Articles by Jan Larson McLaughlin

History in unusual places…toy soldiers, Superman and beer cans

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   At the young age of 7, Matt Donahue was going through trash bins looking for beer cans. Not for recycling, but for collecting. It would be the start of a lifetime of collecting for Donahue. The beer cans, along with an eclectic combination of items such as Wonder Woman memorabilia, Dr. Seuss books, and salt and pepper shakers, are part of a new program at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum. The exhibits feature several community members’ collections for the site’s new “Be Your Own Museum” program. The site was opened to guests Friday to show off the loaned collections. There are superheroes and comic book character from Larry Nader, 1950s era toys from Mary Dilsaver, vintage sewing machines from Cindy Huffman, Nancy Drew books from Jayne Tegge, hand-painted china from Jane Westerhaus, Pez dispensers from Kelli Kling, and more. Roger Mazzarella, who is sharing his collection of tin soldiers, dressed the part Friday, wearing a replica of a 1879 Wales military uniform. “I’m a historian at heart,” said Mazzarella, who is a retired history teacher. Mazzarella acquired the initial pieces of his collection from his father who served as an Army medic in World War II. When his father passed down the toy soldier collection to his son, Mazzarella tried to sell them to another collector. But instead, he came home with not only his dad’s collection, but several more pieces. He was hooked. The same was true for Donahue, whose initial collecting turned into a career in popular culture, which he teaches at Bowling Green State University. Donahue grew up in Maumee, in a home right behind the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge. It was a great place for a young collector. He would go through the trash looking for different kinds of beer cans. He later traveled to other bars in the city to expand his collection. “I have hundreds and hundreds,” Donahue said, standing in front of a wall of cans. “This is only a small part of my collection.” His favorites are the more unusual ones, like the George Washington bicentennial can, the Cincinnati Reds Hudepohl, the J. R. Ewing can, and the Billy Beer can. He did not, for those wondering, drink his way through his collection. “I’m not much of a drinker. I’m more of a collector,” Donahue said. And it’s not just beer cans. He collects guitars, bicycles, T-shirts, records, post cards and comic books. So Donahue really appreciates the “Be Your Own Museum” project at the historical…

Getting downtown to go green

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Downtown business owners may soon learn how changing to environmentally green operations can help them keep more of their economic green. Students studying environment and sustainability at Bowling Green State University are working on a type of “green business certification program.” Such a program, which is already in place in Lucas County and Toledo, recognizes businesses that put together sustainability plans. Dr. Holly Myers, who specializes in land use and environmental planning at BGSU, is coordinating student efforts to survey downtown Bowling Green businesses on a sustainability grade card. The three principles of sustainability are environment, economics and quality of life. “It seems like downtown is a good place to start,” she said. Businesses will be surveyed, and suggestions will be made of how they can operate in a more sustainable manner. “This is not something to force on them,” Myers stressed. The green checklist includes topics such as waste reduction, energy conservation and green purchasing. The program will calculate how much can be saved by steps such as changing to LED lightbulbs, billing electronically, or turning off computers at the end of the work day. “I think they are going to be surprised at how much they can reduce their costs,” Myers said. The sustainability rating goes far beyond recycling, but Myers said some students are particularly interested in conducting a trash audit of businesses. “There is very little recycling downtown,” she said. The sustainability project will also help students understand the complexities of “green” programs, and show that putting recycling bins downtown may not go far to solve trash issues. Myers is hoping that a type of logo can be created for those businesses which score well on the sustainability surveys, so they can be recognized for their efforts.  

