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Marion Community Schools responds to rising COVID numbers

Marion Community Schools (MCS) dismissed two schools early on Friday due to rising numbers of sick teachers and issued future eLearning days in response to the pandemic.

McCulloch Junior High School and Marion High School declared an early dismissal for 12 p.m. on Friday due to a lack of teaching staff as a result of positive COVID tests and quarantines. Superintendent Keith Burke stated that the number of students that have either tested positive for COVID or are being quarantined is nearing 450. However, the lack of teachers due to COVID was the overarching cause for the early dismissal.

The early dismissal was a compromise for the issue as Burke did not receive the numbers until after students boarded the buses. The schools ensured that students were fed breakfast and lunch before dismissal.

“Frankly, if I would have gotten the numbers a little bit earlier, we might not have even came in today,” said Burke. “We didn’t want to put our parents in such a bind where our kids were on the bus, and we turn around and send the bus home.”

“(On Thursday), the elementary and intermediate schools and the preschool were impacted. Our numbers at the high school and junior high were actually really, really good,” said Burke. “The problem we are running into with COVID right now is that it’s so fluid. It’s day-by-day and minute-by-minute. You can be doing really, really good and then it explodes.”

Burke expressed that his priority is to have students remain in school as often as possible, but in the case of COVID, elearning was the best alternative to solve the issue.

“My opinion is that I want to keep kids in school every single chance that I can,” said Burke. “When you have a chance where you don’t have the number of adults to supervise the children and give them the education they need, you have to make tough decisions.”

The choice to switch to eLearning was a difficult decision for Burke because of the lack of nonverbal communication between the instructors and the students. However, Burke expressed that the teachers are becoming skilled in asynchronous and synchronous online learning.

MCS is recognizing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday and will be instituting an eLearning day on Tuesday to allow for the five-day quarantine requirements recommended by the Center for Disease Control. Burke related that the goals for the school will be to return to in-person classes on Wednesday, but the schools will individually assess the health and safety of the students and faculty before making a final decision.

“If we can’t provide an environment that is safe both with COVID and the number of adults, we would not put our kids in a bad situation,” said Burke. “Our hope is that on Wednesday we will have a lot of those people back, but we will play it by ear. We are not going to jump in. We are going to continue to monitor our data and look at things.”

Burke thanked the parents of MCS for their cooperation and understanding of the decisions made by MCS officials in response to the rising number of COVID cases in the community.

“We realize that it’s difficult for our parents. I appreciate everything they’ve done to support us. Any decision we make is in the best interest of our kids’ safety,” said Burke. “I know it’s tough. We are going to do everything we can to keep our kids safe. Every decision we make is going to be about them and what’s best for them, but we know it’s tough on parents.”

Burke stated that the virus has infected vaccinated and unvaccinated members of the school system, and the unpredictability is one of the biggest issues in dealing with the virus.

MCS issued eLearning days through Tuesday, and parents are encouraged to continually check for updates for Wednesday’s schedule.

Taylor alumnus captures television moments on camera

A Taylor University alumnus was recently involved with the filming of an ABC show in Los Angeles (LA) detailing the story of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley.

Tim Sutherland, a Taylor Alumnus, launched his career in photography and filmography shortly after graduating from Taylor University in Upland and moved to LA to pursue his dreams.

Sutherland’s career has been skyrocketing, but he did not always see a future through a camera lens, and he began his education studying computer science.

“When I was in high school, I got a video camera with my summer job money, and I just decided that it was too fun to use that,” said Sutherland. “I didn’t want to study computer science anymore. I wanted to continue using cameras, and it kind of spiraled from there.”

Upon arriving in LA, Sutherland immediately began working in a camera rental house for two years. The contacts he made through his job allowed him to land a position filming for the television show “Harry’s Law,” starring Kathy Bates. Sutherland also worked on the show “Nashville” where he met the executive producer that recruited him for his recent projects.

Sutherland kept learning the intricacies of photography and filmography and recently worked as the camera operator for the show “Women of the Movement,” specifically on the episodes pertaining to the Till family and the court proceedings that followed Emmett Till’s murder.

“‘Women of the Movement’ was probably the project where I had the greatest feeling of working on something that matters,” said Sutherland. “I didn’t know much about the Emmett Till story before we started, and getting to learn it and experience it while kind of being in the middle of it was profound and meaningful.”

Some of the cinematography was shot in the locations where the historical events occurred, adding to the impact the story had on Sutherland.

“We filmed for about two weeks in the courtroom where the trial took place,” said Sutherland. “It was so obvious that these people were guilty, and just being in the middle of a room with these people sitting around and not taking it seriously and knowing they were going to get away with it was heavy. It felt like we were doing something important to tell the story, so I think it might be the coolest thing I ever worked on.”

Sutherland also worked on the fourth season of the Emmy-award winning show “Stranger Things” where he filmed stunts and action scenes.

“It was literally probably the best job and maybe the best job I’ll ever have because it was just fun all the time,” said Sutherland. “All the actors and people working on the show were great, and they made it really fun.”

