Top stories of 2017: January through June

James Bridge on PP Highway bridge near Dawt completely washed away in the historic flood in late April. This photo was taken Sunday, April 30, by Jeff Smith of Aerial Ozarks ( after the bridge had been washed away by the high water.

An operator with Cary Stewart Construction of West Plains works Friday to demolish the century-old dam on the North Fork of the White River at Dawt. Credit: Times photo by Bruce Roberts.

More than 100 people trekked through the woods on a guided hike at the new Bryant Creek State Park north of Rockbridge. The park includes thick oak and pine forest, two miles of bluff along Bryant Creek and several water features including this shelf-rock ledge dripping in icicles. A small creek runs over the shelf and through that area of the forest. Photo courtesy Brian Haenke.

A lone Gainesville firefighter walks away toward a flame-engulfed fire engine parked in the equipment bay of the Gainesville VFD fire station, where flames broke out during an early morning blaze. Three trucks and most of the department’s firefighting gear were destroyed in the early-morning blaze. Photo by Ed Doiron.

Cancer survivors clad in purple T-shirts make their way around the track at Relay For Life in Benton F. Breeding Stadium at Gainesville High School. The stadium event marked the culmination of a year of fundraising efforts by Ozark County’s Relay teams, which generated a total of $39,737.57 for cancer research. Photo courtesy Karen Eubank.

Mother and daughter duo, Mary and Helen Virning, filled their canoes with heaps of debris during a river clean-up event in June.

2017 has been quite a year. From the removal of the Dawt Mill dam to the historic flood of late April to kind-hearted strangers helping each other, here’s a quick look back at some of the highlights from January through June 2017. Top stories from July through December 2017 will be featured in next week’s Ozark County Times.


January 2017

After a decade of serving, Bentele steps down as Chamber president 

After 10 years of serving the Ozark County Chamber of Commerce as vice president and president, Lynn Bentele retired Jan. 4 this year. First Home Savings Bank manager Greg Crews was elected president to fill the position. Lynn and her husband, Tom, have been devoted Ozark County volunteers since they moved to Missouri from California in 2002, and the pair continue to volunteer in a variety of roles in across Ozark County and beyond. 


Theodosia fire claims a life 

Glenda Perry, 72, died of smoke inhalation in an early morning fire Jan. 5 at her Theodosia-area home. The fire was accidental and was caused by “smoking while on oxygen therapy,” Mike O’ Connell, communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, told the Times. Her grandson, Dustin Perry, who lived with her and served as her caregiver, tried to rescue her. He managed get her out of the bedroom and into a bathroom but was unable to get her out of the house. Perry, who had previously lived in Wasola, moved to Theodosia in 1993. 

Bryant Creek State Park hike organized 

Area residents were invited to join a ranger-led guided hike Jan. 9 at the newly acquired Bryant Creek State Park off N Highway north of Rockbridge. The 2,917-acre park is one of three state parks announced by Gov. Jay Nixon at the end of 2016. More than 100 people showed up to participate in the guided hikes and to discuss the future of the park with state park employees.


The ‘Tecumseh Saints’ build a home for woman who lost hers to a fire 

In early January, a sturdy little cabin, dubbed “the Phoenix house”  by its builders, lived up to its namesake and rose from the ashes of 71-year-old Wasola resident Vina Kasperieit’s burned-down former home. The 16’ X 20’ cabin-building project, organized and led by Ozark County Reserve Sheriff’s Deputy and Tecumseh volunteer firefighter Steve Ator, was completed in 22 hours by a group of Tecumseh residents who call themselves the “Tecumseh Saints.” The builders included Ator, along with Tecumseh neighbors Nathanael and Jonathan Winrod, Dan Israel and Bruce Rosquist. Several other Tecumseh-area residents provided materials and other help including Jerry and Jerry Ann Lash, Jackie and Mike Davis and Ruth and Robert Kelley. Kaspereit’s original home was engulfed in flames in the middle of the night Nov. 19, 2016, when she awoke to the sound of one of her birds squawking near her head. Kaspereit quickly exited the small structure with three of her birds, but everything else, including more than 30 other rescued exotic birds, was destroyed in the flames. 


