To Infinity and Beyond: Mercury Project engineers presents to OTHS students

Former engineers who worked on the Mercury 6 project came and spoke to students at OTHS. From left: Dean Purdy, Norman Beckel, Jerry Roberts, Earl Robb. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Annabelle Knef)

By Annabelle Knef

Former engineers on the first human spaceflight program in the United States recently spoke to O’Fallon Township High School students of their experiences. 

Earl Robb, Jerry Roberts, Norman Beckel and Dean Purdy were the engineers behind Project Mercury — America’s first pursuit of space travel — running from 1958 through 1963.

Two members from the original “Mercury 6” panel were not present at the April 25 presentation. Bob Schepp died earlier this year on March 7. He was one of the original McDonnell Aircraft Mercury 6 engineers. 

Ray Tucker was unable to attend the presentation due to serious health issues. Tucker was responsible for the installation and checkout of the electrical group complex from the blockhouse to the spacecraft for both the Mercury and Gemini Projects. 

Earl Robb said he was hired by McDonnell Aircraft Co. (MAC) in August of 1952, immediately after he completed his college degree at SIU-Carbondale.

Robb said at the time he was hired, there was no “man in space type of activity” going on. He remained employed in Mechanical Design Engineering assignments with MAC and McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) for his entire 41-year career.

Robb’s first 6 years included jet airplane design including several fighter and fighter-bomber aircraft and a four-jet engine executive and commercial aircraft. Following the aircraft design experience, Robb was assigned to Manned Space related programs including the Mercury program. 

In late 1958, Robb was assigned to a group to help finalize the design configuration and theory of a “manned space satellite” to be proposed to the government. After MAC submitted the proposal, Robb was assigned to the Mercury Capsule production design group. He worked on structural design of the capsule pressure vessel, skins, shingles, hatches, windows and heat shields. 

Jerry Roberts, graduate of University of Arkansas, was a manned space vehicle and cruise missile Guidance and Control Systems (GCS) engineer at McDonnell Douglas for over three decades. 

Roberts was initially assigned to the Mercury Program followed by Gemini, Manned Orbital Laboratory and Skylab. He started each manned vehicle assignment with design and development in St. Louis and then transferred to Launch Operations in Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

He was a valued member of the blockhouse crew for vehicle launch and recovery operations on each manned program. After Skylab, Roberts returned to St. Louis and was involved with GCS design and development for various cruise missiles. He finished his career as Chief Design Engineer and Design Department Manager in the Astronautics Division. 

Norman Beckel, graduate of Pennsylvania State University, joined McDonnell Aircraft February of 1958 and retired from McDonnell Douglas Corp. in March of 1993. He was initially assigned to the Communication, Navigation Identification Group on the yet to fly Phantom F4H jet aircraft and was reassigned to the Mercury Communications Group when McDonnell was awarded the Mercury Project. 

As part of the McDonnell crew assigned to test and launch the spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Beckel worked closely with the Mercury Astronauts in preparation for launch. 

After Mercury and Gemini, Beckel was assigned to Program HEXAGON, which was an unmanned satellite that provided photographs of virtually anywhere on Earth. 

Dean Purdy, just like his fellow engineers, joined the MAC team right after his college graduation from Indiana Institute of Technology in 1955. 

Over the next 39 years, Purdy worked on one Mach 2 jet fighter program, three missile programs and eight space programs including five manned space programs. He joined the Mercury team in early 1959 working in the electrical power and sequential systems design group, staying with the Mercury Program until completion. 

Purdy also took part in the Gemini Project electrical design team before he transferred to the St. Louis Gemini Operations team. He then went to the Manned Orbiting Lab to oversee the electrical design of the Heat Shield Qualifications Vehicle.

Subsequent space activity included Program Management of the last two Orbital Attitude Maneuvering System pods for the Shuttle program; the Modular Power Subsystem for NASA’s Multi-Mission Modular Spacecraft; Electrophoresis Operations in Space; and the Transporter Electrical Storage System and External Lighting Modules for the International Space Station.

