Thursday, April 23, 2020

Fire Marshal Retires

by Mary Wilson

If you have attended any community events in Grandview over the past several years, chances are you’ve met Fire Marshal Lew Austin. With his friendly smile and his Jersey accent, Austin quickly became a pillar of the Grandview Fire Department since he was hired in early 2014. Knowing no strangers, he began work immediately and, though the task would have been a challenge to most, he did it all with a genuine love for his job.

“I’ve been in the fire marshal position, and I’ve now worked with two other fire marshals besides Lew, and I can truly say he is absolutely the best fire marshal I’ve ever been around,” said Grandview Fire Chief Ron Graham. “He is so committed. It’s one thing to be knowledgeable and have skill and know the fire code and things, but when it comes to his commitment and wanting to make sure that builders or businesspeople have the right advice, Lew is the best.”

Graham said that Austin doesn’t “shoot from the hip,” instead offering assistance to business owners to work with them to correct any issues he may come across. He is also known for being willing to come up with a plan to help businesses when it comes to operating within codes.

“A lot of fire marshals aren’t like that,” said Graham. “Lew understands, and it’s not that we’re just such a small town. I think he’d be the same in a big town. That’s just his style, and it’s the correct style.”

When he was hired, Austin had his work cut out for him. Graham said there was a lot to be done to get the department’s program back on track.

“There was kind of an unwritten word out there that Grandview’s not going to check you,” said Graham. “Lew’s changed that. He’s taken some heat on it, but he would just apologize and then work with people and give them some time. Many times, he had to take a deep breath and just say, ‘I’m sorry. Yes, this should have been enforced years ago, but it is a requirement and I’m going to work with you.’ I really respect Lew for that.”

Graham added that Austin has a clear passion for his work. It wasn’t unheard of for him to take work home with him over the weekends, not wanting to hold up any permits or plans.
“Lew always made sure the work got done,” said Graham. “One thing we tease him for is sometimes that New Jersey attitude will come out. And, while we tease him about it, it’s probably what helped make him so successful.”

Several schools in Grandview were not meeting the fire codes, with violations, according to Graham. At no fault to the district, they just simply weren’t informed. Austin inspected all the schools and compiled a long list of fire hazards and other violations.

“It was embarrassing, really, on our part,” said Graham. “It shouldn’t have been like that.”
Knowing that the district would likely be spending quite a bit on some of the upgrades to bring the buildings to code, including a new fire alarm system, Austin helped Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez come up with a plan to implement the changes over a period of time, rather than having the big expense at once. 

From working with the district, Austin saw a need for further collaboration, and developed the Fire Prevention Week poster contest, where students from across the district submitted artwork annually depicting the theme of the year. Winning posters were selected from each building, and those artists received a ride to school on a fire truck and were recognized by the City of Grandview. Austin also serves on the district’s safety committee.

“From the moment that he arrived in Grandview, he had a desire to work with the school system in other ways than just his role as fire marshal,” said Rodrequez. “He has a heart for safety, for education, and for collaboration that will be sorely missed. We are a better and safer community because of the tremendous work that he did.”

“He’s just been the glue to hold everything together,” said Graham. “He took a program that was weak and, dare to say, it’s one of the strongest in the metro area.”

Austin’s last day with the City of Grandview is Friday, April 24. However, his impact and legacy will last long after he retires to Nevada, where he will join his wife who has been working at a hospital there since January.

Austin has laid the groundwork for his predecessor, Rodney Baldwin, who has been training with the fire marshal for the last two years, and was appointed to the position on Friday, April 17.
“It’s going to be a seamless transition,” said Graham. “We will miss Lew, but to his credit, Lew prepared Rodney.”

Graham said that the department, and Baldwin, will continue the work that Austin has started, including the Fire Prevention poster contest. Baldwin is also passionate about serving the community, having started the Lunch Buddies program with the district a few years ago.

“While we have his position filled, we will never replace what Lew brought to Grandview,” said Graham. “We’re going to be okay, thanks to him. He’s going to be missed.”

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Ruskin Eagle Returns Home After Fifty-year Flight

by Mary Wilson

Nearly five decades ago, Karen Sue Jochim walked the halls of Ruskin High School, proudly displaying her class ring on her hand. Gold in color, her ring symbolized her Eagle heritage, complete with the mascot nestled beneath the bright blue center stone. Her initials, KSJ, were engraved along the inside of the ring, and it was a piece of her high school career she truly loved.

