2020: City, schools and businesses adapt in unusual year

Krista S. Kano
Kent Weeklies
Superintendent Jeff Ferguson talks about a small study area as he talks about the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Superintendent Jeff Ferguson shows off the gym during a tour of the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Superintendent Jeff Ferguson talks about the tree motif during a tour the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. The motif starts with a sprout in the Kindergarten class and gets bigger and gains a leaf for each subsequent grade level. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Third grade teacher Anne Knutty teaches remotely from her classroom in the the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Superintendent Jeff Ferguson shows a kindergarten classroom that can open via the garage style door to creat a larger space in the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Speech Pathologist Marianne Schubert and PE teacher Brooke Gustavel talk with Superintendent Jeff Ferguson in  the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Superintendent Jeff Ferguson talks with Kindergarten teacher Erika Vlacovsky in the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Third grade teacher Anne Knutty teaches remotely from her classroom in the the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Superintendent Jeff Ferguson talks about the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Summa Urgent Care on North Street on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]
Kindergarten teacher Erika Vlacovsky grades assisgments in her classroom in the new Tallmadge Elementary School on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Tallmadge. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

2020 was a year of unpredictability, adaptation, creativity and survival. Here's a look back at some of Tallmadge's biggest headlines. 

1. Communities adapt to COVID-19: On March 13, Summit County confirmed its first case of COVID-19. Not long after, Gov. Mike DeWine closed much of the state, including the schools. 

Tallmadge City School District quickly adapted to an online learning environment, ensured students were fed throughout the closure, and provided technology and connectivity to those who needed it.

Ann Elliot sings to parishioners in their cars during the Sunday parking lot church services at the Tallmadge United Methodist Church.

Mayor David Kline reacted quickly too, declaring a state of emergency for the city on March 17, cancelling anything that was not required for the continuation of city operations and closing all public buildings to the public. 

School closures were extended through the end of the school year, forcing an unusual send off for Tallmadge High School seniors, who watched their annual senior video from their cars at the Midway Drive-in, followed by a movie and fireworks. Seniors also participated in a parade through town and a catered breakfast delivered to their home while they watched the senior award ceremony on TV. 

The district spent months on its reopening plan for the fall semester, ultimately having kindergartners through fifth-graders attending school every day, and placing students in grades 7-12 in a hybrid model. They achieved 1:1 technology, and distributed 250 hotspots.

The initial learning model stayed in place until the county turned purple in early December, prompting the district to transition all students to remote learning and to cancel all sports until after the new year.

2. Tackling racism: This summer's Black Lives Matter movement forced communities across the country to confront systemic racism and inspired younger generations to voice their outrage and concerns. 

In June, about 30 high school and college-aged students gathered at Tallmadge Circle carrying signs supporting the Black community. The two-hour demonstration ended with the group silently kneeling on one knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, which was the amount of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd, who died.

Tallmadge resident Gage Prather, 18, speaks to a crowd of about 30 who gathered in Tallmadge Circle to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tallmadge City Schools continued its efforts surrounding diversity, led by Diversity Coordinator Denise Ward, including its Bridges Committee and staff book studies, but Floyd's death "created a sense of urgency that we need to make sure we do what we can with diversity and equity in the district in spite of the pandemic," Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said. 

Ferguson and the school board also issued a statement against racism on behalf of the district. 

3. Tallmadge Elementary School opening delayed due to COVID-19: The city's youngest students were set to move into the new Tallmadge Elementary School on March 30, but 2020 had other plans. 

In early March, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered schools to close for three weeks, eventually extending the closure through the end of the school year. As a result, the new elementary school had no students until the start of the 2020-2021 school year. 

The new school, which combined students from Dunbar Primary and Munroe Elementary, was funded through the passage of 3.9-mill bond issue in November 2016. The bond issue also funded the new middle school, which opened at the beginning of the school year in 2019. 

Ferguson said that the district will have an in-person celebration of the K-8 campus once the pandemic is over. 

4. U-Haul takes over site Kmart site: Tallmadge's Kmart, the last Kmart store in the greater Akron area, finally closed Feb. 2 after U-Haul Co. purchased the 8-acre property and the building in spring 2019. 

U-Haul in Tallmadge offers a store with supplies and rentals of trucks, trailers and dollies.

U-Haul has transformed several Kmart properties in recent years for the purpose of preserving and repurposing the buildings.

In September, U-Haul was working on completing paperwork, getting permits to remodel the inside for climate-controlled storage units, and landscaping the property. 

On Dec. 10, Tallmadge Planning and Economic Development Director Matthew Springer reported that the company had recently submitted plans to completely revamp the facade. 

5. Businesses adjust to COVID-19: State-ordered closures, stay-at-home advisories and the cost of heightened safety protocols have made 2020 a challenging year for small businesses in every community, including Tallmadge. 

In April, more than 300 Summit County small businesses, including 22 in Tallmadge, received over $1.5 million in funding through the COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program, distributed by the Summit County and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce.

Of the $108,000 awarded to Tallmadge, $50,000 was donated for the grants from Tallmadge Grow, a Community Improvement Corporation.

Ritchies Sporting Goods, which saw revenue losses when school sports were canceled, was planning to use their $5,000 grant for rent. Harmonize Studios LLC Tallmadge, which went from 60 students a month to 15 to 20, used their $3,000 grant to pay its five employees and utilities. 

With the help of grants, creativity, flexibility and loyal support from customers, most Tallmadge businesses have survived 2020, and business openings have outpaced closures this year, Springer said. 

6. New K-9 comes to Tallmadge: Mattis, a 2-year-old German Shepard, and his handler Officer Nate Ickes graduated from the Van Der House Gill K-9 Academy in Wapakoneta and started reporting for duty together in May. 

Mattis replaced Tallmadge Police K-9 Axel, who was diagnosed with cancer and died in December 2019 after serving the community more than 7 years. Ickes was his handler and carries over his experience in training Mattis.

The department sells T-shirts and accepts donations to offset the costs of maintaining the dogs.

7. Meijer and Menards finally open in Brimfield/Tallmadge JEDD: The openings of Meijer and Menards in the Maplecrest development were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but both managed to open this year. 

Meijer opened in early July and Menards opened in October. 

8. Summa opens urgent care: Summa Health expanded in Tallmadge this year, opening an Urgent Care Center in October. The urgent care center is attached to the Summa Health Tallmadge Medical Center, which opened in 2019, but the sections cannot be accessed from one another. 

The new Summa Urgent Care facility is open on North Man Street in Tallmadge.

9. Ferguson announces retirement: After 15 years as Tallmadge City School District superintendent, Jeff Ferguson announced his retirement during a December board of education meeting, effective Jan. 31.

Tallmadge Superintendent Jeff Ferguson talks at the dedication of the new Tallmadge Middle School in November 2019. Ferguson has announced his retirement.

Ferguson, the county's longest tenured superintendent, will oversee the start to the second semester and on Feb. 1, will become a special adviser to the new superintendent, current Chief Operations Officer Steve Wood. Ferguson will take over some duties of the COO, while also helping with the transition. 

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.