Purdy was Director-Military and Space Electronics when he retired in 1994. 

Robb said public opinion at the time of the Mercury Project was vey wary of its goal, which was to put a man into Earth’s orbit and returning him safely. 

“There were a lot of experts saying man couldn’t exist in space,” Roberts said 

He described the astronauts in the Mercury Program as “very brave people.” 

O’Fallon to have fireworks display on Sunday, July 7

By: Annabelle Knef

O’FALLON – For the first time in over 30 years, the city of O’Fallon will have its very own firework display, which will take place at the Family Sports Park on the evening of Sunday, July 7. 

O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach said when he was running for office, he kept a list of all the different suggestions and ideas that he heard from people to bring the community together. 

One idea he heard was for the city to have a Homecoming event. “Last year we brought together City Fest, which replaced what was once Homecoming in the past,” Roach said. 

Roach said he then began thinking of the feasibility of a firework display in the city of O’Fallon. 

“We haven’t had one here in O’Fallon in over 30 years.”

The city began looking at different sites where the display could take place and they invited different licensed firework companies. 

The prime site everyone felt the most comfortable to host the display, according to Roach, was the Family Sports Park in the area across from the firehouse. 

The city chose Quincy based firework company and operators Fireworks Authority Inc. Roach said they not only have a great reputation, they also gave the city a low quote in a figure under $15,000. 

Roach said the company reviewed the site, along with the Parks and Recreation Department, O’Fallon Fire Department and O’Fallon Police. 

The company submitted a drawing that dictated the amount of space needed for a safety clearance and the Family Sports Park was well qualified for the space allotment. 

“We are excited about doing it,” Roach said. “Everybody we have talked with is excited about it.” 

Roach said while the sports park is able to fit several hundred cars for parking, the city will soon correspond with nearby businesses about parking availability on the night of July 7. 

Roach said a lot of community members won’t need to travel to the sports park for the firework display, they may be able to see it from their back yards. 

Roach said the firework display “will pull the community together as one.” “This is what we did with City Fest and that is what we are trying to do with this.”

Roach said the reason the firework display is not on the Fourth of July is due to factors such as schedules for the Parks and Recreation Department and the firework company partnering with the city. 

The Parks and Recreation Department is built a year in advance for certain summer activities such as sporting events, according to Roach. He said firework companies such as Fireworks Authority Inc. are sometimes booked two or three years in advance, especially around the Fourth of July holiday. 

The firework display will take place later in the evening on Sunday, July 7, around 9 p.m. and will last approximately 20 minutes. 

District 90 and the Weekly Present the April 2019 Student Service Award Recipients

The following students have been named by their principals in recognition for their efforts to make their school and community a better place.

Hinchcliffe Elementary 
Lucy Blankenship

Lucy is a future leader in the making! Whether it is leading by personal example or being the leader during group and project work, she leads by setting a positive example. As classroom leader, Lucy takes over as the teacher and continues on with a lesson if there is a classroom interruption. She hops up in the teacher chair and continues the lesson with her best “teacher voice,” asking students questions and giving out compliments and encouraging words to her classmates. Her teacher said, “One time during group work when a student was upset because he struggled reading a specific word, Lucy calmly and respectfully acknowledged his frustration, helped him calm down, and helped him use decoding strategies with the word. She has a genuine concern, kindness, and acceptance for others. Lucy Blankenship is very deserving of this award.”

Evans Elementary
Reagan Rettig

Reagan Rettig is a conscientious student who always puts her best effort into her work. She often goes above and beyond in her writing. Reagan likes to help others get along and encourages caring and being respectful to others. She will help students that need additional assistance with work or activities.  Reagan’s teacher said, “I heard Reagan explain to other students how sometimes you have to forgive and move on to get along with them. She is a great classmate and student here at Evans!”

Estelle Kampmeyer Elementary
Juliann Neeley

Juliann Neeley shows great citizenship in everything she does! She is always caring and considerate to her classmates. Juliann is always willing to lend a hand to students and adults alike. She gives her best effort in her academics, and shows respect to EK School with both her actions and words. 

