Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Jonathan Ahl

Rolla Correspondent

Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.

Kathy Ellis addresses a public forum on income inequality in Rolla (November 2019)
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — In 2016, Donald Trump received 70% or more of the vote in most of Missouri's non-urban counties, continuing a trend of the GOP dominating rural areas. 

A group of 23 Democrats running in those areas is hoping that working together will reverse that tendency.

To Empower All Missourians includes Democrats running for Congress, statewide office and state legislative seats. The goal is to share resources, volunteers and best practices to improve their odds in the November election.

ROLLA — Therapists and researchers have long used music to diagnose and treat disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's, but there hasn’t been a standard on what music to use. 

Amy Belfi, a psychology professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is trying to change that via a list of 107 melodies ranging from "Happy Birthday" to "Sweet Caroline."

The list has been tested through hundreds of surveys that had people rate melodies on eight different questions relating to how well they are known and what kind of emotional response they elicit: from “relaxing” to “stimulating” and from “negative” to “positive.”

Photo taken 06-26-2020
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — As part of its efforts to reopen campus and slow the spread of the coronavirus, Missouri University of Science and Technology is expecting students, faculty and staff to take their temperature every morning before coming to campus this fall. 

Colleges and universities across the country are struggling to find ways to both resume in-person classes and protect the campus community’s health.

Officials at Missouri S&T are calling the daily temperature checks a reasonable and important safety step.

Provided photo from Fort Leonard Wood, taken 6/26/20
Fort Leonard Wood

Brig. Gen. James Bonner took command of Fort Leonard Wood on Friday, but it won’t take him long to get acclimated to the installation in the Ozarks.

This position is his fourth assignment at the post.

Bonner returns to Missouri from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, where he was the commander of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives Command.

The Girondo family from Rolla family looks out on some turkeys from their blind. They used hunting as a way to get out of the house and bond during the coronavirus pandemic. June 2020
Nick Girondo

ROLLA — When Nick Girondo first looked at his family calendar this spring, he struggled to find a time to get everyone out turkey hunting during the 22-day season. 

“With sports and other things going on, we probably would have got out one day at the most, the way planning was going with family events,” he said.

But when the coronavirus pandemic came to Missouri, those events were canceled and the family went hunting.

The Girondos weren’t alone. Missouri saw a huge increase in hunting activity this turkey season. Regular hunters came out more often, almost 20,000 new hunters tried out the sport, and the number of birds youth hunters took in was up by more than 10 percent.

Fort Leonard Wood, taken 7-26-19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Statewide, there were 1,528 new coronavirus cases for the week ending June 19. Thats up 8% over the previous week, and on June 18, new cases topped 300 in one day for the first time since the beginning of May.

Some of the increases are coming from outbreaks in rural areas that are tied to meatpacking plants and Fort Leonard Wood. 

Adair and Sullivan Counties in northern Missouri each have more than 100 cases, while their neighboring counties are in the single digits. 

Fort Leonard Wood

Soldiers, their families and veterans near Fort Leonard Wood in the Ozarks will have a new place to receive medical care. 

Construction on a $400 million, 400,000-square-foot hospital and clinic officially started Monday.

The current General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital is 55 years old, past its intended service life. The building suffers from a leaky roof and utilities that struggle to keep pace with increasing demands. 

Protesters against police brutality again took to the streets near the Florissant Police Department on Saturday, as tensions again flared between demonstrators and police.

Florissant police in riot gear shouted at protesters to “move back,” and called the gathering an unlawful assembly.

The crowd grew late Saturday as people angry at how police forcefully stopped the previous day's protest took to social media to urge others to come to Florissant.

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin is the first woman and third African American to lead Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood.
U.S. Army

Updated June 18 with new leadership being appointed at Fort Leonard Wood 

The first woman to lead Fort Leonard Wood is getting a new position and will be leaving Missouri. 

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin will be the next Provost Marshal General of the Army and lead the entire branch’s law enforcement and criminal investigation division. She will be based in Virginia.

Missouri S&T is researching how residents and businesses like this bus depot in Rolla decide to use solar energy. 06-12-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers are trying to find out what is blocking people from using more solar energy with the help of a federal grant.

The research will look at economic and psychological reasons for why a homeowner or business would choose or not choose solar energy.

“We want to understand the factors that affect electricity use and adoption of solar energy,” said Islam El-adaway, a civil engineering professor at Missouri S&T and the leader of the project. “This is one of multiple steps we hope to take.”

Photo taken 06-04-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — The financial impact of the coronavirus and resulting cuts in state funding has led Missouri University of Science and Technology to cut more than 120 positions on campus, about 10% of its workforce.

Chief Financial Officer Cuba Plain said during a virtual town hall meeting Thursday that 44 staff and five faculty will be laid off and 58 staff and 13 faculty positions that are vacant will stay unfilled.

