Community

Weighty issues – county citizens getting fatter & sadder

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County residents have gotten fatter and sadder in the last three years. The latest Community Health Assessment results for Wood County adults show growing numbers of people carrying around extra weight physically and mentally. Nearly 40 percent of local adults classify themselves as obese, while another 33 percent say they are overweight. A total of 14 percent of adults reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more consecutive weeks. The surveys are conducted every three years by the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio. “We can be confident that this is pretty accurate,” Wood County Health Commissioner Ben Batey said earlier this week. A total of 1,200 adult surveys were mailed out to randomly selected residences. In order to be statistically accurate, 383 responses were needed. A total of 431 adults responded. The youth surveys fared even better, since they were conducted at schools. The health survey process began in 2008 – which allows the health department make comparisons to past health data. “How are we trending? Are we getting better in this trending?” Batey asked. The answer is yes and no. Overall, the youth data is positive. “I was very happy to see the trends with our youth,” Batey said. “We’re either holding the line or improving.” Obesity and overweight numbers among youth are gradually improving. Physical activity among youth is increasing. “Those are good things to see,” he said. Cigarette smoking among youth is at a record low. Overall substance abuse is down in kids. The numbers of youth trying alcohol and engaging in binge drinking are also down. Adolescent sexual activity is down. And bullying has dropped a bit. The one area seeing a troubling increase is in mental health. More youth responded that they have considered suicide, and experience regular sadness or hopelessness. “Mental health still seems to be declining,” Batey said. “It’s a trend that’s going in the wrong direction.” In the survey responses of parents with children ages birth to 5, a positive trend was seen in a majority of…


Migrant workers thanked for laboring in local fields

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Local migrant workers came in from the pickle fields Sunday so local residents could assure them their toiling in the fields is appreciated. Nearly 90 migrant workers and their children were treated to food, given clothing, and exchanged stories with members of First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green. The annual event, at a Wood County farm, is a time for sharing a meal and stories. “People were really appreciative of everything,” said Beatriz Maya, who translated for those workers speaking Spanish. “Many pointed out that they don’t feel welcome where they work,” Maya said. “It’s extremely important for them to see that in spite of the national rhetoric, the local communities are very appreciative of farm workers. It’s so important for the families to feel appreciated.” Members of the church brought many boxes of clothing for the men, women and children, plus shoes, towels and sheets. “They were waiting when we got there,” church member Debbie Zappitelli said. “They were so excited to pick up the items.” Members of the Brown Bag Food Project also attended, bringing food for each family. And Wood County District Public Library provided books for the children and adults. Church members brought games, soccer balls, cornhole sets, and a giant parachute. “It was like they had an evening to play,” Zappitelli said. The number of migrants attending this year was estimated at 90. “The families all came together,” she said. “The need was twice the need of prior years.” Long tables were set up for migrant families and church members to join in a meal of donated pizza and doughnuts. “They were so gracious, so grateful,” Zappitelli said. “We wanted to thank them for the harvest and all the hard work they do.” The migrant workers came from the U.S, Mexico and Guatemala. Many will leave Wood County soon to head to Michigan where they will pick apples, then back south to harvest tomatoes, grapefruit and oranges. After the meal, some of the migrant workers told their stories. Maya interpreted for those…


Facilitators found for BG school building task force

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A school architecture firm has been selected to help Bowling Green City School District residents determine the best solution for aging school buildings. The firm of Fanning Howey has identified three individuals with expertise in community engagement, school building renovation, school building construction, community-centered visioning, and the State Classroom Facilities Assistance Program, to guide the efforts of the school facilities task force. The three – Steve Wilczynski, Dan Obrynba and Tim Hamilton – will be at the first joint meeting of the task forces on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. The men have some experience working with school districts in Wood County. Wilczynski worked with Eastwood, North Baltimore and Northwood. Obrynba worked with Rossford. “They are very experienced in community engagement to identify the desires of the community,” said David Conley, a school finance consultant hired by Bowling Green Board of Education to help with the community task force process. Conley will act as facilitator for the finance task force, which has at least 64 members from the community. The Fanning Howey employees will facilitate the school facilities task force, which has at least 94 members from the community. According to Conley, the facilitators are knowledgeable about school building renovations and new construction – which was vital since the Bowling Green district is divided about the need to renovate existing sites or build new schools. “That’s going to be instantly beneficial to the facilities group,” he said. Fanning Howey has worked with many school districts around Ohio, and was one of the earliest firms to work with the State of Ohio on state funding programs, Conley said. “They can provide some real immediate feedback to the task force,” he said. Fanning Howey is volunteering to provide this service to the residents of the district at no charge. The firm is aware that the district is not under any obligation to retain them for any current or future services. According to Conley, the facilitators are also aware that they must report to members of the community facilities task…


