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Grace Abounds: Britt women start ministry to meet clothing needs of children, adults

BRITT | Friends Katie Johnson and Cindy Kumsher have always wanted to do something together.

And this summer, they found their something.

In August, the women opened Grace Abounds, a Christian ministry housed in the United Methodist Church in Britt. They accept clothing donations and provide them to children and adults in need within the communities of the West Hancock Community School District.

“We were both feeling the call to do something, so we talked about it and we just decided this is what we were going to do together,” Johnson said.

The idea, Johnson said, was placed on her heart by God nearly a year and a half after she learned about a school counselor in her hometown, who collected and distributed donated items to her students as a need arose.

“I just thought it was a great idea, so for the longest time, I was donating things to them,” she said of a school in Wall Lake.

After learning of the need from school and hospital officials, Johnson and Kumsher decided to create something similar within their own community.

The first step for the women was to determine a name that appropriately conveyed their mission.

Johnson said the name was “definitely spoken through God.” After she had prayed about the ministry, “Grace Abounds” popped into her head “out of nowhere.” She searched the Bible with verses containing the phrase and found 2 Corinthians 9:8-9, which is part of a chapter that talks about “being a cheerful giver.”

“This whole time we’ll come across something new, we’ll pray about it and we’re just led and blessed,” she said. “It’s just been awesome to see the different ways he’s working through us.”

The second step for Johnson and Kumsher was to find a space to receive, store and display donations, and a room, previously used by a sewing group at United Methodist Church, which Johnson belongs, seemed to be the “perfect space,” especially since it has its own entrance.

“Once we figured out a place to store everything, we just really went to town and tried to spread the word,” Johnson said.

In August, Johnson and Kumsher held an open house to provide members of the community an opportunity to learn about the organization and donate items, and they had “an overwhelming turnout” and “tables full of stuff.”

“It was awesome,” Johnson said.

So far, Grace Abounds has received “a little bit of everything,” and have inventory to accommodate children from infant to 18 years old as well as adults. The donations, organized by size and gender, fill hangers, shelves and cabinets at the church.

“We have been given the best things,” she said. “People have just been really kind in what they’ve given us. It’s really nice quality things, and we haven’t had very many that we’ve had to get rid of.”

Johnson said the organization has been fortunate to receive West Hancock Eagles gear as well as school concert attire, like white shirts, black pants and black shoes. It is now looking for appropriate winter gear, like coats, snow pants, boots, hats and gloves.

“Around here it can get pretty cold, so we’ll definitely need those things,” she said.

Grace Abounds accepts donations without stains and holes. Items received that don’t meet the organization’s standards will be sent to One Vision in Clear Lake, where they may still be able to be used.

“We don’t turn any donations away, so we’ll go through it, use it if we can, and pass it along if we can’t,” Johnson said.

The organization, she said, only accepts brand new underwear as donations.

Johnson said Grace Abounds has already had the opportunity to help individuals within the community, including a student who needed gym shoes, and looks forward to “following God’s lead” to meet more needs within the community.

West Hancock K-12 Counselor Matt Welp said Grace Abounds will be “a great resource” for the school district and benefit “students in all buildings.”

“I am always humbled by the amount of caring our communities show toward our youth. Whenever there is a need they always find a way to get it done,” he said. “Grace Abounds is just another example of small town support from our community.”

Grace Abounds currently doesn’t have set hours, but Johnson and Kumsher are willing to work with individuals and groups to meet the needs of others or accept donations.

“There’s no limit to what can go out,” she said. “We’re just hoping to be of service.”

The women are thankful to the community for the support they’ve already received and the support they’ll likely receive in the future.

“It’s been great,” Johnson said.

For those interested in donating to Grace Abounds or for those with a need, send the organization a Facebook message, email or call Katie Johnson at 641-843-8101 or Cindy Kumsher at 641-860-1040.

Charles City homicide trial: Williams told friend Fleming threatened to kill him

CHARLES CITY | In a third-floor courtroom at the Floyd County Courthouse, Edmund Brown recalled the events surrounding a fatal shooting outside the Clarkview Apartments in Charles City June 30.