Sutherland’s job as a camera operator requires skill in camera positioning, lighting, communication between the operator and the director of photography, storytelling through pictures and videos, angles and much more.

Sutherland aspires to become the director of photography for television, which would allow for him to become more involved in the visual storytelling of the scenes and the lighting.

Success in an industry such as camera operation in a large city such as LA takes hard work and dedication that can push one’s limits according to Sutherland. He encourages aspiring photographers and filmography enthusiasts to not relinquish their dreams and to always put their best foot forward.

“Prepare to put in some work and time. It’s not a career where you can usually get your start quickly. It takes time and some luck of being at the right place at the right time and meeting the right people,” said Sutherland. “I got very fortunate to get my start on big projects within a few years of living in LA, but that’s usually not the norm. You really have to love it to stick with it long enough to get to where you want to go.”

“Women of the Movement” can be viewed on Sutherland is currently working on the ABC show “Big Sky,” which should feature Sutherland’s talents in the near future.

Grant-Blackford Mental Health expands outreach in 2021

After a year of significant impact despite COVID-19 restrictions, Grant-Blackford Mental Health Inc. desires to grow internally and update its services in 2022.

Grant-Blackford Mental Health (GBMH) provides mental health and addiction services that pursue improving the quality of life within the Grant and Blackford counties.

The nonprofit organization was established in 1950, first only offering outpatient treatment, but in 1975 its flagship program began at Cornerstone Behavioral Health Center, adding inpatient and community services in addition to outpatient treatment.

Dr. Michael Conn, medical director at GBMH, started at the organization as a fill-in psychiatrist in 2010. After a few months, Conn said he came to appreciate the agency’s mission and in 2012 became a full-time employee.

For the fiscal year in 2021, Conn reported that GBMH served 3,676 clients, an increase from 2,749 in 2020. This growth came from a large federal Certified Community Behavioral Health Center (CCBHC) grant that enabled their agency to add infrastructure and expand services.

“The CCHBC grant gave us the resources to add an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team to our agency that sends a group of professionals which includes a nurse, social worker, peer specialist, vocational rehabilitation specialist and co-occurring specialist into the community to provide intensive treatment for some of our most severely mentally ill clients in their home environments,” Conn said.

While the program just began last year, Conn said eliminating frequent trips to jail or psychiatric hospitals is already paying dividends.

Cornerstone Behavioral Health Center treats about 3,000 outpatients annually and their inpatient department about 600. However, as the addition of the ACT team would suggest, Conn said the number of visits in the community dwarfs those in the clinics.

With COVID-19 still rampant, GBMH has expanded the role of telemedicine and many clients use the service channel because entry in their facilities has been limited. The virtual option of care can be accessed from home or onsite using one of GBMH’s kiosks. Face-to-face appointments are available, however, group sizes a part of group therapy have been restricted to allow for social distancing.

GBMH has also expanded their telemedicine technologies to schools.

“We are currently working on school-based projects which will allow us to see our child and adolescent clients during the day while they are at school,” Conn said. “Clients will be able to see their psychiatrist, therapist or case manager from a private location at the school.”

Looking ahead to 2022, GBMH is anticipating the arrival of a new CEO and plans to expand their ACT team into Blackford County, as it currently only operates in Grant County. The agency also hopes to develop services offered at The Grace House in Marion, a partner of GBMH.

Additionally, the nonprofit is opening a new center located in Blackford which will be a community hub of mental health care for children to adults, including substance abuse treatment, physical health primary care and other programs.

GBMH is also launching a suicide awareness and education campaign at some point in 2022.

However, Conn said their staff is in short supply and filling positions is the only way to bring life to these projects. Part of this issue stems from community member’s misconception of GBMH.

“Grant-Blackford Mental Health is all over Grant and Blackford counties, not just in one building, providing a wide variety of ever-expanding services,” Conn said. “We need to get that message out there (and) we have just launched a new website,, and have increased our social media presence with that goal in mind.”

Conn is currently involved in two projects within the agency. First, the inpatient psychiatric hospital is going through an overhaul, from recommitting its care to a trauma-informed approach to reevaluating the building’s floor plan. Second, Conn is working to develop their Suboxone program, using Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to handle Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

To learn more, visit or call 765-662-3971 to speak with a representative from Cornerstone Behavioral Health Center.