Delores Moye Elementary
Steven Markwardt

Steven Markwardt is a preschooler at Moye Elementary School. He is always willing to help his friends and help around the classroom. He is an extremely hard worker and is always excited to be at school. Steven is such a good friend. When we get new students, Steven is the first one to volunteer to show them around and make them feel welcome! We are so proud of Steven!

Marie Schaefer Elementary
Parker Kinney

Parker is always empathetic, thoughtful and helpful to others. His teacher noted a time when Parker ran over to help a fellow student after he fell playing soccer.  Parker made sure he was ok and helped him up.  When a classmate fell in the classroom recently Parker alerted his teacher and stayed by his side while patting his back.  He was so concerned that he kept asking if he could go check on the injured classmate. Parker then offered to gather all of his classmate’s belongings to take them to the nurse’s office, and made sure the class saved a birthday treat for him to have when he returned the next day. Parker also displays empathy and care for Schaefer’s Mr. Daren who is bravely battling cancer. Parker seeks Daren out daily to ask him how he feels, bring him a treat, and give him a hug.  It has touched Daren deeply that Parker and his family have shown him such great kindness and empathy. Parker also encourages his classmates and others daily to do their best. Parker’s teacher said, “I have known him to help the younger children when they have needed help in the hallway, or remind them of expectations. Parker definitely has a heart for others and is a true example of kindness and empathy!” 

Carriel Junior High
Kaitlyn Spinnie

Katie is and always has been an excellent student at Carriel.  She always enters the classroom with a positive attitude and helpful hand.   Her helpful spirit, reliability and hard-work make her a  student that teachers can trust to help with important tasks.  Katie is inspiring to others and has demonstrated strong leadership within the student community.  She is a Captain of the Dance Team and serves as an active member of NJHS. She has helped with numerous service opportunities including working the concession stand for basketball and volleyball games, helping the Little Panthers program with wrestling and lacrosse games, the Pennies for Pasta fundraiser, and tutoring at Moye.

Fulton Junior High
Chris Chaney

Chris Chaney is the recipient of this month’s Student Service Award due to his passionate participation in many activities at Edward A. Fulton Junior High School. Serving as an executive board member for Student Council, Chris recently represented Fulton at the state convention in Springfield. Beyond his service to Student Council, Chris is an active member of the Scholar Bowl Team, NJHS, and Boy Scouts (to name a few). Chris epitomizes the meaning of leadership and is an excellent example of everything a Fulton Panther should be!

Suspect in custody in connection to Sports Park homicide

O’FALLON – A suspect in connection to Monday morning’s homicide was taken into custody in Memphis, Tennessee, late that evening. 

Andrew Montez McKissick was taken into custody by the Memphis Police Department without incident at around 11:50 p.m. on April 22. He is being held pending extradition to Illinois on unrelated charges.

On Wednesday, April 24, McKissick was charged with three counts: one count of first degree homicide, one count of aggrivated arson, and one count of aggrivated battery. He is still in Memphis and is being held on $2 million bond. 

On Monday, April 22, the O’Fallon Police responded to calls of a person and vehicle on fire at 7:23 a.m. near the Family Sports Park in the 300 block of Obernuefemann Road. When first responders arrived they found bystanders attempting to help a woman who was on fire. Emergency responders rendered aid, but she was later pronounced deceased by the St. Clair County Coroners office.

Sherry J. Billups

The victim, identified by O’Fallon Police as 35-year-old Sherry J. Billups, resided in the 600 block of West Madison in O’Fallon. She worked at the O’Fallon Post Office and had two children.

A candlelight vigil was held in Billups’ honor on Tuesday, April 23, at the Sports Park. Around 25 people came out and remembered her life. 

McKissick and Billups were only recently married in March of this year, honeymooning in Las Vegas. The couple were grade school sweethearts.

However, McKissick has a troubled past with an extensive violent criminal history, including convictions for aggravated battery on a police officer, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and unlawful restraint. 