‘Adopt’ a block idea taking shape

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Residents of Bowling Green’s East Side often wake to find their yards littered with trash from party-goers. So in an effort to clean up the neighborhoods and sullied reputations of college students, plans have begun for some blocks to be “adopted” by student groups. The Bowling Green City-University Relations Commission discussed the cleanups as a goal that can be accomplished rather than started then put on hold each time a break in semesters occurs. “We talk about these things over and over again,” said Lisa Mattiace, vice president of the commission. But little is accomplished, the board agreed Tuesday evening. Peter Rodriguez, a member of the Undergraduate Student Government, said that organization had begun talks about student groups adopting city blocks, similar to the “adopt a highway” program started by the Ohio Department of Transportation. But Rodriguez added that the progress on the program “is very, very slow.” The project is brought up annually, but “there’s no traction.” Members of the city-university commission agreed they could help provide the needed traction. They recognized this program as a project they could team up with the USG to get accomplished, possibly this spring semester. And once started, it would be easy to continue every semester. “I think it’s commendable for the USG to be taking that on,” commission member Chris Ostrowski said. Tom Mellott, also on the commission, suggested that signs be erected identifying which group is responsible for which blocks. “I think it will help people understand that folks do care,” he said. Julie Broadwell, a commission member who lives on the East Side, was asked to identify the 10 city blocks most in need of being “adopted.” Barb Ruland suggested the commission could help by getting signage and providing bags for the trash. Only the areas between the sidewalks and streets would be picked up, so the students wouldn’t be entering private lawns. Mattiace pointed out that the project should be more than just trash pickup. “I don’t want the students to think they are garbage collectors for the city.” It was suggested that residents be notified of the pickups so they would not only be aware, but so they could join in the cleanups if they wished. Commission member Michael Oiler said he would introduce the project to Graduate Student Senate to see if that group would like to get on board also. “We’re going to be appealing to the 15 percent of the students who actually care,” Oiler said. Rodriguez said the program could be…

Jail inmates to undergo scanning

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Sure, police dogs have great noses for sniffing out crime, and command community adoration. But they do have their limits. They can’t work 24 hours a day, and they can’t sniff out hidden weapons. So instead of acquiring a canine to scan inmates entering the Wood County jail, the sheriff’s office has purchased a full-body scanning system. The scanner was purchased with $118,000 in jail commissary funds, from inmates purchasing snacks or toiletry items. The Soter RS body scanner shows if an inmate is trying to smuggle drugs, small weapons such as razor blades, or cell phones into the jail. The searches are much less invasive, and less unpleasant than strip and cavity searches for both the inmates and the jail personnel. According to Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, Wood County Justice Center is the third county jail in Ohio to have such technology. Upon arriving at the jail, each inmate will go through the 10-second X-ray scanning procedure. The scan shows any foreign objects in the stomach or body cavities, or any items that may have been missed during a pat down by officers. “It’s more thorough than TSA scanners,” at airports, Wasylyshyn said. Inmates will also go through the scans when they return from furloughs or court hearings, “just in case someone, somehow passed something to them,” he said. The decision to get a body scanner came after changes in the state that allow more serious criminals to be housed for longer periods in county jails, the sheriff said. “The type of inmates here have changed over the years.” The jail has also been the site of a couple overdoses by inmates, in cases where it hasn’t been determined if the prisoner had already taken the drugs prior to being jailed, or used them after being booked. Wasylyshyn said the scanning should rule out that the drugs were transported in by inmates. “Once the inmates know this is going on, the word will get out,” and attempts to smuggle drugs or weapons into the jail will decrease, the sheriff said.      

