by Cory Unrein, Co-Owner/Publisher, Grain Valley News
About a week ago, Valley News asked readers to send nominations of "unsung heroes" in the community. We stated that we give plenty of attention to elected officials, city and school leaders, and other prominent folks in the community, but we know there are countless individuals who make Grain Valley a wonderful place to live, work, and learn, who do not often receive recognition.
Within a few minutes of our post, we received the first nomination. And, full disclosure, as a fellow Grain Valley High School marching band parent, I was thrilled that this nomination came in:
"I would like to nominate Karen Gleich. Karen is an unsung hero because she has given so much of her time and experience for the Grain Valley Marching Eagles. You do not see her with a baton in hand or directing a group of young musicians; however, her contribution allows the band to look stellar on the field. She spends many hours customizing the band uniforms to fit each individual. She ensures buttons stay on and seams are steamed into the pant legs. She can spot an uneven hem and make plans to correct before the band even makes it back out for halftime. She organizes the uniforms and keeps them spotless.
"It could be easy just to put the uniform on a hanger and stick it in a truck, but she takes the time to inspect, repair and clean so that the marching band looks its best. As a parent, I can appreciate that I am not solely responsible for the uniform. I did well to keep baseball pants white and rhinestones on dance costumes, however I am unsure if I would be up to the task that faces Karen on a daily basis during band season."
Gleich has had three children go through the GVHS band program - her youngest is now a senior. Gleich spent four years as a color guard parent and uniform volunteer, before managing band uniforms for the past eight years. The job is year-round, with preparations for the next season starting in the spring.
"The process started in April, when we did initial measurements at our registration night. And since then, it's a matter of getting a roster, getting it updated, doing adds and drops, getting it refined, and then taking those measurements, comparing them to the sizes we have, and pulling a new uniform for each student. Our goal, and we're very close to it, is that every student comes in with a uniform to try, that hopefully is close, and then we just adjust from there."
Now that students are two weeks into band camp, each grade level is making its first stop to Gleich and her small army of volunteers, to try on their uniforms and make sure everything fits well, and adjustments to hems, etc. can be made. With growing students, this is an ongoing process throughout the season.
"We keep an eye on them during the season. I watch my student for a few minutes, and then I'll look around the field and notice 'Oh, those pants are too short. Or, those are pants are too long', and then I'll make a note and take care of it right away.
Gleich has seen her fair share of wardrobe malfunctions over the years, and is adept at tackling issues as they arise.
"With a safety pin, I can fix almost anything and get them through a competition," Gleich jokes.
Gleich is quick to recognize the people who work with her to make the band look its best. "We've got lots of people who pitch in to help, and we're always looking for more helpers. There is a great crew of washers who take home a load of uniforms, wash them up, and bring them back so they're ready for the next competition. This is a great volunteer job for parents who cannot attend the competitions but want to help out behind the scenes."
"And, I have an amazing husband who lets me do these things, and just handles getting everybody fed and where they need to be, so it's wonderful."
As Gleich looks back over 8 years of keeping the Marching Eagles uniforms in perfect order, she says the interaction with students makes the job worthwhile.
"The most rewarding thing is putting the uniforms back on the trailer after a competition or event. Especially if they've done well, just to see the excitement on their faces. It's so fun, and it's nice to be able to share that excitement with them. At the same time, if they didn't happen to do very well, it like, 'Hey, did you do your best? Well, then I'm proud of you.' Just to give them that bit of encouragement and let them know it's not all about winning. It's about doing their best, and I'm proud of them."
Do you have an unsung hero you'd like us to feature? Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above: Karen Gleich, GVHS Marching Eagles uniform coordinator, has dedicated 8 years (and four years as a color guard uniform volunteer) to making sure the Marching Eagles look perfect on the field. Below: Gleich assists a sophomore member of the Marching Eagles with his uniform. Photo credit: Valley News staff
by Michael Smith
Midway through his junior year in high school, Flip Courter’s life changed.
In middle school and his first two years in high school, his dream was to become a sports broadcaster.
“I probably was going to do radio because I have a good face for radio,” Courter joked.
Courter was playing basketball for a small school called North Daviess High School at the time, but right before the season started, he broke his hip. He was out with injury for three months, and during that time, his head coach, Randy Litrell had Courter sit next to him and serve as an assistant coach. The team didn’t have assistant coaches or managers, so he was able to fill that role for the team until he returned to play the last month of the season.
“I graduated in the class of seven kids,” Courter said. “This was in a town of 130 to 140 people. After I broke my leg, it sucked. I couldn’t sit up straight, and I had to sit up reclined. It was the most painful experience I’ve ever had.”
“I’d get dressed up and sit on the bench during games and I’d have a clipboard and take notes and help with stats. He also had me be like a teacher’s aide in his classroom. I was making copies and helping kids who were struggling. He went out of his way to make me feel important and still part of the team.”
