Name: Heather Purdeu
Occupation: Zookeeper/Zoo registrar
City of residence: Decatur
1. What got you interested in working at a zoo, and what sort of education/training did you need?
I started working here the summer before my senior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1997. I always had an interest in animals and had already taken animal-related courses. I started working at Scovill Zoo as a part-time employee, until I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. After graduation, I was hired as a full-time zoo employee in 1998.
2. What is the rarest animal you've been around? What is the most interesting animal at Scovill now?
During a workshop I was attending at the Cincinnati Zoo, I was given the opportunity to pet a Sumatran rhino. There are no longer any Sumatran rhinos in the United States, after the last one was sent to Indonesia in 2015.
All of the animals I care for have interesting traits, but I enjoy watching the Southern black howler monkey family interacting with one another. The young monkeys are always fun to watch.
3. What's the grossest thing about your job?
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I bet most people would guess animal poo, but it really doesn't bother me. There is a lot of things we can determine about an animal's health by observing their feces, for example, if they are sick, eating well, dehydrated, etc. I always tell kids: If you can't handle poo, then this isn't the job for you.
4. Have any animals tried to escape? If not, what's been the most chaotic thing to have happened?
Most animals seem to be content living in their exhibit environments. We do have routine animal escape drills which are usually the most chaotic. The drills are important for keepers to safely formulate a plan on returning an animal to its exhibit. We never know when zoo director, Ken Frye, will be running around the zoo acting as an escaped wallaby.
5. What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
The most rewarding thing about being a zookeeper is providing the best quality of care that we can for our animal ambassadors. Interacting with the public and passing on conservation messages gives us hope that we are making a difference in the world. All of the zookeepers I have met are dedicated and passionate, and it is great to be recognized during National Zookeeper Week.
Previous '5 Questions' stories
5 questions with.... Lori Barrett, co-owner of The Secret Garden
Name: Lori Barrett
Occupation: Co-owner of The Secret Garden in Decatur
How did you get involved at The Secret Garden?
I actually went to work at The Secret Garden for Valentine's Day one year. It was such an amazing experience — so busy and so hectic, yet so organized and smooth-running. Then over that summer, one of the employees left, and the owner called me into work! I started in the delivery van, mostly.
My duties included delivering flowers, cleaning displays, washing buckets and basic grunt work, but I enjoyed it and enjoyed the people who worked there. I started talking about Facebook, creating a different kind of website that could show off their work and other social media things they should try. Before I knew it, she was asking me, "Do you want to buy a flower shop?" The previous owner was ready to retire, and she had been looking for someone who wanted to grow and expand the business. By that December we had everything finalized, and Michael and I became the new owners Jan. 2, 2010.
What's the busiest holiday at your business?
Valentine's Day! That is the biggest day of the year for us, by far! For that holiday, we bring in about five extra drivers (with helpers), four extra people to answer phones and assist with customers in shop and all of the regular staff works extra hours too. We start prepping for Valentine's Day about six months beforehand, as we begin working on arrangements, pre-booking flowers, containers and balloons.
We have a book that shows us what we purchased for the past seven years, what arrangements we featured, the prices and a master list of supplies we will need on hand. It even has notes on what the weather was like and the staff we had on hand. Then the week of — that's where it gets FUN! We receive about 1,500 roses, and that's just the start. We also receive daisies, lilies, stock, larkspur, carnations and so much more.
We fill every bucket in the shop and typically have to go for more! We make up arrangements we have featured and have plenty on hand for customers to walk in and go. Then the delivery part really kicks in for the 13th, but the BIG day is always the 14th. We will have about 150 to 200 arrangements go out our doors on six different trucks that day. Routed by area of town (typically by me). They call me the "route whisperer" or the "rain man of routing." It's the most organized chaos you will ever see!
What is the most unique request from a bride you've had for floral/balloon arrangements?
One of our couples wanted their groomsmen to have hops in their boutonnieres. The groom grew the hops for the wedding, and everything timed out perfectly. The hops were ready, we let them dry for a bit and they worked into the boutonnieres for one of the most unique looks we have ever created! We absolutely LOVE when our brides want to do something a bit different.
Okay, one more; I can't help it. We had a bride that wanted to place a flower on the chair reserved for her mother. Her mom had passed away and she wanted a unique way to mark her seat at the wedding. We created the bridal bouquet so that she could pull out a single rose and place it on the chair before the ceremony.
Explain the process of creating floral arrangements for an event.
Events are the most stressful, but the most rewarding part of our business. The process starts at ordering, way before the flowers actually arrive. We take the vision and order the blooms to make it happen. Most of the flowers we order by name. There are hundreds of varieties and shades of roses, so when we want something hot pink, we might order "Hot Lady" or "Lipstick." When we want a rose that opens beautifully in a soft off-white, we order up some "Tibet."
We write out the flowers we are going to use and how many in each arrangement. Typically we order about three weeks before the event so our suppliers can get the shades we have requested in for us from their growers. When they arrive, we treat them with floral solutions to help them open just in time and hold their look during the big day. For large events we can have two or three designers working side by side to create the look for the client. This could be wiring and taping boutonnieres, gluing flowers into corsages or creating hand-held bouquets and centerpieces. Each of the staff have assigned tasks to make everything come together in time. When you work with a perishable product, timing is everything. You can't get them in too soon, or they will start to fade before the event. You can't get them in too late, or they will not open to their full beauty before the event.
What is your favorite part about co-owning the Secret Garden?
Working with my husband Michael— OK, that's true (most days), but I have other favorite parts too. Ordering gifts! When I worked in corporate retail, we got in shipments with little to no say as to what came in. We would open box after box and think, "This is not going to sell here. My customers are not going to like this." Then we would stare at it until we put it on clearance.
But when you own your own shop, you are in charge, you make those decisions and your customers can have a say too! One of our best finds this summer is a site we found that has all small, independent wholesalers. They are all "little guys," and most of their items are handmade or crafted. It feels so good to buy from another small business and to be part of their growth! We have started creating custom gifts too. Creating something that someone will treasure for years to come is amazing and makes my heart happy. Combine that with flowers and you have a one-of-a-kind experience!
5 questions with ... Jeni Hudson, of Hudson's Halfway Home
Name: Jeni Hudson
Occupation: Certified veterinary technician; co-founder of Hudson's Halfway Home
City of residence: Decatur
What is the story behind Hudson's Halfway Home?
I worked in a clinic when a less than 24-hour-old, English bulldog puppy was brought in for euthanasia due to a cleft palate. Long story short, my best friend and I decided to try and save his life. Once I knew they could be saved, it felt wrong to let others die. So here we are, seven years and over 200 cleft palate puppies later.
What is the most challenging part about running a dog rescue?
So, for us specifically, the time requirements of a neonatal special needs rescue means planning my day and life around every two-hour feeding, medication times, surgeries, or around-the-clock care of a poorly doing puppy. I would like to think I have gotten really good at this over the years.
