Changes in city leadership top stories for '22


Appointments to the city council and mayor position are what the West Liberty Index has picked as its top story for 2022.

The biggest change was in the mayor position.

Former Mayor Katie McCullough resigned at the end of the city council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 20.

She said she was resigning because she wanted to focus on her two children and her health.

The city council decided to move forward with an appointment process. They took applications but decided to appoint Ethan Anderson during a special city council meeting Monday, Oct. 24.

Anderson was one of two applicants who put their name in for the position of mayor. Former mayor Robert Hartman also applied.

Before the decision was made to appoint Anderson, city councilmember Dana Dominguez made some comments about the amount of changeover with the city council and mayor positions.

“Thinking about the community, how council looks may not be what they were envisioning in a year past-time,” she said. “I’m just letting people know I have all the faith in the people we’ve appointed as a council and our appointment for mayor if passed, but also a reminder that people have the power to petition and the council has the power to make changes in the future as well.”

Other changes in city leadership included the resignation of former city councilmember Diane Beranek effective June 7. The city council discussed how to fill the vacant seat the same day The city had two options, according to City Administrator David Haugland. They could appoint someone or hold a special election. If the council decided to move forward with an appointment, they would be responsible for paying for it.

If they city council decided to move forward with an appointment process, they would have 60 days from the day the seat was vacated to do so. The city council decided to go through the appointment process. There were three applicants for the vacant council seat Ashley Smith, Vanessa Espinoza and Mike Price.

At a special city council meeting Friday, Aug. 5, Ashley Smith was appointed to the empty city council seat.

Immediately following Smith’s appointment, former city councilmember Jose Zacarias announced his resignation effective immediately due to Zacarias moving out of town.

The city council decided to move forward with another appointment at its Aug. 16 meeting.

Joshua Shiltz Costa was the only person to submit a letter of interest for the empty city council seat. He was appointed to city council during the Sept. 20 meeting.

Other top stories

Groundbreaking ceremony held

The West Liberty Community School District hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the new athletic complex the first week of October. Over 100 community members came out to witness the groundbreaking and hear details on progress and future plans for the complex.

The event kicked off with comments from Superintendent Shaun Kruger and Activities Director Adam Loria.

“Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t begin to go far enough for the financial and community support we’ve received for this project,” said Kruger. “Kicking off a project this size in my first year as Superintendent was ambitious to say the least, and I never could have expected the community to step up this way. I’m extremely grateful and proud of the West Liberty community.”

Relocation of all high school athletic fields to the high school campus has been part of the strategy ever since the high school was built 16 years ago. As the district grew, discussion began on a new indoor facility to relieve overcrowded gyms and increase weight room and training capacity. Loria arrived as the district’s first full time Activities Director two years ago and started working on the project.

Largest donation came from biggest employer in city

The West Liberty School District is receiving a major gift from the city’s largest business, West Liberty Foods. The West Liberty Foods board of directors met with Superintendent Shaun Kruger and Activities Director Adam Loria on June 3 to learn more about the project and long-term district strategy.

The board of directors, led by CEO Brandon Achen, consists of turkey growers from all over the State of Iowa, and after hearing a presentation about the school district’s plans for the new athletic complex, the board voted unanimously to approve a $500,000 donation.

The $500,000 will be spread over five years and requires the district to match the funds, which is typical for gifts of this size. This makes West Liberty Foods the keynote sponsor for the complex and puts the district 60 percent of the way to the total fundraising goal of $2 million. Fundraising kicked off at a press conference on March 29 and the district has raised $1.2 million in under three months for the project.

“This is a game changer,” Kruger said. “The meeting with the West Liberty Foods board could not have gone any better. The board is a group of accomplished business owners and Iowa growers. They had great questions and were very supportive of what we presented and towards public education in general. Many of them have served on their own local school boards. Their vote of approval reaffirms my confidence that we are doing the right thing with these funds to move the district forward.”

