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YEAR IN REVIEW: 2021

Over the next several weeks, the Buffalo River Review will take a look back to 2021 in the annual “Year in Review” articles. This week: the first three months of last year.

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JANUARY

The Covid-19 pandemic was still very much in the headlines to begin 2021—but with news of improving conditions.

For the first time in months, the covid case count in Perry County dropped to less than 100 to begin the new years. Just a couple of weeks earlier before Christmas, local cases numbered 190; that number dropped to 140 just after Christmas, then to 97 on New Year’s Eve.

On the vaccination front, the county had moved to group 1a2 which included more medical personnel, outpatient lab workers, funeral directors, as well as anyone 75 and older, and those over 65 with concerning health issues.

The Review also reported that by the time that first issue of 2021 was in circulation, all Perry County Nursing home residents who wished to receive the vaccination, and all staff, would have been administered their first dose.

The first appreciable snowfall of 2021 came on Thursday, January 7.

Luther Jones, who served in Vietnam and achieved the rank of Sergeant E-5 in 1970 and 1971, was recognized as 2020 Veteran of the Year. The plaque presentation was made by Perry County Veterans Association Chairman Michael Caldwell and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1123 President Dale Long.

Also in January, Perry County Schools—using federal pandemic funds—was completing a WiFi upgrade to make internet access in facilities better for students and staff, and to improve connectivity in the PCHS and Lobelville School parking lots should a surge in covid cases force the system back into remote learning.

The first round of layoffs at Bates Rubber began January 25, and continued throughout the first quarter of 2021, leading up to the longtime Lobelville employer’s closure almost a year after announcing the eventual shutdown in June of 2020.

Following a parole hearing for convicted murderer Chad Swatzell, who gunned down Perry Countian Carolyn Kilpatrick in 1988, board member Zane Duncan recommended Swatzell not be released, subject to a majority of the parole board’s agreement, which was granted later in the year. Swatzell’s next parole hearing will be in July 2022.

Perry Community Hospital remained closed two months after shuttering its doors in November 2020 for what it said would be a temporary period. Contacted by the Review, owner Jason Weil of Expertus Health said re-opening was dependent on securing a “major bank loan” and approval of a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application. Weil said his statement, “We believe the citizens and residents of Perry community need and deserve a hospital.” The facility remains closed.

FEBRUARY

Perry County’s roadways were noticeably cleaner early in 2021, thanks to the Perry County Jail’s litter pick-up program which had been on hiatus during the pandemic but began anew on mid-December. Six weeks later, at the beginning of February, inmate crews had filled 706 bags with roadside trash.

The Review reported in February that Perry County ended the previous year with the second highest unemployment rate in Tennessee at 9.5%, surpassed only by Lake County. Perry County’s inclusion on the top ten list of counties with the highest jobless rates became a trend in 2021.

The Perry County Public Library in Linden re-opened February 9, 2021, after weeks of closure due to a water heater failure and facility flooding which required new floors, carpeting, sheetrock, painting, and insulation. Restoration was a true community effort, with volunteers pitching in to move materials and store them at Azbill Community Center as Perry County Jail trusties performed most of the extensive repairs.

Brexton Litle and Randy Hickerson were honored as Governor’s Volunteer Star Award winners for their service. Each year the program recognizes one youth and one adult volunteer for their willingness and efforts to meet the community’s needs.

The second week of February, Perry County was an icebox. A winter storm of snow and ice hit Saturday, February 13, and bitter temperatures continued for several days. In fact, the Lobelville Water Plant—an official weather record-keeping location—reported eight straight days when the temperature did not climb above 32 degrees, and 5.5 inches of ice and snow. Linden Water Plant reported 4.5 inches of the white stuff. County road crews had a “rough and hectic week,” said Road Superintendent Robert Dedrick, who added, “It seemed like we got everything going our way,” referring to the ice storm, then the snowfall erased all the progress.

Due to covid restrictions, the Perry County Viking Legacy Club held a drive-through dinner and fundraiser, with plans to resume the usual event in 2022, along with the local athletic hall of fame induction ceremony.

Local employer NYX continued its partnership with the OSHA training offered at Perry County High School by paying the cost of 106 student certifications.

At a special vaccination event the last week of February, educators and school staff received their first Covid-19 dose.

MARCH

Perry County’s gem of a state park, Mousetail Landing, earned Tennessee Valley Authority “Camp-Right” certification, the Review reported in the first issue of March. The program recognizes environmentally responsible campground management and practices. Park Manager John Bowen said, “Most campers enjoy and appreciate nature and want to do their best to protect it. This program lets them know that we share those values.”

During a food distribution sponsored locally by Save the Children and the Perry County Community Collaborative, a total of 1,296 boxes holding 38,500 pounds of food was provided locals through the USDA Farmers to Families program.

Perry County Band & Music Director Ryan Lambright and school officials unveiled a new marching band uniform designed especially for local student musicians—along with a fundraising goal of $30,000 to pay for them. The black & gold-themed uniforms will be custom made of a cotton/polyester blend that will last for generations, and the design is copyrighted so that no other band can have threads like this one.

Miss Perry County Lauren Dickson and Perry County’s Outstanding Teen Jane Marie Franks won first place in the Express Feedback for Good fundraiser benefitting the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Competition. Team Perry County’s efforts generated $15,988.

After a year off due to the pandemic, the Town of Linden was ready to welcome thousands of visitors to the thirteenth annual Blooming Arts Festival—and the Buffalo River Springfest Softball Tournament, which coincides each year, had for the first time-ever fifteen high school teams lined up for the competition. Mother Nature had different plans. Torrential rains canceled Saturday’s festival and softball plans, though Friday’s festival offerings and Springfest games took place. The heavy precipitation caused other flooding and washed-out roadways across the county.

The Perry County Sheriff’s Office reported that its battle against illicit drugs was resulting in a very high number of arrests—averaging one arrest every couple of days over the preceding two months, involving marijuana, LSD, meth, prescription pills, and morphine. In fact, during March, a routine traffic stop led to the largest heroin confiscation ever in Perry County: 44.6 grams of heroin, 3.3 grams of Fentanyl, and six grams of meth. Two Hickman County residents were arrested after Drug Investigator Jonathan Kelly utilized K-9 Orion during the vehicle search.

PCHS Senior athlete Tyler Dudley was honored as District 12A MVP in basketball.

Next week: April through June.

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