NORMAL — After several months of delays, Normal reached a contract with Midwest Fiber Recycling to continue operating its drop box recycling program.
The town council narrowly approved the new agreement in a 4-3 vote Monday night. Councilmembers Kathleen Lorenz, Scott Preston and Stan Nord voted against approving the contract.
Normal has extended a previous agreement with Midwest Fiber twice this year to allow staff time to draft an intergovernmental agreement with Bloomington and McLean County to share costs for the operation.
City Manager Pam Reece said the town is still pursing that intergovernmental agreement and expects both Bloomington and the county to vote on it within the month.
During the meeting there were several discussions centered on whether the town should approve the contract prior to reaching an intergovernmental agreement.
Councilwoman Karyn Smith said, "I see no reason to not have a similar good faith that our partners in Bloomington and the county will not step up to the plate and proceed with this."
She added that she would prefer the town have reached an intergovernmental agreement with Bloomington and the county prior to approving the contract.
But, "As far as timing goes, I'd rather not have the citizens go though an interruption of services," she said.
Councilmen Stan Nord and Kathleen Lorenz both stated they would prefer the town to reach an intergovernmental agreement prior to approving the contract.
"I am concerned that we don't have the IGA inked out tonight as we consider this new agreement," said Councilwoman Kathleen Lorenz. "I think it seems like a fair agreement that has been struck between us and Midwest Fiber, I just would really like to see the IGA."
Normal may terminate the contract with Midwest Fiber at any time if the intergovernmental agreement is not approved, or for any reason in 2022 with a penalty of $15,000, or in 2023 for $7,500.
The contract would be terminated at any time if the company breaches the contract or discontinues accepting materials based on market conditions.
The new three-year contract between the town and Midwest Fiber, estimated to cost $195,000 per year, would not change upon reaching an intergovernmental agreement.
Reece said the intergovernmental agreement would determine cost contribution between the town, Bloomington, and McLean County.
Four drop sites throughout Bloomington and Normal with collection containers for paper, cardboard and mixed containers are included in the new program.
The program's base collection fee is $12,880 per month.
Midwest Fiber will maintain all equipment for the program and will transport recyclable material to its Material Recover Facility, 422 South White Oak Road, Normal. Processing fees for each material type are: mixed paper, $25 per ton; cardboard, $42.50 per ton; and mixed containers, $200 per ton.
Phoenix Industrial Subdivision
Council members clashed over a decision to approve the final plat of a roughly 65 acre industrial park in north Normal.
The council conditionally approved by a 6-1 vote the final plat of the Phoenix Industrial Subdivision in the former Wildwood Industries property following a heated discussion. Councilman Stan Nord was the only no vote.
"What we have here is a success story of economic development," Councilman Kevin McCarthy said Monday. "I think its fantastic to get outside investors coming into our community and invest millions of dollars in economic development."
The submitted plat from Phoenix Investors, LLC, which recently purchased the land, is nearly identical to the former Wildwood Industries Subdivision on the southeast corner of North Main Street and Kerrick Road.
Normal approved the Wildwood subdivision in 2008, but the final plat was never recorded and the then-owner did not pay the required development fees nor filed the required certificates.
A 500,00-square-foot warehouse and distribution building was partially built, but abandoned before the firm purchased the property.
As part of the conditional approval, Phoenix Investors must file all required certificate and payment fees pertaining to the plat. Phoenix Investors is a national commercial real estate firm based in Milwaukee that focuses on revitalizing industrial properties throughout the United States.
Phoenix Investors proposed the project in June. It will include a nearly $16 million investment to renovate and lease the existing facility for warehouse and distribution purposes. Once completed, Phoenix Investors said the project is expected to create 50 jobs.
A look back: Iconic symbols of Bloomington-Normal
Nearly 50 iconic symbols
Lucca Grill stands the test of time in downtown Bloomington
Karen Hansen | firstname.lastname@example.org
The venerable Lucca Grill always extends a warm welcome to friends, whether gone a day or a decade. The downtown Bloomington landmark, 116 E. Market St., is long on comfort and short on pretense; hang around long enough and you’ll join an extended family.
The eatery is an octogenarian now, begun in 1936 by immigrant brothers Fred and John Baldini near the end of the Great Depression.
Over time, many superlatives have described its special ambiance: painted tin ceilings, a working dumbwaiter and Lilliputian-sized bathrooms. “A delightful old-time saloon” gushed The New York Times; “one of the most congenial bars ever founded,” fawned The Washington Post.
Its long love affair with Democrats was trumpeted by John Baldini No. 2, revered leader of McLean County’s liberal wing until his 1994 death. The grill dispenses Kennedy half-dollars in change and one manager – John Fitzgerald Koch – is even named for the 35th president.
Oodles of celebrities have walked through the doors but it’s regulars and folks like 46-year employee Lois Durbin who have been vetted with a picture on the wall or a plaque on a barstool or a menu item named in their honor.
That menu’s most-favored meal is the “A La Baldini,” the dime-thin Italian pie with sausage, pepperoni, ham, onions, mushrooms, green peppers and pepperocini.
Slide into a stool along the timeworn mahogany bar and savor some. It’s a family rite of passage.
Watterson Towers is a sight that stands out for miles and miles
You can see Watterson Towers for miles. It’s among the tallest residence halls in the world.
Pretty much everyone in Central Illinois knows the Illinois State University’s scion is the tallest building in Bloomington-Normal and among the tallest buildings outside of Chicago.
It’s also among the most populous, called home each year by about 2,200 students.
Arthur W. Watterson was not a major financial donor to the university, the primary way people and corporations get their names on buildings these days.
Instead, Watterson was a geography professor who died in 1966, a year before construction began on the 28-story building. He had joined the ISU faculty in 1946, after serving in the Office of War Information in Washington and later with the Office of Strategic Services, mostly in Europe, during World War II.
He led the geography department for 15 years, from 1951 to 1966.
Selected in 1961 for the Outstanding Citizen Award by the Normal Chamber of Commerce, he was described as a “tireless worker on the ISU campus, in his church and in his community.”
His name - rescued from relative obscurity - isn’t the only one attached to the residence complex.
The 10 “houses” within the towers are named for the first 10 secretaries of state, some of whom later became president: Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, Timothy Pickering, John Marshall, James Madison, Robert Smith, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren.
What makes Central Illinois unique can be found in the ground
Randy Kindred | email@example.com
The stores have plenty of it in bags … top soil, garden soil, potting soil. Any will do in a pinch.
Yet, at our house we want the best for our plants, and we know what that is.
Husband and wife both came from dirt … that is, we grew up on family farms. So each spring, a plea is sent out to a brother and/or brother in-law for dirt.
Not just any dirt. Central Illinois farm dirt.
It is transported in buckets and transferred to pots large and small. The plants take off like crazy, even when mixed with that city-bought soil.
The brother and brother-in-law grow corn and soybeans, just as our dads did. They plant seeds in the darkest, richest, most fertile ground you’ll find … the brother in Logan, McLean and Tazewell counties, the brother in-law in Hancock and Henderson to the west.
They worry about rain or the lack of it. They fret about wind or hail or droughts. They take out their pocket knives and dig in the dirt. All the while, they know there is no better place to raise a crop.
“I would say it’s the fact we have a deeper top soil than a lot of other parts of the country that grow crops,” the brother said. “That probably helps us as much as anything. The top soil is really rich and productive.
“We’re flat here, we have a lot of top soil and our soil drains fairly well, but it also retains water very well. Moisture seems to be readily available to the crop most of the time because it’s not draining away real quickly, yet it is draining.”
So give our dirt a thumb’s up … with a little under the nail, of course.
Normal Theater still lighting up uptown with movie nostalgia
Dan Craft | firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s nothing remotely normal about the 80-year-old Normal Theater: the sleek Art Deco/Art Moderne building at 209 North St. remains among Illinois’ handful of surviving, still-functioning single-screen bijous.
It was designed by famed Bloomington architect Arthur F. Moratz and financed to the tune of $100,000 by local lawyer Sylvan Kupfer, who leased the theater to Great States Corp.
The first of Hollywood’s movie legends to visit the Normal’s silver screen: Bing Crosby, whose new musical comedy, “Double or Nothing,” graced the marquee on opening night in 1937.
Crosby remains a Normal fixture thanks to the annual showings of his seasonal classics “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn.”
Among the Normal’s distinctions: It was the first B-N cinema designed for sound movies and it was equipped with air conditioning, a rarity for 1937.
There was rough sledding ahead as the movie business changed, reaching a nadir in 1985, when its then-owner shoved a wall between the balcony and the main floor to create a cramped twin-screen theater.