Ryan Trust donates $250,000

The West Liberty School District is receiving a major gift from the Joseph and Edward Ryan Trust. The Ryan Trust Board met with Superintendent, Shaun Kruger, and Activities Director, Adam Loria, in mid-May to inform them of the decision to give $250,000 to help build the new athletic complex which will be located south of the high school. The Ryan Trust is going to sponsor the indoor training facility which will be named for the trust.

The Ryan family settled in the West Liberty area in the 1800s and farmed just south of Highway 6 on the West side of town heading towards Iowa City. They were located right on the border of Johnson and Muscatine County, and the family farmhouse still stands today.

“There is a pretty yellow farmhouse on Highway 6 when you go towards Iowa City,” said Bob Cline, who knew Joe Ryan personally. “That is the Ryan family home. The trust still owns the farm ground and rents it out.”

According to Cline, the Ryan’s were a conservative, hard-working farm family and members of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in West Liberty. They had three children – two sons (Joe and Ed) and a daughter (Eileen) – and none of them married.

Joe and Ed farmed the family farm all their lives.

Melick Foundation donates $150,000

Another large donation came from the Melick Foundation.

Filmore Melick was born in West Liberty in 1920 and was united in marriage to his wife, Marjory, in 1950.

They lived almost their entire lives in West Liberty and contributed significantly to moving the community forward through volunteer work and financial contributions to various projects.

Filmore and Marjory established the Melick Foundation to support their philanthropic efforts and the Foundation is distributing the $150,000 according to their wishes. Filmore passed away July 1, 2020, and the Foundation is now managed by Marjory and one of their sons, Jerry.

The Melicks have four children, Jerry, Jeanne, Brad, and Bruce. Jerry said Filmore would be very happy about the new athletic complex.

“My father graduated from West Liberty High School in 1939,” said Jerry. “He was on the track team and had a short stint on the football team. He felt strongly about supporting the school district and would be very proud of the new athletic complex and its benefit to the whole community.”

West Liberty is very important to the Melicks and supporting the community has been a priority throughout their life. Financial gifts to several key organizations – including the West Liberty Fire Station, the West Liberty Community Center and Simpson Memorial Home - have made a lasting impact on the town.

Filmore was most proud of Liberty Park, the industrial park located on the south end of West Liberty. The Melick Foundation is now gifting significantly to help the schools.

Giri LLC donates

Tuesday, Oct. 4, the West Liberty Community School District hosted a groundbreaking at the site of the new athletic complex and announced three major gifts to the complex including $100,000 from Giri LLC, owned by Deepak Giri and his wife Amrita.

Deepak and Amrita have two children, a son, Adeep, in college at the University of Iowa, and a daughter, Aditi, who is in eighth grade.

Superintendent Shaun Kruger said the gift from the Giri’s is a huge boost to the project and part of a long list of support they provide.

Originally from Nepal, the Giri’s first moved to Nebraska and lived in the greater Omaha area while Deepak completed his master’s degree. After a short time in Iowa City as well as Des Moines, the Giri’s purchased the BP Gas Station in 2004 and made the permanent move “We liked the multi-cultural aspect of West Liberty,” said Deepak. “We just love the community here. Everybody knows everybody – a lot of people can even recognize you by voice alone.”

Charitable foundation donates

The charitable foundation established by Tom and Mary Pat Brooke has pledged $50,000 towards the new athletic complex.

The charitable foundation was established to provide funding for the many non-profit organizations and charities Tom and Mary Pat supported over the years. The West Liberty School District was always a priority for Tom and Mary Pat.Tthey set aside $50,000 for the new athletic complex.

Tom passed away in September 2022, but he was happy to see progress on the new facilities.

Born and raised in West Liberty, Tom attended the University of Iowa after high school. After graduating college, he joined his father as a partner in the Brooke Oil Company, a petroleum marketing company. Eventually the company name was changed to Brooke Enterprises, and they marketed petroleum products in central and eastern Iowa.

Tom was joined in marriage to Mary Pat in 1957 and they had three sons, Bruce, Darren, and Scott, who all graduated from West Liberty High School as well.

Tom and Mary Pat have been philanthropists for most of their lives and have each made significant contributions to advancements in the West Liberty community. First Church United, Rotary Club of West Liberty, and the West Liberty Country Club are just a few of the organizations they belonged to.

