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Joseph Bodenbach/The Banner-Press 

Aquinas' Bridget Sisco easily clears the bar in the early stages of the pole vault on Monday at the Monarch Invite.

Big night in Dwight

If you’re looking for a place to enjoy some good food and socializing, the Dwight American Legion Post 110 is a pretty good place to look.

The hall is busy much of the year, from March to around October, and it’s especially festive in July for the annual Dwight Czech Festival.

But Saturday’s party was special. The Post honored Gilbert “Gib” Kobza, the “Last Man Standing” of the original 47 founders of the Post back in 1953.

A lifelong farmer, Kobza, 86, lived for years northwest of Dwight, but a few years ago he and his wife Florence moved to Seward.

Kobza received a special commemorative bottle of whiskey that was purchased in 1980 by the Post’s first commander, Jim Belsan. It was in a case that was built by Vlad Sobotka.

Kobza, known as "Gib" in the community, didn’t make a big speech.

“I didn’t have a lot to do with it,” he said of being the lone survivor and fortunate to live longer than the rest.

Post Commander Al Semin encouraged Gib and Flo to crack the seal and sample the whiskey because of the special occasion. Mrs. Kobza said later that it was likely to go to one of her kids.

The Kobzas were both graduates of Assumption Catholic High School in 1948. Gilbert was stationed in Texas and New Mexico in the Air Force during the Korean War. When his father suffered some health problems, he returned home on a family hardship.

Florence got married right out of high school to John Bartunek of Bee, and they raised six children.

After John died in 1980, Florence and Gilbert, a lifelong bachelor, were married in 1985. The wedding brought Gilbert, an instant family of six children, and later on, 15 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.

Gilbert said he thoroughly enjoyed the evening with his family and many of the friends at the Post.

“It was great. I enjoyed it,” Kobza said. “The hall is a far cry from what it used to be, a little old grocery store.”

The Legion Hall sits on the site of Bob Sabata’s old grocery store. Sabata, a World War I veteran, was a big supporter of the community. He was a charter member of the Brainard American Legion, according to the Post historian, John Lavicky.

The old grocery store served the Post well until the late 1960s, when plans were made for the new hall. The hall was dedicated in 1972, and the adjoining became the site for the Dwight U.S. Post Office. Another piece of history emerged as the event neared this year. Alfred Novacek, a longtime Dwight businessman who now lives in Portland Ore., said he was the Post’s first representative to Boys State in 1953. He said his dad contributed the fee, a whopping $35.

Renovation complete

Kobza’s milestone wasn’t the only reason for celebration. Starting in 2013 the Post began a complete renovation of the post’s interior. It had needed the work, after showing the wear and tear of its operation when smoking in bars was still the norm.

The first improvements came in the dance hall portion of the post. Then last winter, the Post went to work on the bar area, installing lighter wall coverings and a new floor. Soon, a new composite surface will match that of the back bar, and the project will be complete. Lighting can be bright for the Post’s monthly meetings, but it can also be turned down low for the cozy bar atmosphere.

Post 110 has 167 members, including many from the area surrounding Dwight. The Post is hitting 100 percent on its membership goals at a time when some posts are struggling due to the age of many veterans. The number of World War II veterans is dwindling, and those from the Korean War era are now in their 80s. Vietnam War Veterans are in the 65 to 70-year-old range.

Longtime active member John Lavicky said the Post likes to have a good time.

“We get members because we do things,” Lavicky said. The monthly meetings are about 45 minutes long, and when they are over, “We socialize,” he said.

Semin explained that the post remains active in its annual Memorial Day ceremonies at area cemeteries, when the veterans and its band jump on the bus with members of the Dwight Volunteer Fire Department. The combined group marches into Assumption Catholic Cemetery with patriotic enthusiasm, then holds a solemn reading of the names of the fallen.