A second challenge is the same for all rescues: We run solely on donations. As you can imagine, we have pretty high vet bills on a regular basis. Currently, we have three pups that will require university/specialist appointments and potential surgeries. Fisher, a 13-week-old Morkie, has a liver shunt. Surgery is expected to cost over $3,500. We suspect Squirrel, a 5-month-old golden doodle, has ectopic ureters, which will cost $3,000 or more. Tess is a 6-week-old Chihuahua with a grade six murmur. Her cost will vary.
The rescue expects to spend around $8,000 on those three dogs. Keeping donations coming in is always the most difficult part of running any rescue.
What results does HHH achieve, and how has the rescue improved over time?
Running a neonatal special needs rescue definitely has it challenges. One of the challenges I push upon myself to achieve. Seven years ago we took in a cleft puppy with no real idea or plan on how best to care for him. I searched the internet looking for a place to get some advice from people that had raised cleft puppies. When I found very little I got a bit discouraged, but decided to make a Facebook group in hopes of at least connecting to people, who like me were just looking for someone! Through this group and over seven years time I have connected to people all over the world and now, with those connections, can help find rescue for cleft-affected pups in most of the U.S., parts of Canada, the U.K. and Australia. I talk to people all over the world weekly. One of the things that breaks my heart the most is that the vast majority of people I talk to all say the same thing: "I want to give him/her a chance, but my vet says euthanasia is the only option." What I want to achieve through our rescue and my Facebook group is to show the world these puppies can live amazing, happy and healthy lives. And I think slowly, pup by pup, we are doing that.
Often people see a puppy with a birth defect and automatically assume their life is limited, they can’t do what “normal” dogs do, basically, in our minds, we say “they can’t.” One thing I know for a fact is they CAN! They don’t limit themselves, they don’t label themselves disabled, they take on life and each day not feeling sorry for themselves but pushing forward and living their best life! To me that is crazy inspiring!
How do we improve over time?
Well, mainly with the awesome support of our veterinarians, fosters, adopters, followers, and supporters. We definitely could not do this without them.
Me personally, I know I am not the rescuer or even CVT now that I was seven years ago. Seven years ago I had no clue what I was doing, but I knew we would figure it out to save that pups life. Failure was not an option. Rescuing these pups, despite the challenges, has changed me for the better. As a cleft pup caretaker I know these pups really couldn’t be in better hands. My hands-on experience raising cleft pups at this point is matched by very few, if anyone, in the world. I love them like my own baby from the second I see them and I fight for them as long as they show me they want to live. We have top-notch equipment (Puppywarmer incubator and oxygen concentrators, nebulizer, fluid pumps, etc.) Our vets go above and beyond to help us provide the best care for these kiddos, often our primary vet gears her CE towards things to help the rescue pups.
What are some benefits to adopting a pet from a rescue or shelter?
My answer to this may not be the most popular one. I think people should do their research and find a pet that best suits them. Sometimes that means they will need to purchase a dog from a breeder.
What I want people to know is that researching your rescue or breeder is very important. Ask a lot of questions.
When speaking with a breeder, ask to see the pedigree and ask if the parents have health clearances. When speaking with rescues and breeders, ask to speak to their veterinarian for a reference, ask to see the parents, ask where the dogs live and ask what happens if the adoption doesn't work out.
Do not get a pet from anywhere that does not require you to return the dog to them at any point you can no longer keep them. This is a giant red flag. The one exception is a county shelter/pound.
5 questions with .. 2 Decatur artists working on the train mural 'Unstoppable'
Names: Michelle Stephens and Amy Rankin
Occupation: Stephens is professor of theatre and communications at Richland Community College. Rankin is the owner of Rack Focused Productions, a professional videography/photography business.
City of residence: Decatur
1. Tell me about the mural you two are working on called "Unstoppable."
The mural is part of the Decatur Arts Council's Mural project. When we saw the building, its shape really was the deciding factor to choose a steam engine. We were both really interested in the aesthetics of machinery at the time, so making a mural featuring the classic lines of the wheels of a steam engine seemed like a perfect fit. We started working on the mural Aug. 1, 2018. We are hoping to have it finished by end of summer. (Weather permitting.)
2. What got you interested in art?
Michelle: For me, it was theater. I started doing shows in junior high and never looked back. One of the great things about theater is that you acquire a lot of diverse skills over time. One of them is scaling up.
Amy: Art has always been an integral part of my life. As a kid, sketching, painting, music — all of them were so important to me. Particularly Bob Ross. I use to paint with him all the time. I went to school for videography and editing.
3. Have you completed other murals? If so, where? Would you do any others?
We did a 40-foot long coloring book at Richland to spruce up a temporary construction wall. It was a lot of fun to design and build. It was even more fun to watch students and staff contributing to it. It definitely sparked an interest in doing other murals.
Michelle: In my hometown Newton, Iowa, there was a mural installed on the side of a downtown building and I was really struck by the whole thing.
It was always on our bucket list to create more. We are definitely looking into more murals. Even though it's been off and on for a year, we're both still having a lot of fun every time we go down and work on the mural.
4. What advice would you give to beginning artists?
Being an artist is about fostering a life-long dedication to your own growth and a belief in what you have accomplished and what you can accomplish. There is no correct age to start, and there is no finish line. Practice, practice, practice. Believe in your work. Believe in yourself.
5. What's the most difficult part about completing the mural?
Patience. It's challenging to go work every day knowing the finish line is still pretty far away. We both want to see it completed pretty badly but it's a process. You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.
A tour of Decatur murals
5 Questions with ... Sandra Nilles, Forsyth Fire softball coach
Name: Sandra Nilles
Occupation: Coach of Forsyth Fire, a 10-and-under travel softball team; stay-at-home mom to four kids
Town of residence: Forsyth
How did you get interested in softball?
I started playing softball before I can even remember. I was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. My dad lived next to a baseball field growing up and developed a passion for playing ball. He always enjoyed teaching my sister and I to play ball as well. When I was about five years old I started playing local rec ball. That winter I started tagging along with my older sister who took weekly pitching lessons at the University of Utah. I think that was where my passion for the sport began. As a young child, it made a big impression on me to watch and eventually participate in these world class pitching lessons. We would walk through a big underground sports complex to a huge brightly lit beautiful gym full of some of the top pitchers and pitching coaches around. I was surrounded by talented players.
So from the beginning of my time playing I set high expectations for myself to learn to play like the people I saw around me. I played for several travel teams that won the Utah State ASA softball tournament (the same type tournament Forsyth is hosting this weekend). Back then, the top few teams from the Utah State tournament would then compete at the Utah-Colorado Regional tournament to qualify for Nationals. My team won the regional tournaments and went on to qualify for Nationals several times. I won a lot of trophies which made the sport rewarding and fun. Another of my favorite softball memorabilia are my softball pin collections from various national tournaments I played in. The first time I went to Nationals, we didn’t have any team pins because we never expected to qualify for the tournament. So my dad and I got pins from ski resorts and traded them at the games. On future return trips to Nationals my teams had their own team pins that we would trade with other teams from around the nation.