Espen fearless in defense of environment

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Brad Espen wouldn’t stand a chance in a popularity contest. He refused to budge for landowners protesting sewer lines. He stood eye to eye with federal officials delaying cleanup of hazardous materials. He was unapologetic when enforcing smoking bans. “I made my share of people mad, but when you know you’re doing the right thing, it kind of balanced things out,” said Espen, who will soon retire after 30 years in environmental health at Wood County Health District. “I was always trying to do the right thing.” Espen may have lacked popularity, but he was never short on persistence. One case in point would be the now demolished Victory Inn, in Bowling Green.  After countless inspections and violation reports, the hotel was finally shut down. “We just never gave up with that one,” he said. Espen started at the health department doing housing and restaurant inspections. He then went on to solid waste inspections, and eventually took over as director of environmental health. “I was always interested in the environment,” though he originally thought his career path would lead to work with wildlife and nature – not sewers and hazardous waste. He grew up in Bowling Green, being the sixth generation of his family here. “That’s part of the reason I care so deeply about my community.” Espen starts his days early, getting to work around 5 a.m. when the office is still quiet. From his office he has led crusades for sewers to replace faulty septic systems. During his three decades in environmental health, all the villages in the county had sewer systems installed, and an estimated 15,000 septic systems were eliminated. “That made a big difference in water quality,” he said. He helped with efforts to shut down all the abandoned dumps in the county. “We got all the tire dumps cleaned up.” Espen’s team kept pushing for smoking ban enforcement until it became commonplace in the county. “That was quite a challenge,” he said. He refused to back down as excuses were made to delay cleanup of the old beryllium site in Luckey. “Thank God, we’re going to see something happening there this summer.” And in Lake Township after the tornado flattened homes and businesses, he was there helping people rebuild their lives. He worked alongside Wood County Emergency Management Agency Director Brad Gilbert in Lake Township, at an oil pipeline break in Cygnet, and at countless hazardous material spills. “He’s a wealth of knowledge. He has a passion for protecting the environment,” Gilbert said….

BG Parks Due for Levy and Master Plan Update

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green parks and recreation officials want help from citizens this year. First, they want citizen input on a master plan update, and then they want citizen votes on a levy in November. Kristin Otley, director of the parks and recreation department, told city council earlier this week that the parks are on the third year of a three-year levy. That means the city will be working to put a levy on the November ballot. The levy amount has not been determined, but Otley explained the department’s levy amount has not changed in 16 years. The parks and programming, however, have changed greatly, she added. “There is a lot more acreage and facilities, and things to take care of,” Otley said. Otley also informed council that the parks and recreation department will be working to update its master plan this year. The plan will cover the next five years. Five or six community focus group meetings will be scheduled to get public input on the parks and programming. Also at Tuesday’s council meeting, Planning Director Heather Sayler reported that zoning permits have remained steady in the city, with 364 in 2014, and 370 in 2015. A small increase was seen in single family housing starts, with 19 in 2014 and 26 in 2015. Sayler announced the Wood County Health District inspectors will start the housing survey in the city in early spring. Council also heard about an annexation request for 31 acres at the northeast corner of Haskins and Newton roads, across from the city’s community center. A request has been submitted to change the zoning for the property to institutional to allow for an assisted living facility to be built. According to the request, submitted by HCF Realty of Bowling Green, the new facility would consolidate existing buildings at 1021 and 850 West Poe Road. In other business, Utilities Director Brian O’Connell reported that Bowling Green will be ready to supply water to the village of Waterville by July or August. Also at the meeting, Tom Clemons, director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health Services Board, presented plaques for Police Chief Tony Hetrick, along with officers Noel Crawford, Jeremy Lauer and Ray Baer for their efforts handling a person with mental health issues. The officers treated the person with respect, and kept a situation from becoming violent, Clemons said. Clemons also presented a plaque to Fire Chief Tom Sanderson for his efforts in helping to resolve issues for a person struggling with mental health…