A total of 90 employees will receive temporary furloughs lasting two weeks to two months.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Missouri University of Science and Technology is expected to announce furloughs and layoffs this week, similar to those at most colleges and universities, but the cuts could include degree programs.

S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani said financial challenges caused by the pandemic provide a chance for the university to improve the focus on its core, and that could include eliminating majors.

“This is the opportunity for us to see what programs we can integrate. What programs that have been, frankly, lingering for the last several years [that] we can potentially sunset,” Dehghani said during a recent virtual town hall meeting.

Rolla Books and Toys repopened under new rules from the city to help protect workers and customers from coronavirus. 05-13-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Rolla ended its stay-at-home order earlier this month, but two weeks into the reopening of the economy with restrictions, the situation is getting mixed reviews from businesses.

Rolla Books and Toys tried curbside pickup and orders in March but closed after an unsuccessful week. Now they are back open with clear shower curtains surrounding the cash register area to protect workers, six-foot boxes taped off on the floor to promote social distancing, and a large hand-sanitizer dispenser at the front of the store for customers to use. 

That’s what retail looks like now in Rolla during the coronavirus pandemic.

Missouri Department of Conservation

Missouri feral hog hunters soon should be able to donate the meat to local food banks.

The recently passed state budget bill that is on its way to Gov. Mike Parson includes an expansion of the Share the Harvest Program, which will allow hunters to donate feral hogs in addition to deer to local food banks.

Under the program, the state pays meat processors to prepare the animals for donation to food pantries and other agencies that feed those in need.

The measure also doubles the amount of money the state is putting toward the program, from $150,000 to $300,000.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Salem Memorial District Hospital, a 25-bed facility in Dent County, is ready for coronavirus patients.

Mike Gruenberg, director of disaster preparedness at Salem, said that meant making major changes.

“We don’t usually admit patients on ventilators, so usually those kind of patients, we would send to the urban facilities,” he said. “We have had to change our way of dealing with that. We have some extra ventilators in house. We are able to keep these patients.”

Amy Mayer | Iowa Public Radio File Photo

While farmers are hurting in the coronavirus economy, how badly depends largely on where they are selling their crops and livestock.

“If your normal place to drop your corn is an ethanol plant, and that ethanol plant is shut down, absolutely it’s having an effect,” said Seth Meyer, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri.

But Meyer said that even for the corn farmers who sell to ethanol plants that are still running, or to some other sector, the lack of demand for ethanol because of lower fuel consumption means they are hurting, too.

Provided photo from Fort Leonard Wood, taken April 2020
Fort Leonard Wood

Unlike other areas of Missouri where health officials believe the peak of coronavirus passed more than a week ago, Fort Leonard Wood has yet to see the worst, post leaders say. And they are asking for help to make sure people follow the rules.

According to the latest data, the virus may continue to spread at Fort Leonard Wood, Maj. Gen. Donna Martin said.

“The trend of cases, community spread and community testing in our region do not indicate that we are on a downward slope or side of this curve,” Martin said.

Provided photo from Phelps Health of triage station 04-27-20
Phelps Health

Updated at 2 p.m. with comments from Department of Health and Senior Services

Expanded testing for coronavirus this week in Missouri is the first snapshot of how the virus is spreading throughout the state. 

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said Wednesday that 4,000 tests will be given this week, regardless if people have symptoms. 

“We now have enough tests to also look at specific populations, the asymptomatic people, we can do 50,000 tests a week now,” Williams said.

Statue of St. Patrick looking over the Missouri S&T quad, 4-24-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — With some data suggesting the region and state hit its peak in coronavirus spread more than a week ago, Missouri University of Science and Technology is planning to start a slow process of bringing people back to campus.

School officials announced the plan during a recent virtual town hall meeting, the latest in a series held every week since the coronavirus pandemic reached the area.

“The optimism [about the data] points us in a direction of looking at repopulation of campus in a well-thought-out, phased approach,” said Dr. Dennis Goodman, the university's medical director. “Getting ready for that phase that is going to occur in August which will be a large population surge.”

A Public House Brewing Company employee brings pizza to a curbside customer. It's a small business trying to make it in a collge town where the students have largely left town. 4-02-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Like most small businesses in the U.S., those in college towns are trying to find a way to stay afloat amid stay-at-home orders and social distancing because of the coronavirus.

But they often face a double whammy, with a sizable amount of the population leaving as dorms are closed and classes are moved online. That’s what’s happening in Rolla, home to Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Rolla is a town of about 20,000, and that includes about 8,000 students at Missouri S&T. While an exact count isn’t known, many of those students left campus and the city to return home to complete their classes online.

Online screen shot from 4/22 virtual town hall meeting

The U.S. Department of Defense announced Wednesday that it is lifting the suspension of new recruits going to basic and advanced training at bases like Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood.

That means hundreds of new soldiers will be arriving at Fort Leonard Wood amid concerns of spreading coronavirus.

