2020 was a year unlike any other, and despite the stories of struggles, challenges, and uncertainties, plenty of good news came out of the year as well.
New businesses took shape as even a pandemic couldn’t hold back entrepreneurs, while others put themselves on the front lines to help others. While a longstanding tradition – We Care Park – had its final year, other nonprofits like Good News Garage will continue on well into the future.
Reflecting on 2020, here’s a look at the top 10 stories in Lifestyles:
No. 10: Kokomo-native crowned America’s Miss Agribusiness
While the third try is a charm for some, the first try was a charm for Kokomo-native Robyn Neill who entered the pageant world for the first time in 2020 and swept the competition.
On Nov. 21, Neill, a post-op transgender woman, was crowned 2021 America's Elite Miss Agribusiness, her ninth title of the year. With the success she found on stage – and in some cases virtually due to COVID-19 – Neill, 54, hoped to inspire others to go for their dreams, no matter how late in life.
“If I never won a title, it wouldn’t matter to me. But what matters to me is that I got out there, and I tried. It’s the confidence that you get, and it’s just about trying. If I hadn’t tried that first one, I would never know,” Neill said.
No. 9: Bruno’s Pizza comes to Kokomo
For nearly six decades, a family dished out pizzas in Logansport – and attracted fans from neighboring communities and beyond. Earlier this year, Kokomo got a slice of the pie.
Owner Gina Dingo Curl opened a second Bruno’s Pizza location, this one in Kokomo, late last summer at 1215 W. Jefferson St. with co-owner Jill Shively Van Horn. The business was started by Curl’s grandfather, Mickey Dingo, in 1960, and Curl was excited to carry on his legacy in a second city.
No. 8: Rockette in residence: 15-year radio City Rockette returns to hometown to work as artist in residence at Elite Dance
Growing up, Amy Klingler loved to dance, but she didn’t realize she could make a career out of it until her band director, the late Larry Neuhauser at Western High School, opened her eyes to the possibilities.
With Neuhauser’s push and encouragement, Klingler went to college for dance and landed what became an unheard of 15-year career with the Radio City Rockettes in New York City afterward. And late last year, Klingler returned to her hometown to serve as an artist in residency at Elite Dance — and hoped to open other dancers’ eyes to career possibilities like Neuhauser did for her.
“I’m excited to bring some of this back and share it with the next generation of movers and dancers,” she said. “It’s one thing to teach someone the steps, right? But it’s another thing to really inspire a kid who wants to pursue a dream or just step outside their comfort zone even and just try something new.”
No. 7: Moore’s Pie Shop closes; new owners take it over
The community let out a collective cry in September when Gregg Lucas, owner of Moore’s Pie Shop, announced he would be shutting the doors to the 74-year-old business.
But the community didn’t have to wait long to get another Moore’s Pie. Just weeks later, it was announced the longtime business was purchased by Julie Hanke who intended to use the same recipes that had been used at the bakery since it opened in 1946.
“I’m so excited because what would Kokomo be without Moore’s Pie Shop?” Hanke said. “Everybody was so depressed that it closed. And as long as it’s got the same recipes and they’re done the same way, I just don’t think there ever needs to be an end to Moore’s.”
No. 6: Kokomo-native featured in QVC
A Kokomo-native who launched a bloody mary mix company 14 years ago carved out even more of the market with his latest product, the first-ever powdered bloody mary mix that requires only water.
In early March 2020, Justin Johnston was able to show off this product, dubbed Bloody Point Evolution, on QVC. Alongside the show’s host, Johnston demonstrated how the patent-pending powdered mix was made into a drink and discussed how it also can be used for cooking. The slot on the home shopping channel, said the Northwestern High School graduate, was one of his biggest breaks.
“It’s great. We’re anxious to see what the next few months bring, especially with all of this monstrous stuff going on,” said Johnston, who also was featured on Fox & Friends. “QVC grabbed my most innovative product. We’re all about innovation, creativity, healthier ingredients, and we’re more of a lifestyle brand.”
No. 5: A different kind of goodbye: Family visits loved one in full PPE at North Woods Village before he dies from COIVD-19
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and nursing homes were making headlines as outbreaks infected residents, the family of Mickey Hart was justifiably concerned.
Hart, 88, had been living at North Woods Village for just over a year, and his health was fragile. He had dementia and was just bouncing back from some health complications. Knowing how hard the virus would hit him if it got into the facility, his family worried.
Hart’s family’s fears became their reality when the senior tested positive for the virus in April. When staff at the facility believe Hart was going to take a turn for the worst, they allowed two family members, in full personal protective equipment, to visit Hart in person.
