The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live.
100 REASONS: Decatur Turkey Tournament a haven for hoops greatness
Editor's note: The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live. See more here.
DECATUR — Sixteen years ago, it appeared the tradition of the Thanksgiving tournament in Decatur was done.
In January 2001, the Herald & Review reported that Eisenhower athletics director Bob Smith said the tournament was being canceled because of lack of interested teams and, also, because the Decatur School District had cut its Director of Special Projects position.
At that point, the tournament was 31 years old and meant enough to the community for it to rally and save the tradition. With the help of Archer Daniels Midland Co., $12,000 was raised and the tournament was rescued. The hiring of Mel Roustio as tournament director, a position he's held ever since, solidified the tournament's standing. He helps the tournament raise $37,000 each year to put it on.
Now entering its 48th year, the Team Soy Capital Decatur Turkey Tournament has had more than 50 players go on to play NCAA Division I basketball, including two — Andre Iguodala of Springfield Lanphier and Shaun Livingston of Peoria Central — who went on to the NBA. The pair were key contributors for the 2015 and 2017 Golden State Warriors NBA Championship squads. Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, also won a Gold Medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The tournament was originally created to replace the Decatur School District's city tournament. It was the idea of former MacArthur athletics director Marv Schlosser, and began at MacArthur High School. It was also held for a year at the old Kintner Gym at Stephen Decatur High School before it was torn down.
But for most of the tournament's history, it was held at Millikin's Griswold Center — every season from 1977 to 2004. In 2005, citing concerns with Griswold's changed seating capacity and lack of lobby space at Millikin, the tournament was moved to Stephen Decatur Middle School and has been there ever since.
Decatur Tribune Sports Editor J. Thomas McNamara wrote a book about the tournament in 2014: "Thanksgiving Basketball: A Decatur Tradition."
Eisenhower and MacArthur are the two teams to play every tournament, which still draws top talent.
The tournament begins Nov. 21, with the championship game on Nov. 25.
100 Reasons: Since its opening, the Decatur Conference Center has been a hub of activity
The day before it opened to travelers in 1972, more than 12,000 people were on hand to tour the Holiday Inn, the city's newest hotel/restaurant/convention center.
Two weeks later, Holiday Hall played host to its first major program – a performance by Porter Wagoner, the Wagonmasters and Dolly Parton.
Since then, the complex, known today as the Decatur Convention Center and Hotel, has welcomed families, business leaders, conventions and trade shows, national entertainers and politicians, including several seeking to be president of the United States.
Some of Steve Horve's first memories of the facility occurred while he was a young man. He was working for a company in Lincoln and was responsible for transporting some of its visiting executives from the hotel to the company's Lincoln office.
Horve is now the owner of the 300,000-square-foot complex, which he affectionately referred to as “a beast.”
With 370 rooms, 60,000 square feet of convention space and 28 acres of ground which offers numerous outdoor entertainment options, the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel is the largest facility of its kind south of Interstate 80, Horve said.
Horve purchased the facility in 2007 from the city of Decatur, which had taken temporary ownership of the financially distressed hotel in a close and controversial vote by the city council when it appeared it may be sold and used for something other than a hotel/convention center.
“We accomplished what we wanted to do,” then Mayor Paul Osborne said after the vote. “We found a buyer; we're out of the hotel business. And the future, I believe, is pretty bright out there.”
Horve has since undertaken an extensive remodel project, which, to date, has included updates to the half of its rooms and all its public spaces -- including the lobby and Holiday Hall.
Like owners before him, Horve agrees there is in need of a major attraction on the site that would take full advantage of a facility this size and boost its worth to the community.
Early efforts by previous owners included failed plans for an indoor waterpark. Horve has been pushing state and local officials to support adding a casino, but suspects that won't happen, either.
Still, Horve praised his team for upping their game to attract more groups and events to the complex.
"We're trying hard to get our name out there more," General Manager Joseph Smith said.
100 REASONS: Hickory Point Mall remains shopping destination
Editor's note: The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live. See more here.
FORSYTH — As the store names have changed over the years, Hickory Point Mall remains a place to check out.
The then-680,000-square-foot Hickory Point Mall opened in 1978 on a 170-acre parcel the village annexed to accommodate it. It was built by Kansas-based Copaken, White & Blitt and is currently owned by CBL & Associates Properties.
Stores come and go, fashions are in and out, but in the age of the internet, when consumers are riding a digital wave of online shopping, Hickory Point Mall remains a destination for the Decatur area.
The mall's arrival was like a shot of economic adrenaline to the sleepy village: between 1974 and 1980, sales taxes collected by Forsyth rocketed from $6,000 annually to $500,000.
Since its opening, almost every area of the village's growth — retail sales tax, geographic size and population — can be traced back to the mall.
Restaurants, hotels and other retailers, big and small, have grown up around the mall over the decades, adding to the area's options and keeping residents closer to home for their consumer needs.
In the online age, the hustle and bustle of shoppers scooting from store to store during the holiday season remains a decidedly personal experience, shared among the throngs in search of the perfect gift. Santa Claus has many stops, and he holds court in the mall each year (as does the Easter bunny).
The mall's current owners say they always look at current retail challenges as an opportunity to develop and add to the available shopping options. The years behind show that to be the case, and the years ahead hold out that promise in the Decatur-area's retail landscape.
100 REASONS: Fairview Park ice rink's happy memories are frozen in time
Editor's note: The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live. See more here.
DECATUR — Back when John F. Kennedy was president, Decatur took its ice skating outside.
The Fairview Park ice rink, which consisted of flooding the floor under the main pavilion, was a cool location that pulled in big crowds after it opened in 1962.
With a toasty outdoor fireplace to get warmed up after Jack Frost had a go nipping at your toes, plus food vendors and bench seating for spectators, a fun time was had by all. Parents could rest assured, because a plunge through the ice meant kids dropping a few inches, not that it ever happened.
Decatur Park District records show that in the peak skating winter of 1971-72, more than 45,000 skaters from raw novices to the gliding self-assured, hit the ice.
But even in the Garden of Eden there was a serpent, and the arrival of indoor skating with the new Decatur Civic Center put a serious crack in the Fairview Park rink’s participant numbers.
A Herald & Review story from August 1981 said the frosty writing was soon visible on the wall: the winter of 1979-80 had seen only 8,828 skaters, the lowest attendance since the rink had opened. The facility wasn’t covering its costs and the Park District reported it lost $9,416. The park district pulled the plug on the Fairview Rink in the winter of 1982.
Golden frozen nostalgia runs deep, however, and some of the more seasoned among our readership can still recall the simple thrills of gliding across a vast expanse of ice. One reporter had described the Fairview rink’s atmosphere as a heady “combination of a carnival and a picnic.”
100 REASONS: Caterpillar a stalwart of Decatur industry, economy
Few industries move the earth the way Caterpillar Inc. does. For more than 60 years, Decatur has been part of that push.
With the giant off-road dump trucks made at its Decatur facility, Peoria-based Caterpillar is a big part of the area's economy and jobs market and a barometer of the world's economic health.
A sculpture sits at 22nd Street and Pershing road to showcase Caterpillar's historic ties to Decatur. It contains parts of each product that has been manufactured at the Caterpillar Inc. facility in Decatur, ranging from motor graders to large mining trucks, said Martin Mooney, the company's facilities engineering and maintenance manager, when it was unveiled in 2016.
The “DECATUR” lettering on the base is painted in circa 1955 Caterpillar Tractor Co. yellow to symbolize the year the plant opened in Decatur, said Sam Wilcoxen, the tool room and tool design group manager.
When Caterpillar earlier this year announced it would be moving 500 jobs to its Decatur facility for large wheel loaders and compactor production, it was welcome news.
The move was a testament to the quality of employees already in Decatur and a sign that the city can supply the needed additional workers, said Ryan McCrady, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Decatur and Macon County.
“Decatur's a great place and we'll welcome them, and welcome the opportunity to help Caterpillar,” he said in April after the announcement.
As CAT says on its website: "The history of Caterpillar is all about doing: creating, building, problem solving, innovating, testing, servicing and improving."
100 Reasons: Oakwood area hosts a variety of restaurants, nightlife
Just a few blocks from Millikin University, a lively ecosystem of varied restaurants and nightlife exists in the Oakwood area — West Main Street, Oakland Avenue and West Wood Street.
The area began a renaissance in the 1990s, thanks largely to the efforts of Bill Eichenauer, who was then chairman of the Oakwood Business Association. Eichenauer, who died in 2008, ran Eichenauer Services Inc. 130 S. Oakland Ave., which served the commercial food industry.
After Eichenauer Services moved from the area, developer Gregg Meisenhelter saw an opportunity to purchase and convert the east side of Oakland Avenue. Meisenhelter started in the real estate business while he was still a student at Millikin University and, by the time he graduated, owned a number of rental properties near campus that are primarily used by students.
Visitors can grab a breakfast horseshoe at the Blue Spoon or a beer at Lock Stock & Barrel; attend open-mic night at Donnie’s Homespun or order a Chicago-style hot dog at University Dogs; buy some new running shoes at Fleet Feet Sports or get some new ink at Oakwood Tattoo.
Businesses work together through the Oakwood Business Association to promote, maintain and beautify the area. In the summer, they host the Oakwood Street Festival, which offers live music and craft vendors each month. The events started in 2011 and bring hundreds of people to the area.
100 REASONS: Homework Hangout serves children, families in need
Homework Hangout Club has been a life line of activities and support for students in Decatur for more than two decades. It's currently housed in the Mrs K Community Center at 249 S. Webster Street, just east and south of downtown in the former St. James School.
The program is an after-school organization for students ages 6 to 18 led by tutors and educators. After they arrive at the center, the children devote time to their homework and crafts as well as recreational activities such as basketball and dodge ball.
During morning and early afternoon hours while the children are in school, the facility houses the pre-apprenticeship program for adults. The program provides training by journeymen in construction trades, such as plumbing, electrical and painting.
And 2016 marked the return of Homework Hangout after state budget cuts forced it to close two years ago.
Rosie Anderson created Homework Hangout with her husband, Keith, in 1991. The two found the organization was still needed in the community and worked to get it back.
“These kids need the help,” Rosie Anderson said during last year's Christmas party as the club got back in business again.
“Many of them got into a lot of trouble,” her husband added.
The club also brought back a favorite event this year with a Halloween party. The event included glow-in the dark dance-offs, and a “wake the dead” howling contest.
According to Homework Hangout, the club has grown from a small program of eight kids operated out of Keith Anderson’s home into an organization that serves more 350 youth, young adults, and their families each year.
100 REASONS: Decatur native Chuck Dressen a baseball managerial legend
Chuck Dressen was born in Decatur in 1894. He played numerous sports during his life, but made history in baseball.
At 5-foot-5 and less than 150 pounds, Dressen might not have seemed a contender for any kind of athletic feats, but he was a baseball and football player for hire while he worked as a Wabash Railroad switchman.
He played two seasons in the Three-I league (which included the Decatur Commodores) before being recruited to play for the Decatur Staleys football team in its sole NFL season.
Eventually devoting himself exclusively to baseball, he played with the Cincinnati Reds for seven seasons. In 1926 and 1927, at age 31 and 32, he led the National League in assists as a third baseman.
But it was as a manager where Dressen made his most lasting marks. His first major league managing position was with the Reds. He managed and coached in the major leagues from 1934 to 1966.
He was manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers "Boys of Summer," the team that provided much drama in New York in the early 1950s. He was the manager of the Dodgers team that blew a double-digit lead against the New York Giants in 1951 and then lost in a three-game playoff that culminated with Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard ‘Round the World," a three-run homer that gave New York the National League title.
Dressen's 1952 and 1953 Dodgers won N.L. titles, but lost World Series titles to the New York Yankees both years.
Dressen also managed the Washington Senators, Milwaukee Braves and Detroit Tigers. His career managerial record was 1008-973, and he's one of 64 managers in major league history to record at least 1,000 victories.
Dressen is the answer to a unique baseball question: Who was the only man in uniform for New York's three baseball teams — the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants — when they clinched a pennant? In addition to the Dodgers, he coached with the pennant-winning 1947 Yankees, and played with the 1933 Giants.
Dressen died of a heart attack in 1966.
100 REASONS: Decatur Area Arts Council enriches community's culture
DECATUR — Using a large palette of possibilities, the Decatur Area Arts Council has been fundamental in enriching the community's cultural opportunities.
The DAAC provides a creative environment for artists and arts organizations in all disciplines. It promotes partnerships within the community in developing art opportunities. The staff provides information and communication to the area and is important in bringing the arts to culturally diverse and underserved populations.
The DAAC continues to encourage arts education opportunities, a focus the organization has had since its inception. The arts council began 50 years ago with a group of artists, teachers and Millikin University staff that wanted to sponsor a visiting dance company.
Arts education became the focus of the council. Programs included Performing Arts Series for Students, Arts in Education grants and an arts lending library for teachers.
By 1975, the council had hired a full-time professional staff, allowing the art programs and events to grow. Programs, educational opportunities and events were added giving the DAAC more exposure within the community.
Twenty years after it was developed, the council moved from its offices at Millikin University to Rock Springs Nature Center. However, in less than five years, the staff at DAAC were ready to move again.
The goal was to provide a more visible location as well as accessible space, marketing, arts education and technical assistance for those in the community. The plans took another eight years to develop.
In 2000, the council began the process of creating a community arts center by purchasing an abandoned downtown building. Four years later, the DAAC moved into its new building, the Madden Arts Center at 125 N. Water St.
The center is full-time art facility with a gallery, events, classes and programs. The DAAC continues to update its facility to meet its mission for the community.
100 REASONS: Decatur featured in numerous films, TV shows
Decatur has lit up television and movie screens a number of times, even though sometimes it's other areas of the world representing our city.
A number of films mention Decatur. As early as 1948, in the Jimmy Stewart film “Call Northside 777,” a character is reported as going to Decatur. One of the mob leaders in 1971's “Shaft” is said to be from Decatur. A character in the sitcom “ALF” is from Decatur. A 1964 episode of “The Fugitive” was set in Decatur. A character in “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” says his mother is in Decatur buying antiques.
In the 1993 Mike Myers movie “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” a wall map in a coffeehouse features a map of Illinois, with Decatur's location displayed prominently throughout. In 1984's "Bachelor Party," Tom Hanks says,"No, I'm not like the rest of the boys, I'm from Decatur, Illinois and I am suave, debonair." MTV's True Life: "I'm Addicted to Caffeine" was filmed in Decatur.
The most-seen Decatur reference in popular culture is a wooden sign. A sign at the camp in the television show “M*A*S*H” lists the distance from the camp to a number of world cities and sites: Seoul, Coney Island, San Francisco, Burbank, Toledo, Honolulu, and Decatur. Actor Maclean Stevenson, who played Col. Henry Blake for the first three years of the series, hails from Bloomington-Normal.
In “The Founder,” about McDonald's mogul Ray Kroc and starring Michael Keaton, the opening of Decatur's first McDonald's is portrayed in a montage.
Decatur stepped into the spotlight in 2008, with its sites and citizens playing roles in the Matt Damon film “The Informant!” Based on the Archer Daniels Midland Co. price-fixing scandal, the film features Damon as whistleblower/convict Mark Whitacre. Filming sites included assorted downtown areas, the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel and Forsyth's Hickory Point Mall. Whitacre's former house and property in Moweaqua were also prominent in the film. Decatur residents had numerous speaking and background roles.
100 Reasons: Scovill Sculpture Park latest addition to city's eastside recreation
The latest addition to the Scovill Park area, the Scovill Sculpture Park opened in summer 2016 thanks to a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
The sculpture park, which includes a dozen pieces spread along a winding pathway between the Children’s Museum of Illinois and Scovill Zoo, was funded by a $250,000 grant announced in June 2016 by the Decatur Parks Foundation.
The foundation placed a call for submissions online and received 106 proposals from 41 artists from across the country. A committee narrowed them down to 24, from which the final 12 were selected. They include a large aluminum dragon, an oversized wooden bench, a butterfly and more.
The sculptures will be on display for two years, with each costing the foundation $3,500 to “rent” for that time. They will be available for purchase from the artists, with 20 percent of the proceeds going to the parks foundation. Next year, 12 new pieces will be chosen to replace them.
Last month, the district unveiled a permanent sculpture called “Learning Curve” by local artist Aaron McIntosh.
With steel fabricated by Iron Bull Fabrications and a curved LED display, McIntosh's sculpture was one of more than 200 potential pieces that the Decatur Parks Foundation considered installing in the sculpture park.
The sculpture's LED display is designed to reflect into a pool of water at its base.
100 Reasons: Scovill Zoo promotes conservation, education — and fun
From its origins as a petting farm to the home of hundreds of animals today, Scovill Zoo has been delighting children and families for 50 years.
The Decatur Park District first opened "Scovill Farm" in 1967. The original construction cost $56,000, or about $416,000 in today’s dollars.
Opening day attracted 650 visitors, who saw eight prairie dogs, six sheep, three mountain goats, six raccoon, an owl, six foxes, ponies, burros, a cow, a calf and six deer, the newspaper reported at the time. Pony rides were 10 cents.
In 1974, the zoo purchased its first exotic animals, two Malayan sun bears. More growth came in the 1980s, when the park district developed a master plan for the zoo and hired a full-time, professional staff. Also that decade, the Z.O. & O. Express train was added in 1984 and replaced about 10 years later with the current train.
It was first accredited by the Associated of Zoos and Aquariums in 2001, a status that was renewed earlier this year.
The zoo hosts a variety of children's activities and summer camps in an attempt to educate kids about wildlife and conservation efforts.
Some of today's most popular attractions include red pandas, wolves, howler monkeys and the petting zoo area. Cheetahs were added in 2003, when Jafari and Runako came to the zoo from the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre in South Africa, where they were hand-raised.
