Thursday, August 17, 2017

I’m not an educator, and never really had the desire to be one. But, sitting through Grandview’s district orientation last Monday sure made me realize that public schools are in my blood. There is something so motivating and encouraging about the start of a new school year. When you’re in school, it’s like a fresh slate, a new beginning, an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

I loved that when I was in school. Along with new pencils and crisp notebooks, the new year provided a chance to make new friends and discover passions I may not have even known I had or things I didn’t even know I was good at.

This year, my (not-so-little) boy begins middle school. Honestly, for me, middle school was my absolute least favorite time in school. Through hormones, social anxieties, more rigorous school work, braces, temptations and just general middle school awkwardness, I’m still surprised I made it out alive. As an adult, I’ve come to realize that it wasn’t just me: every kid struggles through those early teen years.

So, with the experiences I’ve had in the back of my mind, I’m naturally worried as my son enters the unknown. I’ve done my best to prepare him. I’ve answered all of his questions as honestly and openly as I can. He’s got cool shoes and new clothes to sport. We got his hair cut and all of the supplies are ready to go. I’ve done everything I can, but once he steps on that school bus, it’s out of my control.

Kids can be so cruel to one another. In the age of social media and information at their fingertips, our teenagers are living in a world that sure didn’t exist when I was their age. Every day I read stories of cyber bullying and other horrible things that can ultimately lead to every parent’s worst nightmare. The world can be a scary, scary place, and our kids are experiencing that at a much earlier age than I think we were prepared for.

So, as Michael walks through the front doors of his new middle school, I can only hope and pray that the things I have taught him, the morals I have demonstrated, have impacted the head he has on his shoulders. I’m hopeful that he holds that head high and that he stands up for what is right. I’m optimistic that with his compassionate personality he will make lots of friends, but I’m also aware of the reality that not everyone will like him, despite how amazing I think he is.

Middle school is tough. As a mom, I’m struggling with the realization that Michael will be experiencing new things, some of them unpleasant. This is the part where I take a backseat and let him deal with the punches and setbacks that will inevitably come his way. And when he’s ready for advice from his old mom, I’ll be there every single time with my hand on his shoulder guiding him in the right direction.  Through every bump in the road and every wrong turn, I’ll be there.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

As journalists, it is our job to stick to the facts, remain unbiased and professional, and keep our emotions in check. For the most part, I’ve become a pro at this. I’ve covered tragedy. I’ve met people with extraordinary gifts and talents. I’ve written about death and healing. With this job comes the great responsibility of telling the stories of the people in this community. Every once in a while, some of those stories hit close to home.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from my contact at Belton Regional Medical Center inviting me to their next Great Save event. I’ve written about some great saves in the past, and they always make great stories, so immediately I was intrigued. Then, the story pitch listed the name of the patient, and I was speechless.

Kayli Welvaert, whose story is on the front page this week, was a name I knew, as I’ve known her mom, Noelle, for around 20 years. Kayli’s story was a story I knew. I remember seeing her mom’s pleas for prayers, for a miracle, on social media last December. I had seen pictures of Kayli while she was in intensive care, and I saw posts of Kayli as she recovered from her heart attack and coma. Kayli was alive, and she was okay. Mostly, I remember how familiar this all seemed to me at the time.

In 2011, my best friend Danielle suffered a major heart attack. After no oxygen made its way to her brain for roughly 45 minutes, despite revival of her heart, she was no longer with us. Several days later, her family made the tough decision to let her go.

Like Kayli, Danielle was a mom, a sister, a daughter and a friend. Both in their 20s, Kayli and Danielle had shown signs of heart issues in the past, but nothing that would amount to life or death situations at such young ages. Back in 2011, I hoped and prayed for a miracle, for a blessing, for Danielle to pull through. Last December, as memories of Danielle flooded my mind while watching Kayli’s story unfold, I knew that, more than ever, her family needed prayers and support.

Kayli got that miracle that day. As I watched her earlier this week hold her daughter and kiss her cheek, I was thankful for the miracles her medical team provided for her. This mom, this daughter, this friend to many now has a second chance at life. Kayli is a living, breathing, walking miracle, and I am grateful to be able to share her story, no matter how emotional I may have gotten while writing it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How can you possibly do someone like Aggie Turnbaugh justice in just a few lines on some newsprint? Someone who, undoubtedly, still had ink running through her veins, someone whom I could call with a question like, “Hey, maybe twenty, or thirty, years ago, this thing happened, does that ring a bell?” And Aggie, of course, would not only remember the event, she’d remember what issue it was in and on what page. For many years, Aggie Turnbaugh lived and breathed this community, this newspaper. She was truly the backbone, the historian, the mouthpiece, for Grandview and South Kansas City.