Reaching out to homeless hiding in Wood County

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Homelessness in Wood County has many different faces – many of them invisible. Some of those faces gathered around tables earlier this year at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to share their stories with members of the Wood County Continuum of Care, the organization looking at how to reach out to those struggling with inadequate housing here. One woman told of being homeless for six months with her four children. For a period they lived in the now demolished Victory Inn in Bowling Green – a hotel frequently on the citation list of the county health department for unsafe living conditions. The hotel was not a suitable place for children, the mother said. The family eventually got into HUD housings, but only after sitting on a waiting list for nearly a year. Other families find their temporary homes in parking lots, like those at WalMart. To some, parking lots are more appealing than living in a shelter. Wood County has no shelter – the closest homeless shelter is in Toledo. “I was born and raised here. I’m not going up there,” said another woman sitting in the church meeting room. “I’ll live in my van if I have to.” Others talk about seeking temporary shelter in local laundromats, or couch surfing at friends’ homes. “I have a son. You can’t live in a van when you have a kid in school,” one mother said. As of 2016, an estimated 16,675 residents of Wood County were renters. According to HUD, the fair market rental rates in Wood County in 2017 were: $465 for an efficiency apartment. $559 for a one-bedroom. $730 for a two-bedroom. $1,000 for a three-bedroom. $1,093 for a four-bedroom. In 2016, a total of 569 evictions were filed with Bowling Green Municipal Court. In the end, 324 families and individuals were actually evicted from their homes. The number of annual evictions through BG Municipal Court has grown from 135 in 2001. The Continuum of Care Wood County is trying to expand community awareness of the homeless…


‘Food Truck Fridays’ offers change of menu to county workers

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   “Food Truck Fridays” will soon be giving some Wood County employees a reason to leave their packed lunches at home. Who wants the standard fare of peanut butter and jelly, when they can dine on barbecue, chili and cornbread, or hot dogs with all types of toppings? When Bowling Green City Council passed an ordinance earlier this year allowing food trucks in the city, it got some county employees thinking. Staff at Wood County Job and Family Services, on East Gypsy Lane Road, approached Maricarol Torsok-Hrabovsky, special projects manager at their office, about arranging for food trucks to visit during lunch time. “We’re pretty much out where there’s not a lot of food actually,” Torsok-Hrabovsky said. She checked with the county commissioners, who had no objections. She called other county offices in the East Gypsy Lane complex – like Wood Lane, the Sheriff’s Office, and Wood County Health Department – and found out that their employees were also hungry for a change of pace. “We got interest from several of them. So we decided to try it out,” Torsok-Hrabovsky said. Then she talked with Joe Fawcett, assistant municipal administrator for Bowling Green, about local vendors. Fawcett directed her to the Wood County Health Department. Torsok-Hrabovsky quickly found out what food truck vendors are in demand. “Food trucks book really, really fast,” she said. With all the fairs and festivals, “they have their summers already planned.” But she was able to reserve a few vendors – creating “Food Truck Fridays” on July 27 and Aug. 17, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The trucks will set up in the lot behind the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. The Food Truck Friday on July 27 will feature Country Lane BBQ and The Little Stand on the Prairie. Country Lane BBQ specializes in pulled pork “sundaes.” The Little Stand on the Prairie’s menu includes grilled bologna, mashed potato bowls, chili and cornbread, plus strawberries with homemade biscuits and whipped cream. “That was the big sell,” Torsok-Hrabovsky said….


Summit shines light on campus & community partnerships

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News University and local officials used the Ohio Town and Gown Summit on the Bowling Green State University campus last week to shine a light on their efforts to ink the campus and surrounding community. Thursday’s after-lunch keynote address offered a one-two punch of Mayor Richard Edwards and Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers. Both also tipped their hats to someone who could not be there, President Emeritus Mary Ellen Mazey. Though scheduled to return to campus for the summit, Mazey was not able to attend because of illness, Edwards said. Edwards knows about the relationship between communities and universities, having forged a career in both settings, including as a vice president at BGSU and Wood County Administrator, before assuming his current duties. He credited Mazey with being a driving force behind the increased cooperation between the city and campus. Not long after they’d met she told him: “Dick, let’s do a joint vision study.” That rang a “’yes’ bell in my head,” Edwards said. Kent, the home of Kent State University, serves as a model for what BG and BGSU hope to achieve. It now has a major thoroughfare effectively linking the two entities. That did not come easily. Edwards recalled fierce local opposition to an earlier attempt to do that. He quipped that he’d forgotten to ask his fellow mayors in attendance what brand of flak jacket they wore. Bowling Green’s version is a new vision for the East Wooster corridor stretching west from I-75 interchange into downtown. The project on the east end is ready to begin the construction phase. Rogers said that public universities have a special responsibility to serve the public good. That includes giving students the means to be socially mobile. That responsibility extends to doing “relevant and meaningful research” on issues of societal concern, he said. Those include the opioid crisis and water quality. Beyond that university must find ways to link that research to inform public debate on those issues. The university must also find public-private partnerships that help make sure…