Following the event at the Sports Park Monday morning, the Illinois State Police put out an alert for a 2002 Chevrolet Z71 extended cab pick up with black trim that was heading south, possibly to Alabama or Mississippi. 

The O’Fallon Police ask anyone with information to call them at (618) 624-9589.

To read Homicide suspect in custody, click here.

To read Police release victim, suspect in Sports Park homicide, click here.

To read Police investigating homicide in Sports Park, click here.

JAMS announces April Students of the Month

Joseph Arthur Middle School recently named their April Students of the Month. The word of the month is Fairness, and the following students exhibited great fairness. From left: fifth grader Cheyenne Wells, sixth grader Courtney McCoy, and seventh grader Niko Melendrez. (Submitted Photo)

Fifth annual Armed Forces Ball to take place May 4

St. Clair County is hosting its fifth annual Armed Forces Ball that will take place on Saturday, May 4, at the Regency Conference Center in O’Fallon. 

The event will honor the service of military members including airmen, soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard and veterans assigned to Scott Air Force Base and other locations throughout the Metro East. 

Ellen Hughes of the St. Clair County Armed Forces Ball Committee said that each year approximately 400 tickets are sold. Of that 400, 100 of the tickets are given to military members for free. 

Each table at the ball will consist of 10 people, eight of them being members from the surrounding communities and two of them being military members. 

Hughes said it is set up that way so community members, business owners and individuals in the military can mingle and get to know one another. 

“It’s a formal affair,” she said of the military ball. 

Hughes is the wife of the late General John Hughes, who was the Director of Military Affairs for St. Clair County. He acted as liaison between Scott Air Force Base and the county and worked under County Chairman Mark Kern. 

It was his idea that bore the annual military ball. Gen. Hughes died in August of 2018. 

“Five years ago, he said we need to do more for the base, we need to give back somehow,” Hughes said. “That is how the idea of the ball came to be.” 

Tickets cost $100 per person and all of the proceeds earned through the ball goes back to Scott Air Force Base and military members and veterans in the surrounding communities. 

“It stays local,” Hughes said. “That is important to us because we want people to know that we are doing this because of our community. We try to have everybody benefit from it,” Hughes said of the ball proceeds. 

Hughes said the ball has “really grown” since its inception five years ago. “The first year was successful but not to the degree it is now,” she said. 

The ball kicks off at 5:30 p.m. and will consist of entertainment by the Charles Glenn group, a silent auction with more than 100 items, cocktail hour with donated beer and wine and a sit down dinner. 

Major General Stephen E. Farmen, the 21st Commanding General of the U.S. Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, will also make remarks at the event. 

Hughes said that previous events have raised in excess of $20,000. 

To purchase a ticket to the fifth annual Armed Forces Ball, visit

Congressman Bost visits O’Fallon YMCA

Pictured from left: VP of membership for the Gateway Region Y Association Andy Stack, Congressman Mike Bost, O’Fallon YMCA Associate Executive Director Lisa Harley. (Submitted Photo)

O’FALLON – Congressman Mike Bost visited the O’Fallon YMCA to discuss Operation Salute, which offers new military pricing supporting our military and veteran families. The Congressman also learned about Operation Kid Comfort that provides a free quilt or pillowcase to children on deployed parents. The YMCA also offers a program called Operation Fit For Duty that provides our military members with a medical profile an opportunity to recover by utilizing the Y’s pool for free.

JAMS eighth graders take part in STEM day at Scott AFB

Eighth grade students from Joseph Arthur Middle School received a hands on lesson in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the men and women at Scott Air Force Base on Thursday, March 28.

The students not only were able to tour a number of aircraft, but also received lessons through activities put on and organized by Scott AFB personnel. (Submitted Photos)

Venuti named 2019 Mr. Irresistible

O’Fallon Township High School recently held its annual Mr. Irresistible contest, a tongue-in-cheek pageant for the guys of OTHS. At the end of the event, Gio Venuti was named the 2019 Mr. Irresistible. 