ARPA funds to be distributed

West Liberty City Council voted to distribute American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to local non-profits that provide assistance to West Liberty residents at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Councilmember Ashley Smith said the original recommendation was to give the ministerial association $90,000.

“And as a committee, we talked about how that was not enough to support people and we asked to raise (the recommended amount) to $120,000 for 300 families and if that money didn’t all get used this year, it could be applied for again next year,” Smith added.

The finance committee also recommended giving $20,000 to the West Liberty Food Pantry and $10,000 to the school district, Dominguez said. Both organizations serve the West Liberty Community and assist residents with needs.

Dominguez said the finance committee also decided to give money to the fire department and police department to help them purchase new vehicles.

The committee asked for a resolution to be on the city council agenda with these amounts on it, Dominguez added. However, the city attorney had some questions about the ARPA fund agreements.

ARPA funds to be distributed

West Liberty City Council voted to distribute American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to local non-profits that provide assistance to West Liberty residents at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Councilmember Ashley Smith said the original recommendation was to give the ministerial association $90,000.

“And as a committee, we talked about how that was not enough to support people and we asked to raise (the recommended amount) to $120,000 for 300 families and if that money didn’t all get used this year, it could be applied for again next year,” Smith added.

The finance committee also recommended giving $20,000 to the West Liberty Food Pantry and $10,000 to the school district, Dominguez said. Both organizations serve the West Liberty Community and assist residents with needs.

Dominguez said the finance committee also decided to give money to the fire department and police department to help them purchase new vehicles.

The committee asked for a resolution to be on the city council agenda with these amounts on it, Dominguez added. However, the city attorney had some questions about the ARPA fund agreements.

Escucha Mi Voz advocated for assistance for West Liberty residents

Escucha Mi Voz started asking for assistance for the essential workers who didn't qualify for assistance during the pandemic from the city's ARPA fund in January. They regulary attended meetings throughout the year and were very vocal about their request.

Before the June 7 meeting, they marched from St. Joseph Catholic Church to the West Liberty Public Library, where the meeting was held, the West Liberty Escucha Mi Voz group made their plea once again to the city council, finally getting some action after nearly six months of negotiations.

The decision came after the city council’s finance committee made a recommendation to provide $150,000 of their $522,000-plus federal American Rescue Plan funding of which the city has only received half of the payment.

Several representatives of the group, who chanted a message that “We are here and not going anywhere” as well as others, presented their case again June 7. Ruth Palma said the West Liberty group has been fighting for the funds for nearly six months and were left out of the federal stimulus package funding most local families received despite their role as front line workers in the community, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives from Escucha Mi Voz also addressed the city council at the meeting Tuesday, Aug. 5.

They wanted to know why the city council recanted on their decision to distribute the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds to residents who weren’t able to receive the stimulus checks during the pandemic.

Councilmember Dana Dominguez told the group she would give them the money if she could but the city’s lawyers advised them not to. They city was waiting to hear if the federal government was going to okay distributing

ARPA funds this way, until then theyhad other things they needed to take care of that the money could be used for.

There was a lot of push back at that Dominguez said. Former councilmember Jose Zacarias tried to defuse the situation by speaking directly to Escucha Mi Voz representatives in Spanish but that didn’t happen.

During the city council meeting Sept. 20 representatives asked for answers from the city council.

Edgar Velasquez said in August the city contacted David Goodner about with questions about the excluded worker relief fund, which were answered.

“You all have been in communication with David (Goodner, Director of the Iowa City Catholic Worker House) who has been explaining to you how you could organize these funds to be able to help us,” Velasquez said. “We would only like you to speak clearly to us and not give so many excuses like you have in the past.”

Every time they come and speak to city council, they leave thinking they will be getting help from the city, Velasquez said. However, when they return the support is forgotten. Unfortunately, there are families who have gone through a difficult time that haven’t been able to establish themselves and get ahead in this economy, he added.

