Columbia residents share their 2012 highlights

Thursday, December 27, 2012 | 6:01 p.m. CST; updated 11:22 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 27, 2012

COLUMBIA — Looking back on 2012, 21-year-old Trey Nelson flipped the calendar all the way back to the first day of the year to find what he calls the highlight of the past 12 months for him.

During a hiking and skiing trip last winter, Nelson and six of his brothers from Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at MU enjoyed solitude while ringing in the new year on top of a mountain in Boone, N.C. That moment, he said, represented the peak of 2012 for him.

"It was like being alone up there," Nelson said. "Actually, we were definitely alone. Just seven of us up on a mountain looking down at the lights below. It was serene and beautiful."

This year, Nelson plans a simpler celebration. He'll celebrate the new year with his girlfriend in Belleville, Ill.

Nelson was among a handful of people who this week shared the high points of 2012 with the Missourian. Here's what some others had to say.

Vernon and Janice Cruse

The Cruses celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on July 29.

“It was 1962," Vernon Cruse said. "Can you imagine that?”

Vernon Cruse said he met his wife at the restaurant where his mom worked as a waitress. Janice Cruse washed dishes there.

“When I first talked to her, I asked, ‘How are you doing today?’” Vernon Cruse said. “And you know, that’s about it.”

Janice Cruse also remembers the moment she met her future husband. “I just thought: 'Who is that cute guy?'”

“And that was what I thought: 'Who is that good-looking girl?'” Vernon Cruse said.

On their first date, the young couple went to a movie theater.

“I don’t remember what movie we watched, perhaps because I was too busy looking at his face,” Janice Cruse said.

The hardest time for the couple, Janice Cruse said, was the three years Vernon Cruse served in the military.

“It might be the happiest moment in my entire life when he got out of the Army for good after the service because he got out ... just before the Vietnam War,” Janice Cruse said.

Now the couple has two sons, a grandson and a granddaughter.

“Back 50 years ago, I think we kind of knew we were destined to be together,” Janice Cruse said. “You know we are soul mates. When you see your soul mates, you just know it.”

Jared Chen

Amidst the chaos marked by the political turmoil in the Middle East and tragedies in the United States such as the Newtown, Conn., shootings earlier this month, Jared Chen, 28, found sanctuary with his friends and family in 2012, he said.

"My friends and family were the best and most consistent things this year," Chen said. "They provided the actual comforts in life as opposed to all of the sensationalized things in life."

Chen, 28, said he appreciated seeing those closest to him mature as the year went on. His roommate, for example, celebrated a full year of sobriety in 2012.

Sanghyuk Park

Sanghyuk Park, 27, ventured to the United States in August 2012 from Seoul, South Korea, to study quantitative psychology, a five-year graduate program at MU. 

A stranger to the U.S., Park said he has been surprised by the generosity of the people he meets here.

"In South Korea people focus on themselves," Park said. "In America I was surprised at how many people consider others whether they know them or not." 

Unexpected acts of kindness such as smiles on the street or having strangers open doors for him were a few of the things that surprised Park. The benevolence of those he met through the Columbia Korean Baptist Church also left Park feeling impressed and comfortable, he said. 

"I've met a lot of good people in church who helped me settle down here," Park said. "They have invited me to dinner, and they always ask me about my difficulties living here, and they always pray for me. I'm thankful." 

Camryn Koonce

Little garnet stones decorated both of 8-year-old Camryn Koonce's ears as she remembered the day she had them pierced during a family vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in July. 

"It was the highlight of my year because I wanted to get my ears pierced so bad," Camryn said. The stones symbolized her birth month, which is January. She will turn 9 on the 19th.

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee, 27, had a string of good luck and scored a trifecta of electronic prizes in April 2012. 

During spring break, Lee won a free Nokia Lumia smartphone simply by walking through the doors of a Seattle Microsoft store. A week later, he won an Xbox 360 and a Sony VAIO laptop, also brand new and free, in a raffle when Microsoft came to MU.

His winning streak not only left him technologically secure, but his good fortune topped off his year, Lee said.

Ashley Elam

Crashing her red and white 1996 Grand Prix into other cars proved victorious for Elam, whose car was the last one running at the 2012 Boone County Demolition Derby in late July.

Elam, 23, who was the only female driver among the 25 competitors, claimed first place in the event, which was held during the annual Boone County Fair. It wasn't her first time competing in the arena marred with tire tracks. It was her third. 

"Your adrenaline is going crazy," Elam said. "You are just trying to hit as many people in the time limit and be the last car running. It takes a lot of time and money to put into the car. I won't do it every year, but I'll do it again."

