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Lorelei Wolfe, 5, holds her finger on some ribbon for a package being wrapped that she picked out at the Small Mall, part of the Candyland Christmas in Smithville Dec. 1. The annual event encourages shopping in the historic downtown district and welcomes families with free activities at various stops in the area.

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Community businessman, veteran Cecil Lovett remembered

KEARNEY — Longtime businessman, veteran and community supporter Cecil Lovett Jr. is being mourned in Kearney and around Clay County after passing last week.

Described as a master community connector who was direct in his approach and lived enough for several lifetimes, Lovett is survived by the love of his life and wife of more than 60 years, Rue Lovett; and their family, which includes daughters Teresa Brent, Loni (Steve) Collins, Annette (Kevin) Hatton and Cie Cascone, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Military service

Cecil was a proud American, conservative political activist and staunch supporter of local veterans and veterans’ issues. He had distinguished military career that began in 1952 when he enlisted in the Navy with the Seabees, the well-known Naval Construction Force. He reached the rank of chief warrant officer and served with distinction in both Korea and Vietnam before serving as a member of the White House staff at Camp David under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Oh my gosh, the stories he had. He always had the most fascinating stories about his experiences,” said friend and fellow political activist Rod Will. “The things that he has seen and done through the years are just incredible. ... I remember him telling me this story one time about how they were in the back playing cards — Cecil and several of the other military people — and here comes JFK just with socks on his feet and says, ‘Hey, do you mind if I sit down and play?’ JFK just used to sit down and play cards with these guys. There were lots of stuff like that that you just don’t hear about on the news.”

The Lovetts lived near Camp David for six years, said Rue. Because of his professionalism and trustworthiness in service, her husband served in high-ranking positions with close proximity to the first families.

“He used to take the Kennedy children fishing up there when we were at Camp David,” she said, adding she was always proud of her husband, who undertook every job he endeavored to do to the fullest and placed God and family, which included the Navy, above all else.

“He was very loving and always put family first,” said his wife, adding he helped her raise four capable daughters.

“He taught them responsibility and to be very independent. And like they say, sometimes it kind of conflicted because he liked to be in control, too. When they differed, well, the girls used to tell him, ‘You have to suffer the consequences of it,’” Rue said with a fond chuckle.

Cecil’s time in military service and working with the federal government also saw him travel the world in a civil engineering capacity. He and his family spent multiple years in Egypt starting in the late 1960s. Cecil was assigned to a Naval medical research unit. He was sent as a public works officer to build and improve facilities for research.

“We were a full-scale research facility,” Cecil told the Courier-Tribune in a previous interview. “We had a very good, close working relationship with our Egyptian counterparts.”

Will said one of his favorite memories from the more than 22 years he knew Cecil was time he and his family were able to spend with the Lovetts in Egypt.

“We went to Cairo and we spent 16 days over there. Cecil and Rue had such a connection with that over there,” said Will. “He knew a lot of the people there, and I mean the people that were in charge of things, people that ran different (governmental) departments.”

Other careers

Cecil retired from the Navy after serving more than 27 years, but his service to Clay Countians, veterans and his political affiliations never ceased. Along with Will, Cecil helped grow Common Sense for Common People, a grassroots political action group with conservative ties. Since the early 2000s, the group has brought in political candidates for forums and town halls, raised awareness of conservative issues, registered voters and raised thousands of dollars to assist veterans in need, including donating $7,000 to a veterans facility in the state.

Cecil was also a member of the American Public Works Society, NRA and American Legion as well as a lifetime supporter of the Boy Scouts.

Following his Naval retirement, Cecil worked for Clay County as a public works officer during construction of the Rooney Justice Center and modern Clay County Detention Center site. He also procured the site for the county airport, Midwest National Air Center in rural Kearney.

Kearney City Admin-istrator Jim Eldridge said Cecil was a lover of history. During his career with the county, Cecil helped secure murals that now adorn the exterior of the county jail facility in downtown Liberty, said Eldridge.

“He had an eye for history. He respected history,” said the Kearney city administrator.

Cecil had a zeal for business life and embarked on many careers. He worked for the Kansas City Transit Authority as a project manager, owned a family oil company with his wife that the couple purchased from Rue’s father and had another career working alongside his wife at Cecil Lovett and Associates Real Estate, now operated as ReeceNichols off Jefferson Street in downtown Kearney.

“He’s done a lot of good things for the city of Kearney and Clay County. He successfully owned and operated a real estate business over the years, he was owner of the Heritage restaurant (now the site of a McDonald’s near Interstate 33 and Missouri Highway 92), he has just done a lot,” said Eldridge. “He had a full life, a life well lived. He was a workaholic that did a lot.”

Church involvement

In addition to his myriad of careers and interests, Cecil was active in church.

Will, who along with the Lovetts is a member of First Christian in Kearney, said it was because of Cecil that he became a church elder.

“He was in charge of the elders and on the board. He was always very active in the church, he and Rue both and at least two of their daughters,” said Will. “Cecil gave a lot of money to the church and was instrumental in getting the new church building out here on Highway 33.”

Will said there was no question Cecil didn’t have the answer to or know who to get an answer from.

“He was just a really good friend and I miss a lot already,” Will said. “He was a hell of a patriot and a good friend and I’m proud that I got to call him friend.”

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Liberty's City Park opens with lots of laughter
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LIBERTY — One of the biggest projects supported by community groups and use tax funds, Lib-erty’s revitalized City Park, officially reopened this month.

