THE YEAR IN REVIEW


By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com



CHANGING FACES: Pictured are (top) David Kukucka, Derek Pittak, Steve Bukovac, Brian Dembinski, (second row) Andrew Gibson, Ryan Coleman, John Jaworski Jr., Greg Knoll, (third row) Jim Wilhelm, Debbie Waller, Beth Schwartz, Jill Jiovanazzo, (fourth row) Bill Miller, John Balog, David Goodell, Ed Cowger, (fifth row) Jennifer Wasilk, John Dietrich, Matthew Nahorn, Bob Kamnikar, (bottom row) and Valerie Neidert.


File photos

APRIL: Quiet during challenging economic years, Industrial Realty Group announced plans to revive the old Cleveland Quarries property spanning the South Amherst-Amherst Township line. Environmental manager Justin Lichter confirmed plans to transform at least a corner of the 900-acre property into a 45-home community with a small spa, beach access, and boating. California-based IRG purchased the defunct Ford plant on Baumhart Road in Lorain. In 2007, it added to its Lorain County portfolio by buying the quarry land for $22 million, eschewing the resort concept in favor of small mansion-style homes. Over the course of about 10 months, IRG cleared a great deal of debris from the sandstone pits to prepare for a housing development it called The Quarries at Beaver Creek.


File photos

MAY: Sobs spilled from Adrianna Young’s lips as she apologized to the family she robbed of a wife and mother. “There is not a day that passes without your family on my mind. My sorrow, pain, guilt, grief never goes away,” she cried before being sentenced her to four and a half years behind bars at the Lorain Correctional Institution and permanently banned from driving. Young, then 25, of Oberlin, had pleaded guilty to counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, possession of marijuana, and tampering with evidence — all were connected to the death of Debra Majkut on July 28, 2015, in Amherst Township. With marijuana in her system and her eyes on text messages, Young plowed into the Majkut family home and crushed Debra under her car, also bad injuring an infant child. In recent months, she has asked for judicial release from prison. A hearing is set for Jan. 4.


File photos

AUGUST: Khennedy Scagliozzo opened the Comets football season with a bang, crossing the goal line four times. He led Amherst to a 41-6 rout over Clearview, then on to a 6-4 season. It was the first winning season since 2010, and revived some grumpy Comets fans. The success also had just a little bit to do with new head coach Mike Passerrello, hired away from Firelands where he’d helped the Falcons become a force to be reckoned with. We can’t wait to see what the Comets will do this fall.


File photos

SEPTEMBER: The long-rumored closing of Amherst IGA was swift. It closed mid-month for “inventory” and never reopened. The Milan Avenue grocery store had been struggling for months and customers frequently commented online about empty shelves and limited selection. Co-owner Rachael Romesberg posted on social media that it was a sad day for her family: “Our family came into Amherst IGA with nothing other than a passion and hope to try and revive it. We knew it was not going to be easy but we were willing to take the risk. We saw the potential of what it could be. We worked hard and gave it our best believing that with enough support we could make it thrive again. We had a lot of plans and visions of how we could make it better. We listened to what the community wanted and dreamed of making that a reality someday… however things did not turn out the way we had hoped or planned. We would take one step forward and 10 steps back… between outdated equipment breaking down to outdated products being pulled off of the shelves due to lack of customer support. It eventually caught up and became too much. No matter what we did or tried it ultimately was not enough.”


File photos

OCTOBER: Punching through brick walls, ripping roofs to shreds, and tearing rebar asunder didn’t take long as the old Shupe and Harris elementary schools came down. Demolition was tied to the construction cost of a new preschool-through-third grade building on South Lake Street. The new school will be built starting this spring, and once open will continue the legacy of the Powers Elementary name. The entire project, including demolition of the three old schools (Powers will be razed eventually), has a $32 million price tag. Groundbreaking could start as early as March.