That was that period of time that changed Courter’s career path as he went from wanting to be a sports broadcaster to having a desire to be a teacher and coach after a three-month stint as a de facto assistant basketball coach at North Daviess.
He’s spent multiple years as a coach and a teacher at different schools. His newest move will bring him home to Grain Valley as he will be a history and psychology teacher at the high school. He also will serve as an assistant coach for the softball and track and field teams after spending the last six years at William Chrisman High School in Independence.
“Everything that I have today is because of (the injury),” Courter said. “If that doesn’t happen, I would have probably stayed in broadcasting. Who knows, I might be working at ESPN right now. But you know what, I wouldn’t have my wife, I wouldn’t have my kids, I wouldn’t have my friends, I wouldn’t have the experience as a teacher for the last 21 years if the injury didn’t happen.
“Something bad that happened turned out to be something good.”
After he graduated from North Daviess, Courter went to Missouri Western State University and graduated with a degree in history and secondary education in 2001. He also got a degree in athletic administration at William Woods University in 2008.
Courter had multiple stops in his high school teaching and coaching career including North Mercer, Marionville, Lexington, Odessa and Crest Ridge high schools. He was also a head basketball coach at Lexington, Odessa and Crest Ridge for nine years before deciding to retire from being a head coach in 2016.
“I was chasing those head basketball coaching dreams and bouncing around from place to place,” Courter said. “Things have been settled down since I am not bouncing around from place to place because of basketball.”
It was actually a conversation with Caffrey that led to Courter stepping away from head coaching.
“I made the decision (to step down from being a head basketball coach) because of family. We had a late game one night at Cass-Midway and I was driving home one night so I stopped here at the house and went in to talk to Caffrey. I said, ‘Good night honey. I have to go. I will see you tomorrow.’ She said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I have to go because of basketball.’ And she said, ‘You are always leaving because of basketball. That right there was the smack in the face where it’s like OK, I need to do something different.
“After the game, I decided to myself that I would finish the season and step down.”
After a six-year stint at Chrisman, Courter finds himself working in Grain Valley, where he has lived for the last 11 years. It was an easy decision for the veteran coach as he wanted to work closer to home and have more time to see his daughter Caffrey and son Casen play sports.
“The family factor was the No. 1 reason (for taking the job at Grain Valley High School),” Courter said. “(He and his family) will have the same schedule for the first time ever. That was a big draw, to have the same schedule as my kids.
“With Casen, he is right across the parking lot from my classroom. He goes to Sni-A-Bar (Elementary School). I will be able to drop him off on the way to school. I am excited about that. I am excited to be able to run over there and have lunch with him.”
The transition for Courter to his new high school should be a smooth one as he knows many of the patrons and teachers in Grain Valley. Courter also spoke with head softball coach Garrett Ogle on multiple occasions since Chrisman and Grain Valley were both in the Suburban White Conference.
Courter is also close friends with head boys track and field coach Erik Stone, who he will also be working with at Grain Valley.
“After the games, Garrett and I talked about someday working together,” Courter said. “Knowing the type of program Grain Valley has for softball is very exciting. In track, Coach Stone lives four houses down from me and his daughter and my daughter are besties. Me and Stone are flying out to Vegas here in a few weeks with our wives to celebrate our 20th anniversaries.”
“I have only heard good things about the high school. I am pretty excited to be a part of it.”
Correction (7/21/22 1:50pm): Headline corrected to more appropriately identify injury referred to in article.
Photo courtesy Flip Courter
by Michael Smith
For the last 15 years, Grain Valley High School has been like a second home for assistant principal Mike Tarrants.
This school year will be his last as he’s set to retire from being an administrator.
He said he decided to retire to help his wife, Marcy, with her consulting business for pharmaceuticals and to pursue some hobbies that he hasn’t been able to do while being a high school administrator.
Tarrants will be replaced by social studies teacher and assistant football coach Dominic Giangrosso for next school year.
“I really found my home here in Grain Valley,” Tarrants said. “I had opportunities to move and go other places and do other things, but I felt very fortunate and blessed to be in this community with great kids and staff. I never really considered going anywhere else.”
Tarrants has worked in the education field for 24 years, with nine of those years being spent as a teacher. He had stops at Fort Osage, Park Hill and Harrisonville as a social studies teacher and assistant football coach.
When he got to Harrisonville, that’s when he began to transition into an administration role.
“I had an opportunity to become the head coach at Harrisonville,” Tarrants said. “That’s when I had to decide which route I wanted to go with my career. I had two other job offers. One was as a head coach and teacher and the other was an assistant principal and I chose to come to Grain Valley.
“I knew several people in the community. And everyone in the community was supportive and the area was growing fast. There was a lot of upside potential.I always focused my career to do what’s best for kids, and that’s why I chose to be an administrator.”