Things like trading pins, traveling on airplanes, driving on road trips, and staying in hotels was really fun as a kid. Teams nowadays have lots of gear and uniforms and play tons of tournaments. But we thought we were pretty neat back then to travel in the summer and have our own helmets, multiple different uniforms, matching cleats, etc. Those things were less common then and we felt like we had to earn them. But having to work my way up to things that kids take for granted now made me proud of my accomplishments and excited about the sport.
How long have you been coaching and can you tell us a little bit about your team?
Last year I was an assistant coach of a Forsyth Youth League team. For several years I talked to people about the things involved in organizing a travel team for my oldest daughter. But in the end it turned out to be a more logical stepping stone to create a travel team made up of several of the kids I coached on my rec league team. That is how we created Forsyth Fire 10U. My twins were the only kids on the team who had any previous experience playing travel softball. But by the end of the state tournament, we will have played, I believe, 14 tournaments. We played four fall tournaments and several fall double headers. We didn’t know it at the time, but some of our first few games were against some of the best teams in Central Illinois. Some of the kids on those teams had already played years of travel softball together. Needless to say we got beat badly at first. But the kids persevered and learned a lot through the process.
We played two indoor tournaments in March and by our second indoor tournament we came back and lost the championship game by only one run. During the spring, we won three championships. We were really looking forward to playing local teams in a tournament at Rotary Park in April, but the tournament was rained out. We were able to meet on another field and scrimmage against teams from Mount Zion and Warrensburg. We played well in those games and brought home several more wins. Unfortunately, the next time we were supposed to play a local tournament in early June, the games were rained out again.
My hope for coaching is to provide an opportunity for athletes from the Decatur area to play softball on a more competitive level. Additionally, I hope to encourage local teams to play more leagues and tournaments in the Decatur area. Finally, I hope that elite local players will choose to play on local teams rather than traveling to teams in surrounding towns.
Can you tell a little bit about the state tournament July 4-7?
Forsyth is hosting the USA Softball of Illinois State 10U fastpitch tournament. There will be 23 teams of girls 10 years old and younger from around the state. Many of the teams are from towns around Springfield, Bloomington, Peoria, Champaign and Mattoon. But there are teams from as far as Johnston City, Illinois, who will be participating. The winning team will receive a berth to the USA Softball National Tournament.
People will be shocked at the level of play they will see from such young kids this weekend. Some of the teams have pitching that reaches near 50 mph and above. Great fielding, hitting, bunting and savvy baserunning are staples of softball at this level.
What are some rewarding aspects of coaching?
It has been very rewarding to take a group of kids who have never played travel softball and watch them grow into experienced players. On a personal level, I am very proud of persevering through all the challenges of developing and managing a new team.
Is there a standout moment or game you’ll never forget?
We have had a lot of unforgettable moments. From taking my team to our first Halloween costume theme tournament to playing indoor in a dome to winning a case full of awards, we have had a fun and successful season. To go from being a brand new travel team to playing well against some of the best teams in the state the past few weekends has been rewarding and memorable.
5 Questions with ... Jim Wrigley, organizer of the St. Patrick's Day Parade
Name: Jim Wrigley
Occupation: Controller, Koehl Brothers
City of residency: Decatur pretty much my whole life!
You're organizing the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Tell us about it. Organizing a parade like Saint Patrick's Day is pretty much an exercise in "organized disorganization." A huge part of it is communication – letting people know where and how to join in, and making that process as easy as possible for them. As they sign up I add them to the list and start to set the lineup, trying to keep it an interesting mix and not making mistakes like, putting horses in from of a fire engine or a dog group by a loud marching band. Then I map out the area we gather in, assign my team members to sectors to manage getting people lined up there. Voila! Thanks to all of my team, the parade kicks off on time with minimal confusion.
When did you start planning? I start thinking about it around Christmas. In January I send out e-mail invites to groups who usually participate every year. I contact the groups that support us for help too – Barbeck Communications, Ameren, city of Decatur, Decatur Park District and of course the Knights of Columbus.
I also send out notices to local media to start to publicize the parade and generate interest starting in January. Come February I'm reaching out to participants and my team to see who can help.
How many participants do you expect? We usually have 50 to 60 entries, that can mean 500 to 600 or more people in the parade. So I organize it pretty tightly and my team is very good at managing their sections and the entrants assigned to them. If you organize it well everyone has a better day. I have about 15 people on my team who help – my wife and children, sisters, nephews and nieces and friends. Can't forget Vinnie Gogerty at the KC Hall, he gets a lot of phone calls and questions and helps minimize the chaos.
Are you Irish? Tell us about it. I am Irish of course. Where are we from in Ireland? The answer depends on who you're talking to and how many beers they've had. Many immigrant families in the 1800s lost track and didn't keep good records because the travel and communication links were so slow and so expensive. Their focus was on survival and fitting into a strange new place. That's too bad, we lost some richness there. We do know our first record in America is of a John Wrigley who sailed from Liverpool and was (supposedly) from County Roscommon. Regardless, my whole family bleeds green, so to speak. There is an outlook and wry sense of humor that is uniquely Irish and the Wrigleys have their full share of it.
What are your St. Patrick's Day plans? The parade of course, we meet at 7:30 for breakfast and get to work. I'll be done a little after noon and then I'll head down to the Knights of Columbus Hall with my family and friends. Then a long afternoon of Irish music, adult refreshments, as they say, good food and talking with my family and friends re-telling old stories with new endings and new details every year! Probably cry a little when we talk about how much we miss Mom and Dad. Then I'll go to dinner with my family and fall asleep watching "The Quiet Man" on TV. BEST DAY OF THE YEAR!
5 Questions with ... Toby Tucker, general manager of the Nelson Park amphitheater
Name: Toby Tucker
Occupation: Nelson Park amphitheater general manager for Decatur Park District
City of residency: Blue Mound
What are you most looking forward to about your new role as the general manager of Nelson Park's amphitheater?
Watching people leave with smiles on their faces and some unforgettable memories after each show is what I will find the most rewarding.
This project is going to be a challenge as it literally is starting from the ground up. But to see satisfied patrons will mean we're doing something right and that will feel great.
What was your favorite thing about working in radio for over a decade?
Working for Neuhoff Media, a company that believes so much in being a part of the community, made such a difference.
It was nice to meet so many of my musical heroes, win awards and have some amazing experiences, but the things we did for the community will always stand out the most.
Getting to create the Secret Santa Concert to benefit the kids on the annual Salvation Army Angel Tree has to be my favorite.