The ploy failed and the theater closed in 1991, reduced to seedy second-run, bargain house status.
Salvation and rebirth came via the Town of Normal, which purchased the theater and committed to a meticulous three-year restoration that included a return to its single-screen origins.
The grand re-opening occurred Oct. 7, 1994, with “Singin’ in the Rain.” In the two decades since, the theater has remained an iconic symbol and focal point of uptown renaissance.
ISU, IWU alumni know where to eat when they return to town
Jim Benson | email@example.com
When Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan celebrate homecomings in the fall, alumni taste buds immediately start salivating down memory lane.
Time to get a gondola or some thin-crust pizza, that comfort food they loved – and devoured – during their college days at two special places burnt into the brain forever.
Thus, the packed parking lots at Avanti’s in Normal and Tobin’s Pizza in Bloomington when former ISU and IWU students roll into town.
The Avanti’s on Main Street near the ISU campus may have changed some inside since it was opened by Guido and Albert Zeller in 1971. What hasn’t changed is Avanti’s fresh Italian bread, which is prepared and baked in the restaurant’s kitchen and, of course, the trademark “Avanti’s famous gondola” of ham, salami, American cheese and lettuce.
You can get a half gondola, but a whole gondola is usually the way to go for hearty eaters. There are plenty of other options on the menu, but the gondola always is the first remembered.
South from Avanti’s, on Main Street near the IWU campus, sits Tobin’s Pizza, a community staple since 1963 when Jim Tobin opened the doors. It looks almost the same inside as 1963, too, which just adds to its unique charm.
The thin (but not paper thin) crust pizza has remained the same even after Moe and Karen Davis bought the business in 1998. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Moe Davis on the 50th anniversary in 2013.
Good thinking — regardless if your college colors are red and white or green and white.
Adlais, Abe & David lead the Twin Cities' political list
Edith Brady-Lunny | firstname.lastname@example.org
Mention the names Stevenson, Lincoln and Davis and three common themes come to mind: politics, lawyers and Bloomington.
Maryland-born David Davis settled in Bloomington in the 1830s, presiding over a judicial circuit where Abraham Lincoln, an up-and-coming lawyer, was building his career.
That’s where Lincoln also crossed paths with Adlai Stevenson I, the first in a succession of Democrat office-holders with the same last name.
So impressed with Lincoln were Davis and several other prominent local leaders that they provided the support Lincoln needed in May 1860 to secure the Republican presidential nomination.
After Lincoln was elected, Davis was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he remained until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1877.
Stevenson, who had moved to Bloomington with his family when he was 16, later served as vice president under Grover Cleveland and in the U.S. Congress.
The second Stevenson named Adlai (grandson of Adlai I) was governor of Illinois, a presidential candidate and a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. His son, Adlai III, was a U.S. senator and candidate for governor.
The Bloomington home of Adlai II still stands. The David Davis Mansion is a popular state historic site that includes Sarah’s Garden.
A statue of Stevenson II is in the lobby of Central Illinois Regional Airport. A statue of Lincoln, Davis and Pantagraph founder Jesse Fell is in Lincoln Park, directly in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
Nutty little Bloomington sideshow is now world famous
Bill Flick | email@example.com
In a town known for its insurance and higher education, only one name lives in the same famed-name stratosphere of Kleenex, Xerox, Band-aid or Play-Doh.
That’d be Beer Nuts, of course.
They are so famous, people around the world automatically call any nut glazed in a salty sugary mix a Beer Nut.
There’s an irony there, too.
In the beginning, back in 1953 when Russell and Betty Shirk ran a downtown Bloomington restaurant, their claim to fame was their homemade orange juice.
People came from all over to drink it.
That’s when, as an added attraction to make people thirstier, Shirk went into a back room at his restaurant and poured a special glaze onto a baking platter of unskinned Virginia-grown peanuts.
A star was born.
You never heard Norm on “Cheers” clamor for another orange drink.
You don’t see comedienne Sarah Silverman (she’s a Beer Nuts fanatic) jogging in Manhattan and onto the cover of People magazine wearing a Shirk’s Orange cap.
Instead, Beer Nuts – while still low-profile in Bloomington-Normal (when have you EVER seen a Beer Nuts semitrailer truck?) – have catapulted “Shirk” into inexorably lasting Twin City fame.
That was ensured into perpetuity when the harvests of that red-skinned partner to a glass of orange juice led to development of the Russell O. & Betty Shirk Foundation and, in 1994, opening of the $15 million Shirk Center Athletic Complex on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University.
Steak ’n Shake has been right and in sight since 1934
Julie Gerke | firstname.lastname@example.org
That second apostrophe is about the only thing missing from Steak ’n Shake, the black, white and red restaurant famous for sizzling steakburgers and handdipped shakes.
The chain restaurant, which includes a sit-down dining room and drive-through lanes, was founded in 1934 in the Twin Cities.
Gus Belt opened the first Steak ’n Shake at Main Street and Virginia Avenue (now home to Monical’s Pizza), after he added food to a Shell service station line-up of gasoline, tires and turtleburgers.
A finicky Belt ground the steak by hand, in front of his customers, charging 20 cents and a penny tax for a burger and shake. He didn’t like either item, yet mandated a pickle with every bite — which is why you still get two long slices on each steakburger.
Along the way, he also coined (and trademarked) the term “cheeseburger” and determined the secret to good chili is a hint of cocoa.
He and his wife Edith bought the former Maplewood Country Club property in 1940 and used the land to pasture cows. In 1953, the acreage was platted into Maplewood subdivision, which fronts Jersey Avenue. Belt Avenue is named in his honor.
Belt died in 1954, and Edith ran the chain until 1969. Current owner Biglari Holdings Inc., San Antonio, Texas, has more than 500 Steak ’n Shake restaurants in 27 states.
Steak ’n Shake is memorialized in a collection at McLean County Museum of History, 200 N. Main St., Bloomington, and in an exhibit at the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum, 110 W Howard St., Pontiac.
Festival provides summer fun for Shakespeare fans
Joe Deacon | email@example.com
One Bloomington-Normal location has been the site of murders, mayhem and mischief, notorious deeds occurring out in the open among plenty of witnesses.
Yet that same spot has seen romances blossom, hosted fantastic celebrations and filled the air with laughter every summer for more than 35 years.
Where — not wherefore — might this location be?
Although “all the world’s a stage,” these acts have taken place on stage at Ewing Manor (Ewing Cultural Center), where the Illinois Shakespeare Festival has become a Twin City summer staple since its debut in 1978.
The first performances took place on a temporary wooden stage built over a tennis court, with about 250 spectators sitting in folding chairs.
Now, the plays are held in a 438-seat open-air theater that debuted in 2000.
The festival, which features at least three plays in a rotation each year, has become nationally recognized among professional Shakespearean actors as a top venue.
The attraction has grown as well, with patrons able to picnic on the grounds and occasionally take in bonus acts performed in the courtyards.
All but three of William Shakespeare’s plays have been produced in the festival’s 37 years, along with other Shakespeare-related works.
If you wish to witness a little murder and mayhem, or perhaps some bard-style romance and laughter, “get thee to” the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
Miller Park Zoo offers a roaring good time to visitors
Bruce Yentes | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Worldly” and “exotic” are not terms that immediately come rolling off the tongue when most Bloomington-Normal residents describe their neighbors.
However, there’s an enclave on the west side of Bloomington where those attributes are more the norm than the exception among those who call it home.
Since 1891, when the city of Bloomington began allocating funds for the care of animals at Miller Park, the zoo established there has been home to a wide variety of critters from all corners of the globe.
“We’ve had animals from from every continent on earth except for Antarctica,” said Miller Park Zoo Superintendent Jay Tetzloff.
Many of the zoo’s earliest denizens were housed at the Koetthoefer Animal Building, a structure that opened to the public 100 years ago and was designed by renowned Bloomington architect A.L. Pillsbury. The building is still in use today and is a site for daily feedings, a popular attraction of the venerable facility.
The zoo was expanded in 1960 and grew exponentially in the 1990s after the Entrance Building/Education Center opened in 1992.
Culminating with the Tropical Rainforest Exhibit that debuted in 2004, the zoo more than doubled in size in a little over a decade.
The zoo and its foundation currently are working with the city on a long-term expansion plan.
Miller Park Zoo is located at 1020 S. Morris Ave. and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Actors’ passion helps bring record-setting play to life
The longest-running “continuously performed” passion play in America is right here in Bloomington.
