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New date announced for longtime local event

An annual tradition will have a new date this year and organizers hope it will be a permanent one.

The Distinguished Young Women (DYW) program will be held on Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Athens City Middle School this year.

Sponsored annually by the Optimist Club of Athens, Distinguished Young Women (formerly known as Junior Miss) awards college scholarships to young women who have distinguished themselves at school and in their communities. It is a local preliminary for the state and national Distinguished Young Women programs.

“The state mandates that the program will be finished before a certain date. We changed to February last year and that just didn’t work out well for us,” said Jackie Newman, DYW organizer. “We hope that the date will be maintained for years to come for consistency.”

This is the 59th year of the DYW program, with one of the highest number of participants, Newman said.

There will be 24 girls participating in the program this year from across the county.

“ACMS has 800 seats and they have been packed each year,” said Newman. “We, by far, probably have the biggest local, if not state, program. We are honored that our community and the Optimist Club support us that much.”

Many of the participants have also had relatives that have been a part of DYW and it has been a generational event for many to be involved in.

“We are really looking forward to it this year and this is a great group of girls,” said Newman.

DYW has numerous varieties of talents being presented at the event as well this year.

“They have put in countless hours and energy you’ve never seen before,” added Newman.

Talents this year include: monologues, sign language performances, stand up comedy and many more.

Presley Webb, the 2020 Distinguished Young Woman, said it will have an everlasting effect on her and is serving as DYW representative this year.

“I love this program. You can gain more confidence throughout it and you also make so many friends,” said Webb.

Tickets usually sell out, according to officials.

Reserved seating will open at 5 p.m. for advanced ticket seating. Tickets will also be sold at the door starting at 5:30 p.m. and tickets are $10 each.

The event is set to begin at 6 p.m.

For any questions, contact Newman at 423-595-5619 or email her at jackiefsnewman@gmail.com

Event celebrating McMinn's bicentennial held at Calhoun School

The students and staff of Calhoun Elementary School enjoyed a day of historical celebration on Wednesday.

To commemorate the 200th birthday of the Town of Calhoun and the establishment of McMinn County, local historian Laura Spann, Calhoun City Manager Joe Bryan and other members of the McMinn County Bicentennial Committee coordinated a variety of educational and entertaining activities for students of all ages.

State Rep. Mark Cochran greeted the students during morning assembly and shared his pride in the commemoration of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Cochran described the founding of McMinn County and explained that Calhoun was the first county seat.

He stressed how important it is for the children to learn and appreciate the history of their community, because they are the historians of the future.

Historical activities included a visit by Major John Walker, the Cherokee founder of Calhoun, portrayed by Sheriff Joe Guy, who described the early beginnings of the town as the Walkers Ferry trading post.

Walker, a veteran of the War of 1812, was instrumental in the negotiation of the 1819 Hiwassee Purchase Treaty. As a result, Walker was granted two reservations on the Hiwassee: one including his house and ferry and the other at the site of his mill on the Eastanallee Creek.

Walker laid out the town and re-named the community “Calhoun” to honor Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. After McMinn County was established by the Tennessee Legislature on Nov. 13, 1819, the organizational meeting of the circuit court for McMinn County government was held in Walker’s home in March of 1820.

A 200-year timeline of Calhoun History was unfurled as Spann highlighted the significant events in the establishment and development of the town. This activity was designed to symbolize to the students the length of time the town and county have existed.

Over 250 feet in length, the scroll extended the length of the gym three times and remained on display during the day.

The program concluded with everyone singing a rendition of “Happy Birthday, Calhoun” and “Happy Birthday, McMinn County,” with the kindergarten class joining in with party whistles.

McMinn County Mayor John Gentry joined the celebration by greeting students and reviewing the history timeline events.

The lunchroom was decorated with birthday party decorations, students were served cupcakes with their lunch and a slide show presentation of historical Calhoun images was shown. Each student and staff member received a souvenir commemorative bracelet.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Spann visited fourth through eighth grade Social Studies classes and gave a presentation on the town history from Cherokee homelands to modern day. Kindergarten through third grade students were provided history and map skill activities.

“Today was a great opportunity for Calhoun students to celebrate for their community but also to learn more about its part in McMinn County’s history,” Calhoun Elementary Principal Teresa Blevins said. “They saw a real example of how people and events are not isolated facts to remember but are relevant and impactful to the future.”

Burnette's boyfriend testifies during Wielzen murder trial

The second day of the Joseph Wielzen murder trial on Thursday saw five people take the witness stand, including victim Kelsey Burnette’s boyfriend.

Most of the witnesses called to the stand were at the residence where a party was held the night that Burnette went missing.

Nickolas Rose, who was dating the victim at the time of her disappearance, was one of those at the party and he gave his testimony.

Assistant District Attorney General Coty Wamp questioned Rose as to how he viewed his relationship with Burnette.

“It was the best relationship I ever had,” said Rose. “We got along and fell in love with each other.”

Wamp asked Rose if he could recall what he and Burnette did on June 30, 2017, the night in question.

Rose explained how he and Burnette woke up at his parents’ house that morning before going to help a friend set up a radio system.

Rose claimed that while they were helping his friend, they continued to receive invites from the defendant, Joseph Wielzen, to go to the party.

“While I was helping him, my phone kept getting blown up. It was from Joseph,” said Rose. “He kept saying come to a house in Etowah.”

Rose then claimed that after they finished setting up the stereo, he along with Burnette and his friend got into her car and drove to Etowah.

