LaTonya Williams is the first Black woman elected to the St. Joseph School District Board of Education, and she feels affirmed in multiple ways after the April 6 election.
Among nine candidates, she placed third, and the top three candidates get a seat. With a sense of surprise and great personal averment for Williams, voters also selected Midtown native David Foster, who she has known since middle school. It affirms her faith in the city and in the voters she is determined to uplift. Kenneth Reeder placed first in the election and is scheduled to be sworn in with Foster and Williams on Monday, April 19.
“I was always under the impression that they’re going to look at us as people,” Williams said. “They’re not going to look at our color. They’re going to look at our character. They’re going to look at our leadership.”
Foster said St. Joseph has come far.
“Sometimes, as a minority, there’s kind of an unwritten thing people say: ‘Maybe only one of you can make it,’ or something,” Foster said. “But it gives me even more faith in the voters and in our city that we have come to this point.”
Loes Hedge, secretary of the St. Joseph NAACP, cheered how Williams came to leadership from difficult circumstances early on. The daughter of a single mother who raised her family from an early age, Williams herself had children young and has raised them by herself. Now she is studying to earn a master’s degree, runs a photography firm and is executive director of the Bartlett Center. Hedge also admires Foster for his path to successful entrepreneurship from disadvantaged origins, and struggles of his own in school.
“People can relate to them,” Hedge said. “And, they’ve spoken to a way where people are going to feel included. It’s important to feel included and to be inclusive, whether it’s economics, race, creed, whatever you are a part of, that you belong. And I feel like they made people feel like that with what they stood for.”
In light of the election, in which all three incumbent candidates did not win a three-year term as voters favored Reeder, Williams and Foster — while handily rejecting the Proposition CARE bond issue — Williams pledges to reset the clock on the board’s agenda to date. There will be no major school alterations, she said, or closures for the immediate future. Any changes that ultimately do happen will be done with the in-depth involvement and blessing of as many community leaders as possible.
“It’s a clean slate,” Williams said. “Clean chalkboard. I know that the remaining members of our board have a lot of ideas and a lot of information that I don’t know. And so I have to play catch up, of sorts. But the people have spoken.”
Foster himself pledged that if he has his druthers, the board will not bless major changes to how schools are organized for the rest of the year; it will probably take longer than that to gather input and construct a plan people can support.
“We need to actually get in the field, roll up our sleeves and get more involved,” he said.
Repeated attempts to contact Kenneth Reeder for a post-election feature story have not been successful.
The trading card industry has surged more in the last year than ever before and businesses around St. Joseph are taking advantage while the hype is at its current apex.
“Here in St. Joe, I’ve been doing shows here for the last 10 years and this time around, my dealers have asked to do a monthly show,” said Carleo Pacubas, owner of Pony Express Sports & More located in the East Hills Mall. “I normally do this three times a year; now they want me to do it every month.”
Pacubas’s store has been inside of the mall for several years and he says his inventory is only 15 to 20 percent sports cards and the rest is memorabilia, but he has been in the market for sports trading cards since the late 80s which, in his estimation, was the last time he saw the trading card market boom.
“This is something I thought would never happen again,” said Pacubas. “When in the ’90s, show them your card and they will buy it. In the 2000s, even if you sell it for 50% they would just look at it. Now they’re buying cards over the value of an item.”
The industry has now become overwhelmingly even for grading companies who judge the quality and condition of cards. Recently in March, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) raised the prices of their grading services per card based on market value and just weeks after that, stopped accepting submissions based on the backlog they had been experiencing because of the boom in the market. Now, PSA won’t be accepting submissions for grading again until July 1. Then, on the first of April, President of Sportscard Guaranty Corporation, Peter Steinberg announced that the grading company was raising the submission prices from $25 per card to $75 per card.
Pony Express Sports & More isn’t the only store selling cards during the craze. EXP Gaming Lounge, located at 1401 S. Belt Hwy, mostly takes part in the other dimension of the trading card boom: Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering.
“When people were getting their stimulus checks, that’s kind of the essence of where the boom happened. Whenever they had that influx of money, they come in and spend it on Magic or Pokémon. It’s really surged the competitive aspect of Magic because to get into competitive, it costs quite a bit of money,” said EXP Gaming Lounge co-owner, Kyle Richards.
Both Pokémon and MTG are known as trading card games where players can duel with their respective cards. But, these types of trading cards have also shown to have high collectible value. Charizard cards from the Pokémon first edition sets have been known to eclipse $350,000 at auction.
The boom occurred in a time when individuals were at the most financial stress of their life during the pandemic. Some wonder if the market for these two and a half-inch by three and half-inch pieces of artwork can sustain their value over time. Pacubas says he declined the request of his dealers who want to host monthly card shows in the East Hills Mall for fear of market flooding. Richards says from his vantage point, many card values will drop in the coming months, but stabilize higher than they ever have before.
