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Year in Review: A Look Back at the Year that Was in 2013

Leader Photo by Rodney Williams  Carl Hudman took over as chief of police in Howe.Buy Photo
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams Carl Hudman took over as chief of police in Howe.
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams  Howe treasure L.B. Kirby was presented with a street named after him and a day in his honor in November.Buy Photo
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams Howe treasure L.B. Kirby was presented with a street named after him and a day in his honor in November.
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams  Mike Tillett makes one last meat sale as he prepared to close the family namesake business after 57 years in Van Alstyne.Buy Photo
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams Mike Tillett makes one last meat sale as he prepared to close the family namesake business after 57 years in Van Alstyne.
File Photo  The Van Alstyne High School Marching Band qualified for the UIL state contest for the first time in school history, even making it into the finals.
File Photo The Van Alstyne High School Marching Band qualified for the UIL state contest for the first time in school history, even making it into the finals.
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams  Billy Plake, left, and Russell Moore, right, are sworn onto the Van Alstyne City Council while Teddie Ann Salmon, center, takes the oath for the mayor's office.Buy Photo
Leader Photo by Rodney Williams Billy Plake, left, and Russell Moore, right, are sworn onto the Van Alstyne City Council while Teddie Ann Salmon, center, takes the oath for the mayor's office.
File Photo  This geyser erupting from a broken water pipe underneath the street was one of several such breaks in Van Alstyne.
File Photo This geyser erupting from a broken water pipe underneath the street was one of several such breaks in Van Alstyne.

It seemed as if between Howe and Van Alstyne there was rarely a dull moment in 2013. In Van Alstyne, water rates, a comment made by a former mayor, a history-making season for the Panther Marching Band and a terrible accident involving a high school junior made headlines. In Howe, a war hero got his due, the State of Texas announced a major project within city limits and the town welcomed a new police chief.

Topping the Leader headlines were two wildly diverse stories. The first involved an increase in water rates which had citizens up in arms. When the Van Alstyne City Council approved the fiscal year budget it did so with a water billing increase in the package. The new budget was approved Oct. 1, at which point the new billing rate kicked in. Complaints began pouring into City Hall once the October billing statements were sent to customers, and the backlash poured over into a tense standing-room only November City Council meeting in which the public lashed out at council members and city staff. The rates, claimed several citizens, were too high, while others complained they were being charged in a billing cycle which began prior to the Oct. 1 approval of the new water rates. A planned December workshop session to re-address the water rates was cancelled due to the ice storm that rolled through the area, but plans are still in the works to hold the workshop.

A story of a more tragic nature developed just weeks ago. On Dec. 12, Van Alstyne High School junior Riley Sprowl was injured while sledding on the ice. He suffered a devastating spinal cord injury and is paralyzed below the shoulders. The comments on the story have been numerous and continue to pour in, as does the generosity of the community. A fundraiser was held on Dec. 21 for the Sprowl family and will be ongoing for some time to come.

Also in December, Mother Nature unleased her fury on the south and the resulting ice storm was felt in Van Alstyne. At least two city structures were significantly damaged – the Public Safety Complex and a storage barn. The Public Safety Complex damage forced the cancellation of the regularly-scheduled December city council meeting. A structural engineer has assessed the damage but it could take months for the structures to be repaired.

Proving that there was a ray of sunshine (or good news in this case) the Van Alstyne Marching Band qualified for the state contest for the first time in school history. The Panther Band finished ninth in competition after making it into the finals. Earlier in the year, 38 members of the band made it to the Texas Solo-Ensemble Contest on May 26.

A respected member of the Howe community was honored on Nov. 10. L.B. Kirby, one of Texas’ most decorated World War II veterans, was immortalized with a street named after him and Nov. 10 being declared by Howe mayor Jeff Stanley as L.B. Kirby Day.

May elections yielded a change at the top for Van Alstyne. With former mayor Kim DeMasters announcing she would not be running for re-election, it was a two-way contest between Timmerle Kelly and former mayor Teddie Ann Salmon. Salmon won the day, as did incumbent councilman Billy Plake and a new face to Council, Russell Moore. It was a year of new beginnings for the city staff as Frank Baker started things off on Jan. 1 with his first day as city manager after serving in an interim capacity previously.

Howe officials were thrilled with the announcement by the state on Sept. 23 of a $5 million investment to construct new apartment homes in the city. Abbington Meadows is planned to consist of 64 units of market-rate and below-market workforce housing on the west side.

The Great Big Van Alstyne Fall der All in downtown Van Alstyne drew a record crowd of 4,000 under clear blue skies and mild temperatures. A harvest moon even made an appearance for the evening concerts.

Tension surrounding the Van Alstyne City Council was part of the news in 2013. At the Feb. 12 city council meeting, noise ordinance issues were on the table and hours for home construction were being discussed. DeMasters spoke of construction workers being in the neighborhood after dark with the comment, “The majority of them do not speak English, the majority of them play their music…decibels beyond what we should have to deal with.” Councilman Jim Smith immediately took exception to the comment, calling it a “discrimination statement.” DeMasters insisted she was commenting on the inability to communicate with these construction workers to ask them to turn down their music and meant nothing more. The issue and the controversy made the nightly television news and put Van Alstyne in the public eye.

In addition, a discussion item on the September agenda concerning possible parks usage fees drew another packed house with residents literally lining the walls inside the community center. The usage fees would affect the Van Alstyne Sports Authority (VASA) which uses city parks for its various sports leagues. Supporters said that if an ordinance were passed it would dramatically increase the cost for each child enrolled in sports. Several parents spoke to Council, and the motion was tabled without further discussion.

More council-related news came in the form of John Jennings’ resignation in September. Controversy again reared its head when City Attorney Julie Fort stated that, legally, Jennings was to remain on Council until his replacement could be voted on. Since a consensus has yet to be reached, Jennings, who no longer resides in Van Alstyne, remains on the council.

Former Alderman A.C. Mosby passed away on August 21.

Former VAHS student Meg Jones was named Texas Homecoming Queen on April 21.

Howe got a new police chief as Carl Hudman took over the department in the summer.

Van Alstyne teenager Alexa Turczynski published her first novel and held a book signing downtown on March 16.

Van Alstyne Scout Troop 44 celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 4. The troop is the third-oldest scout troop in the state and the fifth-oldest in the nation. Happy Birthday, Scouts!

Van Alstyne Middle School’s Dakota Kern won the Grayson County Spelling Bee.

A long-time institution closed its doors in September as Tillett Grocery said goodbye to the community after 57 years in Van Alstyne.

Van Alstyne Public Works employees worked overtime in 2013 dealing with numerous bursts of the old pipe under city streets. The problem reached its zenith on Oct. 22 as multiple bursts at two different locations cost the city nearly a million gallons of water and forced a boil alert to be issued.

Grayson College broke ground on a $4 million South Campus technical center in Van Alstyne in March. The 18,000 square foot facility will house four technical and trade programs: welding, electrician’s, medical technician’s and occupational safety and health programs. Classes are scheduled to start in the new facility in the Fall of 2014.

Van Alstyne ISD was ahead of the curve as it distributed electronic tablets to eighth and ninth graders to kick off 2013. Students received Galaxy II notebooks complete with a full-size keyboard absolutely free as part of the district’s efforts to replace textbooks currently in use with electronic textbooks and facilitate more research and project-based learning through the tablets.

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