Over the course of the past few years, the 23rd Street Corridor has continued evolving with its business development.
An assortment of eateries, office spaces and retail stores line the busy stretch of road traveled by hundreds of people on a daily basis; providing a little something for most.
While a huge wave of development occurred in 2016, this year brought about its fair share of change, too, with the addition — and loss – of several locally-operated businesses. Prominent 23rd Street developments and closures lands at the Tribune’s No. 3 spot for the Top 10 Stories of 2017.
As with most places, change can be positive or negative. Growth is clear-cut sign of economic development, and losing businesses generally can be a sign of stagnation. During this year, Fremont saw its fair share of development and loss of businesses located along the 23rd Street Corridor.
While the overall pattern of growth in the area is positive, the Fremont Mall continued taking a hit this year with the closure of three retail stores. Amy’s Hallmark closed in early 2017, JCPenney officially closed shop toward the end of July and The Buckle followed suit in mid-October.
JCPenney corporate announced in March that it would be shutting down 138 of its stores, one Fremont store and two additional stores in the state of Nebraska; leaving JCPenney with approximately 900 stores nationally. The store closures impacted approximately 5,000 positions nationwide.
After filing for bankruptcy in March, it appeared that Gordman’s would also close its doors within the Fremont Mall, but the decision was ultimately made to keep the store open.
While the Fremont Mall continues struggling to hold onto retail stores within its building, other areas along 23rd Street continue thriving. One doing particularly well is the development located along east 23rd Street near Yager Road containing Buffalo Wild Wings, Firehouse Subs, Starbucks and MedExpress Urgent Care, all of which opened this year.
A blight study was conducted on the ground where the businesses now call home in 2014, and from there a development plan was made, Mayor Scott Getzschman said.
“It opened the door for the future development of the small strip mall which includes Buffalo Wild Wings, Firehouse Subs, Starbucks, and then also the MedExpress property,” Getzschman said. “That entire development was developed because we took the time of pre-planning to put together a really good development plan.”
On east 23rd Street, business development continues in the Deer Pointe area.
“That area has been open, available and shovel-ready for development for several years now,” he said. “So as the overall area is developed, folks have gravitated and purchased on Deer Pointe. It’s been able to provide homes for many of the businesses – Panda Express, Hardees and Taco Johns.”
Currently, a large dental practice is in the process of being built on the Deer Pointe Property, as well.
Other businesses erected along 23rd Street in 2017 include Raising Canes Chicken Fingers and RuffHouse. RuffHouse, 2310 E. 23rd Street, provides children and adults, alike, with an assortment of high-energy activities within the 24,000 square-foot facility.
There’s a large trampoline where people can jump and play basketball. There’s Bubble Soccer, a Jungle Gym and a Wipeout machine, where two large, padded arms spin in circles attempting to knock brave souls off their feet as it accelerates. There’s a bouldering wall where children can climb around with minimal risk involved.
While many associate such a place with being strictly for kids, that isn’t the case whatsoever, co-owner Carmen Chapman said during a previous interview with the Tribune.
“Our intention is to tackle every age, it doesn’t stop at kids or teenagers, we have college kids and adults who have a blast in here,” Chapman said.
Getzschman said that while the corridor is continually growing and evolving, there is still a lot of room for growth in terms of business development.
“You have the area that is south and east of Applebee’s – that whole corridor is open and ready for development,” Getzschman said. “It’s platted, and the Diers family is open to that future development for commercial development in that area.”
When people enter Fremont on 23rd Street – or any city entrance – it’s always important to give a positive impression of the city, Getzschman said.
“All of our entrances into Fremont need to showcase our city, and when you can show that you have development that is taking place with new facilities that weren’t there two years ago, it shows that your community is moving forward,” he said.
The year 2017 brought deep sorrow to Fremont area families after the deaths of loved ones in traffic fatalities.
As a heart-wrenching reminder of how very fragile and brief life can be, the combined set of stories would rank fourth in a list of Top 10 for the Tribune.
In July, Anna Escamilla talked about the heart-breaking loss of her 24-year-old husband, Blake, who died in a motorcycle accident on his way home from working the night shift at Valmont Industries in Valley. Blake was westbound on Old Highway 275 when an eastbound semitrailer attempted to make a left turn onto Nebraska Highway 36 and a collision occurred.
Anna, who’d been attending a family reunion at Ponca, saw on Facebook that an early morning accident had occurred. She and her mom, Rachael Oerman, prayed for whomever was involved.
“At the time, we didn’t know who we were praying for,” Anna said.
Later, Oerman answered a call and had to break the news to her daughter.
