December 2020 in review: COVID-19, donations and Christmas dinners

Staff Writer | January 14, 2021 1:00 AM

In the last month of 2020, December, the Bee reported on the story of Coeur d’Alene angler Wes Hamlet, who caught a then-record breaking 37-pound, 40.5-inch long rainbow trout on Nov. 25, 1947.

On the same day, the Bee also featured 7-year-old Liberty Hazard, who placed second in the first-grade division for Northern Idaho for Idaho Public Television’s PBS KIDS writing contest.

Her 2020 story, “The Bowl And Everything That Went In It,” was inspired by Liberty’s love of baking, she said. To write her story, Liberty used a recipe from her family’s cookbook.

Also that day, an article reported that a Lake Pend Oreille School District bus driver had died after contracting COVID-19.

On the second, the Bee reported that the county commissioners had tabled discussions on a controversial proposal to defund the Panhandle Health District in retaliation for imposing a mask mandate.

Another article that day reported on an investigative report by ProPublica, which found that differing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in neighboring states such as Washington and Idaho muddled the public health message.

On the third, an article reported that the Sandpoint City Council had approved plans for the subdivision development at University Park, along with agreements with the developer including extending the building time frame by two years.

The same day, the Bee also reported that a Bonner County man accused of murdering his estranged wife had been committed to a state hospital and that the Idaho Department of Corrections was denying a woman accused of murder admission into its security medical program.

On the fourth, the Bee reported that Kootenai Elementary School was hosting its ninth annual “Collection for a Cause” event, which helps provide Christmas dinners for low-income families within the school system.

Most years the school would have organized a food drive, said Kelli Knowles, Kootenai Elementary principal.

The program was started by Kyla French, who was a young mother of two and recent graduate working at the school when she started it. She was inspired to help others because she knew how hard it could be for families without much money around Christmas.

“I remembered what it was like to not be able to do Christmas,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way.”

On the fifth, an article featured the Homeschool Academy in Sandpoint, which was seeking new students for its winter session.

The program is a supplemental service for homeschooling families in Bonner County, said Melinda Rossman, HSA principal. Families provide core curriculum, and HSA provides programs in science, art, music and other subjects in addition to the chance to socialize for its students.

In different articles that day, the Bee reported that the Memorial Community Center in Hope had received a grant from the Spokane Teachers Credit Union, and that Schweitzer Mountain Resort was urging mask compliance.

President and CEO Tom Chasse said that although mask usage had improved dramatically, those who refused could still force the resort to close.

On the sixth, a front-page feature covered questions from the Bonner County community answered by Bonner General Health about the novel coronavirus. These included questions such as “how many rooms do you have?” and “do you have enough rooms to care for patients?”

Another article featured the story of Monica Beaudoin, a longtime educator and former president of the Idaho Education Association who had passed.

In that article, her colleagues remembered Beaudoin as a passionate educator who was “formidable” in her work for teachers and students, and who helped children across Idaho by creating the IEA Children’s Fund, which helps teachers provide for the needs of underprivileged students by helping fund needs like glasses, shoes, wheelchairs and more.

“She spoke her mind and she stood up for what she believed in,” wrote Brian Smith, one of Beaudoin’s colleagues.

On the eighth, the Bee covered the Sandpoint Giving Tree’s fundraising to support low-income children, adults, elderly and people with disabilities.

Tammy Shivel, the Sandpoint Giving Tree organizer, said the number of recipients was up to 130 people in 2020, compared to 90 the year before. In 2020, more people were affected by job loss and loss of income, she said, and many requests were for simple items such as hairbrushes, hats, gloves and puzzles.

Also on that day, the Bee reported on a procession planned to honor the late Ponderay Police Sgt. Mike Victorino, who passed following complications from an injury after a motorcycle accident.

An article on the ninth reported that the counsel for a Coeur d’Alene man accused of accidentally killing a passenger during a rollover crash in 2017 was moving to suppress evidence in the court case.

On Dec. 10, the Bee reported that the city was being awarded $70,000 attorney fees after prevailing in a lawsuit filed by the county over a firearms ban at the Festival at Sandpoint.

The same day, an article reported that the Lake Pend Oreille School District had lowered its quarantining requirements, as per updated CDC guidelines.

Students could now end their quarantine after 10 days of exposure if they were not tested and showed no symptoms, and after seven days if they were tested negative at least five days after the exposure and showed no symptoms.