The American Passion Play, unlike others, dramatizes Jesus’ entire ministry, rather than just events from Passion Week onward. The play is historically accurate, with settings and costumes recreating first-century Galilee. Text is taken from the King James version of the Bible.
“My theory is that we can do more and tell a story better in four hours than churches can in several months,” said Wally Crouch of Normal, who has been business manager for the play for the past 10 years and associated with the play for more than 35.
The play, staged every spring at Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, presents the story of Jesus in 11 performances that begin with the beheading of John the Baptist and end with Christ’s ascension. About 230 characters participate in 56 scenes. The play is directed by J. Garrie Burr and codirected by John Capasso. The actors are non-professionals with a spiritual dedication to their parts.
“It’s the people that make the play special,” Crouch said. “Some have been acting in it for 60 years and we have had several generations of the same families as actors.”
Next season will be the 92nd consecutive season the play has been presented in Bloomington.
“I’ve seen it every year for the past 40 years,” said Heyworth resident Patricia Benson. “Every year, you see something different. But one thing never changes and that is the fact that it is simply amazing.”
When your day is done, Pub II is the place to have fun
When your day is done and the rat race lost or won, you need a place to celebrate or commiserate.
A prime confine to unwind for college students and the work weary has been Pub II, the iconic sports bar and restaurant perched like a 4,000-square-foot fort at 102 N. Linden St., where it has protected free time in Normal the past 43 years.
While other local watering holes have their devotees, none can match the longevity of Pub II, which received one of the first liquor licenses after Normal ended its self-imposed prohibition in 1974.
Pub II further separated from its competitors in 1998 when Playboy magazine named it one of the top 100 college bars in the country. The business drew kudos for affordable food, drink specials and “college bar” atmosphere.
Keeping the red, white and blue bedecked celebrants well fed and thirst-free in front of six big-screen and 25 smaller TVs were many of Pub II’s 50 employees.
Standing sentinel over the jubilation were walls festooned with sports memorabilia honoring ISU and Illinois Wesleyan along with Chicago’s Blackhawks, Bulls, Bears, Cubs and White Sox among others.
On the day this story was first published, June 18, 2014, co-owner Terry Stralow left a thankful voicemail at The Pantagraph. That act of kindness became poignant 10 months later when he died at age 64 in a plane crash with six others returning from the NCAA basketball tournament in Indianapolis.
Stralow's legacy is honored as well as those of Scott Bittner, Andy Butler, Tom Hileman, Jason Jones, Aaron Leetch and Torrey Ward thanks to a campaign called Project 7, which asks everyone to perform seven acts of kindness each April 7.
Three Olympians called Bloomington-Normal home
Doug Collins earned a silver medal in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
Many believe to this day he actually earned a gold.
The former Illinois State All-American was a central figure in perhaps the most controversial moment in Olympic history as a member of the United States basketball team.
Collins sank two free throws with three seconds remaining to give the Amercans a 50-49 lead in the gold medal game against the Soviet Union.
The Soviets inbounded the ball and the clock hit zero only to have time put back on the clock after a claim that a timeout had been called. Time ran out again as the Soviets failed to score, but they were given a third chance when it was decided by an international basketball official that a timing error had been made.
On the third attempt, Alexander Belov turned a long pass into a game-winning shot.
Collins and the rest of the U.S. team, who had celebrated victory twice, were devastated and steadfastly refuse to accept the silver medal more than 40 years later. A silver medal that holds considerably better memories belongs to former University High School volleyball star Ogonna Nnamani.
Nnamani, who also enjoyed an All-American career at Stanford, was part of the American women’s volleyball team that competed in Athens, Greece, in 2004 before earning a silver medal in 2008 at Beijing, China.
Bloomington High School also has produced an Olympian in distance runner Christin Wurth-Thomas.
Wurth-Thomas qualified for the 2008 Games in the 1,500-meter run. She finished eighth in a preliminary round race and did not advance to the finals.
Constitution Trail links fitness and fellowship in B-N
Constitution Trail is Bloomington-Normal’s path to fitness, fellowship and fun.
Meandering through neighborhoods and subdivisions and stretching alongside backyards, creeks and parks, the trail stretches for 37 miles from inner-city neighborhoods to the countryside surrounding the Twin Cities.
Older adults take their dogs for a walk, families have a leisurely bike ride, teens practice skateboarding skills, college-age couples jog, overweight people return to exercise and cyclists and runners have fun.
Conversations are common.
Even for people who don’t know each other, there are starters: Was that a groundhog that just ran in front of us? What plant is in that trail-side garden? What’s going on at Connie Link Amphitheatre?
Along the trail, there are benches for people to take a break, shelters for people to chat or for groups to meet. Six signs describe and honor key parts of the U.S. Constitution.
Some people use parts of the trail to commute to work or to head to uptown Normal for an evening on the town.
While the original leg of the trail was provided by the abandoned Illinois Central Gulf Railroad line, the trail now extends well beyond that line and continues to expand.
For the uninitiated and for trail users who want to check out different parts of the trail, go to the Friends of Constitution Trail website — ConstitutionTrail.org — which has a trail map that includes trail heads.
You’ll start with walking. You’ll end with belonging.
Ice cream shops drive memories of summer in B-N
For more than 40 years, two ice cream shops have shaped the summer memories of many Bloomington-Normal children and brought back grown-ups for another sample when they return to the Twin Cities.
Carl’s Ice Cream Factory, 601 W. Locust St., and Gene’s Dairy Delight at 1019 S. Main St., both in Bloomington, serve up not only homemade ice cream, but nostalgia as walk-up neighborhood ice cream stands.
In 2007, Carl’s added a location at 1700 W. College Ave., Normal, that is open year-round, provides indoor seating and a drive-up window.
But spring officially starts in the Twin Cities when Carl’s and Gene’s seasonal stands open. Throughout the summer, crowds congregate there day and night, offering frosty balm to sooth nerves seared by a hot summer day or the incentive to put on walking shoes or ride a bike to reach nirvana.
Family nights out or get-togethers with friends are often capped off there.
Carl’s and Gene’s are the source of treats after a holiday meal or to mark a birthday, anniversary or life’s other significant milestones.
For passing motorists, they prove irresistible.
Candy “googly eyes” served on the ice cream make the shops into a favorite stop for many children.
You may debate which shop has the better ice cream, but there is no doubt that Gene’s and Carl’s are the must-go destinations for ice cream in Bloomington-Normal.
Tourists on Route 66 are still getting their kicks
BILL FLICK | BFLICK@pantagraph.com
U.S. 66, recognized across America as an archetype of the early American highway, carved a 2,500-mile path of road from Chicago to Los Angeles, with roadside attractions and marvelous vistas.
It wound through Bloomington-Normal, from its entry in northeast Normal on what is today Pine Street, to Willow, to Main. That’s where it intersected with U.S. 51 and traversed south, wandering out of town on what is today largely Interstate 55.
“It was a way of life and I loved it there,” said Chester Henry, a retired Illinois State Police trooper who for more than 25 years patrolled the “Mother Road” around Bloomington-Normal. Highways then, said Chester, were a much more personal, friendly place and he knew all the great places to dine, sleep and take a break.
To this day, Route 66 remains a point of pride and its legacy continues to grow, even 30 years after the road was decommissioned.
Kicks, a popular pub in Towanda, is devoted to the Route 66 legend. So much so, in fact, it was the destination of El Paso High Class of ‘66 when its class members turned age 66.
The circa-1931 Sprague Super Service Station at 305 E. Pine, Normal, once housed a cafe, gas station and garage. Starting this summer, it has opened as Ryburn Place, a gift shop and information center.
With the assistance of several grants and the town of Normal, the site was rehabbed and restored by town workers and Terri Ryburn, a Route 66 enthusiast and retired Illinois State University administrator.
And at the old McLean County courthouse (today’s McLean County Museum of History) is a “Route 66 Visitors Center” in the basement of the museum. Just look for the bench with Abe Lincoln and walk in the door.
From print to canvas to web, The Pantagraph covers the news
Whether it’s reporting local happenings or national headlines, The Pantagraph has been a main source of news in Central Illinois since the 1800s.
And like many things in the Twin Cities, Jesse Fell was at the newspaper’s forefront, first founding the Bloomington Observer and McLean County Advocate in 1837 and then as editor of the McLean Register, renamed The Pantagraph (from a Greek phrase meaning “write all things”) in 1853.
The newspaper went from a weekly to a daily edition in 1856 and added a direct telegraph wire so that it could publish wire service news.
But getting the news to the public hasn’t been limited to just the printed page.