Runako died in September 2015, and new brothers Segosi and Kapenda arrived in August 2016 from came from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va.
The Humboldt penguin exhibit opened in fall 2013 after four years of planning and fundraising. In the future, the zoo hopes to add a river otter exhibit nearby. The timeline is driven in part by donations and the success of fundraisers, such as the annual adults-only Zoo-rific Evening event.
100 REASONS: Decatur Municipal Band keeps the beat for 160 years
DECATUR — The Decatur Municipal Band has serenaded Decatur residents for 160 years, seemingly making summer evenings breeze by for its fans with concert performances in Central Park, Fairview Park and other locations.
Founded in 1857 by nine charter members, the Decatur Municipal Band served as a regimental band in several U.S. wars, including the Civil War and World War I.
For decades, the band was synonymous with Andrew Goodman, a conductor from Columbus, Ohio, who served as its director until 1880.
The band was commonly referred to as the "Goodman Band," until it was officially designated by the city as the Decatur Municipal Band, a charter that remains 75 years later.
The Decatur Municipal Band is one of the oldest bands in the nation. It has the distinction of playing continuously, with a few name changes along the way, over that extraordinary lifespan.
Music director and conductor, Jim Culbertson, can lay claim to his own exemplary run: he's been wielding the conductor's baton for 39 years. “When I first started, I was one of the youngest members at 26; now I'm right up with the oldest,” Culbertson said in July.
He said his 70-strong band – with maybe 50 musicians playing a typical gig — ranges in age from 17 to 75 and the conductor cites their enthusiasm and drive for keeping his own passion for the job burning bright.
The band's Fourth of July performance in Fairview Park's main pavilion is among the most-anticipated of the year, blending traditional and newly arranged patriotic favorites in an hourlong event.
100 REASONS: Decatur's faith community has thrived from the start
DECATUR — The city impresses newcomers with its plethora of churches, starting in the center and dotting neighborhoods throughout. Church Street is one of the city's earliest thoroughfares.
Churches are especially evident downtown, where people gather every Sunday in several houses of worship along and near Church Street, from Grace United Methodist Church on the north to St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal Church on the south.
Others include St. John's Episcopal Church, Central United Methodist Church, House of Miracles, First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, the Salvation Army and First Evangelical Lutheran Church.
First United Methodist is the oldest congregation, having started out in a log building constructed in 1834 in a hazel thicket on the east side of Church Street, between Prairie Avenue and Main Street, before moving in 1906 to its current building at 201 W. North St.
St. John's Episcopal has the oldest building on Church Street, constructed at 130 W. Eldorado St. in 1892.
Garver Brick United Methodist Church just northeast of the city is the oldest church in the Decatur area. Garver Brick was built in the summer of 1865 and celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2015.
Herald & Review archives indicate that churches within the city limits numbered 50 in 1946 and 129 in 1955. The number in a listing published by the newspaper in 2014 was 134.
100 REASONS: Brick streets paved with promise in Decatur
DECATUR — Brick streets can be found in many Decatur neighborhoods, a yesteryear sense of permanence in a growing prairie city.
Decatur has 22 lane miles of brick streets, as compared to 793 lane miles of concrete and asphalt streets. Some are nearly 100 years old.
Seeking to add beauty and slow down drivers between downtown and Millikin University, the city launched a brick paving project in 2006 along that section of West Main Street.
Resurfaced with interlocking brick pavers rather than individual bricks, it gave the road the look of the original brick streets that had replaced the prairie mud early visitors such as Abraham Lincoln would have been familiar with. Traveling the street today takes one past quaint shops, small businesses and historic, often regal, residences.
Well-traveled streets of the city's early years would have been paved with bricks as prosperity demanded a more solid means of delivering people and commerce across the urban thoroughfares traveled on dirt lanes.
Over the decades, many of those streets have paved over or removed entirely. The cost of repairing and maintaining them is significantly higher than pavement. Vestiges of that era are now scattered throughout neighborhoods, some streets starting in brick and ending in pavement. Bumpy, patched but still carrying on in their duties.
Diehard fans of brick streets don't just like the new-look bricks, however. In 2003, plans to asphalt the original brick portion of West Eldorado Street from Fairview Avenue to the entrance to Fairview Park were shelved by the city after an outcry from local residents.
They objected because they wanted the yesteryear aesthetics and said it also acted as a speed bump for motorists who, in the absence of a bouncy ride, would floor it.
100 REASONS: Tate & Lyle maintains 'Castle in the Cornfields'
DECATUR — Tate & Lyle is one of the city's most successful businesses and owner of perhaps its most recognizable landmark.
Tate & Lyle came to Decatur in 1988, purchasing A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., a longtime Decatur employer.
Already successful in the starch business in Maryland, A.E. Staley came to Decatur and purchased a defunct starch making plant in 1909. He made the necessary repairs and improvements and opened the doors for his business in 1912.
The business thrived in Decatur, leading to the construction of one of the city's most iconic sights: the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. Building on East Eldorado Street. The grand office building opened in 1930.
“This building really is Decatur,” said Laura Jahr, director of the Staley Museum, which opened last year to recognize the company's legacy. “For Staley, it was crown jewel of his business empire. It represents Decatur's industrial history.”
Staley built the 14-story neo-gothic structure in 1930 to house his growing agro-industrial business, and it became known as the "Castle in the Cornfields."
“Many thousands of tourists from all over the country will pass by that building every year and the structure we plan will make them remember 'Staley' and Decatur as nothing else could do,” Staley said in a 1928 Decatur Herald article.
Tate & Lyle acquired the business in 1988. Its headquarters moved to Hoffman Estates in 2010, but the building still houses operations.
The Decatur site includes Tate & Lyle's production operations, an administration building, research and development labs and full pilot plant capabilities, according to the company. It is one of Decatur's largest employers with more than 500 workers.
100 REASONS: Staley building spotlights shine on city
DECATUR — The lights on the 14-story A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. building have been described as mesmerizing, visible for miles.
This past spring, a team restored the colored floodlights on the building, which is now owned by Tate & Lyle, on Decatur's east side so they could be turned on to coincide with the anniversary of the building's opening in April 1930.
The legendary A.E. Staley built the neo-gothic structure in 1930 to house his growing agro-industrial business, and it became known as the "Castle in the Cornfields."
“This building really is Decatur,” said Laura Jahr, director of the Staley Museum, during the restoration.
The Staley Museum, 361 N. College St., opened last year to recognize the company's legacy.
The lights are one of the top things visitors to the museum know about the Staley legacy, along with the Chicago Bears franchise starting in Decatur and the use of Staley balls to play jacks, Jahr said.
The lights were turned off during World War II and didn't come back on until after the troops came home, she said. The display was once again shut down during the energy crisis in the 1970s, Jahr said.
Afterward, Jahr said, the display was never quite the same.
The full restoration project was made possible as light-emitting diode lights could be used, reducing energy usage from 439,442 kilowatts to 17,845 kilowatts, a massive difference, said Sandi Sorensen, who works in procurement at Tate & Lyle.
London-based Tate & Lyle acquired the business in 1988. Its headquarters moved to Hoffman Estates in 2010, although the building still houses operations.
Employees and contractors were willing to help with the work that was needed for the spotlight restoration, Sorensen said.
Jahr said the lights still send a message.
“For Staley, it was crown jewel of his business empire," she said. "It represents Decatur's industrial history.”
100 REASONS: Sangamon River winds through area's history, future
DECATUR — Since the first Native Americans reached its banks and settlers followed in what became Macon County, the Sangamon River has rolled along, winding through Decatur's story up the present.
The Sangamon River is the largest Illinois River tributary with a length of 240 miles and a watershed encompassing 5,362 square miles. The watershed is separated into three management sections: Upper Sangamon, Lower Sangamon and Salt Creek.
The river starts in Ellsworth, just east of Bloomington, before curving through Ford, Champaign and Piatt counties. It drains into Lake Decatur and after continues on to Springfield where it splits. The main branch flows north, eventually draining into the Illinois River near Beardstown.
Abraham Lincoln and his family built their home on the north bank of the river 10 miles west of Decatur, near Harristown, when they moved here from Kentucky in 1830. As a young man, Lincoln floated down it to the Mississippi River on a flatboat.
The river is home to a grand variety of aquatic life and winds through dozens of conservation areas, includig Rock Springs, providing scenic views for nature lovers and opportunities for Central Illinois residents to enjoy the outdoors.
Yet it was and remains more than ever, a source of water, the giver of life to Central Illinois and the people, animals and plant life that live here.
It's waters are the lifeblood of industry for Decatur. When the city began to prosper in the early 20th century, it was the foresight of A.E. Staley who sought to dam the river and create Lake Decatur in 1922. About three-quarters of the lake's water is used for commercial and industrial purposes.
The Sangamon River today remains a wellspring of pride for Macon County and Decatur. Through vigilant conservation, it will continue to be so for generations to come.
100 REASONS: Northeast Community Fund serves those in need
DECATUR — For those among us in need, The Northeast Community Fund has been a beacon of hope since 1969.
Originally named The St. John's Northeast Community Fund, the social service organization lives by a Gospel call to action Matthew 25:40: "Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored — you did it to me."
And the Northeast Community Fund, 825 N. Water St., does so much for families living in the Decatur area in need of help: Counseling, food, clothing, financial aid, prescription medication aid, employment-related assistance and Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter meal baskets, to name just a few.
The foresight of St. John’s Lutheran Church to start the total ministry of The Northeast Community Fund and support it over the years has been a tremendous success in helping people escape poverty.
With that success, there has come a need for a newer, modern facility to continue to meet the needs of the community.
The Northeast Community Fund has raised more than half the $2.5 million cost of a new building that would more than double its space and increase access for the people it helps.
The new location on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive adjoins Crossing Healthcare’s campus. The current facility is 8,000 square feet, while the new one will be 20,000 square feet.
“We are cramped. We are crowded,” said Jerry Pelz, director of the organization. “We are surviving where we are. We have the opportunity to thrive in the new facility.”
The organization's board of directors has set a goal of $2 million to break ground, which they hope to do this spring.
"For an organization coming up on 50 years of service to Decatur, it will be nice to have a location that allows us to do the best job we can for our clients," said Regan Deering, chairwoman of the campaign committee.
100 REASONS: Mount Zion show choirs a powerful force on stage
MOUNT ZION — The Mount Zion show choirs are a leading force in the high school show choir arena. The Swingsations have won numerous awards, statewide and national, since the group was created 40 years ago.
"I believe the support of the administration and the community and the parents' support has been what has been the backbone of keeping it alive and strong," said Connie Mulligan, who took over as director of the group last school year, a position she had held from 1991 to 2000.
Since the group was created in 1977, it has been considered a trend-setting show choir. It is one of the most decorated show choir groups in the nation.
A group of Mount Zion students formed an ensemble in 1973, creating an all-girl swing choir under the guidance of Roberta Vest. A few years later, several boys in the school asked to audition, and the swing choir became co-ed.
In 1977, Dwight Jordan, the school's instrumental director, approached Vest about adding a swing combo, which included trumpets, percussion and a bass guitar. As the group made changes and became a priority in its few years of existence, it was given a new name: Swingsations.
All three Mount Zion show choirs — Swingsations, Les Femmes and the junior high school — have won multiple awards. Last year, they won grand champion awards for all three groups in back-to-back contests.
Mulligan refers to show choir as the sport of the arts. "It's like trying to sing your best while doing high-impact aerobics," she said. "It's a lot of training and building stamina."
The band that accompanies the show choirs are just as important as the singing and dancing on stage. The combo has won individual categories at competitions as well.
"Their excellence and integration into the singing and dancing makes a difference in how we score," Mulligan said.
100 Reasons: Decatur's Good Samaritan Inn feeds many needs
DECATUR — From little acorns, mighty Good Samaritans do grow.
Decatur's Good Samaritan Inn was founded in 1982 by the congregations of four churches who saw people down on their luck were going hungry and needing a soup kitchen. Three new headquarters buildings later, culminating in the current spacious facility at 920 N. Union St. and after one million served meals, the Good Samaritan is going strong.
Run by executive director the Rev. Stacey Brohard and a volunteer 13-member board, the Good Samaritan Inn primarily feeds itself on public and corporate donations. It then turns around and feeds some 350 people a day at no cost to them through its Noon Meal program. The food service runs seven days a week and receives help from some 400 volunteers who donate their time each month.
The Good Samaritan Inn has expanded its services to feed a lot more needs than just hunger, however.
Current program offerings range from teaching anything from horticulture and vegetable gardening to construction skills and food preparation. The Good Samaritan also teaches what it calls “soft skills,” including how to dress for a job interview to interviewing techniques. The aim is to give a helping hand up, as well as a helping hand out.
“Students learn how to grow and prepare local healthy foods while obtaining training toward becoming job-ready employees, thus reducing their need for our dining room services,” is how Brohard explained the training approach in a recent Herald & Review interview.
Brohard said the Good Samaritan has itself learned to adapt to changing needs, and to help clients of all ages. During the summer vacation, for example, it serves meals for up to an extra 100 children per day who face going hungry without their school lunches.
100 Reasons: Penny Hammel, a Decatur golfing legend
DECATUR — Penny Hammel, Decatur native and LPGA great, found success at golf in each level she tried, including becoming the nation’s top college golfer in 1983.
Born in Decatur in 1962, her interest and love of golf came from her father, Richie Hammel, who was the golf pro at Faries Park Golf Course.
While a student at MacArthur High School, she helped the girls' golf team find success at the state tournament, qualifying in the 1976-77, 1977-78, and 1978-1979 academic years with a second place finish overall in 1977-78.
In the individual state competition, Hammel finished in overall fourth place as sophomore in 1976-77. She won back-to-back championships for MacArthur in 1977-78 and 1978-79, with the 1977-78 victory by a commanding five strokes ahead of her nearest competitor.
Hammel then found success on the national amateur level winning the 1979 PGA Girls Junior Championship. This would springboard her to the becoming an All-American on the University of Miami women’s golf team.
In 1983, Hammel won the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship making her the top female college golfer in the country.
The following year, her Hurricanes team also captured the NCAA team title.
At the professional level, Hammel joined the LPGA in 1985 and she won her first professional tournament, the Jamie Farr Classic, that year.
Due to initial success during her time on the tour, Hammel was named LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1985. In total, Hammel would play on the LPGA tour for 21 years, through 2006, and she recorded eight career tournament wins.
Hammel also performed well in some of the most prestigious LPGA tournaments, including two third-place finishes in the 1989 U.S. Women’s Open and the 1996 Women’s PGA Championship.
Hammel was recently selected into the first class of the Decatur Public School Athletic Hall of Fame, which honors top athletes who attended any of the four high schools in town, Stephen Decatur, Lakeview, Eisenhower and MacArthur.
Currently a resident of Florida, Hammel's impact around the community can be felt each year as Decatur hosts a tour stop on the LPGA Symetra Tour.
She was instrumental in adding a stop for her hometown more than 30 years ago and today we know the event as the Decatur-Forsyth Classic.
100 Reasons: Millikin University's Lori Kerans' resume plenty full
Having coached Millikin University to the 2005 Division III national women’s basketball championship is an achievement so grand it would be on the top line of almost anyone’s resume.
Not so with Lori Kerans.
The 54-year-old Kerans, who is in her 32nd season as head coach, goes about 10-deep before ever mentioning the national title among the achievements she’s most proud of.
If someone else didn’t bring it up, she might not either.
Much more important to this Miillikin and community role model are a number of attributes that help make her one of the most popular and iconic citizens of Decatur.
“I want to have been a great family person, a tribute to my parents and grandparents,” she said. “I want to do a great job being a sister and an aunt.”
Kerans takes nothing more seriously than her role as an actively involved aunt who helps raise her 14-year-old niece, Hannah Hollis, and her 13-year-old nephew, Zach Hollis.
“I want to be comfortable expressing my relationship in my faith and how I think I’ve been placed at Millikin and Decatur for a very specific purpose, willing to serve and lead.
“Professionally, I want to be known as someone who mentors and leads others and who does that with a sense of endurance. By that I mean not only because of my tenure there, but sometimes we give up on people too fast if it’s not a quick fix. My most meaningful relationships have been with students and colleagues who have been long-term.”
No wonder Kerans has not only served Millikin as its head women’s basketball coach, a job she took over at age 21.
Three times she has served as the university’s director of athletics. She was vice president of student life, dean of students, director of the wellness center and a live-in residence hall director.
She’s currently on the board of directors for HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital, served for five years as the race director for the Rodney Miller Lakeside Triathlon, was instrumental in launching the “Real Men Wear Pink” program for breast cancer awareness, is active in the Holy Family Church and School and is a volunteer for Special Olympics.
Oh, yes, she’s a two-time breast cancer survivor who finds peace and solitude maintaining her shade perennial garden filled with hostas, bleeding hearts and ferns.
But that national championship?
“It was a wonderful window in my career and I’m very grateful for it,” she said. “But my family and professional relationships are forever. I don’t want the national championship to be my defining moment.”
100 REASONS: DISC gives adults, families a place for activity
DECATUR — It didn't take long for the Decatur Indoor Sports Center to become a staple in the community.
In fact, it's simply known as the DISC.
The facility at 1295 W. Wood St. was built as a partnership between the Decatur Park District and Millikin University, opening in 2000. Since then, the 87,000-square-foot sports and recreation center has seemingly housed something for everyone.
It hosts Millikin intramurals and indoor sports practices. There are courts for volleyball and basketball, and an indoor field for soccer, a 4-lane, 200-meter track, indoor batting cages and indoor golf simulators, including a putting green, bunkers and driving range.
Plus, sometimes-overlooked sports and activities such as lacrosse and pickleball have found a home at the DISC.
