Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving service shows the diversity and community feeling in Midway

By Adrian Rudd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Pastor Judy Stallons greeted a diverse group of parishioners on the doorstep of Midway United Methodist Church Monday evening, as it hosted the annual community Thanksgiving service sponsored by the Midway Ministerial Association.

Members of several different church communities gathered together to give thanks in light of the holiday season. This service is just one of several times a year that Midway churches worship together despite their differences in denomination.

“We do a Martin Luther King worship service, a sunrise service on Easter, and a peace service for 9/11, and we rotate which church hosts,” said Stallons.

The Thanksgiving service filled churchgoers with holiday spirit while also celebrating diversity. The gathering music featured special guests, siblings Chakrapani and Bhavani Gudlavelleti, performing the national anthem of India, “Jana Gana Mana,” and India’s national song, “Vande Mataram.”

The Midway University Chorale filled the church with beautiful melodies, leading the congregation in several hymns throughout the service.

Brother Chris Wright, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, spoke about something that unites all Christians this holiday season, giving thanks to God.

“Thanksgiving is what flows from our hearts,” he preached. “It’s not what’s going to be on the table, it’s not Black Friday, it’s not about the things we will buy.”

Wright’s message was answered with frequent ‘amens’ from the congregation of about 50 people from various Midway churches. He prompted several laughs as well when he urged Christians not to shop on Black Friday.

“My wife is already telling me I’m going shopping with her, and I don’t like shopping,” he smiled, “I don’t think Christians ought to shop on Black Friday. It’s hard to be a Christian on Black Friday.”

All jokes aside, Wright’s message about giving thanks was heard and well received.

“Thanksgiving is an opportunity to remember the beautiful God we serve,” he proclaimed.

While in many small towns people may stay isolated within their own churches, these community-oriented worship services are just one example of how Midway stands out from other communities.

Stallons, pastor at the Methodist church for five and a half years, wrote a letter to The Woodford Sun last week, thanking the community of Midway for the prayers and generosity she received with the recent passing of her younger sister.

“Somebody brought me a casserole, and you know, they’re not from my church,” Stallons said in an interview. “Being a pastor, I don’t expect people from other churches to do that sort of thing. The fact that people from other churches reached out meant a lot.”

After growing up around various cities in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, the warmth that Stallons received from the Midway community came as a pleasant surprise to her.

“People from the Christian Church greeted me in restaurants,” she said. “People from the Presbyterian Church would stop and say they were praying for me.”

In his message to the congregation, Wright restated the importance of embracing differences and recognizing the common thread between all people.

“Part of embracing diversity is being comfortable with yourself,” said Wright, an African American.
The attendees were clearly comfortable with each other, exchanging hugs, handshakes, and laughs before and after the worship service.

This culture of accepting others across boundaries brings support to people in the community during difficult times, and brings joy to everyone during the holiday season. 

Mary Wright of Pilgrim Baptist was especially joyful following the Thanksgiving service.

“I think these events are wonderful for the community,” she said. “I would love to see more of it.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Community Thanksgiving dinner at Christian Church starts the holiday season in Midway

Story by Amanda Colvin, video report by Brittany Forte'
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Food, community, and fellowship set the scene of Thursday night’s Thanksgiving dinner at Midway Christian Church. Toddlers, kids, adults, and elders participated in the annual event. Around 100 people from Midway and surrounding areas attended the dinner to get their first taste of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Pastor Heather McColl said the event originally started out as a charity but has evolved into an annual dinner that provides the community with a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, an event that shows off the kind, welcoming spirit of Midway.

“It originally started out with some people in our community that might not have had a chance for a Thanksgiving dinner, so that was sort of the thought behind it,” said McColl. “This really is a chance for a community to come together, have a meal, and really get to know each other.”

Whether adults or children, young or old, the people in attendance were eager to grab a plate and catch up with old friends. Music played by live musicians filled the room to aid in the sense of community and excitement. Upon walking into the church’s fellowship hall, you were instantly greeting by smiling faces and welcomes.

