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Kendall Short | Special to the News-Press  

Missouri Western celebrates after blocking a field goal against Central Oklahoma on Saturday at Wantland Stadium in Edmond, Oklahoma.

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Mobile translators to benefit Central students

Central High School teacher Tracy Verduzco clearly was not prepared for her Apple Seed Grant to be accepted earlier this month, as she emotionally embraced her students and a representative from the SJSD Foundation when she found out she won one.

Grants from the foundation are funded through the community as well as donations from American Family Insurance. The money is allocated toward funding innovative project ideas proposed by local teachers.

Verduzco teaches shelter ELA classes for English Language Learner (ELL) students, and her Apple Seed Grant will go toward equipping them with mobile, two-way translators for their general classes.

She said the idea came to her after she saw a school in Chillicothe, Texas, utilizing the technology, specifically the WT2 Real-Time Wearable Translator, a device that was funded 400 percent on Kickstarter within just one month.

The devices, which are operated through an iPad, connect to wireless earpieces and mics. The teacher can then wear one of the earpieces and the student wears the other. This allows words to be translated from one language to another with about two seconds of delay.

“Teachers are expressive and they communicate with their hands, by pointing and using visuals and by traveling around the room, and if you have to stop and look at a translator (application on your phone), instruction stops and then it has to start again. So you kind of lose the flow of class,” Verduzco said. “But these little translator pieces let the teacher teach in real time. An ELL student can be completely engaged, because as the teacher speaks into the piece, the student wearing the piece hears it in their language. If they have questions, they just raise their hand, ask a question, and it goes from their language back to English.”

Upon receiving the Apple Seed Grant, Verduzco said she was incredibly emotional, and she told her students that these translators would change everything.

“You’ll finally be able to learn at your level!” she said to her class.

ELL students take a test to determine what level they’re at regarding their mastery of the English language. But even those who rank higher may experience difficulty when writing an essay or doing homework.

“What happens a lot ... is that their language is at a primary level where their cognitive ability is at an age-appropriate level,” Verduzco said. “But (the translators) will bring our ELL population right into the middle of school culture. They’re going to feel confident. They’re going to not be treated like they’re only as smart as their language acquisition. They’re going to be taught at their cognitive level, which is amazing.”

Central High School will be receiving $5,800 through this year’s Apple Seed Grant and recently purchased 16 translators with seven iPads. They will slowly introduce the translators into various classes going forward, Verduzco said.

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Studebakers have connection to St. Joseph

Television commercials in the 1950s called the Studebaker “275 horsepower of poetry in motion.”

Ken West, who owned a 1939 Studebaker when he was a teen in college at the University of Kansas, needed a good highway car because he was dating his future wife in St. Joseph. He found one in a brown 1939 Studebaker Commander he bought for $50.

“The thing I loved about that car was that in town, you could hear the tappets rattle and rattle and rattle. But it had an overdrive a higher gear than normal high. And when you put it in overdrive, just on the highway, it was smooth and you couldn’t hear it,” West said.

After he graduated from college, West said he had to buy another car. He married the girl he drove to see every week and not long afterward, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

“By that time I had to buy another car, but I loved that Studebaker,” West said.

The history of Studebaker begins in South Bend, Indiana, and travels through St. Joseph, where brothers John, Clement and Peter Studebaker opened a wagon shop near Fourth and Edmond streets. From here, they would supply wagons for settlers headed west, said Gary Chilcote, director of the Patee House Museum.

“St. Joseph was a jumping-off point for people who were headed out west toward California, and they traveled by wagons. And so the Studebaker brothers started making wagons,” Chilcote said.

The Studebakers stayed in St. Joseph for about 35 years before moving back to Indiana, where they began to make cars in 1900.

The Studebakers eventually dropped production of all horse-drawn vehicles and went into car-making by 1920. The last Studebaker came off the line in 1966.

Their St. Joseph Studebaker shop was next door to the Buffalo Saloon at Fifth and Edmond streets, just as the display is next to the re-created Buffalo Saloon inside the Patee House. The whole history of the Studebaker and the 1927 presidential model is on display inside the museum.

The interesting part here in St. Joseph was the fact that Peter’s son Wilbur married the daughter of Rev. E.S. Dulin, who also was the principal at the women’s college at the Patee House. The wedding was held at First Baptist Church, but the reception was held in the grand ballroom on the second floor of the Patee House.

Peter Studebaker himself roomed at the Patee House so regularly that he was listed in the 1871 city directory.

So anytime you happen to see a Studebaker on the road or on display somewhere today, know that part of its history was here in St. Joseph.

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Wade-ing in the water: Resident's home gutted by flooding

For one Buchanan County resident, flooding has become a fact of life.

Lewis and Clark Village resident Wade Braaten’s home is one of a few in the area that has had flood water inside for a good couple of months during this year’s prolonged flood period.