Pictured from left: Sam McCoy who was named Mr. Macho, Nolan Bradley first runner up, 2019 Mr. Irresistible Gio Venuti, Miss O’Fallon Adriana Scagliarini, Ethan Weld second runner up, Nathan Amenn Mr. Charming. (Photo by OTHS Today)

District 90 Board approves tech upgrade at Moye

By Angela Simmons

O’FALLON – Championship bowlers, championship volleyball and excellent staff members were celebrated at the most recent District 90 school board meeting. The board also approved new positions, discussed the idea of added electives and approved a technology refresh after a presentation from district Technology Director Grady Niles. 

The annual technology refresh will be taking place at Delores Moye Elementary School. Niles shared that Moye’s projectors are fine, their Lenovo desktops need upgrading, but their Chromebooks and iPads need a refresh. The total cost to the district is expected to be $137,450 for 280 2019 32GB iPads, 280 Griffin Survivor iPad cases, 200 HP Chromebooks, 200 Google management licenses, and six Chromebook carts. Niles presented bids for each piece from multiple companies and highlighted the lowest bids for the best possible savings. 

The annual refresh is not new, and is part of a five year plan. Hinchcliffe and Estelle Kampmeyer elementary schools have already benefited from the plan. Laverna Evans and Marie Schaefer elementary schools will be the recipients of the refresh in the 2020-2021 school year, and Carriel and Fulton junior highs will receive a refresh in the 2021-2022 school year. 

As part of a refresh, Niles also presented on the districts copier machines. The current three year contract expired in February and is in a month-to-month status until the end of the school year. The district has 21 black and white and two color copiers covered under the lease, while their 14 laser printers are not covered. The district makes over 820,000 black and white copies monthly, and over 18,000 color copies. 

He proposed changing to 15 black and white copiers, eight color copiers and seven multi-function printers. The new contract with All Pro Office Technology would be $6,559.35, and would be a monthly savings over the previous contract of $650.86, amounting to an annual savings of $7,810.32. 

The board, minus absent members Mary Baskett and Steve Springer, unanimously approved both refresh proposals. 

In Other News:

Fulton Boys Bowling team made it to fourth place and Carriel student Hannah Williams placed thirteenth individually.

• The Fulton Boys Bowling team of Chase Keen, Jared Salzman, Tyler Mueller and Nathan Bassford made it to fourth place, and Bassford placed sixth individually. Carriel student Hannah Williams was also recognized for placing thirteenth individually. 

Fulton Girls Volleyball Team placed second in the SIJHSAA state tournament.

The Fulton Girls Volleyball team was also celebrated for their second place finish in the SIJHSAA state tournament, the highest that the team has ever accomplished. 

The board continued the celebrations by naming their teacher of the month, sponsored by the O’Fallon Fraternal Order of the Police. Physical Education teacher Sara Mudd teaches at both Evans and Schaefer elementary schools. She organizes annual field events, organizes the district’s Jump Rope for Heart event that has raised thousands of dollars, and, along with her colleagues, organizes the district’s annual Read and Run event. Mudd also “creates a positive, interactive learning environment every day in her physical education classes.”

Physical Education teacher Sara Mudd was named teacher of the month.

Staff member of the month Lynn Hoffman, the secretary at Carriel Junior High, was unable to be present for the meeting due to family commitments, but board and administrative members are looking forward to celebrating her.

• The board approved a job description for a new HVAC/grounds and maintenance position. The goal is to have additional help taking care of the grounds and schools and a certified pair of hands to help the district’s existing HVAC technician. 

• Also approved was the creation of a Behavioral Specialist position that will be housed at Moye. Superintendent Carrie Hruby explained that the specialist would be housed at Moye because it holds many of the district’s special needs programs. The specialist would work with teachers and students to coach them on behavioral plans to keep students on the best possible path. They would also travel to the other schools to observe and coach teachers on possible plans. The search criteria is broad to allow the board to meet with a wide variety of candidates and select the best possible person for the position. 

• A district literacy coach position that is currently part-time was approved to be full-time. The position is funded by a Title I grant, and Hruby believes that along with a math coach and Director of Curriculum Jill Lyons will be important for continuity through the schools. 