The DISC also provides a place for young athletes to start learning sports. The center plays home to youth soccer programs and allows baseball and softball players to hone their skills, even in the frigid winters.
More so, the DISC offers a family-friendly feel. Parents can drop their children off at the playroom in order to get in their workout in the expansive fitness center. There's also a conference room//party room for parties, along with dance and fitness studios, and a rock-climbing wall.
But it's not just children and parents who benefit from the DISC.
Adults of all ages have taken to the DISC for morning walking rituals around the track or exercise classes.
Memberships are available daily, monthly or yearly.
100 REASONS: Children's Museum of Illinois full of wonder
The Children's Museum of Illinois is a world of interactive education, inviting young minds to explore exhibits designed to draw out their curiosity and learn — and have a lot fun, too.
The nonprofit Children's Museum of Illinois has been a Central Illinois attraction since it was founded in 1990 in the Macon County Conservation District's Education Center.
Like the children who first experienced its wonders 27 years ago, it has grown so much since then. In 1995, with rising popularity, the current site was developed, and the museum moved into its new 20,000-square-foot home overlooking Lake Decatur at 55 S. Country Club Road in Scovill Park, adjacent to Scovill Zoo.
The museum's exhibits have changed and evolved over the years, encouraging children ages 3 to 12 to view a world larger than their own. From Luckey's Climber in the middle of the building that takes kids from the first to the second floor to displays that teach about food, grocery shopping, television broadcasting, health or construction, the museum keeps kids on the move physically and mentally.
The museum also hosts a variety of activities such as Kidstock, Happy Noon Year!, Cocoa and Cookies with Santa, Duck Derby, Halloween Hoopla, Easter egg hunt, a Maker Space and Music at the Museum, to name just a few events that keep families coming back year round. Schools from throughout the area bring field trips during the year.
The museum keeps growing, too. In July, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation announced a $3 million grant to build a two-story exhibit focused on law enforcement. The 7,000-square-foot expansion will be called "Heroes Hall."
Child Magazine has named the Children's Museum of Illinois one of the top 25 children’s museums in the country, a ringing endorsement for the efforts of the museum's many volunteers and employees.
The museum's website says it best: "The museum contributes to the community’s quality of life as an educational facility, visitor attraction, family activity destination, and site for volunteerism."
100 Reasons: Limitless Decatur & Macon County campaign shares positive vision
DECATUR — The Decatur and Macon County area has a lot for which it can be proud. The Limitless Decatur & Macon County campaign, which is a little more than two years old, has been at the forefront of promoting the community beyond its borders.
The campaign came out of the Grow Decatur initiative, which worked with the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County on the effort. It has sought to remove boundaries and convey a place with abundant opportunities, playing on the term city limits. The intention is to show the Decatur area as modern and progressive with opportunities to live, work and develop.
The goal has been a marketing strategy that educates, informs and builds community pride among current residents and business owners along with motivating potential newcomers to live and do business in the area.
Limitless Decatur & Macon County describes itself as much more than a marketing campaign: "It’s a movement. With exciting changes over the past decade, momentum has built throughout the county and we’re capturing it and sharing it with others."
The campaign is privately funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and supported by the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce, Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Grow Decatur, city of Decatur, village of Mount Zion and village of Forsyth.
As part of the branding initiative, “ambassadors” are sought for Decatur and Macon County. They are called on to help with recruitment and retention efforts and to engage with their inner circles and spread the community’s message, according to the Limitless website.
100 REASONS: Richard Oglesby launched Lincoln, served Union and Illinois
DECATUR — Richard J. Oglesby was a three-time governor of Illinois and successful general during the Civil War, but his legacy is even greater in the pantheon of Abraham Lincoln lore.
Oglesby was born in 1824 in Kentucky and later moved with relatives to Decatur after the death of his parents. As he made his life in Central Illinois, he came to know fellow Kentucky transplant Lincoln as a friend, and they soon became political allies.
Oglesby was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1860, the same year Lincoln was rising as a candidate for president. Oglesby is credited with coining “Abraham Lincoln-The Rail Splitter Candidate” at the Illinois State Republican Convention. After Lincoln's election, Oglesby continued to be a strong ally.
Oglesby's experience during the Mexican War led to him volunteer his services to the Union Army during the Civil War in 1861. He eventually was promoted promoted to brigadier general. In 1864, he resigned his commission and ran for governor of Illinois at President Lincoln's request.
On April 14, 1865, Oglesby spent the afternoon with Lincoln and declined Lincoln’s invitation to accompany him to Ford’s Theater. Later that evening, Oglesby was called to the president’s side at the Peterson House, where, on April 15, he witnessed the death of his good friend at the hand of an assassin's bullet.
Oglesby served three non-consecutive terms as governor of Illinois until 1884. He also was a U.S. Senator from 1873-79. Oglesby died on April 24, 1899, and is buried in Elkhart.
Today, his fine home in Decatur still sits at 421 W. William St., where he and his wife, Emma, lived from 1876-82. The Governor Richard J. Oglesby Mansion is preserved for the community to learn about the man who gave his life to public service and helped launch Lincoln to the White House.
100 REASONS: Spitler Woods State Natural Area
MOUNT ZION — Central Illinois is fortunate to have a plethora of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors right at its doorstep. One such scenic gem is Spitler Woods State Natural Area.
The site, a half-mile east of Mount Zion off Illinois 121, was named for Ida B. Spitler who donated the land to the state in 1937, preserving for posterity the area's shaded ravines and towering trees.
The 200-acre site is home to one of the largest acreages of old growth woods in Central Illinois. Much of the site is dedicated as Spitler Woods Nature Preserve, providing additional protection for the site's valuable natural features.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Spitler Woods mesic upland forest includes red oak, sugar maple, black walnut and basswood on the hillsides and slopes. Dry mesic forest containing white oak, red oak and shagbark hickory is present on the higher elevations. Wet-mesic floodplain forest containing sycamore, hackberry and Ohio buckeye is present along the creek, which flows through the nature preserve.
The site has a display of spring wildflowers, including false rue anemone, wild geranium, trillium, spring beauty and mayapple.
Spitler Woods provides habitat for songbirds, with birders spotting yellow-billed cuckoo, gray catbird, eastern wood pewee and red-bellied woodpecker.
With hiking paths, picnic shelters and a youth group camp, Spitler Woods State Natural Area is an attractive site for residents and wildlife alike.
100 REASONS: WSOY Community Food Drive still growing
DECATUR — The WSOY Community Food Drive began 16 years ago with a modest goal of helping Decatur pantries stock their shelves, neighbors helping neighbors.
It was a humble start, but with 35,000 pounds of food/dollars in 2002, the first drive found its footing with and a movement was born.
This year, the drive surpassed its lofty goal of 1.5 million with an all-day, volunteer fueled effort. Consistently meeting the lofty goal is a point of pride that organizers say has made the food drive a world-renowned success.
Hundreds of volunteers fill the Airport Plaza Kroger parking lot, moving items from donors to waiting trucks that will be packed to the brim with food. Rain or shine, cold or hot, the event has gone off without a hitch as cars, vans and trucks line up and deliver, all in the name of helping others.
Every dollar or pound of food goes to help people locally, said Brian Byers, vice president of development for Neuhoff Media and morning show host on WSOY-AM.
“Every penny, every can of corn, every single thing we collect goes directly to the tables of families in need in this community,” Byers said.
Byers, Kevin Breheny of J.L. Hubbard Insurance and Bonds, and John Skeffington of Skeff Distributing started the food drive in 2002
WSOY News/Talk 1340AM 103.3 FM was named Community Partner of the Year by the Kroger Central Division for its efforts with the food drive. An estimated 7.9 million pounds/dollars of food has been collected for local pantries over the years.
The friendly competition among schools has also helped carry the drive farther each year. Some individual schools now easily exceed drive totals of the past.
The money and food collected at the food drive primarily supports Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, as well as other local food pantries. The amounts they receive have helped them provide meals year-round.
100 REASONS: Decatur schools poised for success
DECATUR — Dozens of photos line the walls of the Keil Administration Building, featuring famous and accomplished graduates of Decatur schools. Each is adorned with a characteristic pose of the graduate and the words, “It all started in Decatur Public Schools.”
Among them, to name just a very few, are artist Preston Jackson, musician Brian Culbertson, Major League Baseball player Bill Madlock, cryptozoologist and author Loren Coleman and David Joyner, the actor in the Barney costume.
With six magnet schools and four preschool locations that serve a large number of 3- and 4-year-olds under the Preschool for All grant, school district families have education options.
Among the magnet schools are a focus on technology at Durfee, fine arts at Johns Hill, international baccalaureate at Hope Academy, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at French Academy and two Montessori programs, one at Enterprise and one at Garfield. Decatur also includes Robertson Charter School, operated independently but considered part of the district. Summer camp is offered annually as well.
The last several years have seen enormous change in Decatur schools. The district renovated both high schools into state-of-the-art buildings, thanks to the passage of a countywide 1-percent sales tax that provides revenue to all Macon County schools to upgrade and maintain facilities.
With technology sweeping through the corridors of education, Decatur has made sure every student in the district has an iPad or laptop to supplement their instruction.
New school board members Kendall Briscoe, Courtney Carson, Beth Creighton and Beth Nolan and new Superintendent Paul Fregeau have settled into their roles.
The district is moving forward with the formulation of a new strategic plan that should be complete by spring. That plan will include community input and set the course of accomplishment for the next five years.
100 REASONS: Overlook Adventure Park becomes a destination
DECATUR — After the miniature golf course Decatur had known for 32 years closed following the 2013 season, the Decatur Park District knew it had big shoes to fill when it opened its new course the next year.
It didn't get off to a great start — soggy, cold weather delayed the opening. But once the new 36-hole Overlook Adventure Mini Golf course opened near U.S. 36 at 2501 E. Nelson Park Road, it was clear the park district had delivered on its promise for a bigger, better version of what Paul's Puttin' Place had offered.
The zoo-themed courses offer an adventure at each hole, including a lemur building a replica of the Transfer House out of stones and sticks, spider monkeys spraying water into a bucket, squirrels clambering over a golf cart, and a zebra balancing on a camel’s back, brandishing a pair of Decatur-made Perry suspenders in its mouth.
The course is a popular hangout for all ages and offers family, date-night and teen activities, including lights-out and glow events at night.
The mini-golf course was the first piece in Overlook Adventure Park, which has since added a high ropes course and batting cages, and will be adding a playground and, in 2019, a highly anticipated water park.
The mini-golf course will be closing for the season at the end of October, but will reopen in April.
100 REASONS: Macon Speedway still holds a spell
CHAMPAIGN – For 72 summers, Central Illinois families have found a unique form of entertainment on a patch of ground carved out of an old brick factory, adjacent to the farmland just south of Decatur.
From the time it opened in 1946, Macon Speedway has been attracting folks to its one-fifth mile dirt oval, lured there by the sensory assault that happens when race cars go fast in the night.
Macon Speedway has changed some over the decades, but the founding principal remains the same – place fast-moving race cars on a tight track and put fans right on top of the action and you’ll have crowded grandstands for years to come.
Originally, it was open-wheel midget cars that zoomed around the race track. Gradually, and sparked by a broad interest in NASCAR racing, late model cars with metal bodies and fenders became the dominant class.
Nowadays there’s a mix of cars that turn out on a given Saturday night at Macon Speedway, including the original midget cars as well as a variety of stock cars and even full-blown sprint cars.
With a couple minor exceptions, the track has operated under the ownership of two men.
Wayne Webb, with some backers helping to lend support, opened the track and was the primary promoter until he leased the track to Bob Sargent in 1985.
The ownership of the track took on a different look in 2007 when NASCAR stars Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace joined Sargent in a joint venture that led to a number of track improvements and started a series of years in which they brought other NASCAR drivers to the track for special appearances.
Over the years some of the biggest names in motorsports have visited at or competed at Macon Speedway including four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt and, in 2013, “The King,” Richard Petty.
Macon Speedway has enjoyed modern-day associations with the United Midwest Promoters group and POWRi, regional sanctioning bodies.
Major races have become a part of the summer landscape.
Since 1981 the Herald & Review 100 has been a centerpiece of the racing season, bringing some of the top late model drivers from around the country to compete for a major purse.
More recently, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has made Macon Speedway a regular stop, bringing in expensive rigs, the fastest cars and best up-and-coming drivers.
Just this season Macon Speedway began experimenting with pay-per-view, hoping to make the races available to auto racing fans nationwide.
And while that’s a change no one could have seen back in 1946, there have been very few changes to the layout of the track, which remains one of the fastest small track dirt ovals in America.
100 Reasons: Sufjan Stevens' low-fi ode to Decatur
In 2003, Detroit-born folk singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens launched an ambitious project to produce an album for each of the 50 U.S. states.
First up, appropriately, was Michigan. The 15 tracks included songs like “The Upper Peninsula" and "Say Yes! to M!ch!gan!,” a slightly obscure reference to the state’s 1980s tourism slogan.
Then, in 2005, came the low-fidelity concept album “Illinois” and "Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!"
The three-minute song talks about the “sound of the engines and the smell of the grain,” plus references to Lincoln, the Sangamon River, Caterpillar and rumors of an alligator found in a waterway.
Other whimsical lyrics include “Chickenmobile with your rooster tail,” pointing to the four-wheeled Krekel’s Custard marketing tool.
In a 2005 interview with the AV Club website, Stevens was asked whether the song was “your attempt to find a bunch of words that rhyme with Decatur.”
Stevens responded, “Oh yeah. It's really an exercise in rhyme schemes. It's just fun and games. But I think a person from Decatur will acknowledge that all of these references are based on real events and circumstances that have happened in and around Decatur, throughout history.”
Other songs on “Illinois” include "Casimir Pulaski Day,” "John Wayne Gacy Jr." and "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!"
Stevens never did finish his 50-state album plan. The last was “Illinois” and its song about Decatur.
100 Reasons: Decatur Staleys led to Chicago Bears
DECATUR – There’s no sign, no memorial, no indication whatsoever that the corner of Eldorado and 22nd Street is the real birthplace of the Chicago Bears.
Yet that’s where nearly 100 years ago Staley Field sat, a multi-purpose athletic facility that served as home to the A.E. Staley Co.’s athletic teams.
At the time, that meant baseball and, starting in 1919, it also meant football, as the company fielded a team to compete against other regional squads.
Peoria, Stonington, Champaign, Taylorville and Arcola were among the opponents the Decatur Staleys played in 1919. But the real fun didn’t start until a year later when company owner A.E. Staley, Sr., hired University of Illinois athlete George Halas to run the show.
According to a Herald & Review article 25 years ago, Halas was hired, “to play baseball during the summer, run the football team, be athletic director and spend the rest of the time learning how to make starch.”
Needless to say, there was very little time for making starch.
Halas could see that football might take off and have a broad appeal, so he was at Ralph Hay’s Hupmobile Showroom in Canton Ohio on Sept. 17, 1920 when the framework was put together for the American Professional Football Association, which in 1922 would become the National Football League.
After a 10-1-2 season in Decatur in 1920 (a crowd of 3,000 came to Staley Field to watch the Staleys defeat the Hammond Pros 28-7), Mr. Staley could see the future of the sport would quickly outgrow his vision for a company team.
So he gave Halas $5,000 and his blessing and sent him to Chicago with the agreement that the 1921 team would continue to use the Staley name.
Halas agreed, switching in 1922 to the new name, the Chicago Bears.
Nowadays there’s a sign on Rt. 51 near the entrance of Decatur that calls attention to the city being the original home of the Chicago Bears. But nowhere near the base of the William Sands Bridge – at the corner of Eldorado and 22nd – does it say this is where it all began.
This is where the Decatur Staleys began its transformation to become the Chicago Bears.
100 Reasons: Decatur Mural Project brighten city streets
They chronicle our history and reflect our fun. They are the murals gracing Decatur’s buildings – pieces of art on oversized canvases.
The Decatur Mural Project was created in 2012. Administered by the Decatur Area Arts Council, it’s an effort to beautify highly visible buildings, create a sense of pride and showcase the works of artists.
The first was painted on the west side of the Central Illinois Title Co. building at 145 S. Water St. during Independence Day weekend 2013. It was designed by Jerry Johnson, executive director of the Arts Council, and shows Commodore Stephen Decatur leading the 1804 raid to burn a ship, the USS Philadelphia, that had been captured by pirates in Tripoli. It features the words “bold and daring,” which a British admiral used to describe Decatur’s actions.
“The ‘bold and daring’ not only relates to Stephen Decatur, but those are good words, I think, for Decatur (residents) to see on a regular basis and think about," Johnson said in 2013.
The second work, painted by Johnson and volunteers a year later, is on the west side of the building at 111 E. Main St. and features the Decatur Staleys and Chicago Bears football teams, which trace roots to Decatur.
The 2016 painting was by Shani Goss and her husband Tronnie Goss on the east side of 702 Eldorado St. It depicts the singer Bob Marley.
Shani said she chose Marley for his wide appeal and upbeat themes.
“I wanted to find something that conveyed a positive message, and that appealed to the most broad audience,” she said. “With all the stuff going on right now, something to make people happy.”
She also designed the mural depicting the late Mayor Mike McElroy near Central Park.
In 2017, Ron English painted a whimsical elephant-looking creature on the east wall of Ken’s Aquarium and Pet Supply at 730 E. Cerro Gordo St. and Eric Weatherford created a helmeted man on the side in the 100 block of South Oakwood Avenue. Also recently painted as part of the project was a geometrical design on a façade in the 200 block of West Main Street.
Commodore Decatur Yacht Club.jpg
200 block W. Main St.