Anna would share tender memories of her husband and how he’d cared for her and their then-2-year-old daughter, Harlow.
“He was my best friend. He was my everything,” she said. “He was an amazing guy. He was a great man, very caring. He was a family man. He did everything for us.”
The Escamillas met through mutual friends.
“I had a very big crush on Blake,” she said. “He was someone I thought would never even look at me. I thought, ‘This is the crush of my life.’”
The two started dating, had their daughter, and married on Sept. 10, 2016.
About a month later, Anna was headed home from her job at the Frontier Co-op in North Bend, when her Pontiac G6 hit the back of semi-trailer truck on U.S. Highway 30, west of Fremont. A medical helicopter flew her to Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, where she spent 20 days and underwent multiple surgeries.
Blake was an attentive husband, who took care of his wife and daughter.
“He was an amazing father,” she said.
Days before Escamilla’s death, other Fremont residents would face grief after 40-year-old Bryan D. Muhlbach died in a motorcycle accident on July 17.
Muhlbach was driving his 1999 purple FXDWG Harley-Davidson Motorcycle west near 202nd Street and West Dodge Road when he lost control of the bike, Sgt. Chuck Casey of the Omaha Police Department told the Tribune.
Just before the 204th Street exit, Muhlbach left the right side of the highway and was thrown down an embankment.
Several police units, firefighters and emergency medical technicians arrived at the scene of the accident. Casey said several drivers stopped to aid the victim prior to emergency crews arriving.
Muhlbach’s obituary would say he loved spending time with his family and friends, riding his motorcycle, and that he was an avid Raiders and Husker fan.
Fremonters weren’t alone in their grief as accidents involving people throughout the county occurred, including one that happened in February.
Justin T. Renard, 23, of North Bend died Feb. 20 in a two-vehicle accident on the west side of Fremont.
Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said the accident occurred at 4:24 a.m., when the man, who was driving a 1996 Chevrolet Monte Carlo LS, west on 23rd Street, pulled away from the stop sign and entered the northbound traffic lane of Highway 30.
As the vehicle entered Highway 30, it was struck by a northbound tractor-trailer.
Renard would be remembered for his love of video games, music, traveling to concerts, and spending time with his friends.
A 53-year-old Fremont man, Ricky L. Stolley, died March 15 after a single-vehicle accident on March 12.
Fremont Police said the accident occurred at 3:52 p.m. in the 900 block of North Clarkson Street.
Stolley was southbound on Clarkson Street, ran up and over the curb, striking mailboxes, small trees and eventually hitting a large tree before coming to rest.
He was transported by Fremont rescue personnel to Fremont Health Medical Center and later transferred to an Omaha hospital where he died.
More loss occurred in June, when 31-year-old Jesse R. Cady of North Bend died in a two-vehicle accident that happened on U.S. Highway 275 about 2 ½ miles south of West Point in Cuming County.
The Cuming County Sheriff’s Department would report that Cady was driving a van that rear-ended an International cab/flatbed truck which was attempting to make a left-hand turn into West Point Implement.
The International Truck came to a rest in the driveway of West Point Implement and the van came to a rest in a fence line in the west ditch of Highway 275.
Cady and his wife, Brandi — the parents of three children — had established R5 Airboats in 2013 and he was a member of The Nebraska Airboat Association.
“Being a member of The NAA, he was able to touch many lives and establish new friendships. His love for the river was strong, but nothing compared to the love he had for his wife and children,” his obituary would record.
The weekend of July 22-23 was a deadly one on area roads.
An accident claimed the life of 64-year-old Robert Belsky of Dodge on July 22.
Belsky was driving a 1996 Camaro when he lost control of the vehicle and entered a ditch striking a power pole. The accident occurred at about 6:30 p.m. on County Road 2, one mile north of Dodge. The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office reported that Belsky had been ejected from the vehicle.
During his lifetime, Belsky had been involved in farming and ag-related businesses. He’d served in the U.S. Army Reserves and previously was commander of Dodge American Legion Post 122. Belsky’s obituary would describe his love of life:
“Bob enjoyed hunting, fishing, working on his tractors and participating in tractor rides, entering his Camaro in car shows and riding motorcycles. Bob’s pride and joy was his wife, children and grandchildren.”
North Bend resident James S. Albert, 34, died in a two-vehicle accident on July 23 at the intersection of County Road 9 and County Road R.
The intersection is approximately one-mile east and 2 1/2 miles north of North Bend.
Deputies from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the scene at 12:13 p.m.
An investigation led to the discovery that a 1995 Chevrolet Tahoe driven by David J. Mills, 28, of Morse Bluff was eastbound on County Road R when it collided with a 2005 Jeep Liberty driven by Christopher M. O’Connor, 26, of North Bend, which was traveling north on County Road 9.