“Now that more people are in the know through social media, it’s crazy on TikTok and YouTube and stuff, just people posting these videos of evaluating these different card games. It’s gonna sell higher and there will be more publicity around it, so people will be like, ‘Well, I can invest my money not only in the stock market, but now all these different card games as well,’” said Richards.
EXP Gaming Lounge hosts numerous card game tournaments for Magic: The Gathering every weekend at their location. They will host their first Pokémon tournament on Sunday, April 11, at 6 p.m. at their current location. EXP Gaming Lounge sells Pokémon, MTG cards and also a few sports trading cards with the intention of selling more in the future.
St. Joseph will experience a flood again — it’s inevitable. But the destruction the next one leaves behind will depend on how much the city and county have learned from past events.
The city’s geography isn’t ideal for flood prevention. It sits along the banks of the Missouri River, which flooded most recently in 2018 and 2019, and has many tributaries, like Contrary Creek, that weave through town.
If northern states, like the Dakotas, receive heavy snowfall or rain, it affects southern states, like Missouri.
While floods can’t be prevented, there are ways to minimize risk. The United States Army Corps of Engineers controls multiple dams upstream, like Gavins Point, and determines when to release water.
“If we have a large runoff upstream of Gavins Point, then we will have large releases on average,” said John Remus, the chief of water management of the northwest division for the United States Army Corps of Engineers. “But we will sculpt those throughout the year as we can help prevent flood damage downstream.”
The Corp of Engineers is also raising levees along both banks of the Missouri River. While this reduces the risk of floods, it isn’t foolproof. There will always be floods that exceed the height of a levee.
“By raising the right bank levee, we can induce flooding on the left bank, so you have to raise them to prevent that,” said Jud Kneuvean, the chief of the readiness and contingency operations center in the Kansas City district for the Corps of Engineers. “As a general rule, raising the heights of levees and continuing to do that is not going to be successful in the future. You’re going to have to look at other structural changes in the floodplain, if you really want to reduce the risk of flooding.”
The Missouri River isn’t the only flood threat. Last July, Contrary Creek flooded the Southside due to heavy rain and a debris jam. This left many residents displaced.
Buchanan County responded by spending $45,000 on dumpsters and removing debris from the creek. The City of St. Joseph also spent more than $400,000 on dumpsters and pumping out basements.
While the city has $1 million in emergency relief funds, that money couldn’t be used, because the flood wasn’t big enough, according to the Federal and State Emergency Management Agencies. This meant the city wouldn’t have been reimbursed for expenses.
The Contrary Creek flood caused significant damage to homes in the Southside, and residents were forced to pay the price. A debris jam caused the flood, but a levee could have lessened the blow.
A levee on the south side protects farmland, so when there is high water, it flows to the other side into a neighborhood. This is a problem the Corps of Engineers addressed with the Missouri River by raising the levee on the left bank. Southside residents believe the same should be done with Contrary Creek.
“It’s going to happen again,” said Ron Baker, a Southside resident who was affected by the flood. “The only thing that’s going to save the Southend is if they go through the expense to put a levee, King Hill down to 59 Highway. An eight-foot levee, that’s the only thing that will save us.”
“I believe the levee needs to be raised up more, for one, on the Southend of town here, that’d be a great start,” said Aaron Armstrong, a Southside resident.
Cleaning out the creek would also help. The banks have eroded causing trees to fall into the stream along with discarded junk. But there are questions about who is responsible. Residents think the city and county should keep the creek clean. The county says it is the property owners’ responsibility.
“Contrary Creek runs through private property all the way down through there, so the property owners are basically responsible for not throwing debris in there, brush and stuff, and if there is brush in there, to clean it out as much as possible,” said Ron Hook, the western district Buchanan County commissioner.
Instead of pointing fingers, residents want the city, county and community to come together and find a solution.
“This is a time where we look at this problem and as a community, whether it’s county, city, farmers, that we come together on this issue and say, ‘Hey, look there’s a problem, let’s come together and get it taken care of,’” said Armstrong.
City Councilman Brian Myers agrees that if all available resources are utilized, future flood events could be addressed more effectively.
“My concern is how we, as a community, are able to tie all of our resources together, both public, private and not-for-profit, to make sure that the aftermath of the disaster is taken care of effectively,” Myers said. “I know firsthand there are a lot of people in our Southside that are still suffering financially, still displaced from their homes because of that flood. Looking at our emergency management practices periodically could make this go a lot smoother in the future.”
While this doesn’t help the people who are still displaced from their homes, nearly nine months after Contrary Creek, it could reduce the impact of future floods.