SIOUX CITY -- It's been a trip more than six years in the making.
Neighbors and Navy veterans Gary Swanson and Eugene Stokes both were excited to hear back in February 2012 that the Navy was naming a warship after Sioux City. Both decided immediately that wherever and whenever the USS Sioux City was commissioned, they'd be there to witness it.
"When I first heard about it, I said at that time I'm going to go," said Stokes, who joined the Navy in 1951 and served eight years.
The ceremony, in which the ship officially enters active service, takes place Saturday morning at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Swanson and Stokes will be among some 500 Sioux Cityans expected to be present.
"I have followed it from the beginning to today," Swanson said. "I knew from the beginning that my wife and I were going to go to this. I am just fascinated with the prospect of going to the commissioning and all the ceremonies."
Swanson, 72, a retired Iowa State Patrol trooper who served seven years in the Navy and was on the ground in Vietnam at this time 50 years ago, will fly to the commissioning with his wife, Diane. Stokes, 87, a semi-retired truck driver, is going via motor home with his son, Neal, daughter, Diane, and her boyfriend.
"We want to see the country," said Stokes, who was on board the cruiser USS St. Paul in Korea from 1952 to 1955.
And they want to see the first Navy ship ever named for Sioux City become part of the U.S. fleet.
Many Sioux Cityans have followed the progress of the USS Sioux City from the day it was named, to the christening and launch in January 2016, to now. It's special to all of us, but means a little more for Navy veterans, who know what it's like to be out to sea for weeks on a ship that becomes a second home.
"It's been 70 years since I've been on a Navy ship," said Charles Kirby, who was in the Navy from 1946 to 1948 and was on board the heavy cruiser USS Chicago in Japan during the occupation after World War II.
Like Swanson and Stokes, Kirby, 90, has closely followed the USS Sioux City's development.
"I read all the articles," he said.
But the retired city worker didn't plan on going until his son, Jeff, suggested it.
"I thought it would be nice, but until he brought it up, I didn't think I'd be going," Kirby said.
Kirby and his son will fly out of Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City and meet up with Kirby's grandson, granddaughter and her husband in Annapolis.
"I'm very excited about it," Kirby said. "It'll all be a great adventure for me."
None of the three veterans has ever seen a ship commissioning. Familiar with Navy customs and tradition from their time in the service, all three anticipate the pomp that will accompany Saturday's events. Experiencing the atmosphere at the Naval Academy is an added bonus.
"I've never been to Annapolis, and here's my chance to go and I'm really looking forward to it," Swanson said.
They can't wait to get an up-close look at their city's namesake ship, either. Touring the ship, seeing all the technology on board a modern Navy vessel was high on the priority list for all three.
"I just want to go on board and see how much more modern it is than the ship I was on," Stokes said.
They're proud Navy veterans and proud Sioux Cityans. When your home city is honored like this, you don't stay home and read about it in the newspaper.
"This is a historic event for Sioux City to have a warship named after the city of Sioux City," Swanson said.
We don't often get the chance to be an eyewitness to history. With so many from the area planning on going to Annapolis, it's a chapter in Sioux City history that will be well-documented and worth the trip.
PONCA, Neb. -- One day after the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice to end World War I, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts visited Ponca to deliver the keynote address for a Veterans Day program that recognized dozens of veterans as well as a pair of Ponca High School seniors just months away from beginning their military commitment.
"Here in Nebraska we have a connection to the 'War to End All Wars,'" said Ricketts, a Republican who was re-elected Tuesday by a 19-percent margin. "Sixty thousand Nebraskans served in that war. Seven hundred fifty-one lost their lives in that war."
Ricketts went on to describe the ultimate sacrifices of pilot Jarvis Offutt, for whom Omaha's Offutt Air Force Base is named, and Roscoe "Dusty" Rhodes, a captain on the Nebraska football team who lost his life in Europe. "Roscoe was the inspiration for the name on Memorial Stadium," he said.
(Rhodes' family, it's been said, declined when asked if they'd like the new football stadium named in his honor. The Rhodes family, instead, said the stadium should honor all Nebraskans killed in World War I.)
Kayden Fields, a member of the Ponca High School Student Council, noted this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Atlee E. Chapelle, a U.S. Army private killed in France at the age of 27. The body of Chapelle, who was originally buried in France, was brought back home to Ponca. He was buried with military honors on Nov. 19, 1919, in the Ponca City Cemetery. The American Legion then granted a charter for the formation of Chapelle Post 117 in Ponca.
