Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Hurricane Sandy dominated the national headlines this past year. In 2011, the disaster in Japan was second top national/international story (Bin Laden's murder was number one.) In 2010 the Gulf Oil spill was the biggest story.
For the last three years, disasters took the top spot in our top stories locally. In 2009, the Silver Creek/Gowanda flood was the top story that year. In 2010, the Masonic Temple in Dunkirk burned down. In 2011, a pair of late November tornadoes damaged parts of Fredonia and Westfield, the latest ever we had tornadoes touch down locally.
But this year, disasters took a back seat. We did note in our top 10 stories the damage caused by April frost, which essentially destroyed the apple crop and heavily damaged the grape crop. But outside of that, our top stories focused on other issues.
For the second year in a row, we lost a local soldier in combat. Sgt. Jonathan "Nathan" Gollnitz of Fredonia was killed this year. In 2011, we lost Westfield native Kevin White as well as Aaron M. Swanson of Lakewood. Last year we also lost James Hackemeyer of Gowanda. Hackemeyer, who lost both his legs while serving in Iraq in 2008, was killed in a freak accident while riding the Ride of Steel roller coaster in Darien Lake.
Also for the second year in a row, talk of selling the County Home dominated headlines, still without a decision. Maybe a decision will finally be made one way or the other in 2013.
NRG's decision to shut down two of its four lines has been a huge story, not just in Dunkirk but countywide. NRG is the largest property taxpayer not only in the city, but in the county as well. It's possible the plant could close, which would have a huge impact on our community. At the same time, NRG could become a natural gas plant. Should that happen, it will be the most expensive construction project - using private dollars - ever in the county.
Clymer is probably one of the furthest places you can get from our circulation and still be in Chautauqua County. Yet when we heard how the school superintendent was murdered, suddenly our hearts ached for Keith Reed Jr. and our neighbors to the south.
In the end we selected Jenn (Stuczynski) Suhr's winning the gold medal as our top story. She was our top story in 2008, when she won the silver. Suhr has not committed to competing again in four years. If she decides not to, it could be decades, if not a century or longer before we see someone from Northern Chautauqua County winning a gold medal at the Olympics. With all the bad news and uncertain times we felt in 2012, Suhr's accomplishment gave us a moment of pride. Jenn and her husband Rick may live in Churchville, but we'll always remember her as Fredonia's own.
Gregory Bacon is the OBSERVER managing editor. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org