If you could book any performer to play at the amphitheater, regardless of money or any other restrictions, who would it be?
This may surprise some people, but I'd love to bring in Journey. I'm a huge fan of '80s music and Journey has a catalog of hits that so many people enjoy listening to.
How long have you lived in Decatur and what do you like about the community?
I've lived in the Decatur area all my life, except when I was away at college at Eastern Illinois University.
I love that Decatur always rises to the needs of the community. Year after year, we see several charitable organizations put on successful fundraisers that serve those in need. Per capita, Decatur does it as well as anywhere.
What kind of music do you like to listen to on the way to work?
I often listen to Decatur's Country Home 95Q on my way in. I don't do satellite radio or Bluetooth from my phone. I love local radio as it does a good job of keeping me informed of what is happening in town.
If I'm not listening to the radio, I might pop in a CD from some of my favorite artists.
5 Questions with ... Allison Raiha, Crossing Healthcare registered dietitian
Name: Allison Raiha
Occupation: Registered dietitian for Crossing Healthcare
City of residency: Decatur
You play a large role in coordinating Crossing's prescription produce garden program. How does the program work, and how long has it been offered to the public?
Our prescription produce program offers 12-13 pounds of fresh produce to our patients that receive a prescription each and every week throughout our garden season.
It's based on diagnosis, and the criteria fits patients with diabetes, prediabetes, patients who are medication-assisted and children aged 7 through 12 with a (body mass index) in the 88th percentile.
This is our third garden season, and we've been doing this since the summer of 2016.
What led to the development of the garden?
Our mission is to provide comprehensive medical services to low income individuals. As a dietitian, a lot of our patients have barriers that prevent them from getting food to be able to prepare and have for their families, like health disparity and food insecurity.
While doing research, we noticed a parallel rise through both of those in the area. We thought that we needed to change our way of thinking and start treating differently, and identify the problem and the solution. If the problem is a lack of fresh food access, how do we fix that?
We as a health care center want to move toward the health side and track those numbers to move that pendulum.
The garden program has been a recipient of a grant from the WSOY Community Food Drive. How do donations like that benefit the garden?
The community has been such a great support for our program, and the WSOY food drive is one of them. We applied last year, were accepted and we received $15,000 to go toward the food that plants the crops for our patients.
That money went toward seeds, transplants and what we get from our farmers. It's very economical when you purchase a seed that makes a plant that makes 10 to 12 items.
We're trying to be the best stewards of these funds, and it's important that we are and do what we say we're going to do with them.
What other healthcare programs at Crossing should the public be aware of?
We have diabetes education programming for our patients, and we also have a diabetes prevention program for our patients who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes and have a blood sugar level higher than normal, but not high enough to be diabetes.
We have a program where we can reverse that, and those patients meet with us weekly for the whole entire year. We've also got a weight loss program, which runs on Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. There's also Zumba classes, and we have a personal trainer come in on Fridays at 4 p.m.
The classes are free to anyone in the community. All people have to do is sign a yearly waiver and anyone in the community can come.
What's the best thing about your job?
The best part about being a dietitian for me is really seeing our patients make realistic changes in their life. I know we don't have to be perfect, but for me, it's all about figuring out how do we think differently or how do we get out of the box. We want to help make the healthy choice the easy choice.
... I love seeing that in the patients. They're the driver of what's not working and what is working. They pick their goals that will work for them in that moment, and I'm with you on it. Patients are able to see us often, so we really do partner with them.
5 Questions with ... Stacey Young, Ameren Illinois and Decatur Park Board
Name: Stacey Young
Occupation: Supervisor of community relations for Ameren Illinois, Decatur Park Board commissioner
City of residency: Decatur
How long have you lived in Decatur and what's your favorite thing about the city?
I am a native of Decatur. I was born and raised here, and I also raised my son, Braxton, here. My family, place of worship, career and friends all make up some of my favorite things about Decatur.
I appreciate so many things about where I live: my short travel commute to work, enjoying dinner and drinks downtown with friends after work and having access to larger cities like St. Louis and Chicago within a short driving distance.
Decatur is a pretty tight-knit community that is full of loving and giving people. I enjoy living here.
If money were no obstacle, what's something that you would like to see come to Decatur's parks and why?
There was a time when parks and community centers had a central role in neighborhoods and contributed to the well-being of a community. Recently, I was reminiscing with a friend about our childhood and playing at the park in our neighborhood for hours during the summer months. Those were some of the best times growing up that I can remember.
If money were no object, there are a few things I’d like see in our parks:
More artwork and sculptures throughout our parks for people to view and enjoy. There is a very therapeutic element to art, and it would add even more character and beauty to our parks.
Increasing the opportunities for physical activity in all Decatur parks would be an added benefit to our community. Designing/paving new walk paths, expanding our bike trails, state of the art playgrounds, adding physical fitness equipment and healthy bistros/cafes near these parks would serve as an attraction for kids and adults.
Lastly, I would love to see Scovill Zoo expanded to add even more animal exhibits, like marine life, otters and big cats. I would like to see a variety of entertainment options such as unique shows and fun attractions be offered to kids and families.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your free time?
I am a foodie! I love to cook and enjoy spending time with friends on my patio laughing and talking about life. My family is large, and we will at times gather to play games, laugh and talk. On Sunday afternoons after church, I find myself enjoying a nice meal at my parents home catching up on all the family activities I’ve missed during the week. My mom is an awesome cook, and she has taught me to cook many of the foods I loved growing up.
I also volunteer much of my time to various causes and organizations including the Decatur Park Board, which takes quite a bit of time with so many wonderful projects happening right now with the park district.
I am also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Young Women’s Circle at House of Miracles, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Rotary. I enjoy giving back to the Decatur community.
What's something that you've always wanted to learn to do?
I have always wanted to learn how to golf, how to be a travel agent and graphic design.
Currently, I am actively learning to play golf, which has been a good experience for me. I love to travel to different destinations to learn the culture of a region, and figured I could help others enjoy traveling if I became an agent. I still have work to do in this area. I plan to enroll in courses in the spring for graphic design. Learning new things is exhilarating for me.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in community leadership?
Each morning when I rise, I meditate and begin to recite my affirmations. I ask myself each day, How will I learn and grow today?”
Leaders are continuously learning because making the right choices means you will yield the right results. Leaders are transformational. They can take an idea, process or situation and shape it to something extraordinary. Leading different projects and initiatives in the community is rewarding to the individual and to the community.
I encourage others seeking to be leaders in the community to get past the fear of what could go wrong and find courage in what can go right! We need more leaders in our community that are genuinely invested in moving it forward.
5 Questions with ... Melverta Wilkins, Caterpillar product change engineer and founder of Sista Girls and Friends
Name: Melverta Wilkins
Occupation: Product change engineer at Caterpillar Inc., founder and president of Sista Girls and Friends
City of residency: Decatur
What does an average day for you look like?
