From the publisher: The top stories in Portage County from 2021

photo of two large identical horses pulling an 1870s hearse. The driver is wearing a black suit and black shirt and sunglasses, his driving crop raised in the air.
Two black Clydesdale horses pull Roger Di Paolo's carriage to the Standing Rock Cemetery. Asha Blake/ The Portager.

One of the nice things about local news is that it helps us to remember how far we’ve come. Without a chronicle of the time and place we inhabit together, it would be easy to think we accomplished very little in this year that felt like it was six months long. 

Covid remains. Old sticking points stay stuck. Another year closes.

But a review of the more than 700 stories we published this year attests to the density of important events and issues that challenged and inspired us. 

We mourned the deaths of friends and family, and celebrated births. We elected public servants. We spent millions in public funds. We welcomed new businesses and said goodbye to others. Richards Flower Shop and the Rotary Club of Kent turned 100. A Suffield woman, Mary Denny, turned 111 before she passed away.

All this and so much more inside the 504 square miles we call home.

To give you a taste of the rich year we’ve shared, I’ve pulled up several of the top stories we published, ranked below in order of descending popularity as measured by page views. We’ve had 667,513 page views in total on The Portager website since we launched it on March 23, 2021. The stories below had thousands of readers each. 

This list will not include the hundreds of news items we published on other platforms prior to our website launch. (A cursory search suggests our most popular stories occurred after March anyway.)

After you finish reading this, let me know what defined 2021 for you. What was the most important thing that happened in your life or your part of the county? We’ll share our favorite responses in January. My email is [email protected].

Roger Di Paolo, chronicler of Portage County, dies at 66

The death of former Record-Courier editor and Portager columnist Roger Di Paolo was an enormous blow to the community. You could see it in the outpouring of love on social media when he died and at his funeral, which had people lining the streets to pay their respects.

Evicted from their camp under the bridge, homeless Kent residents wonder where they can live

Reporter Lyndsey Brennan’s story about the eviction of homeless people from under the Haymaker bridge laid bare the shame of Kent’s inability to house all its residents. We pledge to follow up on this story in the new year, focusing on solutions.

Kent State trustees expected to vote on WKSU ‘merger’ with Ideastream next week

In a secret deal, Kent State divested from WKSU, which is now under the control of a Cleveland nonprofit. Many Kent residents expressed disappointment about losing a local gem and felt uncomfortable with the university’s clandestine handling of it.

Freedom residents protest Trustee Zizka’s effort to derail a local dog training business

Rule No. 1 for public officials: Don’t mess with dogs.

A medical marijuana dispensary wants to open in Kent, and the community is for it

Marijuana was a big story this year, particularly in Kent, where a successful petition may put the decriminalization of recreational use on the ballot. There are also several pending applications for medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. This story refers to just one of them.

Mantua Village employees say they endured years of workplace harassment under Mayor Clark

Multiple former employees of the Village of Mantua came forward with stories about the toxic work environment created by Mayor Linda Clark. Turnover in the village administration remains high, but Clark is still mayor. 

New Kent business is under scrutiny for using blue and gold paint on its windows

The controversy of the century erupted over the use of Kent State colors on a downtown business. Inappropriate, the city’s aesthetics enforcement panel ruled. The business owner (a member of The Portager board, I need to disclose) appealed to the city council, and the matter is pending. The paint is still there.

With nearly 200 students in quarantine, Crestwood cancels in-person classes for 7th-12th graders

School districts across Portage County decided to ignore public health guidance recommending indoor masking, leaving their use optional. Some were forced to go remote after Covid outbreaks.

Palmyra residents blocked a proposed Dollar General that could have put a local shop out of business

I think this was my favorite story of the year. We witnessed a small community come out in support of one of its neighbors to defend their livelihood against a big corporation that wanted to open up nearby. And the best part is that their elected officials listened to them and voted accordingly. Democracy can work at this level, and I’m committed to using The Portager to encourage more grassroots democracy like this.

Portage County recycling workers said they quit because of overwork and hostile management

It was the year of toxic workplaces apparently. This one involved the county recycling agency, which was the focus of probably the most complex and long-running public policy story of 2021. The only big loose end from that story is Franklin Township, which might sue the county, and Brimfield, which approved a new contract but isn’t super excited about it.

Roosevelt students walk out of class to protest alleged mishandling of sexual harassment claim

Following allegations against a teacher in 2019, new allegations have surfaced related to a coach. We’re still investigating the claims, but Roosevelt students weren’t waiting to make their voices heard. Dozens of them braved potential disciplinary action to protest what they said was the district’s inadequate response to complaints.

Kent State wants to build a new housing complex bridging the city and campus

This will be a big story in 2022, so keep an eye out for more developments.

Suffield native Mary Denny celebrates her 111th birthday

And there she is — Mary Denny. Such a lovely lady. I’m so happy we were able to get her story before she passed away this year. May we all be so joyous. Through these holidays. Through 2022. And beyond.

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Ben Wolford is the editor and publisher of The Portager.

[email protected]