In October, Escucha Mi Voz returned to address city council again. Several members spoke out about the city's delay in action regarding the ARPA funds distribution. They wanted to let city council know they weren't going anywhere and would continue to be at themeetings until a decision was made to distribute the ARPA funds.

In November, the city council voted to distribute the ARPA funds to the police department, fire departent, West Liberty Community School District Foundation and the West Liberty Minesterial Association.

The West Lbierty Minesterial Association agreed to distribute the funds to anyone who applied for assistance in the community.

After the vote was made to do so by city council, applause came from Escucha Mi Voz members at the meeting.

Mayor Ethan Anderson thanked the group for attending city counicl meetings and for being involved in the process.

Local priest recognized with nation award

Father Guillermo Trevino was selected for the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which is part of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. Trevino is the pastor for St. Joseph Catholic Churches in West Liberty and Columbus Junction and is the chaplain for Regina High School in Iowa City.

The award is for people between the ages of 18 – 40 who show leadership skills, working in anti-poverty intiatives. Escucha Mi Voz nominated him for his work advocating for relief for essential workers who didn’t qualify for stimulus checks during the pandemic.

Construction starts on new addition to elementary aschool

Last summer, the groundwork began for the Early Learning Center addition to the West Liberty Elementary School.West Liberty School District Superintendent Shaun Kruger said during a Board of Education meeting in September the footings were pretty much completed for the addition of the new Early Learning Center, which will be attached to West Liberty Elementary School.

“The foundation is (being) put in between footings,” Kruger said.

Piping is beginning to be placed below the cement and the subsoil is being compacted by the construction crews currently, he added. Once this is done the flooring will be installed.

The northwest wing at the elementary school is gutted. This is where the new kindergarten classes will be.

“They’ve torn out walls and they’ve got it pretty bare,” Kruger added. “It’s almost to the point so they can start building that back up.”

Construction has continued to move forward since the end of September. Walls have been erected and the roof is in the process of being installed. Once that is done interior work will begin.

The new Early Learning Center is scheduled to open next fall.

New leadership in the school district

In August, the new principals from the elemtary school and assistant principal from the high school introduced themselves at a Board of Education meeting.

Kirk Ryan was the first person to introduce himself. Ryan is the new principal for the elementary and early learning center (ELC) principal.

“I am very excited to be a part of this district,” Ryan said. “Actually, about 13 years ago I did my practicum in this district when second grade was still at the ELC.”

When he finished his practicum, he told himself he would love to work in this district someday.

“My mom worked in this district at the elementary as a counselor,” Ryan added. “She still has nothing but amazing things to say and is retiring in two years and is looking for a place by the golf course. She would love to come back and be a part of this community as well so I’m really excited.

Ryan has already started working with his new assistant principal Dawn Kruse and they have had meetings with staff members in both the elementary and ELC building’s, he said.

Assistant high school principal Andrew Genz, who is also the director of equity for the district, told the Board of Education a little bit about himself.

“I’ve been involved in education for 13 years,” Genz said. “Eleven years as a math teacher at Louisa-Muscatine and then two years as an instructional coach.”

He was able to work hands on with teachers on technology integration and instruction, he added.

“It’s been an awesome experience there and I have really enjoyed my transition here to West Liberty and doing some of the similar things as assistant principal,” Genz said.

Genz is looking forward to switching some of the things they do at the high school through paper to a different way using technology, he added.

New director for West Liberty Chamber of Commerce

Charles Brooke, a West Liberty native, returned home to be the Director of the West Liberty Chamber of Commerce in the spring.

Brooke hit the ground running assisting with the Children's Festival in September, held several Chamber P.M. events and ribbon cuttings and held the "Holiday Open House" in November over two days.

Task force formed

The first committee meeting for the Fire and EMS Service Task Force was held an organization meeting at at the end of June.

Items on the agenda were: appointment of chair and co-chair, setting up procedures and rules of conduct, establishing the goal of the committee, setting a timeline for work sessions, identifying and prioritizing topics for discussion and information flow and the consensus of recommendations to take back to each board represented at the meetings for discussion or action.