Aggie was passionate about journalism and about telling the stories of those she came to know and love. She was quick to offer suggestions or point out things I could improve upon, but she always did so out of love and respect for this profession and this newspaper.

Not many people in Grandview didn’t know who Aggie was. I asked a few of those to offer up some “talkin’” points about Aggie:

The day I was hired at the Jackson County Advocate, Aggie Turnbaugh was sitting at her famous desk just inside the front door of the office at 5th & Main, her trusty typewriter and canine companion at her side. No job had been posted for the newspaper, and I wasn’t sure why exactly I had felt compelled to walk in with my resume. Later, Aggie told me she felt Jim had sent me. The passing of her husband in 2003 had been incredibly hard on the family, as well as the entire community since the Turnbaugh family had run our hometown newspaper for 50+ years. Now, Aggie’s passing is hard as well – who didn’t know Aggie? Through her weekly column, through the decades, the entire community got to know this strong woman with her soft spot for animals. My heart goes out to Annette, who was always there by her mom’s side, and who continues as an Alderman in her family’s wonderful tradition of making a huge impact on the City of Grandview. - Andrea Wood, Jackson County Advocate former editor & owner

Stratford Estates Homes Association and the Southern Communities Coalition have truly lost a “dear friend”.  Going back to the late 70’s until Aggie sold the business I always looked forward to our Tuesday morning chats concerning both Grandview & So. K.C..
Aggie was a lady with a “wealth of knowledge” regarding the history of this area, as well as politics and other issues and the number of people she knew was over whelming,no  one was a stranger.
She was a “grand lady” and the community is missing her already. - Carol McClure, Stratford Estates

Aggie surely impacted many in the community. If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please email them to, or stop by the Advocate office where we’re “just talkin’” about the legacy of Aggie.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I’ve never been much of a fan of storms. When I was a little girl, a family friend of ours lost his life after being struck by lightning while fishing with another friend, who was seriously injured. I remember attending Kyle’s funeral and seeing his family and friends, and my own family, suffer a
loss that would have an impact on me for the rest of my life.

I think I was around a first-grader at the time, but I remember clearly how angry I was that this had happened to someone who, probably fairly recently, I saw in my own home. This was the first experience I had with death I can remember, and it was because of the uncontrollable.

In the years that have passed, there’s not a storm that goes by that Kyle doesn’t come to my mind. With every roll of thunder and every lightning strike, I cringe. My heart races when I hear warning sirens, and I get goosebumps when I can feel a shift in the atmosphere. I remember Chuck, who was with Kyle at Lake Jacomo, describing getting struck by lightning like getting hit with a baseball bat across the back: words I have never forgotten and I hear echo in my ears when I see light shows overhead.

Living in this part of the country, we are certainly no strangers to the fury of the skies above us. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the devastating tornado that took many lives in our community, we all tend to be a little apprehensive when it comes to storms.

As we clean up tree limbs and get our power restored from Monday night’s weather, we are reminded of the pathway we call home. Mother Nature lets us know that, sometimes, we are not in control and our world; our lives, can be impacted and change in an instant.

When the clouds above me swirl, the sky brightens with electricity and the thunder claps around me, I am brought right back to that little girl who remembers being told someone she looked up to had died at the hands of the weather. It is powerful, it is mighty, it is uncontrollable and unpredictable. I am constantly in awe of it, but I will continue to keep my comfortable distance.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Forty years ago this coming Sunday, two young adults (one from St. Louis and one Air Force kid) got married amid a snowstorm in South Kansas City. The two met while working at Stix Baer and Fuller at Ward Parkway Mall, and though he asked her several times to go out with him before she finally caved, they were married a short time later.

My parents have been married forty years. Sure, they’ve had good times and bad, heartaches and happiness, successes and failures. But, the whole time, they’ve had each other. In this day and age, it seems that is a rarity.

According to various internet sources I checked, around 40-50% of marriages end in divorce. The American divorce rate is nearly twice what it was in 1960, though it has declined somewhat since hitting an all-time high in 1980, which suggests there is hope for stability after all.

Despite challenges and setbacks, my parents have continued to rely on their marriage, on each other, to get them through. They have set a standard for partnership, love, communication and trust, and they have set the bar high.