Wrongful death suit filed, settled in connection with Dawt Mill drowning

The parents of 13-year-old Chloe Butcher, who drowned at Dawt Mill June 25, 2016, filed a civil lawsuit against Peters Properties I, LLC. The wrongful death lawsuit was filed Jan. 10 in Greene County and was settled Jan. 19. Josh and Shannon Butcher, parents of Chloe Butcher, were represented by attorney Jeffrey Todd Davis of Springfield.  West Plains-based Peters Properties was represented by defense attorney Monte Paul Clithero of Springfield, with Greene County Judge Michael J. Cordonnier presiding. Both parties waived trial by jury, and an undisclosed amount was approved to be paid to Chloe Butcher’s parents. The case was filed against Peters Properties by the parents because, at the time of their daughter’s death, the west side of the river was owned by Peters before subsequently being deeded over to Dawt Mill.

“Plaintiffs and defendants announce a tentative settlement in the amount set forth in Exhibit A which defendant proposes to pay to plaintiffs on behalf of all persons entitled to share in the settlement proceeds as a result of the wrongful death of Chloe Butcher and for injuries incurred by her and for all medical bills, funeral expenses or other injuries and damages incurred in the care and treatment of decedent,” the approved judgment states.

It is believed, but could not be confirmed, that a similar lawsuit was filed and settled against Dawt Mill Resort. 


Missouri State Parks director who led the acquisition of nearby state park was fired 

Bill Bryan, the Missouri State Parks director who oversaw a major expansion of the park system during his tenure, including the acquisition of the nearby Bryant Creek State Park in Douglas County, just north of Rockbridge, was fired from his post. Bryan told the Springfield News-Leader  he was walking down the hall to meet the new director of the Department of Natural Resources of Jan. 23 when he got a call informing him that his services were no longer needed. Although Bryan did not receive an explanation as to why he was being fired, some questioned if it was in connection to the purchase of three new state parks, including Bryant Creek State Park, using funds from a settlement with ASARCO intended for cleaning up lead-contaminated areas in eastern Missouri. 


February 2017

Man dies of injuries sustained in MoDOT truck crash 

Paul F. Noblitt, an 85-year-old Caulfield man, died from injuries he sustained in a Jan. 24 accident on Highway 160 in Caulfield. According to a Missouri State Highway Patrol online report, Noblitt died in the early morning hours of Feb. 3 at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, where he treated for injuries sustained in the accident that had occurred about a week earlier. The MSHP online report indicates Noblitt was traveling westbound on Highway 160, 2 miles west of Caulfield in a Ford F-150 when he failed to stop for a MoDOT flag man and smashed into the rear of the MoDOT 2005 International 7400 truck. He was not wearing a seatbelt, the report says. Noblitt was originally transported to Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains and was later transferred to Mercy Hospital, where he died. 


Bakersfield community raises over $22,000 for Emberlyn Bales

A Feb.17 benefit auction at Bakersfield High School, along with other fundraisers and donations,  brought in  more than $22,600 for the Emberlyn Bales family to help with expenses related to medical care for the infant girl, who was born with a rare spinal birth defect. She is the daughter of BHS graduate Ryan Bales and his wife, Kelsey, and the granddaughter of Bakersfield school board member Bruce Bales and his wife, Laura, and of Jay and Kelly Waggoner of West Plains. 