“You can see different water levels and watermarks,” Braaten said as he pointed at the marks on his new shed. “It flooded one time, OK, we dealt with it. It went down but it destroyed everything. Of course, then it hits again and again. It is kind of disheartening.”

Lewis and Clark, a small town near Rushville, Missouri, surrounds Sugar Lake, which is always impacted by high waters on the Missouri River. When water is released by the Missouri Corps of Engineers during already high water, it creates serious problems for the people in the small town. The area was impacted in the 2011 floods and now this year with the consistent rains and record releases has made it hard on folks once again.

Braaten purchased his house two and a half years ago, and he said the seller did not make him aware that he was five feet below floodplain. He and his wife dreamed of a place on the lake to renovate and make their perfect retirement home. That quickly changed once flooding started this spring.

He did not know that a flood was coming until he heard a knock on his door.

“The gas company comes up and says ‘What time do you want pick up (the) propane tank?’” Braaten said. Well I asked ‘Why are you picking up my propane tank?’ The worker said the Corps of Engineers is going to be dumping a lot of water this place is going to be flooded Saturday.”

He and his family packed up their things in a couple of days. They left less-important items for later. When the damage had been done, a local church was able to help him strip his house of moldy wood and material.

“Wade’s house flooded every single time, and it had 3 or 4 feet of water every flood,” Bill Brinton, the emergency management coordinator for Buchanan County said. “You buy a house, you think you are going to have a house by the lake. You are excited about your future, and then an unprecedented third flood comes along. It is horrible.”

Braaten had a simple answer when asked if he would have gone through the process of purchasing the house again.

“No, if I had known that I would not have bought this house,” Braaten said.

But Braaten also acknowledges that the local church, new friends and neighbors and getting three months free storage at a facility have been blessings in disguise.

“God works in strange and miraculous ways. Everything comes into place,” Braaten said.

He is planning on being able to raise his house up and build it up again this coming spring.

As vaping rises, tobacco tax receipts plummet

Every cigarette in St. Joseph includes a little something extra for Uncle Sam, the state of Missouri and city government.

This “sin tax” amounts to roughly $1.23 per pack purchased in the city limits. But does a sin tax still serve its purpose if fewer and fewer people are committing the offense?

State and city data show a steep drop in tobacco tax revenue in the last decade, as smoking rates declined and some younger people turned to electronic vapes that aren’t subject to a tobacco tax.

City tobacco tax revenue has dropped 27 percent since 2009, to an estimated $319,000 in 2019 on a tax that amounts to 5 cents a pack. Missouri’s receipts have dropped 10 percent in a similar time period, to $99 million in 2019. That state portion of the tax is 17 cents a pack, the lowest rate in the nation.

Since tobacco taxes are enacted to change behavior as much as generate revenue, health advocates see this decline as a positive step.

“It tells us people are either quitting or not starting,” said Leah Martin, director of advocacy and tobacco control for the American Lung Association in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. “A decrease in revenue shows there has been a decrease in smoking.”

The American Lung Association released statistics that show St. Joseph’s adult smoking rate at 25 percent. That’s down from recent years but still higher than the state rate of 20.8 percent and the national rate of 17 percent. Some are starting to ask what kind of role vaping plays in this decline.

Ron Bachman, owner St. Joe Petroleum, describes cigarette sales as significant but declining in his company’s chain of popular Fastgas stores in the St. Joseph area. “It’s hard to tell if it’s because of vaping,” he said. “I really don’t think it’s eating into it that much.”

The U.S. Surgeon General labeled e-cigarettes as an epidemic after high school usage increased 78 percent in 2018. At some local tobacco and vape stores, employees noted a clear trend of younger customers preferring vapes and older smokers buying traditional cigarettes.

“People are smoking less cigarettes. More people are vaping,” said Chris Prudden, owner of The Torch and Nail on Alabama Street. “I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I definitely sell a lot of battery accessories. It’s probably 30 percent of my business, at least. It wasn’t that in the beginning at all.”

Vapes, though, occupy a nebulous world with a different tax and regulatory structure than traditional cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration didn’t issue regulations for e-cigarette products until 2014. It took two more years for the agency to restrict sales to consumers 18 and older — a rule that many teens get around — and some companies haven’t fully complied with requirements that manufacturers disclose the ingredients in an e-cigarette.

The state followed the same playbook, passing a law that e-cigarettes don’t have to be regulated like a tobacco product.

Now, health organizations are pushing back and demanding that e-cigs, which have been linked to more than a thousand serious lung illnesses nationwide, face government oversight more in line with a traditional cigarette. The St. Joseph City Council takes a step in that direction with a vote Monday on whether to include e-cigarettes in St. Joseph’s indoor smoking ban.

“A lot of local municipalities have adopted ordinances that define it as a tobacco product,” Martin said. “We would like to see more funding for prevention and regulation.”