Another article that day reported that the Bonner County commissioners had approved a contract with the satellite internet provider Starlink after voiding the previous agreement due to a a procedural error that rendered the decision in violation of public meeting laws.

“The Starlink contract was added at the last minute as we received late notice of approval from Starlink, the desire for connectivity from home, and the potential to be reimbursed by the state of Idaho (risk of financial loss),” the board wrote in a memo published on Dec. 9.

On the eleventh, the Bee covered the procession held Dec. 10 to honor the late Ponderay Police Sgt. Mike Victorino, who died from injuries related to a motorcycle accident.

The procession included dozens of law enforcement vehicles, and numerous spectators came out to view the procession, many waving American flags.

The Bee also reported that day that the Department of Health and Welfare had reported COVID-19 to be the top cause of death in November. In a separate article, the Bee covered an announcement by Gov. Brad Little, announcing that crisis standards of care might be enacted if COVID-19 cases continued to rise.

“If your son or daughter gets in a car accident, a hospital may not be available for your child, or your child may have to receive care in a repurposed conference room,” Little said in a press conference.

On Dec. 12, the Bee reported that the Panhandle Health District was announcing they would soon receive their first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine for frontline workers.

Another article noted that charges were filed against a North Idaho man who was accused of shooting another man in the leg on the Dec. 7.

A feature on 13-year-old artist Sarai Ray also ran that day, which featured Sarai’s Christmas-themed drawing of a winter scene with animals and a snowman.

Ray had originally planned to submit the drawing for a contest, but her mother, Cindy, misread the deadline and missed the cutoff by a day. Still, she wanted people to see her daughter’s work.

“Seeing this scene of people working together to make something loving and beautiful,” she said, “I’d hate for people to not see it.”

On Dec. 13, the Bee covered Kaniksu Land Trust’s land management plan, and that the trial for a Clark Fork man charged with vehicular manslaughter was being postponed until May due to an Idaho Supreme Court order aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

On the fifteenth, an article featured the city of Ponderay’s “Santa Sacks” program, which delivered roughly 400 gifts to children, seniors and infants.

Steve Geiger, Ponderay mayor, visited families around the city dressed as Santa Claus and handed out gifts. His wife Debra, dressed as “Mrs. Claus,” also made the rounds with him and his trusty elves (Kayleigh Miller, Stephanie Peterson, Karen Engel, Axel Jones, Graydie Whitaker and Dustin Weaver).

“There’s a lot of kids in this community that have needs,” Geiger said. “I feel like it’s so special, to be honored to be Santa Claus.”

On Dec. 16, the Bee reported that students and teachers at the Lake Pend Oreille High School were partnering with the Bonner Community Food Bank to deliver 150 Christmas meals to seniors at home.

The dinner deliveries were inspired by the Hoot Owl Cafe’s Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, said CTE and graphic design teacher Randy Wilhelm. He was volunteering at the food bank and talking to the director, Debbie Love, when they had the idea.

“We identified all these seniors who are shut-ins and can’t make it to the Hoot Owl,” he said.

Wilhelm partnered with LPOHS culinary arts teacher, Rand Rosencrans, and his students to make it happen.

“This whole thing is born from the generosity and kindness of other people,” Rosencrans said. “What can we do to give back to the community?”’

On the 17th, the Bee reported that the YMCA of the Inland Northwest had received a $10 million grant from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott.

The Bee also reported that day on plans for the 2021 Festival at Sandpoint.

Tickets for the festival went on sale on Oct. 1 for $239, with the plan to increase that price to $299 on Jan 1 —although only 200 were made available.

On the 18th, an article covered a proposal made to the Sandpoint City Council for the installment of a historic carousel on City Beach.

Clay and Reno Hutchison, the owners of the carousel, said they bought the historic piece, which was exhibited at the 1952 Kansas State Fair, in 2000. For the past several years, they and a group of local artisans and other volunteers have been working to restore the piece to its former glory.

The Bee also reported that day that a former Bonner County man living in Bozeman, Montana, was arrested after allegedly stabbing one of his two roommates and causing life-threatening wounds.

The Bee also reported that a temporary “Texas U-turn” which allows motorists to enter the flow of traffic before turning left shortly thereafter was introduced as a short-term solution to allow drivers at Lakeshore Drive an easier way to turn left onto the highway.