The kitchen was full of volunteers who had prepared enough food for the entire room to eat and take home leftovers. Food of all kinds lined the counters waiting to be sampled. The roar of people catching up with old friends and meeting new acquaintances competed with the volume of the music.

“We just hope that everyone can come enjoy a good meal and the music and have a good time tonight,” said the church’s care-team leader, Etta Manor.

The smiling faces and warm embraces meant that Midway Christian Church had met the goal of its Thanksgiving dinner, but also showed the sense of community in Midway, making the first event of the holidays a good one.
Photo by Amanda Colvin, UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Monday, November 23, 2015

County fire department getting another foam device through grant from Kentucky-American Water Co.

Click on map to view larger version
The Woodford County Fire Department is getting a foam eductor through a grant from Kentucky-American Water Co., which serves most of the county's population, including Midway.

The $800 piece of equipment is used to apply firefighting foam to liquid combustibles that can float on top of water. County Fire Chief John Varner said the equipment would be housed at the department's main station in Versailles but would be available for use countywide, including mutual aid to the Midway Fire Department. Varner said the county department has an eductor, but it is housed at the Millville station because distilleries are in the area.

The grant was one of 18, totaling $9,000, made this year through the water company's program to support fire departments in its service area. "We appreciate what these dedicated men and women do every day for our communities," company spokeswoman Susan Lancho said.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sidewalk Committee to meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday

The Sidewalk Committee of the Midway City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, at City Hall to discuss a sidewalk plan. The notice from City Hall says no action will be taken. All city council and committee meetings are open to the public.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

3 council members will develop plan for sidewalks; grants committee formed; pop-up store coming

The sidewalk at 122 W. Main St. is in bad shape.
Story and photos by Casey Parker-Bell
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Soon you might not have to look down when walking the streets of Midway.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift appointed a committee to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the sidewalks of Midway. “We have an issue with sidewalks of disrepair downtown,” Vandegrift said.

City law makes landowners responsible for the upkeep of sidewalks on their property. “Obviously, I think we all agree waiting for owners of these sidewalks is probably going to be a futile effort,” Vandegrift said. But the mayor said he wants to work with homeowners and not force them to fix broken sidewalks.

“Instead of approaching this as ‘We’re coming to get you, you’re going to fix your sidewalks,’ we need to approach this as ‘You have a sidewalk that is in disrepair; it is in the city’s best interest to get it fixed’,” Vandegrift said.

This sidewalk is at 105 S. Winter St.
Part of the city’s concern with bad sidewalks is the city’s liability if someone is injured., Vandegrift said, calling it “a public safety issue.” Even though landowners are responsible for the upkeep of sidewalks, the city is liable if anyone is hurt because of problems with the pathways.

Vandegrift said in an interview that he knows of two cases of people tripping and hurting themselves on cracked sidewalks. “Luckily no one has sued or anything yet,” he said. “The big one was about two years ago; a lady tripped and fell, and busted her face open pretty good.”

After that incident, the city painted yellow stripes on all of the trip hazards around town. “But all that does is make it more discernable to the eye,” Vandegrift said. “It’s not a long-term solution.”

Vandegrift said he has heard complaints from citizens about the condition of the sidewalks, from parents with small children to the members of a local Girl Scout troop who wrote him a letter about the sidewalks on Winter Street near the post office.

A comprehensive sidewalk plan is needed because of the city is limited in the ways it can improve sidewalk conditions, Vandegrift said. “Currently our only recourse is to put a lien on the property, and it’s just not effective,” Vandegrift said. “There are a lot of people who would never sell their properties,” which a lien would prevent.

The mayor said has heard of ideas like cost sharing between property owners and the city to fix sidewalks. “I do suspect we will have to offer something like that to engage people to go ahead and fix them.”

Council Member Bruce Southworth, chair of the sidewalk committee,  said he believes there are multiple options for Midway to improve sidewalk conditions. He said he wants an approach where homeowners and the city can share burden. “Maybe we can come up with something that can work to both of our benefit.”

