Looking Back at 2021


The year of 2021 faced similar challenges as the previous year as Thurston and Pierce counties continued to navigate their way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout it all, the Nisqually Valley News covered noteworthy events that took place, which ranged from a return to in-person instruction for students to close election races.

Jan. 7

Rainier Residents Send 2020 Off With New Years Eve ‘Lantern Walk of Hope’

Rainier residents gathered after New Year’s Eve 2020 to host a “lantern walk of hope.” The path ran along the Yelm-Tenino Trail, which is now the Yelm-Rainier-Tenino Trail.

The procession began at the Chevron gas station and continued to Wilkowski Park, and participants carried with them what they wanted to leave in the year prior, and what they looked forward to in 2021.

Jan. 15

Six Months Later, Yelm Family Still Recovering From COVID-19

The Nisqually Valley News ran a profile on Mike and Karen Conley, a family who conquered COVID-19.

Mike Conley, 66, is a devout Catholic, a U.S. Army veteran and “one tough Irishman” — or so his sister says. He and his family had been to hell and back with diagnosis of COVID-19 in 2020, and by Jan. 15, 2021 the family was still in the process of finding a sense of balance in a world that just wouldn’t stop spinning.

Mike spent 75 days in the hospital, 36 of those on a ventilator, which severely damaged his muscular system and ability to talk. Karen Conley suffered through a more mild case while her husband received treatment. 

The couple was reunited in early June 2020.

Jan. 21

Work Begins on Community Garden in Yelm City Park

A partnership between the city of Yelm, Yelm-based Bounty for Families, the Thurston Conservation District and Garden-Raised Bounty worked to bring the city’s first community garden to Yelm City Park. More partners were expected to jump on board once the garden opened to the public. 

Roughly 25 volunteers from multiple organizations and nonprofits came out in January of 2021 to begin constructing the community garden. It was set to feature 12 garden beds, a half-dozen cloth beds, a warehouse with a seed bank, benches and arbors as well as two ADA-accessible paths leading to the garden from a nearby walking path and parking lot.

Jan. 29

Thurston Health Officer Gives OK to Begin Returning Students to Classroom

Thurston County’s health officer gave the OK in late January 2021 for public schools to start the transition to a hybrid learning model that included in-person instruction, starting first with younger students. 

The decision by Health Officer Dimyana Abdelmalek came weeks after the state started to reconfigure goals for metrics to begin the process to reopen businesses and bring kids back into physical classrooms. School districts throughout Thurston County had been busy planning for the return to partial in-person learning. Some expected to bring students back shortly after the announcement. 

Feb. 4

Thurston, Pierce Advance in Inslee Reopening Plan

Thurston and Pierce counties both moved into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan. The counties were the first to make the move as the West and Puget Sound regions met metrics that showed improvements in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a press conference on Jan. 28, 2021, Inslee announced that two of the state’s eight regions defined in the “Healthy Washington” plan the governor announced earlier in the year would be able to lift some restrictions on Feb. 1, 2021.

Feb. 11

Mayor Foster: Yelm Staying Resilient Through Pandemic

Yelm Mayor JW Foster’s 2021 state of the city address wasn’t as rosy as in past years. The “Pride of the Prairie” mayor told Yelm Chamber of Commerce members in early February that while many suffered due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city and its occupants remained resilient through it all.

During his speech, humorously titled “2020 in The Rear View Mirror,” Foster said the city stayed productive through 2020, as it looked to ensure its budget was in a financially healthy place and that its citizens and customers were assisted through the hardships of the previous year.

Feb. 18

Students Continue Return to Classrooms in Yelm, Rainier

With Yelm and Rainier elementary students back in the classroom part time, staff and teachers at the schools were working to deliver a positive learning environment while at the same time addressing challenges brought on by efforts to curb the transmission of COVID-19.

Interviews with a half dozen teachers and principals showed contrasts when compared with the traditional learning models used just a year ago.