On the nineteenth, an article covered the first round of vaccinations being administered to staff at Bonner General Health. The hospital received 90 vaccinations in its first shipment, hospital officials said.

“We are grateful to be included in the first round of distribution and are encouraged and hopeful to see the vaccine more widely available to our staff and community in 2021,” Sheryl Rickard, CEO for BGH said.

On the twentieth, an article featured the opening of a new cardiac rehabilitation clinic on Highway 200. North Idaho Cardiac Rehabilitation offers exercise, nutrition classes, cooking classes and mental health coaching said Program Director Lori Morris, RN.

On Dec. 22, an article featured members of the First Lutheran Church in Sandpoint, who found a way to celebrate advent by going outside every day at 5 p.m. to sing the song “This Little Light.”

“That connection piece and the rituals and symbols that are part of us, it’s ingrained in who we are,” said First Lutheran Church pastor Lori Morton. “How can we lean into those symbols, but in a way that loves our neighbor in a way that Christ loves us?”

On the twenty-third, an article in the Bee reported that the Hoot Owl would be hosting a free Christmas Eve dinner. The dinner is run by volunteers, and aided by community members who offered to bring in food.

“I have so many people who have said, ‘I’ll bring a side dish, I’ll bring cookies, I’ll bring dessert,’” said organizer Tracy Giles.

On the twenty-fourth, an article reported that Ali Baranski had been named the new executive director for the Festival at Sandpoint. Another reported that a Sandpoint woman had been charged with conspiricy to commit murder in connection with a shooting death of Brandon Vern Hurst.

On Dec. 25, the Bee featured stories from local students’ favorite Christmas day memories.

“My favorite thing about Christmas are it’s a winter wonderland and that family comes!” said first-grader Kai.

“When I got a paper folded up and for so long I was hoping to get a dog,” said fifth-grader Hanna. “I opened the paper and it said I was getting a puppy.”

“My favorite memory was in 2018 my family went to Las Vegas for the holiday. We stayed at the Hard Rock Cafe and hotel. All the Nevadans decided 72 degrees was too cold for the pool and we had the pool all to ourselves,” said Connor, an eighth-grader. “It was epic!”

On Dec. 26, an article in the Bee featured Sagle Elementary School’s penny drive for the Bonner Community Food Bank.

Many students brought in their allowances, in addition to donations from teachers and parents said Deanna Giard, the organizer and a third-grade teacher at the school.

The original goal had been to raise $300, said Kathy Berget, the school’s principal. At the end of the fundraising, they had received over $1,500.

“Every single day [the students] were pulling pennies out of their pockets and bringing coins,” Giard said. “They wanted to know the total. We kept a running tally.”

On the twenty-seventh, an article in the Bee reported on homelessness in Bonner County. The Bee also reported that day that Kinderhaven, a group home and emergency shelter for abused and neglected children, had surpassed their fundraising goals for their “Tour of Trees,” raising over $200,000.

On Dec. 29, an article reported that the American Heritage Wildlife Foundation had partnered with the raptor Freedom Project to provide specialized care for birds or prey in 2021.

The Bee also reported that five additional counts of lewd conduct were filed against a former Bonner County man accused of sexually abusing teenagers in Idaho and another state.

On the thirith, an article covered the rescue of a Sandpoint area teenager who accidentally fell into Lake Pend Oreille on Dec. 29.

The 15-year-old, who was with his parents in their car, fell after attempting to hop onto the walking bridge from the Long Bridge, not realizing there was a gap between the two structures.

The Bee also reported that day that a Priest River man had been arrested after allegedly threatening a woman with an axe.

On the thirty-first, the Bee reported that Joshua Skadunas, a Bonner County man accused of attempted murder, was found fit to proceed and assist in his own defense following questions that had been raised.

The Bee also reported that at a Dec. 29 meeting, the Lake Pend Oreille School District moved to continue in-person classes on Jan. 4 instead of waiting until the week after, should students develop COVID-19 symptoms following New Year’s Eve.

Although there were spikes in cases following Halloween and Thanksgiving, trustees decided that there was a greater risk for students from Christmas contacts, which would have already shown symptoms by Jan 4.

“I don’t believe it’s significant enough to change our plan,” said trustee Gary Suppiger.

Rachel Sun can be reached at and followed on Twitter @RachelDailyBee.