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Year in Review: The most important stories of 2019


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The Flame of Hope sits burning during the closing ceremony of the Michigan State Games May 31 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

As the decade came to a end, so did a lot of issues at Central Michigan University. 

During 2019, we saw the end to two court cases that hit close to home. James Eric Davis Jr. pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the March 2, 2018 killing of his parents in his dorm room on the fourth floor of Campbell Hall. Two sexual assault cases involving former Student Government Association President Ian Elliott, were resolved after he pleaded no contest to one charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was sentenced to a year in prison and must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

We also said goodbye to two legendary CMU coaches. This summer, Margo Jonker announced her retirement from a 40-year career as CMU's softball coach. Women's basketball head coach Sue Guevara passed the ball to her assistant of nine years, Heather Oesterle, who took over the team in July.

Students and alumni also said goodbye to the beloved Barnes Hall, which was demolished after the school year ended this May. The oldest-standing residence hall on campus opened in 1939 as the first all-male dorm at CMU. It housed Navy cadets during World War II, and was home to the Department of Music for a brief period in the 70s. Although the steel and cement is gone, the fond memories from the last 80 years will stay with the thousands of students and alumni who called Barnes their home.

So, as 2019 ends, read about not only what ended this year, but also everything that began and will follow us into a new decade.

JANUARY

- Local favorite Mexican restaurant La Señorita suddenly closed its doors after 33 years in the community. It left about 40 employees without a job with no warning. 

- President Bob Davies appoints a Title IX Advisory Board on Jan. 10 in wake of awareness around sexual assault becoming more prominent on campus. The board was meant to provide advice on a range of issues including training, education, support services and resources. 

- CMU alumnus William Joseph was chosen as Mount Pleasant’s mayor following a 4-3 vote win over Tony Kulick on Jan. 7. 

- Since Fall 2010, university enrollment has decreased by 23 percent. A report of CMU’s Fall 2018 enrollment numbers, which was released Jan. 17, showed a 7.4 percent decrease from Fall 2017.

- Campbell Hall shooting suspect James Eric Davis Jr. pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity plea to homicide and gun charges at his court hearing Jan. 25. Davis Jr. was charged with killing his parents on March 2, 2018 in his dorm room the day before spring break. The shooting resulted in a campus-wide lockdown and a 15-hour search for the suspect. 

James Eric Davis Jr. and his attorney Josh Blanchard listen to Judge Eric Janes Jan 25 at Isabella County Courthouse. 

Davis' family released a statement after the hearing.

"We are highly satisfied with the outcome of this hearing," the statement read. "Mental health is real and we know that (James) Eric (Davis) was not in a right state of mind. We appreciate the love and support offered to us by the CMU community, Center of Forensic Psychiatry and Eric's attorney, Josh Blanchard."

- Siblings Weekend 2019 saw nearly 1,000 participants Jan. 25-26. Roughly 700 people attended the pancake breakfast on the second and final day of the weekend.

- Central Michigan University closed due to inclement weather three times in the same week in the last week of January. From 2013 to 2017, the university only closed four times total. 

FEBRUARY

- On Feb. 7, CMUPD Chief William Yeagley announced his retirement at the end of the school year. He served as the chief of CMU police since 2019. 

- CM Life wins 26 awards at the Michigan Press Association. The awards were received at the annual convention on Feb. 1. First place awards went to photographers, reporters and designers. 

- Documents reveal more allegations of sexual assault and drugging in Ian Elliott court case on Feb. 11. This was Elliott’s second set of sexual assault accusations. 

- Elliott’s sexual assault case was bound over to Isabella County Circuit Court on Feb. 12 for a preliminary hearing. Elliott was charged with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of assault with intent to commit sexual penetration. He was accused of sexually assaulting Rachel Wilson on Aug. 31, 2016 after meeting her at The Cabin. 

Ian Elliott sits in the Isabella County Trial Courthouse for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 11

During the preliminary hearing, three more women came forward as witnesses, describing their experiences with Elliott that involved violence, drugging and sexual assault. One of those women, Landrea Blackmore, filed her own case against Elliott a month later. He was charged with one count of criminal sexual conduct of the third degree (oral penetration).

- Community members raise more than $65,000 for Special Olympics at the Polar Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 16. It’s an annual event that brought in 250 plungers and even more spectators to watch. 