He admitted he was drunk at the time, but his testimony during the first-degree murder trial Friday afternoon provided many details about Antoine Williams — a 36-year-old Chicago native who police say shot Nathaniel Fleming, 36, last known address in Mason City.

"At one point, he was OK," Brown told jurors about Fleming's behavior shortly before his death. "But then he took off in another land ... and got tough for no reason."

Steve Kolberdanz, one of the attorneys representing Williams, questioned Brown about his encounter with Fleming in the Clarkview Apartments — now known as the Casa Apartments — parking lot, about an hour before he was shot by Williams.

Brown, who said he was one of Williams' best friends, testified that the parking lot was a place where people would frequently hang out. He added that Fleming was acting strange the night of June 30, and heard about a threat he made toward Williams.

"He said, 'this MF talking about killing me,'" Brown testified based on a previous conversation with Williams.

When cross-examined by Iowa Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister, Brown testified he was drunk when he encountered Fleming June 30, and when he was later interviewed by police.

He added he remembered the threat, however, because it was something that "stuck out."

Earlier in the trial, multiple investigators testified that they believed Brown had sold a black handgun to Williams, the weapon used for the murder. 

Brown, however, denied selling Williams a gun, but added he had seen him with a weapon in the past.

One of those investigators was Jon Turbitt, an Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation Special Agent who interviewed Williams July 7 at the Cook County Jail in Illinois.

Turbitt told jurors that Williams initially denied involvement in the incident, but then admitted he fatally shot Fleming on June 30.

He added that Williams approached Fleming that night in a red Chevy Equinox to see if he would pull a gun on Williams, according to the interview. Williams told Turbitt that he "should've let it go," regarding the brewing conflict between him and Fleming.

"I said, 'But you didn't let it go, Antoine,'" Turbitt testified Friday. "And he said, 'No, I didn't, it's on me. That's on me.'"

In cross-examination, Nellie O'Mara—the other attorney representing Williams—asked Turbitt if he asked Williams during the July 7 interview whether Fleming threatened him.

After re-consulting an 18-page report of the interview, Turbitt said a threat had been made.

"He made a threat when talking about the gun that he had," Turbitt testified. "But he (Williams) said he never saw the gun, he never saw the gun in Nate's possession that night."

At several points during the trial, both sides have debated what evidence should be admissible, and how certain laws pertaining to the case should be interpreted.

One of these discussions occurred after the jury broke for lunch, concerning a new "stand your ground" law enacted by the state legislature July 1.

The new law states that individuals do not have to retreat when in a self-defense situation. Furthermore, it states that individuals can be wrong in their "estimation of the force necessary to repel the danger, as long as there is a reasonable basis" that such self-defense is needed.

O'Mara argued that since Williams was not charged until after July 1, the new law should stand, despite the shooting occurring June 30.

Judge Rustin Davenport, however, denied the motion, saying the law is not "retrospective," giving a common fine as an example.

"It would be like if you were changing the speed limit from 55 to 65 on June 30," he said, adding that just because the paperwork isn't filed before the change, that doesn't exempt the motorist from a speeding ticket.

Testimony finished around 3:30 p.m. Friday. The defense is scheduled to call several more witnesses, as Brown was the only one called so far.

The trial resumes 9 a.m. Monday.

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CHARLES CITY | Prosecutors rested around noon Friday in a trial involving a Chicago native accused of fatally shooting a Mason City man in June.

Antoine Williams, 36, has been charged with the first-degree murder of Nathaniel Fleming, 36, last known address Mason City.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister questioned law enforcement official and criminalists from the state crime lab unit in Ankeny.

Perhaps the most important testimony came from Jon Turbett, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation special agent who interviewed Williams at the Cook County Jail in Illinois July 7.

McAllister questioned Turbett about the interview.

Turbett testified Williams said it was “crazy” to think he was involved in the shooting, but later admitted he shot Fleming. Turbett said Williams never told him he acted in self-defense.

“Did he ever say 'shoot or be shot'?” McAllister asked.

“No,” Turbett testified.

Nellie O’Mara, the public defender representing Williams, then cross-examined Turbett.