He was hired at Grain Valley in 2006 by then principal Beth Mulvey along with current principal Jeremy Plowman. Once he arrived at Grain Valley, Tarrants was an assistant principal for four years, then he was an activities director for five years and has spent his last six years as an assistant principal.
After working with Tarrants for 15 years, Plowman admits there were times they didn’t see eye to eye but said they still made a great team.
“We are kind of like brothers,” Plowman said. “We fought the first week we worked together. We’ll probably fight on the last day we work together, but I know he always had my back. He always tried to do right by kids. Anyone who can do that as consistently as Mr. Tarrants has, is a pretty special guy.”
Added Tarrants: “We don’t always agree on things but we both want what is best for kids and Grain Valley High School. We are yin and yang. It’s worked for 15 years.
When the duo came to Grain Valley, Tarrants’ main focus was on discipline of students, while Plowman was more focused on improving education.
“We called (Tarrants) the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll guy,” Plowman said, referencing the types of issues Tarrants dealt with. “He always called me pretty boys because I handled all the nice things and he handled all the tough things.
“He has a special ability to make teachers feel supported. He’s the go-to guy for students, especially the ones who see him for discipline. He’s their voice of reason and voice of sanity for whatever they are dealing with.”
Looking back at his 15 years at Grain Valley, Tarrants said he will miss being an administrator but will cherish his decade and a half working with students at the school.
“I run into former students and see the success they have as adults,” Tarrants said. “I hope I had a little bit of positive influence on them and hopefully steered the youth in the right direction. The whole point of my career was to have a positive impact on kids. Now that I am retiring there will be a void there.”
Now, Tarrants has two more months until his administration career comes to a close. Will there be a retirement party for him?
“I hope not,” Tarrants quipped. “I am not that kind of guy. Yeah, I am sure they are (planning one). I threatened the admin staff that I wasn’t going to work the last week of school.”
While, Tarrants time is over as an administrator, he said he still plans on being a volunteer assistant coach for the football team. He helps out with coaching the offensive line and said there is still some unfinished business.
“I want to continue having those relationships with the kids and the coaching staff,” Tarrants said. “It’s always hard to leave something you are passionate about and coaching gives me an avenue to still work with kids.
“We have come close to winning a state title at Grain Valley. I have coached at two other schools that won state titles. That’s something I am still on a mission to do. We talk about it as a staff, we want to get a state title to Grain Valley. I still think about that when I lay my head on the pillow at night.”
Photo credit: Grain Valley Schools
by Michael Smith
When talking about the history of the Grain Valley boys soccer program, it's hard not to bring up 2016 graduate Blake Desselle.
He was an all-state selection during the program’s first state final four appearance during his senior year in high school and was part of arguably the most talented trio to come through the program along with Alex Thiessen and Noah Espinosa.
It seemed like wherever Desselle went, winning followed. He went to Rockhurst for his first two years in college and got to take two trips to the NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Tournament as a reserve center midfielder.
After the success he’s had, he will go down as one of the best if not the best soccer player to come through the Grain Valley program, although there are a handful of players who have a legitimate argument for that honor.
That could be part of the reason why former Grain Valley girls and boys soccer coach Tyler Nichol asked Desselle to talk to the 2020 girls team before it made its trip to the St. Louis area for the state final four.
“I remember when we went to the final four, that was the first time Grain Valley went for either program,” Desselle said. “I was definitely honored for Coach Nichol to bring me in to talk to the girls, especially since that was his last year coaching.
“I played in a lot of big games in my life. One of my most memorable moments was going to the final four with Grain Valley, and that’s something a lot of kids don’t get to do. I just told them to have fun and it’s just another game. And I told them it was an experience they would never forget.”
After Rockhurst, Desselle transferred to William Jewell College to play three more years. Helped the Cardinals win the most games it ever had since moving from the National Association of Collegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II.
“I played a little bit during my sophomore year (at Rockhurst),” Desselle said. “Next year, I wasn’t sure what the deal was. I ended up transferring to Jewell and I ended up being a captain there and taking on a bigger role, which is cool. I had a blast there.
“When I got there, they were not very good,” Desselle said. “We turned the program around. We weren’t very good to be honest with you, but we were better than we had ever been since moving to Division II.”
Now Desselle has entered life after his storied soccer career.
Desselle graduated from William Jewell with bachelor degrees in physiological science and exercise science. He’s now a head sports performance coach at EXOS Physical Therapy and Sports Performance in Grain Valley, a position he started last May.
While there, he gets to go over exercises with athletes to help reduce the chance for future injuries and also assists with helping them get bigger, faster and stronger.
“I grew up training there when it used to be called Boost Physical Therapy and Sports Performance,” Desselle said, “and they got bought out two years ago by EXOS. Over the years, I worked there part time during college.
