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Impeachment goes public

Impeachment goes public

New testimony introduces new evidence of President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to press Ukraine to investigate political rivals.

Details on Page A6

This week in St. Joe Live

❯ All of the Lights

East Hills bring big talent to Christmas Tree Lighting

❯ Homes for the Holidays

Saint Joseph Symphony to host ‘Holiday Homes Tour’

❯ Plus, much, much, more inside

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LIFE STORY | An ongoing series of articles about noteworthy people from the News-Press readership area
At planetarium, a fascination with the stars remains

Astronomers call it a “deep-sky census,” the Hubble Space Telescope having pointed itself in one direction, then another, and discovering a host of previously undetectable galaxies, more of them in space than there are humans on Earth.

Our knowledge expands on what’s “out there,” while folks right here have a boundless interest.

“There will always be a fascination,” Jerry Wilkerson said. “We have looked so far out into space with Hubble. Most people don’t realize how much is way out there that we’ll never get to.”

Wilkerson says this while sitting in the Bushman Planetarium at Missouri Western State University. He taught at the institution from 1964 to 2002.

When the planetarium opened 50 years ago this month, Wilkerson ran the show. Now an emeritus member of the mathematics faculty, he’s still there.

Plans had gotten under way for relocating the junior college Downtown to become Missouri Western State College on the eastern side of the city. Architects worked on the design for the three original buildings, and Wilkerson approached the school’s president, Dr. Marvin O. Looney, with an idea.

“I asked him if it would be possible to have a planetarium in the new science and mathematics building that was being planned,” he recalled. “He made a decision that would be a very good idea, and he thought that would be one of the unique features for this college compared to other colleges in the state.”

So it came to pass that a two-story hollowed-out space would be included in Agenstein Hall, there to be filled with a dome, fiberglass seats and a middle-of-the-room projector pointing upward and generally giving light to the stars.

Since November 1969, tens of thousands of schoolchildren, college students and members of the general public from near and far have settled in for shows like “Forces of Nature” and “Journey to the Stars” and “Nine Planets and Counting.”

Almost any astronomical phenomenon, from black holes to “extrasolar” planets, gets attention from time to time.

Wilkerson has a particular fondness for a nonspace entry in the planetarium library, “Sea Monsters,” a look back at Earth 80 million years ago, some of its focus being on fossils of marine creatures found in Kansas.

A Yuletide favorite, “Mystery of the Christmas Star,” will be shown Dec. 22 and 23.

“That program does a very nice job of giving you an astronomer’s view of what the Christmas star might have been,” Wilkerson said. “Was it a comet? Was it a meteor? Was it a supernova or an alignment of planets? It just does a very nice job of talking about the possibilities.”

Wilkerson has been a witness to changes that have come to the planetarium. A major renovation took place in 1997. The Joseph and Bess Bushman family donated money for new seating and a new surface for the projection dome, among other things.

When Agenstein Hall underwent a makeover in 2011, so did the planetarium. (“Everything was taken out of this room,” Wilkerson said, laughing. “I never dreamed I would ever see those walls again.”) A new digital projector and sound surface would enhance the venue.

Projectors now reside on both sides of the 45-seat auditorium, aligned for a full-dome animation. A complicated-looking control board rests in back.

At Missouri Western, the planetarium opened just a few months after American astronauts walked on the moon. Interest in space exploration stood at its apex.

That interest has risen and fallen through the decades, but the fundamental allure remains intact, a general wonder in the stars.

As this largely unsung attraction moves into its 51st year, the planetarium still has some educating to do.

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Audit Committee looks at sewer revenues

The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Audit Committee took a look at year-to-date finances on Wednesday, including an updated list of newly added sewer customers in St. Joseph.

According to a report, 121 new sewer accounts have been added to the city’s system from all over the city since January that were not being billed before.

City staff said those users were on an exception report that lists residents who should not be receiving a bill due to not being on the system, clerical errors or uncertainty.

Assistant Director of Administrative Services Beau Musser had concerns earlier this year about the number of customers who were not being billed, but now says an effort is being made to collect those revenues and the situation is improving.

“We are reviewing that exception report, we’ve got some new tools where we’re actually mapping that via GIS maps,” Musser said. “Then, too, (we’re) just building a comprehensive database, one central database that tells us everything we need to know for 33,000 parcel IDs and documenting: Are these sewer? Are these septic? Are these irrigation only?”

Over the past 10 months, the new accounts have brought in about $60,800 that would not have been charged if those questions had not been answered.

“The work still is ongoing on that, but significant improvements have been made,” Musser said.

The committee also saw a look at revenues and expenses for the end of the first quarter of this fiscal year compared to the first quarter of of last year.

The report shows expenses down by around 19% across the board and, despite gaming revenues dropping by 15% and sales tax staying fairly stagnant, revenues were about $288,000 higher than they were at the end of this quarter last year.

Musser said the city’s finances are looking “really good” at this point.

“As we look at comparing this quarter to last, expenses are down,” Musser said. “Also, as we look at the percentage of our budget, it looks like no issues moving forward being able to come in under budget for this fiscal year.”

One area of significant improvement for revenues is landfill tipping fee income, which is about $500,000 higher than last year’s first quarter. The landfill has recently seen reduced tipping fee prices and an increase in daily use.

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And the band plays on | The Salvation Army cuts ribbon on new facility
Salvation Army opens new Booth Center

The Salvation Army cut the ribbon on the new Booth Center facility, which will provide emergency housing for families in St. Joseph when the occupancy ordinance is approved by the St. Joseph City Council.

The shelter provides nine apartments for families and has a maximum capacity of 47.

Majors Laura and Ronald Key command the Salvation Army’s community center and the new Booth Center. They said the goal of the shelter is to make the lives of families better.

“They all have their own bedrooms, a living room, kitchen kind of area, they all have their own private bathrooms,” Ron Key said. “The only thing they really share is a laundry facility.”

Laura Key said a case manager will be working with the families during their 60- to 90-day stay, going over things like budgeting, cooking and other skills to make them self-sufficient.

The Booth Center is named after the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth.

Shortly after the ribbon-cutting, Mayor Bill McMurray presented a $2,000 check to Danny Gach of The Crossing Outreach Ministry and Krista Kiger of Community Missions.

The anonymous donation was made after the anti-camping ordinance was passed and the individual wanted to help pay for additional staffing at the shelters in town.

“So he gave me a check for $2,000, and we’re going to split it between the (Crossing and Community Mission),” McMurray said. “They can get some additional staffing and help get some people out of the cold.”

Kiger already has plans for $750 of the donation.

“We’re getting ready to open the cold weather shelter, which we open for three months during the winter months for 25 homeless men,” Kiger said. “In the meantime, we got hit with this abrupt cold weather and we will use this to open up our Haven dining room, when the temperature gets way too low.”