• The board discussed the possibility of adding electives at both the junior high and elementary levels. Technology and foreign language classes were discussed for junior high, while additional PE classes and technology or art were considered for elementary. The district’s budget will allow for the hiring of seven new teachers, and the board would prefer for any elective teachers to come out of that number. However, with the growth in the district, reducing class sizes is a very immediate priority. Two teachers are needed at Fulton for class size reduction, and the board would prefer to wait and see the numbers after July registration to know where the other five teachers are needed. 

When the next budget comes around and the district has a better sense of how many classroom teachers are needed, the board will revisit the idea of additional electives. 

Baseball Panthers split week against tough opponents

Josh Gibson broke the all-time career varsity games played record in the 117 year history of O’Fallon Baseball on Saturday, April 20, by appearing in his 132nd and 133rd games.
(Submitted Photo)

O’FALLON – The OTHS Varsity baseball team split two series and ended the week with a current season record of 12-7.  

The Panthers started the week on Tuesday, April 16, with a 7-5 win at conference opponent Collinsville.  The game was tied at five with O’Fallon batting in the top of the sixth when TJ Morgan doubled and scored one run to take the lead.  Wes Collins tripled in the top of the seventh and scored on Kyle Becker’s sacrifice bunt.  Ben Koenig pitched four innings with Logan Lowery in relief.  Lowery pitched three scoreless innings, struck out four and allowed one hit.  

Unfortunately, the Panthers lost the lead late in a 3-2 defeat to Collinsville at home on Wednesday, April 17. Luke Gasser started and pitched a complete game, allowing three runs on five hits, striking out seven and no walks. The Panthers were held at two runs despite multiple hits, including doubles by Logan Lowery, Drew Tebbe, and Tyler Stanton. Cody Bauer led O’Fallon with two hits in four at bats.  

Vonner Panek entered in relief and threw four and a third innings, allowing two hits and no runs. (Submitted Photo)

On Saturday, April 20, the Panthers played a double header at Blazier Field against Quincy Notre Dame.  The games were the 132nd and 133rd varsity games played for Josh Gibson, who broke the all-time career varsity games played record in the 117 year history of O’Fallon Panther baseball.

The Panthers put up a strong fight in game one against Quincy Notre Dame.  Despite a seven run deficit in the third inning, O’Fallon came back, eventually falling 7-6 to Quincy ND.  The Panthers six runs included a home run by Wes Collins in the third and a home run by Josh Gibson in the fifth.  Wes Collins (4) and Josh Gibson (3) are currently two of the the area’s home run leaders.  Mike Larson started for O’Fallon and pitched two and two-thirds innings.  Vonner Panek entered in relief and threw four and a third innings, allowing two hits and no runs.  O’Fallon rallied back and defeated Quincy Notre Dame 10-0 in game two.  The Panthers tallied 11 hits, including multiple hits by Kyle Becker, Wes Collins and Drew Tebbe.  Tebbe went 3-for-3 at the plate to lead O’Fallon.  Kaden Joggerst started, allowing one hit, no runs, and striking out five over three and a third innings. 

District 203 Board to decide teacher’s future amid allegations of improper contact with students

Following the conclusion of public comment, friends and supporters offered JaRon Dent hugs and words of encouragement.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller) 

 O’FALLON – The District 203 Board of Education heard an hour and a half of nearly unanimous praise for teacher and coach JaRon Dent, who has been on administrative leave for most of the past two months as the district performs an investigation, at their meeting Tuesday evening. 

While the school district declined to comment as to the nature of the investigation, documents and reports obtained by the Weekly from the O’Fallon Police Department though the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the investigation into Dent could revolve around allegations of improper conduct with and grooming of female students. 

According to the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, the Board had planned on possibly issuing disciplinary action onto Dent. However, at the start of the public portion of the meeting, Board President Lynda Cozad told the packed room that there would be no action taken regarding Dent that night. 

From there, a steady stream of colleagues, students, parents, and supporters stood and praised Dent as a kind and wonderful man, mentor, teacher, and coach. 