File photos

NOVEMBER: The final installment of downtown Amherst’s mural wall was dedicated on Veterans Day in November. Artists Mike Sekletar and Brian Goodwin memorialized the Lorain County military men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It stands on Park Avenue in memory of Air Force Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes of Lorain, Army Sgt. Benjamin Biskie of Vermilion, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan Giese of Lorain, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David Hall of Lorain, Army Staff Sgt. James Hunter of South Amherst, Army Capt. Michael Medders of Avon Lake, Army Sgt. Daniel Shepherd of Elyria, Army Sgt. Norman Tollett of Elyria, Army Sgt. Louis Torres of Oberlin, and Army Master Sgt. Robert West of Elyria. The mural was painted alongside others paying homage to the heroes of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.


File photos

DECEMBER: A $1.5 million historical tax credit with breathe a second life into the old Central School on Church Street. Standing vacant since 1984, the building has long been considered Amherst’s biggest white elephant. Constructed of local sandstone in 1907, it is on the National Register of Historic Places but “is somewhat of an eyesore,” as mayor Mark Costilow put it. Now Sprenger Health Care will transform the ancient building from a place of shadows and rotting infrastructure into an assisted living facility. The exterior architecture will remain intact and the interior will be renovated in a way that recalls its old days as Amherst’s center of education.


File photos

Changing faces are by far the biggest stories we covered in 2017.

Our annual tradition is to look back through the pages of the News-Times and assess the year. This time, we were struck by the many people of influence leaving the halls of power, hired into key positions, or passing away.

The surprises started in February, when candidates filed to seek election to government positions.

Longtime auditor David Kukucka’s name was not present among those running for political office, leaving the way paved for Derek Pittak to step into the finance officer role unopposed. Pittak is a graduate of Amherst Steele High School and a former member of the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a senior airman in the financial management office at Offutt Air Force, Nebraska.

Steve Bukovac also decided he would not seek reelection to city council, where he represented the first ward.

At first mum about the move, he resigned 10 months before the expiration of his term. He stepped down to pursue the newly-created job of Amherst information technology director. Bukovac said he was gunning to upgrade the city’s “1980s technology” but had also been frustrated with lack of legislation up for debate by council.

Democrats chose Brian Dembinski to serve the remainder of Bukovac’s term and he won election to the first ward seat in November, defeating Republican challenger Bradley Lacko.

In mid-March, Andrew Gibson was hired to replace Ryan Coleman as principal at Amherst Junior High School. He was wooed away from Columbia, where he served one year as middle school principal.

Coleman stepped down at the end of the academic year, taking a part-time position as special education preschool director for Amherst. The decision, he said, was made to help his father, longtime Admiral King High School principal David Coleman, run family-owned gas stations on Cooper Foster Park Road and Cleveland Avenue.

Former Amherst mayor John Jaworski Jr. died March 25 at age 91.

“He loved people. He gave that to all of us,” said Jaworski’s daughter, Cindy Manning. “He taught us how to serve others.”

A veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II, Jaworski worked 30 years in the grocery business. He retired from Pick-n-Pay as meat manager in 1987.

In 1962, he won an at-large seat on Amherst city council. He went on to serve four terms as president of council, then was mayor from 1984 to 1995. Later he was chairman of the Amherst Democrat Precinct Committee and of the Amherst City Democrat Central Committee.

By late winter, Amherst fire chief Greg Knoll had conspicuously gone missing. We learned he was on administrative leave, and shortly after he resigned suddenly and quietly.

It soon became clear Knoll left while under investigation.

City officials were at first reluctant to provide a reason. Then one emerged: “The fire chief put city-owned fuel into his own personal vehicle. This did depart from city policy, of course, and it sparked an internal investigation,” said safety-service director John Jeffreys, “and the chief resigned before the investigation was concluded.”

Questions arose regarding Knoll’s use of gas tanks at Amherst’s street garage where fire, utility, and other city vehicles are fueled for on-the-job use. Employees who use their personal vehicles for work aren’t allowed to fill up there. Instead, they are reimbursed for mileage.

Longtime assistant fire chief Jim Wilhelm stepped into the top spot, prompting a string of promotions within the department.

At the end of the school year, Debbie Waller retired after 25 years in education, saying goodbye as principal of Powers Elementary.

Waller was 40 when she graduated from Bowling Green State University with a teaching degree. In the fall of 1992, she was hired by the Amherst Schools; she became principal at Shupe Elementary in 2004 and moved to Powers when the early grades were consolidated to save money.