According to Rose, when they arrived, Wielzen and several other people were already at the residence and the defendant was looking to “hang out.”

Wamp asked Rose if he and Burnette had any altercations with their relationship prior to the night of her disappearance.

“We might have argued a week before this,” said Rose.

According to Rose, he was placed in the back of Burnette’s vehicle to sleep after sharing some drinks with a few of the other people who were at the residence.

The state inquired as to what he remembered doing after supposedly waking up around 5 a.m. the next day.

“I woke up, I was by myself … nobody was outside so I got up, walked inside and that was when I encountered Joseph,” said Rose.

Wamp asked Rose if he could remember what Wielzen was doing when they encountered each other.

“He was coming out of the bathroom as I was coming in,” said Rose. “He looked like he had just got out of the shower.”

According to Rose, he asked Wielzen where Burnette was and Wielzen’s response was that she “was on the porch.”

Rose stated that he searched the porch for Burnette but did not see her.

He told the jury that after exchanging a few words with Wielzen, Austin Burke, who was asleep on the couch at the time, woke up and they started to search for her.

Rose stated that he, Burke and Wielzen got into Burnette’s vehicle and drove to her uncle’s house to search for her.

Burnette’s uncle did not answer the door, according to Rose, so he and his friends then decided to go to McDonald’s for some breakfast to “give him time to wake up.”

Rose also noted that he found the SIM card to Burnette’s phone in the toilet of the residence where the party was held as they waited to go back to her uncle’s house.

Burke also took the stand and he told the jury what he could remember of that day, beginning with the order of people to arrive.

He also informed the court that he noticed Wielzen had a bottle of whiskey with him as he was being dropped off by his father.

According to Burke, they all gathered in the backyard, where they had lit a fire, to “hang out.”

He told the prosecution that he supervised the group instead of participating in drinking.

Burke stated that he decided to go to sleep on the couch in the living room sometime around 11 p.m. on the night of Burnette’s disappearance.

Burke’s recounting from there largely lined up with that of Rose.

Zack Swanson, who is related to both Rose and Burke, also spoke about what he remembered of the night.

According to Swanson, he showed up at the residence to “hang out” and play video games.

Swanson stated he ended up playing games alone before being invited over to a neighbor’s house to play games.

He stated that he returned to the house at 11:59 p.m. to pack his stuff before returning home.

Upon entering the residence, Swanson claims to have encountered Wielzen, who asked him if he was “heading home.”

Swanson claimed to have answered Wielzen before leaving the residence.

The prosecution called one more witness to the stand that lived at the residence at the time of the incident, Koty Moore.

Moore stated that he was at the house as people started to arrive, however around dusk he and his wife along with their toddler left the residence and went over to their neighbor’s house to “hang out and play games.”

Moore stated that he made several trips throughout the night back to his house to check up on his grandmother, who was ill at the time.

According to Moore, he didn’t notice anything strange or out of place throughout the night.

He told the jury that he, along with his wife and child, returned to the house around 5 a.m. on July 1 to go to bed.

The last witness was Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Special Agent Andrew Vallee who is a digital forensics expert.

He spoke about the work he performed on the cellphone that belonged to the victim.

His job with this case involved retrieving the data that was left behind on Burnette’s cellphone.

Vallee stated the phone was missing its battery when he received it.

“We hooked it up to specialized equipment and software,” said Vallee. “After a successful connection we were able to download that data.”

From the data he was able to form a report that broke down the data into different categories based on the types of data that was extracted.

“Based on what kind of extraction we can get, we are able to extract data with specialized equipment and use specialized software that we are then able to (process) that data into human readable text,” said Vallee.

The extraction will then generate a file that comprises of all the data removed from the device.

However, the data taken from the phone was not discussed during Vallee’s testimony.

The trial was set to continue today and expectations are that sessions will be held both Saturday and Sunday, as well.

Local farmer reacts to Dean Foods bankruptcy

The parent company of Mayfield Dairy announced Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday, leading to questions about how this may affect local dairy farmers.

Dean Foods made the announcement earlier this week, saying in a press release that it intends to use this process to protect and support its ongoing business operations and address debt and unfunded pension obligations while it works toward an orderly and efficient sale of the company.

The company also announced that it is engaged in advanced discussions with Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (DFA) regarding a potential sale of substantially all assets of the company.

If not resolved, it could potentially affect many dairy farmers in Tennessee and other states as well.

One of the local farms that could be affected is Lee Farms, located in Englewood. Lee Farms is home to now fifth generation dairy farmers and their families.

“We’ve been here for over 100 years,” said Steve Lee.

Like Lee, many farmers in Tennessee have built themselves a home in the agriculture industry for years and it is their main source of income. Lee estimated that this could affect as many as 500 dairy farms in Tennessee and 20 other states.

“This sort of thing affects my finances and it’s very discouraging,” said Lee.

This could possibly lead to 30-plus days of of lost revenue, added Lee.

“When you lose 30 plus days in farming it isn’t good,” said Lee. “I hope the end result will benefit us farmers and that we will get our money.”

“Importantly, we are continuing to provide customers with an uninterrupted supply of high-quality dairy products, as well as supporting our dairy suppliers and other partners,” Eric Beringause, who recently joined Dean Foods as president and chief executive officer, said in the press release.

Lee added that his main concern is that the farmers might ultimately not receive anything from Dean Foods.

Lee said that he and several other farmers in the area have not yet heard from Dean Foods since the announcement.