The year just past was filled with celebrations and sadness in McDuffie County. Morris News Service writer Bonnie Sargent has prepared this summary of 2011. Events are listed under the Thursday publication dates of The McDuffie Mirror.
Jan. 6: More than 100 applicants had expressed an interest in taking the position of head football coach and athletic director at Thomson High School. The position became vacant when 78-year-old Luther Welsh retired at the end of the 2010 season, after serving as the head mentor for a total of 19 years during two stints at the school.
Jan. 13: Area schools and some businesses were closed for two days when an unexpected ice and snow storm swept the area. No serious injuries were reported from wrecks in the McDuffie and Warren county areas.
Jan. 20: The mood was somber at the Knox Foundation near Thomson when employees learned about the death of their employer and friend, Boone Aiken Knox, on Jan. 13. Knox, age 74, died at his home in Augusta after a battle with brain cancer.
Jan. 20: On a 3-2 vote, McDuffie County Commissioners voted to spend $80,000 for a fountain at the new government center.
Feb. 3: As the new chairwoman of the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce, Bonnie McCorkle vowed to help make the chamber one of the best in the state. She received the gavel from outgoing Chairman Bobby Hildreth during the chamber's 39th annual banquet.
Feb. 10: The McDuffie County School Board chose Milan Turner as the next Thomson High School head football coach and athletic director. Turner came to Thomson from Emanuel County Institute in Swainsboro.
Feb. 17: About 300 people attended the grand opening reception of MAC on Main, most of them arriving as soon as the art gallery opened at 5 p.m.
Feb. 24: A fire struck a West Hill Street strip mall the morning of Feb. 16, destroying or closing a block aof businesses. No one was injured in the blaze that destroyed Xtreme Signs and Graphics, an antiques and collectibles business, and Annie Bailey's Tax Service. Some roof damage was reported at Balloon Delights, which later closed. Little G's restaurant was closed for days.
March 3: The Hill Street fire remained under investigation, but diners were glad to see Little G's restaurant reopen.
March 24: After a contentious public meeting, McDuffie County Commissioners overruled the firing of an information technologies employee.
March 31: McDuffie County Commissioners accepted the resignation of Public Works Director Eric Reisinger.
April 7:A man brandishing a small-caliber handgun robbed the SunTrust Bank branch on Main Street and fled into a wooded area on the north side of Thomson.
April 14: Thomson-McDuffie Economic Development Executive Director Mike Carrington said a report in the April issue of Georgia Trend magazine demonstrates the county's success in attracting higher paying jobs. The magazine's analysis of employment statistics in 18 East Georgia counties showed McDuffie County's per capita personal income rising to $31,028 in 2010, from $24,476 in 2001.
April 21: The McDuffie County School Board appointed Dr. Lynn Cato as the new principal of Norris Elementary School. Cato had been an assistant principal at Thomson High School.
April 28: An attempt to even water and sewer rates across Thomson and McDuffie County was blocked in a 3-2 vote of the Thomson City Council. County Commissioner the Rev. Fred Favors led a protest by more than 80 city and county residents
May 5: Thomson Police Chief Joseph D. Nelson was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from the National Center for Rural Law Enforcement's Rural Executive Management Institute.
May 12: Kelly and Ann Ware announced the closing of Michael's restaurant on East Hill Street. The restaurant was first opened in 1966.
May 19: The 2011 McDuffie County Relay for Life filled the Thomson High School track and infield. Proceeds brought the project's fundraising total to almost $2 million since 1998.
June 2: Thomson High School Principal Rudy Falana announced that he would leave the school after seven years as principal to become principal of Burke County Middle School.
June 9: The McDuffie County Health Department would be without its facility on Greenway Street for at least a month because of a fire. The fire broke out May 29 in a dental chair and caused significant smoke damage.
June 16: The McDuffie County school board approved Cecil Strong's appointment to succeed departing Principal Rudy Falana. Strong had served for three years as the principal of the McDuffie Achievement Center. Also, Aaron Hall was chosen as the new head baseball coach.
June 23: The Toombs District Attorney's Office became the first agency to take up occupancy in the new McDuffie County Government Center.
June 30: Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry said he believed he did what was best for the city when he took city employee Scott Huff, who had been drinking, home from a storm-damage scene.
July 7: U.S. Rep. Paul Broun was host to a town meeting at The Depot in Thomson. He heard concerns about government spending, the federal deficit, jobs and the economy.
July 14: Local government offices were in transition, moving from city hall, the courthouse and various other sites to the new McDuffie County Government center.
July 21: Hundreds gathered to celebrate the life of Luther Welsh, whose name was synonymous with Thomson football. Welsh, 79, died July 14, one week after his wife, Anne, lost her battle with cancer.
July 28: The McDuffie County school board reacted to a state audit that found inadequate control of some school accounts. Corrective measures were taken.