Wethingtons Fresh Flowers and Gifts.jpg
480 E. Main Street
100 block N. Main Street
100 block S. Haworth Avenue
100 block S Oakland Avenue
Decatur Staleys mural at 111 E Main Street
228 W. Main Street
240 N. Park Street
Bob Marley at 702 E. Eldorado Street
730 E. Cerro Gordo Street
800 block N. Water Street
Wildlife mural at 1155 Martin Luther King Jr Drive
Cat at 2733 N Water Street
Butterfly at Dennis School
100 Reasons: World War II Memorial salutes 'Greatest Generation'
DECATUR — It took a united effort in far-flung theaters of war and on the home front, but the "Greatest Generation" found in itself a steely resolve that achieved victory and peace in World War II.
Today, Decatur honors their achievements with a World War II Memorial in front of the Decatur Civic Center. It took the resolve of local veterans and community supporters and one in particular to make this monument a reality, to recall the sacrifices of so many who paid the ultimate price in every branch of service.
The black granite memorial, 48 feet in diameter and illuminated at night, contains the names of more than 300 Macon County military personnel, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, who were killed in World War II. The memorial is dedicated in their honor, along with the other members of the Greatest Generation who served in the military and those who supported them on the home front.
The memorial was the vision of E.E. “Pete” Nicholls, a World War II hero who conceived the idea more than 13 years ago. Nicholls worked tirelessly with Gordon Brenner, a Vietnam veteran, to help raise the funds. Nicholls died in 2008, but his leadership led to many others picking up the flag and carrying it to final victory for him and all veterans and their families. The committee was chaired by Pete Nicholls Jr. and David Freyling.
Graham Bradley, a retired Decatur architect, was the original memorial designer. The design was modified several times during the struggle to obtain a site and funds.
Visitors often can be found at the World War II Memorial, quietly scanning the text and contemplating the courage of those whose names are listed and those who sought to remember them.
100 Reasons: Central Illinois' front-row seat to fall foliage
DECATUR — This is the prime time of year for one of nature’s great spectacles in Central Illinois: The changing of the leaves.
Our region offers numerous natural vistas and undulating landscapes to see the fall shades.
Some of the best views are along Lake Decatur, the Fort Daniel Conservation Area near Mount Zion, Fairview Park in Decatur and the Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello. But there are many more.
The big changeover usually picks up in the second week of October. Further north, it happens in late September; in Southern Illinois, it’s early November.
Central Illinois tends to get lots of colors because of two factors, starting with the sheer diversity of species.
We’re home to the sugar maples, flowering dogwoods and red oaks that produce rich bronzes and orange shades. Cottonwoods, ash, birch and hickory tend to create bright orange and yellow tints. Even the pesky poison ivy gets in on the game – it also can have brilliant hues.
Our region’s varying weather is a big part of the color burst. Lots of summer rain means healthy trees and lots of pigments. Sunny skies in late summer and early autumn tend to make for more vibrant reds, yellows and oranges.
The bad news for us is that drought conditions can mean leaves don’t change at all. That will become more apparent in coming weeks as chlorophyll production slows down.
The spectacle usually wraps by mid-November.
And then all the raking begins.
100 reasons: Original Ariel voice launched from Millikin
Disney's “The Little Mermaid” franchise owes credit to Millikin University for some of its voices. Jodi Benson was the first.
Benson, who voiced the role of Ariel, the lead character in the 1989 animated film, attended Millikin before leaving the school early to work on Broadway. After the success of “The Little Mermaid” and other voice work Benson did, she returned to Millikin in 1993, completing her degree and graduation.
Benson came to Millikin from Rockford in 1979, and left in spring 1981 after landing a role in a touring show. Her first Broadway role was 1983's “Marilyn,” followed by “Smile” in late 1986. It was through lyricist and playwright Howard Ashman, who worked on “Smile,” that Benson found out about the role in “The Little Mermaid.” Filmmakers felt that it was necessary to have both Ariel's speaking and singing voices played by the same person, which made her a perfect candidate.
In 1992, she created the voice of “Thumbelina” for the Don Bluth animated feature film with songs by Barry Manilow. Also in 1992, she was the lead in the Broadway show “Crazy For You.” While in the midst of that production's run, she returned to Decatur and Millikin for additional testing in order to complete her degree.
In 1993, Benson told the Herald & Review she returned to complete her degree because of one question she regularly received when speaking to students about the importance of education.
"They always ask, 'Did you graduate?' And I think I just got tired of answering, 'No, I didn't, but I think you should.'"
She's remained a constant in the Disney empire, regularly making appearances at events, at parks and on cruises. In August 2011, Benson was honored as a Disney Legend alongside fellow Disney Princess voice actresses Paige O'Hara, Lea Salonga and Anika Noni Rose. The Disney Legends awards began in 1987. Benson is one of 275 people honored so far.
For a look at a non-animated Benson, see her role as Sam, Patrick Dempsey's assistant, in 2007's “Enchanted.”
Millikin's other “Little Mermaid” contribution, of course, is Sierra Boggess, the Millikin alum who originated the role of Ariel in the 2008 Broadway musical.
100 Reasons: Mexican restaurants delight Decatur diners
Queso lovers, fear not.
While no scientific studies exist on the subject, it must be said that Decatur’s supply of Mexican restaurants (more than 10) would satisfy even the most guacamole-hungry among us.
From Guadalajara in South Shores to El Rodeo on the north side of town, Coronas on the east end and Mi Pueblito to the west, every area of Decatur and the surrounding area is saturated with places to grab some tacos and a margarita, or a Corona.
Several of the most-loved restaurants are the product of David Fuentes, who came to the United States from Guadalajara in 1993 and later built a Mexican restaurant empire in Decatur. Fuentes opened his Casa Fuentes in 2015 in the former Carlos O'Kelly's at 2930 N. Main St., the Herald & Review reported, adding to an empire that already included Mi Pueblito and Guadalajara.
Recent years have seen a new twist on the theme, with Burrito Truck opening at Pershing Road and U.S. 51. Paco Greenwell brought a fast-casual approach to the culintary genre with the invention of Solsa, a Chipotle-style restaurant that opened to great acclaim in 2016. (A new branch just opened in Mount Zion in August.)
A similar concept, Burrito Express, is set to open soon in Hickory Point Mall, also co-owned by Fuentes.
All bring their own twists to the classic dishes: fajitas, arroz con pollo, taco salad, enchiladas. One staple is universal at all the sit-down Mexican restaurants in the area: Chips and salsa are a must.
100 Reasons: WAND, WSOY precursors were Decatur broadcast pioneers
Decatur’s broadcasting history is rooted in familiar letters WSOY and WAND.
The station went full-time in 1939, increased its power 100 watts to 250 watts and adopted the call letters WSOY to reflect Decatur’s soybean business. Its reach was a 70-mile radius.
“Hearty congratulations upon expansion of radio station WSOY,” read a telegram from Gov. Henry Horner for the first broadcast. “It pleases me that your call letters will remind all who listen of our Illinois leadership in the soybean industry.”
WAND dates to 1953, when station WTVP began programming. The inaugural show was a 15-minute program featuring a welcome by Decatur Mayor Robert E. Willis. Early shows included “A Woman’s Word,” “Prairie Ranch House” and “Yesterday’s Newsreel.”
“The network shows will be brought here by a micro-wave system which will be installed between Chicago and St. Louis,” The Decatur Review reported.
The Federal Communications Commission the same year approved an application for Midwest Television Inc. to operate WCIA Channel 3 in Champaign. The two stations briefly filed documents with the FCC arguing about the location of WCIA’s transmitter.
Before then, TV sets had to be configured for picking up signals from far away, if at all.
“Before the end of the year, possibly by mid-summer, Decatur owners of television receiving sets may have a choice of channels and a choice of programs,” the Decatur Sunday Herald & Review editorial board wrote at the time. “Decatur now is fringe area, enjoying reception that is unpredictable and often so ephemeral that the picture blurs or fades before the neighbors, summoned by telephone, can slip on their shoes and come across the street.”
In the weeks leading up to the launch, tips on purchasing sets and common problems were published, suggesting that “a competent serviceman will more than compensate for the cost of his call through the added pleasure and enjoyment of a well adjusted and operating TV receiver,” according to a May 1953 article.
100 Reasons: Boom! Wow! We love our fireworks
Central Illinois loves fireworks.
Communities of all sizes play host to displays around the Independence Day holiday and other special occasisions.
But two of the region's premiere fireworks events are in Decatur and Arthur.
In Decatur, it's the backdrop of Lake Decatur, whether watching from the shore or a boat, and the reflection of the fireworks on the water that make it so special.
Fireworks on the lake on the Fourth of July date back to 1923 when the community held a four-day Lake Decatur Celebration to mark the creation of its own lake. Construction of the lake ended in 1922.
In Arthur, its status is sealed by the sheer magnitude of the display. This year included Vesuvius, the largest fireball ever fired in the state of Illinois.
"It's absolutely the biggest one-day event in Arthur," said Christy Miller, the community's tourism director. "Just being an American, the fireworks and the Fourth of July are special to you. I love the way we rally around that and put forth an effort to celebrate this country. It's a breathtaking experience."
Miller said the event draws people from all over, including Chicago and St. Louis. Some stay at the lone Arthur motel, with others staying in Arcola, Tuscola, Mattoon and Decatur, as well as the campgrounds in the Sullivan and Lake Shelbyville area. Some estimates put the crowd around 60,000.
The day starts with a parade and a few activities to keep people occupied until the festivities shift to Jurgens Park and the high school football field where skydivers, some “backyard pyrotechnics” and ultralights fill the air until the sun goes down.
Then it's time to “feel the heat” from the atomic firebombs and watch as the "Rural Patriot," who rides in on horseback while carrying the American flag. He then takes his place in front of 500-foot-long cascade of sparks falling like a waterfall from a wire held cranes 75 feet in the air. Go to www.facebook.com/ArthurFireworks1/ to see it for yourself.
100 Reasons: ADM continues to find ways to change our world
Archer Daniels Midland Co. continues to provide both a variety of opportunities to the area and quality products to the world since it built its first plant in Decatur in 1939.
In 1970, Dwayne Andreas became the chief executive officer of ADM, and is credited with transforming the firm into an industrial powerhouse. Andreas remained CEO until 1997.
With more than 4,000 employees working at ADM’s facilities and North American headquarters located in Decatur, the Chicago-based worldwide agribusiness giant remains the city’s largest employer. The ADM Global Technology Center is downtown.
Soybeans and corn are the two main crops that ADM processes here, but in recent years, the company has embraced the changes in the food industry by investing millions of dollars into developing products that are gluten-free, clean label, organic, low in sodium, plant-based proteins and high in fiber.
In addition to improving the food that we eat, ADM has also shown a great interest becoming more environmentally friendly. In Decatur, the company unveiled its $208 million project to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that operates underground near Richland Community College.
Alison Taylor, ADM's vice president and chief sustainability officer, said she hopes the project demonstrates the technology to leaders of industries outside of agriculture, and will ultimately contribute to reducing carbon emissions around the world.
"We need to look at our operations and be responsible," Taylor told the Herald & Review in October. "That's a part of our business plan as well."
100 Reasons: Decatur perfect place for Farm Progress Show
It's often called the Super Bowl of farm shows — and for good reason.
If it has anything to do with agriculture and the people that make it their life, you can see it at the Farm Progress Show.
And for three days every other year, the show calls Decatur home, bringing with it more than 600 vendors and more than 100,000 spectators from throughout the United States and the world wanting to see the latest developments in ag technology.
The seed for bringing a permanent site for the Farm Progress Show to Decatur was planted in a Herald & Review column written by Stu Ellis.
It came a week after heavy summer rains washed out the 2003 event in nearby Henning and subsequent conversations with Randy Prince, who was the executive director of the Macon County Farm Bureau.
Both men agreed the show was too valuable to leave its success to the whims of Mother Nature.
The column, which carried the headline “Decatur should be home of farm show,” made a compelling case for an all-weather, permanent site it Decatur. The column ended with the following sentence: “If anyone wants to discuss it further, my calendar is open.”
A few people took him up on the offer, including representative of the Chamber of Commerce and Archer Daniels Midland Co.
From there, the effort gained momentum and two years later, in 2005, Decatur hosted its first Farm Progress Show at Progress City USA, next to Richland Community College on the city's east side.
The show has returned every other year since then, the most recent being two months ago. But the benefits to Decatur go beyond those three days in late August-early September.
Those charged with getting the site ready arrive in July, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants and much more. And they are here after the show ends to take it all down.
Then there's the army of local volunteers who do everything from staffing information booths and admission gates, driving trams and managing the parking and food areas.
"We couldn't do it without them," said Matt Jungmann, the show's director.
For their work, Jungmann said these groups receive donations from the Farm Progress Show that have been used to make improvements to their church buildings, buy equipment for their school bands and show choirs and provide for community outreach programs.
Jungmann said early estimates put the show's financial impact on the community at $10 million. He wouldn't be surprised if that number isn't higher.
The Farm Progress Show will return to Decatur in 2019.
100 Reasons: Lincoln's Decatur-area roots
Abraham Lincoln’s path to the becoming 16th president of the United States in 1861 goes right through Macon County – and Decatur has the statues to prove it.
At Millikin University, a bronze figure of a young Lincoln in short sleeves and boots is seated on a tree stump, ax propped against leg.
“At twenty one I came to Illinois” is engraved in the base, a reference to the president’s arrival from Indiana in spring 1830.
Dedicated on Oct. 24, 1948, the artwork was the brainchild of local attorney Thomas W. Samuels, who raised money and support. A University of Chicago student posed for sculptor Fred Torrey, who crafted two designs – one standing and one seated – that were voted on during a display at the Decatur Public Library. The seated version won.
Weighing more than 4,000 pounds, the statue is several miles from the Lincoln Trail Homestead State Memorial on the Sangamon River near Harristown, where the Kentucky-born Lincoln and his father built a cabin after leaving Indiana.
Shortly after arriving, Lincoln is said to have delivered his first political speech, defending the Illinois Whig Party candidate at Harrell’s Tavern in downtown Decatur.
Three decades later, after stints as a country lawyer and state lawmaker, Lincoln accepted the endorsement for president at the state Republican convention, and gained the nickname “The Rail Splitter Candidate,” in Decatur.
His last visit to the city was while he was going to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration. One of his well-wishers was James Millikin, founder of Millikin University.
The region’s place in Lincoln lore is chronicled with a series of bas-relief artworks and placards. “Looking for Lincoln” includes 15 sites of historic importance.
In October 1968, a bronze statue of a young Lincoln was erected at east and north Main streets, recognizing the Harrell’s Tavern speech. The Macon County Heritage Committee collected money for the work, designed by Anthony Vestuto, an Illinois Wesleyan University professor.
“We especially have the responsibility of standing for the things from which Lincoln stood and of upholding his ideals,” said Vern Lynn Sprague, director of the Illinois Sesquicentennial Commission, during the dedication ceremony. “Youth of this time, more than ever before, seem to need substantial heroes. I think it is important that children will be able to look at this statue and say, ‘Mr. Lincoln probably stood right in this spot.’”
100 Reasons: Operation Enduring Support keeps troops close to the heart
DECATUR — Stationed around the world in defense of their country, soldiers and sailors from Central Illinois find home is not so far away. The volunteers of Operation Enduring Support make sure of it and it is a proud tradition of Decatur and surrounding communities.
Since 2003, Operation Enduring Support has organized local efforts to provide care packages to military personnel. The group supports military families through weekly meetings and hundreds of care packages sent to troops overseas at Christmas and Easter.
The group was begun by Betty Gaumer and her husband, Dave, and led today by Ann Irwin. It has been based at Grace United Methodist Church.
“She brought dedication and caring," Irwin said of Gaumer in 2013. "Betty had started the group as a support group for military families, and then it also developed into the care packages we send, and we are now doing two large mailings a year and small mailings upon request.”
The organization is again preparing for its Christmas packages. The items sought might seem everyday, but to a soldier overseas, it can speak to home, community and caring.
Items sought often include protein bars, cheese and cracker packs, beef sticks and jerky, canned meat, powdered drink packages, puzzle and game books, playing cards, hand and foot warmers, deodorant, tooth brushes, eye drops, lip balm, hard candy, gum, cotton swabs, baby wipes and razors. Handwritten letters are always accepted.
Irwin noted this response from a Marine in a 2014 letter she wrote in the Herald & Review thanking supporters:
“It helps that people still are thinking about all the men and women over here. I shared a lot of my package with my fellow Marines that did not get a Christmas either. Much love goes out to you and your families for what you are doing. I have the drawings that were sent hanging on the wall.”
100 Reasons: Staley museum shares legacy of Decatur industry titan
From founding one of the city’s largest employers to urging the creation of its lake, there’s no question Augustus Eugene Staley helped shape Decatur into the community it is today.
The home where he and his family resided for 40 years now pays tribute to that legacy, as the Staley Museum at 361 N. College St. It contains artifacts and relates the story of a salesman who achieved his own American dream, opening a defunct starch plant in Decatur as A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. in 1912.
“We're a museum that happens to be in the family home,” director Laura Jahr said before the museum's opening weekend in 2016. “The intention is to tell stories about the family, the company and the community.”
In addition to making cornstarch, the company began processing soybeans in 1922, helping Decatur earn its “Soy City” nickname. Today known as Tate & Lyle, it remains a force in the Macon County economy and one of its largest employers.
Staley made other lasting contributions to the city beyond his business. He pushed city leaders in the early 1920s to build Lake Decatur, as he said the water supply was crucial to his business. In 1919, he founded the Decatur Staleys football team that would go on to become the Chicago Bears.
The former Staley Mansion dates to 1884, when it was built for William J. Quinlan of the Chambers-Bering-Quinlan Co. for $28,000. The story goes that Staley noticed the mansion when passing through Decatur several times in the 1890s and early 1900s and often wondered whether he would be able to own a home like it one day.