The base’s commander, Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, said the new soldiers’ experience will be vastly different than before, including numerous coronavirus precautions.

Gov. Mike Parson signs the legislation that has Missouri recognize professional licesnes of military spouses that move into the state. 4-21-20
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4 p.m. with Gov. Mike Parson signing the bill

Some spouses of military members will have an easier time finding a job when they move to Missouri.

Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday signed legislation to have Missouri honor the professional licenses that military spouses hold from other states.

Parson said the move will help military spouses avoid hiccups in their careers when they relocate to Missouri, and will also help fill open jobs.

Parson and some lawmakers have expressed interest in expanding the program to non-military families to help make the state more attractive.

Fort Leonard Wood, taken 7-26-19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Hundreds of soldiers who graduated from training at Fort Leonard Wood should be at their next post, but travel restrictions due to the coronavirus have stalled those movements.

It also means that family members have not been able to see their loved ones in the brief windows between assignments.

Alex Englemann of Stockton, California, graduated from basic combat training at Fort Leonard Wood more than three weeks ago. His father, John, was on his way to Missouri for the graduation ceremony, but turned around when it was canceled because of coronavirus concerns.

Rolla City Hall picture taken 4-16-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

While President Donald Trump is going back and forth on setting a date to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen the economy, one of his staunchest supporters in Congress said it shouldn’t be a federal or state government decision.

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Salem, said the coronavirus pandemic is affecting different places in different ways, and local governments are best equipped to decide when to ease off on quarantining and let businesses reopen.

“What works in St. Louis County doesn’t work in Phelps County,” Smith said. “So I think that in reopening, all the decisions should be closest to the people, and that’s what works best.”

Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are analyzing millions of tweets to track the nation’s mood and behavior during the coronavirus outbreak.

And they say the data could help devise strategies to deal with this pandemic and others. 

Computer science professor Sanjay Madria and Ph.D. student Yasin Kabir created a program that started searching Twitter in early March for trending topics, keywords, phrases and other elements in tweets that give some insight to the public sentiment about coronavirus.

Friday is the deadline for U.S.-China trade talks. If they fail and China's 25-percent tariff on soybeans goes into effect, Missouri farmers will feel the impact.
jasonippolito | Flickr

ROLLA — The economic downturn following the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. has hurt agriculture in the short term but is also providing opportunities for long-term gains.

Commodity prices are down again this month, following a trend that has been going on for more than five years. In addition, China’s promises to buy $36 billion in U.S. crops this year and $43 billion next year may not come to fruition.

Charles Baron, co-founder of Farmers Business Network, an online farm information and consulting service, said historically low interest rates are another outcome of the downturn, and that could help farmers.

The drive-thru triage area at Phelps Health Medical Center in Rolla is part of the hospital's preperation to handle increased patients becaue of coronavirus. 04-02-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — So far, there have not been any confirmed cases of coronavirus in Phelps County, but the hospital in Rolla is using the delay to make sure it's ready.

Phelps Health Medical Center is the largest hospital for more than 50 miles in every direction. And while COVID-19 cases are few in that region, they are preparing for its arrival in big numbers.

Phelps Health started expanding its capacity more than two weeks ago, with the creation of a triage center in a parking lot adjacent to the hospital. It’s made up of tents, portable buildings and a covered carport where patients can be assessed in their cars.

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin spoke on Facebook Live about the confirmed coronavirus case at Fort Leonard Wood 03-25-20 screenshot from Facebook

FORT LEONARD WOOD — Maj. Gen. Donna Martin returned to Facebook on Wednesday in what was billed as a virtual town hall meeting to praise the procedures in place to keep the coronavirus in check.

The briefing came days after the first confirmed case of the virus at the installation in Missouri’s Ozarks that has tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians coming through every year.

Martin said the infected soldier was on leave in New York before the Department of Defense banned such travel. The soldier returned to base, followed protocol and reported for a medical check.

Eric Schneider sits at a computer wearing a mask prototype and working on revisions for the next version. March 23, 2020. JA 3-23-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 8:10 p.m. March 25 with production continuing

Production of protective face masks at Missouri University of Science & Technology, which had been paused pending FDA approval, has resumed. They won’t be delivered to Phelps Health Medical Center until the FDA approves them. Missouri S&T and the hospital are pleased with the final design and are optimistic it will be approved.

The students, who are continuing to work around the clock, are also producing face shields, which do not require FDA approval.

Nearly 90% of cases the Crime Victim Center assists with deal with domestic violence.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

WAYNESVILLE — Using online services to help rural people in need isn’t new, but a domestic violence shelter has learned it takes more than that when internet access in safe spaces isn’t available.

That’s why Genesis, a domestic and sexual violence victim advocacy agency, is combining its online offerings with a roving staff member who travels to women in need.

“If they can just get to me at the disclosed location, I can set them up with therapy services through our therapists over the internet,” said Wendy Miller, the rural victim advocate for Genesis.