During the election of 1900 — Democrat William Jennings Bryan and running mate Bloomington’s Adlai E. Stevenson I ran against Republicans William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt — The Pantagraph hung a large canvas on a building across Madison Street and used a stereopticon machine to project running vote totals.
It also announced that at 11 p.m. on election night, it would fire off one rocket for a Bryan victory; two for a McKinley victory.
In 1920, a magnetic player board was mounted on the building so baseball fans could follow every play of the World Series. The board was used until the late 1930s.
Today, The Pantagraph not only delivers a printed paper to doorsteps, but takes advantage of electronic media including a web page, Facebook, Twitter and mobile apps to get news to its thousands of readers.
Special Olympics has its heart in Bloomington-Normal
JOE DEACON | JDEACON@pantagraph.com
In a crowded sports market that includes several high schools, two NCAA universities and a handful of professional franchises, one Normal-based organization has spent decades nurturing the state’s most inspirational athletes.
Those athletes take center stage in the Twin Cities each June when Special Olympics Illinois holds the State Summer Games, with more than 4,000 competitors participating in six different sports.
These Summer Games, as with everything Special Olympics does, are embodied best through the agency’s oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
By giving people with intellectual disabilities an avenue to grow through competition, Special Olympics helps these athletes achieve a sense of pride and accomplishment while combating intolerance.
Special Olympics began in Illinois with the first competition held at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1968 and has grown to include 18 programs statewide, providing opportunities for more than 20,000 athletes annually.
The agency’s headquarters moved from the Chicago Park District to the Illinois State University campus in 1977 before opening its own offices on Willow Street in 1989.
Through 180 competitions each year, Special Olympics uses 19 Olympic-type sports to fulfill its stated mission of helping its athletes “develop fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship” — all while inspiring the spectators whose lives are touched by these athletes.
Long medical history in B-N births successful hospitals
JIM BENSON | JBENSON@pantagraph.com
Their names have changed over the years as their buildings kept getting bigger and bigger. What hasn’t changed is the mission of Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington: providing us with the best health care possible.
BroMenn’s history at its current site began when Deaconess Hospital opened May 8, 1896, on eight acres between Bloomington and Normal. The name changed in 1901 after Abram Brokaw, a wealthy plowmaker, made a $10,000 contribution. A nursing school was established at that time.
In 1984, Brokaw Hospital merged with Mennonite Hospital in Bloomington and Eureka Hospital to form BroMenn Healthcare. A major expansion in 1991 turned Brokaw into BroMenn Regional Medical Center; Mennonite became BroMenn Lifecare Center but closed in the late 1990s.
A merger with Oak Brook-based Advocate Health Care in 2010 resulted in Advocate BroMenn Medical Center (and Advocate Eureka Hospital). A 136,000-square-foot addition opened in 2012, giving the facility 221 beds.
St. Joseph’s Hospital was opened in 1880 on Jackson Street in Bloomington. The hospital moved to East Washington Street in 1968 and is now part of OSF HealthCare System. OSF St. Joseph Medical Center is a 149-bed notfor-profit acute care facility and level II trauma center.
OSF St. Joseph was the first hospital in McLean County to offer open heart surgery in 1990. Other “firsts” include successful birth by cesarean section, nuclear medicine, laser surgery, coil embolization and anterior hip surgery.
Historic Castle makes the transition to concert house
JOE DEACON | JDEACON@pantagraph.com
What was once a popular downtown Bloomington movie theater, comedy club and even an auto storage facility is now the Twin Cities’ best concert house in the eyes — and ears — of Pantagraph readers.
With its classic marquee prominently illuminating the 200 block of East Washington Street, Bloomington, the landmark Castle Theatre cemented itself as impossible to miss. The venue continues to be a favorite among Twin City area concert-goers, earning -- once again – the title of Best Live Music Venue in the most recent Pantagraph’s Reader’s Choice Awards competition.
And it continues to draw an eclectic assortment of acts since its’s 2010 opening, ranging in the past couple of years from Sevendust and Suzy Bogguss to The Smithereens and The Jayhawks.
And, that trend seems certain to continue.
Built in 1916 by Charles U. Williams, the current Castle not only housed the 1,000-seat theater but also accommodated storage for his adjacent auto dealership, with a freight elevator that carried cars to the upper floors.
But the prospect of the Castle seeing its 100th anniversary seemed highly remote when GKC Theaters shuttered the cinema in 1988. As the building remained dormant through the ‘90s, a plan to make the Castle one of the centerpieces in Bloomington’s cultural district gained momentum.
Following a $1.5 million renovation, the theater reopened in 2003 as a film house featuring couch seating and beer on tap. That incarnation lasted just three years as the Castle was shuttered again, although Clearview Christian Church continued to hold services there.
Insurance industry is Twin Cities’ long-standing crop
derek beigh | email@example.com
Farmers are to thank for two of the Pantagraph-area’s biggest white-collar businesses, and the local insurance industry has grown much like a bumper crop.
State Farm and Country Financial employ thousands of Central Illinois residents. In fact, chances are good to excellent that you either know someone in the industry or are yourself employed in it.
State Farm, which employs about 15,000 people in Bloomington, was founded by G.J. Mecherle in 1922. He was a retired Merna farmer who also sold farm implements, and he wanted to help others like himself.
Mecherle sold insurance for a company in Bloomington and from that experience decided to start his own company down the street. Since then, State Farm has grown to a net worth of $87.6 billion in 2016 and is now No. 33 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies.
Company-wide, State Farm has nearly 70,000 employees. The insurer has hubs in Georgia, Arizona and Texas.
A group of farmers from the Illinois Farm Bureau started Country Financial in 1925 to provide insurance on farm buildings and their contents. Country Financial moved its home office from Chicago to Bloomington in 1960, and it now has about 2,000 employees in the Twin Cities among 5,000 nationwide.
Country Financial serves more than a million households and businesses in 39 states. On Jan. 1, the company grew through a merger with MiddleOak companies, based in Salem, Mass., and Middletown, Conn.
McLean County Museum of History keeps it interesting
The McLean County Museum of History has resided since 1992 in that grand mountain of limestone and marble that is the pillar-festooned McLean County Courthouse, built in 1903.
The museum’s history traces to 1892 when meetings were held to hear presentations on local history. Without solicitation, community members began donating related objects.
By 1904, the collection was big enough to require a curator and the first museum opened on the third floor of the courthouse. It moved to the McBarnes Building in 1922.
The collection had outgrown its confines by 1972 when a fire left the museum homeless for five years.
Today, the 40,000-square foot museum, which preserves nearly 20,000 objects, is nationally accredited, a designation enjoyed by only 3 percent of the nation’s 33,000 museums.
The public has access to more than 15,000 books along with historical papers and images, some of which came from The Pantagraph archives.
This not-for-profit museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday (until 9 p.m. Tuesdays). Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and free for members, students and those under 12.
A frequent award winner, the museum boasts five permanent and two rotating galleries. Among the newest exhibits is one examining Abraham Lincoln's work as an attorney in McLean County and on the Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit.
The museum, which has 17 paid employees, welcomed more than 27,000 visitors in 2016 on-site and approximately 9,200 off-site.
The 1,200-square foot "Cruisin' With Lincoln on 66" Visitors Center opened on the ground floor in 2015. Outside, a statue of Lincoln makes for a popular photo prop.
Small but mighty Illinois Wesleyan University perseveres
JIM BENSON | JBENSON@pantagraph.com
For as long as there has been a City of Bloomington, there has been an Illinois Wesleyan University.
IWU, with an enrollment of 1,771 students in fall 2016, was founded in 1850 by a group of 30 civic and religious leaders, supported by the United Methodist Church. That’s how “Wesleyan” was added to the name “Illinois University.”
Seventy-eight percent of last year’s students enrolled in liberal arts and sciences. The College of Fine Arts, which combined schools of art, music and theater, was established in 1948; the School of Nursing began in 1959 (previously in conjunction with Brokaw School of Nursing).
The central portion of the 80-acre campus was acquired in 1854; the oldest building, Stevenson Hall, was built in 1910. Seventeen buildings have been constructed since World War II. Recent additions include Shirk Center (1994), Center for Natural Science Learning and Research (1995), Harriett Fuller Rust House and refurbished Center for Liberal Arts (1996), Ames Library (2002), Minor Myers, Jr. Welcome Center (2008) and State Farm Hall and The Gates at Wesleyan (2013).
Athletically, IWU has shined in NCAA Division III. The Titans’ 20 athletic teams have won national championships in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and women’s track and field.