Drivers needed for wheels on the bus to go round

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Wanted: Adults with good driving records willing to work odd hours and cart around 60 kids at a time. Applicants with nerves of steel and eyes in the back of their heads would be preferred. Like other school districts around the region, Bowling Green is looking for bus drivers, specifically substitute bus drivers. Carlton Schooley, director of the district’s transportation department, made a pitch for more drivers during Tuesday’s board of education meeting. He eased into his presentation with the sing-song version of “The Wheels on the Bus.” But Schooley pointed out that unlike the bus in the children’s song, his buses go beyond just the town. “They also go around the district,” which stretches miles out on rural roads. The bus drivers are more than just chauffeurs for students, Schooley explained. “School bus drivers are the first people in the morning that students see” and the last school officials to return them home at the end of the day. His presentation, called “So you want to be a bus driver,” explained the process to become a driver. The district currently has 20 regular drivers, and eight substitutes. But that is just not enough. “We’re always looking for drivers,” BG Superintendent Francis Scruci said. But the job does have some downsides. Drivers work split shifts, transporting students a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon. And the passengers aren’t always the best behaved. “It really is a trying job,” Schooley said, explaining the drivers must keep their attention on the road, while maintaining order on the bus. “You have 60 kids behind you and no eyes in the back of your head.” Anyone interested in the job may submit an electronic application. Driving histories and background checks will be investigated. Then prospective drivers take a 15-hour class which covers topics from driving safety, to handling blood-borne pathogens, to rending First Aid. Applicants learn how to best handle behavioral issues. “You need to know what you’re going to do before it occurs,” Schooley said. Prospective drivers learn to inspect parts of the bus, like tires, lights and electrical circuits. They learn maneuvers for pulling onto highways, crossing railroad tracks, unloading students, and pulling over for emergencies. Applicants then take four written tests, including questions on mountain driving, “though that’s not critical here,” Schooley said. The final training includes riding with a seasoned driver, then taking over the wheel themselves. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, board member Ed Whipple praised Scruci for his “judicious” decisions on…

Gas line work shifts over to BG east side

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News As the west side of Bowling Green heals from the gas line replacement project that ripped up streets and sidewalks, Columbia Gas is preparing the east side for its turn. “We break some eggs to make this cake,” Columbia Gas representative Chris Kozak told Bowling Green City Council on Tuesday evening. “It’s a mess.” It’s not pretty, it’s not simple, but it necessary, Kozak said. He showed council the type of gas pipes currently snaking through the city’s east side. The cast iron pipes, many which predate World War II, have outlived their usefulness. He then showed council the plastic pipes buried in the west side of the city – and soon to be on the east side. The plastic pipes are expected to have a lifespan of 70 to 100 years, and be flexible when the ground freezes around them. “The plastic will move with the ground,” he said. The plastic piping also allows for increases in pressure if needed in the future. Kozak explained that the gas line replacements in Bowling Green are part of a broader 25-year program started by Columbia Gas in 2008 to replace the most troublesome cast iron lines. The total investment is pegged at $2 billion. The west side project in Bowling Green affected 930 customers, replacing 37,000 feet of lines, and costing $4.1 million. The east side project will affect 365 customers, replacing 10,000 feet at a cost of $1.8 million. Columbia Gas officials hope to have the east side project completed by the end of 2016. Kozak conceded that the west side project was the focus of several complaints by residents. He added that his company learned from that project, and intends to do better on the east side. “We need to work better with the city,” he said. This time around, the gas company will have a full-time person available for city residents to contact with concerns. Though some areas of grass and concrete have not been restored on the west side, Kozak said Columbia Gas is committed to fixing those areas. “We want to leave the area we touched as good or better than we found it,” he said. A public meeting was held with east side residents last week to explain the project. Kozak said citizens will be notified with door tags as the work nears their neighborhoods.

BG bleacher costs come in high

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News The estimated cost for new bleachers at the Bowling Green High School football stadium was nothing to cheer about Tuesday evening. Replacement of the aging, rusting bleachers could cost as much as $610,845, according to Kent Buehrer, of Buehrer Group, which is in charge of the project. The estimate came in higher than projections made in the fall, which topped out at $500,000. Buehrer told the BG board of education that he would try to reduce the final price tag. But if it can’t be trimmed, the project will eat up the district’s entire 1.2-mill permanent improvement levy revenue for the year, according to district treasurer Rhonda Melchi. A section of the 50-year-old bleachers had to be closed off last fall after it was noticed that the steel scaffolding beneath the seats was rusting. To get through the remainder of the football season, the district put temporary bleachers up on the north end of the field. “We don’t want anyone to get injured,” school board president Paul Walker said. The new bleachers will cover the same approximate footprint of the existing seating, Buehrer said. However, building codes for restrooms at the facility are much more extensive than when it was first built. He described the current restrooms as “fairly minimal.” Buehrer said he is working with the county building inspection department to see if the new restrooms, planned next to the wrestling building, can avoid some of the stringent requirements. According to Buehrer, the visitor bleachers on the east will have seating for 750. The home seating on the west will have seating for 2,000, with the length stretching from the current 210 feet to 235 feet. “That adds some expenses,” he said. The press box will remain the same. Initially, the district planned to spend about $165 per bleacher seat. That amount has grown a bit, with the estimates at: $357,495 for the home side, $129,750 for the visitors side, and close to $100,000 for the restrooms. Buehrer told the board he hopes to have plans for the project done next week. He will report back to the board in February. Some of the old bleachers will remain in place for the track season this spring, while some of the bleachers will be demolished in April. The plan is to have the new bleachers completed by Aug. 12, a couple weeks prior to the school’s first football game.