Masks, social distancing, smaller cohorts of students, mask breaks, frequent hand washing and hygiene sessions, as well as subject shuffling had all become the norm as students and staff looked to safely return to the classroom.

Feb. 25

Back in Business: Establishments Look to Make Up for Lost Time as Restrictions Ease

With the Feb. 1 announcement that Thurston County was in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Roadmap to Recovery” plan, many area businesses reopened at 25% capacity with other industry-specific guidelines to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Many businesses were still hopeful the state would be able to reopen fully sooner rather than later. 

“We’re all hopeful, but with everything going on, who knows. The numbers are looking good, though,” said Leon Collins, owner of Bob’s Bar and Grill in downtown Yelm.

March 4

New Roy Police Chief Says She Lives by Golden Rule

New Roy Police Chief Sonia Gomez-Armitage said she tries to live by the Christian principle of the Golden Rule.

“I value my faith in God to give me patience,” Gomez-Armitage said from her office in Roy City Hall. “My philosophy is you treat people the way you want to be treated.”

When a Nisqually Valley News reporter repeatedly called her “chief” during the interview, she said wonderingly: “I still can’t get used to that title. It’s still so new.”

Her devotion to right and wrong, however — a Golden Rule-inspired mantra — isn’t new. That began long ago in El Paso, Texas, when in 1989 the rookie cop first strapped on a gun belt for the El Paso Police Department.

March 11

Tenino Mayor Says Recall Effort ‘Lacking in Substance and Facts’

Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier said in March 2021 that an attempt to oust him from office via a recall effort was “lacking in substance and facts.”

The recall was spearheaded by resident Geralding Iverson, and referenced a 2019 assault charge against the mayor, the city’s recent loss of $270,000 to fraudsters and other allegations, including that the mayor failed to file his oath of office and intended on illegally gifting funds. Fournier called some charges — including the allegation that his oath of office was not properly filed — “kind of silly” and “easy to disprove.”

March 18

Hundreds Vaccinated at YHS Drive-Thru Clinic

Hundreds of local educators and residents received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, March 13, 2021 at a pop-up, drive-thru clinic hosted at Yelm High School.

About 430 people were pre-registered to receive the poke when staff from Tim’s Pharmacy and Gift Shop and Yelm Community Schools opened the gates at Tornado Alley that morning.

March 25

Yelm Bypass Delayed Nearly Two Years

The completion date of the state Route 510 Yelm Bypass project was delayed by nearly two years in March 2021, with the bid process expected to begin in early 2023.

State Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, told constituents the news during a 2nd Legislative District town hall held in March.

“It’s gonna be a little longer until we get that bypass done, and I know maybe in a town hall not too long ago I was touting how excited I was that we had advanced the funding and we were going to see this start earlier,” Barkis said.

April 1

Thurston County Sheriff’s Deputy Stabbed, Suspect Shot in Yelm

A Thurston County Sheriff’s Office deputy and a white man in his 40s were both transported to hospitals after a March 26, 2021 night call to a house in the 16900 block of Holly Street Southeast in Yelm went awry.

The deputy, a woman in her mid-30s, was responding to a report of an unwanted visitor when she was reportedly stabbed by the man within two minutes of her arrival at the scene, according to a statement from Lt. Cameron Simper. She then reportedly fired her weapon, striking the suspect.

Simper said the deputy was transported to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia where she was in serious, but stable condition and undergoing surgery. The man was transported to Yelm Middle School and airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in serious condition.

April 8

Thurston County Deputy Stabbed by Sex Offender in Yelm Returns Home

Deputy Andrea Moore, a three-year veteran of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, was identified Wednesday, March 31, 2021 as the deputy who was stabbed on March 26 and in turn shot the suspect while responding to an unwanted subject at a house off Holly Street.

After undergoing surgery for her injuries, Moore, 35, was released on March 30 from Providence St. Peter Hospital and was greeted by the Yelm community with a homecoming tribute.