Famous alumni include Ed Rust, Jr., chairman of the board and chief executive officer of State Farm Insurance Cos.; Oscar-nominated actor Richard Jenkins; seven-time NBA All-Star Jack Sikma; and Kansas City Royals broadcaster Denny Matthews.
Veterans Parkway is among nation’s best commutes
In 1999, The Pantagraph surveyed readers to determine the worst thing to happen to Bloomington-Normal in the 20th century.
Thirty-seven percent named Veterans Parkway, the Twin Cities’ eight-mile, six-lane, 22-stoplight mother road.
Mapquest says the trip from southwest Bloomington to northeast Normal takes 13 minutes. A recent trek took a reporter 12.
Twin City history can’t be told without including Veterans Parkway, but why is the tale so often one of derision? After all, the road paved the way for the cornucopia of retail development that, apparently, we can’t do without.
The time sitting at all those red lights can create a level of road rage beyond the evidence of stopwatches. Census data shows B-N drivers have an average commute of just 15.6 minutes compared to the national average of 24.8.
Motorists’ ire also comes from traffic and accidents. BN’s busiest intersection is Veterans and GE Road, with more than 60,650 cars per day. The past decade, most accidents happened at Veterans and College Avenue.
None of this was evident when its predecessor, Beltline Road, opened in 1941 so war munitions could quickly be moved between St. Louis and Chicago.
The “soft” southeast curve was created so traffic could move at speeds up to 100 mph. Federal law mandated the road remain stoplight free.
That edict stood until the 1950s, when businesses began moving east. After several bad accidents, Illinois 9 got a light. When State Farm moved, another light was added. And so it went.
Lake Bloomington more than the city’s water source
The reason for Lake Bloomington’s existence may be to provide water to the city after which it was named, but the 635-acre reservoir also plays a more varied cultural, historical, recreational and environmental role.
Its 18 miles of shoreline include more than 220 residential sites, three camps and parks with picnic and playground areas.
What was once the home of small cabins to which Bloomington-Normal families fled the summer heat now is the host of far fancier and larger year-round residences.
Creation of Lake Bloomington began in early 1929 with the clear-cutting of 40,000 to 50,000 trees in what would become the lake bed. A dam was built to capture the waters of Money Creek and the first water from the project was piped to the city, about 15 miles away, in March 1930.
The lake is popular for boating, fishing and wildlife watching. An important stopover for migrating birds, you could even see a pelican.
One-time Boy Scout facility Camp Heffernan was purchased by Easter Seals Central Illinois in 1989. Renamed Timber Pointe Outdoor Center, the 170-acre site is used primarily for camps for children and adults with disabilities.
The Girl Scouts’ Camp Peairs, located on 88 acres, has a lodge, six cabins that sleep 10 each and areas for platform tents.
East Bay Camp and Retreat has been used by a variety of religious groups since its founding in 1930. The Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church has owned the 40-acre camp since the 1980s.
Quietly famous David Foster Wallace begat ‘Jest’ here
DAN CRAFT | DCRAFT@pantagraph.com
“The greatest novel to finish a century yet” (The New York Times) was largely begun and finished right here in B-N, whether we knew it or not.
Most Twin Citians knew it not.
“Infinite Jest,” by the late David Foster Wallace, was published to dizzying international acclaim in 1996, three years into his nine-year stint as a faculty member of ISU’s Department of English.
The book spills over a daunting 1,079 pages, a chunk of which are devoted to thickly annotated footnotes demanding as much concentration as the main text.
The setting is a near-future North America, with the action shuttling between a junior tennis academy and a nearby substance abuse recovery center (both tied to Wallace’s real-life obsessions).
The conflict turns on a film called “the Entertainment,” which causes anyone who views it to become addicted to its content, completely zoning out of reality, and watching it over and over in a continuous loop.
The film was created by an artist as a way to reach his emotionally stunted son, but eventually becomes the center of a dense espionage/conspiracy scenario.
The reclusive, eccentric Wallace was internationally hailed during his time here, when he dined regularly and unnoticed at Denny’s and Cracker Barrel; and hung with his students at The Coffeehouse and Babbitt’s Books in Normal.
Five years after his departure from ISU for a teaching position at a private California college, Wallace, 46, ended a 25-year battle with depression by hanging himself from the patio of his home.
Long before State Farm, railyards drove growth
BRUCE YENTES | BYENTES@pantagraph.com
While most of Bloomington’s growth in recent years has been primarily fueled by State Farm and focused eastward, it was an industry centered in a west-side neighborhood that once spurred a five-fold increase in the city’s population in the span of a mere decade.
The 1850s arrival of the Illinois Central and the Chicago and Alton railroads is credited with increasing Bloomington’s population from about 1,600 to 8,000 in the late 1800s.
The Illinois Central began running cars into Bloomington in May 1853, followed by the soon-to-be burgeoning presence of the C & A just five months later.
Bloomington would become a vital center in the latter’s efforts to provide faster transportation and shipping throughout the nation.
The company built the Chicago and Alton Railroad Shops two blocks northwest of the corner of Locust and Catherine streets and the facility grew into the city’s largest employer for a span of about a half century.
Workers flocked to the area for jobs at its roundhouse, locomotive repair shop, foundry, paint shop, wheel and axle shop, powerhouse and offices. The operation employed approximately 2,500 on a 50-acre tract of land.
After serving as the industrial heart of Bloomington for the better part of a century, activity at the shops began to wind down in the early 1950s with the automobile becoming America’s most popular mode of transportation and the advent of mass-produced engine parts. The yards were virtually vacant by 1960.
Murals paint history of Twin City education, labor
BRUCE YENTES | BYENTES@pantagraph.com
A pair of murals stand out among the finest works of public art in Bloomington-Normal.
One was designed to pay tribute to the area’s labor movement. It is at the former Laborers Local 362 union hall, 2005 Cabintown Road, Bloomington; the union has relocated its headquarters to Fox Creek Road.
The other, “Development of the State Normal School,” (known today as ISU), hangs in the Normal Post Office in honor of public education and the teaching profession.
The artwork at the union hall was created in the mid-1980s. The oil on canvas that’s featured at the post office was begun by New York artist Albert Pels in 1937 and unveiled in the summer of 1938.
Contrary to popular belief, the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) had no hand in the Pels mural.
Instead, Pels was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture to create the mural after his talent was discovered in regional and national competitions.
Pels was paid $630 (equivalent to about $10,000 today) for the work that he completed at the age of 28. The 11- by 4-foot mural was one of two that Pels painted with funding from the Treasury Department. The other hangs in a post office in Wilmington, Del.
The Laborers Local 362 mural was painted by local artist Kari Sandhaas between 1984 and 1986 and depicts local labor history. It spans a 1917 visit by Mary Harris “Mother” Jones in support of striking streetcar workers to the 1978 strike by Normal firefighters.
Wind farms have become staple on Central Illinois land
RANDY KINDRED | RKINDRED@pantagraph.com
Yes, we live in farm country here in McLean County, with Bloomington-Normal surrounded by corn and soybean fields. Cattle graze on nearby pastures as well.
Yet, farm country is more than bushels of grain and wellfed livestock. This also is wind farm country, and you don’t have to look far for evidence.
Large white wind turbines dot the landscape to the east and west of Bloomington-Normal, producing electricity with each of Mother Nature’s exhales.
The Twin Groves Wind Farm rises above open fields near Saybrook, Arrowsmith, Ellsworth and other eastern McLean County locales. Constructed from 2007 to February 2008, there are 240 turbines spread over 22,000 acres. Each is 270 feet tall with
three 85-foot blades.
They are easily visible from the Twin Cities day or night, their blades glistening in the midday sun and red lights flashing in the night sky.
North and west of Normal we have the White Oak Wind Farm, another energy producer that has helped Illinois rank fourth nationally in installed wind capacity and in the number of utility-scale wind turbines.
McLean County is ideal for wind turbines.
Among Illinois’ largest cities, Bloomington has the highest elevation at 797 feet above sea level. An area near Saybrook is 955.7 feet above sea level, the highest point in America in a line between Canada and New Orleans, La.
So call us farm country. We embrace it. Just be sure to call us wind farm country as well.
Aerialists, circus folk wintered in Bloomington-Normal
DAN CRAFT | DCRAFT@pantagraph.com
In Bloomington-Normal, the circus came to town and never really left.
As a result, the Twin Cities’ three-ring heritage is among the richest in the country, rivaling that of Baraboo, Wis. (birthplace of Ringling Bros. Circus) and Sarasota, Fla. (present-day home of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus).
From the early 1920s to the 1940s, B-N was known as the “Circus Aerialist Capital of the World,” courtesy of the more than 17 world-class trapeze acts who wintered here.