- It is announced that CMU’s “Fire Up for Excellence” capital campaign has raised $101,654,498 at a Board of Trustees meeting Feb. 14. The campaign was launched in Fall 2018, and exceeded its goal in months. 

- Gymnastics head coach Jerry Reighard was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation on Feb. 21. 

MARCH  

- Women’s basketball senior forward Reyna Frost becomes the third CMU player to ever be named Mid-American Conference Player of the Year on March 14. Head coach Sue Guevara was also named MAC Coach of the Year. 

- St. Patrick’s Day 2019 was one of the slowest ever for the Central Michigan University Police Department. CMU police issued one MIP, one disorderly conduct and received one report of criminal sexual assault. 

- It is revealed on March 28 that the university was investigating Jerry Reighard for engaging in athlete misconduct. A gymnast reported that Reighard told her to provide false information to medical staff to compete. It was not the first time Reighard was questioned about his ethical conduct regarding student-athletes, either. 

- About 1,500 people attended the 3OH!3 concert on March 29 in McGuirk Arena. The show was the annual Spring Concert organized by Program Board. 

3OH!3 performs as part of the Central Michigan University Program Board's Spring 2019 Concert March 29 in McGuirk Arena. 

APRIL

- CM Life published Jerry Reighard's personnel file obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request April 1. The file showed multiple complaints about Reighard's coaching style dating all the way back to 1997.

- Former CMU women's basketball guard Presley Hudson signed with the WNBA's Seattle Storm on April 18.

- An open house for Barnes Hall was held April 20. Students, faculty and alumni were welcome to tour the building before it's demolition in the summer. 

- CM Life published details of more than a decade of accusations of sexual misconduct against banned fraternity Phi Sigma Phi that were revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request on April 22. The university asked that CM Life pay more than $1,000 for the request.

- Former CMU cornerback Sean Bunting was selected No. 39 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on April 26.

MAY

- Sharonda Wilson was surprised during her son's commencement ceremony with a cap and diploma of her own on May 4. A video of the occurrence spread quickly and was shared by national news outlets like CNN and BuzzFeed News. 

Graduate Stephan JoQuan Wilson hugs his mother Sharonda Wilson at the 1:30 p.m. commencement ceremony in McGuirk Arena on May 3.

- Margo Jonker spent 40 years coaching softball at Central Michigan. On May 13, she decided to retire from her longtime role as coach of the Chippewas. Jonker finished her career with a 1,268-808-7 overall record.

- The search for the university's next police chief began in February 2019 after Chief Bill Yeagley announced his retirement. Lt. Larry Klaus was appointed as the next chief of police May 21. Klaus joined the CMU Police Department in 2011. 

- Led by first-year coach Jordan Bischel, CMU went 47-14 in the 2019 season along with a 22-5 mark in the Mid-American Conference. The Chippewas won 19-straight games from April 26 to May 31. The successful winning streak included a MAC Tournament title and trip to the NCAA Regionals.

- The 51st annual Special Olympics opening ceremony began at precisely 6:15 p.m. May 30 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. More than 3,000 athletes participated in the annual event.

JUNE

- Woodhaven native Zach Kohn was cleaning out his apartment to move back home when he got the phone call of his dreams. His name was entered in the MLB Entry Draft, so he had his phone close by the entire day. That's when a representative from the New York Yankees informed Kohn that they picked him in the 21st round of the draft on June 7.

- McCall Salmon was introduced as the third head softball coach in CMU history after Margo Jonker ended her 40-year career as CMU's head softball coach June 20. Salmon spent six years coaching Davenport University where she compiled a 235-63 record. 

JULY

- After 12 years of coaching women's basketball at CMU, Sue Guevara decided it was time to pass the ball to her right-hand-woman, Heather Oesterle on July 12. Oesterle spent nine years at CMU, preparing to take over as head coach eventually. She said that was the day her dream came true.

- Mount Pleasant freshman Taylor Idema wanted to give the community an opportunity to enjoy music and the arts, which is why she raised $200,000 to build an amphitheater at Island Park in downtown Mount Pleasant on July 16. The project earned her a Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor a girl scout can receive. The pavilion opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and performances from local musicians the next month.

- Joe Dombrowski, a 2012 CMU graduate, returned to campus during the 2019 Leadership Conference for CMU staff members on July 24. Since graduating, he has found success in two careers: One as an elementary school teacher and another as a stand-up comedian. He gained national attention after posting a viral video of his students' homework, which landed him on The Ellen Show.