In attendance at the special committee meeting were: West Liberty City Council members Cara McFerren and Dana Dominguez, West Liberty Volunteer Fire Department (WLVFD) and EMS Association’ Eric Christensen and Mindy Sickels-Sterbenz and from West Liberty Rural Fire and EMS district Richard Brand and Mark Madsen.

The committee started the meeting by appointing a committee chair and co-chair. Dominguez was nominated as chair and Christensen was nominated as co-chair, which the committee approved unanimously. Christensen suggested to the committee to have a delegate in case one of the committee chairperson’s are absent from future meetings, the committee agreed.

Since its creation, the task force has continued to work on a 28E agency proposal. Once it is done, the proposal will be submitted to the rural trustees and city council for them look over.

Utility extension granted

The City of West Liberty granted an additional extension for past due utility bills to residents in August.

The decision was announced on the city's webisite with instructions of how to request an extension.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 5, several residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting about the financial strain their utility bills were giving them for the month of August.

Edgar Velasquez told city councilmembers his utility bill was $500. He is paid $800 bi-weekly. He said the city’s essential workers, who were living and working in West Liberty, needed relief now.

Another resident, who didn’t give her name, said her utility bill was $510. She said she has gone everywhere to ask for help with her utility bill including Community Action. She said Community Action told her they wouldn’t help her unless she had a disconnection notice or a past-due amount. She said she had five kids and would have to choose between keeping the lights on.

Continued success for the Comets

The West Liberty The Comets boys soccer team made it to substate playoffs for the third year in a row. They would end up losing to Western Christian in the final game before the state championship.

After a defensive first half, the gates opened up offensively in the sub-state championship game at Gladbrook Reinbeck High School in Reinbeck Wednesday night, May 25, West Liberty battling to a tense 4-3 win after taking a 1-0 lead by the half.

The Comets celebrated their third straight return to the eight-team state tournament where they finished in the top four a year ago with a goal to get into at least the state championship game this season.

West Liberty built a two-point lead twice as a talented hosting Rebels team, which finished their season at 15-2, kept fighting back, and never gave up including getting a goal off a Comet player to get within one late in the game only to be held off by West Liberty goal keeper Ruben Meraz and other defenders.

Coach Walton Ponce’s program can surely be proud of getting back to the final four for the third straight year something that has never been done before in Iowa Class 1A boys soccer.

Losing 3-0 in a game that was a lot closer than the score might indicate in the semi-finals again to Western Christian of Hull, the Comets finished their season at 14-4. It was the second year in a row the West Liberty team would lose to Western Christian after calling to the Wolfpack 2-1 a year earlier in the semi-finals. West Liberty had held the Wolfpack scoreless for over 54 minutes before they would take the lead and force the Comets to take chances that eventually led to two other WC scores.

“It was definitely an exciting season as I look back to it,” Ponce said. “The main expectation and goal was to get past the semi-final game and have an opportunity to play for a state title.”

“Unfortunately, that wasn’t achieved, but finishing in the final four is such a great accomplishment when having to battle against schools that are able to recruit from multiple communities while doing it three years in a row.”

The West Liberty High School girls’ track team placed the highest at the Iowa state track meet that the school has finished in years, May 19 - 21, at Drake University in Des Moines.

The Comets placed 16th overall in class 2A, according to veteran head coach Michael Hart. He went back and did some research to see how West Liberty did at the state meet.

Macy Daufeldt also broke the school record in the long jump at the state meet by jumping 18-0 ½, which was her personal best, according to the results from the state track meet. The leap was good enough for second place in the state for the senior. Daufeld now attends Drake University in Des Moines.

Daufeldt also placed fifth in the girls 2A 100 meter hurdles with a personal best time of 15.66.

The girls 4 x 100 shuttle hurdle placed third overall at state with a time of 1.08.90. The girls who ran on that team were Sydney Rivera, Rylee Goodale, Laney Esmoil and Daufeldt.

Throughout this past season Hart pushed the girls to do some hard work but he said he is grateful for their efforts.