“As I went on and started to graduate. The head trainer for Independence and Grain Valley left, so they called me and wanted to hire me. I took the job.”
At EXOS, Grain Valley gets to see his friends as he gets to work with Grain Valley athletes.
“I worked with Cole Keller, who just graduated last year from Grain Valley,” Desselle said. “I work with Austin Schmidt who is the kicker for the football team and a great soccer player. He’s one of my best friend’s little brothers. Working with those guys is really cool.”
And he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“I love what I do,” Desselle said. “I get to train high school and college athletes. I get to help them get to where they want to go.”
For anyone who would like to set up an appointment with Desselle at EXOS, you can contact him at (816) 719-5395.
by Michael Smith
When longtime Grain Valley boys basketball coach Andy Herbert attended the University of Missouri, he thought coaching at the NCAA Division I level would be the route he would take.
He got to work as a student assistant with legendary Mizzou men’s basketball coach Norm Stewart and Quin Synder, the current head coach of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.
While it was an invaluable experience for Herbert, he was hesitant to want to go through the grind of recruiting and coaching college basketball players.
“I wanted a family,” Herbert said. “I wanted to be able to establish roots and be a part of a community. At the college level, that’s hard to do.
“A year and a half into college, I started to realize these guys are on the road all the time. They are on a plane as much as they are in Columbia. That’s just not the way I am wired. Being a college coach is not as flashy and fancy as it looks on TV.”
That’s when he started to consult his former high school basketball coach, Grain Valley legend and Missouri Basketball Coaches Association hall of famer Randy Draper. Herbert, who grew up in Camdenton, played for Draper there.
They stayed friends after Herbert graduated high school. Draper helped Herbert land a job in the Grain Valley district as a physical education teacher and an assistant boys basketball coach in the year 2000. He also currently serves as the boys golf coach.
Herbert started as a physical education teacher at Matthews Elementary School and eventually got the same position at Prairie Branch Elementary School. After that, he was the coordinator at the Sni Valley Academy and is now the A+ Program coordinator at Grain Valley High School.
As a coach, he was an assistant under Draper for five years before becoming the head boys basketball coach, a position he’s had for 16 years. Herbert has coached in five different conferences in his tenure at Grain Valley. He’s been with the program when it was regularly playing smaller schools like Lexington and Lafayette County.
Now the Eagles are playing against some of the biggest schools in Missouri like Blue Springs and Truman.
“I want to coach the kids that are here and do right by them,” Herbert said. “I don’t want to have to go out and get a kid. I want to make an impact with them.”
That’s exactly what he has done. Herbert has been a longtime staple with the Grain Valley school district and for the boys basketball team. However, when he first arrived, there was an adjustment period for Herbert.
“We love it here,” Herbert said. “Coming from Lake of the Ozarks and Camdenton, this is a very different place because it’s closer to the city. You’re driving on the interstate all the time here instead of lake roads. It’s a very different way of life than what I was used to.
“In Camdenton, you spend your summer on boat docks. It was a great place to grow up.”
After Herbert left Camdenton to attend the University of Missouri he got to spend one year coaching under Stewart and the rest under Snyder. The experience was invaluable, he said.
“If you paid attention, you learned a lot,” Herbert said.
“Both of them had very different ways of doing things. I learned how to build a team through toughness from Coach Stewart. Coach Snyder was more of a player development coach. He wanted to work with the best players and make them the best he could through skill development.
“All the stories I have while working with them, I could talk about that for hours.”
While Stewart and Snyder were influences on Herbert’s coaching career, Draper might have been the biggest influence of them all. Draper and Herbert use a team-oriented approach and both are player-friendly coaches, who seem to remain calm no matter the situation in any game.
In fact, if it wasn’t for Draper, Herbert may not have ended up at Grain Valley.
“I’ve known Coach Draper since 1987,” Herbert said. “He was my next door neighbor and coach growing up. As far as coaching, mentorship and friendship, he’s as close to me as my own father. He was 1B. The one thing that drew us here was him. He’s the reason we came.”
Herbert said he doesn’t plan on going to another district any time soon if ever. Being at the school for as long as he has allowed Herbert got to coach his son Owen for the first time at the high school level.
“He was at a district game at O’Hara and he was a few months old at the time,” Herbert said. “One of their players was diving for a loose ball and jumped over our bench and ended up hitting him.
“We joke all the time, ‘That you took your first charge when you were three months old.’ Now, he’s almost 17 and playing varsity. It’s been rewarding to see him out there playing.”
While Herbert grew up in Camdenton and considers that his hometown, his new home is in Grain Valley, and he hopes it stays that way for the foreseeable future for Owen, his wife and his two other children.
“We have raised three kids here and my wife teaches in the district,” Herbert said.