After Staley bought the home in 1913, he renovated it extensively, and he and his relatives lived there until 1951, when his widow donated the home to the Decatur Y.M.C.A. The organization later sold the property, and it went through several transitions, including being divided into apartments.
The property came back to the family in 2013 when Staley's descendants, including great-grandsons Mark and Grant Staley, bought it to create a sister museum to the Hieronymus Mueller Museum. The two families are connected by the 1926 marriage of A.E. “Gus” Staley Jr. to Lenore Mueller, granddaughter of Hieronymus Mueller.
The Staley Museum is open year-round from 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. From March to November, it is also open from 1 to 4 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month.
100 Reasons: Del's Popcorn Shop a tasty downtown Decatur destination
DECATUR — More than 80 years of heady aromas, great tastes and golden shopping memories add up to a lot of customer goodwill.
Del's Popcorn Shop, a Decatur institution, found that out after a devastating fire shutdown its iconic oldest store at 142 N. Merchant St. in April 2015.
When owners Jesica and Kemper Willcut II were able to reopen the store for its first full day on Sept. 5, 2016, customers reacted like a beloved family member had popped back from the dead: “I've been waiting for forever for it to reopen,” longtime customer Missy Martin told the Herald & Review on reopening day.
“It's not the same at the mall; it's not the same nostalgia. I grew up coming down here with my mom.”
Over the years and aside from the Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth, Del's Popcorn stores have opened in Springfield and Mount Zion, under different owners. But the Decatur location, which has sweetened the air and taste buds of Merchant Street since 1934, has remained the signature shop.
What became Del's had been founded in that year as “The Pop Corn Shop” by a Decatur entrepreneur named John Baldwin. In the 1940s, he leased his booming enterprise to fellow businessman and friend, Del Barnett, who later bought it outright and changed the name to the one that stuck.
The Willcuts acquired the flagship Decatur store in 2009 and opened the mall store in 2015. Kemper Willcut had said bouncing back from the fire in the 163-year-old Merchant Street building had been tougher than he had imagined, but he was left in no doubt how much the resurrection effort had been appreciated.
Aside from the accolades of customers, fellow businesses also expressed their joy at seeing a major customer-draw back on its feet. Employees of the nearby Giggles store chipped in to buy Willcut a fancy celebratory cigar and The Secret Garden business sent a bouquet with a card that read “Bring on caramel apple season.”
Gay Donohue, an artist at Giggles, told the Herald & Review that Del's pulls in the shoppers who buy their candy apples and popcorn and then wander into Merchant Street stores. “I just love seeing the (Del's) neon light shine again,” she had said.
100 Reasons: Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence seen in Decatur house
The Edward Irving House at 2 Millikin Place is an example of master architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence.
The two-story, six-bedroom brick Arts & Crafts-style home was built in 1910 for wealthy Decatur industrialist Edward P. Irving and sits on about an acre. It includes many of Wright’s signature styles of the era, including rich wood, angular lines and stained glass. Other elements include a built-in grandfather clock featuring a leaded glass door and glass steps that let sunlight from a skylight filter down.
Wright, who died in April 1959, also created the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Fallingwater estate in southwestern Pennsylvania and many other noteworthy buildings. The Irving design was overseen by Hermann V. von Holst.
The site, which previously housed the Hugh W. Hill mansion, is near other Prairie-style homes -- the Robert Mueller House and Adolph Mueller House.
Irving was president of Faries Manufacturing Co. and died in 1923. His wife also gave 153 acres for Faries Park.
In 1987, original furnishings from the home were sold at auction in New York City for $146,500.
The house also recently sold. It had a listing price of $725,000.
“We have had people from England come to look,” said real estate agent Tom Nolan. “If this magnificent home were in Chicago, oh, you'd be looking at $2.2 million, easy.”
100 Reasons: Civic Center arena a hub for hockey, recreation
On Dec. 20, 1976, the Decatur City Council entered into an agreement with the Decatur Civic Center Board, with the city agreeing to provide $2.8 million toward an $11.4 million civic center (it eventually cost $13.5 million). That civic center would include an arena with an ice skating rink providing the biggest streak of revenue. It opened on Nov. 15, 1980.
The arena ice rink was an immediate boon for youth hockey in Decatur, particularly the Decatur Youth Hockey Association. The DYHA was in its 10th year and using a quickly fading Fairview Park rink. The new civic center arena gave the program room to grow, and it did.
Decatur Youth Hockey now has years with more than 200 players in nine age groups wearing the Decatur Flames jersey. In 2015, the DYHA led a campaign that swept Decatur and earned the Decatur Civic Center $75,000 in upgrades for finishing second in the Kraft Hockeyville USA contest.
The rink is also home to the Decatur Blaze, a Premier-level team in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). Their season begins Oct. 12.
But the rink isn't just for hockey — it's also served as a recreation and social center for multiple generations of Decatur residents.
In its early days, the civic center offered Adults Night Out — it was a hot spot for singles and date nights. And open skate times have long been a popular option for Decatur families and kids.
100 Reasons: Millikin homestead memorializes prominent family
The name Millikin resonates throughout Decatur's history.
Construction of the James Millikin Homestead at 125 N. Pine St. began in July 1875 and continued into 1876. It cost $18,000 to build (about $400,000 in 2017). It's considered a priceless piece of Decatur history today.
James Millikin and his wife, Anna, lived there for 34 years. James Millikin, a livestock dealer and landowner, founded Millikin Bank and Millikin University.
James Millikin died in 1909 and Anna Millikin passed away in 1913. She wished for the home to be used as an art gallery, institute and museum and left instructions for that purpose in her will.
The homestead was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
The Homestead Inc. is a nonprofit corporation created in 1979. The mission of the Homstead Inc. is to restore and preserve the interior of this irreplaceable Decatur landmark, thereby raising community awareness of local historical heritage and promoting preservation for the future generations.
Throughout the year, various events are held, including tours, a high tea, history lessons, a children’s tea, Mr. and Mrs. Millikin days, as well as a Victorian Christmas Tea.
The home is beautiful in its Italianate style, but what it represents is important as well. The creation of Millikin University helped shape the future and reputation of Decatur.
The school founded by the Millikins ensured that Decatur would have world-class visitors and performers travelling to Decatur to learn, teach and showcase their talents and knowledge.
And the homestead sits just east of the university, a visual reminder of the grandeur the Millikins envisioned for their community.
100 Things: Decatur Leadership Institute graduates valuable community resource
Take a poll of nearly any public board or nonprofit organization in the city, and the chances are very good that one or more of its members graduated from the Decatur Leadership Institute.
DLI boasts more than 650 alumni, and that number is growing. This year's class has 21 people enrolled and set to graduate in December.
The program was started in 1985 as an offshoot of Decatur Advantage, a community strategic plan to enhance the economic climate and quality of life.
“There's a need in any community of Decatur's size to constantly develop a new generation of people willing to become involved,” Decatur Mayor Gary Anderson said at the time. His words still ring true today.
The purpose of the Decatur Leadership Institute hasn't changed.
It brings together professionals from numerous Decatur businesses with the goal of developing a better understanding of the community and fostering a desire to address issues through continued involvement.
It is offered through the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce, which selects the participants through an application process.
Participants take part in weekly sessions at sites throughout the city — local companies, service agencies, government groups and more — gaining valuable insight and building connections. They also are required to do team-based service learning projects.
Mark Sturgell, who oversees the program for the Chamber, keeps participants focused on this question: “How is my DLI experience affecting the story I tell about Decatur and Macon County?”
“Frankly, to a person, it is a very positive effect,” he said.
"This community has a lot more than meets the eye," said John Fagan, of Ameren and a member of the DLI class of 2016. "I keep saying that I didn’t know this existed, or I didn’t know these people did that. Decatur has had a lot of surprises, and hopefully a lot more.
"This class already completed its goal and changed the way I view Decatur and the story I tell.”
100 Reasons: Community Leaders Breakfast has a heaping helping of inspiration
It's pretty impressive when the people brought to town to motivate you walk away a bit motivated themselves.
But that's the case a couple times each year, when hundreds gather at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel for the Community Leaders Breakfast to be inspired and get an update on the latest local developments. The Decatur lakefront development project, the We Like It Here campaign and Grow Decatur are among the community initiatives unveiled at the breakfast gatherings.
On numerous occasions, the guest speakers have announced their surprise that so many people are willing to venture out in all sorts of weather at 7 a.m. to hear them speak. With that kind of enthusiasm, some of them might wonder why they were brought here in the first place.
But it's a good time, and guests always come away a little more pep in their step.
The Community Leaders Breakfast got its start in 1999 with Rudy Davenport, an NAACP activist who spoke on racial diversity. It was hosted by the Herald & Review and its Celebrate 2,000 partners.
The breakfast has become an event worthy of being marked on a calendar well in advance, having hosted a variety of speakers. Some have been household names like Illini coaches Ron Zook and Bruce Weber and Coach Ken Carter, upon whom the movie “Coach Carter” was based.
While many others won't be remembered by name, some of the wisdom and life stories they share will never be forgotten. Topics have included, among other things, ways to improve communication, management and marketing skills as they relate to individuals and the community in general.
The tradition continues Oct. 5, with Steve Ford, the son of former President Gerald R. Ford taking the stage at the conference center.
100 Reasons: DMH, St. Mary's have long history in Decatur
For more than 100 years, citizens of Decatur have relied on two hospitals for their medical needs — St. Mary's and Decatur Memorial.
St. Mary's was established first, on Nov. 19, 1878, by the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in a small, rented frame house on the corner of Wood and Webster Streets.
By 1899, despite two additions, St. Mary's was becoming overburdened and a movement to build another hospital began. On Jan. 1, 1916, the dream of Sue Hagaman and Dr. Will Barnes became a reality, with the opening of Decatur and Macon County Hospital two miles north of town, just west of Church Street (now 2300 N. Edward St.).
Both hospitals grew and expanded services steadily through the years.
St. Mary's, through major construction projects and remodelings from 1907 to 1938, increased capacity to 230 beds. It broke ground on its current location, 1800 Lake Shore Dr., in July of 1958, and opened the 391-bed structure in August of 1961.
Now a 244-bed, all private room healthcare facility in the Hospital Sisters Health Systems family, St. Mary's is part of a 21-acre campus that includes the latest diagnostic equipment, interventional cardiology, surgical and medical intervention, emergency medical care, outpatient radiation therapy, pain management and a sleep center.
Within the first month of the formation of Decatur and Macon County Hospital, as Spanish influenza swept the nation and it was forced to expand. An east wing was added to the main building, as well as a tuberculosis camp and a contagious building. The campus continued to expand, and a new name was christened in 1968 — Decatur Memorial Hospital.
Today, DMH is a 300-bed facility that offers specialized diagnostic, surgical and treatment services. On its campus are 12 centers offering a full range of comprehensive acute inpatient, surgical and outpatient care. Those specialties include trauma, orthopaedics, molecular medicine, cardiopulmonary, vascular, gastroenterology, neurosciences and oncology.
100 Reasons: The train history of Decatur
Decatur’s rail history is substantial, dating all the way back to 1834, when Gov. Joseph Duncan proposed a transportation network that included a train line through Decatur.
The Great Western Railroad and Illinois Central raced to build a system of tracks, and the first train arrived in Decatur in April 1854, sparking a wave of development. The former agriculture community went from a population of 1,500 to 20,000 by 1907. The ribbons of parallel steel did their job, bringing commerce far and wide.
“The coming of the railroads … had much to do with making Decatur a possibility. Being an inland town, away from the arteries of trade, there was nothing to materially assist its growth. The crossing of the Illinois Central and Wabash lines within the limits of the city made the place of some importance,” the Decatur Herald wrote in 1907.
Electric streetcar service started in 1889. The Transfer House, designed by William W. Boyington, designer of the Chicago Water Tower, was built in 1896 at Main and Main streets to accommodate passengers. It was busy place, with high visibility, so much that President William Howard Taft in 1911 delivered a speech there.
The railroad also was Decatur’s largest employer for nearly a century and was the reason Augustus Staley brought his company, A.E. Staley Manufacturing, here in 1912. In 1920, the Wabash Railroad Co. employed 3,500, and the city was a hub for operations.
The arrival of the automobile seriously hampered train business. And in 1974, a gas explosion at the Norfolk & Western rail yard killed seven railroad workers and injured more than 100 people.
Remnants of that train history remain. The Wabash Depot on East Cerro Gordo Street now sells antiques. The Transfer House, with its red roof and octagonal shape, in the 1960s was relocated from Lincoln Square to Central Park. It became the city symbol in 2001.
Another piece of history is the massive Wabash Railroad Bridge over Lake Decatur near Faries Park, one of the largest reinforced concrete structures in the world when it was completed in December 1907. The bridge took two years to build and cost about $124,000. Lake Decatur actually came 15 years after the bridge was constructed.
Decatur also has three rail yards near each other and several large multinational industrial and manufacturing companies. Trains going through Decatur service a variety of companies, though ADM and Tate & Lyle are the largest. They carry everything from raw materials, like wood, grain and limestone, to finished food products like high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oil and sucralose, to fuel like ethanol.
“The railroad is an economic engine in Decatur,” CN spokesperson Patrick Waldron said.
100 Reasons: Downtown mixes history, forward movement
Any quintessential Midwestern town has a central square, and downtown Decatur provides a picturesque image to residents and visitors.
The city's history, economy and social life have been centered on this area since its founding in 1829. From the beginning, downtown has been a beacon, gathering residents, creating a sense of community.
A statue at the south end of Merchant Street marks the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave his first political speech. Not too far away is the location where he was nominated for president by the Republican Party in 1860. World War II's end was celebrated at Main and Main streets by throngs eager to welcome peace in August 1945.
And as a place to shop, eat and entertain, downtown is still the place to be.
The restaurants, brew houses and shops make for a fun destination for local residents and visitors to enjoy their friends, families and neighbors. The downtown provides a one-stop location to buy clothing, visit a barber or beautician, seek out a specialty shop and stop in for lunch or dinner, all with free parking.
Downtown Decatur has always been a place for community events such as the Decatur Celebration in August, concerts in Central Park, art shows and even a calm space for people to eat lunch on a nice day. And the parades, such as Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, Labor Day and Celebration, line downtown streets with crowds.
The Senator Severns Transit Center is a hub of activity, conveniently located near the Post Office and within walking distance of the Decatur Civic Center, home to city offices, and other services.
The city of Decatur put in a good deal of effort to ensure the downtown represents the city and its residents, finishing renovations in recent years to downtown streets, sidewalks, parking and Central Park.
100 Reasons: Mueller's inventions still significant today
After emigrating to Illinois from Germany in 1832, Hieronymus Mueller was looking for a railroad town to settle in and picked Decatur.
His started H. Mueller Gun Shop in 1857, but soon began expanding it, adding locksmithing and sewing machine repair. By 1871, he had been appointed Decatur’s first city plumber to oversee the installation of a water distribution system.
It was as a plumber that Mueller began inventing. In 1872, he designed the Mueller Water Tapper, which became the standard in plumbing. By 1885, the name of the company was changed to Mueller Co., and by 1895, it moved to where it still stands at Eldorado and Edward streets.
Though it’s no longer headquartered in Decatur — Mueller Co. is now based in Chattanooga, Tennessee — it remains one of market leaders in plumbing, with the Mueller Water Tapper still the basis of what’s used to control water flow today.
If the water tapper had been Mueller’s only invention, he’d still have been significant. But Mueller was just beginning. He and his sons went on to produce 501 patented inventions, including water pressure regulators — Mueller valves were used in the Panama Canal — faucet designs, the first sanitary drinking fountain, a roller skate design and a bicycle kick-stand.
In 1892, Mueller turned to cars. At first, his efforts were utter failure. But eventually his improvements on the German Benz led to the “Mueller-Benz,” which won the first unofficial road race in the nation in 1895 and finished 2nd in the the first official race held a few weeks later in Chicago.
Even after Mueller’s death in 1900, Mueller Co. remained a vital part of the Decatur economy for much of the 20th century.
In 1995, the Hieronymus Mueller Museum was founded by his descendants, and in 2005 a permanent facility was built next to the Mueller Co. factory on East Eldorado that displays artifacts, memorabilia and library materials chronicling Mueller’s life and significant contributions.
100 Reasons: Preston Jackson's African-American soldier monument
World-renowned artist Preston Jackson credits his family and a couple of teachers, Justine Bleeks, his Stephen Decatur High School art teacher, and Marvin Klaven, his Millikin University professor, for helping him along the path of the art world.
"I was very grateful, very grateful for (my education in Decatur)," he recalled in a 2009 interview.
One of his most prominent works is found in the Water Street Plaza park. According to Decatur's Public Works Director Rick Marley, the monument is the only public work of its kind outside Washington, D.C., that pays tribute to African-American Civil War soldiers.
The work was commissioned by the city and created by Jackson over six months. It was unveiled in 2009.
The bronze sculpture placed on Brazilian granite depicts the progression of African-Americans climbing from bondage in plantation cotton fields to their enlistment in the Union Army, where all-black regiments fought on the front lines in several important battles.
On the side facing east, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are featured above a marching regiment of black Union troops. Jackson said in 2009, when the monument was unveiled, that the name inscribed to one soldier, "Ned Williams," was an homage to a real-life figure in Decatur he knew growing up here.
In his search for subjects for paintings and sculptures, Jackson said in a 2010 interview examines historical photographs and documents, looking for the faces that cry out to have their stories told.
When this nation suffers through times of anxiety or division, it's truly unique for downtown Decatur to have this monument to African-Americans of the Civil War who made a difference through their sacrifice.
100 Reasons: Brian Culbertson's smooth jazz comes from Decatur roots
One could say music is in the veins of Brian Culbertson – and certainly the DNA.
Culbertson, an award-winning rhythm and blues/jazz pianist and trombonist, is the son of Jim Culbertson, who taught music for four decades in the Decatur public schools system.
