Readers select top stories of 2011

Published 10:45 pm Saturday, December 31, 2011

    For DAILY LEADER readers, the top story of the year didn’tmake headlines throughout the state and isn’t what got the mostcoverage through the year.


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    Instead, it was about one woman and what she meant to thecommunity.

    In a poll on The DAILY LEADER’s website, readers had theopportunity this week to select what they thought was the top storycovered by the DAILY LEADER in 2011.

    The results were overwhelming. With 61.6 percent of votes, readersselected the conclusion to the mystery of Virginia Ratliff’sdisappearance.

    It was a story that waited three years. On Feb. 28, 2008, the83-year-old Virginia Ratliff left Brookhaven in her 1999 GrandMarquis to see her husband Charles “Ploochie” Ratliff in a JacksonVA hospital.

    That was the last time anyone saw Virginia. She disappeared.Charles Ratliff died in the summer of 2010, and the couple wasmemorialized together. But on Feb. 25, a vehicle was found inJefferson County and nearby were remains officials believed to bethose Virginia Ratliff.

    The next month, testing by the state medical examiner’s officeconfirmed that the remains were Virginia Ratliff.

    For family members and the community, a chapter could finally beclosed and Virginia Ratliff properly laid to rest.

    On St. Patrick’s Day, Virginia Ratliff was laid to rest next to herhusband Charles in Rosehill Cemetery on what would have been thecouple’s 65th wedding anniversary.

    In late July, the Exchange Club dedicated a pavilion in ExchangeClub Park to the Ratliffs’ memory.

    The couple was a fixture at the pavilion during the annual ExchangeClub Fair. They were famous as the operators of the fair’s bingobooth.

    At the opening of this year’s fair, a dedication ceremony was heldand a marker unveiled featuring an engraving of the belovedpair.

    “They would be so pleased,” said Susie Ratliff, the Ratliffs’daughter, at the ceremony. “There is not a better way to rememberthem. This is where they would want to be remembered.”

    Other stories noted by readers as notable happenings were economicdevelopment in 2011, a fire at the Phillips Bark Plant and theweather of 2011. All these stories received about 6 percent of thevote.

    On the economic development front, King’s Daughters Medical Centeropened a clinic on Brookway Boulevard, replacing a location nearthe hospital on Highway 51. The new facility provided more spacefor patients and required new staff members.

    In March, a near-disaster was averted. Columbus Lumber was forcedto cease operation in 2010, threatening 100 jobs. However,out-of-state company Rex Lumber purchased the mill in the spring of2011, ensuring the plant’s continued presence in Brookhaven.

    The downtown area also saw improvements, particularly with theopening of a downtown hotel. Developers Johnny Lynch and JeffDoremus renovated a building originally constructed in the 1900s,transforming it into The Inn on Whitworth.

    The Phillips Bark fire broke out on March 23. Firefighters battledthe blaze for almost 12 hours. Firefighters on scene deemed it oneof the worst fires they had responded to.

    The plant rebounded, however, and about eight weeks later hadalmost returned to full capacity.

    Weather-related stories included an ice storm in February thatresulted in a number of traffic accidents. A tornado struck theRuth community in April. The EF1 tornado traveled 16.5 miles fromRuth to Topeka and was 600 yards wide, causing destruction tohouses and shutting down power.

    In September, rains caused by Tropical Storm Lee caused flooding onthe Fair River that damaged stalls and buildings belonging to theFreedom Reins Therapeutic Horsing Riding.

    The center was initially concerned that many of the saddles wouldbe ruined, but those fears proved unfounded. Volunteers effortswere able to clean much of the damage.

    The next tier of voter getters were stories dealing with happeningsat Delphi and the 2011 elections.

    A labor dispute between Delphi Packard and the union at theBrookhaven plant dragged on throughout much of the summer, andrumors of a plant shutdown were thick.

    A contract between the plant and union was reached, however, inJuly. Then in August, some more good news arrived: Dephi wouldinvest approximately $15 million in the plant.

    Elections were big news throughout the state and in Brookhaven,they brought three new members of the county board of supervisorsand saw Brookhaven resident Cindy Hyde-Smith capture the statewidepost of commissioner of agriculture and commerce. Hyde-Smith hadpreviously served as the District 39 senator.