My day starts early each morning with prayer and meditation. Tony, my husband of 35 years, and I use mornings to pray together and to communicate what plans are made for the day and for later when we meet back home.
There are mornings I start rather early at Caterpillar, depending on what is planned for the day. Once my day ends at Caterpillar, where I have worked 18 years, I (move on to) Sista Girls and Friends or other community, church or political activities.
These are my passions and ministries for my life! My day ends much like it begin at home with my husband and my family.
Your nonprofit organization, Sista Girls and Friends, has been working to empower girls and young women in the area since 2013. Why is the work that you do through the group important to you?
We learn so many things in life along the way. SGAF is my way of giving back what I have learned and nuggets I can share.
What I have done is harvested what I have learned on my journey, what could have been better, what we could have been completed differently and what resources would have made a difference and as a return on investment, I am giving it back to my community.
As women, we are empowered to make a difference in our lives and those who depend on us. The difference may be simple as a change in a breakfast recipe or as complex as being a CEO of your own organization — however large or small, we are in control.
Self-esteem is powerful (and) dreams and visions are necessary. Young women and girls are so precious. The girls in our program are in their forming years. They are so smart and absolutely beautiful, and they are just a small sample of many girls their age.
It is our goal to teach them more about choices, and provide guidance and understanding to life's challenges along the way. Mentoring is the key and giving back and teaching back are the doors to help in their journey to their success. This work is important and necessary, which is why this group this work is so important to me. It is a serious matter.
Who have been some of the biggest influences and inspirations in your life?
I have been a church member all my life and there have been so many pastors and church leaders who deliver powerful and excellent words and messages.
As a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which is the first African-American Greek letter organization founded in 1908, I get the opportunity to meet many influential women in various fields. I read books, I love TED talks and I am amazed at all the wonderful people who make up this world and have impacted me.
However, my biggest influence and inspiration is my family — especially my husband, who is my best friend (and) the father of my two beautiful children. He prays for me and keeps me grounded.
Also my mom and dad, as God rests their souls, who invested in me, lead me to Christ, taught me and gave instruction daily and loved me unconditionally. My sisters and my brothers who paved the way for me and loved me truly, my large family of aunts, uncles and cousins and my special friends who I grew up with like sisters: Yvette, Kay, Vernadene, Brenda, Aldenette, Carolyn and Sharolyn, Ann and my sisters Cheryl and Joyce Dale.
I thank God almighty for these people being a major influence and inspiration. What they have given me from the beginning is more love, memories, influence and inspiration than I could ever ask in life and what I have been given, I freely give back.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your free time?
I love spending time with my family, cooking, eating and shopping. We love all sports and will travel to games!
Recently, we were able to buy a building that houses SGAF and Prestige. We have a loft in the building that we rent to the community that we call the Lucy Loft and Co., named after my mom, Lucille Young, a Christian woman who is my biggest inspiration.
My mom was all about the empowerment of women and girls, holistic wellness and entrepreneurship. We also use the building for fundraising events for the organization. So much of our free time is spent at the loft. It’s an extension of home and I want everyone who visits to feel the same.
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Extra loving leader.
5 Questions with ... Alex French, counter worker at The Hidden Lair
Name: Alex French
Occupation: Counter worker at The Hidden Lair, 1460 N. Illinois 121
City of residency: Decatur
You say role-playing games (RPGs) are among your specialties. What is a role-playing game and how do you play them?
RPGs are essentially games where you make up a character and play through a scenario with a game master or DM (dungeon master) — whichever your prefer. They mold the story to what the player experiences, and as (characters) go through it, they level up, fight the main boss and the restart to go on different adventures.
RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons have been very popular for over the past 30 years. Why do you think people love these games so much?
The way I look at it, it lets people have a chance to be free with a life they can control. It gives people a chance to live out their fantasies. They can't fight a dragon or do magic in real life, but in fantasy games, they can let loose and enjoy their imagination.
Do you have a go-to character type you like to play as?
In my experience, I personally enjoy the up-front characters that protect the other players. Like heavy, damage-taking tanks and heavy damage-outputting people. I enjoy making sure my teammates are safe. I have dabbled in different play styles, but I just lean more toward being up front.
What is it about RPGs that first drew you toward them?
For me, it kind of just started with reading a lot of fantasy books. I've always enjoyed the fantasy genre and just playing games whenever I had the opportunity, and that grew into what it is today.
It's a pretty fun hobby, and I've had a lot of good experiences working here and helping other people find out what they like.
We're always looking for more people to play here. If anyone ever wants to come in and play a game, we're open every day and we've got several different games on our demo shelf.
Have you played any games recently that you've really liked?
It's called Pathfinder. It's like D&D, and was made by people who were wanting something like D&D in their own style. They're similar in a sense, but they're vastly different. Pathfinder is a little more number-crunchy, and the outcome is pretty awesome.
5 Questions with ... Tammy Halford, EOS implementer and business coach
Name: Tammy Halford
Occupation: Entrepreneurial Operating System implementer for Geiser Consultants and business coach
City of residency: Forsyth
What does an EOS implementer do?
I’m asked this question all the time. I help entrepreneurs and their leadership teams simplify, clarify and achieve their vision.
It’s about transforming a good company into a great company. Amazing things happen when a team is focused on the achieving the same vision. Like a sports team preparing to win, this takes practice and discipline. Growth-oriented leaders thrive by putting to use the principles and practical tools of the Entrepreneurial Operation System.
My role is to teach the concepts, implement the tools and be the accountability coach so that companies gain traction and achieve their desired results faster.
What’s the best part of your job?
My first reaction is, this doesn’t feel like a job. I’m super passionate about helping others build strong, healthy, enduring businesses. Making a difference in my clients lives, both professionally and personally, is the best part of my job. I smile from ear to ear when I hear someone say that running their business more efficiently has changed their quality of life.
Life is meant to be enjoyable! However, business stress can get in the way. I’m not a therapist. But, I love helping people reduce frustrations and realize more enjoyment while running their business. It’s a life changer when everyone in the organization shares the same values and vision. I love that!
Do you have any advice for people looking to follow a similar career path?
I’ll pass along some good advice that I received myself: Determine your purpose first, then chart your path.
My personal path involved working for a small company for over 25 years. It was the best learning experience. By wearing different hats at a growing company, I learned so much about how all the roles and functions work together.
These experiences in sales, operations and finances taught me how to see the big picture. A business coach must be able to relate and say, "I’ve been there, and I know how that feels."
How do you like to spend your spare time?
In addition to my full-time position with Geiser Consultants, my husband, Steve, and I own, manage and maintain rental properties in Decatur, which keeps us busy.
As spare time comes up, I enjoy traveling, being outdoors, doing yard work, walking or having a fun cookout with family and friends. Soon, I want to spend spare time serving on a board. I’m searching for the right fit in a community organization.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Imaginative, tenacious and helpful.