Southworth said he thinks the committee will have a plan together by the first of the year, but set no specific timetable.

A tree has heaved this sidewalk at 129 W. Main St. about two inches.
Sidewalks in need of repair are not hard to find in the downtown area. Many if not most have been painted yellow to alert pedestrians of danger, but the damaged sidewalks dip or bulge more than an inch in some places, creating a tripping hazard. Some sidewalks on Winter Street near the post office on have the worst damage.

Kenny Smith, president of the Midway Merchants Association, said he hopes that the city is successful improving the sidewalks. “If it makes the town more likeable, then it helps the whole town,” he said. Smith said he didn’t believe that the quality of sidewalks in residential neighborhoods necessarily affects shoppers from out of town, but he wants to make the city better as a whole.

Vandegrift also appointed Council Members Kaye Nita Gallagher and Steven Craig to the sidewalk committee. He said the issue should have been addressed "yesterday."

Council Member Sara Hicks suggested that sidewalk repairs be coordinated with sewer repairs that the city plans to do when it has the money. "If we’re gonna tear up sidewalks it seems to me, in terms of efficiency, if we needed to do anything on the sewers that would be the time, because we’d be torn up already.”

The mayor also announced the creation of a citizens advisory committee to help the city with grant writing. “We’re behind the eight-ball on this,” he said. Vandergrift said some grants could help pay for improving sidewalks around town. The committee members he appointed are Jo Blease, Diana Ratliff, Debra Shockley and Mark Pitzer.

Vandegrift announced a new citizens advisory committee that will help with city grants.

Vandegrift said he is looking to get grants for “anything and everything”  and a grant committee is needed to be competitive and give Midway a chance at great opportunities. “There’s a lot of money out there, but we lack man power,” he said in an interview. “We need to know where to look and how to write.”

Vandegrift said the last major grant the city of Midway received was back in 2004 for roadwork in downtown Midway on Main Street. “This committee could end up developing into a part-time position or even a part of the city council,” he said.

The council heard that Bob Mickler’s lifestyle and performance-riding apparel store, in Lexington, plans to open a holiday pop-up shop in Midway from Nov. 25 to Dec. 25 at 119 E. Main St. The store will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Situated in the same location as Bourbon Lane Stable and McMahon & Hill Bloodstock, the pop-up shop seeks to supply local residents and holiday tourists alike with riding and casual apparel, said Chief Executive Officer Michael S. Michalisin. “We are going to do our very best to make it representative of the classy look that is prevalent on East Main Street,” Michalisin said as he asked the council for advice and ideas regarding the best way to do business in Midway and answered questions the council had about the new store.

Vandegrift welcomed the pop-up shop, saying, “I think that it’s a great fit for Midway.” Likewise, he expressed a desire for the company to consider opening a permanent location in the town.

The mayor announced that the city Christmas tree lighting will take place Friday, Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the common area across from Steppin’ Out Boutique and the Christmas Open House will be that Saturday with Santa Claus arriving via train provided by R.J. Corman Railroad at 11 a.m.

Information for this story was also gathered by UK students Kelly Brightmore, Mackenzie Clark and Dimitri Silva.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wreaths at cemetery remind us today is Veterans Day

The Midway City Council recently voted to buy two wreaths for the veterans monument in the Midway Cemetery
on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. This photo, taken today, shows the wreaths in place. (Photo by Al Cross)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Midway University gets higher marks in national ratings

Several publications have recognized Midway University recently for academic excellence.  Most notably, the state’s only women’s college was ranked as the tenth best women’s college in the nation by BestColleges.com. 

The university boasts an 83 percent freshman retention rate and a 15:1 student-faculty ratio.  Such numbers helped Midway move from 65th to 45th in U.S. News & World Report’s list of top colleges in the South. 

Midway’s president, Dr. John Marsden, said he was honored that the institution received high marks from a variety of organizations.  “Although these rankings are not a comprehensive measure of our entire institution, each of them is a snapshot and high level measure of key indicators for our prospective students and their families,” he said in a news release.

