“Neglect” a threat for Missouri State Penitentiary

I’ve been following the triumphs and troubles of the Missouri State Penitentiary since I did an extensive investigation on it a year ago. At first I was cheered to see the tourism board implementing a few of the funding solutions I had come across in my reporting. (Not that I believe that had anything to do with my reporting, obviously, I just think it shows that I managed to hit upon some truths.) Now, unfortunately, it looks like MSP is shutting down due to mold problems. The deterioration continues apace. I’m re-linking to my radio series here, which was broadcast on KBIA in May of 2012, and is sadly still relevant today:

“Neglect” a threat for Missouri State Penitentiary

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The oldest state prison west of the Mississippi sits dilapidated and crumbling in Jefferson City, Missouri. Despite its value as a tourist destination and historic landmark, the Missouri State Penitentiary might deteriorate to the point of shutting down permanently. Listen to the story on KBIA.org»

prison_wideshot Hear a former inmate’s story
One man’s historic building is another’s nightmarish living conditions. Former MSP inmate Joshua Kezer talks about what it was like to be incarcerated for 10 years in one of the oldest prisons in the U.S. Listen to the story on KBIA.org»
Other ancient prisons
The Missouri State Penitentiary is one of the oldest prisons in the country, but there are even older ones that survived both centuries of inmates and decades of decay. Learn about the variety of funding sources other groups came up with to keep other ancient prisons intact.

Thomas Jefferson’s influence on MU extends deep into university history

Sculptor George Lundeen cast a statue in bronze as a tribute to the third president of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia. View my audio, photo and text package for The Columbia Missourian»

View the entire multimedia project on The Quad»


Mill Town Credit Union will survive closing of Everett’s Kimberly-Clark mill

Read the article on Heraldnet.com»

EVERETT – The Kimberly-Clark paper mill is shutting down this year, but its credit union is not. The mill’s closure will have few effects on Mill Town Credit Union, Chief Executive Officer Laura Leuze said.

One is that Mill Town might have to move off Kimberly-Clark’s property on the waterfront. But the institution itself is safe and sound.

“We’re really stable and in really good financial shape,” Leuze said. “We’re able to absorb a lot of losses because we have a lot of money set aside.”

Laura Leuze, Mill Town Credit Union CEO.

In fact, Mill Town Credit Union has the highest capital as a percentage of assets out of all similarly sized credit unions in the state. Capital is the amount of money a financial institution keeps in reserve, in case of hard times.

Mill Town’s high capital ratio means it has a lot of padding to protect it from losses, Linda Jekel said.

Jekel is the director of credit unions for the state Department of Financial Institutions, which regulates and examines state financial service providers. She said Mill Town’s income is lower than would be desired, but the credit union is not in danger because of its capital reserves.

Though Mill Town was originally chartered in 1939 to serve mill employees, its membership has expanded. Now anyone living or working in Snohomish, Skagit or Island counties can open an account.

The credit union provides a full range of services, including checking, savings and credit services. It offers consumer, but not business, loans.

“We never stopped lending when commercial banks stopped,” Leuze said.

Mill workers make up about a fifth of Mill Town’s membership. A few, Leuze said, have closed their accounts and moved away, but most have stayed. She said the credit union is working individually with members who are affected by the mill’s closure.

“We’re small, so we really give individual attention to everyone,” she said.

Financial reports show that Mill Town has grown over the past couple of years. Loans did decrease this year, but Jekel said that was not by an unusual amount.

“In this economic environment, a lot of people are not borrowing,” she said.

Bankrate, an independent rating service that analyzes those financial reports, rated Mill Town “sound.” It gave the credit union four stars out of five among credit unions of its size.

10 plants to liven up your winter garden

Click the photo to view a gallery of 10 plants that add color to your winter garden.

It’s tough keeping a garden attractive in the winter, with nature working against you, but Sandy Schumacher, of the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens in Everett, has some suggestions.

The key word is color. Several plants sprout flowers, berries and tinted leaves in winter. Others have unusually textured or colored bark, like the red twig dogwood, whose vibrant red branches easily stand out against ice or snow; or the paperbark maple, a tree whose light brown bark peels naturally off its trunk.