“Was he trying to find him to calm him down?” she asked about the interview between Turbett and Williams.

“I don’t recall,” Turbett testified.

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5 questions for Mason City's Second Ward council candidates

MASON CITY | Voters in Mason City's Second Ward (northwest area) will choose between three candidates on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

The candidates are:

Lionel Foster, 79, former executive director, Mason City Human Rights Commission; widower; eight children, eight grandchildren, nine great grandchildren.

Troy Levenhagen, 48, owner of Suzie Q diner and Levey the Great's Magic and D.J. Service; married, four children (one deceased).

Will Symonds, 28, IT technician at First Citizens Bank; married.

How would you have voted on the Prestage plant proposal?

Foster: Against.

Levenhagen: For.

Symonds: Against.

How do you intend to vote on the city's lease agreement on the proposed hockey arena and the bond issue related to the Gatehouse hotel/conference center expenses?

Foster: Undecided.

Levenhagen: For and for.

Symonds: For and for.

What do you see as Mason City's greatest strength?

Foster: The greatest strengths of Mason City are the people themselves, and their commitment to making our community a vibrant, strong valued and welcoming city. Having a sense of belonging, knowing others and being safe in Mason City are also its strengths.

Levenhagen: I-35 and the Avenue of the Saints are our greatest strengths. Mason City is strategically located between them. We have a great opportunity to draw tourists into our city.

Symonds: Like Realtors say, "location, location, location." It's true for us as well. We're situated in between Minneapolis and Des Moines and also have access to Waterloo/Cedar Falls. With a major road artery just a few miles away, we have some great opportunities for market access.

What do you see as Mason City's greatest weakness?

Foster: Mason City's greatest weakness is the countless number of citizens who have become distrustful of our local political process, who feel left out and are now among the disenfranchised.

Levenhagen: Mason City rarely wants to vote anything new in. The answer is oftentimes "no!"

Symonds: It's resistance to change. We can all point out what could feasibly go wrong with a plan, but to believe in something and take calculated risks, we can be a destination once again.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

Foster: As a City Council member, I will be positive, cooperative and constructive. Having worked in city government for 41 years, I know how to make the most efficient use of tax dollars and make wise spending decisions. During those 41 years, I helped thousands of citizens assert and protect their rights. In doing so, I became aware of the many complex problems facing our community. Having been on various boards in Mason City and around Iowa, I develop an understanding of community problem solving, and learned that by involving citizens in important decision-making, we can find solutions. I will use my experience in public policy making and community service to shape a better future for Mason City residents. I am convinced that by working together, we can stop waiting for a miracle and advance local business development through partnerships and inter-municipal co-operation efforts.

Levenhagen: I run two successful businesses. This has given me a lot of experience with organizational skills and budgeting. I do have a good rapport with people also. I'm also an elected official on the Park Board which I feel has given me the experience to watch for wasteful spending. I have already experienced and seen wasteful spending going on. I want to be a watchdog for the people and make sure money is spent appropriately. My vision sets me apart from the other two candidates. I would like to continue a dream the council had ten years ago when they annexed the south end. They put in over $2 million for water, sewer, etc. We need to continue that dream and hit the Avenue of the Saints. If elected, I promise to give great leadership.

Symonds: I believe that my age and technical background gives me a unique perspective on things happening around us. I view being an elected official as one of servant leadership. Those who are elected are servants to the people, something that should never be flipped or forgotten.


Arian Schuessler / file photo 



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Mason City police chief finalist for West Des Moines position

MASON CITY | Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley is a finalist for the police chief position in West Des Moines.

There are four other candidates, Brinkley said Friday. He has been chief in Mason City since January 2016, replacing Mike Lashbrook, who retired.

Brinkley said he has been happy in his time in Mason City. "We have a great department here and we're doing some good things inside and outside the department," he said.

"When this opening came up in West Des Moines, we talked about it as a family and it seemed like a good opportunity," he said.

Brinkley said he did not know the timetable for when a decision will be made in West Des Moines. On-site interviews with candidates will be done next week, he said. 

— John Skipper