Though that heyday ended around 1950, B-N is is still home to ISU’s Gamma Phi Circus, America’s oldest collegiate circus, founded in 1929 at the peak of local circus mania.
It all began with the first local aerialist, Fred Miltmore, who joined the circus in 1871 and retired by 1900. Along with Miltmore, fellow B-N residents Harry Green, Harry Foreman, Eddie Ward and Charles Waller established their own acts.
Eventually, the Twin Cities became a hotbed of aerialists-turned-trainers, whose students either came here to study or were recruited from the local ranks.
Bloomington’s YMCA was equipped with an aerial rigging, and its directors recruited dozens of local youths to develop their talent.
More training sites mushroomed, including Eddie Ward’s Ward Barn and Circus Park, located in what is now State Farm Park on Bloomington’s south end.
Eventually, roughly 90 percent of America’s top aerialists, including the Flying Wards and the Flying Concellos, called B-N their winter home and training ground.
Evergreen cemetery holds famous links to the past
EDITH BRADY-LUNNY | EBLUNNY@pantagraph.com
If Evergreen Memorial Cemetery were a book, it would hold the stories of thousands of McLean County residents dating to the early 1800s.
The 87-acre cemetery on East Miller Street in Bloomington links the culture of past generations with current history.
The service of veterans is recognized with the Avenue of Flags, a collection of about 200 individually mounted flags that include a plaque with the veteran’s information.
The publicly owned cemetery is a resting place for people from all walks of life in the community, including several with famous resumes.
The gravesites of U.S. Vice President Adlai Stevenson I, and Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson II, are located at Evergreen.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice and Abraham Lincoln supporter David Davis is buried in the Bloomington cemetery.
Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourne, who set a record for major league pitching that still stands, died in Bloomington in 1897 and is buried there, too.
Evergreen also honors a little girl who died as an infant and was the inspiration for Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy Gage was the niece of author L. Frank Baum, creator of the successful book and movie. Her death so distressed the family that he changed the name of the character to assuage their grief.
Revolutionary War soldier David Haggard is among the many military burials.
Renowned opera singers Marie Litta, Minnie Salzman and Grace B. Wagner also are at Evergreen.
Diverse acts make BCPA stand out from the crowd
The outward appearance of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts was not meant to be flashy.
“We don’t want the building to overpower the event or function,” facilities manager David Young said in 2006. “We want the building to stay in the background.”
Yet the BCPA has stood out in other ways, mainly through the more than 500,000 patrons who have attended events there since its opening in 2006.
The former Scottish Rite Temple was built in 1921 and served as home of the American Passion Play for several decades as well as hosting many concerts, plays and social functions.
As the centerpiece of the City of Bloomington’s Cultural District, the Scottish Rite Temple underwent a $14.5 million renovation and was renamed the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts upon its unveiling.
The BCPA is operating under an original mission of a programming schedule of 15 to 20 percent of its events geared toward minority interests or out of the mainstream art forms.
Among the acts to grace the stage of the 1,200-seat venue are B.B. King, Glen Campbell, comedian Tracy Morgan, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Golden Dragon Acrobats.
The BCPA also serves as home for the Pantagraph’s Holiday Spectacular each year in early December.
Bloomington’s Cultural District also features the Creativity Center, Festival Park and the McLean County Arts Center.
Heartland college has expanded beyond imagination
From humble beginnings, Heartland Community College has blossomed into a Central Illinois educational juggernaut.
Born in 1990 with its first location at Normal’s Landmark Mall, Heartland has rocketed to a student population of of just under 5,300 while serving an area from Lincoln to Pontiac in Community College District 540.
The two-year public college began classes at a location in Bloomington’s Towanda Plaza in 1992 before opening its current campus in north Normal in 2000.
Jonathan Astroth was appointed the school’s first president in 1991 and served until 2010 when Allen Goben took over as president. Rob Widmer, longtime vice president of business services, succeeded Goben to become the college’s third president.
Heartland has had a nursing program since 1993, opened a Workforce Development Center in 2004 and dedicated the Astroth Community Education Center and Challenger Learning Center in 2010.
Heartland’s academic departments include Health and Human Services, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Business and Technology with more than 60 available areas of study.
The college launched an athletic program in 2007 and features teams in baseball, softball and men’s and women’s soccer.
The Hawks’ softball team captured the Junior College Division II national championship in 2009.
Heartland boasts one of the nation’s top junior college sporting venues in the Corn Crib. The Hawks share the facility with the Normal CornBelters of the independent Frontier League.
Illinois State University a big player after humble start
RANDY KINDRED | RKINDRED@pantagraph.com
Illinois State University’s 2017 football team has 96 players, 11 of whom play at any one time in a game. Nothing out of line with those numbers, but they do lend perspective regarding the school’s roots.
Enrollment for Illinois State’s first term, in fall 1857, was 43 students. The first commencement ceremony, in 1860, honored a graduating class of 10.
From those humble beginnings has emerged a university of more than 20,000 students that is synonymous with Bloomington-Normal.
Illinois’ oldest public university, ISU has been around as long as the state’s Board of Education, which was formed in 1857 and hired an attorney you may have heard of, Abraham Lincoln, to draw up the legal documents for the school’s funding.
It was founded by Jesse Fell as a training school for teachers under the name Illinois State Normal University, which changed to Illinois State University at Normal in 1964 and to Illinois State University in 1968.
ISU’s enrollment ballooned from 4,469 in 1960 to 17,549 in 1970. Last year, 21,039 students attended, including 18,643 undergraduates.
With the growth came a jump to NCAA Division I status in athletics in the early 1970s and the emergence of one of ISU’s most famous alums, basketball star Doug Collins.
Other well-known alumni include actor John Malkovich, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Donald McHenry and actors/actresses Laurie Metcalf, Gary Cole and Jane Lynch.
They represent a university that is a big, big part of Bloomington-Normal ... no matter how small it all began.
Downtown arena draws headliners, headlines
EDITH BRADY-LUNNY | EBLUNNY@pantagraph.com
Out of a dream of drawing superstar performers and winning local sports teams to downtown Bloomington grew the Grossinger Motors Arena, formerly known as U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
The $35.8 million concrete giant that includes the Pepsi Ice Center and adjoining parking deck has created more than its share of entertainment since the 2004 vote by the Bloomington City Council to build the public arena.
The 8,000-seat concert facility has hosted country shows, hockey and cheer-leading competitions, flu shot clinics and religious conventions.
Along with its use for entertainment, the arena has also generated its share of controversy.
The city’s fiscal prudence has been questioned by some in the community who are not convinced that taxpayers reap an adequate award for the ongoing expense of maintaining the structure and paying off building bonds. The city-owned venue ended its 2017 fiscal year in June with a $674,000 operating loss.
Supporters of the arena counter that restaurants, hotels and other businesses benefit from the dollars that visitors spend in the community.
Central Illinois Flying Aces hockey, Bloomington Flex basketball and Bloomington Edge football teams have attracted thousands of fans to the downtown venue, which also has held major charitable events, high school graduations and wedding receptions.
In the coming months, the arena will open its doors for the Sept. 28 Hank William Jr. concert and the December 3 appearance by comedian Jim Gaffigan.
A century ago, another building at that site also was a convention center and stage-play venue.
Needs of children are first, foremost in Twin Cities
Lucy Orme Morgan had a vision to help children in need more than 130 years ago that still is embraced in the Twin Cities today.
Morgan founded the Women’s Industrial Home of McLean County, later known as the Girls’ Industrial Home, then the Lucy Orme Morgan Home. The facility at 403 S. State St., Bloomington, now is home to the Children’s Home + Aid Society of Illinois, which serves low-income McLean County families.
Originally, the Girls’ Industrial Home was open to any woman or girl in need. By 1895, it was devoted mainly to girls and a few boys.
When the need for a boys’ home increased, a separate facility — Victory Hall — was built at 904 Hovey Ave., Normal. The home served more than 700 boys during its heyday.
When numbers started declining in the 1970s as the state shifted from institutional homes to foster homes, Victory Hall began caring for troubled boys. In 1981, the Hovey Avenue home was sold to Illinois State University for a fraternity house. The few remaining Victory Hall boys were moved to a smaller home on East Lincoln Street, Bloomington.
That home closed in June 2003.
Meanwhile, in 1968, the Lucy Orme Morgan Home merged with the Booker T. Washington home, first opened in 1920 to serve black children, to form the Morgan Washington Home. The homes were under the umbrella of the John M. Scott Center, then The Children’s Foundation and now Children’s Home + Aid Society of Illinois.