Jochim, who graduated high school in 1971, later became Karen Schwartz, and now lives in Raymore, not far from her Ruskin roots. Sometime in the mid-1970s, Schwartz said she lost her beloved class ring.

“The ring has been lost longer than I ever had it,” said Schwartz. “I just remember not being able to find it. I always kept it in my jewelry box and, I’m thinking somewhere between 1972 to 1976, that it was gone.”

She still has a small pendant that she also received around the same time frame while in high school, but the ring has been gone for nearly fifty years. Until last week, Schwartz hadn’t thought about the ring in quite some time. However, on Thursday, April 9, she started receiving messages on Facebook from old friends who thought maybe someone had found her class ring.

Becky Barbour, who by miracle or coincidence happens to be a 1997 graduate of Ruskin rival Hickman Mills High School, works at the Oakhill Day School in Garland, Texas. A fellow teacher’s child was playing on the playground at the school and announced that he had found a ring.

“He said, ‘Oh, it has a jewel in it,’” said Barbour. “He brought it to me, and was muddy, so I could tell wherever he found it that it had been there in some mud for a little bit. I kind of wiped it off, and when I wiped around the jewel or the stone, I saw it said Ruskin High School.”

Being from Hickman Mills, Barbour immediately thought that she knew this ring was from her hometown. Though not being from Texas originally, she quickly searched to ensure there wasn’t a Ruskin High School somewhere near Garland. To see if she could track down the owner, she posted some photos along with a description of where the ring was found, and the initials engraved on the inside, to a Hickman Mills alum Facebook page.

“I wanted to try to see if I could find who it belongs to, and if not, then I’d give it back to the little boy who found it because he was so excited about it,” said Barbour. “What are the odds that I would know where that school was, first of all, and it was found at my school down here in Texas. I was just really taken aback to even find something that old on our playground, but I was excited because I wanted to be able to return this ring.”

Within four hours of her post, friends contacted Schwartz, saying that the ring had to be hers due to the initials KSJ on the inside. Sure enough, it was her ring.

“I loved that ring,” said Schwartz. “I always thought it was so pretty because it had the eagle underneath the stone and I’m curious to see if that is still intact. It’s just the most bizarre thing. I don’t know how in the world it ended up in Texas.”

Schwartz said that her brother seemed to think maybe the ring was lost on a family trip to Wichita Falls. However, she debunked that theory, remembering that they took that trip to see cousins while she was still in high school, before she even had the ring in the first place.

“I would have only been like 16 at that time, and I wouldn’t have had it then,” said Schwartz. “The other times I’ve been to Texas have been within the last few years, well after the ring disappeared.

“It’s just the darnedest thing,” she added. “I’m excited to get the ring back. Who would have thought I’d see it 50 years later? I wish it could tell me a story, because, holy cow, to end up in Texas from Kansas City.”

What a journey her ring has surely been on. By the time this story is printed, the eagle has likely landed back in Missouri, and is heading home to Schwartz, where it belongs.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Grandview Police Find Unique Way to Continue Connecting with Community

by Mary Wilson

Chief Charles Iseman of the Grandview Police Department credits the Move Toward the Badge  initiative and community outreach programs as keys to their success. With community events being temporarily suspended, Iseman saw the need to stay connected to the community his department serves.

From Dr. Seuss to Mother Goose, Grandview police officers have been reading some of their favorite stories for followers on social media to enjoy. Cop Stories began with the city’s communications manager Valarie Poindexter bringing in one of her son’s favorite books, The Duckling Gets a Cookie, which Master Sergeant Greg Smith began reading live on Facebook one Friday morning.

“I shared the idea with the Chief and he didn’t even blink; he just said, ‘do it,’” said Poindexter. “The community reaction has been so amazing, but what’s even better is the interaction. Dozens of people comment; some send pictures or tell officers which book to read next.”

Poindexter said that every story is reaching audiences in the thousands. Cop Stories are typically
posted on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11:30 a.m. Poindexter said that the officers will
take book requests, and that Officer McGruff might make an appearance soon, too.

“Cop Stories is just one small way our officers can touch the lives of the children in Grandview, and it gives them something positive to focus on,” said Iseman. “It has also been remarkable how the Grandview community has rallied in support of our first responders with cleaning supplies, homemade masks, and meals for our folks working on the front lines.”

