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Local churches finding different ways to serve their community

Churches around Derby, like so many other businesses, had to find ways to adapt to the shifting landscape of the current coronavirus pandemic.

During the height of the pandemic, that meant a shift to online services for most local churches. Some, like Pleasantview Baptist Church and First Presbyterian Church, returned to in-person worship in the early summer. Others, such as Woodlawn United Methodist Church, have held off though – monitoring the county’s COVID-19 dashboard as an extra level of precaution.

“We really chose to be cautious and not reopen until we were pretty sure that we could keep people as safe as we possibly could,” said Woodlawn UMC Senior Pastor Lance Carrithers.

All Woodlawn UMC ministry programs (including vacation bible school, youth groups, adult classes, etc.) have been online since March 15, but the church is planning to return to in-person worship on Oct. 18.

Going online, Carrithers noted there was a steep learning curve trying to figure out how to continue offering the church’s many services. Now, there will be an adjustment going back to in-person worship – from limiting worship times in more socially distanced settings to eliminating contact points and the serving of refreshments, as well as new mask requirements.

Other Derby churches adapted similarly, enforcing masks, stricter sanitation measures and social distancing, as attested to by PBC Lead Pastor Danny Payne and First Presbyterian Church Pastor Ben Ray.

Safety precautions for churches may look the same, but financial support for those institutions during the pandemic has been like snowflakes – no two look alike.

“Our donations are down,” Carrithers said. “However, we were fortunate enough to apply for and receive a PPP loan early on in the shutdown. That has enabled us to keep all of our staff employed.”

Meanwhile, Payne said financial donations were fairly stable for PBC, though there was a bit of a dip in the summer. And at First Presbyterian, Ray noted tithing and giving was actually up currently, while the church also received a loan (after it was sure other businesses were able to apply).

None of the three pastors see the situation regarding COVID-19 changing anytime soon and while that continues to force them to adopt new game plans, it also provides an opportunity to evolve. Ray recalled a scripture verse that charges churches to go forth in the world making disciples and baptizing – with the current pandemic forcing their hands somewhat.

“Churches haven’t done that well, but with COVID everybody had to go online. Jesus couldn’t get us to go out, but COVID finally got us to go out of our buildings. That’s helped. We’ve seen benefits from that,” Ray said. “The church has to remind ourselves that our mission to the world is to provide hope, especially in times of crisis like this. That’s what Jesus does. He provides us hope in the midst of all the chaos.”

“We’re still adapting. We’ve obviously adapted to a fairly significant online presence,” Payne said. “We’ve added back layers very slowly, very methodically as we felt like we could. We’re adjusting to how we do church. No one’s ever done it this way before, so we’re learning like everybody else.”

Pastoral care for patients in hospitals had to be done by telephone rather than person, funerals were celebrated graveside, and both Woodlawn UMC and First Presbyterian took to offering some drive-thru programs – whether weekly congregational dinners or donation drives for the Derby food pantry.

Changes may still be yet to come, too – as Carrithers noted Woodlawn UMC will continue to monitor the county’s data and suspend in-person worship again if needed.

Having a support network among churches has helped with those changes. Payne noted he has leaned on that throughout the pandemic, which has also helped provide clarity to who is in control of the current situation.

“We may not like what it looks like, but He’s always in control. Its easy to trust God when its going good; its harder to trust God when its crazy,” Payne said. “As I look back on all the decisions we’ve made in the last seven months, obviously there’s always room for growth but I feel like we’ve made pretty good decisions to try to navigate this season of life.”

A career of service: Schott shares his start in athletic training and the U.S. Army

This is part one of a two-part series on longtime Derby High School athletic trainer, Rex Schott.

Oct. 2, 1970.

Rex Schott’s assignment to Fort Polk, La., was nothing more than his part of serving in the Army Reserves. It came with expectations and his responsibilities in active duty. His life and career, however, endured a seismic shift that fall day.

“Hey, didn’t you work with the Wichita State football team?”

The question came from a member of Schott’s unit after hearing about a plane crash on the radio. He soon called home, asking his wife questions about who was on board between friends and family.

While he is trying to connect with local sources, he's also balancing the realization that he would have likely been on one of the two planes had he not be in active duty.

Schott wasn’t going to give up his military career, but that day opened the door to a new call to “service.”

Early years as an athlete

Schott wanted to wear Derby green as a running back in the fall of 1961. However, he hurt his knee while practicing and that put a damper on his pursuits. Derby coach Jack Hayes, who coincidentally played football at Wichita State, told him, “Hey, you like being around sports, why don’t you hang around and be our manager and trainer?”

