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Journal's Newsmakers of the Year
Journal's Newsmakers of the Year: BPI's Roth family

DAKOTA DUNES | A Siouxland company settling a billion-dollar lawsuit against a national television network for an undisclosed amount of money doesn't happen every year.

It's also uncommon to see that same company set up a $10 million fund to help former employees and make a number of other sizable financial contributions during that same time.

Either event by itself would be a top news story in any given year.

However, 2017 wasn't a typical year for Beef Products Inc. and co-founders Eldon and Regina Roth and their family. BPI's trial and eventual settlement of its $1.9 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News was big news in June. Stories of the Roth family's financial generosity made headlines throughout the year.

Because of that litigation and philanthropic work, the Journal has named Eldon and Regina Roth and their family -- son, Nick, and daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Craig Letch -- the 2017 Newsmakers of the Year.

Eldon and Regina Roth entered the year ready to take on ABC and clear the reputation of their company and its most notable product, Lean Finely Textured Beef, a lean-meat product that is blended with ground beef to lower its fat content. The Roths were prepared to spend eight weeks in trial, making their case before a Union County jury that a 2012 series of stories by ABC and correspondent Jim Avila that repeatedly referred to LFTB as "pink slime" damaged BPI's reputation and led to a dramatic loss of sales, the closure of three plants and loss of more than 700 jobs.

When ABC approached the Roths three weeks into the trial with a settlement offer, not only was the dollar figure appealing, but so was the chance it presented for BPI to return its focus on food production rather than litigation.

"We got a lot of money. That was the deciding factor," Eldon Roth said. "It all comes down to can we make this settlement and get back to what we're doing?"

When it comes to their charitable work, the Roths said that grew with their company.

"We weren't very philanthropic before we moved here. We were busy starting a company and raising a family," Regina Roth said.

The Roths moved BPI's headquarters from Austin, Texas to Dakota Dunes in 1993.

As they become more involved in Siouxland and aware of its needs, Eldon and Regina determined that BPI could do more than just provide jobs. It could give back to a region that had supported it while it got off the ground and became successful.

"There were so many people that helped us over time that eventually it became our culture," Eldon Roth said.

That culture of giving was on full display in 2017.

In September, BPI sent truckloads of food and supplies to the Houston area, which was recovering from Hurricane Harvey. BPI employees and other local volunteers spent seven days in the region, serving 50,000 burgers and 30,000 tacos to hurricane victims and relief workers. The meals included buns, chips and bottled water donated by or bought from Siouxland companies. The beef came from a customer that uses LFTB from BPI.

In October, the city of Sioux City opened Pearl Street Park, a development helped by Regina Roth's donation of up to $500,000. Located downtown at 620 Pearl St., the park is across the street from LaunchPad Children's Museum and provides a green space downtown, something Roth said is much-needed.

"I think we need green space downtown," she said. "I'd like to see them all over town."

BPI donated $100,000 in November to the USS Sioux City Commissioning Committee. A total of $800,000 to $1 million is being raised for the ceremony and festivities surrounding the commissioning of the ship named for Sioux City. The celebration will take place in late spring at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. A portion of money raised will establish a legacy fund for educational expenses for USS Sioux City crew members and their families.

In late December, former BPI workers who were laid off when the company closed plants and reduced its work force in the wake of the 2012 ABC stories began to receive payments from a $10 million BPI fund.

When sales of LFTB dropped in 2012, BPI closed its plants in Waterloo, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and Garden City, Kansas, and cut back at its South Sioux City plant, giving pink slips to more than 700 workers. Eldon Roth said that closing those plants "was one of the most miserable days of our lives."

He had hoped to someday make it up to those workers.

"It started off as a fantasy," he said. "You wanted to do something for them."

Fantasy became reality when ABC and BPI settled the lawsuit. In October, using money from the settlement, BPI established the fund and began to take applications from former workers from all four plants. About 750 applied for relief.

BPI continues to recover as well, Eldon Roth said. The legal case may be settled, but ABC's stories left a mark on the company's reputation.

"My parents worked so hard to build this company, and we were shown as this disgusting little company," Jennifer Letch said.

Regina Roth said that though the trial concluded with a confidential settlement rather than a public jury verdict in their favor, BPI's point was made.

"We think we got out our message that ABC lied and they had to pay money," she said.

The fallout from the ABC stories and ongoing litigation challenged BPI to diversify its product line, not leaning so heavily on LFTB sales, which have yet to return to 2012 levels. In that sense, the lawsuit had a positive impact. BPI recently launched Dos Rios, a line of seasoned, precooked beef for use in tacos, nachos and other Mexican foods.