“I’m grateful to have known JaRon Dent, especially now when we have such a need for role models. I thank God for JaRon Dent,” said one supporter. 

“I was getting ready to drop out of school and he stopped me from being a pessimistic person to being an optimistic person. He’s more than just a teacher. We need him, I need him. Can’t you all see? It’s tearing me apart and imagine how many other kids it’s tearing apart. I can’t walk into that class and not see his face, that’s my motivation. He encourages me. If he doesn’t come back, I don’t come back,” a student said in a passionate speech.

However, there were some statements given by visitors that spoke less to his personal character and more to the allegations of improper conduct.

“I would like for the Board to do their job. This is not about a fight at school that was broken up, this is about inappropriate behavior. Touching girls, telling girls he would take their virginity, telling girls he was going to marry them, kissing girls in the coat room, sneaking around, giving them passes, all of that. I don’t know who these people here know, but the man I know is a full fledged predator in my book. He has no business doing what he did,” one woman said in her testimony.

Another person, who stated she was the aunt of a student that has spoke out against Dent, said she also is concerned by Dent and his alleged actions.

“My niece is who was harmed by Mr. Dent and I feel like the Board has a responsibility to her to make sure she’s safe at school. What happened to her is not pleasant and has caused her to miss school, to miss practice, to lose people she would call friends. She has been bullied as a result of telling the truth. He may have been a great influence on some of these other people, but the people at this school and in charge have a responsibility to every body to make sure they feel comfortable in class. At the end of the day, we’re all here to learn. But who would come forward to be met with boos and say anything against him? There’s no reason to say something like this about someone that is so loved. I just want you to think about what this cost the person who did come forward and made a compliant,” the alleged victim’s aunt told the Board. 

Dr. Dawn Porter, a frequent visitor at District 203 Board of Education meetings who urges the district to include more diversity when hiring teachers, said she hopes the Board doesn’t act too quickly when considering the fate of one of only two African-American teachers at OTHS.

“I’m not here to speak to the allegations that have been made, but I have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Dent in the past year and have seen the direct impact he has had on the students and community here at OTHS. In the few short weeks during his absence, there has been a noticeable void, not only in his classroom before, during, and after school, but in the enthusiasm and energy that was felt in that space. Students trust Mr. Dent because he takes the time to get to know them. He knows and understands their strengths because he cares for them,” Dr. Porter said. 

“As one of only two African-American teachers at OTHS, I encourage members of the Board to consider the nuances, cultural norms, communication styles, and socio-economic backgrounds and how they can lend themselves to understanding and interpreting situations. As they look to make a decision, I hope the decisions you make are in the best interests of all students,” Dr. Porter continued. 

The Board has tabled action against Dent and may possibly pick it back up at their May 23 meeting. 

The Investigation

According to police reports, on March 7, representatives of District 203 and School Resource Officer Brian Riggar met with a student they refer to as Student 1 and her mother. Student 1 reported inappropriate behavior by Dent. 

The report states that Student 1 said that she and another student, Student 4, hang out a lot and that on March 1 she flipped off Student 4 which was witnessed by Dent. She stated that Dent then smacked her on the butt in a disciplinary manner, but it made her feel uncomfortable. 

Additionally, Student 1 reported to police that Student 4 has told her and another student, Student 3, that Dent had kissed Student 4 one morning prior to school during the first semester. Student 1 also reported being in Dent’s classroom with other students after school for a Martin Luther King Club meeting in November 2018 and overhearing Dent tell Student 4 that she had “white stuff”, meaning crumbs, on her face and that it wasn’t from him.

Student 1 also alleges to have seen Dent grab Student 4 by the breast and squeeze it for discipline and that Student 4 had told her that Dent will “take her virginity when she turns 18 years old, or possible when she turns 16 in approximately six weeks.”

Finally, Student 1 reported that Dent has asked for her to take pictures with him to make Student 4 jealous and that Student 4 is jealous whenever another student, Student 2, is around Dent.

