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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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Mohandas Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Janis “Jan” Reding has been serving the community of Grain Valley since she moved here with her family in 1977. Grain Valley News has received multiple nominations to tell Reding’s story in the Community Profile section of the newspaper. We are delighted to do so.
Reding’s service to her community reads like a grocery list of involvement and good deeds. Reding has been a member of FOCUS for Grain Valley (formerly Optimist Club of Grain Valley) since 1997. A member of the Grain Valley Historical Society since 1999, Reding is currently completing her 8th year as Secretary for the organization.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending “Trivia Night” for the Grain Valley Assistance Council, you know of Reding’s devotion to those in need within our community. Reding has been on the Board of Directors for the Assistance Council since 1998.
Not only do the Assistance Council’s “Trivia Nights” raise money to feed Grain Valley families, they help transform our community in a positive manner with the fellowship that comes out of intellectual thinking and conversation during the event. Reding is always quick to thank those who donate their winnings instead of keeping it for themselves. The smile and kind words are heart felt and sincere for anyone who has ever heard them from Reding.
Other commitments for Reding include: Member of the Pillar of the Community Awards Committee, volunteer at the Monterey Park Nursing Center for 21 years, Member of the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) in Grain Valley since 2013, and Member of the task force for Economic Development and Master Planning in Grain Valley. This list is extensive and likely not inclusive of all Reding’s efforts.
Perhaps the capstone of Reding’s community involvement can be found in her love for children and her passion for learning. Reding was recently elected to serve another term as a member of the Grain Valley R-5 School Board. A post she has consecutively been elected to since 1999.
Reding credits her father for the importance that education has played in her life. A former superintendent of a small school district in Steffenville, Missouri, Reding’s dad was constantly teaching her to manage things should she ever be alone. Reding happily soaked up the knowledge as her father’s shadow growing up.
“His rule was ‘plan your work and work your plan.’ He was always telling me, ‘Never let a day go by without learning something new.’ He instilled in me wanting to be involved with schools and supporting children,” Reding said.
“I started in Grain Valley by being a school volunteer coordinator and then ran for a position on the school board. For the last 21 years on the board, I have watched our school district grow and become one of the best in the nation, and thanks to the patrons of our wonderful city, I am able to continue my service on the board for another three years.”
Reding continued, “I can say without question, that every member of our district staff is dedicated to providing the highest level of education to our students. Thanks to the wonderful support of our district’s patrons who pass our school bond issues, we continue to provide the safest and most efficient learning facilities for our students.”
Reding’s determination to give back to her community has been extensively generous across the three facets of contributions.
First, Reding loves reading and believes promoting literacy with children is great way to give them a better tomorrow. Each year, during the annual Scholastic Book Fair, Reding selects two schools (on rotation throughout the district) and permits teachers to select two books to add to their classroom library or take home to share with their children. Reding pays for this out of her own pocket. It helped her secure the moniker as the “secret donor” before her identity was revealed.
Next, Reding wanted to establish a scholarship for a Grain Valley student whose career path was either in education or business at the University of Central Missouri in honor of her father, Lyle H. Allen.
Lastly, a donation of $10 to the Grain Valley Education Foundation for every “A” her son and three granddaughters made while completing their undergraduate degrees rounds out Reding’s donations.
“During the last two Bright Futures annual meetings, Dr. Brad Welle (Grain Valley School District Deputy Superintendent of School and Community Services) and I have given a presentation on how to engage grandparents to volunteer in their school districts. I tell them about my $10 for every ‘A’ and have heard that there were many who took the idea and ran with it,” Reding said.
Grain Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Marc Snow is among those proud to call Reding one of their own.
“Jan Reding has served the community of Grain Valley as a member of the school board for over 20 years. Her legacy as a board member can best be described as ‘making sure every decision that she makes puts students front and center.’ Her legacy as a citizen of Grain Valley can, in part, be described as serving others first,” Snow said.
“During Reding’s time on the school board, the district’s enrollment has easily more than doubled. She has been a part of building two middle schools, two elementary schools, an early childhood center, a maintenance building, and a transportation center – not to mention the numerous additions done along the way.”
“Academically, she has seen the district move from little-known to nationally recognized. I am convinced that the many positive changes would not have happened if Jan was not involved.”