5 Questions with ... Lara Grobosky, event leader for Macon County's Relay for Life
Name: Lara Grobosky
Occupation: X-ray technician at Raycraft and Jones Orthopaedics, event leader of Macon County's Relay for Life
City of residency: Decatur
What got you involved with Relay for Life?
I have a friend who … runs the cancer center at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital. She had asked a few times for me to come out, and I declined. And then I finally decided to come out here and see what it was all about. And once I was out here, my dad was re-diagnosed (with cancer), and I chose to continue. Really, it was that one person asking me, and me coming out to see what it had to offer.
What made you want to take on a leader role?
One, I feel like it is a community service. And we needed someone to lead at the time, and I just stepped in. I’ve done this numerous times since about 2008. It’s in my heart, I’m actually on a national leadership team with Relay for Life, so I do it for more than just Macon County.
What makes this community, in particular, stand out in their support of Relay for Life?
It’s not just raising money, it’s also awareness. I’m very proud to say that Macon County was the first relay to itself have a feeder event at a women's prison. So that was done about 14 years ago, and we continue to do that as a separate event. And those women are getting educated about cancer, they’re getting educated about early detection. And not only that, but well-being and taking care of themselves. So that was something taken on by our previous leader 14 years ago, and we continue to do that.
Our prison relay is actually in a few weeks, so we go in there for two hours and they relay and they raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
What are some of the things you do in the lead-up to the Relay for Life event?
We have monthly meetings, and we try to participate in each other’s fundraising. Not only that, we just try and have a good time when it comes to that. We have a kick-off, we have trivia nights, we have dances, we have auctions. We do all kinds of stuff. So in the six weeks prior, we meet every other week and just try to push through and figure out what needs to be done and just plan the event.
What is life like when not planning Relay for Life?
I’m actually a X-ray tech at Raycraft and Jones. I have two dogs, and I have a precious niece who just turned 3. And lots of family and friends.
5 Questions with ... Becky Damptz, local history librarian/archivist at Decatur Public Library
Name: Becky Damptz
Occupation: Local history librarian/archivist at Decatur Public Library
City of residency: Decatur
What does an average day at work look like for you?
(It) depends on the day. For me, it could be writing reports, sitting in committee meetings, accessioning donations or organizing the Decatur Memorial Hospital files.
For the local history room staff, it usually entails helping patrons find the information they are looking for. Sometimes I help with this, but not as often as I used to, because I have an excellent group of staff and volunteers.
What excites you most about history?
I’ve always been fascinated by history, especially ancient civilizations. It’s interesting to see how far we have come as a species, but also how many times we’ve fallen back or repeated the same mistakes.
If you could witness any event or meet any figure of Decatur's local history, who or what would they be?
I would like to meet Jane Johns, and hear the real story behind the vote for a public library in August 1874. I’ve heard different versions of what happened, but they all end with Jane Johns going to the sick mayor’s house and bringing him to the council meeting to break the tie.
The library owes a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Johns and the Ladies Library Association for their courage to fight for a free public library in this community.
What kind of information do people request the most from your department?
People tend to request a lot of obituaries from us. For a long time, we’ve been slowly building an online index for the obituaries that (have) appear(ed) in the Daily Review and the Herald & Review. Even though we have access to the Herald & Review archives on Newspapers.com, we still add the new ones to our index.
People are also interested in the history of their houses. They can use the old city directories to trace who lived in the house and, in some cases, what they did for a living.
Yearbooks are also popular with our patrons. The collection contains yearbooks from Decatur High School/Stephen Decatur High School, Lakeview, MacArthur, Eisenhower, St. Teresa, Mt. Zion, Millikin University and various junior highs. Many of the high school yearbooks are now available online at omeka.decaturlibrary.org.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your free time?
I like to spend my free time playing video games on Xbox. I just beat the main questline in Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset, and I’m trying to finish the Assassin’s Creed: Origins downloadable content "Curse of the Pharaohs."
5 Questions with ... Nikki L. Garry, founder of Your Money Matters, GSI Group financial analyst and Millikin University adjunct instructor
Name: Nikki L. Garry
Occupation: Founder and owner of Your Money Matters LLC, financial analyst for GSI Group and adjunct instructor at Millikin University
City of residency: Decatur
What does an average day look like for you?
I would say my days definitely vary, but they're also very structured and very full. I've got my full-time job as a financial analyst (for GSI Group, a grain-storage systems manufacturer), and most of my evenings are spent at Millikin as an adjunct instructor or at a community-related meeting. I also run my own business (www.yourmoneymatters2.com) where I offer financial coaching through one-on-one sessions and financial literacy seminars.
I live by my calendar because I have so much going on, but I enjoy it!
What's your favorite thing about what you do?
I love to help others. The vision of my business is to equip consumers of all ages for financial freedom. I absolutely love helping people to win with money and my passion is contagious!
Outside of your busy schedule, do you have any hobbies?
Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, shopping and spending time with my family and friends. I am also an active volunteer and serve on multiple boards throughout the Decatur community, such as the city of Decatur's Human Relations Commission as vice chairman and also vice chairman of the Tabor School of Business Dean's Business Council at Millikin. I am also very active at my church, Kingdon Come Ministries.
What's something that you've always wanted to learn to do?
I’ve always wanted to speak fluent Spanish. I took four years of Spanish in high school, but I did not pursue it further. Perhaps I will in the future. I think learning any second language makes you more marketable in corporate America and also helps with becoming more relatable to others.
What are three words you would describe yourself with?
Driven, fun and organized.
5 Questions with ... Aaron McIntosh, owner of New Era Signs and Standing Paddle Co.
Name: Aaron McIntosh
Occupation: Freelance designer/builder, owner of New Era Signs Inc. and Standing Paddle Co.
City of residency: Decatur
What is it that sparks your interest in the visual arts?
There is something very satiating about visual art for me, personally. If I can see it, I can usually make sense of it, kind of like the Pythagorean theorem (in geometry, the relationship among the three sides of a right triangle). The equation means very little to me until I see a picture of it. What I appreciate most about visual art is when it combines a purpose with an aesthetic value that invokes a reaction. I believe a balance of form with function is superior to one over the other.
How would you describe your creative process?
Sometimes tedious, oftentimes frustrating and usually quite messy. For me, the creative process is hard work. Having an idea and then bringing it to fruition is the real struggle. An idea can sound good and look great on paper, but reality doesn't always agree. When that happens, it is important to step back and see where you can adapt without losing the essence of what you're trying to achieve.
Oftentimes, the willingness to adapt can result in something much better than what the original intention ever was. And when that is not the case, I try to glean from the experience what I otherwise would not have and move forward. If every work was a masterpiece, well, I guess I would be rich.
Who or what have been some of the greatest influences on your work?