Dawt dam was removed

The North Fork of the White River ran unimpeded past Dawt Mill Feb. 24 for the first time in 125 years, after two tracked excavators worked carefully to demolish about two-thirds of the dam originally built to impound water that powered the landmark grist mill on the adjoining property. Work started that Friday around 9 a.m., and by early afternoon, most of the structure was gone. The dam’s removal came after a June 25, 2016, incident when a 13-year-old Springfield girl, Chloe Butcher, drowned after becoming entangled underwater in debris near the center of the dam where a breach had opened during 2013 floods. After the death, Dawt Mill Resort owner Ed Henegar worked through the demolition-permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has authority to enforce provisions of the federal Clean Water Act, and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has been involved in relocating an endangered species, the Ozark hellbender salamander, from the area around the dam.

Following the tragedy, Congressman Jason Smith convened a meeting of government agency representatives and other involved parties, urging them to work together to quickly remedy the dangerous situation on the Dawt dam. Henegar’s permit application, dated July 20, 2016, asked to remove the dam with the “exact end point to be determined where dam is stabilized on existing bedrock.” The Corps approved the application on Sept. 1, 2016. After that, Henegar organized a nonprofit agency, the Dawt Missouri Preservation Society, that could accept private and public funds. Smith’s office then announced, in November, that the Delta Regional Authority had awarded the nonprofit organization a $86,625 grant to help fund the demolition. In January, the Dawt Missouri Preservation Society solicited bids for the project. Cary Stewart of West Plains was contracted to do the work to remove “a 290-foot section of the 420-foot wide dam.” The remaining portion of the dam extends from the old mill race along the east side of the river. 


March 2017

Gainesville superintendnent Joe Donley resigns, accepts Mark Twain position

 Joe Donley resigned as Gainesville R-V School superintendent at the Feb. 20 regular school board meeting, indicating his resignation would take effect at the end of the 2016-17 school year. The next morning, he signed a contract to become superintendent at Mark Twain R-VIII School, where superintendent Don Yarger was set to retire on July 1. Donley’s resignation came on the heels of January’s Gaines-ville board meeting when members voted 4-3 not to extend Donley’s current contract, which ran through the 2017-2018 school year. Those voting to extend Donley’s contract were Corey Hillhouse, Marti Warden and Jerry Kiger. Those voting not to extend the contract were Heather Bushner, Billy Pippin, Wes Uchtman and Robbie Walrath.


Hammond Camp gets a revamp 

The North Fork Recreation Area along the North Fork of the White River, locally known as Hammond Camp, was undergoing renovations as part of a US Forest Service improvement project in March this year. The project focused on clearing the area and adding an additional ramp and a parking lot to be used for visitors loading or unloading canoes or kayaks. The ramp that was used in previous years for both swimming and launching watercraft was to be used solely for swimming, wading and water play when the project is complete. The project’s improvements were washed away in the historic flood that came in late April.


April 2017

Aaron Hosman hired as Gainesville superintendent

Dr. Aaron Hosman of Mountain Home, Arkansas, was hired in early April by the Gainesville RV Board of Education to serve as school superintendent, repacing Joe Donley, with his duties beginning in July. The board’s vote to hire Hosman was unanimous, board president Corey Hillhouse told the Times. Other applicants who were invited to come for interviews were: Allen Woods of Thayer, Kent Sherrow of Herman, Dr. Jeff Hyatt of Sparta, Dr. Sherry McMasters of Hardy, Arkansas, and Joseph Dunlap of Vienna. Others who applied but were not interviewed were Dr. Eric Findley of Warsaw,  Dr. Regina Mize of Grinnell, Kansas, Andy Adams of Ava, Janet Clark Brewer of Myrtle and Jeff Davis of Greenfield.


