Greene County's McKinley Robbins (middle) stands atop the Class 2A, 120 pound state tournament podium Feb. 18 wearing his state championship gold medal.  BRANDON HURLEY | JEFFERSON HERALD

The stories that influenced Greene County most in 2021

Jefferson Herald Staff

Though 2021 was a tid more tame, relatively speaking, we still witnessed a handful of influential stories which will likely leave their mark for some time.

Right in line with the theme of the last few years, who would’ve predicted that not only would we experience a December tornado, but that a total of five would touch down in the same night, initiating another derecho?
There were plenty of good things happening around the area as well.

The Ram boys broke a nearly three decade-long state championship drought while a monumental ‘yes’ vote should keep money rolling into the county for decades.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look back and revisit the top 5 Greene County stories of 2021.

1. Five December tornados ravage Greene County
Raise your hand if you had 2021 ending with a historic thunderstorm instead of a blinding blizzard. A serial derecho tore through the county on the night of Dec. 15, bringing with it a record five tornados and widespread devastation. Much of Greene County lost power for a minimum of 30 consecutive hours, while Paton and surrounding areas were without electricity for three full days. The storm system was strong and swift, causing the greatest stir of destruction between 5 and 6 p.m. Iowa witnessed a record 42 tornados that night, shattering the old record of 35 set back in 2014. The state had only ever experienced five total December tornados prior to the Dec. 15 storm. Greene County sheriff Jack Wiliams estimates the system created somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million in damage.

The National Weather Service classified four of Dec. 15’s tornados as EF-2s, with capabilities of producing wind speeds at 120 mph. The National Weather Service already has marked Dec. 15 as a significant date in Iowa history, a single-day stretch which produced the most amount of hurricane force wind gusts (75 mph or faster) across the state since 2004. The organization confirmed more than 55 instances of gusts reaching at least 75 mph. Last year’s derecho witnessed 53 cases of gusts which reached or exceeded that level.

Thankfully, damage was contained to structures as no injuries were reported from the storm. Local rescue missions were fairly limited,  though a few firefighters were dispatched to help retrieve residents from a basement while a male was trapped in a tractor covered in fallen power lines. A few minor fires sprouted once power was returned, due to damaged electrical lines.

2. Robbins captures undefeated wrestling state title
McKinely Robbins entered the Greene County wrestling room back in 2019 as perhaps the most hyped wrestler in school history, and he’s done little to disappoint. The now junior achieved a life-long goal by capturing the 2021 Iowa High School state wrestling title in February, completing an incredible undefeated season at 126 pounds. Robbins never finished worse than second at the state tournament in his two years of wrestling, reaching the final as a freshman back in 2020. Robbins, who likely could’ve easily wrestled at 113 pounds, chose to jump up a weight class to secure the first wrestling title within Greene County in 27 years, becoming the youngest Ram in history to produce such a feat. Robbins is hoping to become the first multiple-time wrestling state champion this winter, as he’s currently ranked No. 1 at 126 pounds.

3. Man robs bank in Scranton, sentenced to eight years
A terrifying moment rocked one of Greene County’s many small communities last winter. Zachary Wailes sent a shockwave of fear throughout the Peoples Bank in Scranton when he robbed the establishment at gunpoint in February. The Fort Dodge resident, dressed in all-black with a zebra print face mask, possessed a handgun and demanded money on the morning of Feb. 25. Wailes did not use the weapon and did not injure anyone inside the bank, but left with more than $17,000 of stolen cash. He at first escaped in a getaway car, but was later found and arrested by local law enforcement a few days later.

The bank robbery was the first of its kind, locally within Greene County in 12 years. The last such occurrence happened in 2009 at Peoples Bank in Rippey.
Wailes was later sentenced in November to serve eight years and four months of prison time after pleading guilty to bank robbery back in June.

A bank representative shared a testimonial on Oct. 20, which was published in Iowa Southern District court documents, saying “Feb. 25, 2021 is a day forever etched in my mind and my co-worker’s minds. That day I will never forget, and a day that took away our innocence at work,” court records read. “For our families, friends, other co-workers and people in the community, when the robbery happened that day it was over from them that day. For us that were there, we re-lived those moments over and over in our heads, day after day and continue to have moments that just flashback for reasons unknown to us. It was hard to focus on anything else.
My productivity at work was not good. I could read an email over and over again and still not know what was said.”

4. Casino referendum passes with record numbers
Residents had little reason to doubt one particular line-item during the November elections. A referendum approving the continuation of a gaming within Greene County passed with a record-setting ‘yes’ vote of 89 percent on Nov. 2. The measure passed with 2,054 votes in favor, 260 against, which allows Wild Rose Casino to remain open and for Grow Grow County Gaming Cooperation to continue operating. The previous record for a follow-up gaming vote was in Worth County with a 86.2 percent margin in 2010.

“Tonight, was everything we hoped, and we are happy that the voters affirmed their support for the contributions of Wild Rose and the work that we have done distributing grants and funding in Greene County and the surrounding counties,” said Norm Fandel, president of Grow Greene County. “Thank you to all who voted. Thank you for setting a new record.”

Iowa law requires counties with casinos to pass a second referendum eight years after the initial authorization. Greene County passed its initial gaming referendum with 75.1 percent voting in favor, which was also a record.
Since opening more than six years ago, the casino has generated $9 million in nonprofit contributions through Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation, which holds the Wild Rose Jefferson license. An additional regional boost has come through $5 million in property taxes and gaming fees.

5. Greene County secures school’s first district title
Greene County’s defensive masterclass produced a rare achievement.

The wait was excruciating, but the goal was finally met. The Greene County football team captured the long elusive district title, securing the consolidated school’s first championship with a perfect 5-0 record in the fall. The Rams reached the playoffs for the fourth straight year, prevailing in the first round for the third consecutive time. Greene County was an absolute monster through the entire Class 2A, District 8 schedule, slaughtering each opponent along the way by double digits, an average of 49 points while the offense itself put up an average of 50 points during district play. GCHS compiled one of the most impressive shutout streaks in recent memory, holding three straight opponents without a point. The Rams also produced a five-game streak without allowing a single touchdown.

The Rams outscored their district foes 254-9, only once allowing a touchdown in the five games played. The defense was truly remarkable, surrendering an average of less than 10 points per game throughout the eight week regular season schedule. Greene County finished the year at 8-2, the fourth straight year they have secured at least seven wins.

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