There was much to celebrate and much to mourn in 2015.
Oberlin weathered an exciting election year, wrestled with crime, celebrated education, was posed with difficult decisions, and was swept up in national events.
Each year, the News-Tribune staff looks back through our pages, getting a bearing on where we’re heading by remembering where we’ve been. This time, our short list of potential top 10 stories wasn’t very short at all.
Just missing the cut were articles detailing parking issues downtown, the defeat of marijuana legalization, and the long debate over the former Green Acres site.
We also refrained from putting too much emphasis on big headlines resulting from fires and violence.
That means the homicide of 24-year-old Steven Davis, charges against Adrianna Young stemming from a fatal crash on Rt. 58, and the death of well-known cyclist Charles Startup, though tragic, are not on the list. Exciting as those can be, our top 10 stories mostly reflect events that will have long-term effects on Oberlin.
1) Nov. 26: Norenberg announces departure to take Delaware job
A Delaware city has won over Eric Norenberg, who after eight years is stepping down from his position as Oberlin city manager.
He will take his talents to Milford, a town of roughly 10,000 on the Delmarva Peninsula. Norenberg was among 90 candidates for the job.
“I am very proud of Oberlin’s accomplishments and achievements during my tenure,” he wrote to tell council of his impending departure. “Now, I am excited to be joining mayor Shupe and the Milford city council as we continue the redevelopment of downtown Milford and the Mispillion Riverwalk, and prepare for the new Bayhealth campus.”
City finance director Sal Talarico has been tapped to lead the city until a new manager is hired. A nationwide search is expected to take six months.
Norenberg’s exit comes roughly a year after four of Oberlin’s seven council members sent a letter calling for his resignation.
Bryan Burgess, Kristin Peterson, Elizabeth Meadows, and Sharon Pearson signed the document, writing that “the mutual trust necessary for a working relationship has been compromised and it is no longer in the best interests of you, city council, or the greater Oberlin community for your tenure with the city to continue.”
Though the majority wanted him gone, council needed five votes to remove Norenberg from the manager seat.
Norenberg told the News-Tribune his decision to leave had nothing to do with the friction with council members.
2) July 2: Marriage equality is the ‘law of the land’
Rainbow flags flew high across the entire nation June 26 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gender is no bar to marriage.
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled it was unconstitutional to withhold marriage equality rights from same-sex couples under the Fourteenth Amendment.
“From this day forward, it will simply be ‘marriage,”’ said lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell, an Ohio resident who filed a 2013 lawsuit after the state would not recognize his marriage to John Arthur. The couple had been legally wed in Maryland.
Kendal at Oberlin residents Ted Nowick and Robert Taylor observed 40 years together the day of the landmark decision.
Over a champagne toast, Taylor read from the court’s ruling: “As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
In early August, Courtney and Alyson Jagoe became the first couple known to hold a same-sex wedding in Oberlin, tying the knot on Tappan Square.
“We never thought this day would come,” said Courtney.
Following the court’s decision, we reached out to 54 churches in our Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington coverage areas to find which would and would not wed same-sex couples.
Seven said their pastors would officiate over gay weddings, 30 said they would not, and 15 declined to comment or did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Two churches did not have a clear answer.
In Oberlin, where we called 21 churches, the First Church in Oberlin, First United Methodist Church, Oberlin Friends (Quakers), Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Christ Episcopal Church, and Peace Community Church support gay and lesbian marriages, but not all of them are allowed to perform a same-sex wedding.
3) April 30: Schroth loses battle to cancer
Oberlin Schools superintendent John Schroth battled cancer for three years. On April 23, the cancer won.
He was 53 years old.
Schroth was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in March 2012 and a brain tumor was discovered in December 2014. But the prognosis seemed bright — the tumor was removed the next month and Schroth returned to the office in February as he continued to receive treatment.
“I feel good and am getting more strength everyday,” he told the News-Tribune that month. Then his health took a sudden turn for the worse.