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico hugs veteran after the playing of the flag song July 27 at the Tribal Campground.

- During the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe's 35th annual Powwow at the tribal campground, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland danced with a group of veterans and warriors on July 27. Haaland is one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.

AUGUST

- Ian Elliott was sentenced to 366 days in prison after pleading no contest to one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. The two separate cases against Elliott were combined as part of the plea agreement.

During the sentencing, both women delivered victim impact statements to a courtroom with standing room only.

- Welcome Weekend violations dropped for the third year in a row, with the Mount Pleasant Police Department and CMUPD responding to 246 calls from Aug. 22-25. Altogether, police made 72 arrests or written citations. 

- An explosion at the Lexington Ridge apartment complex on Aug. 22 caused structural damage to a building due to a damaged gas line leaking into the building's crawl space. No one was in the building at the time and no injuries were reported.

- James Cadzow, former head coach of the CMU men's and women's Division III club hockey teams, served 2 months in jail for embezzling more than $25,000 from the programs.

SEPTEMBER

- Brian Kolodziej, the Michigan Attorney General special prosecutor who filed sexual assault charges against former Student Government Association President Ian Elliott, was forced to resign Sept. 8 for having an inappropriate relationship with one of Elliott's accusers.

- CMU football alumnus and former NFL quarterback Antonio Brown was accused of sexually assaulting former CMU gymnast Britney Taylor on three different occasions in a lawsuit filed on Sept. 10.

- The $32.5 million Chippewa Champions Center project approved by the board of trustees in September 2018 was shown to have a new, scaled-back design with two floors instead of the originally planned three in a newsletter from CMU Athletics on Aug. 12. The changes were made because the project was estimated to be $7.1 million over-budget.

OCTOBER

- After spending 29 years as a coach of the field hockey team and four as an administrator, Cristy Freese had the field named after her on Oct. 18. What was once known as the CMU Field Hockey Complex is now Cristy Freese Field.

- President Davies announced a committee to provide recommendations for implementing a fall break on Oct. 22. After the Student Government Association was advocating for a fall break for over a year, Davies stepped in and began action. If the recommendations are acceptable, Davies said he plans to take it into further review. 

- Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Sara Spencer-Noggle to serve as a judge in the Isabella County Trial Court Aug. 13, and she was officially robed at her investiture ceremony Oct. 18. Spencer-Noggle became the first female judge to serve on the bench. She graduated from Central Michigan with her bachelor’s degree in 1998.

- CMU Police celebrated 50 years of service. The university's public safety department was established in 1969 as the first 24-hour patrol agency on campus.

NOVEMBER

- The Jordan World Circus visited Central Michigan for two shows Nov. 5, and students from the university gathered outside Finch Fieldhouse to protest to circus’ use of wild animals, specifically elephants, tigers and horses, for entertainment. There were eight student protestors outside the circus.

A tiger paces in its cage Nov. 5 outside Finch Fieldhouse.

- After receiving a complaint of potential hazing from a student Nov. 11, the Sigma Chi fraternity chapter at Central Michigan was temporarily suspended pending an investigation. In the past five years, 10 fraternities and sororities have lost recognition at CMU.

- Volleyball coach Mike Gawlik was named the MAC Coach of the Year on Nov. 20 after his team posted a 21-7 record in the regular season, along with a 10-5 mark in conference play. In his fourth year as coach, Gawlik helped the Chippewas to a share of the MAC West Division title – the program’s first since 2003.

- At the start of the spring 2020 semester, Central Michigan students will have access to a Swipe Bank and $1 meals. The Swipe Bank will begin Jan. 6, giving students with food insecurity the option to request swipes. The new program for meals came after students, parents and community members went on social media to discuss the need for a meal swipe donation plan on Nov. 27.

DECEMBER

- CM Life celebrates 100 years of campus media. The first edition of Central Normal Life was published on Dec. 2, 1919. Through three name changes and five location changes, CM Life has remained a voice for students for an entire century.

- For just the fourth time in the football program’s history, a Central Michigan coach was named MAC Coach of the Year. First-year coach Jim McElwain received the honor after leading the Chippewas to an 8-4 overall record and 6-2 mark in the MAC. In the 2018 season, the team was 1-11 overall.

- The football team played in the MAC championship game against Miami (Ohio) at Ford Field in Detroit after securing a bid to the title by defeating Toledo in the regular season finale to win the MAC West Division. It was the first time the Chippewas played in the conference championship since 2009.

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