BPI again collects raw materials in its Garden City plant, but has not resumed processing there. BPI hopes to resume full operations in Garden City and Amarillo in the future. The Waterloo plant will remain closed.

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, the settlement was a good thing for us," Nick Roth said. "It gives us a good base to rebuild our company and re-establish our brands."

Most importantly, Regina Roth said, the settlement ended the case. There won't be years of appeals that likely would have followed a jury verdict. BPI can now focus only on producing lean beef products.

"We're glad it's behind us," she said.


Lee-wire
Extreme cold to test New Year's revelers

NEW YORK — Dress in layers, lay off the booze and bring some hand warmers. Those are some of the tips offered for the huge crowd of revelers expected in Times Square for what could be one of the coldest New Year's Eve ball drops on record.

Brutal weather has iced plans for scores of events in the Northeast from New Year's Eve through New Year's Day, but not in New York City, where people will start gathering in Times Square up to nine hours before the famous ball drop.

"Hundreds of thousands have withstood very cold weather over the years for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we expect this year to be no different," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance which puts on the event.

The coldest New Year's Eve in Times Square came in 1917, when it was 1 degree at midnight. This year, the forecast is for 11 degrees with a wind chill around zero, which would tie for second with 1962.

City and state health officials are advising people to cover all exposed skin, and wear a hat, scarf and gloves. Drinking alcohol is discouraged because it causes the body to lose heat faster.

Extra New York Fire Department personnel are going to be on hand to provide medical support and a National Weather Service meteorologist will be on site with the city's emergency management officials to monitor weather conditions.

In other areas gripped by the cold, some events are being canceled or reconsidered. The annual Lobster Dip at Old Orchard Beach in Maine has been rescheduled for the first time in 30 years.

Organizers of the Penguin Plunge in Narragansett, Rhode Island, say it's still on for New Year's Day but advised the thousands of expected participants to "use their good judgment" and avoid taking the plunge if they have a medical condition or have been sick.

With temperatures only expected to reach 9 degrees in Springfield, Illinois, on Sunday, organizers of its annual New Year's Eve fireworks display have decided to cancel this year's show. Officials say they plan to reschedule it for a warmer date.

In Ohio where some communities saw single-digit temperatures on Saturday, fireworks have been canceled and events moved inside in Miami Township, and the New Year's Eve ball drop and other activities in New Carlisle have been reduced to an hour.

Despite the drawn-out deep freeze across Pennsylvania, officials said Saturday the annual New Year's Day Mummers Parade will still be held. The event features thousands of performers in colorful costumes adorned with sequins and feathers strutting through Philadelphia's streets.

The village of Orchard Park near Buffalo, New York, has canceled its New Year's Eve event because subzero temperatures have been forecast. "With frigid weather, the chance of a water line break is higher, and I'd rather have my public works crew fixing it than hoisting a ball up to drop," said Mayor Jo Ann Litwin Clinton.

At Long Lake in the heart of New York state's Adirondack Park, intrepid souls in swimsuits or funny costumes will jump into frigid water through a hole cut by the fire department for the fifth annual Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for High Peaks Hospice. With temperatures expected to top out around 13 degrees, the rescue squad will be checking participants' blood pressure and buses will provide warm shelter, said Alexandra Roalsvig, the town's director of recreation and tourism.

"People get excited about the cold here; we grew up with it," Roalsvig said. "We're counting on a good cold winter and snow because we're so reliant on snowmobiling for the winter economy."

Residents in other parts of the country aren't as experienced with or enthusiastic about the cold.

Forecasters issued winter weather advisories across much of the Deep South ahead of plunging temperatures that are expected to last for the next several days. The advisories Saturday covered eastern Louisiana and most of Mississippi and Alabama.

The National Weather Service warned that freezing rain and a wintry mix of precipitation was possible through the weekend.

In Georgia, advocates for the homeless feared the unusually long stretch of frigid weather for Atlanta could kill some homeless people in the city. Temperatures are expected to plunge into the teens Monday and Tuesday night.


Local
No paper Monday due to holiday

It’s almost time to turn the calendar.

Before we do that, we wanted to remind you there will be no print edition of the Sioux City Journal on Monday. Instead, regular features (like the comics, Dear Abby and the horoscope) will be in today’s paper.

We do this over the holidays to let employees spend time with families.

Meanwhile, you can get all the latest updates at siouxcityjournal.com. You can find the latest news on our site. Then, Tuesday morning, you should find a new print edition waiting on your doorstep or at stores.

Until then, have a great rest of 2017. Here’s to an even better 2018.