Albert, a passenger in the Tahoe, was ejected from the vehicle. The other men were transported by helicopter to Nebraska Medicine in Omaha.
More tragic loss of young life occurred in August and September.
A 46-year-old North Bend resident, Jason Daugherty, died Aug. 19 in an ATV accident.
The accident occurred at about 7:54 p.m., the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office reported.
At the time, Daugherty was driving the ATV north on Mulberry Street, just north of 10th Street in North Bend. The ATV left the roadway to the east and entered a private drive, where it struck a parked vehicle. Daugherty was ejected from the ATV.
The husband and father was described as a free-spirited man, who enjoyed the outdoors, boating, camping and dirt biking.
An 18-year-old Fremonter, Jason Bechtel, died after a two-vehicle accident on Aug. 30.
This accident occurred at about 6:30 on County Road 28 between U.S. Highway 30 and East Military Avenue. County Road 28 is about 3 ½ miles east of Fremont.
The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office reported that the accident happened when a northbound pickup on County Road 28 collided with Bechtel’s pickup. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation suggested that dust in the air from other vehicle traffic created a vision obstruction, which likely led to the occurrence of the collision, and that Bechtel had been wearing a seatbelt.
Bechtel had just graduated in May from Fremont High School and with Industrial Tech Honors – Top 3 in the 2016-2017 FHS/Metro CC Welding Academy.
He was set to begin working as a welder for Valmont Industries.
The teen also had been involved with Cub and Boy Scouts and had earned his Eagle Scout Award in 2017. While at Fremont High, he was involved in basketball for two years, Skills USA program, National Honor Society, track and cross country. He was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fremont.
“Jason loved to fish and camp,” his obituary reads. “His nieces and nephews along with the rest of his family were very important to him.”
A young Omaha woman, Alexandra Farley, died in a single-vehicle accident on Sept. 2, south of Fremont.
Farley, 22, was southbound on U.S. Highway 275, when her vehicle left the roadway and rolled. She was ejected from the vehicle. Deputies from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department were dispatched to the scene at 10:47 p.m.
Members of the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office over the course of the last three years have donated thousands of dollars to Project Pink’d, the American Cancer Society and the Relay For Life of Dodge County through their annual No Shave November campaign.
This year, the department participated in No Shave November once again and stretched it out over the course of December, too. Each deputy of the DCSO contributed money for the cause through a portion of union dues, and additional funds were collected from private donors and from area businesses, Investigator Craig Harbaugh said during a Thursday interview with the Tribune.
Money is still being accepted, but as of now, Harbaugh said that a grand total of $1,500 has been generated throughout the two-month endeavor. In years past, the money has gone toward benefiting cancer support and awareness, but this year, it’s being kept by the DCSO to be used to benefit a member of the office if he or she would need the assistance.
“This year we decided to create an account, in-house, basically so that if we ever – god forbid – have a deputy that would be diagnosed with cancer, we would be able to help with some of their costs – offset some of those costs,” he said.
No Shave November is the third fundraising campaign the office has held this year, with the other two being Stuff the Cruiser and the Pink Patch Project, where deputies wore pink Dodge County Sheriff’s Office patches on black uniforms during the month of October in support of breast cancer awareness.
The public was – and still is – able to purchase a patch for $10. Originally, 250 patches were donated to the DCSO and around 100 patches were purchased by the public. All of the $1,000 from the patch purchases is going to benefit Project Pink’d, a non-profit organization that provides tools, resources and a strong network to strengthen and renew the mind, body and spirit of breast cancer survivors in Nebraska and Western Iowa, information off of the organization’s webpage says.
Harbaugh said that while $1,500 has been raised through the No Shave November campaign, more funds may still be coming through the Sheriff’s Office doors.
“We’ve got a private donor who has talked to us – who obviously wants to stay anonymous – who has talked about, depending on how much money we make, matching those funds,” he said.
Harbaugh added that while the funds raised this year are intended to benefit any deputy or office member who could be diagnosed with cancer down the road, the money could be allocated for another instance of helping somebody diagnosed with cancer if the money wasn’t used for some period of time.
In terms of philanthropy, it’s been a busy year for the Sheriff’s Office, but Harbaugh said being able to do these positive things builds rapport with residents of Dodge County.
“With all the things going on around the country, which at times, unfortunately, puts a negative light on law enforcement, we want everyone to see that we are just people too who want to help,” he said. “We want the community to know that we are there for them, not only with the jobs that we do when we get called out, but also just in terms of being good public servants not only in a professional atmosphere, but also a personal one, as well.”