April 15

79-Year-Old Yelm Woman Identified as Body Found in Nisqually River

A 79-year-old Yelm woman was identified by the Thurston County Coroner’s Office as the body found in early April 2021 in the Nisqually River.

The victim was Priscilla Taylor, a resident of the Nisqually Pines neighborhood, Coroner Gary Warnock said.

The cause of death was determined to be freshwater drowning and blunt-force trauma to the head and chest.

Her death was being investigated as an accident by the coroner’s office and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office after it was believed she lost her footing on the river embankment while trying to recover a dropped object.

April 22

Mayor Foster Declines to Pursue Reelection, Looks Back On Time Served

For Mayor JW Foster, Yelm just smells good.

That fragrant, sweet ease that hangs around the place is what Foster said has made it so easy for him to call Yelm home for the last 25 years.

But it’s more than that. It’s the people, he said, who were initially so welcoming and protective of the town with their “Yelm first” motto, but have since transformed that pride in their community into a stalwart drive to become an emerging leader in Thurston County, to become part of, instead of apart from.

So when Foster announced in April 2021 that he would not be seeking another term as mayor in the coming election, it wasn’t a declaration made out of the bitterness of farewell, but rather out of a curiosity for what the future can hold for him, his wife and his legacy.

April 29

YCS Approves Waivers for Graduating Students

The Yelm Community Schools Board of Directors unanimously voted to approve the use of emergency credit waivers to help students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic graduate from high school at its April 2021 board meeting.

The waivers were used in lieu of proven competency credits, which are earned when a student gets a passing grade in core coursework, but Lisa Cadero-Smith, the assistant superintendent at Yelm Community Schools, said the waivers would be used sparingly.

May 6

Inslee Announces Two-Week Pause on Reopening Rollbacks

All counties in Washington state received a two-week reprieve from potential rollbacks in the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan in May 2021 as Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the most up-to-date data showed reason for a pause given a potential plateau of disease activity.

During a May 4, 2021 press conference, the governor made the announcement on the day that ostensibly counties would have learned if they met metrics to remain at their current phases in the state’s “Healthy Washington” plan.

Inslee said the decision to pause phase changes was based on data state officials were able to analyze in the past few days.

Although epidemiologists in the state noticed a “fourth wave” of COVID-19 activity in the past few weeks, the most recent data suggested the activity may be plateauing, Inslee said. 

May 13

Family Finds That ‘Yelm Rocks,’ Discovers Treasures on  the Playground

Four-year old Alan Bean and his sister, 2-year-old Olivia, thought they were in for their usual trip to Yelm City Park in the spring of 2021, but they came away from the experience with precious treasures of their own finding.

The treasures came in the form of painted rocks, part of the “Yelm Rocks” movement, where people paint rocks and hide them all around the area for others to find. The idea is that if a rock is found, you paint and hide one of your own.

“We just got up and just came to the park for a field trip to play with (Alan’s) classmates and sissy came along to enjoy the day in the sun,” said their mother Letty Bean. “He went down the big slide and found his rock beneath the play set and she found hers by the swing. He was super excited when he found his (rock). He found it and came running to me, saying, ‘look, I found a rock,’ and it was a beautiful one.”

The rock was yellow, with a painting that matched the uncharacteristically warm April day.

May 20

Nisqually Land Trust, Nisqually Tribe Purchase 2,200 Acres of Land

The Nisqually Land Trust and the Nisqually Indian Tribe entered into a historic partnership with the purchase of 2,200 acres and over three miles of critical salmon habitat along Busy Wild Creek on the flanks of Mount Rainier.

The groups spent almost $10 million dollars aggregately along the creek, which is part of the headwaters of the Mashel River, which flows into the Nisqually River.

“In simultaneous transactions totaling $9.6 million, the Nisqually Tribe purchased 1,240 acres and the Land Trust acquired 960 adjoining acres,” a news release stated. “In turn, both properties adjoin the Nisqually Community Forest and will be incorporated into its management plan, effectively doubling its size.”