“You don’t think of the end coming, really. I’ve never had a day when I didn’t want to get up and come to work,” she said. “I can’t come to a screeching halt on June 9. I think I need to ease into the retirement piece of it.”

Beth Schwartz, who was principal at Harris, took the reins at Powers as her old building was demolished to make way for a new PK-3 school.

In June, Jill Jiovanazzo was hired as principal at Nord Middle School, taking over for the departing Bill Miller. An Amherst Steele graduate, Jiovanazzo has taught elementary students for 18 years in Avon amid glowing performance reviews.

Miller had served as an administrator for more than a decade in Amherst. He accepted a position as director of human resources at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools.

In the summer, longtime Amherst police officer John Balog retired. A former General Motors worker, he was hired into the Amherst force in 1983.

He built the “Balog book,” a pre-Internet, pre-GPS address guide for city rescue crews. After a 1988 medical emergency during which neither police nor paramedics could find the patient’s Westlake Drive address, Balog walked the entire city with clipboard in hand, cataloging every single residence and business.

He was assigned to patrol the Amherst Schools in the early 2000s and had a passion for guiding young people. He also obsessed over tracking down burglars, taking a special interest in such cases when he was promoted to detective in 2005.

In an Aug. 1 letter, David Goodell suddenly resigned from city council, where he represented the second ward. “This is due to an illness in my family that requires my undivided attention,” he wrote in a letter to council clerk Olga Sivinski.

Ed Cowger, a former councilman who has served as a Democrat and a Republican, was tapped to serve the remaining five months of Goodell’s term. He also won election to the seat for the next two years, defeating Democratic challenger Angie Schubert.

The November election shook up city council as longtime fourth ward rep Jennifer Wasilk won the president’s seat, displacing 18-year president John Dietrich. Few people in local political circles expected the margin to be so wide — Wasilk won by a 20 percent decision.

Matthew Nahorn was elected to the vacated fourth ward seat by the narrowest of margins — five votes — over Democrat Martin Heberling III.

On the Amherst board of education, Bob Kamnikar dropped out of the race in the fall, citing an increased workload. On Nov. 7, voters chose to return school board veteran Valerie Neidert to the empty seat.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

CHANGING FACES: Pictured are (top) David Kukucka, Derek Pittak, Steve Bukovac, Brian Dembinski, (second row) Andrew Gibson, Ryan Coleman, John Jaworski Jr., Greg Knoll, (third row) Jim Wilhelm, Debbie Waller, Beth Schwartz, Jill Jiovanazzo, (fourth row) Bill Miller, John Balog, David Goodell, Ed Cowger, (fifth row) Jennifer Wasilk, John Dietrich, Matthew Nahorn, Bob Kamnikar, (bottom row) and Valerie Neidert.
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_Mugs.jpgCHANGING FACES: Pictured are (top) David Kukucka, Derek Pittak, Steve Bukovac, Brian Dembinski, (second row) Andrew Gibson, Ryan Coleman, John Jaworski Jr., Greg Knoll, (third row) Jim Wilhelm, Debbie Waller, Beth Schwartz, Jill Jiovanazzo, (fourth row) Bill Miller, John Balog, David Goodell, Ed Cowger, (fifth row) Jennifer Wasilk, John Dietrich, Matthew Nahorn, Bob Kamnikar, (bottom row) and Valerie Neidert.

File photos

APRIL: Quiet during challenging economic years, Industrial Realty Group announced plans to revive the old Cleveland Quarries property spanning the South Amherst-Amherst Township line. Environmental manager Justin Lichter confirmed plans to transform at least a corner of the 900-acre property into a 45-home community with a small spa, beach access, and boating. California-based IRG purchased the defunct Ford plant on Baumhart Road in Lorain. In 2007, it added to its Lorain County portfolio by buying the quarry land for $22 million, eschewing the resort concept in favor of small mansion-style homes. Over the course of about 10 months, IRG cleared a great deal of debris from the sandstone pits to prepare for a housing development it called The Quarries at Beaver Creek.
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_April.jpgAPRIL: Quiet during challenging economic years, Industrial Realty Group announced plans to revive the old Cleveland Quarries property spanning the South Amherst-Amherst Township line. Environmental manager Justin Lichter confirmed plans to transform at least a corner of the 900-acre property into a 45-home community with a small spa, beach access, and boating. California-based IRG purchased the defunct Ford plant on Baumhart Road in Lorain. In 2007, it added to its Lorain County portfolio by buying the quarry land for $22 million, eschewing the resort concept in favor of small mansion-style homes. Over the course of about 10 months, IRG cleared a great deal of debris from the sandstone pits to prepare for a housing development it called The Quarries at Beaver Creek.

