As a I noted on the home page of this website, "anyone can in a quarter of a century produce four or five good pieces." This page reflects my ability to produce consistently outstanding work, highlighting the last six major articles I wrote for jacksongov.org during my final months as the Jackson County, Missouri Communications Department's lone copywriter. At the same time that I was doing this work, I was redesigning the jacksongov.org website and drafting the State of the County address.
In addition to writing these articles, I often either took or edited the photos. I was also responsible for formatting the web pages.
A Fresh Start
Constructing Futures Program Helps Individuals
Trying To Secure Employment After Incarceration
December 16, 2016
Zach Godsy speaks candidly about his past. He used drugs, stole cars and committed other thefts. And he went to prison.
“I paid the price,” says Godsy. “Prison was almost a blessing. It got me away from drugs. Having bills to pay was my excuse for stealing things. That and using drugs…They’re a part of my story.”
But only a part. At 33, the Kansas City man realizes his life’s story is far from complete. Since being released from prison in August, he has started writing the next chapter: A Fresh Start. It is very much a work in progress, not unlike the vacant house — located not far from Ivanhoe Park in Kansas City — that Godsy is helping renovate as part of Jackson County’s Constructing Futures program.
The innovative program addresses three key issues: 1) homelessness, 2) the blight vacant houses can be on a neighborhood and 3) the need to provide individuals like Godsy an opportunity to acquire marketable job skills. As Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr., points out, “Constructing Futures does more than remodel houses. It helps repair lives.”
These are links to two of my older artricles for jacksongov.org—two of my favorites. Both are in-depth pieces reflecting my appreciation for history and storytelling:
Two Of My Favorites
He played in some of the most historical football games ever, including in two of the first four Super Bowls. He then went from the gridiron to the courthouse, serving the community for more than 40 years as a Jackson County Legislature. ►LINK
Salute To Veterans
Emma Jean Newland was the quintessential Rosie The Riveter, working throughout World War II building B-25 bombers in Kansas City, Kansas. Ray Hawks, meanwhile, went from the assembly line at the same Fairfax plant when the war began, to ending the war in the cockpit, piloting what he called a "flying casket." ►LINK
ME Investigator's Curiosity (And Hard Work) Leads To
Identifying The Notorious 'Skeleton In The Closet'
October 2, 2016
There wasn’t another living soul to chat with — to help whittle away the hours on a quiet night working the 7-to-7 graveyard shift at the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office. “Being bored,” ME Investigator Adam Wilcoxen decided to check the Morgue Status Board, a listing of unresolved yet still active cases.
The “name” atop the board seized Wilcoxen’s attention: “Skeletal Remains, Unidentified.”
It was the skeleton in the closet — the charred bones of a man discovered 10 weeks after a Jan. 2, 2012 fire gutted a vacant house on Wabash Avenue in Kansas City. Who was he? had remained a mystery.
ME's Office In 'Good Hands'
Dr. Diane Peterson Completes First Year
As Jackson County Chief Medical Examiner
September 15, 2016
She wanted to be a doctor. As a little girl, growing up in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Diane Peterson displayed an early fascination with anatomy and was soon imagining herself becoming a physician.
Then she got older. And she just couldn’t see herself being able to treat patients.
“When I got to high school, I changed my mind about becoming a doctor,” she says. “I didn’t think I would be able to handle seeing people in pain.”
But, today, the people Dr. Peterson examines are — in her words — “freed of their pain.” They are deceased.
Dutch Newman Honored
A Woman Ahead Of Her Time, She Changed
The Times In Which She Lived
August 15, 2016
She was born Hila Bucher Aug. 18, 1920. She died “Dutch” Newman July 27, 2016. In the intervening 95 years and 343 days that were her remarkable life, Newman didn’t just see history get made — she helped make it.
With the same adventurous spirit of the settlers who went west in the 1800s, Dutch was a 20th Century pioneer, working tirelessly to open up the political process to women.
Prior to a tribute honoring Newman’s legacy during the Jackson County Legislative meeting Monday, County Executive Frank White, Jr., observed, “Her being born the very day the U.S. Constitution was officially ratified to guarantee women the right to vote was no coincidence. It was fate.”
To put into perspective the era into which Newman was born, consider the shocking — at least by today’s standards — “reasoning” some cited for opposing the 19th Amendment guaranteeing American women the right to vote. The Nebraska Association Opposed to Women Suffragelisted “10 Reasons Why The Great Majority Of Women Do Not Want The Ballot,” among them “because the woman worker wants rest and quietude — not political excitement.”
The attitude that “a woman’s place is in the home” was relegated to caveman thinking thanks in no small part to women like Dutch Newman. She was a woman ahead of her time who helped change the times in which she lived. She engaged fully in “political excitement,” striving to get women out of the house and into mayor’s offices, county legislative chambers, state houses and congressional seats.
Department Takes Calm, Coll & Collected Approach To Training
August 8, 2016
Trace Abraham winces. He vividly describes the military training he has endured as an Army National Guardsman in terms of how loud — and profane — the trainers could be.
“In the military you’re always getting yelled at… screamed at… cursed at… all the time,” he says. “There’s all kinds of crazy stuff, and a lot of it is just ridiculous.”
He prefers his civilian employer’s saner, quieter approach to training. When not wearing his Army khaki green, Abraham dons the smoky gray uniform of a Jackson County Corrections Officer.