Since Marsden became president in 2012, it has grown.  Known as Midway University since July 1, the institution expanded its mission statement to be more open to international students.  These recognitions highlight the school’s progress. 

The university’s nursing, sport management and health-care administration programs were also recognized by BestColleges.com.  The website rated Midway’s online curriculum as the fifth best in Kentucky. Midway was ranked 10th out of 26 universities in Kentucky by USA Today’s College Factual.

Midway also received commendations for it affordability after three consecutive years without raising tuition or room and board.  Washington Monthly magazine ranked Midway 16th in its list of “Best Bang for Buck Colleges in the South.” --Nicholas Roush


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Weisenberger family marks 150 years in the milling business on the bank of South Elkhorn Creek

Phil Weisenberger is the sixth-generation manager of his family's mill on South Elkhorn Creek near Midway.

Weisenberger displays cornmeal immediately after grinding.
Story and photos by Jamilyn Hall
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

On the bank of South Elkhorn Creek near Midway stands Weisenberger Mill, where the family is celebrating 150 years in business at the same location. The mill has passed through six generations and continues to create a local product with wide reach.

Above bottles of the mill's grains and their basic grinds are
portraits of Gus Weisenberger, Phil's great-grandfather, and
Phil Weisenberger, his grandfather, who died in 2008.
Founder August Weisenberger, an immigrant from Germany, bought an earlier mill at the site and began milling corn and wheat into flour in 1865, by using the water from the creek to power the mill.

“We have been open for 150 years, since 1865. We still grind things the same way that we did in 1913,” when the current mill was built, said Philip Weisenberger, manager and son of owner Mac Weisenberger.

Weisenberger is a small company with a large reach, making about 85 percent of its sales wholesale, Weisenberger said.

Sacks of flour boldly labeled "WEISENBERGER" are prepared for shipping at the mill's loading dock.
The mill sells to companies like Miguel's Pizzeria in Slade, Ky., and companies in Lexington. “We sell to these distributors that go to restaurants,” Weisenberger said. “We haven’t sold to Keeneland, but I would say our products are sold to a food service company that services Keeneland.”

When the Breeders’ Cup came to Lexington, the family company saw increase in business. “I have noticed an increase in people stopping by here in the last week,” Weisenberger said that week.  “There’s a lot more people in town looking for culture and things to see.”

About 15 percent of the mill's business is retail.
The mill is a way to consume local products. The grains are Kentucky grown, and the mill has a wide variety of products, such as muffin mix, pizza crust mix and seasoning flour.

“I have seen an increase in the awareness and the desire to buy local, and local foods, in the last five years,” Weisenberger said. “That has really helped us in some ways to increase awareness of local foods. All of our grain here is grown in Kentucky, it’s non-GMO [genetically modified organisms]. So it really is local food in every sense of the way.”

The Weisenbergers and their three employees look to extend their reach, at trade shows.

“The Incredible Food Show was this past weekend, this was our seventh year,” said Phil. “It’s a local food event in downtown Lexington. It caters to a lot of foodies and other people that like to cook at home.”

Boxes of products are ready for shipping.
Weisenberger said the company donates to various local charities throughout the year giving to schools for charity auctions, the Lions Club, Shriners, Goodwill, churches and other ways to give back to Woodford and Scott counties. The mill is in Scott, but the creek is the county line and the Weisenbergers are more identified with Woodford – and with Midway.

The mill’s power source has been one of its few changes since 1865. “You can’t rely on the water,” because the creek level varies, Weisenberger said. “In the 1930s they put in diesel power to run the mill and then after that they put in electricity.”

The mill continues to use creek water, but “to turn turbines, and then it turns an electric generator and makes electricity,” Weisenberger said loudly over the roar of the machines. “We use electricity to run the mill, but we use the generator to generate electricity to offset the costs.”

Another thing that has changed is the technology for dealing with customers. “We interact with customers with email and Internet sales, that has changed,” said Weisenberger.