A few taped ankles later, the journey began to take shape.

Thanks to a student test inside a mailer from the Cramer Chemical Company, Schott earned a “Cramer First Aider Student Trainer” badge that could be sewn on his shirt.

He began visiting Cramer clinics in the summer, learning further how to tape and deal with athletes. Schott didn’t do sports as a sophomore or junior at Derby, but Hayes took him to meet Wichita State athletic trainer Tom Reeves.

Reeves offered to hire Schott after he graduated from Derby and that’s exactly what transpired after enrolling at Wichita State and preparing to participate in track and field.

As an unpaid, 18-year-old kid, Schott became the sole trainer for the freshman football team for the Shockers. He’d work with roughly 60 players ahead of practices, providing Schott with an environment that felt more like a baptism by fire at times.

He’d even tend to athletes in the same sport in which he was a participant.

Schott participated in sprints (9.6, 100-yard dash), relays and the long jump (24-11, PR, third at MVC Championships as a senior) during his freshman and senior year at Wichita State. In between events, he’d tend to his teammates as their athletic trainer.

Schott’s relationship with Reeves, however, came to a sudden and unfortunate halt.

Start as WSU head athletic trainer

Schott’s second call on that October afternoon went to Dr. William Swisher, the Wichita State team physician.

Reeves, Schott’s friend and mentor, was one of the 29 victims in the plane crash. Swisher spoke with Wichita State president Dr. Ted Ahlberg and he informed him that he wanted Schott to interview for the head athletic trainer job during his leave at Christmas in 1970.

At 22 years old, Schott became the youngest athletic trainer at any major institution in the United States.

“He hired me on the spot and said the job is yours,” Schott said. “He said all the coaches want me to do it because I knew the kids. They were all a couple years younger than me [though].”

Schott’s role went far beyond sports medicine. He became a counselor of sorts, helping football players who were present at the crash rehabilitate from physical and emotional scars.

Given that members were back on the field 22 days after the crash occurred, leadership was craved and needed.

While Schott was so close to the athletes in age, former Wichita State football player John Yeros said coaches were not much older either. What the football players and other athletes found in their coaching and training staff was strength, especially at such a trying time.

“We were 18, 19, 20 years old and we had to grow up fast,” Yeros said. “We needed someone to have a voice for us and there were times we’d go to Rex with things we knew we couldn’t go to the coaches with. Sometimes, it had nothing to do with football or an injury. It was someone else who was there who had the ability to listen and get what you needed.”

Call to service in military

After enlisting in the military in March 1970, Schott spent 37 years in the United States Army/Army Reserve.

He was an honor graduate from basic training and drill sergeant school. He was directly promoted to an E-5 (Sergeant) after nine months in active duty. Within five years, he worked his way to E-7 (Sergeant First Class).

How does an aspiring athletic trainer focus on those skills while also working his way up to colonel?

“Honestly, I have no idea how I did it all,” Schott said, chuckling.

Family sacrifices were certainly made along the way, including summer-long deployments through active duty.

“I really enjoyed the military,” Schott said. “I enjoyed the discipline of it and I like being a leader.”

Army leadership saw Schott’s drive for excellence. Beyond the hands-on nature and drive to be with his troops both stateside and overseas, he recalled an ORE (operational readiness evaluation) where his transportation lieutenant colonel would evaluate his battalion to see how effective they were and their readiness for possible deployment.

“‘I don’t know how you do this,’ Schott said of their evaluation. “‘… You guys passed with flying colors and you’re ready to go to war. I don’t know how you guys do it because I’m full time and I can barely keep up.’ I told him, ‘well, you just do what you’ve got to do.’”

At the same time, he was still sharing time between Wichita State, the military and also signing on to assist with Derby athletic training in 1976.

“We had three, sometimes four students that would help me [with Shocker athletics],” Schott said. “After football was over, I only got to take one with me during basketball … they were just students and I trained them in what they were doing.”

Later on, he began part-time duties helping women’s athletics at Wichita State, serving as a physical therapist’s assistant at Mid-America Center for Sports Medicine and then officially opening his door to Derby.

Lasting impact on students

Even with his workload, there was a calming presence that Schott brought to the table.

Leslie McVay, who is a sister-in-law to former Derby coach Tommy McVay, was also a student trainer and volleyball player at Wichita State.

Schott began driving university vehicles as a senior athlete and McVay recalled the days of him driving teams to and from events in his days as a trainer as well.