File photos

MAY: Sobs spilled from Adrianna Young’s lips as she apologized to the family she robbed of a wife and mother. “There is not a day that passes without your family on my mind. My sorrow, pain, guilt, grief never goes away,” she cried before being sentenced her to four and a half years behind bars at the Lorain Correctional Institution and permanently banned from driving. Young, then 25, of Oberlin, had pleaded guilty to counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, possession of marijuana, and tampering with evidence — all were connected to the death of Debra Majkut on July 28, 2015, in Amherst Township. With marijuana in her system and her eyes on text messages, Young plowed into the Majkut family home and crushed Debra under her car, also bad injuring an infant child. In recent months, she has asked for judicial release from prison. A hearing is set for Jan. 4.
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_May.jpgMAY: Sobs spilled from Adrianna Young’s lips as she apologized to the family she robbed of a wife and mother. “There is not a day that passes without your family on my mind. My sorrow, pain, guilt, grief never goes away,” she cried before being sentenced her to four and a half years behind bars at the Lorain Correctional Institution and permanently banned from driving. Young, then 25, of Oberlin, had pleaded guilty to counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, possession of marijuana, and tampering with evidence — all were connected to the death of Debra Majkut on July 28, 2015, in Amherst Township. With marijuana in her system and her eyes on text messages, Young plowed into the Majkut family home and crushed Debra under her car, also bad injuring an infant child. In recent months, she has asked for judicial release from prison. A hearing is set for Jan. 4.

File photos

AUGUST: Khennedy Scagliozzo opened the Comets football season with a bang, crossing the goal line four times. He led Amherst to a 41-6 rout over Clearview, then on to a 6-4 season. It was the first winning season since 2010, and revived some grumpy Comets fans. The success also had just a little bit to do with new head coach Mike Passerrello, hired away from Firelands where he’d helped the Falcons become a force to be reckoned with. We can’t wait to see what the Comets will do this fall.
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_August.jpgAUGUST: Khennedy Scagliozzo opened the Comets football season with a bang, crossing the goal line four times. He led Amherst to a 41-6 rout over Clearview, then on to a 6-4 season. It was the first winning season since 2010, and revived some grumpy Comets fans. The success also had just a little bit to do with new head coach Mike Passerrello, hired away from Firelands where he’d helped the Falcons become a force to be reckoned with. We can’t wait to see what the Comets will do this fall.

File photos

SEPTEMBER: The long-rumored closing of Amherst IGA was swift. It closed mid-month for “inventory” and never reopened. The Milan Avenue grocery store had been struggling for months and customers frequently commented online about empty shelves and limited selection. Co-owner Rachael Romesberg posted on social media that it was a sad day for her family: “Our family came into Amherst IGA with nothing other than a passion and hope to try and revive it. We knew it was not going to be easy but we were willing to take the risk. We saw the potential of what it could be. We worked hard and gave it our best believing that with enough support we could make it thrive again. We had a lot of plans and visions of how we could make it better. We listened to what the community wanted and dreamed of making that a reality someday… however things did not turn out the way we had hoped or planned. We would take one step forward and 10 steps back… between outdated equipment breaking down to outdated products being pulled off of the shelves due to lack of customer support. It eventually caught up and became too much. No matter what we did or tried it ultimately was not enough.”
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_September.jpgSEPTEMBER: The long-rumored closing of Amherst IGA was swift. It closed mid-month for “inventory” and never reopened. The Milan Avenue grocery store had been struggling for months and customers frequently commented online about empty shelves and limited selection. Co-owner Rachael Romesberg posted on social media that it was a sad day for her family: “Our family came into Amherst IGA with nothing other than a passion and hope to try and revive it. We knew it was not going to be easy but we were willing to take the risk. We saw the potential of what it could be. We worked hard and gave it our best believing that with enough support we could make it thrive again. We had a lot of plans and visions of how we could make it better. We listened to what the community wanted and dreamed of making that a reality someday… however things did not turn out the way we had hoped or planned. We would take one step forward and 10 steps back… between outdated equipment breaking down to outdated products being pulled off of the shelves due to lack of customer support. It eventually caught up and became too much. No matter what we did or tried it ultimately was not enough.”