Also reported in May 2021, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state would reopen from COVID-19 phasing restrictions, effective June 30, 2021.

May 27

Community Shaken by RHS Senior’s Untimely Passing

A Rainier High School student on the precipice of his young adult life died just two weeks before his high school graduation in May of 2021.

Hundreds of community members came out for a vigil on Friday, May 21, on the Rainier High School football field in solidarity after the untimely death of RHS Associated Student Body President Riffe Holmes, a senior who died unexpectedly Thursday, May 20.

“It shook us pretty good,” said Rainier High School Principal John Beckman of Holmes’ death. “It shook our whole community. ... We’re all still pretty shook. It’s a pure tragedy, a kid that close to graduation.”

June 3

Community Unites to Remember the Nation’s Fallen

More than 50 people attended a flag raising ceremony at Yelm Public Cemetery on Memorial Day of 2021 held by the American Legion Post 164.

The flag raising was conducted by members of the Sons of the American Legion on a flag pole the legion donated to the cemetery in November 2020 to the tune of about $15,000.

Yelm Mayor JW Foster said organizations like the American Legion keep the spirit of the nation alive.

June 10

Nisqually Land Trust Raises $122,000 for Watershed Restoration

Recently elected Nisqually Tribal Chairman Willie Frank III has memories from his childhood of attending the Nisqually Land Trust’s annual auction, which raised about $122,000 in 2021 in a livestream event on Saturday, June 5.

Frank joined the Nisqually Land Trust’s board and was a speaker at the auction, detailing his family’s history and his tribe’s historic support of the land trust’s work restoring the Nisqually River watershed.

Frank’s late father, Billy Frank Jr., was influential in starting the land trust. He was a Nisqually activist who will receive a statue in his likeness that will be placed in Washington D.C.’s Statutory Hall.

June 17

City of Yelm Rejects Current L&I Guidance on Vaccinations

The Yelm City Council approved a resolution to bar the city from collection, storage and dissemination COVID-19 vaccination records at its June 8, 2021 city council meeting.

The decision came in the wake of recent Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) guidance that asks employers to obtain the vaccination records of their employees in lieu of a mask-wearing policy.

The records would be held by employers with the purpose of sharing the information with L&I if the department asked for it.

Councilmember James Blair said no government entity should ask for the private medical information of its citizens. Although the state does ask for vaccination records of children for admittance to schools, Blair pointed out those vaccines have been extensively tested, unlike the ones currently available to fight COVID-19.

Another article stated that Yelm Mayor JW Foster said the resolution was non-binding, that the city would not follow it, and that councilmembers who voted for it had failed to uphold their oaths of office.

June 24

Local Activist Group Fights to Repeal Mask Mandate in Schools

In the spring of 2021, Sarah Greulich, of Yelm, said her child came home from school one day red in the face and short of breath due to what Greulich believes is the mask mandate at Yelm Community Schools.

That’s why Greulich started a Facebook group called “Unmask Our Kids Yelm And The Surrounding Communities” on June 9, garnering more than 200 members in just 24 hours.

Since then, as of June 22, the group had grown, amassing more than 600 members.

Members hosted a sign waving event on June 19 at the intersection of Yelm Avenue and First Street.

Greulich, a nurse, said the group was created in an effort to protect children from mask-wearing guidelines passed down from the Washington state Department of Health and Human Services, which she said were shown to be ineffective and detrimental to the wellbeing of children in the district.

July 1

Record-Setting Heat Wave Hits Yelm, Western Washington

Temperatures in Yelm shattered records over the last weekend in June 2021 and into the early part of the next week with triple-digit temperatures. The highest temperature was recorded at 110 degrees on Monday, June 28.

Maddie Kristell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said the heat truly was without parallel.

Kristell said the entire region, particularly east of the Puget Sound, but even into the Olympic Peninsula, was in the 110-degree range on Monday, or possibly greater, and Yelm was no different.