Vrooman Mansion a monument to opulence, politics
ROGER MILLER | RMILLER@pantagraph.com
As the story goes, John F. Kennedy was told Julia Scott Vrooman, a wealthy and well-connected Bloomington widow, was willing to donate to his presidential campaign, but he had to come to her home to get the money.
“I think he came to tea,” said Pam Kowalewski, who has owned the Vrooman Mansion, now a bed-and-breakfast, with her husband, Dana, since 2000. She said the story may be a legend, but it illustrates the significance of the opulent Victorian mansion at 701 E. Taylor St., Bloomington, and the family who called it home.
Landowner Matthew T. Scott, who founded Chenoa, bought the then-3-year-old house in 1872, but it didn’t assume its 36-room, three-story final form until a radical expansion in the mid-1890s by Scott’s widow, Julia.
Always in competition with other grande dames of Bloomington society such as Sarah Davis, she created a brick, Romanesque-style edifice once described as looking like the officers’ quarters at West Point.
The home was inherited by the Scotts’ daughter, Julia, whose husband, Carl Vrooman, was assistant secretary of agriculture for President Woodrow Wilson. She hosted such Democratic notables as William Jennings Bryan and Eleanor Roosevelt, and a monument on the wooded, 1.25-acre property marks where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas supposedly spoke.
Julia Scott Vrooman died in 1981 at age 104. “We don’t consider it to be our home; it’s Julia’s, and we’re just taking care of it,” said Pam Kowalewski.
Meandering creek is the namesake to favorite festival
Twin City residences are filled with treasured, one-of-a-kind objects purchased at the Sugar Creek Arts Festival.
The annual summer festival in Normal has drawn art and music enthusiasts long before downtown became uptown.
Started 34 years ago, Sugar Creek is among the longest lived festivals in the Twin Cities, and it reigns supreme when it comes to local art.
Sugar Creek, as its called, was the Twin Cities’ first-ever juried art fair, started by Kup Tcheng when he was president of Normal’s Downtown Business Association and well-known local artist Fred Mills, who died in 2008.
Named after the stream that passes through both Normal and Bloomington, the festival has morphed from around 30 local artists exhibiting at its premiere to 130 artists and craftsmen who come from all over the country.
The festival, considered a mainstay cultural events, draws out-of-towners as well as community residents.
For two days each July, uptown streets are lined with booths of pottery, jewelry, sculptures, handbags, lawn decorations, photography, paintings, ceramics and glassware.
The offerings range from exquisite, finely crafted jewelry to yard decorations made from old golf clubs and other recycled items.
The often unique objects frequently find a permanent home in a cherished spot of the purchaser.
The hunt for that special piece is half the fun.
It’s the perfect atmosphere to mingle or get lost in the crowds while deciding what to buy.
Fans fork over dough at Twin Cities’ farmers markets
Nothing says summer like a fresh-from-the-dirt tomato, a loaf of homemade bread or a dozen freshly laid eggs from a nearby chicken coop.
With agriculture among the largest economic engines in McLean County, it is not surprising that thousands of Central Illinois residents turn up each week at farmers markets and farm stands to pick up fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, plants, preserves, soap, dairy, crafts and jewelry produced by local farmers.
The markets offer shoppers the unique opportunity to directly interact with the person who grew the vegetables, farmed the land, fed the chickens or created the product.
The largest, the Bloomington Farmers Market, finds its home downtown during the summer months, drawing a crowd every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to noon.
The market has more than 70 vendors and features kids activities, growing in size like Jack the Beanstalk since the first market in 1974.
Vendors at the Bloomington market now accept LINK cards as payment, allowing families from all income levels to enjoy fresh, local produce.
The Downs Village Market, with regional produce, meat, honey, baked goods, plants, flowers and quality crafts, is open late Wednesday afternoons from June through September.
Gailey Eye Clinic respects its legacy and looks ahead
Gailey Eye Clinic is thriving after 76 years because it doesn’t act its age.
The eye care practice continues to add physicians, procedures and locations, preserving or improving vision for thousands of people throughout Central Illinois.
“We are trying to live up to the standards set by Dr. Watson Gailey and the doctors who followed him,” Dr. Robert Lee once told The Pantagraph.
That’s a tough act to follow.
Gailey already was a leader in ophthalmology when he opened the clinic at 1008 N. Main St., Bloomington, in 1941. Several years later, he opened the Watson Gailey Eye Foundation Eye Bank to preserve tissue for corneal transplants that he performed.
The eye bank, now called Eversight Illinois, is at 301 S. Prospect Road. The clinic expanded several times. In 1977, it became the first downstate clinic to use an argon laser to treat certain eye conditions.
Gailey opened a satellite clinic in 1983 and now has 16 locations throughout Central Illinois, staffed by 14 ophthalmologists, six optometrists and 200 full- and part-time employees.
The expanded and renovated building on Main Street remains the home office. Other Bloomington locations include its outpatient surgery center, Bloomington Eye Institute, 1008 N. Center St., and Gailey Eye Clinic Retina Center, 2501 E. College Ave.
Services include retinal surgery, plastic surgeries of the eye and face, cataract surgery, glaucoma surgery, laser vision correction, pediatric ophthalmology, general ophthalmology and laser cataract surgery.
McLean County proud of its fair and the crowds prove it
McLean County loves its county fair.
Just ask any of the 1,200 4-Hers and their families who spend every early August at the county fairgrounds, 2301 W. Market St., Bloomington, showing 4,000 projects ranging from livestock to visual arts to robotics.
Then ask the 40,000 people who attend the fair each year to do everything from watch a horse show to walk a llama around an obstacle course to listen to country music and meet the fair king and queen.
Along the way, they learn a thing or two. Did you know that 97 percent of Illinois farms are family owned?
And don’t forget the carnival rides and fair food. A lemon shake-up and funnel cake, anyone?
McLean County has the largest 4-H fair in Illinois and claims to be the largest 4-H fair in the country. No one has disputed the assertion.
Where else can a cross-section of Central Illinoisans spend a day listening to baa-ing sheep, biting into a corn dog, talking with people with whom they may not normally associate, and watching kings and queens of yesterday, today and tomorrow?
For some families, it goes even deeper. Many former 4-Hers who showed their projects when the fairgrounds were off East Empire Street or even when it was off South Main Street are now 4-H volunteers who help their children or grandchildren or other kids with their cakes or sewing or rockets.
The location of the fair doesn’t matter. The spirit does.
For that, McLean County, here’s your blue ribbon.
Avenue in Normal a humped reminder of another time
KAREN HANSEN | KHANSEN@pantagraph.com
In 1906, a timber and metal bridge along what was then Sill Street solved a problem for the Bloomington-Normal community.
Today, the Camelback Bridge on what’s now Virginia Avenue in Normal allows a peek into a bygone era at 10 mph.
The barely-two-cars-wide bridge was built by the Illinois Central Railroad during a fast-paced expansion; its distinctive humped shape allowed steam engines to glide beneath without disrupting activity above.
Ironically, it’s not a camelback bridge, but rather a king post pony truss bridge, the only such functioning one in Illinois. The style refers to the timber triangle that holds the bridge’s weight.
Also conspicuous are supporting wrought iron columns from the Phoenix Iron Co., dating to the 1860s and likely recycled from another structure. It’s one of two bridges in the Land of Lincoln with such supports, also found on the Washington Monument.
A town survey once described the bridge as a “reference point and cultural center of gravity” that was “woven into the very sensibilities of the community.”
Normal bought the bridge and some right-of-way from the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad for $89,000 in 1986. After that, there were years of squabbles over whether the structure — which now canopies the Constitution Trail — should be moved, saved or demolished.
Supporters nominated it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and its acceptance in 1997 helped assure it would stay just where it was, a working reminder of a slower time.
Vacuums have storied history in Bloomington-Normal
A staple cleaning tool that is in every household, or at least should be, has a long history in the Twin Cities.
The vacuum cleaner.
For a period of time, Bloomington was the North American headquarters for The Eureka Co., which became the Electrolux vacuum cleaner company. From the 1940s until 2011, vacuums and other products were manufactured in Bloomington-Normal.
It all started in 1909 as the Eureka Co. in Detroit. By 1927, the company sold one-third of all vacuums in the U.S.
The company merged with Williams Oil-O-Matic, a Bloomington company that made heating and refrigeration equipment in 1945. It then became known as Eureka-Williams Corp.
In 1974, AB Electrolux purchased the company and it became known as The Eureka Co. Over the years, the company had several locations in Bloomington-Normal, including 1201 E. Bell St., Bloomington, and its final headquarters at 807 N. Main St., Bloomington.