File photos

OCTOBER: Punching through brick walls, ripping roofs to shreds, and tearing rebar asunder didn’t take long as the old Shupe and Harris elementary schools came down. Demolition was tied to the construction cost of a new preschool-through-third grade building on South Lake Street. The new school will be built starting this spring, and once open will continue the legacy of the Powers Elementary name. The entire project, including demolition of the three old schools (Powers will be razed eventually), has a $32 million price tag. Groundbreaking could start as early as March.
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_October.jpgOCTOBER: Punching through brick walls, ripping roofs to shreds, and tearing rebar asunder didn’t take long as the old Shupe and Harris elementary schools came down. Demolition was tied to the construction cost of a new preschool-through-third grade building on South Lake Street. The new school will be built starting this spring, and once open will continue the legacy of the Powers Elementary name. The entire project, including demolition of the three old schools (Powers will be razed eventually), has a $32 million price tag. Groundbreaking could start as early as March.

File photos

NOVEMBER: The final installment of downtown Amherst’s mural wall was dedicated on Veterans Day in November. Artists Mike Sekletar and Brian Goodwin memorialized the Lorain County military men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It stands on Park Avenue in memory of Air Force Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes of Lorain, Army Sgt. Benjamin Biskie of Vermilion, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan Giese of Lorain, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David Hall of Lorain, Army Staff Sgt. James Hunter of South Amherst, Army Capt. Michael Medders of Avon Lake, Army Sgt. Daniel Shepherd of Elyria, Army Sgt. Norman Tollett of Elyria, Army Sgt. Louis Torres of Oberlin, and Army Master Sgt. Robert West of Elyria. The mural was painted alongside others paying homage to the heroes of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_November.jpgNOVEMBER: The final installment of downtown Amherst’s mural wall was dedicated on Veterans Day in November. Artists Mike Sekletar and Brian Goodwin memorialized the Lorain County military men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It stands on Park Avenue in memory of Air Force Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes of Lorain, Army Sgt. Benjamin Biskie of Vermilion, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan Giese of Lorain, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David Hall of Lorain, Army Staff Sgt. James Hunter of South Amherst, Army Capt. Michael Medders of Avon Lake, Army Sgt. Daniel Shepherd of Elyria, Army Sgt. Norman Tollett of Elyria, Army Sgt. Louis Torres of Oberlin, and Army Master Sgt. Robert West of Elyria. The mural was painted alongside others paying homage to the heroes of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

File photos

DECEMBER: A $1.5 million historical tax credit with breathe a second life into the old Central School on Church Street. Standing vacant since 1984, the building has long been considered Amherst’s biggest white elephant. Constructed of local sandstone in 1907, it is on the National Register of Historic Places but “is somewhat of an eyesore,” as mayor Mark Costilow put it. Now Sprenger Health Care will transform the ancient building from a place of shadows and rotting infrastructure into an assisted living facility. The exterior architecture will remain intact and the interior will be renovated in a way that recalls its old days as Amherst’s center of education.
http://www.theamherstnewstimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2018/01/web1_December.jpgDECEMBER: A $1.5 million historical tax credit with breathe a second life into the old Central School on Church Street. Standing vacant since 1984, the building has long been considered Amherst’s biggest white elephant. Constructed of local sandstone in 1907, it is on the National Register of Historic Places but “is somewhat of an eyesore,” as mayor Mark Costilow put it. Now Sprenger Health Care will transform the ancient building from a place of shadows and rotting infrastructure into an assisted living facility. The exterior architecture will remain intact and the interior will be renovated in a way that recalls its old days as Amherst’s center of education.

File photos

By Jason Hawk

jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com