BG may use modular classrooms at Conneaut

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green Board of Education heard Tuesday evening about three places students sit – in school buses, on stadium bleachers, and maybe in modular classrooms. The board learned from Superintendent Francis Scruci that classroom space will most likely be in short supply next school year at Conneaut Elementary. For that reason, the district may have to consider putting a modular unit on site, possibly for the entire fifth grade. “It’s certainly not something anyone wants to hear,” Scruci said. “We do have some shortages in terms of square footage.” However, he added that modular units have improved over the years since schools first started using them to make up for inadequate classroom space. The modular unit is just one building issue facing the school district. Scruci told the school board that the buildings report from the Ohio School Facilities Commission is expected later this month. To explain the report, and the possible solutions for the district, Scruci plans to hold a workshop for the public in Febrary. The district will need to decide whether to renovate or replace facilities, he said. “The most important thing is, what does our community want to support?” One of the report’s recommendations is that the district replace Conneaut Elementary School which was built in the early 1950s, Scruci said. But citizen input must be gathered, so any solution is specifically tailored to Bowling Green, he added. “So the community feels like it has a say.” According to Scruci, the cost to renovate Conneaut has been estimated by the state at about $9.6 million. The cost to replace it was estimated at about $12 million. He explained that when the renovation costs are more than 66 percent of the replacement costs, the state considers replacement to be more fiscally sensible. Another option the district may discuss is consolidating all the elementary schools on the campus already used for the middle and high schools. “What does this community want,” he said, after the meeting. In the meantime, Scruci said the district will likely lease a modular for Conneaut, which has an approximate enrollment of 500 students. (Stories on the school buses and stadium bleachers will appear later this week.)

BG to study if city office, green space would fit on downtown parcel

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Before any trees are planted, sidewalks poured or gazebo erected, Bowling Green officials want one question put to rest. Is there enough room for a new city building and an outdoor community gathering space to coexist on the same grassy square?Council President Michael Aspacher asked that the city consult with a design professional to determine if the site is large enough for both a building and town square large enough to satisfy the community’s needs. Aspacher said at Tuesday’s council meeting that now is the time to “pause briefly” to make the determination before moving ahead. He referenced a community meeting last week on the green space which previously was home to the city’s junior high school, at the corner of West Wooster and South Church streets. While the meeting was productive, there are questions remaining, Aspacher said. Council member Bruce Jeffers agreed. “It seems like a reasonable approach,” he said, suggesting that some building schematics could help clarify questions. However, city resident Margaret Montague reminded council about a comment made at last week’s public meeting about trying to squeeze both the building and town square into one corner. The result could be “a big building with a big front yard,” she said, quoting from council member Robert McOmber. McOmber repeated those sentiments Tuesday evening. “I would be quite surprised,” if the space was big enough for both. “I think most people in town want it to be green space, no matter what,” McOmber said. Council member Sandy Rowland agreed that she would prefer to see the space remain green. She reminded of other options available for a city building such as the site formerly used for the school central administration building. “Personally, I would like to see an existing building used to save our taxpayers millions of dollars.” Rowland said several community members have made it “crystal clear” that they would like the West Wooster space to remain green. Another resident voiced her opinion that the city should move its offices into the existing Huntington Bank Building. “It would be a whole lot cheaper than building from the ground up,” she said. Resident Bill Herald suggested that council consider reconvening the committee making recommendations on the site. Aspacher said the purpose for the design work is to answer remaining questions about the best use of the site. “I just think that’s going to provide to us some clarity,” he said. “It’s important for us to be deliberate and consider all the possibilities.”