I’m proud of them. Forty years is an accomplishment that should be celebrated. I know it isn’t always easy, but I know the good times are worth it all. Happy Anniversary to my parents, Mike and Becky. I love you both and I’ll be ready to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary and then some. Thank you for finding each other all those years ago, and thank you for demonstrating what it means to commit your life to another person. Enjoy your day and your deserve it.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Between political divisiveness, concerns regarding public and private safety and other issues affecting the community as a whole, it seems people are finally finding a voice. For years, I’ve attended public meeting after public meeting where I am the sole community member in the room. At times, I wear many hats in these meetings: reporter, mother, resident, concerned citizen, etc.

Whatever my purpose for being there, and whatever the discussion is about, I’ve seen it all.
I’ve seen groups of activists come and go. I’ve seen neighbors angry at neighbors. I’ve seen parents fed up with their kids. I’ve seen people complain, I’ve seen them give thanks and I’ve seen them pour their hearts out for their cause. They come, they say their piece, and they go. Sometimes, action is taken, whether by the city or our school districts. That all depends, in essence, on the way the information, concern or complaint is presented.

There’s a certain amount of decorum expected when a community member voices an opinion during the public comments portion of meetings before a governing body. In order to not fall on deaf ears, the presenter must have their thoughts concise, be educated in what they are talking about and be engaged in what goes on behind the scenes.

Two members from a community group recently stood up in front of Grandview’s Board of Aldermen during public comments. Grandview resident Joshua Teel, vice president of the Belvidere Neighborhood Watch, spoke first. He first petitioned for all city officials to live within city limits.

“If we want Grandview to grow, we need to buy more Grandview,” he said. He also stated that he has seen concerns regarding public safety and patrol. “I’m friends with majority of the business owners in Grandview, and they are not receiving patrols from our local police department.” He added that he tries to stay active with the aldermen, the police department and his neighborhood.

“We need truancy officers in our schools, not just resource officers,” said Teel. “Wherever the resources come from, we need community involvement. My goal is to get more people to fill these chairs.”

Grandview resident Pam Miller, president of the Belvidere Neighborhood Watch, spoke next.
“I feel very bad for our cops,” Miller said. “They are understaffed. We need more. If we are going to have police officers in our high school that cannot be on our streets to protect our children, who is protecting our homes while we are at work? I feel that the Kansas City Police Department, seeing as we are housing some of their children in Martin City, should be asked to loan some of their police officers to help patrol our schools so our police officers can get back on our streets, our businesses and our residents.”

She also expressed concerns with the way juvenile cases are handled through the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office. In addition to that, she voiced her concerns regarding the sanitary sewer lines.

“How would you like the sewer to back up in your basement and your playstation gets ruined that you spent hours working on at 16?” Miller asked. She had additional complaints regarding neighborhood services, the need for more snow plow drivers, the mixture used for treating the streets, and she ended by thanking the Board for their service.

The newly-formed Belvidere Neighborhood Watch group, which can be found on Facebook, is garnering community support to fix what they perceive to be concerns in the City of Grandview. While their complaints are valid, and feedback and discussion in public meetings is more than encouraged, this is the first time I’ve seen a representative from this group speak.

When I was young, I learned that when you have a complaint, or several, in this case, it’s always best to have two positives for every negative. Only once did I hear a thank you. Our city simply can’t pull police officers from other jurisdictions. Our school district can’t simply hire truancy officers (is truancy even the issue?). My business is right next to the police station, and if I’m in need of assistance, they are here. Complaints regarding the handling of juveniles should be brought before the Prosecuting Attorney.

Of course we need more community involvement. I see the need for it all the time. I see the lack of support during the Homecoming parade, I see the empty chairs at school board meetings, I see the same names listed on our ballots every election. I’ve seen it all. Our kids deserve our support, our elected officials need to hear from us, but we have to do it tactfully, we have to educate ourselves and we have to be involved. Showing up to a meeting and rattling off everything you see being done incorrectly isn’t going to solve the problem.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Each day, I take my son to school. For just a few minutes every morning, we have time to ourselves to talk about what’s happening in his life, at school, with baseball, etc. In the years that he’s been in school, I have learned more about my son as a person in those minutes. He is open and honest and sometimes blunt about things that matter to him. I drop him off in the mornings in front of the school, tell him to have a good day, and tell him I love him.

Each day, as my son enters that building, I put my trust in his teachers and in the school district as a whole. For the better part of the day, my whole heart lies in the hands of the Grandview C-4 School District. For the most part, I don’t even think about what could happen during the course of a school day. But, I’m also not naive enough to believe that it couldn’t happen here.