“The families and the people in Grain Valley .... it really doesn’t get any better than that. We haven’t found any reason to leave. As long as they keep accepting us, we aren’t going anywhere.”
by Michael Smith
Ashley Burns has been a middle school science teacher for 12 years, and she couldn’t be happier with where her career is currently at.
She’s currently entering her fourth year at Grain Valley North Middle School, and it’s been like a second home to the Blue Springs resident as she enjoys working in the town.
Burns graduated from Blue Springs High School, got her Associate’s degree from Blue River Community College, and then attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City before getting her Master’s Degree in Teacher Leadership.
After she got her Associate’s Degree, Burns knew what she wanted to do for a living. Teaching children at the middle school level was what she had her heart set on.
“I always knew I wanted to do something to help other people and make an impact on other people,” Burns said.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so that’s why I got my associates. I had a science class I really liked at Blue River and I was tutoring my classmates. I realized I really liked helping them learn and study.
“I thought middle school would be a fun grade to teach. I think middle schoolers are special. They are in a transition period where they need a little extra guidance in their life. I think that's a good point in their life to get interested in science.”
Burns started her career teaching at Raytown Middle School for eight years before spending one year teaching at a middle school in the North Kansas City School District. After teaching for nine years, she wanted to teach in a smaller, tight-knit community. The Grain Valley School District fits that desire.
“The Grain Valley School District has a really good reputation,” Burns said. “I heard really good things about it. My brothers attended Grain Valley schools and they liked it.
“All the teachers are phenomenal and the administrators are awesome. This is the best school I have ever worked for. This is more of a small-town type of atmosphere than where I worked at Raytown and North Kansas City. This feels like a closer community.”
The science she teaches at Grain Valley North Middle School focuses on life science, biology and ecology. Burns said she likes to have her students do a lot of hands-on work. One of the more interesting projects she had her students do involved incubating and hatching chicken eggs.
She’s also enjoyed some of the extra things she got to go during assemblies on the last day of school and playing games against the students. One of those game included egg roulette where Burns got raw eggs cracked on top of her head.
“They do a lot of fun, team-building activities that I didn’t really get to do at other schools,” Burns said.
And she hopes to be doing those type of activities at Grain Valley Middle School North for years to come.
“Honestly, if I stay teaching, they are stuck with me. I am not leaving,” Burns said. “I feel like a part of the community.”
by Michael Smith
Growing up in the town he was raised in, life-long Grain Valley resident Jason Fenstermaker had a dream of becoming a head football coach.
He was a three-sport athlete at Grain Valley High School and ended being a teacher there and an assistant coach for football and wrestling after he graduated from University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kan.
Now he’s realizing an alternative dream as a co-owner of Iron Kettle Brewery along with fellow Grain Valley grads Brian Fenstermaker, Ben Call and James Nelson. It’s a Scottish-themed pub that opened on St. Patrick’s Day this year and is located at 508 Main St. in downtown Grain Valley.
That wasn’t originally his dream coming out of high school. When he was a young athlete, his dream was to become a professional football player.
“I wanted to be the next Derrick Thomas,” Fenstermaker said of wanting to be like the former Chiefs linebacker. “When everyone else started growing I realized that I wasn’t as big as I needed to be. My focus changed, but my love of sports didn’t.”
That’s when Fenstermaker chased his second dream of becoming a head football coach. He admitted the main reason he wanted to be an educator was so he could coach football.
He started out as an assistant coach at Grain Valley before becoming a running backs coach for the University of St. Mary. He decided he wanted to start a family so he left college coaching to become a head football and wrestling coach at the now defunct St. Mary’s High School in Independence.
“It’s really hard to have a family, and be a college football coach,” Fenstermaker said.
His last stop was at Lone Jack High School where he was the head football and wrestling coach along with being an activities director and principal. This school year was his last one as he will be focusing on growing his business full time and spending more time with his family.
“I am doing more with my degree now, then I have for the last 12 to 13 years being an educator,” Fenstermaker said.
During his time at Lone Jack, Fenstermaker and his co-owners opened the Iron Kettle. The idea to start the brewery began when Fenstermakers’ mother passed away In December 2019. She left behind an inheritance to her two sons, who have a brick on the building dedicated to honoring her. The money they received aided them in realizing their dream of opening up a pub in their hometown.
Fenstermaker wanted to introduce a new kind of beer to patrons of the city. Growing up he said that he was a Miller High Life or Miller Lite drinker and that many citizens in Grain Valley mostly drank domestic beers.
He’s now converted to a craft beer drinker.
“That’s like picking your favorite child,” Fenstermaker said when asked what his favorite beer is at the Iron Kettle. “If I had to choose it would be the Merlin’s amber ale. When my brother brewed it, I said, ‘This is it.’”
“I will put our Irish ale against any ale in Kansas City. We want to convert one domestic beer drinker at a time.”