My training as a commercial artist started in high school, so a shout-out to my art teacher Stacy Gross is certainly in order. As far as creative influences on style goes, I have always been drawn to Art Nouveau and the works of M.C Escher. The Prairie Craftsman style of Frank Lloyd Wright and the beautiful lines from architects Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry have also had an influence on what I try to create.
You've mentioned that "Learning Curve" at the Scovill Sculpture Park was the first sculpture you ever created. Do you plan to work on any more in the near future?
It was, and I do not have any plans currently for future sculpture work, as my time is mostly consumed with commercial sign work. But should the opportunity arise, I will certainly jump at it!
What advice do you have for people looking to gain their footing in the visual arts?
Practice. If you find something that brings you pleasure, keep at it. Keep practicing it. Each time you try with intention you will get better and learn something. If you want to make a living at it, sometimes you have to set aside your own personal preference to accommodate the people who are paying you, and that can be difficult.
5 Questions with ... Ben Rapson, education and volunteer coordinator at Scovill Zoo
Name: Ben Rapson
Occupation: Education and volunteer coordinator at Scovill Zoo
City of residency: Decatur
What's an average day for you look like?
It's a lot of working with animals, and it's a lot of working with people and the general public. No matter what age they are, we want to make sure they have a good time here. It's a lot more people stuff than animal care stuff. I originally started as a camp counselor and then became a zookeeper. Now, I've landed on the education and people side of things at the zoo.
What's the best part of your job?
I love working at the petting zoo. It's one of my favorite things to do, because there's a lot of interacting with the public and the goats, cattle and other animals. My favorite is Eli the zebu. A zebu is like a little bull.
Is there something that you hope people take away from their experiences at the zoo?
There are two thing that we like to send people home with: That the zoo is out here doing good and that the zoos are fun. Our four core tenets as an Association of Zoos and Aquariums zoo are education, conservation, recreation and research. That's what zoos in the AZA focus on, and that's what we really focus on as well. In my position, it's a greater focus on the education and recreation, so we like to provide games for people to have fun and also to make sure they learn something.
Do you have a favorite animal or animal fact that you like to talk about with people?
I love talking about goats and zebus. I also like showing people the black rat snake, which is a big black snake that's one of the good ones. It eats rats and mice, so it will keep barns free of them.
What was it that sparked your interest in animals?
I had always been around animals growing up. I used to play with garter snakes when I was a kid. I graduated from the University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences, and while I've had a few different jobs in my life, I always ended up coming back to animals.
5 Questions with ... Amar Lotey, owner of Marathon Gas on Pershing Road
Name: Amar Lotey
Occupation: Owner/operator of Marathon Gas at 101 E. Pershing Road
City of residency: Decatur
Was going into business for yourself something you always wanted to do?
I never actually gave a thought about being an owner, because I was here on my own. I had no friends, no family, no cousins, nothing. So when I came here to this country from Bombay (now Mumbai), India, in 1992, I came here for training and advance studies. After accomplishing that, I found that I could do something for myself, too. I chose to stay here and continue, and I flourished because this is a country of opportunity.
What do you enjoy most about being self-employed?
I first saw being self-employed as an opportunity to do something for myself and having the freedom to do something to improve and to advance. When you are in business, you are not just sitting there. It is a challenge. You need to keep climbing the stairs. If you're not going to climb stairs, then I might as well not be employed.
You've have a strong connection with many of your customers. Is creating those relationships something that's important to you?
It's all about communication. If I'm not going to communicate with my customers, then they're just going to come in, get something and then leave, which is very, very normal. I want to make it like a special moment, because people are hungry for that, respect, empathy and sincerity. By just offering that, it will keep customers coming back, and it will help me maintain my business and it keeps me happy. It's just my nature, I believe.
What's your life like outside of work? Do you have a hobby?
When I head home, cooking is my passion. I love cooking. Also, listening to music, watching movies — but I don't stream too many movies at home; I like going to the theater.
Do you have any advice for people looking to go into business on their own?
Stay within your budget. Respect yourself, give gratitude to the Almighty, and remain simple.
5 Questions with ... Nathan Pierce, executive director of the Macon County Historical Museum
Name: Nathan Pierce
Occupation: Executive director of the Macon County Historical Museum
City of Residency: Mount Zion
For people who haven't been to the museum in a while, what's new?
We completely finished all of our renovations. We were closed for the winter and painted, hung up boards that make it easier to change paintings without showing any nail holes, and things like that. We've also assembled a bunch of labels, so artifacts and collections are organized by subject. That way, we don't have to spend an hour looking for it.
What's an exhibit you think people would get a kick out of?
Our sports exhibit opened last fall and will still be new to most everybody. It represents all of our local sports and athletes — from high schools to people that went on to play professional sports. People like Del Unser, who went to St. Teresa and played for the Philadelphia Phillies, and Bill Madlock, who went to Eisenhower and played for the Chicago Cubs. There's also some stuff from Fans Field and the Decatur Commodores. It's a lot of stuff to go through.
How do you decide what the museum puts on display?
It really kind of depends. As we go through these things, I find a lot of stuff that hasn't been seen in a long time, and we make an exhibit out of it. Like with the sports exhibit, I'm really into sports, so I had to get all of that stuff out alone. A lot of the times, you just have to put stuff out there and build a nice exhibit.
Did you always want to be involved with a historical museum?
Oddly enough, I started out working in psychology. I got my Master's in history, and as an intern, I started working at a small county museum. When I was in graduate school, that's when I realized that I kind of liked that and decided it was time for a change. I didn't always think I was going to go into history, but I figured it out over time.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?
Ben Franklin. He was brilliant, lived through the Revolutionary War as a diplomat and had all this colonial history and knowledge to share. I just think he's a really interesting person. I'd take any of the Founding Fathers, really.
5 Questions with ... Melody Arnold, president of the Decatur Audubon Society
Name: Melody Arnold
Occupation: President of the Decatur Audubon Society, chair of the Friends of the Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park
City of residency: Blue Mound
What sparked your interest in nature?
I've always been interested in it. I grew up on a farm in the Illinois River valley, and my brothers and I used to roll around in the bluffs, wade in the river and just be outdoors in nature.
Where's your favorite place to experience nature in Macon County?
I would say the Lincoln Trail park, and another area that I really enjoy is Rock Springs. Also, the Friends Creek Conservation Area. At the Lincoln Trail, I like it because it's quiet and the river's quite beautiful in that area. I do a lot of birdwatching, because there's also a lot of birds out there.
Is there a bird that catches your attention the most?
It's hard to say. I'm fascinated by all birds. My favorite would probably be the scarlet tanager. They occasionally nest in the area, and they're a beautiful, striking red.
What's new with the Audubon Society?
We are sponsoring 10 busloads of school kids to come to Rock Springs. We started doing that last spring, and that's one thing that we're excited about. Another big thing is the Festival of Spring, which Decatur Audubon is co-sponsoring with the conservation district. That is an Earth Day celebration, and there will be gobs of activities for everyone to do.
