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Collin and Tammy's favorite stories of 2021

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Stories by Collin Spilinek

Over the last year, I’ve gotten to cover some amazing stories in the Fremont area. Through business columns and profiling different people and programs, I’m glad to have highlighted their amazing work.

Flight to FreedomMoving to a new country can be tough. I got to see that first-hand as I covered the story of an Afghanistan family’s flight to the United States and the Fremont residents who helped them relocate to a permanent home. The community was more than ready to welcome them, bringing gift bags for the children. Getting to greet the family in Omaha along with others was an incredible experience. The story appeared Oct. 23.

Starting OverDeb Newill and Tricia Homan lost nearly everything when their brand-new pet grooming salon, The Fur Shack, was destroyed in a strip mall fire in June. I initially spoke with them for a story on their opening two days before the fire and was stunned to see the news on social media. However, the two were able to rebuild and opened for business in downtown Fremont, ready to go again. The story appeared Oct. 16.

Long-Distance ConnectionThere’s nothing like the bond between human and dog. I was able to see that through Marvin Kappes and Hank, a dog fostered by Kappes during his time at Midland University. After Kappes returned to Germany, Hank was adopted but subsequently returned to the shelter. Against all odds, Kappes returned to the United States after months of planning and was able to bring Hank home in time for the holidays. The story appeared Dec. 24.

Making a Mark

Out of all of the people I spoke to this year, Tyler Townes was probably the most fascinating. Initially planning on quitting tattoo work, the Oklahoma man ended up opening Lost Souls Tattoo Gallery. Townes spoke of the high-profile people he’s tattooed, as well as those he had lost, including two fellow artists memorialized with a mural on the side of the building. The story appeared May 15.

Navigating Life

Steve Hoden nearly lost all hope when he learned of his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. However, programs at Methodist Fremont Health provided the help he and others needed. Through Delay the Disease and the Loud Crowd, patients have been able to work on their physical and speech abilities as they navigate through life and learn how to better manager their situation. The story appeared April 9.

Stories by Tammy Real-McKeighan

If ever I loved writing a story, it was the one I wrote about Ben Beaudette and his buddies.

Beaudette and his friends just wanted to take a canoe trip in Utah before he married his longtime sweetheart, Sydney.

The trip would become an unforgettable trek when Beaudette’s pal and fellow diabetic, Travis Kisling, began exhibiting unusual symptoms.

While Beaudette administered insulin to Kisling, their pal Brennan Beam hiked up and out of a canyon to try to get a cell phone signal and call for help.

I found their story to be an inspiring one of courage and — most of all — solid friendship amid rocky terrain and the twisty, turning river of life’s circumstances. Their story ran on Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Day.

Unsung Heroes and Tender Warriors

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for unsung heroes.

You know the type.

They work quietly behind the scenes with diligence and patience.

And, often, with courage.

I saw incredible examples of this in 2021 as we continued to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among my favorite stories, I list the series of articles I wrote about the Unsung Heroes at Methodist Fremont Health.

The dedication and bravery I saw in these tender warriors inspires me still.

Scott Jensen

Chaplain Scott Jensen described the excruciatingly painful, yet exquisitely beautiful times when families said goodbye to their loved ones. His story ran March 26.

Allie Greene

Occupational therapist Alli Greene got goosebumps when one of her patients was able to stand from the edge of his bed, almost by himself. Her story ran March 23.

Maria Calderon

Maria Calderon is an interpreter whose compassion transcends language barriers. Calderon faced the agonizing task of telling families that their formerly healthy and strong, young loved ones weren’t going to survive. She did so with accuracy and empathy. Her story ran March 27.

Jen (Howard) Sims

Right on the frontlines of the COVID battle, respiratory therapist Jen (Howard) Sims spent hours giving breathing treatments and helping turn patients on their stomachs so they could breathe easier. Her story ran March 24.

Bob Howard and Rachelle Jelinek

While Jen helped patients breathe, her dad, Bob Howard, sought to make sure rooms were sanitized as he supervised workers in his role as environmental services coordinator.

One of his workers, Rachelle Jelinek, realized that amid quarantines, she often was the only link to the outside world for Dunklau Gardens residents. So she took extra time to listen and talk with them. Bob Howard and Jelinek’s story ran March 25.

I’m sure there are many other unsung heroes, but I was so privileged to cast a small spotlight on these wonderful people.

Randy Beaton

Sgt. Randy Beaton used words to paint the picture of his career.

He depicted the tenacity needed when trying to find a missing man and showed how deeply those called to serve and protect are affected when dealing with shooting deaths or fatal accidents.

Beaton spent 39 years in law enforcement, 34 of which were with the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office. He retired this year.

During the interview, I was impressed with how Beaton used the Pac Man game as a visual idea when working with dispatchers to find a missing person.

I laughed when he told me the story about a woman in the Case of the Missing Pickles. Beaton’s story ran May 8.

Incredible Gratitude

When I called David Baker, I expected him to tell me about the fire that destroyed his home.

I didn’t expect the first words that came out of his mouth.

He wanted me to write a story, because he had so many people to thank.

Baker and his wife, Christine, are so grateful to the firefighters, police, utilities workers, family, friends and neighbors for their help.

Fire broke out in the Bakers’ attic just days before Christmas.

The Bakers and their sons, nephew, a friend and David’s 89-year-old mother, Norma, made it out of the house with one dog before firefighters arrived. Firefighters rescued other pets.

Although they could have focused on the blaze and all it consumed, they were thankful no one was hurt.

“Christmas is about being with family and it’s not gifts,” David Baker said. “As long as we’ve got family, we’re good.” Their story ran Dec. 21.


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