July 8

One Structure Destroyed in a Fire on Independence Day

A single structure fire, nine brush fires and 22 total calls accounted for a “top five” busiest 24-hour period for the S.E. Thurston Fire Authority on July 4, 2021, said Fire Chief Mark King.

The structure fire was reported at 203 Jefferson Ave. in Yelm at about 11:15 p.m. on July 4, amounting to a total loss of one man’s garage. Fireworks were the suspected cause of the blaze.

The fire authority responded in less than five minutes and received mutual aid from Lacey Fire District 3, Bald Hills Fire District 17 and East Olympia Fire District 6.

July 15

City Continues Work on Yelm Loop Project

The city of Yelm was in the process of applying for funding to update the road system that will eventually connect the Yelm Loop, commonly referred to as the “Yelm bypass,” to the state transportation system in July 2021.

Yelm must complete the projects, which include an overhaul of Wilkensen Road, in order for the Yelm Loop to be a success, said Cody Colt, the public services director for Yelm.

Colt said the roads were “definitely not up to par. We’re working on that now and just kind of forward-thinking to get those roads done.”

The loop is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

July 22

Yelm’s Second Mermaid Festival  Deemed a Success

More than 3,900 people came out to Yelm’s second Mermaid Festival on Saturday, July 17, 2021 at Yelm City Park.

There were over 70 vendors, photo opportunities with Disney characters, fish-tail games, a mermaid-costume contest, the Yelm Farmers Market and, of course, the splash pad.

“It was phenomenal,” said LaDonna Shea-Hockaday, the event’s co-organizer. “This was epic. Just crazy busy. … It was record breaking for the ... farmers market, who counted everyone on a clicker.”

July 29

Nisqually Valley BBQ Rally Draws in Thousands

More than 8,000 people came out to the second Nisqually Valley BBQ Rally on Saturday, July 24, 2021 at Yelm City Park and the surrounding streets.

The event, hosted by the Yelm Chamber of Commerce, featured live music, prizes, professional barbecue vendors, carnival games, pie-eating and amateur-barbecue contests, as well as other community offerings like the Yelm Farmers Market.

“It was an amazing day in the park,” said Line Roy, the executive director of the chamber. 

Aug. 5

Advisory Vote on Yelm Fireworks Ban to be on November Ballot

The Yelm City Council approved a resolution to place an advisory vote for Yelm citizens on the Nov. 2 ballot to see if residents would be in favor of a fireworks ban within city limits at the July 27, 2021 council meeting.

Councilmember Tracey Wood was the only dissenting vote.

While introducing the measure, Councilmember Joe DePinto said the advisory vote would serve as a good opportunity to learn how many citizens are for or against a ban, given the numerous emails and social media posts he had seen on the topic.

In November, about 55% of Yelm voters rejected the idea of a ban. 

Aug. 12

Jazz in the Park Slides Smoothly Into Yelm

Despite the weather turning to rain and the delta variant of COVID-19 spreading throughout Washington, an estimated 1,500 participants still came out to enjoy Yelm’s fourth Jazz in the Park festival from Aug. 6 to Aug. 7, 2021 at Yelm City Park.

An individual from one band contracted COVID-19 before the event, and had to be subbed out, while Saturday’s planned Susan Tuzzolino feature withdrew due to the variant’s activity in the region. Event coordinator Marian Licxandru replaced the group with the band Smucho Gusto at the last minute.

Aug. 19

Council Race to See a Ballot Recount by Hand

The primary race for Yelm City Council Position 4 was up for a hand recount, with second and third place candidates Steffen Burney and Kayla Russell receiving 257 and 256 votes, respectively.

Burney held 26.09% of the primary vote, while Russell held 25.99%. Incumbent Holly Smith received enough votes to be on the general election ballot.

The recount was set to be held on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, where, according to subsequent reports by the Nisqually Valley News, Burney advanced over Russell.

In the November general election, Smith was voted into office.

Aug. 26

Updated Census Numbers Show Yelm’s Population Surpassed 10,000 People

A summer 2021 update by the U.S. Census Bureau put Yelm’s population over 10,000 people.