At the ribbon cutting, Mayor Lyndell Brenton said little did the council, city staff or him realize that just two short years after passing the use tax, there would be a pandemic, which upended the park construction timeline. Schedules for contractors and installers were stalled, but late last year, a team from Cloverleaf Inc. for AB Creative brought in some of the first playground pieces to City Park, located at 970 Missouri Highway 291.

“As much as we wanted to have the park amenities in place and done in 2020, it was not in the cards,” said Parks Director BJ Staab.

City Park was established as Liberty’s first park in 1949 and is 12 acres. With the improvements, the park is now designed for kids of all ages and abilities. A new spray park will be open next spring.

Vireo, a landscape architecture firm, designed the park with input from the community and Liberty Parks Board. Groups such as the Liberty Parks Foundation and the Liberty Masons along with the local Eastern Star raised funds for various inclusive play pieces as well.

“So many people are excited to play here,” Staab said, listening to children laughing as they play on the various playground pieces at the opening. “We will continue to make some improvements, but I am so glad that we have made it.”

Brenton said improvements, which included removing a maintenance building and shifting it to the back of the park, which give the ability to see more of the park from Highway 291 are significant.

“It’s a great place. I will bring my grandchildren to as well,” he said.

Liberty Parks moves City Park dedication

LIBERTY — Due to forecasted inclement weather, the ribbon-cutting and grand opening for City Park, 970 S. Missouri Highway 291, has been rescheduled to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4.

City Park playground starts rising from dirt

LIBERTY — Unfortunately, COVID-19 played havoc with schedules for contractors and installers but last week, the installation team from Cloverleaf Inc. for AB Creative brought in some of the first playground pieces to City Park, 970 Missouri Highway 291.

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Liberty man charged with mother's murder
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LIBERTY — A Liberty man has been charged with his mother’s murder after investigators were called on a report of a man being “out of control” Friday, Nov. 12.

At 11:47 p.m. Friday, Liberty officers responded to a house in the 400 block of Glendale Road after a relative called police. Upon arrival, police discovered a bloody scene with Jill Little, 46, of Liberty, deceased in the master bedroom. The 20-year-old, Little’s son, Austin M. Little, was identified as the suspect in the homicide.

“The suspect was reported to have fled the residence on foot prior to the arrival of police. Claycomo police provided assistance by canvassing the area for the suspect. They located him a short time later, nearby in the 400 block of Gordon Street. He was arrested with the assistance of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office,” states a Liberty police release.

According to court documents, when Claycomo officers located Austin in the 400 block of Gordon Street, he was covered in blood on the right side of his body and ordered to the ground by officers at gun point. When officers attempted to take Austin into custody, court documents state Austin resisted, prompting police to use a Taser multiple times.

“While continuing to resist, Austin began to actively fight with officers. Officers continued to fight with him until deputies from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office arrived on scene and he was eventually taken into custody,” reads the probable cause statement. “Austin was then transported to Liberty Hospital, where he was medically cleared and transported to the Liberty Police Department for holding.”

During an investigation at the murder scene, investigators discovered Jill had multiple stab wounds. Investigators also found blood throughout the residence and recovered multiple weapons and other items possibly used as weapons with apparent blood on them including a high-powered pellet rifle, knife, dented sauce pan and hammer.

Little is charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action and remains in Clay County Detention Center in Liberty.

In Clay County Circuit Court Monday, Nov. 15, a public defender was ordered to represent Austin and the court ordered a metal health exam be performed. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 30.

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Local man volunteers to help Afghan refugees
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Smithville’s Dewayne Knott has been at Ft. McCoy military base in Wisconsin since Nov. 8. While he describes the days as reminiscent of the film “Groundhog Day” with repetitious work for many hours seven days a week, he is happy to be there, helping 12,000 refugees from Afghanistan.

Knott, a leader with the Smithville American Legion post and an Air Force veteran, is a volunteer with Team Rubicon, an international nongovernment organization specializing in disaster response.

“During my career, I have been in Kuwait during the oil well fires, monitoring air quality in 1991,” he explained. “Then I worked with the embassy a year later. I have been to Iraq in 2003 to 2004 in a military uniform and then 2006, in Afghanistan, helping to establish a dairy pasteurization plant. I have some personal investment in that part of the world, I would say, specifically in Afghanistan as my translator saved my life and I was able to assist in getting him and his family out and secure in England.”

Knott said being on the military base aids his effort to put a period to all his experiences in Afghanistan.

“Truly on a personal level, I want to help people who have the same goals in life that we all have,” he said. “There were 13,000 refugees at one point housed here. Eventually, I expect 200 people per day will be helped come Dec. 1.”

As the news depicted refugees fleeing during America’s pullout from the war-ravaged country, many left with basically the clothes on their backs. Knott said.

“They have absolutely nothing,” he said. “We are giving out clothing, winter clothing and traditional clothing, as some are not ready to transition to western clothing. This complex and the help organizations are trying to establish a comfort level for them including places to worship and language schools for adults and children.”

Knott’s role has been to help sort and aid in clothing searches.

“I have been a strike team leader, receiving bagged items to fill the needs for clothing, toddler’s clothing, winter clothing and shoes,” he said. “I know where the items are located in our ‘store.’ There are also places for hygiene items, too.:

Team Rubicon, Knott said, has processed 957,000 individual items.

“It’s nonstop. Team Rubicon is a smaller group, but many are former military and understand how to be responsive to situations like this,” he said.