The Class 3A fourth ranked West Liberty High School softball team captured four wins this past week and their first outright River Valley Conference title in over three decades after ousting Anamosa and West Branch in conference play in between beating Walhert Catholic and Janesville in non-conference action at a two-day Don Bosco Tournament.

The week was split after the Comets suffered their first conference loss of the season at the hands of Durant in a rain shortened five-inning contest.

They would make it to regional playoffs but wouldn't be able to continue onto state.

The boys baseball team would also make it to regional playoffs.

The West Liberty baseball team tasted perfection in their final week of the season, going 3-0 to cap off the regular season before grabbing a 11-1 mercy rule victory in their first round substate matchup.

The Comets kicked off the week with a visit from West Branch on Monday. The Comets had already bested the Bears once this season, capturing an 8-0 victory in West Branch and looked to replicate that outcome. It took a couple of frames before the bats started popping, but the Comets jumped ahead 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning. Bats quickly cooled as neither team pushed across runs for the remainder of the contest and the Comets captured the 3-0 victory. Caleb Wulf took to the mound for the Comets, in his final home start the Senior fanned 12 on two hits and two walks with none earned. Drake Collins came in for the close, striking out an additional bear. Collins also made his presence known as the plate, as he and Tyler Jones recorded RBI for the Comets.

The Comets played headed into the following day with another home contest, this time against the Cascade Cougars. The Comets put themselves to the test ahead of playoff baseball matching up against class 2A's third ranked team. The Comets made their presence known early, pushing across five run in the first innings. They held to their 5-0 advantage until the third where the Cougars plated one, immediately followed by three in the fourth. A two run fourth for the Comets, following by an addition three in the sixth was the Comets cruise past Cascade in their final conference matchup of the season. Collins took to the hill for the Comets in his second day of duty, striking out six cougars on two hits with none earned. Colin Cassady put Cascade to rest in the final inning and a third, striking out one on one hit. Tyler Jones led the Comet bats, pushing across a pair of RBI in the win.

The boys baseball team would lose and not make it to state playoffs but still had a successful season.

The volleyball team would return to state playoffs in November. They fought hard during their final game agains the Sioux City Warriors.

The Comets captured the first point following a net violation. After that, both teams traded points early in the contest but West Liberty would find themselves trailing 4 – 3.

The Sioux Center Warriors made their attack, going on a four-point run only to be stopped by a Rilee Han kill.

The Warrior offense racked up kill after kill in the opener, pulling away and capturing a 25 - 13 victory in the opening set.

West Liberty took the opening point of the second set, but were quickly answered by a forceful Warrior strike by Sioux Center. Sioux Center grew their lead to 6 - 1 before the Comets were able to capture the side out, trailing 6 - 2 early in the second set.

The Comets were unable to settle in through out the second, before eventually falling 25 - 13. A combination of power from the Warriors hitters and the blockers gave the Comets fits through the opening two sets.

At the beginning of the third set, the Warriors would quickly geta 5 - 0 lead in the before the Comets were able to take a serve.

A dump from the Warrior setter quickly gave Sioux Center possession of the volleyball back.

The Comets cut into the lead, bringing the score to 9 - 5.

Following a couple more points, and trailing 11 - 9, the Comets were forced to take a timeout.

A kill from Sophie Buysse brought spark into the Comets offense, but they were unable continue with that momentum as the Warriors extended their lead to 16 - 8. The Warriors eventually put the match away, capturing another 25 -13 victory.

The Comets finished the season 31 - 8 overall and captured the River Valley Conference South regular season title and tournament titles. Head coach Ruben Galvan was also named RVC South Conference coach of the year.

The football team would make to the regional playoffs in October and would have several players receive recognition.

Eight Comets were named to district recognition lists, headlined by Drake Collins as district Defensive MVP. The Comet senior linebacker and signal caller knotched 64.6 tackles, including 47 solos, 14 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

Connor Melick was named to the first team at Defensive back, recording 16 tackles and three interceptions. JD Seering and Crager David joined the first team offensive line.

Josh Zeman and Peter Machado joined the second team and Ty Jones and Morgan Lehman received honorable mentions.