Every morning session of the Jackson County Corrections Officers (CO) Academy begins with a military ritual — the uniform inspection. But the county Corrections Department’s intensive training program rarely, if ever, gets loud. Veteran CO Bryan Carroll doesn’t even raise his voice when teaching “Use of Force III & IV: Ground Fighting & Knife Defense,” a class one might expect would entail a few high-volume shouts.
Amos Otis Day In Jackson County
Former Royal All-Star Honored
August 4, 2016
What stadium PA announcer did not enjoy introducing Amos Otis? A name that rhythmic, almost lyrical, demands to be embellished — pronounced with extra relish, perhaps an exaggerated hissss, especially when adding the famous “Famous” moniker.
“Now batting for the Kansas City Royals… No. 26… Center fielder… Famoussss… Amossss… Otissss!”
Amos Otis’ name will echo throughout Kauffman Stadium once again during Royals Legends Night this Friday evening. He’s the featured “legend.”
But Jackson County threw out the first pitch — metaphorically — in welcoming "AO" back to KC, holding a ceremony to honor Otis this afternoon at the Historic Truman Courthouse in Independence. County Executive Frank White, Jr. read a proclamation officially designating Friday, Aug. 5, 2016 “Amos Otis Day in Jackson County.”
The Skeleton In The Closet
Man's Remains Still Unidentified 4½ Years After Being Found
July 28, 2016
“I’ll tell you all about my skeleton in the closet.”
Now that she has your full attention, Diane Peterson will pause for effect. What well-guarded secret is she about to divulge?
Actually, Dr. Peterson isn’t speaking metaphorically. She is being quite literal.
And the Jackson County Chief Medical Examiner doesn’t yet know the one secret this skeleton — that was, indeed, found in a closet — has been keeping the last 4½ years.
Who was this man?
Two days into 2012, the Kansas City Fire Department fought a blaze that gutted a vacant house on Wabash Avenue in the urban core. The next day the house’s windows and doors were boarded up, essentially creating a tomb that would remain sealed more than two months — until individuals who acquired the property with the intention of rehabbing it went back inside to start cleaning the debris. On March 26, they made the shocking discovery inside one of the closets.
Serving Her 'Second Family'
Nilda Serrano Becomes First Female Captaion In
Jackson County Corrections Department History
June 27, 2016
Nilda Serrano smiled proudly as she received the double gold bars insignia for her uniform. Then Rex Tarwater, Deputy Director for Jackson County Corrections, promptly told her she’d soon have to give the captain bars back.
“So we can pin them on you during our next promotional ceremony,” Tarwater explained.
While no date has yet been set to commemorate her promotion ceremonially, Serrano officially assumed her new duties as a Jackson County Corrections Department captain last week. She becomes not only the first female but also the first Hispanic to rise to that rank in the department’s history.
“I’m just shocked,” Serrano said moments after Tarwater announced her promotion June 16 in a conference room at the Jackson County Detention Center. County Executive Frank White, Jr. was there to be among the first to shake her hand.
“I know there were a lot of other candidates for this position, and that we were all qualified,” Serrano continued. “I am humbled. I am excited to accept this position. Whatever’s for the betterment of the department is what matters most, as usual.”
A Day At The Beach
Kids From Urban Core Get First Chance To Enjoy County Parks
June 21, 2016
Kids laugh. They play in the sand. They splash in the water.
Sounds like just another typical summer’s day at Longview Lake Beach, right? Except many of these children have never before experienced the simple fun available to them through Jackson County Parks + Rec. Until now.
“We can’t bring the parks to the kids in Kansas City, but we can bring the kids to the parks,” said Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr., smiling as he soaked up the sun — and the children’s laughter.
Jackson County and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) teamed up to give 28 boys and girls from the Whatsoever Community Center — located on Kansas City's east side — an afternoon at the beach Tuesday. The KCATA provided what can be a major barrier preventing city children from enjoying the nation’s third largest county parks system: transportation.
"I can guarantee for these kids this is a first," said Whatsoever Executive Director Charlie Gaseich. "For most of them their whole world is that six square-block area around our center. There's nothing like this in our neighborhood."
Historic Medallion Unveiled
Independence Square Was The Launch Point For Westward Settlers
June 7, 2016
When his wagon train formed outside the Jackson County Courthouse, James A. Pritchard anxiously anticipated the great adventure that lay before him as he prepared to head out onto the Oregon Trail. Like thousands of other settlers before him, he was "ready now to bid adieu to homes, friends and... the abodes of Civilization, its peace, comeforts [sic] and its safety."
Some 167 years after Pritchard went west to seek his fortune during the California Gold Rush, Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. joined National Historic Trails Superintendent Aaron Mahr to unveil a historic marker commemorating Independence Square as the "jumping off" point for three iconic trails — the Oregon, California and Santa Fe. The Historic Truman Courthouse, which has entombed within its walls the original courthouse Pritchard would have seen in 1849, is now adored with the bronze Old Oregon Trail medallion that renowned sculptor Avard Tennyson Fairbanks created in 1924.
The artist's son, Dr. David Fairbanks of Bethesda, Maryland, donated the medallion, noting, during the unveiling ceremony Tuesday afternoon, that it captured the "action and vigor" of 19th Century pioneers. The same artwork appears on monuments at Chimney Rock in Nebraska and other key points along the Oregon Trail.
"And now it's at the beginning of the trail, here in Independence," Dr. Fairbanks said. "I know my father would be pleased."