Last week, I was given the opportunity to have a conversation with my son, and his response to my question took me completely by surprise. I asked him, pointedly, what he would do if he saw someone that had a gun in their backpack. He answered that if he knew the gun was unloaded,
he probably wouldn’t say anything. He wouldn’t say anything. My son, who has honest and difficult conversations with his parents, who has practiced gun safety and understands their dangers, who is a
straight-A student and has great relationships with authority, probably wouldn’t say anything. To say I was shocked is an understatement. His lack of concern and willingness to look the other way obviously prompted further discussion from this parent.

Last week, I spoke with administration from a school district who had just witnessed an incident that could have been tragic, and could have been prevented, if someone would have spoken up. They discussed their plans to begin conversations with students, to open up a dialog with parents, to create an environment where students do not tolerate weapons of any kind in their learning environments. I nodded along, eagerly receptive to their ideas and concerns. All the while, my own son probably wouldn’t tell anyone.

As a community, we have to figure out a way to keep guns and other weapons out of the hands of our kids. As a community, we have to be better than this. We are better than this. Our kids deserve better. And our kids need to understand the severity of the consequences, the long-term effects this could have on the lives of those involved, and the impact for change that they can have on a situation. The conversation needs to start at home. We’re talking about it in my house, and we will continue to do so until I’m comfortable with the responses I receive from my own son.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

When Michael was about four, we were driving along the access road in Grandview when he suddenly told me to stop. He wanted me to pull into the driveway of a building on the corner of 140th Street and 71. This rundown, small place with overgrown weeds, grass and trees in the yard to me looked like a place that should be bulldozed, much less somewhere I should be stopping with my little boy in tow.

But, that little boy saw something completely different. He saw a future, where one day, he told me, he’d open an Italian restaurant in that building. He talked of cleaning it all up, and having tables with umbrellas and chairs outside. As I sat in the car, with the little boy in the backseat stretching to see through the window to his dream, I remember thinking how, in that moment, I realized that anything is possible for my son.

Last week, as all of Grandview felt their homes shake and heard what sounded like bombs going off, I headed to work. When the reality of the situation was in front of me, I took out my phone (as the camera was at the office and time seemed to be of the essence that night), I started snapping photos. Through thick smoke, I tried to photograph what I was seeing happen before me, but due to the darkness, the smoke, the flames and the water and lights shining from our first responders, my photos simply didn’t amount to much.

I felt the heat, despite the freezing temperatures. I heard the sounds that were, at the time, believed to be ammunition going off inside the building. And, I saw a little boy’s dream of opening an Italian restaurant in that particular building go up in flames.

That night, I went home, wreaking of what smelled like a bonfire, and I told Michael that it was the old lawnmower building, his building, that exploded. He was sad, but only briefly and said that he’ll just have to find a different spot for his restaurant.

I realized, then, that a little fire, explosion or other things out of his control won’t stop him from opening a restaurant, becoming a baseball star or even running for President of the United States someday. The sky is the limit when you’re a kid, and that is an innocence that goes missing as we grow older.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy New Year! I, for one, am glad for a new beginning. 2016 was not my favorite. But, it had some good times, as well. I began 2016 with a blank slate, a fresh outlook and a positive mindset. And, for the most part, it was a pretty decent year.

I could choose to focus on the times that soured 2016, or I can decide to take those life lessons and use them to become a better reporter, a better mother, a better friend and a better person.

Both of my grandmas passed away in 2016, both at the age of 83. Despite the overwhelming sense of loss and sadness, I am blessed to know that I have two additional guardians keeping watch over my family and me. This year, I have learned the importance of family, of creating a legacy and the value in nurturing relationships with those who make up my DNA.

As a country, we witnessed one of the most unusual presidential election cycles that any of us can remember seeing. Divided on social media, divided around our dinner tables and divided at the polling booths, our country in 2017 will see a change of leadership, from our local offices all the way to the White House.

In 2016, my son entered into his last year of elementary school. Every year before that, I have dropped him off for his first day and gone onto work without much thought. Last August, though, was a different story. Michael got out of the car and walked inside like normal. Only this mom watched him take every step. I cried an ugly cry, complete with sobs and hiccups. There’s nothing more emotional than watching your baby grow up right before your eyes. It seems like yesterday I was taking him to his first day of kindergarten; now he has his hair spiked, his cologne on and texts from girls on his cell phone.

I spent New Year’s Eve with my family: my mom, dad, brother and son. We toasted to a better 2017. We toasted to memories of those we love. We toasted to health and we toasted to prosperity. Most of all, we toasted to family. And, this year, I’ve learned that I have the best one.