Sadly, after decades as a major employer in the community, Electrolux made a clean sweep out of Bloomington-Normal in 2011.
Today, Electrolux sells more than 50 million products to customers in more than 150 markets every year.
Eureka still offers a line of vacuums, including uprights, canisters, sticks, handhelds, home built-in systems, battery-powered vacuums, steam cleaners and home cleaning systems, but the company is now based in Charlotte, N.C.
Eureka is a brand of Electrolux, based in Stockholm, Sweden.
Baby Fold helping children for more than a century
In Bloomington-Normal, The Baby Fold is recognized as helping, for more than a century, many of the community’s most vulnerable children.
Children orphaned, in need of foster care, with mental illness, in need of special education, with behavioral and emotional disabilities — The Baby Fold helps them all.
It has grown from a faith-based orphanage started around the turn of the 20th century to serving more than 1,000 children and families with adoption, foster care, pregnancy counseling and special education needs.
Its residential treatment center was closed in June because it wasn’t getting state support that it was due.
It started when Nancy Mason donated her residence in Normal in 1899 to the Methodist Episcopal Deaconess Society as a home for both active and retired deaconesses.
Deaconesses were trained nurses, educators, evangelists, social workers and administrators who performed mission work. They operated Bloomington Deaconess Hospital from 1897 to 1901.
By 1904, the agency changed its name to N.A. Mason Deaconess Home and School. But people were calling it the “baby fold,” a biblical reference to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Four years later, the name changed to Mason Deaconess Home and Baby Fold. It officially became The Baby Fold in 1941.
Today, the agency has Hammitt Elementary School and Hammitt Junior-Senior High School, which offer specialized education for children with behavioral, emotional, learning and pervasive developmental disabilities.
The junior-senior high school, now at 1500 Fort Jesse Road, Normal, is being moved to 612 Oglesby Ave., Normal, where office space is being remodeled into classrooms.
In 2001, the agency began offering international adoptions.
Powwow at Grand Village honors Kickapoo history
Long before there was State Farm, Illinois State University, the city of Bloomington or even the state of Illinois, there was the Grand Village of the Kickapoo.
The large American Indian settlement located near present-day LeRoy was home to between 2,000 and 3,000 Kickapoo when a surveyor passed through the area in 1824.
But the settlement is believed to have been there since at least 1752, when a French explorer/soldier wrote home about the site.
With the loss of buffalo herds on the prairie and tensions from the Black Hawk War in 1832, the village faded away and the tribe fractured, moving to Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico.
In 1998, a Homecoming Powwow took place at the former site of the Grand Village.
The powwow, which attracted about 7,000 people, was hosted by Bill and Doris Emmett, who owned the land at that time, and by Midwest SOARRING (Save Our Ancesters Remains & Resources Indigenous Network Group). The organization educates the public about American Indian cultural issues.
Among the Kickapoo who attended that first homecoming powwow was Margarita Salazar, then 104, who said through an interpreter, “All our grandmothers lived here. …I feel good over it, that I can be around where my ancestors once roamed.”
The one-acre Grand Village of the Kickapoo Park was dedicated during the powwow and buffalo were returned to roam. Powwows have taken place periodically since then. The most recent was Sept. 9 and 10.
Davis mansion was focus of Twin City Victorian era
Just a few blocks east of downtown Bloomington sits a three-story, 36-room Victorian mansion made of yellow brick.
If those walls could talk, oh what stories they could tell.
David Davis Mansion State Historic Site was the residence of Sarah and David Davis, who were at the center of American politics and society. He rode the circuit with Abraham Lincoln, was a U.S. senator and eventually Supreme Court justice from 1862 to 1877.
The house, its garden and five outbuildings remained in the Davis family until 1960, when the buildings and 4.1 acres were donated to the state of Illinois. From 1990 until April 2014, Marcia Young was the site manager.
“It really takes a lot of people working together to keep this going, but we have had a lot of great people helping us out over the years,” she said.
The home is open to the general public from Wednesday through Saturday and hosts several seasonal events. During the winter, the mansion is lavishly decorated for the Christmas holiday. Gaslight tours are offered during December.
Inside the mansion is a collection of mid-19th century decorative arts and technological conveniences, illustrating the life of a prosperous Victorian-era family.
The mansion is located at 1000 Monroe Drive; tours are available every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Tours start with a 17-minute video; tours last about 45 minutes.
Third Sunday Market a longtime Twin City tradition
It’s not hard to figure out when the Third Sunday Market is.
For 29 years, the monthly flea market has brought thousands of customers and vendors to the grounds of the Interstate Center in Bloomington on the third Sunday of May through October.
Don and Carol Raycraft started the market in 1988 and continues as a family business. What began as a hobby with just a handful of vendors and a few hundred customers has grown to more than 450 vendors from at least 17 states who want to sell antiques, collectibles or assorted items.
“Collecting is a disease, but it’s better than drinking or womanizing,” said vendor Andy Magnafici of LaSalle.
General manager Mike Raycraft, son of Don and Carol, says the market continues to be a family-oriented business.
“Many of our employees have been here for more than two decades,” he said. “Everyone knows their job and knows it well.”
Many of the vendors have been there just as long.
“We have had customers that have turned into vendors to support their collecting habit,” Raycraft said.
The indoor/outdoor sale features a little bit of everything, from the finest in antique furniture to folk art, vintage advertising, sports memorabilia, antique linens and clothing.
Occasional special shows are scheduled during the fall and winter months as well, Raycraft said.
CIRA, Bloomington-Normal have grown up together
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In the 1950s, an Ozark DC-3 made so many stops between Bloomington and St. Louis that an airport leader joked it was faster to drive.
Today the airport has six nonstop destinations — Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Dallas, Orlando and Tampa. In 2015, it also added a FedEx facility with daily 757 flights handling more than 12 million pounds of cargo annually.
“CIRA is an integral part of the fabric of the Bloomington-Normal community. We actually grew up together,” said Carl Olson, the airport’s executive director.
There was an airfield north of Normal in the late 1920s, but local aviation took off with the opening of Bloomington Municipal Airport in 1934. Commercial passenger service began Nov. 6, 1950, when Ozark Air Lines added the city to the Moline-Peoria-Champaign-Danville-Indianapolis run.
The Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority was established in 1964, a year that saw 8,485 passengers (the number of fliers topped 579,265 in 2011). The 1960s and ‘70s saw a new runway, terminal, control tower and flights to Chicago.
The 1980s and early 1990s added airlines and service to Detroit, but 1996 was the turning point. That’s when the longer Runway 2/20 opened, attracting AirTran Airways’ full-size jet service to Florida and Atlanta, Ga., and necessitating a $40 million terminal project, completed in 2001.
CIRA has weathered airline changes, post-Sept. 11 rules, the Great Recession and swings in passenger numbers, but as former authority board Chairman Neale McCormick said, “It has grown from a ‘hobby’ airport into something Bloomington-Normal can be proud of.”
Beich’s sweet career started in downtown Bloomington
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Paul F. Beich made Bloomington a sweeter place.
Beich founded a sugar-coated dynasty that included such timeless confections as Laffy Taffy, Katydids and Golden Clusters. Sweet success started with hard work as an immigrant teen at a downtown Bloomington confectionery begun in 1854 by J.L. Green, a stint as a traveling salesman for a St. Louis candy company, and a return to Bloomington to buy the candy store of his youth.
Beich and a partner convinced candy czar Milton Hershey to move manufacturing for his Lancaster Caramel Co. from Chicago to a vacant buggy factory at Front and Lumber streets. By about 1905, the two partners were gone and Beich was running the Paul F. Beich Candy Co. Soon it had hundreds of employees.
In the 1920s, Beich’s sold chocolate-peanut-marshmallow bars touted as “Whiz – Best nickel candy there iz-z.” Its nutritional survival bars were given to soldiers and astronauts. In 1967, another factory on the city’s southwest side opened; it’s still used today.
Beich’s descendants remained at the helm until the business was sold to Nestle in 1984. Later, Nestle sold the Kathryn Beich fundraising arm.
In June, Nestle said it's considering “strategic options” that could include the sale of its U.S. confectionery business, including its southwest Bloomington factory.
The west-side factory was destroyed in a 2005 fire, shortly before a planned demolition. Afterward, great-grandson David Beich wrote a letter in tribute:
“The building refused to die by the wrecking ball, instead waiting for the right moment in time to display her glory and die a dignified death,” he said.
But melt-in-your-mouth memories live on.
Contact Sierra Henry at 309-820-3234. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_sierrahenry.