A Decatur native, Brian Culbertson showed a gift for musician as a youngster, learning piano by 8 and drums, trombone, bass and euphonium by 12. He started composing original music for his seventh grade piano recital.
He studied at DePaul University in Chicago and won the 2001 Smooth Jazz Award for best keyboardist, 2005 American Society of Young Musicians' All That Jazz Award and numerous Downbeat magazine student awards for performance and composition, among many others.
Over the years, he’s become known for his prolific body of work.
"It's not like a regular job where you work 9 to 5 and go home and spend time with the family,” he said in a 2004 interview with the Herald & Review. “That ain't happening. It's a 24-hour-a-day job. I'm thinking about music all the time. I'll be up at 2 in the morning working, then have to be back in the studio at 8 the next morning.”
He has released 16 studio and live albums, as well as created Brian Culbertson’s Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, a showcase of top smooth jazz musicians presented each year in California.
100 Reasons: Crossing's prescription produce a new way to treat diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is a growing problem nationwide, and particularly among low-income populations — the primary clientele at Crossing Healthcare, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Decatur.
Looking for a way to address the problem, Crossing dietitians Allison Raiha and Elizabeth Shuff came up with the idea of a prescription produce program for their diabetes patients.
With help from Good Samaritan Inn’s Mercy Gardens/Decatur Is Growing Gardeners program, Crossing started its own garden across the street from its health center on 320 Central Ave., and began its prescription produce program last year.
Using produce from that garden, as well as Good Samaritan’s Inn’s gardens and food purchased from the Central Illinois Foodbank, the first year 20 patients were hand-selected by Crossing staff based on their social determinants. Raiha said more than half lost weight and nearly half experienced lower blood sugar.
This year, the program was expanded and has 43 patients, with a goal to double that. In addition to the free produce, patients are also given recipes that match that week’s produce, which can include — among other things — tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce, zucchini, watermelon, strawberries and other fruits. Crossing also holds cooking demonstrations to show patients healthy ways to prepare the food.
“If you have someone in what’s known as a food desert, you have to start at the bottom and prescribe produce,” Crossing Healthcare Director Tanya Andricks said in 2016. “You have to address that need before you can ever address the diabetes.
“The trajectory for those people in the program has now changed. Over time, we’re hoping they stay healthier longer and have better outcomes with their diabetes and heart health.”
100 Reasons: Decatur-Forsyth Classic a women's golf staple
For more than three decades, women's professional golf has found an enthusiastic welcome in Central Illinois.
In its 33rd year, the LPGA Symetra Tour's Decatur-Forsyth Classic has been a testament to the hospitality and can-do spirit of the volunteers and park district employees who have made it happen.
Hosted by Hickory Point Golf Course, the event has had many different sponsors through the years, but the spirit is always the same. Cindy Deadrick-Wolfer is the current director as the event has reached a $130,000 purse and operates with a budget of more than $200,000 made possible by local sponsors.
Brett Lasky, Symetra Tour strategic media partnerships manager, said Hickory Point is a public golf course at a championship level.
“This tournament goes above and beyond to make sure that it feels like a big event for these players,” he said. “They roll out the red carpet and make the women feel special.”
Teri Hammel, executive director for Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and tournament committee member for 21 years, said the community's hard work and hospitality are part of the tournament's appeal.
“We put on a great show for them,” she said. “And they love the course and the way it is laid out.”
Many of the women who play in the Decatur-Forsyth Classic go on to greater things on the LPGA Tour. They often stay with host families eager to open their doors and share their company.
Hammel noted the tournament's economic impact on the area as well during this year's event: the golfers, staff, families and other visitors utilize the hotels, restaurant, gas stations and shopping areas.
The Decatur-Forsyth Classic is now the longest-running stop on the Symetra Tour.
100 Reasons: Lake Decatur is more than just a source of water
Since its construction in the 1920s as a water source for the city's growing industry, Lake Decatur has become a prime location for fishing, sailing and other opportunities for fun along the shoreline.
Spanning 2,800 acres, the Illinois Office of Tourism said Lake Decatur is the state's largest artificial body of water. Areas like Lake Shore Drive and the Nelson Park marina are perfect spots to view the lake's shimmering waters at both day and night.
Nelson Park visitors can also catch glimpse of the lake by visiting the Beach House Restaurant, or by stopping by the brand new 9/11 memorial. In addition to the sights, special events like the Shoreline Classic, the Polar Plunge and the Rodney T. Miller Lakeside Triathlon have brought in big crowds over the years.
In 2012, the lake was threatened with a historic and severe water shortage, which could have devastated the region if conditions didn't improve.
“There was a little bit of a feeling of helplessness and things being out of your control,” former City Manager Ryan McCrady told the Herald & Review in August.
To combat the issue, city officials implemented a multi-year, $91 million dredging project. Seven years later, McCrady said that Decatur is now equipped to handle any future droughts with "plans as opposed to panic."
100 Reasons: Midwest Inland Port connects Decatur to world
Developing the Midwest Inland Port is providing the opportunity to establish a connection between Decatur and destinations around the world.
The Midwest Inland Port is set up as an entity of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County. City officials have lauded it for years as key to Decatur’s economic development.
The concept of the inland port was rolled out in September 2013 as the 280-acre Archer Daniels Midland Co. intermodal rail facility opened. Since then, as it has in the past, the area's vast transportation network provides the ability for companies in Decatur to grow.
Three of the country's seven major Class I railroads run through Decatur, which puts it in a unique position. Those railroads are Canadian National, Norfolk Southern and CSX. As it has in the past, railroads, lead a multifaceted transportation hub capable of delivering the goods for Central Illinois and the world.
In order for the concept to be successful, companies have the ability to utilize the area's noncongested highway infrastructure and Decatur Airport, in addition to rail. The port's website notes companies doing business here have access to more than 95 million people within 500 miles for same-day delivery service.
Members of the port's development group include Archer Daniels Midland Co., Ameren Illinois, Canadian National, Decatur Memorial Hospital, Clayco, OmniTrax and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
100 reasons: Beck tennis tournament offers glimpse of the future
Today, Kevin Anderson is the 15th ranked men's tennis player in the world, fresh off an appearance in the finals of the U.S. Open.
His tennis career has taken him all over the world. He's participated in all of the Grand Slam tournaments. Among his stops, two appearances – in 2005 and 2006 – in the USTA/Ursula Beck Men’s Pro Tennis Classic in Decatur.
The tournament, held for the 19th time this year, brings 96 tennis players from more than 20 countries to the city in late July and early August.
Tournament Director Chuck Kuhle was spurred to establish a local professional tournament by two things – nearby Champaign having attracted one to their community and Decatur's success hosting a professional golf tournament.
“It got me thinking. Why can't we have a tennis tournament here?”
In his 1999 proposal to the Decatur Park District Board seeking its blessing to host the tournament at its facility, Kuhle wrote: "Hosting a tournament of this size would create more enthusiasm for the game through pro-ams, junior tennis carnivals, meet-the-pro cocktail parties as well as viewing the tournament. In addition, our city could use the tournament for a charity fundraiser."
The first major hurdle was the speed in which it all came together. Expecting a year to organize his first tournament, the U.S. Tennis Association asked if he could make it happen in three months.
“We pulled it off,” Kuhle said. “Now it runs like a well-oiled machine.”
One of the first calls he got after announcing plans to seek the tournament came from Decatur businessman Darrell Beck, who offered immediate financial support. The tournament is named after Beck's wife, Ursula, an avid tennis player who took great pride in helping to bring an event of this type to Decatur. While both have since passed, the family's support of the tournament continues.
In addition to any boost the tournament has given the local economy through things like hotel and restaurant sales, some of the tournament proceeds have been used to support the continuation of tennis in the community.
100 Reasons: Chicken car a Decatur marketing staple
Bill Krekel opened his eponymous restaurant more than 50 years ago -- and the iconic Krekelburger was born.
But it wasn’t until later that the idea for the similarly iconic “chicken car” came. A marketing gem was hatched.
“Anyone who sees that car going down the road or parked in front of the business would think of Krekel's,” Troy Teel, a Krekel grandson, told the Herald & Review in 2014. “That was the idea, and it worked.”
They’re hard to miss. The patriotic cars are painted red, white and blue, with a fiberglass rooster head, mouth agape, and tail behind. While Krekel's may be more known for burgers and custard than chicken, the cars catch the attention of passersby – especially kids.
Indie folk singer Sufjan Stevens even mentions “Chickenmobile with your rooster tail” in his 2005 song “Decatur or round of applause for your stepmother!”
Krekel, whose chain of burger stands has grown to include multiple locations, was known to loan the cars for parades and weddings. His 2003 funeral procession naturally featured the chicken Cadillacs.
“Everybody smiles when they see those cars,” said Teel. “And really, I think that is what Bill Krekel enjoyed most about them.”
100 Reasons: Rock Springs a natural treasure
DECATUR — The natural beauty of Macon County is preserved within the Rock Springs Conservation Area, a treasure that brings to life the area's prairie heritage through modern conservation efforts.
The flowing prairie grass, pine tree plantation and grain mill are great places to learn about the natural history of the Decatur area just to the southwest of the city. The first settlers of the region and their way of life are represented, as are the plants and animals that call the area home.
Want to go fishing, hiking, bird watching or biking? A quiet, picturesque place to picnic? As part of the Macon County Conservation District, Rock Springs offers it all and more year-round.
The restored 19th century farmhouse with its heirloom garden, the site of Miller’s Mill along the Sangamon River and the vintage 19th-century base ball team at Trobaugh Field bring to life days gone by. Activities hosted throughout the year, such as the Festival of Spring and Independence Day 1860, showcase all these for visitors from throughout the region.
And Rock Springs Nature Center at 3939 Nearing Lane sits as a jewel in the middle of it all. The nature center provides hands-on learning for the whole family. Classes, demonstrations and workshops are scheduled throughout the year.
The Ecocenter exhibits are designed to explore the natural history of Macon County. The Window on Wildlife offers a view of the woods and overlooks the bird feeding area. An art gallery, library, classrooms and theater extend the center's education reach.
Since 1969, when Rock Springs was the first piece of land acquired by the conservation district, it has become a place to live, learn and play — indoors and outdoors — for all ages.
100 Reasons: Sportsman's Park scenic hangout on city's southeast side
Located on the city’s southeast side, Sportsman's Park offers a perfect spot to fish, picnic, interact with wildlife or simply take in the beauty of nature.
The 28-acre park off Lost Bridge Road encompasses multiple acres of thick wooded property, as well as a small pond and several benches along the shoreline of what is known as the Big Creek area of Lake Decatur. A long, gravel-covered breakwater juts into the lake, leading to a pavilion surrounded by water that's a popular spot for fishing. The city’s multiyear, $91 million dredging project swept through last year, deepening the water several feet.
The park was once home to the Macon County Sportsmen’s Club at 3415 E. Lost Bridge Road, according to Herald & Review newspaper archives. Activities from square dancing to hunting safety courses were held in the clubhouse building through the 1980s.
The Decatur Park District purchased the two-story building in 1983, and it was being razed two years later when fire caused an estimated $3,000 to $5,000 worth of damage, according to according to a Nov. 20, 1985 edition of the Herald & Review.
With two parking lots, one clearly visible from Lost Bridge Road and another tucked next to the lake, the park is also a convenient spot for teenagers to park their cars and hang out, or for anyone looking for a good solo lunch spot.
The park is also home to the Schaub Floral Display Center and greenhouse, where the Decatur Park District staff grow hundreds of plants each year. The horticulture center opened in 2003, and the greenhouse followed in 2012. Hundreds of people visit annually for seasonal plant sales before Mother’s Day, Christmas and other occasions.
100 reasons: Behold the Decatur cheese toastie
Oh sure, there are "grilled cheeses" and "paninis," but in these parts such sandwiches have a different name – the "cheese toastie."
They are modest affairs, really. No frills.
Two bread slices.
There’s a reason the cheese toastie is probably one of the first meals we made growing up. It’s pretty hard to mess up.
The best ones are gooey and delectably rich – a classic comfort food heavy on the umami flavor profiles of youngster lunch and college late-night snacks.
Tomato soup is a preferred companion. Dipping is ideal.
Behold the cheese toastie.
Chicago has its Italian beef and deep dish pizza. St. Louis has toasted ravioli and thin-crust pizza. Philadelphia has cheese steaks. We have the cheese toastie.
It’s not clear how it got that name of uniquely Central Illinois nomenclature.
Don’t ask for a cheese toastie in Scranton or Des Moines. Your odds are slim of getting that order right. You may just get some cheese and toast.
April is National Grilled Cheese Month, but according to our research, there is no National Cheese Toastie Month. That’s because we all know there’s never a bad day for a cheese toastie.
100 Reasons: Decatur Club a major contributor to what makes Decatur great
If the walls of The Decatur Club could talk, oh the stories they could tell.
But they don't have to. The fruits of many of those conversations over can be seen can be seen throughout the community.
Lake Decatur. Millikin University. Decatur Memorial Hospital. The Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce.
All of these ventures – which we look upon today as jewels of our community -- can trace their roots back to The Decatur Club and its civic-minded members.
The Decatur Club was founded on May 23, 1883, as a male-member-only organization of business and professional men to promote the business interests of Decatur and the enjoyment of club members.
One of the first orders of business of the newly formed group was dealing with the right of way through Decatur of the Indianapolis, Decatur and Springfield railway, which would become the B&O.
“Some of the biggest business deals in town have probably been done on a Decatur Club napkin,” said Jeff Ingle, its general manager.
The Decatur Club had several homes in its early years, but has been at its current location at Prairie Avenue and Church Street since 1930. The grand opening was held on Jan. 1, 1931, likely the first of the many galas, weddings and meetings that have followed.
The club, like its community namesake, has seen many changes over the years.
In addition to getting a new facility, 1931 also saw a change in the bylaws that allowed unmarried women to become members.
There has been a gradual move over the years away from being a members-only club, allowing more community access to the facility and the many services it offers.
While membership still has its privileges, Ingle said efforts have been made in recent years to promote the facility as the place to go for fine dining to private business meetings, wine dinners to weddings.
A popular addition is the Wednesday Business Buffet.
“We do everything,” Ingle said.
100 Reasons: Decatur Public Library has long history of success in community
Decatur’s first library opened in 1875, though it had its roots in the local Ladies Library Association that was founded eight years earlier.
The first librarian was Richard L. Evans, who saw nearly immediate success. Book borrowers numbered 1,524 in the first year and 2,100 in the second. Evans reported 53,153 visitors at the end of the second year, with more unregistered.
Evans was assisted by his wife, Alice G. Evans, who took over after he died in 1881 and ran the library for more than 50 years until 1925. In her contributions, Alice Evans’ portrait is prominently displayed on the wall outside the library administrative offices on the second floor.
The library's first location was the M.E. Schroeder building on East Prairie Avenue, which housed 1,600 books and a few magazines and papers, according to newspaper archives.
In 1901, Andrew Carnegie announced he would donate $60,000 for the construction of a new library in Decatur, which was built at 457 N. Main St. The city of Decatur paid a remaining $19,000 in project and site costs. It opened on July 1, 1903.
In need of a larger facility, the library moved in 1971 to the former Sears building at 247 E. North St. The former Carnegie library was torn down the following year.
The library moved again in 1999 to its current location, also a former Sears store, at 130 N. Franklin St. In June 2015, the library celebrated the opening of a new local history room. In May of this year it opened self-checkout kiosks, another step toward what City Librarian Rick Meyer described as a modernized system to help customers.
100 Reasons: George Halas' Hall of Fame career began in Decatur
George Halas is forever "Papa Bear," the man who founded the Chicago Bears as the Decatur Staleys in 1920.
Company teams, particularly baseball, were common in the early 20th century, as wealthy owners sought a certain prestige for their firms. A.E. Staley Sr. was no exception, but he also had his eye on a new sport — football. Halas moved to Decatur and lived at 280 W. William St., according to the city's street directory.
On Sept. 17, 1920, the Staleys, with Halas as their representative, joined the American Professional Football Association, which was renamed the National Football League in 1922. The franchise fee was $100 ($1,225 in today's money). The Bears today are worth $2.7 billion, according to Forbes.
From the start, Halas' team, for which he was also a player, proved formidable. Representing Decatur in such sister Midwestern cities as Akron, Rock Island, Dayton and Canton, the team went 10-1-2. The Staleys' first game Oct. 3, 1920, was a 20-0 win over the Moline Universal Tractors in Decatur.
In 1921, the team moved to Chicago, keeping the Staleys name for one year before becoming the Bears in 1922.
Halas served the Bears as an owner, player, coach, general manager, traveling secretary and in virtually every other capacity imaginable from 1920 until his death in 1983.
When he retired after the 1967 season, he ranked as the all-time leader in coaching victories with 324, a record that stood for 27 years. He won eight NFL championships, and his beloved Bears won Super Bowl XX following the 1985 season.
Halas is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, but it all started for him and the Chicago Bears with the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. in the Pride of the Prairie, Decatur.
100 Reasons: The Avon Theatre still a treasure in downtown
The Avon Theatre opened with its first movie, "The Fall of the Nation," on Nov. 28, 1916. More than 100 years later, audiences continue to travel to the downtown the theater to catch the latest flick.
During the early 1900s, vaudeville houses were the rage. Because the Avon was created as a movie theater, much of Decatur's entertainment audience didn't understand why anyone would build such a beautiful theater as a movie palace with elaborate details and comfortable seating.
According to current owner Skip Houston, it was always meant to be a movie theater.
"The Avon wants to show movies," he said for an H&R article celebrating the 100th anniversary.
The Avon was among seven other downtown movie theaters a century ago. Only two theater buildings survived, with the Avon as the only currently working movie house.