Raised in Columbia Station and a 1980 graduate of Columbia High School, Schroth gave 30 years of his life to education.
He began his career as an industrial arts and technology teacher for Chagrin Falls, where he was recognized with the Teacher of the Year award in 1993. He was hired as Oberlin’s director of operations and assistant superintendent in 2007 and elevated to the superintendent’s chair in 2011.
“During his tenure, Oberlin continued to be the first and only school district in the state of Ohio to offer an International Baccalaureate program to every student,” wrote assistant superintendent Jim Eibel after Schroth’s passing. “John took great pride in the fact that the Oberlin City Schools had such a complete educational program focusing on the whole child.”
4) July 9: Hall chosen as Oberlin Schools superintendent
In a unanimous decision, David Hall was hired by the Oberlin board of education to lead the district as superintendent.
Formerly serving two years as assistant superintendent of the Lorain City Schools, he also has experience as principal and assistant principal going back to 1991.
Hall was one of 22 applicants for the Oberlin Schools’ top job. Oberlin’s close-knit community and programs within the school district drove him to apply for the position.
“I’m glad to be a part of it,” Hall said. “I’m very fortunate to come in after one the best superintendents in the area.”
The personnel change led the Oberlin board to remove a $16.7 million bond issue from the November ballot. It was intended to finance construction of a new building for prekindergarten through fifth grade, but board members said handling both a high-dollar levy campaign and grooming a new superintendent after the passing of John Schroth was simply too much.
Hall said his intent was to continue much of the good work Schroth started. He also added his own ideas, launching the 100 Men of Lorain County program to mentor teen students on moving into college and careers; aggressively recruiting new teachers among recent college graduates; studying the reasons behind declining enrollment; and reaching out to the community for input on school construction aims.
5) Aug. 27: Board of education backs out of PK-5 building vote
It took years for Oberlin policymakers to decide to ask voters for a new school for prekindergarten through fifth grade. But the board ripped the $16.7 million bond issue off the ballot after the death of superintendent John Schroth.
The reversal came just two months after the board had voted to ask voters for 4.75 mills. The planned 52,000-square-foot, two-story building would have cost property owners $166.32 per year for every $100,000 of valuation.
“This change in course is difficult,” said a statement provided by superintendent David Hall. “The board fully realized this is a 50-year decision and we must get it right the first time out.”
Now the Oberlin Schools’ construction plans are uncertain.
It seems administrators have gone back to the drawing board, returning in a mid-December public meting to the possibility of renovating old buildings, constructing a stand-alone school, or pursuing a single-campus model.
6) Dec. 3: Gas company files 255-mile pipeline plans with FERC
The first hint that the NEXUS pipeline could carry fracked gas through Oberlin came in June 2014. Anti-NEXUS sentiments grew steadily through 2015 into protests and political denouncement, and now Spectra Energy has officially filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking approval for construction.
The green light could come by the end of 2016 with groundbreaking early the next year.
On its way from the shale fields of eastern Ohio to markets in the Midwest and Canada, the NEXUS line would pass through 13 counties, weaving through Pittsfield Township and near Reserve Avenue in southern Oberlin.
Some doubt has been cast recently, though, on exactly where the line would go.
More than 250 route changes have been evaluated since Spectra gave its early plans to FERC this June; now some local property owners have received letters saying the pipeline will no longer cross their land.
“This letter is to notify you that your property is no longer within the NEXUS project study corridor and survey access is no longer being requested at this time,” said correspondence shown to the News-Tribune by Karen Fridenstine, who owns 55 acres on Rt. 58.
She is slow to put an ounce of confidence in the letter, as are city officials. Oberlin’s council voted earlier this year to oppose Spectra’s plans, citing a voter referendum that created an “Oberlin Bill of Rights” banning the transportation of fracking-related materials and construction of fracking-related infrastructure within the city limits.
7) Nov. 5: Two newcomers elected to council
Linda Slocum and Kelley Singleton have been added to the Oberlin city council roster as a result of the Nov. 3 general election.
