Sense of Community

Our ongoing, 10-part Community Journalism series airs quarterly

From poverty concerns to major policy decisions, this series dives beyond the headlines to provide in-depth coverage of issues facing people and organizations in the Ozarks. KSMU's team of reporters come together to produce 10 stories, four times a year. Past episodes of our Sense of Community series are available below.

Courtesy of Elise Keeney

As we wrap up our Sense of Community series, An Ozarks Checkup, we take a look at our community’s use of the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic—and how some changes could be long-lasting.

Courtesy of Suzanne Walker-Pacheco

This past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, civic engagement has looked different in the Ozarks.  

In early June of 2020, Missouri modified absentee and mail-in voting procedures in the state. It allowed for absentee voting without a notary for certain qualifications and for any Missouri voter to cast a mail-in ballot without an excuse for 2020 elections, and expired at the end of the of the year.

According to Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, this allowance led to a dramatic increase in mail-in and absentee voting last year.

Michele Skalicky

As the 2020-2021 school year was winding down, Weller first grade teacher, Kendall Shores, continued working hard to make sure her students were where they needed to be to move to second grade. 

Theresa Bettmann

In Part 1 of KSMU's interview with the new superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, Dr. Grenita Lathan, she ended by talking about the impact of the pandemic on learning.  That's where Part 2 picks up.

I heard the impact of the pandemic on learning was especially harder for under-resourced and under-represented student.  As superintendent, what will you do to make sure kids who are in those groups aren't left behind?

Michele Skalicky

I'm speaking with the new superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, Dr. Grenita Lathan. She comes to Springfield from Houston, Texas, where she served as interim superintendent for the Houston Independent School District. Welcome Dr. Lathan.

Thank you.

The last year has been a challenging one for many people. The COVID-19 pandemic required schools to take steps to keep their students and staff as safe as possible. What did the last school year look like at your district? What worked and what didn't?

NIAID, Used with permission

Wendy Crase wasn’t necessarily against getting a Covid vaccine.  The 39-year-old West Plains resident says she just didn’t think it was urgent. She had planned to look into it before making a decision. Then came the body aches, cough, and upset stomach.

She tested positive for COVID-19. That was just over a month ago, in late May. She was measuring her oxygen saturation level at home. When it dipped to a dangerously low level, she sought treatment at Ozarks Healthcare, the hospital in West Plains.

(Logo courtesy The Moxie Cinema)

For this “Ozarks Checkup”, we’ll talk with two local people in the arts about how they made it through the COVID-19 shutdown: Mike Stevens, manager of the local not-for-profit art-house movie theater The Moxie Cinema; and Nathan Falter, clay and pottery artist, educator, and proprietor of Springfield Pottery and Community Clay Center.                                                      

(Logo courtesy Springfield Regional Arts Council)

On the KSMU ‘Sense of Community’ series, we’re conducting a “checkup” on how the Ozarks is doing, as we all try to move closer to recovery from the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the quarantines and the shutdowns.  Today we’re looking at an area of society that was especially hard hit: the arts, and those who produce, promote and support the visual and performing arts.

Beer still flows from the tap at Wages Brewing Company in West Plains, along with ciders, lagers, and kombucha. The brewery’s slogan, “The middle of nowhere never tasted so good,” invites patrons to sit in the company’s taproom and enjoy food, drink, and live music on the weekends.

But around this time last year, Wages Brewing was in crisis as COVID ripped through the Ozarks. Owner and bartender Phil Wages says business dried up almost overnight as patrons scared of catching the virus stopped going out.



Krista Pinner of Springfield began house hunting in June of last year. She was looking for somewhere to accommodate her young family. Her previous experience in selling a house had taken the better part of a year. But this time around, things were completely different when she and her husband listed their home for sale last summer.

“It sold within 18 hours, sight unseen," Pinner says. The offer came in from a couple that lives out of state and hadn’t event sent someone to see it.”

(Ed Minton)

Most of the people we've talked to this week have taken up new hobbies and interests during the downtime resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This afternoon, you'll hear from someone whose lifelong interests and pursuits have been altered in positive ways by the quarantine. Ed Minton runs the warehouse at the Dairy Farmers of America plant here in Springfield. (Among other things, they bottle Frappuccino drinks for Starbucks.) Ed and his wife have always enjoyed traveling and hiking, and Ed has had a longtime interest in photography.                          


For today's KSMU Sense of Community feature on "New Hobbies" taken up during the COVID pandemic, we'll hear from Kristen Schuler, who works as a behavioral health consultant and outpatient therapist for Burrell Behavioral Health in Springfield.                   

Jennifer Moore / KSMU


"This is new for me, doing the pressure canning," said Karen Allcorn, who works as a speech implementor for Ava Public Schools in Douglas County. Allcorn is in her kitchen, filling her pressure canner with water before heating it up on the stovetop.

When schools closed down last Spring due to the pandemic, she started dehydrating food. But she felt like it took too long. So she bought this pressure canner. Basically, it's a very large pressure cooker that can fit several jars in it at once.

Jennifer Moore

Our Sense of Community Series, "New Hobbies," continues with this story of a Springfield man, Rick Taylor, who has taken his woodworking hobby to a whole new level.   Listen to the feature by clicking the "Play" icon below.

Rick Taylor was in the backyard of his Springfield home, inspecting a large tree trunk that was cut and positioned on his new mobile saw. He had told me over the phone his new hobby was using his new saw to cut timber for rustic woodworking. But I was not expecting the saw to be the size of a truck.

Jeannette Erter

Jeannette Erter, who lives in Ozark, has lost count of the number of acrylic paintings she’s done, but it’s well over 100 and likely closer to 200.

Early last year, the 75-year-old was busy volunteering at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center and attending meetings of a writing group she’s involved in and a retired teachers’ group.  But then the pandemic hit, stay at home orders were issued, and the retired biology teacher suddenly found herself stuck at home with lots of time on her hands.