Parker a natural as county environmental coordinator

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Beth Parker’s appreciation for the environment comes naturally. She grew up near Pittsburgh, spending time outside, with a dad who worked as a canoeing instructor for the Red Cross. Her love of nature has led her to the position of environmental program coordinator for Wood County. “I guess it boils down to respect,” Parker said. “The earth is our home. We should respect it. We’re not going to get another one, so we need to treat it well.” Parker earned an environmental science degree from Bowling Green State University, with a specialization in education and interpretation. She went on to work at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio, the Long Lake Conservation Center in Minnesota, and most recently at the Wood County Park District as a naturalist. “When you have a love for nature, you want to protect it and make sure it’s well cared for,” Parker said. Parker took over the environmental program coordinator position just as the county opened permanent recycling sites at several satellite locations throughout Wood County. “That started the day before I started,” she said. “I’ve been out checking those to make sure things are going well.” The recycling sites are being used by many county residents, she said. But Parker has identified a need for education on some topics at the satellite locations. Some people are continuing to put their recyclables in plastic grocery bags, which cause problems. “They can tangle up the machines,” Parker said. And cardboard boxes should be flattened before being put in the drop-offs, she added. “But people are definitely using them, which is great,” Parker said. In addition to the county’s recycling efforts, Parker will also be giving tours of the wind farm and county landfill. She will be working on avenues for education, programs, and partnerships with community organizations. “I’m looking forward to being able to continue the educational opportunities they’ve been providing in the past,” she said. “I look forward to building relationships with other community groups, businesses, and governmental entities.” Parker is…


Some young cyclists find BG drivers unwilling to share streets

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Reagan Otley, 12, and a friend were bicycling down Conneaut Avenue recently when a driver laid on the car horn and scolded the girls. “I hear a horn behind us. As they drive by, they rolled down the window and yelled, ‘Don’t take up the road with your bike,’” Reagan said. Not one to be unjustly lectured, Reagan yelled back. After all, she and her friend were following the rules. They were on Conneaut Avenue, where signs are posted saying bikes can use the full lane, and where sharrows are painted on the road pavement. “Bikes may use the full lane,” she shouted at the driver. As Bowling Green is encouraging residents to bicycle in town, some of the younger cyclists are finding that some motorists aren’t very receptive to sharing the road. “This isn’t the first time that people have honked at us for being in the road,” said Reagan, who knows the rules of the road for bicyclists. She serves as the middle school representative on the city’s Bicycle Safety Commission. And her mom is Kristin Otley, director of the city’s parks and recreation department, who has been trained through the Yay Bikes program. “I get mad when people honk or yell at me for doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Reagan said. In Ohio, bicyclists are allowed to use the entire lane for travel. Motorists are supposed to give bicyclists three feet of space when passing. The Yay Bikes program, which is being used to educate bicyclists in Bowling Green, suggests that cyclists don’t ride along the road’s edge where debris lies, but rather a couple feet into the lane – about where the passenger side tire of a vehicle runs. “They want you to own a lane,” Kristin Otley said. Cars are supposed to pass bicyclists as if they are another motor vehicle – even if there is a double yellow line, Otley said. Yay Bikes focuses on educating bicyclists on proper road etiquette, like using hand signals and complying with traffic…