They join incumbents Sharon Pearson, Sharon Soucy, Ronnie Rimbert, Scott Broadwell, and Bryan Burgess as the new year begins.
But perhaps the most interesting element of the Oberlin election season was the contrasting level of involvement by would-be politicians and voters.
A full field of 14 candidates went out for the seven available seats — the largest single race in all of Lorain County — and the months leading up to Election Day were turbid as they vied for support.
But when the polls opened, turnout was tepid. Only 28 percent of voters here in town cast ballots. That’s just 2,210 of the 7,880 eligible to take part in the election.
Slocum finished at the top of the polls with 1,062 votes (9.77 percent) out of 10,868 total ballots cast in the race. Pearson and Soucy were the only other candidates to receive more than 1,000 votes with Pearson at 1,022 (9.4 percent) and Soucy 1,015 (9.34 percent).
City council members have two-year terms.
8) Feb. 19: Chiefs Kirin and Miller to retire
A major changing of the guard was announced earlier in the year as Oberlin fire chief Dennis Kirin and police chief Tom Miller both indicated they would retire.
Their departure in the summer took a combined 55 years of emergency response experience from the city. The chiefs recalled hard years of work, of calls uplifting and terrifying, and of lives saved and those lost.
“You don’t know what the next call is going to be,” Kirin said. “You’re going in when everyone else is running out.”
“Its been a great place to work,” Miller said. “I’m very happy with all of our officers, in particular the younger officers.”
Veteran Oberlin firefighter Bob Hamner was promoted to lead the Rt. 58 fire department. Juan Torres, an experienced crime-fighter from Alexandria, Va., was hired to lead the city police.
9) Nov. 5: Historian, traveler, OC president Nancy Dye passes
Nancy Dye, the first woman to serve as president of Oberlin College, died Oct. 28 at age 68.
Current president Marvin Krislov characterized Dye as “an outstanding leader, a fine scholar and teacher, a caring and engaged citizen of the world, and a giving, kind person.”
Dye was the 13th president of Oberlin College and among its most influential. She is credited with expanding academic offerings, tirelessly promoting the Conservatory on the international stage, and instilling a new pride in Yeomen and Yeowomen athletics programs. She also helped create the William L. Robinson Scholars program to allow highly-successful Oberlin High School graduates to attend Oberlin College tuition-free.
Dye resigned from Oberlin College in 2007 and continued to travel and be active in academics, serving both as first vice chancellor for the Asian University of Women in Bangladesh and establishing a college for women at the United Arab Emirates University.
She resided in Lakewood until her death.
In a December memorial service at Finney Chapel, faculty remembered how Dye responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, how she never backed down from an intellectual argument, how she championed diversity, and her warm hospitality.
“She left Oberlin a much stronger institution than she found it,” said former Oberlin College board of trustees chair Robert Lemle.
10) May 28: First Lady Michelle Obama visits Oberlin
“If you truly wish to carry on the Oberlin legacy then you need to run to and not from the noise,” the wife of the leader of the free world told roughly 700 graduating Oberlin College students during commencement exercises.
First Lady Michelle Obama spoke on Tappan Square, drawing huge crowds. “The great moments of our history are not decades in our past,” Obama said. “They’re happening right now, today, in our lifetimes.”
Her speech touched on equality, civic duty, human rights, criminal justice, the nature of democracy, activism, and the need to enact change.
“I should be here today,” Obama said. “Oberlin is likely the only college in America I could have attended nearly two centuries ago and I am honored to be part of the extraordinary legacy of this great institution.”
The visit came with extensive security, closing streets, placing Secret Service agents within arm’s reach, and drawing extra police units and honor guards.
A video about the college’s Ninde Scholars program was chosen as the winner of the First Lady’s national Near-Peer Video Commencement Challenge, prompting Obama’s visit.
It was the work of Oberlin High School senior Morgan Smith and was produced by Oberlin College senior Patrick Gilfether. The work focused on the programs, support, and college services given to students in the seventh through 12th grades at Oberlin City Schools.