But in 150 years of business the Weisenbergers haven’t seen much change. “We still grind the corn and we still grind the wheat essentially the same way,” Weisenberger said.

“One thing that used to drive me crazy as a kid was, nothing changed out here; it was always the same. There’s something to be said about finding something you do good and sticking to it, that's what we do.”
The mill's interior has the original wood floors but lots of modern equipment. It's a manufacturing plant.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Payroll tax, licenses and permits brought city 40% over estimates; clerk-treasurer cites new jobs, more business

By Andrea Richard
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The City of Midway saw big increases in its two main revenue sources in the last fiscal year, according to an audit presented to the city council Monday night.

The audit for the year ended June 30 showed revenue from licenses and permits was 43 percent above budget, and occupational taxes were 42 percent over budget.

The audit shows $194,720 was budgeted for licenses and permits, and the city took in $277,596. City Clerk-Treasurer Phyllis Hudson told the Messenger that the increase reflects larger-than-expected revenue from alcohol licenses, business permits, insurance licenses and the Midway Fall Festival. 

Hudson said the even larger dollar increase in the 2 percent occupational tax reflects new jobs at The Homeplace at Midway, the new senior-living community across from Midway College, and the McDonald’s in the Green Gables development in the southeast quadrant of the Interstate 64 interchange. Each employs about 45 people.

The occupational tax generated $396,618 in fiscal 2015, compared to a budget expectation of $280,000, a boost of $116,918. The city ended the year with a $567,000 cash balance, an increase of $338,183.

CPA Debbie Smith of the Mountjoy Chilton Medley accounting firm presented the numbers to the council.

Council member Sara Hicks asked Smith if the city’s “nice numbers” meant Midway was financially strong, or if the city “[wasn’t] taking care of business.”   

Smith said most cities try to keep “three to four operating months of expenses as a rule of thumb.” Last year, the city’s expenses totaled about $788,000, but its revenues were about $1 million.

Smith told the council that they ended the year with $420,000 in CDs, giving them a strong cash and asset position. Even with adding a pension liability, required by federal law, the city still had a good, strong net position, Smith said.

Smith’s one recommendation to the council was to update the ratings of streets’ condition. “You’re supposed to every three years,” Smith said. “It’s been four or five.”

Speed limit sign: The council voted to spend $3,170 for a speed limit sign to collect data on the city’s traffic. The move grew out of concern over speeding on Stephens Street at the Brand Street intersection.

“We’re going to have to collect [the data] ourselves because no one else does it,” said Council Member Bruce Southworth, who lives near the intersection.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the data will be used to show trouble spots to police and state highway officials. “Sometimes you have to take care of your own problems in your community,” he said. “We can use it to say this is what we have . . . verifiable data.”

Southworth said the sign not only flashes the speed of a vehicle, but also collects the number of cars traveling the street, and how much the cars are going above the speed limit. The city can set the sign to a specific limit, and it will flash red if drivers travel above the set speed.

After Southworth presented the council with the price tag, Hicks asked, “We hire the Versailles police to perform a job for us in Midway. Why are we not able for our employees to do this service for us?”

Vandegrift said he did not have an answer to Hicks’ question, but he’s learning “more and more that you don’t want to burn bridges with the state,” which has not been as responsive to city requests for help as city officials would like.

Other business: After the council approved the mayor’s appointment of Council Member Libby Warfield to the Veterans Committee, Warfield said she wanted to buy two wreaths for each of these holidays: Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Christmas and the Fourth of July. The council agreed to two each for the former pair, and one each for the latter pair.

The city’s older fire engine sustained damage after the driver backed into a rail. The truck was being used to clean the streets after the fall festival. Vandegrift said he’s “trying to figure out whether to pay out of pocket [for the damages] or to go through insurance,” which might result in a premium increase. The body-work estimate ranges from $12,000 to $14,000.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Auto-parts factory in Midway Station is 'a total game-changer' for Midway, Mayor Vandegrift says

By Andrea Richard
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The coming of an auto-parts factory to Midway Station, the biggest investment in the industrial park in its 18-year history, is a game-changer for the city, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift says.

