By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – It all – already – feels like one long blur when looking back at 2020.
It was a year in which national and world issues trickled down to the grassroots level and made news locally.
2020 began with the emergence of the coronavirus that shook the world by March. That was followed in early summer by a series of peaceful protests over racial injustice. Both of those ended up being part of the election season.
And aspects of all three issues dominated local news in Kosciusko County.
The pandemic began expanding its grip across the world in February and March. Kosciusko County saw its first death reported on April 8 when an elderly man arrived at Kosciusko Community Hospital in a private car and soon died.
Kosciusko County and the city of Warsaw presented a unified approach in supporting Governor Eric Holcomb’s shutdown and the phased-in reopening, which had focused on a return to normal by July 4, and was then forced to dial back the reopening.
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer, Kosciusko County Health Officer Dr. William Remington and other officials began hosting public updates. The health department took the lead in promoting policies and providing updates. They also took the lead in contact tracing and then worked with school districts to develop protocol that has kept most schools operating in the classroom.
Meanwhile, various agencies began coordinating relief efforts and assistance for businesses and free food for households.
After 10 months, the pandemic crippled many businesses, hurt the economy, took a great toll on many households and diminished many peoples’ well-being.
The county ended the year with 69 deaths connected to COVID, and while vaccines are being distributed across the county, health experts predict the pandemic will continue into the new year.
By early summer, the national reverberations from the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor led to a series of spirited and sometimes emotional local rallies that attracted hundreds of people in support of Black Lives Matter.
Naysayers said the rallies were being perpetrated by outside agitators, but all of the series of locally organized rallies remained peaceful and critics assailed the public protesters for gathering during a national health crisis.
Protests in Warsaw and Winona Lake attracted hundreds, many of whom told their stories of injustice, racism and even micro-aggressions.
The rallies were filled with a diverse crowd, with many whites identifying as allies of minorities. While the protests brought some concern about the potential for violence seen elsewhere, all of the local protests remained civil. Both Sheriff Kyle Dukes and Mayor Thallemer expressed a willingness to work with activists in improving police relations even though protesters admitted they had no major issues with law enforcement.
And then, almost in response, the presidential election season began to heat up and Kosciusko County voters showed their continued allegiance to President Trump through a series of events – Patriot Rally boating events, flag-flying honk fests on North Detroit Street in Warsaw and a series of Trump Trains – long lines of vehicles on major highways –across the country.
Protests along North Detroit soon gained the support of some elected officials who continued to support President Donald Trump.
At the same time, two patriotic rallies held at the county courthouse drew hundreds who threw their support behind the constitution, law and order and support for police.
Racial injustice sparked a desire to run for office by a handful of residents in Kosciusko County. But Republican candidates turned back a series of challenges from Democrats running for county council, a county commissioner seat and the Superior court race.
County voters saw the most diverse list of candidates ever on a ballot in Kosciusko County, including several Hispanics and women. But in the end, it was another impressive Republican sweep in Kosciusko County.
Despite claims of widespread voter fraud in many states by Trump, local election leaders worked to overcome the challenges of the pandemic during the primary and general elections and ended up with a problem-free Election Day and a massive voter turnout.
More than 66 percent of all registered voters cast ballots in the Nov. 3 election.