“He just responded very little to me, but he knew I was there,” said Maggie Hart, his wife. “He kind of opened his eyes, a little smile, and that was about it right there at the end.”
Hart died the next day on April 30.
Despite having a different kind of goodbye, Maggie was grateful to have been able to see her husband in person, as so many people with loved ones affected by COVID-19 were unable to.
No. 4: 'A breath of fresh air': Peaceful protester Jeremiah Young uses heavy police presence to spread message of unity
During Black Lives Matter protests in Kokomo in June, one young man took a stand to share a message of positivity.
That day, Jeremiah Young noticed a heavy police presence at the Markland Mall. There had been rumors of riots, possibly at the mall, and Kokomo Police Department and Indiana State Police officers responded by the dozens as stores in the mall and around the city closed out of an abundance of caution.
With the officers parked largely behind the Markland Mall, 17th Street quickly became busy as people drove by to see what was going on. Suddenly, Young said he felt called to do something. With dozens of officers right across the street, he wanted to speak to them, and he had a captive audience.
“Those people starting those riots are angry, and there are other people taking advantage of that anger and turning that anger into more evil. That’s not why I’m here. I’m taking my anger, and I’m turning that to love … I know it’s your job to protect me. I would take a bullet for each and every one of you,” Young said into a microphone to the officers across the street.
Two officers met with Young to hear his concerns, and the officers were impressed with Young’s maturity and positivity.
“His message was really uplifting and positive, and he was really just doing a very good job of expressing the social movement, the social unrest in a very positive way,” said KPD officer Edith Forestal.
No. 3: Lighting up for the last time: We Care Park opens for final year
The celebrated We Care Park that brightens the north side of Kokomo – and the spirits of the thousands who go through annually – lit up for the 26th and last time this past Thanksgiving.
2020 marked the final year for the popular light display that was featured on ABC’s “Great American Light Fight” in 2018, as its founder, Mike Wyant, hung up his hat at age 75. With it being his last year, Wyant said it was bittersweet. He’s been helping We Care since it started in 1973, long before he started We Care Park. In We Care's early days, Wyant would dress as Santa and collect money in downtown Kokomo.
“It’s very bittersweet for me, very bittersweet. It’s just when you’re involved in something like I’ve been involved in for that many years, you kind of hate to shut it down. But I’ll still support We Care, and I hope they just continue to help people,” Wyant said.
No. 2: Nurse travels to NYC, cares for COVID-19 patients
On March 17, 2020, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put out a plea for nurses and medical professionals across the United States to head to the Big Apple to work in the city’s hospitals that had become overrun with COVID-19 patients, while facing staffing, medication, and equipment shortages.
Countless answered that call, put their lives on hold, and headed into the unknown at the height of the pandemic. One of those people was Amy Kinder, an emergency room nurse at Ascension St. Vincent Kokomo.
Having worked in crisis situations for six years, Kinder thought she was prepared for the worst of it. However, what she experienced, she said, was like nothing she ever had experienced before, and the nursing she did was nothing like any kind of nursing she had ever done.
After completing her 21-day deployment at Coney Island Hospital, Kinder authored a book, “COVID-19 Frontliners,” with eight other nurses she worked alongside during her time in New York.
“We felt like it was important to get the truth out there because you see on the news so many conflicting stories of what’s really happening or what was going on,” said Kinder. “So we just felt like it was important to get our frontline experience out there so other people really could see and understand what it really was like because, when I was out in New York, like the news sugarcoated what was really going on.”
No. 1: God's Garage: All-volunteer group at Crossroads Church repairs vehicles for the elderly, single moms, underprivileged
In a year of a pandemic and plenty of negative news, one local organization continued to be a beacon of hope for those in the community who were struggling.
Good News Garage, formerly known as God’s Garage, has been repairing vehicles for free for the elderly, single moms, and the underprivileged. Although Good News Garage, a ministry of Crossroads Community Church, got its start in 2018, this year brought a lot of growth to the ministry. The ministry’s founder, Tom Smith, received a $41,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Howard County in late 2019, and it was used to move to a new-and-improved garage, allowing the ministry to expand operations.
And Smith and his team did more than service vehicles; they also gave donated vehicles to those in need – no strings attached. As of October, the ministry had repaired approximately 500 vehicles for those in the community and given away another 30.
Smith, a retired mechanic, said he felt called to put his talents to good use.
“I knew that there was a need because, when I had my own shop, I could see it then,” Smith said. “You could tell that people weren’t able to get their car fixed, or they would beg you to do things because they couldn’t afford it. So that gave me a heads up of what it was going to be like in a way, but I had no idea there were as many in need.”
For more information, to volunteer, or donate, call Smith at 765-490-9587.