Hundreds of volunteers share in Black Swamp Arts Festival’s I Love BG Award

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News A volunteer enterprise that knows how to show the community a good time won the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce’s I Love BG Award. The Black Swamp Arts Festival received the award at the Chamber’s Mid-Year Meeting and Awards Program. Given the number of volunteers, as many as 1,000, with some seated in the luncheon audience, festival vice chair Jamie Sands dubbed the honor the “We Love BG Award.” The Black Swamp Arts Festival will be staged Sept. 7-9 in downtown Bowling Green and feature visual arts, music, and more than a dozen youth art activities. In his introduction, Clint Corpe, of the Morning Show on WBGU-FM, recalled talking to Floyd Craft, one of the festival’s founders, about the event’s soggy start. Craft recalled that first year organizers pulling down tents with rain coming at them from all directions and knowing they had lost thousands of dollars that they’d put into the festival. They asked: What next? The answer was: “Let’s do it again.” And they did. Again and again and again. Last year’s the festival marked its 25th year. In the spirit of the founders, the festival committee wondered after 25 years what was next, said Bill Donnelly, who chairs the festival committee. “What’s our vision for the next 25 years?” The festival’s mission is to foster a relationship between members of the community and the arts, he said. Donnelly said he’s researched other events and he could not find another festival of this magnitude that is totally staged and funded by community volunteers. Among those volunteers is Earlene Kilpatrick, the executive director of the chamber. She’s served on the festival’s artist hospitality committee. Donnelly said if he asked her to show up at 4:30 a.m. on the Saturday morning of the festival, she was there. This was the last major chamber event Kilpatrick will preside over. She is retiring on Oct. 1 after 10 years in the job. “The chamber has grown,” she said, “and I’ve grown as part of the chamber.” Heritage Corners, which won the Customer…



Wood County Fair making history with $2.2M building

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The history of the Wood County Fair has been recorded since its debut in 1851. In years to come, the history of the 2018 fair will undoubtedly note the disappearance of the old livestock barns and show arena – replaced with a shiny new $2.2 million building. “It feels good that we’re to the point of completion,” said Steve Speck, president of the Wood County Fair Foundation. “There have been countless hours put in by the foundation to work on the details.” Speck presented a program on the new fair exhibition building Thursday to the Bowling Green Kiwanis. But first, retired 4-H agent Dick Martin set the scene with a bit of fair history. The first Wood County Fair was held in a grove of trees north of Wooster Street, between Church and Grove streets. After 1851, the Wood County Fair jumped around from Bowling Green, to Perrysburg, to Portage, to Tontogany, and back again many times. In fact, for a series of years it was held in two towns because of warring fair factions. The county fair was, for many, the event of the year. It attracted families in their best clothing for food, music and competitions. Some records show that the Wood County Fair had the second highest attendance of any county fairs in the state. In 1882, the area currently used as Bowling Green City Park was purchased for the fair. Among the first buildings constructed were Needle Hall, Veterans Building, the Depot, and Girl Scout Building – which was formerly called the Women’s Christian Temperance Building, Martin said. The county fair often represented the times. In 1854, a cholera outbreak drastically cut attendance, in 1896 a group of “hoochie-coochie” dance girls stirred up trouble, and in 1962 ostrich races were held. In 1883, fairgoers could purchase side tickets to watch the hanging of Carl Bach, who murdered his wife with a corn knife. In the late 1920, the H.J. Heinz Co. put on pressure to change the fair date so it didn’t conflict…


Cocoon turns to community to continue phone safety net

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   For years, Verizon has provided a lifeline to survivors of domestic violence. But the company will soon be discontinuing its phone donation recycling program called HopeLine. Locally, the program has helped domestic violence survivors served by The Cocoon. In the last two years, the local shelter has received between 100 and 150 phones with pre-paid minutes and text messaging, said Kathy Mull, executive director of The Cocoon. “It’s really been a benefit to us in supporting survivors who we serve,” Mull said on Friday. “It really does provide a valuable service.” The cell phones play a vital role in several survivors’ safety plans. Phones can help victims of abuse feel safer and less isolated by giving them a way to call emergency or support services, employers, family and friends. But on Dec. 31, that HopeLine program will be ended by Verizon. The change is being attributed to several factors, including a decrease in phone donations as more customers opt to trade in older cell phones for newer models, and also by the declining availability of feature phones, which had been provided to domestic violence survivors by the HopeLine program. So The Cocoon is looking for other phone options. Mull explained that the agency works with survivors to get their own sustainable resources. But in the meantime, The Cocoon will be turning to the community for help. “We are really exploring all of our options,” Mull said. The Wood County community has been very supportive of the domestic violence agency, and Mull is hoping that response continues for this need. “We will be asking the community to donate to help folks who don’t have other options – to provide them with that safety net,” Mull said. Anyone interested in donating old cell phones with pre-paid minutes may call The Cocoon office at 419-373-1730 to arrange a drop-off. Phones may also be dropped off at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on South College Street in Bowling Green. “The community has been really gracious to us,” Mull said. Though the end…