He was converted to blonde ale and amber ale drinker by his brother Brian, who has been brewing beer for 12 years. In recent years, the Fenstermaker brothers are now closer than they were before. It was the brewery that helped them develop a stronger relationship and they now call themselves “The Brew Brothers.”
“Once I tasted his amber ale, I looked at him and said, ‘We can sell this.’” Fenstermaker said. “He’s the master of potions as we call him,” Fenstermaker said. “We also call him the kilted brewer because he wears a kilt while he’s brewing.
“Slowly over time, it became what we wanted to do. We actually weren’t close growing up. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other, we just didn’t have anything in common. What brought us together was the love of beer and the love of brewing beer.”
So far, Fenstermaker said he likes the direction his business is going and is glad he made the decision to leave the education field.
“The business is doing well,” Fenstermaker said. “It can do better. That’s my job to make it do better. I put my career above my family my entire professional life. I made them sacrifice. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be there for them.
“Even if I have to work here at night, I can still be there in the morning to make my kids breakfast. I have never been able to do that before.”
by John Unrein
Growing up there were two must read sports writers for me. One was Peter King of Sports Illustrated, and the other was Bill Althaus of the Examiner. King’s insight was second to none when it came to the National Football League. He could bring professional football alive. Althaus captured a story with concise writing while setting up and working through quotes better than any other columnist. It made you feel like you were at the event he was covering. Something that is a gift.
Only one of those writers resides in Eastern Jackson County. More importantly, in the community of Grain Valley. Althaus and his wife Stacy are long term residents of Grain Valley and had an abundance of reasons for establishing roots here decades ago.
“We wanted a small town feel, but I wanted a community close enough to Kansas City that I could still make it out to the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas City Royals as well as concerts downtown. We came out to Grain Valley on a weekend when the Eagles were playing football in the postseason. Buildings were decorated blue, and they had painted large Eagles in the street. It was something you would see in a Walt Disney movie,” Althaus said.
“We fell in love with this town. That same weekend we bought a lot in Brigadoon Estates and six months later became residents. We have never regretted it one moment. What the school district has done with its growth academically and with activities, I could have never in a million years seen that happening. It has been fun to go along for the ride.”
Jacksonville Jaguars head football coach Urban Meyer said during a 2018 interview that the most important thing to do in a leadership role is to build trust. That doing so would allow for what was being offered to be embraced. Key ingredients among the formula Meyer stressed was to be yourself and find a message that others would find meaningful and listen to.
The Twitter description offered by Althaus is an example of how he communicates with others. It is humble, straight forward, gracious, and displays longevity in the challenging profession of journalism.
Althaus shares, “Started with a manual typewriter and now I’m Tweeting. What a memorable journey it has been. Thanks for sharing it. Thirty-Nine years at the Examiner. Is that possible?”
Relationship building and treating everyone he meets the same way allows Althaus to gain trust. The faith put in Althaus by others in the media, public education, and by student athletes has been gained through consistency in character. Something that has not gone unnoticed by Grain Valley assistant principal Mike Tarrants and local media mogul Brian Johnston.
Tarrants was the activities director at Grain Valley High School prior to assuming the current role of assistant principal and being assistant football coach for the Eagles. Johnston is the owner of Sponsorship Focus and Preps KC, the founder of Vision Sports, has formerly worked for Royals Radio Network, and was the Corporate Partnership Sales Manager for the Kansas City Chiefs. Both men who have enjoyed a high degree of success in their own careers did not hesitate to shower Althaus with adoration based on the bonds they have shared over the years.
“I have known Bill for 15 years since I came to Grain Valley High School as an administrator. I got to know him through the various activities that I was supervising,” Tarrants said.
“Bill has also served as a mentor to my oldest son Blake (who is blind). Bill took him under his wing, mentored him, wrote a couple of articles about him, and has kept up with Blake throughout his college and early adulthood years. It was through this process that I saw the true qualities of Mr. Althaus. There was no benefit for Bill to help out Blake other than just being a good person.”
Tarrants finished, “When Bill was inducted into the Grain Valley High School Hall of Fame, I could tell that it was truly an honor for him. Bill was very gracious and considered it as a personal award, not just a professional one.”
Johnston echoed many of the sentiments shared by Tarrants when reflecting on his relationship with Althaus.
“I have known Bill for 25 years. It started when I began Vision Sports – broadcasting Blue Springs and Blue Springs South football games on radio. He was a big supporter of it and really helped us get it off the ground,” Johnston said.
“Bill is so positive. I have never known a writer to create positive stories about everything he writes. He makes people feel like they are super stars. When my dad was alive, Bill would talk Detroit Tigers baseball with him. Specifically, Al Kaline who was my dad’s hero. I have never forgotten that.”