Municipal election results: ambulance tax defeated, school board members elected

During the April 4 general municipal election, only 13.62 percent – 1,009 of Ozark County’s 7,408 registered voters – turned out to decide whether to raise the tax levy that supports the Ozark County Ambulance District. Those voters turned down the district’s request, 432 to 530 (44.91 to 55.09 percent).  A simple majority was required to pass the levy adjustment. In Gainesville, residents voted 97 to 42 to continue a sales tax that for many years has been collected on vehicles, boats, trailers and outboard motors purchased out of state when those vehicles are titled here. The ballot language asked if the tax should be discontinued, so a “no” vote indicated the voter’s wish to continue the tax. Bakersfield voters elected Matthew Evans, Kevin Kuk and Tim Watlington  to its board of education. Kuk and Watlington are incumbents. Vote totals were Matthew Evans 96, Kevin Kuk 84, Tim Watlington 76, Mike Zimmer 56 and write-ins 6. Gainesville voters re-elected all three incumbents, Corey Hillhouse, Jerry Kiger and Marti Warden to its board of education. Vote totals were Corey Hillhouse 443, Jerry Kiger 428, Tena McKinzie 292, David Murphy 276, Marti Warden 447 and write-ins 10.


Historic flood 

Ozark County was hit with a history-making, record-breaking flood April 29-30. The county was saturated with torrential rainfall over that weekend, including up to 14 inches of rain in some areas. Nearly every bridge and low-water crossing slab was severely impacted by the force of the rushing streams and rivers. Two bridges that towered over the North Fork of the White River - CC Highway Bridge at Hammond Camp and James Bridge on PP Highway just north of Dawt - were completely washed away, and the Highway 160 bridge at Tecumseh was inundated and damaged. More than 30 cabins, homes and other farm and residential structures along the North Fork were demolished or swept downstream completely. Emergency personnel worked steadily throughout the night to rescue many victims that were trapped on their rooftops as the floodwaters continued to rise. Cattle, horses, pets and other animals were also washed away; some were found several miles downstream. Ozark County’s resorts and other businesses that cater to river- and lake-goers took a major hit. Flood damage was extensive at Dawt and Rockbridge, among other resorts. North Fork River outfitter Sunburst Ranch had almost everything from the resort swept downstream, and a couple of remaining structures were heavily damaged. River of Life Farm lost at least nine of its stilted treehouse cabins. Amazingly, despite the destruction and devastation, no lives were lost in Ozark County in the flood. 


May 2017

Crash claims life of 34-year-old mother

Robyn L. Carlisle, 34, of Gainesville,  was killed in a single-vehicle rollover accident May 22 on FF Highway 4 miles north of Zanoni. Carlisle’s niece, Nikki Collins, 22, of Mountain Home, Arkansas, and Carlisle’s daughter, Harlow Carlisle, 5, were passengers in the vehicle, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol online crash report. Collins was 8 months pregnant at the time of the crash. After emergency responders got Collins, who was trapped, out of the wrecked vehicle, she was transported to Cox South Hospital in Springfield by air ambulance with serious injuries. Collins’ baby girl was born healthy at 1:43 p.m. the same day as the crash, and weighed 4 pounds, 13 ounces.

Five-year-old Harlow, who sustained minor injuries, was taken by private vehicle to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas. According to the MSHP report, Carlisle was driving a 2011 Chevy Yukon northbound on FF Highway at approximately 9:20 a.m. May 22 when the vehicle traveled off the right side of the roadway, overcorrected and traveled off the left side of the roadway and struck a tree. She was pronounced dead at 9:38 a.m. by Ozark County Coroner Shane Ledbetter.  Carlisle was known to area residents as the longtime companion of Mike Mansfield, owner of  Antler Pizza and Package store in Gainesville as well as a cattle ranch off FF Highway near Zanoni and an Arkansas business.


Gainesville firehouse burns down

A month after the historic flood gutted the Gainesville Volunteer Fire Department’s building at Highways 160 and 5 north, the building and most of its contents were destroyed May 30 by an early morning fire. Ozark County Deputy Wayne Romans, who had stopped to get fuel for his vehicle at the Buillseye station just north of the firehouse, called the OCSD dispatcher at 1:52 a.m. to report smoke coming from the firehouse across the highway. Gainesville firefighters and personnel from Timber Knob, Caney Mountain, Lick Creek and Pontiac quickly responded in mutual aid, but the firehouse was a total loss. The loss included the city’s three remaining firetrucks that had been saved from the flood in April – a ladder truck, brush truck and pumper – plus assorted gear and equipment. 