Snow concluded, “Jan Reding is simply the best Grain Valley has to offer. She loves her community, loves people, and loves serving others.”
Reding’s knowledge attained serving in leadership positions and working as the building manager for the Power & Light Building in Kansas City for 37 years prior to retiring in 1994 due to her husband’s illness has left her with a wealth of knowledge. Reding is not shy in her willingness to share advice with others who will listen.
“Make every day count. Do the things that make you happy and content. I am an outside person, and I love to mow. I watch the birds follow me as I blow the insects out of the grass, and I love to see the squirrels chase one another from tree to tree. When I am finished, I marvel at how lovely and clean everything looks,” Reding said.
“Life is too short to waste a minute on feeling sorry for yourself. If you must choose between reading a book or do the ironing, read a book – the ironing can wait!”
It was a joy for Grain Valley News to research Reding’s life. Numerous residents of Grain Valley went out of their way to contribute to this story. They were all happy to share how Reding makes our community stronger.
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Eastern Jackson County resident Sam Luttrell has been the owner of Absolute Automotive in Grain Valley since October of 2008. Luttrell’s first taste of success as a mechanic occurred at 14 years of age when he replaced his first head gasket on a motor. It was out of necessity for his father’s vehicle to assure he could still get back and forth to work. Luttrell was hooked and that has blossomed into a 30 year career.
“My Mom would tell you that I took my Tonka truck apart and put it back together out of curiosity to find out how it works at the age of five. I’ve always had a natural mechanical aptitude,” Luttrell said.
The decision of location on where to open Absolute Automotive was not an easy one for Luttrell. There were already auto mechanic shops in Grain Valley with established reputations. The building at 104 East AA Highway in Grain Valley was the most economical fit.
“Some of the buildings in the area that I was looking at to rent or buy wanted between $5,000 to $6,000 a month. I was able to secure our current location for significantly less. That was the difference, as the larger amounts would have left me wondering how we would have made the monthly payment,” Luttrell said.
Grain Valley News recently received a nomination for Luttrell to be featured as a Community Profile. The recommendation highlighted Luttrell’s honesty and his ability to communicate well with his customers. It would go on to also mention Absolute Automotive’s up front pricing and their timeliness of service in completing auto service and repair jobs.
A complete menu of maintenance, diagnostic, and repair service descriptions and costs are found on Absolute Automotive’s website (www.absoluteautomotive.net). Everything from used car pre-purchase inspections for $67.50 to a tire rotation for $25.00. Looking for the phone number to Luttrell’s shop (816-847-5252) via Yellow Pages online will also reveal an A+ Better Business Bureau rating.
The coronavirus pandemic and recent flow of business has led Luttrell to put off getting a haircut. The result was being mentioned as a Jerry Garcia look alike of the Grateful Dead by a recent customer. Luttrell accepted the observation with his usual smile and deep chuckle.
“The Saturday when they announced the shutdown was when I was supposed to have my last haircut. My wife is a fan of actor Sam Elliott and that’s the look she wanted me to go for. I said okay and I’ve let it grow. It’s pretty shaggy right now,” Luttrell said.
Satisfaction after three decades in the industry still comes for Luttrell when he solves a problem that’s been a mystery. Especially, a complicated electronic problem. Computers have made the diagnosis of these types of issues easier. However, they still often involve the process of elimination and problem solving by a skilled human who pays attention to detail
“Figuring out the right answer is rewarding. I’ll have something that I’ve been fighting all day long and then wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and realize what I should check next,” Luttrell said.
“Finding what works will lead you to what doesn’t. We get a common powertrain control module code P0171 or that the oxygen sensor is lean on bank one. That doesn’t necessarily mean the oxygen sensor is bad. It’s a possibility, but what usually causes the code is unmetered air entering the engine. All engines today measure how much air is going into them. This allows them to know how much fuel to add and how the oxygen sensor should like when it gets the correct amount.”
Luttrell continued, “If you have a vacuum line off, a hose that deteriorates, the oxygen sensor will go lean and when it goes out of it’s operating window, the computer will send the code. It’s not an exact science. Provided diagnostic codes point you in a direction and you have to confirm the issue and cause.”
Luttrell works by appointment at Absolute Automotive and is open from 7am to 5pm Monday through Friday.
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