which may belong to a woman, Ballard said. Meanwhile, search efforts for signs of Earhart’s plane will continue around Howland Island, where teams had expected Earhart and Noonan to land on July 2, 1937.

Principal Matt Renk of Atchison High School, who hosted Ballard at an event organized by the office of Ballard’s longtime friend, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, said Ballard’s visit proved to be an opportunity for kids to check in to the sciences and follow Ballard’s example. Ballard was accompanied by retired Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, U.S. Navy, deputy administrator of NOAA.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to have that offer out there,” Renk said. “If you’re willing to do the work and you’re willing to do the mental pushups, you could be out there too. It’s a great message.”

After obtaining his scholarship, Ballard, a Wichita, Kansas, native, completed a quadruple major in physics, mathematics, geology and chemistry, before going on to earn his Ph.D.

He briefly served in the U.S. Army before transferring to the U.S. Navy, where his work as an oceanographer led to his selection for an operation in 1985 to find the wreckage of U.S. nuclear submarines; as Ballard told the crowd at Atchison High School on Tuesday, he really wasn’t expected to find Titanic, and the Navy was unhappy with him when he did, because of the publicity it generated toward a secret mission.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Ballard’s discovery led to a career of finding lost treasures and geologic wonders on the sea floor that made him an international celebrity, and he hopes now to inspire students in Atchison and around the world.

“When I came home from the Titanic, there were 16,000 Bob Ballard letters. Written to this Bob Ballard,” he said. “And I just feel it’s a moral obligation to pay back, particularly at this point in my life.

So I was here recruiting. I’m here to sign up kids. And I want to tell them that it’s really exciting what I do. And they want to share in that excitement? They gotta do their homework.”

Ballard’s Corps of Exploration is offering opportunities for students to apply and contribute to his mission, including potential selection for a tour of duty aboard E/V Nautilus, his ocean-exploring ship currently deployed to the Pacific for the search. For more information, visit

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Patrol operations net results on holiday weekend

The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Troop H participated in operation C.A.R.E. over Labor Day Weekend to reduce crashes and fatalities happening on the roadways.

Officers in Troop H issued 158 citations and 249 warnings, and made four misdemeanor drug arrests and three misdemeanor warrant arrests over the long weekend. The operation is a crash awareness and reduction effort that takes place when the roads see an increase in motorists due to holiday traveling.

Sgt. Jake Angle with Troop H said the main goal is highway safety.

“When people see us out there, we hope it slows them down and makes them think,” Angle said.

Troop H ended the weekend with 14 crashes and zero fatalities. Across Missouri, there were four fatalities during the holiday weekend.

Officers also conducted DWI saturations in Andrew, Buchanan, Daviess and DeKalb counties recently. They issued 15 citations and 71 warnings, made five misdemeanor drug arrests found seven DWIs.

Angle said troopers put extra officers out to watch for signs of impaired drivers.

“If your plans include alcohol, great, but don’t get behind the wheel of a car and put yourself and others in danger,” Angle said.

Angle said the hope is the presence of troopers in areas where there has been a high volume of alcohol-related crashes and DWIs, will lower the amount of impaired drivers. Troop H has had multiple saturations within the last month to home in on the issue.

Along with making sure individuals are obeying traffic laws, officers assisted 34 motorists during the holiday and eight during the DWI saturations.

“People think we’re just out there to write tickets, but we are out there to assist the motorists as well,” Angle said.

Troop H plans to continue DWI saturations and other operations at least once a month to increase highway safety.

“We’re going to do whatever we can to keep people as safe as possible,” Angle said.

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School enrollment numbers play part in facilities plans

Almost 150 fewer students are attending schools in the St. Joseph School District than last year, something the Long-Range Planning Committee took into account when discussing facility options on Tuesday night.

According to numbers compiled within the first seven days of school, 10,768 students are enrolled in 23 schools across the district, compared to 10,914 last school year. According to Superintendent Doug Van Zyl, demographic studies have showed a decreased birth rate as well as people moving from the area, which could contribute to the decrease.

“Our demographic study that was done as part of the facilities master plan did show a continued downward trend in loss of students,” Van Zyl said. “That’s something that can change as well; something can happen in the community that allows for some growth and development and make more students and families move into our community.”

The school to lose the most students was Lafayette High School with 55 students, followed by Hosea Elementary School with 39 and Coleman Elementary School with 33. The school to gain the most students was Webster Secondary School with 84 students, followed by Spring Garden Middle School with 22 and Bessie Ellison Elementary School with 19.

An official count day is expected to take place at the end of September, according to Van Zyl.

These numbers were discussed among the district’s long-range planning committee on Tuesday night, which heavily focused on facility options that would work best for students and be financially wise.

“It sounds like to me that the staff feedback is similar to the community feedback. It sounds like to me it’s near unanimous that the current model doesn’t work for a variety of reasons,” said Seth Wright, president of the St. Joseph School Board. “

Van Zyl said he does not want to focus too heavily on enrollment numbers that could change from year to year, but rather how facilities can provide an equal learning environment for students throughout the district and save on resources and money. “It doesn’t work academically, extracurricularly, facilities, everything. The current model isn’t working and we have to change.”

The committee discussed the idea of consolidating two or more high schools, an idea that has been on their minds for some time now. The group brainstormed ways to solve concerns that had come from this idea such as adding intramural sports for high-schoolers and focusing on academic and interest groups that could provide scholarships outside of athletics.

No decision was made by the board as they were awaiting more cost analyses from DRL, the company working with the district on facility planning. The board was expected to receive that information by the end of the week and had plans to share the information with the public both online and at a yet-to-be-decided location.

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Construction underway of new senior living facility

Construction of a new senior living facility is underway.

St. Charles Place, a development by Catholic Charities, will be located at 3240 Pear St. Kevin Murphy, the charity’s executive director of marketing and communications, confirmed the beginning of construction.

The St. Joseph City Council approved a resolution for support of the $6 million project in November of 2017. Catholic Charities sought tax credits from the Missouri Housing Development Commission in order to develop the senior community. A resolution of support is part of the tax credit application.

In December 2018, Catholic Charities received news from the MHDC.

“We just got awarded tax credits and it’s 38 units for low-income seniors because it was just awarded. We’re probably 18 months away from the project being finished,” Jarrod Sanderson, executive director of Neighborhoods of Hope Community Housing for Catholic Charities, said at the time.

Neighborhoods of Hope Community Housing is a nonprofit organization created by Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph to provide access to affordable housing for low-income and hard-to-house populations, according to the Catholic Charities website.

Rent will be income based and range from $185 to $550 a month, according to Sanderson.

Plans presented to the City Council in 2017 consisted of one- and two-bedroom units for seniors age 62 and over.

Tenants also will have full access to Catholic Charities services, such as monthly wellness clinics, transportation via shuttle, in-home care services and medication management.

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