BG school board talks about teachers, task forces & transparency

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green Board of Education heard some tough talk on Tuesday about teachers leaving the district, huge community task forces, and mysterious phone surveys asking local residents how they voted on the last school bond issue. With school starting in six weeks, Superintendent Francis Scruci noted that the district had hired 25 new teachers. During exit interviews with outgoing teachers, the two most common reasons given for leaving the district were the salaries and the perceived lack of support from the community on the last two bond issues. “We’re losing young teachers,” Scruci said. “We’re losing them to neighboring districts.” The hope is that the community support issue may be resolved with two task forces being formed to come up with solutions to the district’s building issues and financing of those buildings. David Conley, of Rockmill Financial, has been hired by the district to help find answers. Conley reported to the board Tuesday on updates in the task force effort. “This is really exciting, for a lot of people to start over and have the opportunity to be involved,” he said. Conley presented the most recent numbers of people joining the task forces, with 94 signing up for the facilities group, and 64 signing up for the finance group. “To me, that’s really, really nice,” he said. “This is intended to be an inclusive process.” School board member Bill Clifford questioned if the size of the task forces would make them difficult to manage. “You can’t have too many people,” Conley said, adding that leadership, positivity, and genuine participation make it work. However, he noted that if members of a task force aren’t working sincerely on the goals, they can be asked to leave the group. “This is the community’s task force, not the board’s task force,” he said. Members of the task force will not agree on everything, but they will at least represent the diverse feelings of the community, Conley said. The first gathering of the task forces will be a joint meeting of both…


BG sees success attracting tourists & their spending

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wendy Chambers has long been saying that tourism brings big bucks into Bowling Green. Now she has the official numbers to back that up. Chambers, executive director of the Bowling Green Convention & Visitors Bureau, reported to City Council Monday evening that Bowling Green is attracting more visitors. In 2017, BG hotels saw an increase in room rentals of 6.62 percent, with revenue up 8 percent from the previous year. For the first time the state’s study of the economic impact from tourism gave specific numbers just for Bowling Green. According to study, tourism created: $110.9 million in visitor spending in the local economy. $30.2 million in wages. $12.6 million in taxes. 1,527 in employment – or one in every 13 jobs. “Bowing Green is alive and well – and doing well,” Chambers said. The study found that tourism creates jobs in Bowling Green, estimating it sustains 7.8 percent of private employment. The benefits span across various businesses, such as transportation, recreation, retail, lodging, plus food and beverage industries. Of the counties in Northwest Ohio, Wood County ranks third of 22 counties for tourism impact. Ranking first was Lucas County, followed by Erie County in second place. Wood County racked up $504 million in visitor spending, 6,598 jobs with total wages of $139.6 million, and $63.5 million generated in tax revenue in 2017. Recent trends in Bowling Green tourism show a growth in visitor spending from $82.1 million in 2015 to $88.1 million in 2017. In addition to the tourism numbers, Chambers was also excited about the city’s “Best of BG: A Hometown Celebration” planned for Thursday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at Simpson Garden Park. The event will recognize the city’s second time in the last decade of being named one of Ohio’s Best Hometowns by Ohio Magazine. “It’s a week of celebrations,” Chambers said. The next project for the Convention & Visitors Bureau will be to work with various businesses and groups on designing a “community brand.” “We’re pretty excited about that,” she said. Also…


More than 100 sign up to join BG School task forces

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   More than 100 citizens have signed up to help find the best path forward for Bowling Green City Schools. An email went out Friday to the 117 people who have agreed to serve on two task forces created to study future school facilities and how they will be financed. “Both are big,” school finance consultant David Conley said of the task forces. But he is not concerned about the citizen groups being so large that they are cumbersome or complicate the process. “As long as the participants involved are sincere,” the size of the task forces will not be unmanageable, Conley said on Saturday. “It’s only difficult if people aren’t sincere about the process.” Conley said he has worked with task forces numbering more than 100 people in two other school districts – Rootstown and Lexington. Like Bowling Green, those school districts had to make decisions about the future of multiple buildings. The notice sent out last week suggested the first gathering be a joint meeting of both the facilities and financial task forces on Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. The primary goals will be to set up ground rules for how the task forces will operate, review the purposes of the task forces, and establish an estimated timeline. Conley will be serving as facilitator of the financial task force. A facilitator for the facilities group has not yet been selected. Conley is searching for a person with general experience in construction, who is not a resident of the Bowling Green School District. “It would be helpful if it’s someone who can leave their feelings out of it,” he said. “I’m dead set on finding a good candidate.” Conley predicted the process – for determining the future of school facilities and how they will be paid for – will not be quick. “I fully anticipate this being a year,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. A lot of clarity needed. It’s absolutely worth it.” Not only will the task forces need to make…