“Something like this, something a little different, always looks good in winter,” Schumacher said.

Gardeners should place certain attention-catchers like the paperbark maple in highly visible spots, perhaps just outside a window.

Keep in mind where you want your visitors’ eyes to be drawn, Schumacher said.

Another winter eye-catcher is the beautyberry. Dark purple berries dangle from this tree’s spindly white branches.

Like the paperbark maple, this is a tree that looks best when defoliated in winter, Schumacher said.

“This would be a beautiful thing to have visible from inside the house,” she said.

View a gallery of 10 plants that add color to a winter garden.

Even dead trees can be beautiful. Another unusual element Schumacher suggests is a stump or fallen tree, which can add a decorative touch without needing blossoms.

“Don’t throw your logs away,” Schumacher said.

She also advises gardeners to take a walk through nurseries or gardens such as the arboretum for ideas for winter plants.

“It pays to go through public gardens in winter,” she said.

The Evergreen Arboretum grows some plants specifically for winter such as a mahonia variety called Charity, which bears bright yellow bracts, or leaves, in December.

Another winter garden dazzler is a variety of heather, a short, bright red shrub, whose blooms last for several months. Different varieties of heather bloom in different seasons.

“They are out of this world in the winter because of that flaming color,” Schumacher said.

But winter color doesn’t just mean flashy. Evergreen perennials are also important, including hellebores and Japanese white pines.

“I never had an appreciation for evergreens until I came to the arboretum,” Schumacher said.

Some even develop new shades on their tips in the winter. Golden spreader Caucasian fir needles are accented by chartreuse, a shade of yellow-green that can add a bright shot of color to even the grayest of winter days.

Read the article on Heraldnet.com»

Edmonds group organizes mixers for the unemployed, underemployed

EDMONDS — Mark Howen has worked in a Redmond QFC’s meat-cutting department for 15 years. But recently he’s seen many coworkers laid off or forced to take pay cuts, and he’s worried his employer is trying to replace him with someone younger.

“They’re trying to replace me, and I see that, and I understand that,” he said. “So you gotta find something else.”

Last year Howen joined E-SOUP, an Edmonds-based networking group for the unemployed and underemployed. The group aims to help members find employment, or to help them expand their businesses if they are self-employed.

“For me, at least, it’s answered all the things I expected of it,” Howen said.

Howen, who lives in Bothell, uses the group to connect with other people looking for income sources besides their day jobs.

Michael Reis and Barb Lord at a meeting of E-SOUP, a gathering of unemployed and underemployed people, at Gallagher's Where U Brew in Edmonds. Michael O'Leary / The Herald

Michael Reis started the group two years ago when he was laid off. He got nothing but silence in response to more than 100 resumes he submitted, which he said is not unusual for mid-career people who find themselves out of work.

E-SOUP stands for Edmonds Social Outlet for the Underemployed Professional. Members share conversation and contact information at the group’s monthly meetings.

“Maybe you’re trying to get an informal interview with, I don’t know, Expeditors in Seattle,” Reis said. “Well, maybe somebody knows somebody in Expeditors. Heck, you might be sitting round a table with somebody whose dad is president of operations out there.”

Michele Powell, another member who lives in Bothell, has been in and out of work for the past couple of years. She said the group gave her several leads on new employment but hasn’t led to a job yet.

“I met some great people there and a lot of us have kept in touch,” Powell said. Networking “is a lifelong thing now.”

The group also includes the underemployed — people who are not making the wage they are accustomed to or used to make, Reis said. He counts himself in that category. He works out of his home in Edmonds as a business consultant but doesn’t work as much as he’d like.

“A lot of talented, middle-aged Americans are trying to reach that level of income they used to have,” Reis said.

Though E-SOUP went dormant for more than a year when Reis found employment, he and some other original members restarted the group this year.

The next networking session is Feb. 8 at Gallaghers’ Where U Brew, at 180 W. Dayton St. in Edmonds. Learn more on the Web at www.meetup.com/E-SOUP/.