Aug. 4: The McDuffie County Hospital Authority met in closed session Aug. 1 and 2 to discuss "strategic initiatives," which ultimately led to the decision to sell the hospital to Augusta-based University Health Care System.
Aug. 11: More than a decade of work culminated in a half-hour ceremony at the dedication of the Thomson-McDuffie County Government Center. The public swarmed around the fountain outside the judicial center, watched the flag ceremony, applauded brief speeches and then toured the joined building that would house most branches of city and county government.
Aug. 18: McDuffie County School Board member Ella Samuels commended Superintendent Jim LeBrun and his staff for compiling a budget that did not raise the rate despite the difficult economic climate.
Also, the Thomson City Council chose to keep the property tax millage rate stable in 2012 and to absorb a budget loss of about $14,400.
Sept. 1: The city of Thomson would receive another $800,000 Community Development Block Grant to improve the Pitts Street area west of Jackson Street.
Also, a public discussion about McDuffie Regional Medical Center's future drew 32 residents to the Thomson-McDuffie Government Center. Hospital authority chairman Bill Doupe told the group that the options had been studied carefully and that he expected a resolution favoring selling the hospital within 60 days.
Sept. 8: Candidates qualified for the city election, creating a race for mayor and for one council seat.
Sept. 15: McDuffie County paused to remember the fallen and to thank those who continue the struggle on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Sept. 22: Dearing residents would expect reduced rates for homeowner's insurance beginning in December because of improved fire-protection services, Mayor Sean Kelley told the town council. Dearing's Public Protection Classification was lowered from an eight to a four, effective Dec. 1
Sept. 29: A 2012 budget that was described as preserving jobs at McDuffie Regional Medical Center failed and details of a competing budget were not disclosed. The board went into closed session for almost two hours to discuss personnel and strategy.
Oct: 6: Jennifer Lynn Wells, 36, of Gibson, was shot then dragged down a rural road the night of Sept. 29. Ricky Wells, 43, and Tina Ann Wells, 40, were charged with murder.
Also, the board that governs McDuffie County Regional Medical Center voted to sell the hospital to University Health Care System in Augusta. Details remained sparse at year's end.
Oct. 13: Warren County Coroner Paul Lowe said more tests were needed in the investigation into the death of Jennifer Wells.
Also, Philip Bradley Pirkle Jr., 32, was sentenced to two years in prison and eight years on probation on child pornography charges.
Oct. 20: The McDuffie County Board of Commissioners voted to deny a request submitted by Advanced Primary Minerals to mine kaolin in the Margaret's Road area, about a mile east of the Thomson city limit.
Oct. 27: Drivers and automobile enthusiasts would descend on Thomson for Clear to Drift 2.0, the area's second sanctioned drift event.
Nov. 3: A former petty officer in the Navy was given 15 years in prison for two felony counts of child molestation. Geoffrey Peter Graham, 43, of Thomson, entered an Alford plea in a bench trial before Judge Roger W. Dunaway Jr.
Nov. 10: Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry withstood an election challenge from Delmar "Brink" Bradshaw. Councilman 2-B, the Rev. John Smalley, also won re-election, stopping challenger James Taylor Jr. Also, a local option sales tax for education capital projects was approved.
Also, more than 750 people attended the Belle Meade Hunt's 46th annual Opening Meet as 26 wagons followed the hunters and hounds through the countryside on an old English-themed fox hunt.
Also, Lt. Chris McAlister was named McDuffie County Fire Department's firefighter of the year.
Nov. 17: Thomson mayoral challenger Delmar "Brink" Bradshaw confirmed that he had filed a legal challenge in the wake of the Nov. 8 election.
Nov. 24: The McDuffie County Sheriff's Office said county police need a new firearms training range. Commissioners gave initial approval to use of about 50 acres of land owned by the county.
Also, in a hearing in McDuffie County Superior Court, Senior Judge Lindsay Tice directed parties in the disputed mayoral election to submit summaries of their arguments.
Dec. 11: The McDuffie Regional Medical Center did not meet the expected bottom line for the month of October, according to a report by CFO Pat Parris at the hospital board's meeting. The medical center was under budget by $279,071 in October.
Dec. 8: A judge rejected a challenge to the results of the Thomson mayoral election. The decision affirmed incumbent Mayor Kenneth Usry's 18-vote victory over challenger Delmar "Brink" Bradshaw.
Also, Tish Chase began her duties as director of the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce by offering her assistance to chamber members and by promising to reach out to other businesses.
Dec. 15: The Thomson Fire Department celebrated Adam Clark as the firefighter of the year, and awarded a promotion and other honors.
Also, Dearing Fire Chief Danny Cason was named that department's firefighter of the year.
Dec. 22: The McDuffie County Sheriff's Department said the Dec. 15 arrests of suspects in a drug distribution ring in Dearing followed a year-long investigation.
Dec. 29: County Commissioners approved an agreement for World Finance Corp. of Georgia to lease the old tax assessor's office on Main Street.