With 10,617 being the actual population counted, the number showed a 35.5% increase over the census-counted 2010 population of 6,848.

“The thing is, for many of us who have lived here for 25 years or more, we have long anticipated that growth,” said Yelm Mayor JW Foster. 

Sept. 2

Nisqually Corrections Officers Apprehend Child Molester on ‘Washington’s Most Wanted’ List

Nisqually Corrections officers prevented the release of a convicted child molester on the “Washington’s Most Wanted” list, who faced lesser charges under a false name.

Lakewood police officers brought in a man who called himself “Edward Villan” on charges of criminal trespass to Nisqually Corrections on Aug. 25, according to a news release from the Nisqually Indian Tribe.

The man appeared in court on video from Nisqually Corrections in Lakewood court and did not receive any additional questions about his identity.

Set to be released with a promise to show up for future court appearances, a Nisqually Corrections officer suspected there was more to the story.

Nisqually Corrections officers then noted their concerns to Lakewood Corporal Mark Upton, and later fingerprints for the prisoner came back identifying him as William Fugitt, a man with a warrant for child rape.

Sept. 9

Tribe Looks to Replace Nisqually Bridge in Effort to Prevent Freeway Outage

The Nisqually Indian Tribe was working to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Nisqually River and planned to place about a mile and a half of the freeway on piers, so the changing course of the river does not wash the road out in the case of a catastrophic flood.

The tribe took several members of the Washington State Legislature and various stakeholders on tours of the river to try to garner support for the project. The South Sound Military Communities Partnership slated the project on its legislative agenda, according to William “Bill” Anderson, the program director.

The Washington State Department of Transportation completed a study in June 2020 on potential traffic congestion on I-5 going from Mounts Road to Tumwater, and the project across the Nisqually Delta fell within its scope.

Sept. 16

Viking Festival Draws in Crowds for Battles, Blacksmithing

Hundreds of people came out to Wilkowski Park for the NorseWest Viking Festival on Sept. 11 to Sept. 12, 2021 in Rainier. 

Folks spent time at local food vendors as they showed off their Viking costumes and watched live sword fights. They also shopped through the village, learned about Viking trades, and observed a Vikings for Vets poker run in honor of those who lost their lives because of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Vikings for Vets motorcyclists ended their poker run at Wilkowski Park on Saturday, Sept. 11.

A large group of spectators gathered around a makeshift battle arena and cheered on their favorite Vikings.

Sept. 23

Union Calls for Third-Party Investigation Into Sexual Harassment Claims Against Yelm City Administrator

The Washington State Council of County and City Employees (WSCCCE) sent a letter on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021 to Yelm officials asking for a third-party consultant to investigate sexual harassment allegations levied against City Administrator Michael Grayum.

Hannah Hollander, the staff representative for WSCCCE, sent the letter outlining the allegations, citing the alleged creation of a hostile work environment. Hollander stated several young women abruptly left their jobs with the city over the past few years. The union wanted to know whether Grayum played a role in their decisions to leave.

In subsequent articles, the Nisqually Valley News reported that an independent investigation was completed by December 2021. Grayum announced his resignation prior to the results. 

The investigations showed Grayum had engaged in conversations of a sexual nature with female employees, and also exhibited ignorance of modern workplace norms by touching female employees on places like the shoulder, arm or knee.

Sept. 30

Federal Jury Finds Roy Police Officer Liable for Excessive Force

A Federal jury in Tacoma unanimously found that Roy Police Officer Christopher Johnson violated the Fourth Amendment rights of David Rice and Seth Donahue, when he shot them as they were traveling, unarmed, in their UTV on the rail tracks within Roy city limits.

The city of Roy was ordered to pay $3,257,000 in damages after the findings on Sept. 23, 2021.

Oct. 7

Nisqually Tribal Facility Becomes Subject of Arson Threats

The Nisqually Indian Tribe was the target of several threats regarding its Brighton Creek Healing and Retreat Center’s purpose, stemming from its new sign, which called the place an “active COVID quarantine site.”