Other ceremonial events aren’t as well publicized. When any area veteran dies, the color guard offers its services at the funeral, even though some posts only provide military rites for post members. The color guard also enjoys taking its turn presenting the colors for Lincoln Saltdogs games in Lincoln.

Recent years have brought other opportunities to help disable veterans, including an annual wrestling tournament at Lincoln Southwest High School. For every takedown during the tournament, a donation is made to a fund that helps provide transportation for area disabled veterans, some who may have trouble getting to medical and other appointments.

Supporting the Scouts

Toward the end of Saturday nights’ event, the Post provided the venue for Boy Scout Troop 296 to hold Eagle Scout Ceremonies for Colton Bohac and Max Lempke. The two Scouts had fulfilled their Eagle requirements a few years ago, but circumstances prevented them from completing the Eagle Badge Ceremony, a special event in scouting.

Following the presentation, Semin presented gifts of a U.S. flag to each Eagle Scout, plus a monetary gift.

Semin also announced that the Post would increase its sponsorship of Troop 296. 

“We are going to donate all of our aluminum cans to the Boy Scouts. They can redeem them, and I tell you what, over a year’s time, you are going to have a nice chunk of money,” Semin said.

The event received strong support from Post members, including tasty pork prepared and donated by Bud Sisel. Proceeds from the free will offering benefited the Post's renovation project.

DCPS open to resource officer proposal

The David City Public Schools board and district administrators walked a fine line Monday night.

They discussed why having a uniformed police officer – termed a resource officer – in the district’s three buildings, might be a good idea. 

They discussed a wide variety of issues that some, not all, young people and their families face, including domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, drug abuse and the list goes on.

At the same time, they didn’t want to create the perception that DCPS was in crisis mode and in need of “calling in the cops” to fix it.

After listening for an hour to a veteran resource officer from Lincoln talk about his experiences, the board unanimously approved a proposal for Superintendent Chad Denker and the board to discuss and pursue possible inter-local negotiations for a school resource officer. The officer would be a deputy on the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

Voice of experience

The board’s discussion and vote on the topic followed a nearly hour-long presentation about what resources officers – as part of a systemic approach that involves teachers, administrators and counselors – can help a school achieve.

Butler County Sheriff Marcus Siebken, who raised the topic to the school board last month, introduced Jason Brownell, a former resource officer during his employment with the Lincoln Police Department.

Brownell, who said he had also worked for a period with Lincoln Public Schools, talked about his experience as a resource officer at Lincoln Northeast and Lincoln High. A longtime friend of Siebken’s family, Brownell said that he volunteered to come to David City to share his experience because he firmly believes that resource officers help students succeed.

Siebken said that Fort Calhoun and Arlington schools, both in Washington County north of Omaha, have put resource officers to work. Discussion revealed that Crete and St. Paul employ resource officers, and Wilber-Clatonia was in the process of exploring the idea.

In attendance at the meeting were County Supervisor Scott Steager, who also is the county’s emergency management director, and County Supervisor Kevin Slama. They agreed to hear the discussion after Siebken briefly introduced the proposal to the County Board a month ago.

Sheriff's proposal

DCPS Superintendent Chad Denker said he wanted to make it clear that the idea originated with Siebken, and not the school district. A few misconceptions had reached his desk about how the idea came about.

“I want to make sure on the record,” Denker said. “We didn’t ask for an SRO. Marcus asked if we could talk about it.”

Denker said that few, if any of the DCPS staff had ever worked with a resource officer, so the district would need to learn how the sheriff-school relationship would work. Brownell said that bringing an officer into the school would spark some negative reactions and fear that the school must be having problems if it needs a police officer.

“The school is a reflection of the community,” Brownell said. “You have to be able to sell it to (the public). Money is not cheap anymore.”

The discussion on the topic wasn’t the first for some in the room. Steager works closely with Siebken as manager of the 911 dispatch center. School Board Member Linda Vandenberg is office manager at the sheriff’s office.

Vandenberg recalled hearing from the Washington County Sheriff, who said that schools with resource officers had kids who “feel better and they feel safer.”