Johnston concluded, “Bill is a good friend. He would do anything for anyone.”
Althaus deeply cherishes the relationships he has forged. A reward for four decades of work came full circle for Althaus on June 10th. The Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association, an elite fraternity that is guarded by admission selection, inducted Althaus into their 2021 Hall of Fame class. Althaus is the only newspaper reporter to be inducted during the history of the GKCFCA Hall of Fame.
“It was an honor. Anthony Simone, who started the Simone Award, David Allie who is the president of the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association, to see those people who have made such an impact in your life was a great reward,” Althaus said.
“Thirty-nine years in one place in the newspaper business is unheard of, especially for a smaller newspaper like the Examiner. We still put out an award winning newspaper every day of the week, even with a smaller staff. It has been so much fun along the way. Some of my best friends now are people who I met when they were student athletes during their junior and senior years in high school.”
“In the early 1980’s, I was the beat writer for the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas City Royals. My family watched Christian Okoye’s daughter when he would come to training camp. We got to attend George Brett’s wedding. We were roughly the same age. The persona of the athlete has changed today. It is more sterile now. You do not get to know people like you did back then.”
Althaus added, “That is why I like covering high school sports so much now. A Friday night under the lights with a coach and team you respect, there is nothing better in the world than that.”
Grain Valley News selfishly enjoys getting to write Community Profile stories. The effort permits for the residents of our community to know about the fascinating people who call Grain Valley home. We are blessed to have individuals who give to those around them and deserve the spotlight. If you would like to nominate someone for a Community Profile, email email@example.com.
Eddie Saffell has hung up his helmet, having recently retired as Deputy Chief of Training and Education from Central Jackson County Fire Protection District (CJCFPD), after serving 30 years with the department.
Saffell started his career as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Harrisonville before serving 30 years with CJCFPD. Saffell began as a Fire Inspector, conducting investigations, inspections and providing public education.
His culminating role as Deputy Chief of Training and Education found him responsible for all internal training, the district’s paramedic program, and outside training for EMS.
The fire service and CJCFPD has changed quite a bit since Saffell began his career over 30 years ago.
“When I first started, we just grabbed the hose, ran in, and went to work on putting the fire out. Over the years, especially over the past 10-15 years, we really have to think about how we ventilate and having the incident commander control that, so we are doing it in a smart way,” Saffell said.
“We are doing more analysis and evaluation before we go into a fire, just to try to make it safer for our guys and do the best we can for the public.”
Saffell also notes that the majority of the department’s calls are EMS related and not fire-related calls.
“We’re not firefighters as much as we are masters of everything. We have to be paramedics/EMTs, public educators, as well as firefighters,” Saffell said.
The department has also been in a constant state of change throughout Saffell’s career.
“We went from basically volunteer with some full-time staff to fully paid almost overnight. Then in 1992, we hired another crew to take over the ambulance from Blue Springs. So, we’ve had growing pains almost the entire 30 years. We were always adding a station or adding a service,” Saffell said.
Saffell is grateful for the opportunity to serve in the department as long as he did, noting that “thirty years in one job is almost unheard of anymore.”
“I was able to go to school and earn three degrees. I was able to earn my paramedic license and other national recognitions, and all of it was geared toward making CJCFPD better. Being able to get to those recognitions and educational milestones was pretty special.”
“I was lucky enough to be promoted a few times. I went from driving the fire trucks to being a Captain on a truck, and then was promoted to Assistant Chief of our Fire Prevention Division before being promoted to Deputy Chief. Those promotions are always fun.”
“But, watching us add stations and our training facility was important as well. Every time we took a step, I felt like those of us who were there were part of being able to take that step.”
“I feel really lucky. I think I got to do everything personally and professionally I wanted to do.”
Nothing specific told Saffell it was time to retire, other than the desire to “let the younger guys come in and let them move the department forward”.
“The fire service is changing, and it really is a young person’s job. I put my time in and I helped grow and improve the department. It is time to let the younger guys come along and see what they can do with it,” Saffell said.
“I also preach to our paramedic students and the people we hire that the goal is make the CJCFPD and the fire service better than when you found it.”
As for his plans in retirement, Saffell is staying busy in the short term helping to homeschool his first grade grandchild.
“We have a six year old and five year old grandchild, and they keep us pretty busy,” Saffell said.
Saffell expressed his gratitude for the District residents of Blue Springs, Grain Valley, and Lake Tapawingo for supporting the department, and in turn, his career.
“The community we serve is really the reason that CJCFPD is what it is. They allowed us to have anything that we asked for, and the reason they did was that they could trust that we would do what we promised we would do with the support they provided. The community was extremely supportive and I would like to thank them for being as supportive as they have been and for allowing us to give them the services they deserve and expect.”
“On a personal note, the reason I was able to achieve the educational and professional milestones I did was because they supported the District and the District supported us.