The Avon had its share of struggles through the years. Houston purchased the business 20 years ago after others failed to utilize the building.
Forty years ago, multiplex theaters were built in the areas outside of the city and they took movie fans with them. Many downtown businesses felt the pain as customers traveled to other areas for entertainment and shopping.
By the 1990s, downtown Decatur was nearly empty.
Previous owners of the theater attempted other entertainment businesses, such as live shows and a dollar-movie theater. None proved to be successful.
Houston approached the empty theater with the idea of bringing it back to life.
"I would drive past and see the closed-up old Avon," he said. "I thought I could do something with that."
He and his family approached the building with caution and an open mind. As an employee worked on a projector, it came to life displaying a leftover movie. The family had decided at that moment to bring back movies to the Avon.
During the last 20 years, the Avon has expanded to the building next door, adding two more theaters referred to as the Twins. They continue to play first-run movies and plan for another 100 years.
100 Reasons: Schaub Floral Display Center a perfect place to plant oneself
For nearly 15 years, the Schaub Floral Display Center has been a one-stop-shop to see the greens for any season.
The rows of unique plants at the center, located in Sportsman’s Park on the southeast part of Decatur, serves as the propagation and storage center for trees, shrubs and flowers planted in parks across the community.
The original 2,400-square-foot-building was completed in 2003 after officials discussed building a horticulture center since the late 1970s. Its completion was made possible through grants and a generous gift from the former Lindsay-Schaub newspapers and from the center’s namesake, Robert D. Schaub, whose grandfather, Howard C. Schaub, was the first president of the Decatur Park Board of Commissioners.
Since opening, the center has been a popular destination for those wanting to view its plant sales and its seasonal displays.
The center has bloomed in size with the addition of the outdoor Norma Schaub Memorial Garden in 2013, which has become a hotspot for small gatherings, photo opportunities, and weddings. The center also has a greenhouse where thousands of plants of all types are grown year-long.
100 Reasons: Howard Buffett invests himself in doing good
DECATUR – From food security to public safety, there isn't much that escapes the astonishing generosity of Decatur-based philanthropist Howard G. Buffett.
Born the son of one of the richest men in the history of mankind – investor phenomenon Warren Buffett – Howard G. Buffett clearly had a golden spoon in his mouth. But he's taken the advantages he's been given and turned them into a massive worldwide organization for doing good in the shape of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, of which the 62-year-old namesake is chairman and CEO.
Established in 1999, the foundation has spent millions of dollars on crop development and other programs to safeguard food security for some of the poorest people on Earth. The caring extends to wildlife, too, with much being done to help endangered exotic creatures like mountain gorillas, often at great personal risk. During a helicopter ride over Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, a machine gun round hit directly under where Buffett was sitting.
Park rangers trying to protect the gorillas are getting killed fighting some 40 rebel groups. Buffett said he can't understand the rangers' task if he doesn't share it. “I don't think much about it,” he said of the danger when talking to the Herald & Review in 2016. “I'm going to go where I need to go.”
Back home, he still likes a walk on the wild side, volunteering as an auxiliary Macon County Sheriff's Department deputy and often riding with his good friend, Sheriff Tom Schneider. Buffett's fascination with the issue of enhancing public safety has seen his foundation give everything from $15 million to fund the new Macon County Law Enforcement Training Center, to a recent gift of $1 million to support the Dove domestic violence program.
The foundation's generosity also funds plenty of other quality of life issues, too, with so many projects it would take pages and pages to list them all. Instead, a few foundation highlights over the last few years: a $1.2 million donation to the Decatur Salvation Army; a $3 million grant to create a new attraction at the Children's Museum of Illinois; $3.9 million to build a new amphitheater in Nelson Park; $2 million to extend the Scovill Zoo train track.
The foundation never loses sight of its global reach, however, not only taking on hunger but also working to end conflict because Buffett says war feeds the growth of hunger. Asked if he ever felt like giving up on these monumental tasks, Buffett recalled what a woman from genocide-ravaged Rwanda had said to him when he once voiced his own doubts about making progress.
“...She said 'Howard, you can't give up on people who have already been given up on so many times before.' I've never forgotten that.”
100 Reasons: The bridges of Lake Decatur
At dawn and dusk, there are few places better to appreciate the splendor of Lake Decatur than on one of the bridges.
Sure, the scenery is beautiful from the shore and on boats – the tree line, the choppy waves, the sun reflecting off the surface. But there’s something about being on a bridge that seems to make it all the more striking.
It’s a contrasting view that’s less than a century old. Lake Decatur was built in 1922 as a source of water for the city and industry, of course.
Mayor Charles M. Borchers used a silver spade for the ceremonial ground-breaking on July 15, 1920, and according to a souvenir booklet from the lake’s dedication, he “cooperated in the purchase of the hundreds of tracts of land, and his fairness, knowledge of real estate values and skill as a negotiator saved the city and company both time and money."
It was a big project. Crews dug the 2,800-acre reservoir in a serpentine shape out of the main channel of the Sangamon River, from near Kirby Road out to North Baltimore Avenue and South Shores – a huge footprint.
The size and contour means bridges are a necessary byproduct. Imagine having to drive around the lake for every cross-city trip.
Each is unique. There’s curving Lost Bridge Road offering views of Chandler Park and shoreline homes; the U.S. 36 bridge beside Nelson Park, railroad trestle and Staley Club House; the busy south Franklin-Main street interchange near South Shores; the East William Street span; and the rural Reas Bridge Road at the far north end.
Some of those bridges today offer views of the ongoing effort to dredge the lake and remove sediment. The $91 million project will expand the capacity. Work is scheduled to finish in 2020.
A plan also in place to expand the lake crossing on Reas Bridge Road as part of the Macon County Beltway, a proposed a bypass around the city’s east side for trucks. Officials see it as a critical economic development project and job-creator.
The work would address structural issues with the bridge and expand it from two lanes to four.
"It's ballpark, but probably easily a few hundred jobs for the first part of it, probably it would take a couple years at least for the bridge," Laborers' Local 159 Business Manager Joe Riley said in July.
The result would allow for more traffic, meaning more drivers would get a chance to see the natural beauty that is Lake Decatur.
100 Reasons: Icon For Hire hit the charts via Decatur
Icon For Hire started its climb to the Billboard music charts in a Decatur club.
The band's first shows were at Wake The Dead, the now-defunct music venue on East Eldorado Street.
In 2009, Icon For Hire won a Herald & Review Battle of the Bands competition that landed them their first stage appearance at Decatur Celebration. Shortly after that show, they began touring the country, piling into a van and crisscrossing the United States for hundreds of gigs, including a pair of appearances on the Vans Warped tour.
The band's fortunes were almost short-circuited before they began. As they were to begin recording demos for what would be their debut album, guitar player Shawn Jump faced a medical emergency.
He was crippled by thoracic outlet syndrome, which in his case prevented blood from returning to his heart from his arm via veins. For the treatment, Jump had a vein taken from his leg and transplanted into his arm. To enable surgical success, Jump had muscles in his neck and his first rib removed from his body.
Fronted by singer and songwriter Ariel, Icon For Hire's first two albums made the Billboard charts, but even that and constant touring was not enough to keep the band solvent. In a 10-month period starting in June 2015, the band issues with their record label came to a boil, and Icon For Hire declared itself bankrupt to escape a contract.
Drummer Adam Kronshagen left the band (on good terms) a few months later to devote more time to his family. Jump developed a drinking problem that was addressed with two months of rehab.
But the band wound up with one of the top Kickstarter music campaigns of 2016, and that led to their most recent album, “You Can't Kill Us.”
100 Reasons: Macon County Fair provides summer fun for all
For more than 150 years, crowds have flocked to the Macon County Fair for all of the fun, excitement and, of course, corn dogs and funnel cakes that be enjoyed on a hot summer day.
Established in 1856, the fair spent years bouncing around at several area locations before finding a permanent home at the Macon County Fairgrounds in 1954.
Spanning 50 acres, boasting 18 facilities and a half-mile racetrack, the fairgrounds at 3700 North Westlawn Avenue have since become a hotspot for tractor pulls, pageants and carnival rides.
While the public's interest in the fair has remained steady over the years, there was a time when organizers were briefly concerned about the event's future. In 2014, the fair board was forced to make several cutbacks to the event's budget in order to lower its $400,000 worth of debt.
The changes appear to have worked, as this year's fair debuted to rave reviews and a boost in attendance. Many popular acts and exhibits that were once cut from the festivities have returned to the fairgrounds, and the air of concern surrounding the annual event has turned into excitement for what's to come.
"The pageant, tractor pulls, rodeo. I think it's the entertainment that's bringing people out," Matt Hausberger, a food vendor for Pig Out Concessions, told the Herald & Review earlier this year. "It is on the uptick for sure."
100 Reasons: Cubs-Cards rivalry: The line of demarcation
Study a map and you’ll never see it. There is no official Mason-Dixon Line when it comes to the imaginary fence that separates one group of baseball fanatics from another.
But when it comes to the simmering rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, Central Illinois is where the battle line is drawn. Decatur is the logical line of demarcation.
When Festus Paul owned “Paul’s Puttin’ Place,” a miniature golf operation in Nelson Park, each summer he let patrons vote for their favorite team — Cubs or Cards — by depositing their colored golf ball into one hole or another.
He used to say that the annual vote would vary. “If the Cardinals are doing well, they’ll win,” he said. “If the Cubs are having a good year, they’ll win.”
Translation: It’s an almost dead even split, spiking in visibility and verve based on current team performance.
These days you’ll see an awful lot of Cubs apparel bouncing around town, much of it still celebrating the team’s 2016 World Series championship. But there’s no shortage of Cardinals T-shirts, caps and hoodies because over the years, the Cardinals have won 11 World Series, the Cubs have three titles.
When it comes to winning, the Cardinals — and their fans — simply have more practice
Each team helped build its substantial local fan following through the media.
For decades, the Cardinals have cultivated a multi-state fan base through the powerful reach of its flagship radio station, KMOX, and a broad list of affiliates.
The Cubs helped build their own following through the radio and TV arms of WGN. Now, cable, satellite and internet signals bring every Cubs and Cardinals game to Central Illinois sports watchers.
For every den or “man cave” that is boldly decorated with the theme of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock or Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals, there seems to be one that rejoices in Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs.
For the most part, these residents of Central Illinois are able to coexist peaceably. There’s the requisite amount of trash talking and water cooler bluster, but even in “split homes” we rarely hear of it getting downright nasty.
Oh, yes, there are split homes, where love somehow trumped team loyalty and managed to bring a Cardinal fan and a Cub fan together in sickness and in health, ’til death do they part.
Once again we’re in the midst of a baseball season where Cubs fans and Cardinals fans could go at it right up to the end of the start of October.
When the Cubs won it all last season, Cardinals fans could shrug it off as a once-in-every-108-years occurrence. But if the Cubs win it all again in 2017, well …
Here where the battle line is drawn. Here is where another title might test the bonds of our baseball friendship.
100 Things: Decatur Power Tumblers put on a show
When the Old King's Orchard Community Center opened in 2001, it meant a whole new resource for children and families in the area — tutoring, summer programs, and Decatur's own tumbling team.
The Decatur Power Tumblers have since moved to the Decatur Family YMCA, but their affiliation with the Jesse White Tumblers, and their public performances at events in Decatur have not ceased.
From Decatur Celebration to National Night Out and the city's parades throughout the year, the Decatur Power Tumblers are always a crowd favorite. The performers are as young as early grade school age to teenagers. Secretary of State Jesse White, a former gymnast who sponsors a nationally known tumbling team, has visited Decatur to see our Power Tumblers in action.
The young men are accomplished at jumping through a hoop, jumping over a hoop, somersaulting, performing the pyramid trick with four members, being launched from a trampoline. They're athletic and eager to please.
Joyce Keller, a longtime community activist and volunteer in Decatur has been the champion of the Decatur Power Tumblers since their inception 16 years ago. In that time dozens of young Decatur boys have turned into men under the guidance of coaches, volunteers and Keller.
This story has been corrected to reflect the Decatur Power Tumblers are now part of the Decatur Family YMCA.
100 reasons: Sierra Boggess docked at Millikin en route to Broadway
Sierra Boggess came to Decatur and Millikin University from Denver, Colorado, and left Decatur to become one of the most visibly successful Millikin alumni on Broadway.
After finishing her time at Millikin in 2004, Boggess appeared in a number of regional productions, including spending a pair of summers performing at The Little Theatre-On the Square in Sullivan. Before her Broadway debut, Boggess made a national splash as one of two Christines in the Las Vegas Ventian's special adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera.”
From there, she became the second former Millikin student to have a connection to “The Little Mermaid.” Jodi Benson did the voice of Ariel in the 1989 movie, and Boggess originated the role of Ariel in the 2008 Broadway musical.
While performing in the Las Vegas “Phantom of the Opera,” she met composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote the play's music. He wrote the “Phantom of the Opera” sequel, “Love Never Dies,” for Boggess. She premiered her role and the musical in London in West End in 2010.
Boggess performed Christine in the Broadway version of “Phantom of the Opera” twice. She was in a production of the longest-running show in Broadway history in separate runs in 2013 and 2014.
Boggess appeared in a pair of plays with Tyne Daly. In 2011, the pair worked together in “Master Class,” and they were both part of the original cast of the 2015 musical “It Shoulda Been You.”
Boggess' most recent Broadway role was originating the role of Rosalie in “School of Rock – The Musical,” a musical version of the film “School of Rock.”
100 reasons: The Nashville sound's Decatur roots
The saxophone legend known as “Boots” Randolph came to Decatur in 1948 and played with the band Dink Welch's Kopy Kats. His venues included the Decatur Cocktail Lounge and Parkway Inn, which became the launching pad for an explosive career that eventually made Randolph a central part of the so-called “Nashville Sound” typified by Tammy Wynette and Jim Reeves.
He recorded more than 40 albums and as a session musician, his work appears on Elvis Presley's "Return to Sender," Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree," Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman” and REO Speedwagon's "Little Queenie," among many others.
"I just play pretty melodies and once in a while go off on that jazz thing,” he said in a 2001 interview.
But it was his rendition of “Yakety Sax" that put Randolph on the map. The song, with its topsy-turvy arpeggio sequences, became a popular soundtrack choice for situations involving bedlam — or in the case of “Benny Hill,” ridiculous, fast-moving chase sequences. It was used on the British show for two decades.
"It rejuvenated the song," said Randolph, who played with the Army Band during World War II. "So many people know it from the show."
The Guardian newspaper said the iconic song was written while Randolph was working at a nightclub in Decatur. It was, the newspaper said, a take on the novelty track “Yakety Yak” that made Randolph destined for stardom.
“A tape of their tune was sent to Chet Atkins, the guitarist and head of RCA Records in Nashville,” the newspaper said. “Impressed by Randolph's skill in playing the complex flurry of notes, Atkins hired him.”
Randolph returned to Central Illinois regularly. He played Millikin University in 1990 and Nashville North in Taylorville in 2001, 2002 and 2006.
He died in July 2007 at 80.
The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special …
100 things: Decatur Celebration brings community together
DECATUR — Decatur Celebration is a great time for the community to come together and have some fun, when downtown is transformed into a place where you can lose yourself in outdoor entertainment for three days.
Begun in 1986 as a proposal from original producer Fred Puglia, it has always been a gathering of food, music and the off-beat, a chance to enjoy each other's company among thousands of fellow revelers during the first weekend in August.
It is a opportunity to meet new people and see all the people that live in Decatur all year long as well as visitors, many of whom travel back for this event.
Volunteers, donations and enthusiasm combine to give this festival, which is currently produced by Lori Sturgill, its strong sense of community.
From carnival rides to amazing food, Celebration has something for everyone. The streets fill with festival-goers who make memories that last from year to year of beautiful summer days before school starts and fall creeps in.
The local food favorites and new vendors are always delicious and help widen the palate of a typical Midwestern diet. Alligator on a stick, or deep-fried brownies, anyone?
The musical acts highlight local talent and national stars, which provides a sense of local pride and a chance to see big name acts from the comfort of a street performance in Decatur. Country, Christian, rock, rap, contemporary, classic, Celebration has covered the spectrum to give everyone something to hear.
Whether people go every year or have just visited once, the Decatur Celebration is a surefire way to bring people together in Decatur and remains a point of pride when people talk about their hometown.
100 Reasons: Parochial/private schools serve community
DECATUR — With nine parochial/private schools offering education that ranges from preschool through 12th grade, Decatur families have a variety of options when choosing classroom settings for their children.
Parochial school education goes back more than 160 years in Decatur with the opening of the first Catholic school, but has since developed into a menagerie of opportunities available to all.
Decatur Christian School, Lutheran School Association (LSA) and St. Teresa High School are the city's three private high schools. Decatur Christian moved to the former grade school building in Forsyth in 2009.
Parochial/private elementary schools include Antioch Christian Academy, Decatur Christian, Hillside Bethel Christian School, Holy Family Catholic School, Prairie Flower Montessori, LSA, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School and St. Patrick Catholic School.
The elementary schools generally start with preschool, and most offer classes through eighth grade. LSA and Decatur Christian also provide classes to 12th grade.
St. Patrick is the oldest parochial school in Decatur, having been founded in 1850s as part of the church. The current building situated at 412 N. Jackson St. was erected in 1912.
St. Teresa High School is the oldest parochial high school in the city. Its roots can be traced to St. Patrick Parish, and in 1913 it moved to 2710 N. Water St. By 1930, the school had become co-ed and has since expanded its building.
The city's parochial/private schools are instilled with a sense of faith and service, attributes that have helped the Decatur community throughout its history.
100 Reasons: Richland Community College offers range of programs, training
Local residents first proposed a community college in Decatur in 1967, but the idea failed to win voters' hearts until 1971, when The Community College of Decatur opened, serving the same area as the Decatur School District.