Facebook comments about the center called it “a concentration camp,” and folks had taken to social media and called the caretaker of the facility as they threatened to burn the place down, according to Debbie Preston, information officer for the tribe.

Due to the threats of arson, Preston said the caretaker of the facility was “obviously frightened for his family.”

“We here at the Nisqually Tribe are dismayed that lies and untruths are being spread about our COVID quarantine site at Brighton Creek Healing and Retreat Center, just outside of Roy,” said Nisqually Chairman Willie Frank III. “The tribe owns the property and it is a place for healing.”

Frank said the tribe made the center a COVID-19 quarantine site in 2020 to give its members a place to quarantine if they could not do so at home.

Oct. 14

Yelm’s Housing Market Increases by 25% Since Before Pandemic

Yelm’s housing market increased by 25.6% since the COVID-19 pandemic started as the median sale price for homes ballooned by October 2021.

Theresa Bjorke, of Keller Williams Realty, said in pre-pandemic times realtors expected to see about a 4% growth in the market in a given year, but now, it’s up to 25%.

“That’s in sales,” Bjorke said. “I have people who just bought their homes in 2019, and they’re walking away with over $100,000 after fees. It’s awesome for the sellers and it just shows how much growth there’s been since I first started.”

Oct. 21

School Districts Comply With Vaccination Mandate by Deadline

Yelm Community Schools and the Rainier School District successfully processed the vaccination statuses of all of their employees by the state’s Oct. 18 deadline for all state employees to be vaccinated.

During the process, employees had the option of filing a religious or medical exemption request in lieu of a vaccination card.

Yelm Community Schools Superintendent Brian Wharton said the district processed 828 people, a number that includes in-season coaches, but excludes out-of-season coaches and most substitutes.

The district achieved an 85.5% vaccination rate, with 120 exemption requests processed. No one that resigned since the mandate was announced mentioned the mandate as a reason for their resignation, Wharton said.

Byron Bahr, superintendent of Rainier School District, said the response rate of his staff came in at 100%, with 80% of the district’s employees proving their vaccinations. The remaining 20% filed requests for exemption primarily on religious grounds.

Oct. 28

City Completes Restoration Efforts for Rainier Historical Church

The Rainier Historical Zion Church received the final touches in October 2021 of a decade-long restoration effort the city of Rainier undertook at the venue.

The building, located at 209 Olympia St., received its long-sought-after exterior lighting in early October, along with indoor surveillance cameras. Rose gardens were planted during the summer of 2021.

The roses were purchased by the city for $400 and were planted by the Rainier Historical Society, while the city paid a total of $1,900 for the lighting and security measures.

Nov. 4

Yelm City Council Approves Receipt of ARPA Funds

The Yelm City Council voted to approve the city’s receipt of its portion of the $362 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds at its Oct. 26, 2021 council meeting.

President Joe Biden signed ARPA into law on March 1, 2021, allocating the funds to state and local governments to help with the toll caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city was set to receive two payments, separated by a year, each of $1,320,188.67.

Nov. 11

Yelm Voters Elect Joe DePinto as Next Mayor

Yelm voters selected Yelm City Councilmember Joe DePinto as the city’s next mayor with 70.98% of the vote in his favor.

With 888 votes counted as of Nov. 8, preliminary election results showed DePinto with a dominating lead against his opponent Dennise Butler, who had secured 28.14% of the ballots at that time.

There were 11 write-in votes counted, according to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office.

Voter turnout in Yelm, as of Nov. 8, had amounted to 27.62% of the city’s registered voters, far below the county’s rate of 35.23%.

Nov. 18

Councilmember Molly Carmody Resigns From Office

Yelm City Councilmember Molly Carmody tendered her resignation — which was effective Dec. 1, 2021 — at the Nov. 9 city council meeting.