More than just black and white

Diana Patton was keenly aware as a child that she did not fit neatly into the race boxes for being white or black. She was reminded of this daily as she was followed home from school by girls taunting that she state her race. “Are you white or are you black,” the girls would demand. Patton, whose mother was black and father was white, would later realize that her racial identity couldn’t be defined by some Census Bureau box. Patton was the keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program on Friday hosted by the Bowling Green Human Relations Commission at the Wood County District Public Library. The speaker, who was vice president and general counsel for the Toledo Fair Housing Center, is working to finish her book called, “Inspiration in My Shoes.” She earned her law degree at the University of Toledo, where she also ran track. Patton’s mother, the grandchild of a sharecropper, married a white man in 1958. Her father was disowned by his family for his decision, she said. Her “momma” was pregnant with her sixth child, Patton, in 1968 when King was assassinated. “It was as if a bomb went off,” Patton said her mother must have been thinking as she brought another biracial child into the violent “haze over America.” Patton spent part of her younger years hiding her blended identity. In college, she “decided to be black” and denied her father’s heritage. But it was in college that she followed the path of her “momma,” falling in love and later marrying a white man. “Marinate on that for a moment,” she said. Patton urged her audience to hold onto their history but “get to working” on creating their own legacy. She shares the same lesson with her children that her momma taught her. “I’m telling them, we gonna work to transcend race.” The lessons of King are important to cling to in the wake of so many black men being gunned down in America, she said. His words encourage us to do better, be better. “We like to preach the words of Martin Luther King,” she said. “But we don’t want to live them.” Patton told her audience that no matter what career paths they choose, they can be dedicated fighters for the noble cause of civil rights. “It will enrich your spirit as nothing else can,” she said. “Make a career of humanity.” “Get busy serving others,” Patton said. And about that color box. Don’t let it define your life. “Do you like the skin…

School’s Gay Straight Alliance honored for silence that speaks volumes

There was no Woolworth lunch counter serving whites only. No threats by white cloaked figures. No snarling police dogs or spraying fire hoses. These were high school kids right here in Bowling Green, standing up to protest what they recognized as an injustice that had gone unnoticed by many adults. Nearly 250 of them joined the National Day of Silence last year to raise awareness for people who cannot speak for themselves. The silent civil disobedience was organized by the Bowling Green High School Gay Straight Alliance. For that and many other efforts, the alliance was recognized Friday with the Drum Major of Peace Award presented at the annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It feels amazing. I’m so proud of us and the community,” student Lily Krueger said after the program. Krueger recalled the first time she joined in the Day of Silence, when controversial topics were discussed in a class and she had to keep her mouth shut. “It really teaches you what the day is about.” The purpose of the group, advised by teacher Jennifer Dever, is to promote equality and understanding. “We want to make people feel safe,” said Claire Wells-Jensen, a member of the organization. The BGHS Gay Straight Alliance works to fight bullying, create “safe zones” for students needing support, and spur conversations that may lead to more understanding. In presenting the group with the award, Rev. Mary Jane Saunders, who chairs the Bowling Green Human Relations Commission, said it often takes young people to be the moral compasses for the rest of society. Like the four young people breaking the racist rules in 1960 at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, this student group is standing up for what is right and good and just. “They are committed to making a difference in the world,” Saunders said. It is only through these small groups of committed citizens, do the big changes in the world begin, she said. While King dreamed of the day when people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, these students are working toward the day when no one will be judged by their sexual orientation or identities. “With creativity and courage, patience and persistence, this student-led group has changed the culture at their school,” Saunders said. “The school has become a place where all students can safely be their authentic selves.”