In 1974, legislation passed that expanded the college district to include 13 nearby community unit school districts, and the name was changed to Richland Community College in 1975.
First meeting downtown in a former bank building — and students of the time love to talk about the classes held in the former bank vault — the college moved to Park 101 on the city's northeast side before purchasing the land and constructing the present campus on Brush College Road.
That campus and the college have grown to be a local landmark and destination for career-focused students in every field from medical careers to those pursuing a four-year degree after their first two years at Richland.
The area's Heartland Technical Academy for high school students also meets on Richland's campus, and the college is home to the Farm Progress Show, an international affair, every other year.
The college has always worked closely with area business and industry to provide training for local jobs, vocational training and skills in addition to offering academic courses leading to a baccalaureate degree. Programs range from horticulture to teaching, nursing and business, welding to automotive repair.
100 Reasons: La Gondola feeds the community
Hungry families have known where to go for pasta, bread and delectable Torpedo sandwiches for many years.
A midweek stop at La Gondola Spaghetti House for a bucket of spaghetti has been known to satisfy many hungry households.
Among the community's favorites, having won several Herald & Review Readers Choice Awards, the family-owned La Gondola also is a generous sponsor of community activities.
La Gondola has donated proceeds and food to various organizations, including cancer awareness events, employee appreciation promotions and sponsoring youth sports over the years.
Tony and Mary Couri began the family business 1982 when they purchased a store at 2034 Mount Zion Road. Two years later, they expanded the business with a northside location, which today is at 2825 N. Water St.
La Gondola expanded when it moved from the original Water Street location to a bigger building nearby with more seating.
For 35 years, La Gondola has remained a popular stop by sticking with a recipe that seems to work.
"There are two things that people know us for — our sauce and our bread," Couri told the Herald & Review in 2001. "The secret with the bread is the sweetness. Everybody talks about it."
Popular as ever, La Gondola has remained a constant favorite on the dinner tables of families throughout the Decatur area.
100 Reasons: Illinois Raptor Center helps nature
Illinois Raptor Center Executive Director Jane Seitz sums up the need for the organization in a few words.
Animals at the bottom of the food chain, like rabbits, have lots of babies because most won't survive. Raptors — eagles, hawks and owls — have only a few. Yet when they're injured or sick, because they're fewer in number, they need to be helped just as acutely as furry animals. That's why the Illinois Raptor Center exists.
“We need something for the birds, too,” Seitz said.
Furry animals occasionally stop there, too. Program director Jacques Nuzzo rescued a couple of orphaned baby badgers a year ago. Pogo, a female oppossum, is a permanent resident who will be part of the center's education programs, as she's not able to be released.
Seitz and Nuzzo present raptor education programs that include up-close encounters with owls, peregrines, hawks and even a vulture, along with the star of the show, Kenny the bald eagle. Rehabbing and releasing raptors are the goals, but sometimes birds can't be released and become part of the educational programs.
Seitz joked that if she'd been able to see into the future over 20 years ago, when the center was new, and known what she was getting herself into, she might have run in the other direction. A nonprofit is a lot of work, and rescue is a lot of heartbreak along with the successes.
The center is also working with a University of Illinois program to repopulate endangered ospreys.
Nuzzo discovered the first known nests of peregrines in the area a couple of years ago. An injured golden eagle, rare in this area, was successfully restored to health and released.
The occasional songbird in need of rescue and recovery also ends up there, and a wilderness of bird feeders on the grounds ensure that the wild things in the woods and fields have a place to find food, too.
100 Reasons: Bike trails among Decatur's most popular amenities
The Decatur Park District’s bike trail system is among the most popular amenities in the parks system, used by Decatur residents of every age, race and income level.
The trails began as a one-mile segment in Fairview Park, which opened July 4, 1994, and was constructed on an abandoned rail bed. It connected in 1996 to the 2.2-mile Rock Springs trail created by the Macon County Conservation District.
Park district leaders began planning in 1998 for a four-mile extension running from the west side of Fairview Park to Greendell Park. Construction started in 2010 and was completed in 2011 on that portion of the trail, which bumps up against Stevens Creek as it winds under railroad tracks, near residential neighborhoods and through wooded areas.
In all, seven different trail sections totaling more than 10 miles wind through Decatur, ranging in difficulty from the mostly flat trails near Kiwanis Park to the challenging hills at Rock Springs.
From Rock Springs, the trail connects to Kiwanis Park, then north all the way to Greendell Park. A trail was also created in Lincoln Park.
After years of planning, the park district plans within the next year to connect the Decatur trail to the Forsyth trail at Cresthaven Park. The extension will allow a cyclist to bike uninterrupted from Rock Springs Nature Center in the southern part of Decatur to Forsyth, north of Decatur.
100 Reasons: Millikin University expanded over century in Decatur
Founded more than 110 years ago, Millikin University is nestled among the trees in Decatur's historic West End and has grown by several buildings since its inception.
Originally a Presbyterian university, Millikin includes the Tabor School of Business, the Leighty-Tabor Science Center, Kirkland Fine Arts Center and the renowned School of Music in the Perkinson Music Center.
The university's fine arts department can boast of a host of successful artists, including Christian recording artist Matthew West, whose guitar player Jake Widenhofer is also an alumnus. Millikin has a 99 percent success rate placing graduates in employment or graduate schools within six months of graduation. More than 2,200 students are enrolled.
Performance learning is the university's model, placing students in situations where they can apply what they're learning in practical, real-world ways. The university has forged a partnership with Decatur's schools, notably Dennis School, that allows both pre-service teachers and other students to work in classrooms with students, and has offered students internships in the city's businesses and industries.
Business students recently presented a plan to Guatemalan business leaders on how to break into the American market with artisans' work. Blue Brew, a student-run coffee shop, will open this month in the Hickory Point Bank and Trust building downtown.
The most recent building project is $27 million University Commons at Staley Library, set to open this month as Millikin's new student center and library.
100 Reasons: City proudly bears the name of a hero: Decatur
When Stephen Decatur led a successful raiding party into Tripoli Harbor to burn the captured frigate USS Philadelphia, it was called “the most daring act of the age” by none other than British Admiral Horatio Nelson.
The United States, a new nation, had announced its arrival to the world on that February night in 1804, and its hero was an audacious 21-year-old Navy lieutenant.
In 1829, nine years after his death in a duel with a Navy rival, a new city was founded in Central Illinois. It needed to look no farther than the name Decatur to fill its sails with possibilities and set a brave course on the prairie.
Decatur was our country’s first post-Revolutionary War national hero, leading by example in the Barbary Wars of North Africa, the Quasi-War against France and reaching legendary status when he led the frigate USS United States in its smashing victory over HMS Macedonian in the War of 1812. He was swiftly promoted to captain and finally attained the rank of commodore.
Today a statue stands at the southwest corner of the Decatur Civic Center property overlooking downtown and a mural is on the side of 145 S. Water St.
The statue was erected in 1952 at West Main and Pine streets on the Millikin Homestead grounds, overlooking the home of its main donors, the Scovill family. It was moved to its current location in 1991.
The mural, painted by Jerry Johnson, depicts Decatur leading the 1804 raid to burn the USS Philadelphia
In its time, the city of Decatur has shared in the triumphs and struggles of the nation and emerged with its eyes on the horizon. Navigating by a shining star whose name recalls unfailing courage, the city of Decatur, Illinois, proudly bears his name.
100 Reasons: Decatur's Steve Hunter has played with the greats
The guitar of Decatur's Steve Hunter is heard every day around the world.
Hunter has recorded and played live with such diverse talents as Aerosmith, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, Bette Midler and Meat Loaf.
A 1966 graduate of MacArthur, Hunter played in hobby bands through high school. While serving in the Army, he won a United Services Organization contest, and toured Army bases in the Far East with a USO show.
He returned to Decatur in 1970, and via John "Polar Bear" Sauter, he was introduced to and landed a job with Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. Shortly thereafter, he developed a reputation as a go-to studio guitarist for numerous rock acts. His occasional solo records, with the exception of a pair of songs, have been instrumental, because he doesn't like his singing voice.
He earned a writing credit on Reed's “Rock and Roll Animal” album with his "Intro" to "Sweet Jane." He also has a music writing credit and is part of the cast for the Bette Midler film "The Rose." He wrote a song recorded specifically for David Lee Roth's greatest hits album. In 1995, he put on a dance-and-music performance of his creation called “Voodoo Nights.”
The show was back-to-back nights at the Lincoln Square Theatre. He was the first instrumentalist to be voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame He continues to work as a guitarist to this day.
He's currently polishing the newest in a series of solo albums. He also played on Glen Campbell's 2011 album, “Ghost on the Canvas,” and appears on a trio of songs on Alice Cooper's new “Paranormal” album.
100 Reasons: Stephen Decatur High School had large presence
Stephen Decatur High School, once the flagship high school located downtown was — either affectionately or otherwise — called “Decatur's most pretentious public building.”
The Decatur Civic Center now sits on the land that was occupied by the school, once simply called Decatur High School. Its physical size was impressive, and its memory still has an emotional gravity that spans back generations for those who fondly recall their Runnin' Red days.
The building cost $160,000 to build in 1909, and its first graduating class in 1912 consisted of 123 students. The construction would cost about $4 million today, still a bargain, considering the recent renovations for the city's two public high schools totaled more than $76 million.
Decatur High School's sports teams were successful and legendary, with the basketball team ruling over Kintner Gym. The games even drew cheering fans from the competing high schools of Eisenhower and MacArthur after they were built in the late 1950s.
Decatur High's Runnin' Reds reigned supreme for years, winning state championships in 1931, '36, '45 and '62. The first three were won under Gay Kintner, an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, for whom the gym was named.
A fire in 1970 destroyed part of the building, and it was never repaired. In 1975, the last class graduated from the downtown location, and the school, by now renamed Stephen Decatur High School, moved to a new building on East Mound Road.
The downtown building was razed in 1977 to make way for the civic center, and the Mound Road building continued to serve as a high school until it was repurposed into a middle school in fall 2000.
It served as a high school again briefly during the high school renovations, housing students from Eisenhower and then MacArthur while their buildings were under construction.
100 Reasons: Sports programs keep kids on the move
The Decatur Park District and YMCA offer a variety of youth programs for little kids to enjoy sports and stay active.
It's particularly true during the summer.
Redbird Rookies is one of the most prominent sport leagues provided by the park district.
It attracts more than 4,000 kids ages 5 to 13 for baseball and in July, St. Louis Cardinals president Bill Dewitt III and TV announcer Dan McLaughlin were on hand at Hess Park to unveil Dexter Fowler Park. The new park is specially designed for those who have no experience playing baseball and even better, it's all for free.
Mid-State Soccer Club is another popular sports program. It features teams from U8 to U18 and has been a boon for developing young talent at the high school level. In it, kids get to play in six to eight games and compete in two to three tournaments during a season.
There's a few other sports that also are part of the park district.
That includes Illini United for volleyball, which is virtually open to all grade levels.
Then, there's tennis and golf.
Decatur showcases one of the premier tennis facilities in the area and it's a place where kids get to use the same courts as the pros who visit annually in the Ursula Beck Pro Tennis Classic.
Aspiring athletes also have the chance to play on a golf course used by the women's Symetra Tour at Hickory Point. Golf lessons and tournaments are always on the docket on the different links, including the Decatur Junior Open.
The YMCA, meanwhile, hosted a slew of camps this past summer for little kids to work on their game.
This fall, the Y will have the youth soccer league. It's available for kids in prekindergarten through eighth grade.
100 Reasons: Summertime was fun with Decatur Park Singers
For 42 years, the Decatur Park Singers were the pride of the Decatur Park District. Started by the late Jerry Menz, the group of college-aged singers, dancers and musicians performed classic rock, country and show tunes at local festivals and fairs.
During the group's history, the Park Singers were invited to perform throughout Illinois, the country and even overseas. The singers enjoyed opportunities to dance and sing in front of President Ronald Reagan, appear at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, tour Japan in 1988 and Europe in 2008, and perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
The Decatur Park Singers entertained audiences with their high-energy performances, complete with beautiful harmonies and intricate choreography. The park district eventually added the Young Park Singers program with pint-size entertainers similar to the original Park Singers. No summer was complete without seeing at least one show by the young cast of local and college talent.
In 2013, the park district ended the Decatur Park Singers program, citing increased costs, fewer bookings and declining audiences. District leaders pledged instead to offer arts programs that could reach more people.
100 Reasons: Decatur Gun Club having a blast for 127 years
Here's something to consider while looking down the long barrels of history: the oldest shotgun shooting sports club in Illinois is located in Decatur.
Established in 1890, you will find the Decatur Gun Club locked and loaded in the north end of Faries Park. The club was founded shortly after clay pigeon targets were invented and the second manufacturer of clay targets in America, William Brett, was from Decatur. His clays were called the “Decatur Red Bird.”
Club members have included some of the big shots in Decatur history with names like Mueller, Powers and Montgomery. Their names live on as carved memorials in the hand-hewn roof beams of the clubhouse, built as a Works Progress Administration project before World War II.
Shooters blasting clay targets said it gets addictive and it's hard to argue the point with a club that dates to when Benjamin Harrison was president. “Our club is over 100 years old,” former club president Russell Anderson told the Herald & Review in 2004.
“And you don't get to be 100 years old if you aren't doing something that is fun.”
100 Reasons: Transfer House remains icon of community
With its distinctive red roof and octagonal shape, the Transfer House was officially adopted as the city symbol in 2001 but was a key part of Decatur history before that.
Designed by William W. Boyington, the structure was built in 1896 in Lincoln Square at Main and Main streets. Passengers used it for shelter as they waited for streetcars and later, buses.
The building was associated with the Goodman Band, today called the Decatur Municipal Band, which gave weekly summertime concerts from the bandstand on the roof. It also served as a gathering place for major events, such as an appearance by President Howard Taft in 1911 and Decatur's celebration at the end of World War II.
Two proposals to move the Transfer House failed, most recently in the 1930s. A third try proved the charm, although it was no small feat. On Nov. 20, 1962, Robert B. Cruikshank hauled the 150-ton structure to Central Park.
The Transfer House has been empty since 2005, when the now-defunct Downtown Decatur Council moved out after 35 years, citing its "dilapidated state."
After that, city leaders contemplated moving it back to its original location, but the Illinois Department of Transportation nixed that plan for traffic and safety reasons.
While a long-term future use for the landmark remains in question, city leaders have since invested in protecting it. In 2007, the city spent roughly $500,000 to restore the exterior of the structure, including work on the roof, ornamental spire, windows, doors, stone masonry, stone benches and exterior lighting. Two years ago, the city completed another $63,000 worth of repairs to its internal support system.
As you drive by Central Park on Franklin Street, take a look to your left. There our city symbol stands resolutely, still providing an opportunity to catch some shade, rest a bit and ponder the traffic that passes by every day.
100 Reasons: Decatur counts lots of blessings for Thanksgiving
During the Thanksgiving holiday, Decatur residents can count among their blessings that they live in a community overflowing with warmth and generosity.
Take Vinnie Barbee, who has been cooking a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast for the homeless for the past 16 years. Barbee, his family and a host of volunteers gather to serve the meal to more than 100 people at the Water Street Mission. This year, the meal is from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
The mouth-watering menu includes smoked turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, cornbread dressing and various desserts.
“It's a very lonely day if you don't have anybody to be with,” said Barbee, who’s made it his mission to ease that loneliness: “I've got open hands. We've got open hearts.”
Then there’s Derrick King, who began the “Feed My People” annual meal in 2011 to honor his big-hearted mother, Ruby King-Robinson, who died in 2009.
King and a group of volunteers cook and serve the meal for more than 400 people in memory of his mother, who loved to prepare food for others and make people smile. This year’s meal will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at The Good Samaritan Inn, 920 N. Union St.
Another 4,000 families will receive their holiday dinner thanks to the Judy Mason Thanksgiving Basket Project, a community tradition that’s been going for more than 20 years. Hundreds of volunteers gather in Decatur on several weekends in November to fill the boxes with components of Thanksgiving dinner and other items, like soap.
The effort is funded entirely by donations and supported by the WSOY Community Food Drive, which marked its 16th year in October. The event raised 1.5 million dollars/pounds of food.
The Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon offers a chance to gather with friends and coworkers, welcome business and agency leaders who are new to the area and reflect on the community’s progress and achievements over the past year.
This is the 65th year for the event, and more than 33,000 people have attended since its inception, according to the chamber.
100 REASONS: Santa House is Decatur's little home for big Christmas wishes
DECATUR — Situated in the center of the city is a little house that that has been home to kids' big Christmas dreams for many decades.
The red Santa's House that sits in downtown Central Park opens every November after the Jaycees' Lighted Christmas Parade. With great pageantry, Jolly Old St. Nick arrives at the end of the parade and proceeds to his home to receive eager children.
No matter the weather — and it has been bitterly cold or unrelentingly rainy — the lines form quickly and seemingly never end, with patience the greatest virtue. The lights offer the warm glow of the house's inside, with Santa and his helpers ready to invite the children inside.
Camera and smartphone flashes add to the twinkle in Santa's eye as children, sometimes a little frightened, take their turn. Afterward, they all receive a candy cane, and something that will be cherished far longer, a sweet memory for a lifetime.
Early each November, the Santa House arrives as the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce organizes the events that lead up to and encompass the holiday season. The Santa House is assembled in one day by volunteers of the Metro Decatur Homebuilders Association and others.
Santa keeps regular hours that are posted on the chamber's website through the Christmas season, and he gets a little more popular each day as the Big Day draws closer.
And each year, volunteers return after Christmas to be sure the Santa House is safely returned to its offseason quarters.
There have been many houses over the years, but the spirit of a Decatur Christmas resides in them all.