Grant County primary election filings as of Jan. 14, 2022

Grant County primary election filings

The following residents have filed their intent to seek office and appear on the ballot for the upcoming primary election set for May 3 as of Friday’s deadline:

Grant County Sheriff

Scott Haley (R)

Delmiro (Del) Garcia (R)

Grant County Coroner

Stephen D. Dorsey (R)

Grant County Council District 4

Michael D. Conner (R)

Grant County Clerk of the Circuit Court

Pamela (Pam) K. Harris (R)

United States House of Representatives District 5

Victoria Spartz (R)

Indiana House of Representatives District 31

Ann Vermilion (R)

Indiana House of Representatives District 30

Mike Karickhoff (R)

Indiana Senate District 17

Andy Zay (R)

Center Township Board of Trustees

Philippa (P.J.) (Eltzroth) Culley (R)

John A. Holloway (R)

Monroe Township Board of Trustees

Kenneth A. Yocum (R)

Fairmount Town Council (At-Large)

Angela L. Armstrong (R)

Democratic Party precinct committee member

David A. Strausbaugh (D) (Mill Township 2)

Elrie Armes (D) (Mill Township 3)

Troy E. Richards (D) (Mill Township 6)

Larry Terwillegar (D) (Mill Township 9)

State Convention Delegates

P. David Huffman (Republican District 2)

Gregory B. Thompson (Republican District 3)

Giants JROTC exells at drill competition

The Marion High School JROTC Drill Team was put through the paces at a regional Drill and Color Guard competition hosted by Springfield High School in Holland, Ohio, last Saturday. There, in their first Drill competition in two years, the Giants faced several schools that have competed and won at previous JROTC National Drill Championship. But the Giants demonstrated that they too, had the right stuff.

“Due to COVID restrictions, all Drill competitions were canceled last year,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Smith, the coach for Marion’s Drill Team. “So, this was the first match for most of our team members. Even our second-year cadets who usually would have gained the experience of competing had yet to step on a Drill floor in competition.”

The Giants fielded teams to compete in each of the following events: Color Guard, Armed Squad Exhibition, Unarmed Squad Exhibition, Armed Squad Regulation and Unarmed Squad Regulation.

In Drill competitions, each cadet and the team as a whole is under the watchful eye of drill sergeants serving as graders. Precision and poise are required as the synchronized movements are executed. The slightest misstep or movement could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Led by MHS junior Evan Ray, the Giants earned a second place finish in the Armed Squad Exhibition.

“The other schools that we were competing against were amazing; it was really rough,” Ray said. “I was both surprised and happy that we pulled a second place finish.”

The Giants also earned spots on the winners’ platform by securing third place finishes in the Color Guard and the Unarmed Squad Exhibition events.

“I think we did great given the circumstances,” MHS junior Stephany Miksch said, referring to a mishap in her team’s exhibition, when the U.S. flag they carried got caught on the tip of its flag staff. “We just kept going and tried to not let it affect our performance.”

Miksch, who competed in every event, also placed third in the “knock-out” event. With nearly 200 cadets on the Drill floor, commands are given and a dozen drill sergeants look for the slightest infractions to eliminate cadets from the competition.

The entire day of competition is a test of cadets’ ability to perform under pressure.

First-year MHS cadet Zaymarion Carson said his nerves calmed throughout the day.

“It was scary at first,” he said. “But after the first routine I wasn’t nervous anymore. It was really kind of fun.”

MHS sophomore Jerrica Cheung had a similar experience.

“Since we didn’t compete last year, we were a bit unsteady at first, not knowing what it was like to actually compete,” she said. “After we got started, things settled down and we did just fine.”

The Drill Team has several more competitions yet this season, with a trip to Louisville, Ky., coming up next.

IMG receives Agency of the Year award

Insurance Management Group (IMG) was recognized as the 2021 Big I Indiana Agency of the Year, or the “academy award” in the industry, according to IMG’s Regan Reese.

The Big I Indiana is a 550-member trade association formed to provide a unified voice in shaping a positive insurance environment in Indiana and represent agencies at the national, state, and local levels, Reese says.

“(It is) the highest honor in the state, and we’re super proud to have achieved that right here in Marion,” Reese said. “So much plays into how an agency is chosen for this award – but much of what was highlighted about us, had to do with our culture and how we are able to blend working hard and having a blast, how clients and employees are treated and valued, and our involvement in our community that we love.”

Reese is one of IMG’s 50+ employees, and said the working environment is what has led her to work at IMG for almost eight years.

“We are like a big family,” Reese said.

James Harness, IMG’s chief sales officer since 2019, said it is difficult to explain the environment of the company with words, but he noted the teamwork and caring mentality of the employees.

“There’s a vibe,” Harness said. “How you put that vibe to print? I don’t know.”

Reese remembered a time when a representative from Acuity Insurance visited IMG to present them with the “Agents Have Heart” community service award, an honor that is only presented to two agencies in the state each year. The man mentioned to Reese that most insurance agencies “feel like a funeral home.”

IMG provides employees with opportunities for professional and personal development, including workshops on finances, health and wellness, and mindfulness.

“I feel invested in personally just as much as I do professionally,” Reese said.

Though Reese said she can count on one hand the amount of days she has not wanted to come into work, she said that things at IMG are not always perfect. Reese said she has always felt like she can be honest about good and bad things with her boss.

“That matters,’ Reese said. “Especially on harder days.”

To companies wondering how to take the first step in improving their work environment, Harness encouraged management to lead with a “servant’s attitude.”

“Do everything you possibly can, to give your employees the opportunity to get what they want in life,” Harness said. “At the end of the day, they know what that is.”

Harness encourages managers to include employees in decision making processes and listen to their feedback.