She also added Butler County deputies currently are called to come to local schools, and when that happens “ you are pulling our officers off the road.”

Not a new idea

Lincoln and Omaha school districts have had resource officers at work on a daily basis in their schools for years. Budget cuts pulled the officers from Lincoln elementary and middle schools, but Brownell predicted that they were in Lincoln high schools, each with 2,000 students, for good.

Brownell emphasized that a resource officer is not intended to be “handcuffing and arresting students.” Rather, he said, a resource officer can help students, teachers and administrators find solutions to a wide variety of issues that are affecting the student and the student’s family.

“What happens in the community is coming to your school,” he said.

The key, he said is for the resource officer to build relationships with the students and not to be an adversary.

When resource officers build a good rapport with students, they can help to resolve some bad situations.

He offered several examples:

A student notifies a resource officer that he knows a fellow student has brought a gun to school. The offender is contacted by the officer and the gun is found in his possession.

Brownell arrived to find a high school student visibly upset at the entry of a Lincoln school. Trusting the officer, the girl reveals that her boyfriend had assaulted her in the parking lot after she broke up with him. The report led to an arrest for strangulation.

Brownell asked: “Would that have happened if we didn’t have a resource officer in the school? We have domestic violence in our schools.”

Another of Brownell’s examples highlighted some resources that can help at-risk students stay in school and succeed. He said several students were at risk of dropping out until they were brought into the WhyTry Program.

The program is billed as “a resilience education curriculum that provides hands-on solutions for dropout prevention, violence prevention, truancy reduction, and increased academic success.”

After a year in the program, the students were back on track, he said.

On the topic of social media, Brownell said, school officials discovered a boy was acting out with posts on Facebook. A closer look at the situation revealed that the boy’s father had recently died, and the family had moved to Lincoln to live with other family members. The boy lacked bereavement counseling and had moved away from his support system.

“He wasn’t a danger to anyone else, but he was a danger to himself,” Brownell said.

Brownell cautioned that the resource officers are not put in place to enforce the school’s disciplinary rules or to get involved in students' individual programs. At the same time, the officers are still police officers that have to act on crimes that they learn about. In that case, the school could expect that the officer would be gone from the school during an investigation.

Costs are key

Before the DCPS board voted on the proposal, the board discussed options with Slama and Steager.

Slama, the County Board’s liaison with the sheriff’s office, said that the County Board would need to discuss the costs, and also the possibility of needing the same resources in the county’s other schools, East Butler and Aquinas.

Siebken noted that if DCPS wanted a resource officer, he could make it work. Sharing one officer between all three schools probably wouldn’t work.

“We will take care of the other schools.” Siebken said he had only had preliminary conversations with the other schools.

School Board Member Don Moravec said that DCPS would need one dedicated officer, and he didn’t want to spread the officer’s time too thin.

“With the three school buildings, we need one. I don’t want to do it half way if we are going to do it,” Moravec said. “Any time you can be proactive, it’s better not only in the school, but in the community as well.”

School Board President Stephanie Summers said that the drive time involved with sharing one officer between the county’s three schools would be tough. DCPS,  with an elementary in Bellwood, would already involve some drive time between different buildings.

Siebken agreed. “There would be ample opportunity to work just in David City Public.”

Siebken said the cost of employing a deputy averaged about $52,000 including benefits. Start up costs, including adding another patrol car, would be about $70,000.

Denker said that because of some retirements of longtime educators this year, the school district may be able to afford half of the cost of employing an officer.

Steager said for the proposal to be considered for the fall, the County Board would need to bring it into the upcoming budget process. He urged Denker and a couple of school board members to attend an upcoming County Board meeting to discuss the proposal further.

As the discussion about the proposal wound down, Summers, the school board president, asked DCHS senior Evan Forney, the student representative to the school board, for his thoughts.

Forney didn’t hesitate: “I think it would be a great benefit for our school and community.”