The department has received numerous donations, including N95 masks for officers to wear, food and other goodies, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer made by Restless Spirits Distillery.

“As the Chief, I want to send out a great big thank you to the awesome people in Grandview,” Iseman said.

To follow along and watch Cop Stories, visit @GrandviewMOPD on

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Library Observes “Stay Home” Order

by Mary Wilson

While the doors to Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL) branches are closed, access to information and books is still open through the library’s virtual branch at Due to continued public health concerns brought forth by COVID-19, the branches of MCPL will remain closed until further notice while the counties they serve remain under stay-home orders.

With a firm reopening date yet to be established, due dates for all currently checked-out items have been extended to May 15. All holds have also been extended until the branches are open again, and fines will not accrue during this time. Book drops at branch locations are closed, and the library asks that materials be kept by the borrowers until reopening.

MCPL is working to find creative ways of virtually serving customers while the physical locations are closed. Online, MCPL offers resources that cover everything from entertainment - including eBooks, eAudiobooks, streaming movies and music, and eMagazines - to career help, health and wellness resources, tutoring and schoolwork help.

“Our team is working to obtain more copies of digital items to help with increased demand during the closure,” said MCPL Community Relations Specialist Emily Brown. “We’ve started to produce virtual versions of our programs, too. So far, we’ve done virtual story times and some virtual business classes (led by our Square One Small Business Services group) on the library’s social media pages.”

Square One is continuing one-on-one consultations with local entrepreneurs as well. The library has also offered some virtual book chats on the MCPL Readers’ Lounge Facebook page. Soon, visitors to the virtual branch can also see virtual tech programs, covering a variety of topics like how to use Excel.

“For anyone who is a genealogist, this is exciting news: Ancestry has granted public libraries remote access to Ancestry Library Edition through April,” said Brown. “So, that means anyone who has an MCPL card can now use Ancestry Library Edition at home. Previously, it had to be used on one of our actual branches.”

With all of the virtual resources and entertainment, the library encourages users to reach out to through email for assistance with those digital questions. While MCPL doesn’t have any sort of service that disseminates devices for people to use, they may contact the library for help using devices they already have, including help with things like borrowing an eBook.

“We know that libraries are vital hubs in our communities, so our default is to assume that we should be open to serve, especially in difficult times,” said Brown. “But we also value the well-being of our customers and staff above all else. All of the information we have received from the public health community suggests that well-being is best served by a period of social distancing. The only way we can ensure that in our libraries is by closing our facilities.”

Knowing that there is no substitute to visiting a local library, MCPL remains committed to getting their buildings reopened as soon as it is safe to do so. Follow the library on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily suggestions and recommendations on ways to take advantage of the many online resources and materials that MCPL and its partners provide.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

KC Hospital Prepares for COVID-19 Patients

by Mary Wilson

Hospitals across the country are prepared for a pandemic. They train for this. They have emergency preparedness plans in place. They are ready for mass shootings, weather events, or anything else that may cause a surge in patients. St. Joseph Medical Center in South Kansas City was ready for COVID-19 well before the first patients started coming through their doors.

“We feel very prepared,” said St. Joseph Medical Center CEO Jodi Fincher. “However, there is no way to prepare for every variant contingency that can come forward. To have this start in China, and have the supply chain cut off from there, we were already behind the 8-ball. We are now being forced to be very judicious. There are unpredictable variables that happen in times like this.”

St. Joseph Medical Center, like every hospital, is open and ready to treat patients, whatever their healthcare needs are during the COVID-19 pandemic. For patient safety, hospitals are asking that elective procedures wait until after the threat of coronavirus passes. In the meantime, however, if patients must visit the hospital, Fincher says that things might look a little bit different upon arrival. 

“What we are encouraging the public to do is if they have symptoms of COVID, if they are short of breath, have a fever or coughing, we are asking them to reach out to their primary care doctor,” said Fincher. “Of course, we always tell people if they need to call 911, then call 911. But if they can, they need to reach out to their primary care doctor.”

A lot of those primary care physicians are doing telemedicine visits to help diminish the spread of COVID-19. These telemedicine visits will provide a way for people to avoid getting out of their homes and going into the hospital for their first healthcare touch, according to Fincher.