June 2017

Relay for Life raises nearly $40,000 for American Cancer Society 

The Ozark County Relay for Life event, held June 9 at Benton F. Breeding stadium at Gainesville High School, raised $39,737.57 for cancer research. The Nash Relay team raised the most money of all the participating teams, and the top individual money-raiser was Norman Eubank, who raised $1,500 by selling raffle tickets for a custom utility trailer manufactured and donated by EZ Loader of Midway, Arkansas. Century Bank of the Ozarks’ brownie cheesecake and Bailey’s Warriors’ lemon cream pie tied for first place in the dessert contest. Mammoth Crusaders for a Cure won the best campsite in the adult division, and Little Cancer Fighters won best campsite in the youth division. The Over the Hill Gang, made up of employees from Ava Place, earned the most-spirited award, while the Ellison Family won rookie team of the year. Bailey’s Warriors/Turner Family won the last team standing award by having the most members still in attendance when the event ended at midnight. The Little Cancer Fighters - Hunter Luna, Chase Luna, Jaxon Donley and Logan Hillhouse - won the lip sync contest. 


RiverStrong fundraiser nets $21,000 for North Fork River trout 

RiverStrong founders Bryan Bade and Stephanie Holtgreven organized an effort June 15 at the Schlafly Tap Room in St. Louis to raise funds for the restoration of the trout population in the North Fork of the White River following the April 29-30 flood. The event raised just over $21,000. Those attending the RiverStrong event at Schlafly were asked to give a minimum $25 donation to attend, an admission fee that covered beverages, food and live music for the night. A live auction, silent auction and a 50/50 raffle were also held during the event.  All funds were tax deductible and were put into a special account for restoration work with the trout population on the North Fork River within the Save Our Streams fund with the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. The Bade family resides in St. Louis but also owns a home on the North Fork River.


Hyatt hired as Gainesville superintendent as Hosman backs out 

Jeff Hyatt was hired as the new Gainesville superintendent on June 19. Hyatt, who came to the position with 17 years of experience in school administration positions, replaced Aaron Hosman, who had been set to begin his duties July 1 but unexpectedly resigned in early June before actually stepping into the job. Hosman, who had retired as superintendent of the Para-gould, Arkansas, school system in 2011 and had held other positions since then, was serving as interim superintendent for the spring semester in the Harrison, Arkansas, schools. In a letter to the school board, Hosman said, “The situation at Harrison has changed drastically in the last 7-10 days causing me to reconsidering leaving. Two persons occupying senior leadership positions have recently resigned, creating quite the situation for an incoming superintendent. At the same time, Board of Directors have asked me to consider remaining a part of the leadership team at Harrison to assist in the transition and continue the work that I have begun.” Hosman wrote that he realized that resigning “at this late date creates an awkward situation for the Gainesville School District.” He added that his hope was that “members of the [Gainesville] board truly understand my dilemma and find it in their hearts to forgive me.”


River cleanups held, dozens show up to help haul trash off North Fork

 More than 50 volunteers participated in a river clean-up effort June 25. The group of volunteers floated from Blair Bridge to Dawt Mill, picking up flood debris along the way and depositing it in locations where larger boats could later load and drive to drop-off locations. The Missouri Department of Conservation provided a large dumpster where the flood debris was deposited. Pettit’s Canoe Rental, Sumburst Ranch, River of Life Farm and Dawt Mill offered reduced rental prices for volunteers’ canoes, and several local businesses donated door prizes, food and beverages for the clean-up participants. This was the second river clean-up organized by local residents and outfitters. The first clean- up event was held May 29, when 60 volunteers filled four large dumpsters with flood debris.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423