“I just wanted to say thank you to the communities for allowing me to serve them for as long as I have, and for being as supportive as they have been for everything we try to do.”
Saffell lives in Grain Valley with his wife Debbie and continues to serve the community as President of the Grain Valley School Board.
The Community Development Director for a city wears many hats. They are typically responsible for, but not limited to, Planning/Engineering, Building/Codes, Public Works, Information Technology/Geographic Information System, and Fleet Maintenance. The quality and efficiency of the work done in community development directly impacts the quality of life for the residents of a community.
Mark Trosen has been the Community Development Director for Grain Valley since June of 2019. The Jackson County resident is a proud parent and new grandparent who was recently nominated to be featured in the Community Profile section of Grain Valley News.
When Trosen is away from work he loves spending time with family along with being outdoors and on the water. Boating and fishing are hobbies for Trosen.
Grain Valley City Administrator Ken Murphy works closely with Trosen and shared his thoughts on what Trosen has brought to the city in his role as Community Development Director.
“We were really excited when we learned that Mark applied for the Community Development Director position. Over the years, I have worked with Mark in his different roles with Jackson County and gained a great deal of respect for him,” Murphy said.
“Mark wasted no time getting to work for the city and has done a great job making sure that our difficult programs and projects have a clear direction moving forward.”
“Mark’s ability to find solutions to problems that the department is faced with makes him the right fit to lead in such a critical time of growth.”
Whether it’s Burger King or a medical marijuana cultivation facility, Trosen works with city staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission to facilitate the process of new businesses showing interest in Grain Valley.
There are typically seven steps a new business will go through in trying to partner with Grain Valley in seeing if there’s a fit.
1. An email or telephone call by a business interested in a property.
2. A response by the city with how that property is zoned, available utilities for that site, and rules and regulations for that zoning area.
3. If the location is desirable for a business, they go through a pre-application meeting to review pressing plans and the process of filling out an application with the city.
4. The business stays in contact with the city as they work through questions and details prior to submitting their application.
5. The business files the application with the city.
6. A public hearing is held with the Planning and Zoning Commission and they make a recommendation.
7. A public hearing is held with the Board of Alderman prior to an approval vote for ordinance.
“What I love most about my job is getting to work with people. We receive a lot of questions from people on how they may use their property and what type of development may occur. I get to share the vision of the city with people in regard to its comprehensive plan,” Trosen said.
“My role also allows me to problem solve, which I enjoy. A recent item we have problem solved and planned for is the recent presentation we did before the Board of Alderman about the city street maintenance program.”
“Back in 2018, there was a citizen survey that conveyed one of the main items residents were concerned about were street conditions in Grain Valley. When I started here last year one of the first things I did was looking at the city citizen survey and comprehensive plan.”
“That led to a proposal in the 2020 budget that would do a pavement condition assessment for how best we could improve the street conditions in Grain Valley.”
“The thing I enjoy the least about my job is that unfortunately, I have to tell people ‘no.’ Simply by ordinance they may not be allowed to do something based on land use or zoning. Those rules and regulations may make us say you can’t put that deck as close to your property line as you would like based on the minimum setback of city ordinance.”
“It’s tough to tell people ‘no.’ Explaining why that ‘no’ exists usually leads to people understanding though.”
Trosen has been complimented on more than one occasion during Board of Alderman meetings for his preparedness in providing maps, research on city ordinances, and providing answers to questions used by the Board of Alderman to make decisions.
“Knowing where to find resources that provide accurate answers is an important part of the job. We depend a lot on the Jackson County GIS system because they keep current aerial photos for maps. One of the goals of our department is to improve the capability of our local GIS so that down the road, citizens can get on the city website and find what they need as well,” Trosen said.
“When it comes to city ordinance, it’s both what you remember because of the day in and out of your job as well as doing research. I can recite the building setbacks of R1 zoning district right now, but if you said you wanted to have a particular use in the city, I would have to check ordinance to verify.”
“That’s kind of our role with citizens, developer, builders, and companies looking to locate here. We try to be ambassadors for the city regarding ordinances and guide them in where they can find the information they need to have the correct answers to make a decision.”
“We don’t want any surprises for people. We want to be up front with rules and regulations so there can be a partnership.”
Trosen has most been fascinated with the community feel of Grain Valley. The compassion that people have for wanting to be in the best neighborhoods, fire protection districts, and school district possible impresses Trosen.
Trosen paused for a second in reflection before giving his final interview answer as to what is the best advice he would give someone based on his professional experiences.
“Working for local government, the only thing you truly have is your integrity and character. If that’s ever tarnished by the way you perform in a particular job, it’s reflected in how people think of you.”
“Being upfront, transparent, and sharing accurate information is what I’m judged upon on in my opinion.”
Have a nomination for a Community Profile? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org