The report states that following the interview with Student 1, the district officials and police met with Student 2 who reported that Dent allegedly often put his arms around students and that he refers to female students as “Baby”. Student 2 stated that she had allegedly seen Dent grab Student 4’s butt and that she had seen Dent and Student 4 in the hallways with Dent having his arm around Student 4 and Student 4 holding onto his hand. She also reported that Dent had asked her to take a picture with him to send to Student 4 to make her jealous.

Following this interview, district officials and police met with Student 3, who reported that she had observed Student 4 grab Dent’s butt on multiple occasions and that Student 4 and Dent text frequently using terms of affection and heart emoji’s.

At this point, the report states that OTHS Administration met with Dent, who denied all wrong doing and was placed on administrative leave. The police requested consent from Dent to search his cellular phone, and while Dent initially requested some time to think about it, the police later heard from Dent’s union representative, Mike Day, that Dent would not be consenting to a search of his phone.

District officials and police met with Student 4 who denied anything inappropriate between her and Dent. Student 4 does text with Dent and she did admit to hugging Dent. Dent also provides her with passes to come to his room during lunch and advisory period. 

Student 4’s father provided the O’Fallon Police access to his daughter’s phone. The phone revealed that Student 4 does have Dent saved as a contact and that there are numerous photos of Dent with her that appear to be taken at OTHS. Additionally, there are multiple photos of just Dent.

Police also found two screenshots of messages between Student 4 and Dent. In both messages, Dent refers to Student 4 as “Baby” and in one they both tell each other “Love you.” All text messages between Student 4 and Dent have been deleted and could not be recovered by O’Fallon PD. 

When asked by the police, Student 4 allegedly stated that she frequently deletes text messages as a way to preserve data storage on her phone and that she did not delete any messages between she and Dent on or after March 7, when the investigation began.

Video surveillance has been reviewed by District 203 and Dent is seen on numerous occasions walking through the hallways of the school with his arm around Student 4. The police report noted that “such observed contact is outside the normal teacher/student relationship.”

The O’Fallon Police interviewed Student 4 again on March 11 and she again denied anything inappropriate had occurred between she and Dent. She described Dent as a mentor. She denied kissing and that he has grabbed her inappropriately or that he grabbed her butt. She did state they often play around and will play fight and that they do text each other a couple of times a week. Student 4 stated they are close and both will say they “Love you” to the other one as a term of endearment.

Student 4 did confirm that Dent smacked Student 1 on the butt, however she said it was with a binder he was holding. 

On March 15, the police sought out Dent for further questions. After locating him they asked if he would come into the station to speak. Dent said he would come in but wanted to drive himself, so he followed the officer back to the Public Safety Building. However, when they arrived, Dent immediately stated upon getting out of his car that he was advised by his attorney to not make a statement and that he wouldn’t enter the building. Dent did not wish to give his attorney’s name to the police. 

The O’Fallon Police Department’s investigation effectively stopped when two St. Clair County Assistant State Attorney’s Elizabeth Nester and Bernadette Schrempp declined a search warrant for records from Dent’s phone. Both said that while Dent’s actions were inappropriate, they did not feel his actions rose to the level of a criminal offense.

The department has closed the investigation, however they state in their report that it can be reopened if other evidence is produced.

The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services is conducting their own investigation into the allegations against Dent.

View of the Past: Andrew Molles’ wagon shop in the late 1800’s

This week’s view, from the late 1800’s, is of Andrew Molles’ wagon shop that once stood on the south side of East State Street, between Vine and Lincoln in O’Fallon.  A native of Switzerland, Molles came to the United States with his parents in 1848 when he was 8 years old.  He settled in O’Fallon in 1868 and worked as a wagon maker there until his retirement in 1923.  The building to the far right in the photo is still standing at the southeast corner of State and Lincoln.  

Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society

Fulton Drama Club performs Winnie the Pooh

Fulton Jr. High Drama Club presented Winnie the Pooh on Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13 in the Fulton auditorium. 

The production of Winnie the Pooh had music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. It was choreographed by Margaret Poletti with technical direction by Shelley Deagan and directed by Cindy Williams.

(O’Fallon Weekly Photos by Nick Miller)