Ricketts explained that the "War to End All Wars" has been a misnomer because of dictators and small groups of people who run authoritarian governments elsewhere and decry the great American experiment, a country established on God-given rights some two and a half centuries ago.
"When our country was founded, our founders had a radical view of our country," Ricketts said. "They understood our rights come to us from God, not from the government. They are our rights to defend ... We work to make sure everybody has that chance at the American dream. And we've been hugely successful. We have created the greatest nation the world has ever seen."
Evil people, in turn, who envy our way of life, nay fear our way of life, pursue their own selfish ambitions and have created wars while reaching for power. It happened in World War II, and in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East, to name a few.
"As they tried to extend their power, we stood up to those dictators to say, 'No,'" Ricketts said.
The men and women in our armed forces, he said, remain ever vigilant in protecting our way of life. "We continue to need those people to put on that uniform to defend us and that's why we're here today," Ricketts concluded.
Ponca High School seniors Gage McGill and Jayde Reid were lauded for signaling their plans to enlist in the Nebraska National Guard upon graduating from Ponca High in May.
Following Ricketts' comments, creations from the popular Quilts of Valor program were presented to the following veterans from the Ponca and Jackson, Nebraska, area: Clair Hamar, Francis Kingsbury, Phil Knerl, Gail L. Konken Sr., Russell O. Rasmussen, Terry Rohan and Wayne Stapleton.
SIOUX CITY -- All three Sioux City School District middle schools could hold a new International Baccalaureate program in a few years, as district officials continue to investigate steps toward adding the new curriculum piece.
The Sioux City School Board on Monday heard the enthusiastic recommendation on adding International Baccalaureate at East, West and North middle schools, then voted to add them as candidates for the program. That move brings the total to seven that could have IB, as last month the board also approved four elementary schools they hope can participate in any IB program that may be added down the line.
The discussion on IB in October was an 80-minute airing before the 6-1 vote to add the elementary schools of Nodland, Sunnyside, Perry Creek and the Clark Early Childhood Center. The hourlong discussion on Monday also was followed with a 6-1 vote, with member David Gleiser being the dissenting vote both times.
Gleiser said IB has good possibilities, but he has doubts the district can afford it. Five people spoke in the meeting in favor of it, including three teachers and parent Mindy Mahnke, who said she likes that IB helps students "think independently."
Since early 2018, Superintendent Paul Gausman and other school leaders have urged school board members to add the program. Backers claim IB would draw or retain more students and boost standardized test scores.
Two months ago in setting the district's budget which begins July 1, the board earmarked $67,500 for first-year startup costs for the IB program. It typically costs $9,500 to $11,500 per school for annual materials and fees.
Federal funds could be used to implement the program.
IB, administered by a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., has been implemented in 2,223 U.S. school districts, including some large metro districts like Chicago and Atlanta.
The IB curriculum covers a broad base of academic subjects, including English, foreign language, math, science, social studies, the arts and physical education.
The next step is by early 2019 to officially submit the seven schools for approval to be accepted for IB. If that happens, a three-year period would follow in which details toward implementation would be carried out before any instruction could begin.
Also in the school board meeting, Chief Finance Officer Patty Blankenship reviewed the process of setting the 2019-20 school year budget. As usual, it will take about five months of deliberations, before the budget is set in April.
The board members in recent years have bemoaned the low increases of revenues over the prior year. In the last two years, the Legislature increased basic state aid to public schools by 1.1 percent and 1 percent.
Blankenship said she's prepared 2019-20 budget projections with two figures, containing growth in state aid of 1 percent and 2 percent.
"Any new program or program expansions must be vetted by determining how it will be sustained in this economic situation," Blankenship said in a PowerPoint presentation.
Dan Greenwell based his opposition to International Baccalaureate in part due to financial analysis, saying it is not affordable in the current climate.
"I am not drinking the IB Kool-Aid. It is the next shiny object," said Greenwell, a Sioux City businessman and frequent critic of the school administration.
Blankenship said the budget process involves discussing on Nov. 26 and Dec. 10 the funding coming from a 1-cent sales tax, Physical Plant and Equipment Levy and a five-year plan of expected larger projects.
General fund targeted expenditures will be aired in an important meeting on Jan. 28, then four more meetings in February and March will bring the budget details toward a conclusion. The final vote is expected on April 8.
The current budget of $204 million covers revenues and expenses for the year through June 30, 2019. The 2018-19 budget includes a pay cut for one group of teachers and lowered the local property tax rate.