“He was very involved and was such an enthusiastic fan,” McVay said. “That was an added pleasure to have Rex around … he’s such a good guy and he showed personal interest in the teams that he took care of.”

That eye left an impression on McVay as well, who is retiring after 23 years as a volleyball coach (22 in track and field) in Edmond Public Schools (Okla.).

“People don’t realize everything [Schott and others] do as trainers,” she said. “… It’s a lot of work and a rigorous job and I commend him for it because he’s awesome at what he does.”

New hospital CEO is a familiar face

Rock Regional Hospital has its new CEO – and it didn’t have to look far to find him, as former Vice President of Business Development and Strategy Barry Beus was officially promoted to the role of CEO at the Derby hospital as of Oct. 5.

“I always kind of aspired to leadership type positions. I’ve been in the health care industry since 2008 and I always kind of felt like I could be successful in leadership positions,” Beus said.

Origin story

Beus officially started with Rock Regional in September 2018, after working with Wellsky (a health care technology company) in his native Utah for six years. Prior to that, though, Beus was exposed to the area working at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

Having that exposure to the market, Beus became aware of the hospital being built in Derby. When he first had meetings about the VP position with Rock Regional, he noted the development in the area in the six years he had been away was surprising – in a good way, as he saw that as the sign of a community that would support the success of a hospital.

Looking forward to assisting a start-up hospital helped bring Beus to Derby, though a chance to play a role in health care solutions (something he has been doing for more than a decade) has kept him working in hospitals.

“There’s something that you feel by participating in some way in the healing of people. That is really satisfying work,” Beus said. “While I don’t work with patients directly, I like to think that I have a role in providing some of the infrastructure that allows nurses, techs, physicians and other staff to provide care that people need.”

When Beus started at Rock Regional Hospital he was one of two employees. Shortly after taking the position in September 2018, Beus began to help hire directory level staff in November/December of that same year – moving into the physical hospital in February 2019 before it opened to the public in April 2019.

As CEO, Beus noted he will maintain a lot of the same responsibilities he had as VP of Business Development – especially with Rock Regional still in its infancy.

“Rock Regional Hospital is a start-up hospital and it takes a long time to develop your identity as a hospital,” Beus said. “There’s a lot of time and attention that has to be devoted to volume growth, so I will continue to work on the growth strategies for Rock Regional Hospital, and then I’ll still maintain some operational responsibilities that I had previously.”

Hurdles to overcome

With Rock Regional being a start-up hospital, there are a number of inherent challenges Beus will have to address in his new role as CEO.

From developing an identity to finding its place in the market, and providing the right amount of services, there is a lot for Beus to consider as the hospital’s new leader – with the coronavirus situation only adding to that.

“Starting a new hospital is challenging at any time. You throw a worldwide pandemic in the middle of that for a start-up hospital, it makes it even more challenging,” Beus said. “It takes a long time for hospitals to be sustainable financially, so COVID-19 presented a challenge for us there.”

Managing expenses is another challenge Beus will take on as CEO. Rock Regional being left out on federal assistance tied to COVID-19 makes that even more difficult, but he said he will take his lead from a number of strong hospital executives he has been fortunate to work with in the past.

Leading onward

While those executives helped shape who Beus is as a leader, he noted it might be his family in Utah who equipped with him with the most crucial tools for his new role.

“Coming from a family of 10 children, you learn how to get along with a lot of people,” Beus said. “Within a hospital, you have a very diverse staff, so you need to have the ability to get along and lead people at various skill levels.”

Given his presence since the hospital’s start, Beus already has strong working relationships with physicians and other staff at Rock Regional. Now, the idea is to continue building that network to grow the hospital into what the community wants.

While COVID-19 has created some uncertainty around seeking medical services currently, Beus wants to eliminate that when it comes to Rock Regional Hospital. Still looking to partner with the Wichita hospitals that serve Rock Regional, he also said his goal as CEO is to continue making services more convenient for Derby residents.

Building on a network of specialists that currently includes orthopaedic surgeons, cardiologists, gastroenterologists and more, Beus is focused on making Rock Regional Derby’s center for medical needs.

“That’s what we want to be. We want to be the community hospital of Derby. When they think about medical services, they think about Rock Regional Hospital,” Beus said. “I want patients to have good experiences when they come here. I want employees to be happy working at Rock Regional Hospital. If you look at the mission of Rock Regional Hospital, it’s to improve the health and well-being of the individuals, families and communities that we serve. Ultimately, that is my goal and the goal of Rock Regional Hospital to do just that.”