“Providers are able to triage them through a telephone call or a telehealth visit, and they can help those patients decide what their next step needs to be,” said Fincher. “Many of these things can be managed by a telehealth visit. However, if it is determined that they need to come to the hospital, the doctor send them on to the emergency room. We are trying to keep these kinds of patients out of our clinics, if possible.”

She added that if a doctor determines a patient is sick enough to go to the emergency department of a hospital, then chances are likely that they are sick enough to be admitted, whether they have COVID-19. This helps limit the amount of exposure that hospitals would have otherwise if a patient might test positive for the virus.

Upon arrival to the hospital, Fincher said that patients will not be allowed to bring visitors inside with them unless there is a mobility or communication limitation. They are asking that visitors wait inside their cars to avoid a large amount of people in the hospital’s waiting rooms. Fincher said that this procedure for visitors is standard throughout the country right now as healthcare workers try to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“They can expect that they’ll be screened immediately when they come in the door,” said Fincher. “Their temperature will be taken and there will be staff with masks on. Then, depending on their symptoms, they’ll be moved into the emergency room. We do have lots of patients who are coming in without COVID symptoms. If someone comes in because they are having chest pains, they’ll go through that same process. They’ll get quickly screened and moved into the emergency department and they’ll be taken care of normally.”

With the limitation of people in the hospital at this time, Fincher said that St. Joseph Medical Center has not yet seen a real surge of patients coming in. She said that right now she has plenty of staff on hand. The concern is, however, how the hospital will continue to manage the COVID-19 patients on a day-to-day basis. Those patients who either test positive for the virus or potentially have COVID-19 are separated and put into a secluded, dedicated unit.

“Because we’re not allowing any visitors into the hospital, it feels a little empty right now,” said Fincher. “We don’t have our volunteers in our hospital either, for their safety. So, it’s pretty quiet right now in the hospital.”

The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) heightens the fears at St. Joseph Medical Center, according to Fincher. They are taking stock of their supplies daily, and she said that all hospitals are working to manage their own PPE, knowing that every day poses a potential threat to their supply reserves.

“In healthcare, we are used to having standard processes, and if we do things the same way every single time, that is the safest way to do things,” said Fincher. “We are asking staff to change those processes, sometimes day to day, and it’s hard to keep up and can be very frustrating. With this constant threat of whether there will be enough PPE, it keeps everyone very concerned.”

As fearful and concerned as her staff is, Fincher said that they are working to not let that affect the care of the patients that they see. Regardless of diagnosis, she said, her staff is continuing to take great care of their patients.

St. Joseph Medical Center, like other hospitals in the area, is feeling the love of the community that surrounds them. While working hard to meet the needs of South Kansas City, Fincher wanted to assure the public that right now, healthcare workers at the hospital and clinics have the gear they need to protect themselves and others as they care for patients with COVID-19. However, she understands that this could change at any time as cases continue to increase.

“Many in the community have asked how they can assist us during this time,” said Fincher. “We cannot tell you how much we appreciate you thinking of our providers and staff who are working every day to help keep us all healthy.”

Because hospitals are part of a highly-regulated environment and must maintain strict supply chain control for sterile medical supplies and devices, St. Joseph Medical Center has established the following guidelines for donations: bulk donations of medical equipment/supplies such as personal protective equipment including N-95 masks, surgical gowns, gloves, etc. (including “extended use” equipment/supplies such as non-surgical face masks) will be accepted, so long as the supplies are new, unused, and in unopened manufacturer packaging.

“If we can’t prove that that piece of personal protective equipment would be safe for our patients, then we just can’t use it,” said Fincher. “But we certainly appreciate the generosity. We’ve been overwhelmed with the community, and they’ve been recognizing the stress and tension that healthcare is under right now.”

The hospital cannot accept donations of supplies that have been opened or separated from their original bulk packaging, as those cannot be introduced into sterile patient care areas.  Fincher also requests that the public not bring donations of household items, personal medications, and other commodities to the hospital campus, as accounting for the receipt of the same; and even simply storing such items diverts resources that are otherwise needed for direct patient care or support.

“These are definitely interesting and unprecedented times, but we’re going to make it through,” said Fincher. “We’re going to remember it, that’s for darn sure.”

For questions regarding donations, contact Kim Chalmers, Supervisor of Senior Care Services at St. Joseph Medical Center, at 816-943-4543, or by email at