Deena Schaffer

With four daughters away from home, Deena Schaffer, 53, considered the moments she spent with her family the most memorable throughout the year. 

"Anytime we all get together is a special occasion," Schaffer said. 

Schaffer reunited with her four daughters — ages 19, 21, 24 and 27 — to celebrate Christmas at her home in Kansas City. Two of her daughters live in Oklahoma, one lives in Arkansas, and her oldest lives in Texas. 

Landon Allen

After moving from St. Louis to Columbia, Landon Allen, 21, started enjoying 2012, Allen said.

"I moved to Columbia to be closer to my dad, who lives in Centralia, and my girlfriend, who lives in Columbia," Allen said. 

Getting away from the hustle and bustle of St. Louis was the right move, Allen said. 

"I like the atmosphere around Columbia. It's not as busy and congested as St. Louis," Allen said. "There is so much diversity, and you can learn about so many different cultures here. It's a great place to be."

Lauren Bell 

The thrill of being in control led Bell, 19, to pursue a career as a security guard. 

In 2012, she was accepted into the Moberly Area Community College Law Enforcement Training program, she said. 

"It will help me achieve my career goals," Bell said. "I want to be a security guard at the power plant in Macon because I like being in control. I would monitor who comes into the power plant and (determine) what their intentions are." 

Blake Alexander

As a mortgage banker, Alexander, 28, followed the money in 2012.  

After living in Columbia for more than 20 years, graduating from Rock Bridge High School and earning a degree in finance, banking and real estate at MU, he moved to Overland Park, Kan., to further his career.

"I'm the branch manager of a new mortgage bank in the Kansas City area," Alexander said. "They offered me the job to open up the branch, so I took it. It's a little more mature, and there is more money there."

Rachel Adams

The highlight of Adams' year was when her third-grade son started enjoying school. 

Before his teacher got him interested in math, science and reading "he didn't like school," Adams, 37, said. "Now he goes willingly." 

Adams' said her son also was excited to get a science kit for Christmas.

Elizabeth Alaniz

Alaniz, 58, said the best moment of 2012 for her was learning from her daughter that she would become the grandmother of another child. Alaniz is from Kansas City, but her daughter lives in Columbia. Alaniz's first grandchild was a girl, but this time her daughter is having a boy.

“Being a grandma keeps me young … well younger, anyway,” she said.

Jerel Riggs

Talking about attending the Wakarusa music festival held at Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, Ark., last spring brings a smile to Riggs' face.

“It was the first time I had been to anything like that,” she said.

Riggs, 20, said her favorite part of the festival was when the March Forth Marching Band stopped in the middle of the shopping area and started singing and dancing.

“They did this for 20 to 30 minutes, and everyone formed a circle and was dancing,” she said.

Riggs wishes she could go back to the festival in 2013, but she'll likely be spending that time with her family.

Russell Regel

Being back in Columbia for the holidays was the highlight of the year for Russell Regel, 50. He has lived in Kansas City for the past 18 years, but before that he lived in Columbia for 12 years.

“It’s always nice to come back to Columbia, and it’s my second home,” he said. “I love both Kansas City and Columbia.”

Ross Walden

Ross Walden will remember 2012 as the year he bought back RJD Inc., a company he established in 1992 and sold in 2001.

“It is exciting to come back to the company, and it was really nice to see the old friends again,” Walden said. “They have been there since 1992.”

RJD is a Columbia-based company that helps people with mental disabilities participate in society. Walden said his work makes him happy. When he came back to the company, he met a former patient who he said has made a lot of progress.

“He was 55 years old when I was first started working with him,” Walden said. “His life was very limited. ... Now, he has a very full life, going to work, which he is doing every day.”

Aybala Ozturk

Columbia-born Ozturk got her first job this year after finishing her degree at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in May.

“I started working at the HIPS organization in Washington, D.C.,” Ozturk said. HIPS stands for Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive. The group tries to help female, male and transgender people engaged in sex work avoid contracting HIV or becoming addicted to drugs.

“We provide sex supplies for sex workers and injections for drug addicts to prevent HIV from spreading,” Ozturk said. “It is not about telling the people what to do, but it is more about keeping the community safer.”

Ozturk said she is happy about her new job because she wants to help people in need.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

The Missourian would like to hear from you about the highlights you experienced in 2012. Toward that end, we've created a query using the Public Insight Network, which allows you to share your thoughts with us and to become a possible source for this and future news stories. Please take a moment to respond to the questions below. If you have questions, contact city editor Scott Swafford or Joy Mayer, the Missourian's director of community outreach.

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