The move came in the wake of Councilmember EJ Curry’s request at the Nov. 2, 2021 council study session that Carmody resign due to her purchase of a new home in Chehalis.

“I repudiate these few council members, Mayor Foster’s and (City Administrator) Grayum’s attempt to oust me from my position in Yelm City Council, ” Carmody said at the meeting. “I reject the city attorney’s half-hearted attempt at a legal argument against my residency.”

Carmody said she was living in a camper on private property and should have been allowed to remain on the council until her official move into her new residence.

Nov. 25

Yelm Community Services Serves Up Thanksgiving With Plentiful Bounty

Yelm Community Services stuffed Thanksgiving full of fresh food and turkey at a Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2021 special Thanksgiving distribution.

Cindy Marchand-Cecil, the executive director of Yelm Community Services, said the food bank plans ahead and keeps enough stock of Thanksgiving essentials each year to have more than enough for all of Yelm’s families in need.

“If you think about your traditional Thanksgiving meal, we provide all of the food that goes with that,” Marchand-Cecil said. 

As of Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, the nonprofit had 250 turkeys, with more on the way.

Dec. 2

Yelm City Council Rejects 1% Property Tax Levy Increase

The Yelm City Council opted not to increase its property tax levy by the 1% allowed for by law at its Nov. 23, 2021 council meeting, following the conclusion of a public hearing on the matter.

Yelm Finance Director Stephanie Dice presented on the possible action the city council could take to increase the property tax levy in 2022 by 1%, which would have amounted to a total of $1,574,547.11.

The tax rate would have been $1.29 per $1,000 of assessed property value with the increase, but remained at $1.276 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The 1% increase would have impacted a taxpayer with a home of median value by about $3.96 per year or 33 cents per month.

Dec. 9

City of Roy Settles for $4.05 Million in Excessive Use of Force Case, Vacates Verdict

The city of Roy brokered a settlement deal in late November 2021 with two residents who were shot by Roy police officer Chris Johnson while they were out joyriding in their UTV after a day of drinking on Feb. 9, 2019.

Roy will pay $4.05 million to Roy residents David Rice and his nephew Seth Donahue, in exchange for the jury’s Sept. 23 verdict of excessive use of force being vacated, which dropped the civil judgments against Johnson and the city.

Dec. 16

Christmas in the Park Beats Rainy Weather for Warm Holiday Cheer

The weather may have been frightful, but the fire — in the form of community togetherness — was delightful at the Yelm Christmas in the Park event on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021 at Yelm City Park.

Rain dominated the landscape for most of the event, which caused people to huddle under the overhangs attached to the Yelm Community Center to peruse booths.

Despite the weather, people came out to enjoy the season, with Yelm Community Schools dominating the offerings in various booths.

Dec. 23

Lackamas Elementary Students Become Gingerbread-House General Contractors

The first grade classrooms at Lackamas Elementary School became construction sites on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

Instead of wood, concrete and steel rebar, the first graders used graham crackers, frosting and gumdrops, as well as peppermint candies, Skittles and M&Ms.

Jaedyn Harlan, a first grade teacher at Lackamas Elementary School, said the activity wasn’t just a fun thing to do two days before winter break, but it was also a learning opportunity that incorporated social studies and mathematics.

Dec. 30

Large Commercial Fire in Yelm Destroys Businesses

Three businesses were destroyed in a large commercial fire at the Nisqually Plaza strip mall in the 900 block of Yelm Avenue East early on the morning of Dec. 22, 2021. Firefighters arrived on scene shortly after 1 a.m.

Happy Feet Spa, Red Nail salon and the Freedom Training Center all received extensive damage. No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire was under investigation at that time.

While the businesses’ walls were still standing on Dec. 23, the interior of the businesses amounted to a near total loss as smoke still rose from the smoldering interior.

The roof of the Freedom Training Center collapsed at some point during the morning of Dec. 22 and debris, including broken glass and still-intact bottles of nail polish from the salon, was strewn across the Nisqually Plaza parking lot.


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