Vandegrift said in an interview with the Midway Messenger that American Howa Kentucky Inc.’s decision to build a plant in Midway means that more factories will follow, now that AHK has demonstrated confidence in the property.

“If we bring in four to five industries over the next however many years, and each of them gets up to 100, 200, maybe 250 employees, it’s a total game-changer for the city of Midway,’ Vandegrift said. “It will change everything about the way we’re able to improve services and what we can add to our city.”

State officials said AHK will bring 54 jobs to Midway, but Vandegrift said Craig McAnelly, executive director of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, told him that the factory will bring 63 jobs to the city.

“In Midway, you count every nine jobs you can get,” Vandegrift said with a laugh. He said the factory will be the city’s largest employer after Midway University, and that will boost the city’s budget.

The city’s occupational tax is 2 percent of payroll. With the average auto-manufacturing employee making roughly $22/hr, the city would net $915.20 in tax per year from each employee. With 63 jobs at AHK, Midway would collect an additional $57,658 a year.   

“You see why Thursday was such a good day for me?” asked Vandegrift, a former one-term city councilman who is in his first year as mayor.

AHK, a Japanese company based in Bowling Green, makes interior parts for the Toyota Camry, made in Georgetown. It expressed interest in purchasing 12 to 15 acres with an option to purchase five more, Vandegrift said.

“What we were able to sell them on here is that there is a huge benefit with their logistics, being this close to Toyota and right on the interstate,” Vandegrift said. “The land is really good. You don’t have to cut through a bunch of rock. It’s ready to dig. I fully expect the geotechnical report on the Roach property to say the same thing.”

The Roach property is a 38-acre, industrially zoned tract on the east side of Georgetown Road (KY 341) next to the industrially zoned part of Midway Station. The land was formerly a part of the 215-acre property known as the Homeplace Farm owned by the Roach family. The EDA has an option to buy it, and recently had it rezoned industrial.

According to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County planning and zoning commission, when Midway Station was developed in the 1990s it was rezoned with certain conditions, and excluded the Roach property. EDA bought the remaining property.

After many years of little development, and the city and the county still paying off the bond issue used to buy the property, EDA and the city struck a deal with Lexington developer Dennis Anderson to transform most of the property into a residential an commercial development.

But that started as the Great Recession began, and Anderson did not exercise his option to buy the property. As the economy improved and industrial prospects surfaced, EDA had the rear 80 acres of the property zoned industrial.

Vandegrift said EDA optioned the Roach property “to give this company an option. From what I understand the company likes both spots. We should know very soon exactly where they want to go. But it appears like the Roach property right now.”

The mayor said AHK is in the process of picking out a contractor, and he hopes the contract will be signed soon.

“I had heard originally when this was still kind of under our hats that they may want to start breaking and digging in December, but that’s pretty ambitious,” Vandegrift said. “I would think we’re looking at the spring. That would be my guess.”

The mayor also said the city has another prospect for the industrial property at the rear of Midway Station.  

“They just didn’t want to be the first one,” he said. “They wanted to know that it worked.”

The mayor said he’s “as confident as the process allows me to be” that the company will follow through.

The chances “are probably better than 50-50,” he said. “That’s being somewhat conservative about it, because there are a lot of things that come into play that prevent a company from relocating – and not just here, anywhere.”

Vandegrift said he’s not sure how many jobs the prospective company would bring to Midway, but assumes it would bring around the same number as AHK.

The mayor Vandegrift said he doesn’t see the city going after large factories: “I think we’re going to try to hit these companies that have between 50-100 employees and maybe they’ll want to expand.”

Vandegrift said he believes the industrially zoned land could hold six manufacturing plants, but the city’s strategy is to bring in about five similar sized industries to the area.

The mayor was excited about AHK coming to Midway.

“I think everybody was starting to believe it was never going to happen,” he said. “But now that it’s happening I think it’s going to snowball in the right direction.