Kids can go where they want in the area, and there will be three presentations on raptors by the Illinois Raptor Center, and we'll also have a lot of community organizations that will be set up with booths and pony rides. It's a celebration, and it's a time to get people out and enjoy spring and appreciate nature.
Why should people remember to take time and go outside this spring?
Studies have proven that being outdoors in natural settings is good for mental health, and good for physical exercise. It also helps give you a break from the technology, and away from all of the hustle and bustle. It gets you out into the real world.
5 Questions with ... Taylor Mallory, actor, musician and Decatur native
Name: Taylor Mallory
Occupation: Actor/musician, appearing in this Wednesday's new episode of "Chicago P.D." (March 14 at 9 p.m. on NBC)
City of residency: Chicago, by way of Decatur
Congratulations on your "Chicago P.D." appearance. Who are you playing in this week's episode?
My role is Darius Brown. He's pretty much the start of a story about an alderman who was killed in the city. Some of my DNA was on his body, but it wasn't because I killed him. It's because I had stolen his watch earlier in the episode.
What was your experience on the set like?
It was really interesting. I don't think what people realize is that a lot of the time, you wait. I was in my trailer waiting for my call time, and I was in there for like 4 or 5 hours. There's just a lot of waiting. As far as the scenes were concerned, it all went really fast. The actors that I played with were very professional and very funny. It's essentially like showing up to work and having a good time.
Were you nervous?
I just wanted to make sure that I did a great job. You must know your lines, and they changed the scene right before I went out there. I spent a lot of time in my trailer making sure that I've got my lines memorized, and that I'm making the right choices for the scene.
And when you meet the actors, some people get blown away, but I kind of see them as regular people. If you go on set and ask them 5 million questions, they'll probably get tired because they do this daily. I just speak to them like somebody that you already know.
Ultimately, I just wanted to be excellent, and I was only slightly nervous, which is OK.
What sparked your interest in acting?
MacArthur High School. I was in two plays: "Footloose," where I played Ren McCormack and "Of Mice and Men." That's where I started my first acting experiences, and when I went to college, I took some acting classes there.
How about your music? Have you been working on any new songs since filming "Chicago P.D."?
I'm thinking about releasing a new single the week after the "Chicago P.D." appearance. My recent album, "TaylorMade," is available on SoundCloud.
5 questions with ... Brenda Garry, administrative assistant for the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois
Name: Brenda Garry
Occupation: Administrative assistant for the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois (a district office for the Presbyterian churches in the southeastern part of Illinois)
City of residency: Decatur, IL
What does an average day look like for you?
My day always begin with prayer and Bible study. My work day starts at 9 a.m. and ends between 4 and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. After working hours, I love to watch movies and work on projects around the house, and I've been married to Willie "Gabe" Garry for going on eight wonderful years. I end my day with some type of exercise.
What's your favorite thing about what you do?
I assist with the church newsletter at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church where the Rev. Dr. Robert W. White is the pastor. I also serve on one of the many teams of the Lost Bridge Great Banquet where the Rev. Jack Pitzer is pastor. The Great Banquet is an orderly, structured weekend designed to strengthen and renew the faith of Christians.
I also assist with the LOGOS and Vacation Bible School programs at the First United Congregational Church of Christ where the Rev. Ryan Travis is pastor. The LOGOS program teaches bible study, worship skills, recreation and family time (which includes dinner). Children in grades one-through-12 are welcome.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love to create beautiful things on the computer, like flyers, greeting cards, raffle tickets, business cards, etc. Work puzzles.
What are some things that you've always wanted to try or experience?
I would love to open a homeless shelter that would house hundreds of people and families. It hurts me to see and hear about the homelessness in our city. I’m praying the Lord will open up just a small window in heaven and pour me out a blessing so that I could possibly build, or renovate one of the many empty buildings in Decatur just for the homeless. My focus would be to teach/give them the necessary tools to get back on their feet.
I would also like to form a group similar to the Caring Black Men for our young ladies 17 and under, either in school or out, with the hopes of getting and keeping them on the right track.
I will retire July 31 of this year after 25 years of service to the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois. After which, I plan to complete the things on my bucket list: visit the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Hawaii (the pictures I’ve seen of Hawaii make it look like a piece of heaven). I would also love to go on a mission trip. These are just a few things on my list. There are also a few organizations in town that I’m pursuing membership into.
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Spiritual, reliable and outgoing.
5 Questions with ... Ryan Raleigh, director of operations for the Decatur Park District
Name: Ryan Raleigh
Occupation: Director of Operations for the Decatur Park District
City of residency: Decatur
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I have really enjoyed working with a great staff to bring new recreational amenities to Decatur and improve the appearance of our parks and facilities. Last year, we installed a new high ropes course at Overlook Adventure Park, which is the first of its kind in Central Illinois.
I have also been involved in the construction of Overlook Adventure Park mini golf and batting cages, mountain bike trails, pickleball courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, new pavilions, the penguin exhibit at Scovill Zoo and the new deck and restrooms at the Beach House. I love watching people use these facilities and knowing that we have made a difference in their quality of life.
What are some of the new projects you are working on?
I am really excited about the new amphitheater in Nelson Park and aquatics facility at Overlook Adventure Park. With a site overlooking the lake, the amphitheater will be a beautiful spot for great entertainment. The aquatics facility will include a leisure pool, lap pool, zip line, climbing wall and slides that have just been introduced in the U.S.
If money were no obstacle, what's something that the park district would like to do?
One of the elements in the Lakeshore Landing master plan is a large zip line park. This would be another fun addition to Overlook Adventure Park and would encourage people to get outside and enjoy the great views of the lake and park.
What do you like to do for fun when you're not at work?
I enjoy being outside and exercising. The Stevens Creek bike trail is a hidden gem that is great for running and biking. I also enjoy many of the local running and biking events put on by the park district, Fleet Feet and Spin City. There is a great group of people involved in these events.
Is there a park in the country that you've always wanted to visit?
I have been fortunate to hike some beautiful parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado), Joshua Tree National Park (California), Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and the Smoky Mountains. One park that I would love to visit in the future is Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming). I just love the view of the mountains. It is such a contrast from Central Illinois.
5 Questions with ... Eric Hector, creative director of Heroic Age Studios
Name: Eric Hector
Occupation: Creative director of Heroic Age Studios and the Heroic Age Art Center
City of residency: Mount Zion
How does it feel to be celebrating Heroic Age's 25th year in Macon County?
It feels wonderful to be celebrating 25 years in business. However, upon reflection, I mostly feel grateful. I am grateful to all the talented artists we have worked with over the years. I'm thankful for all the brilliant teachers and mentors who have helped Heroic Age along the way.
And I especially owe a debt of gratitude to my friends and family as well as the surrounding community of Mount Zion, Decatur and Macon County, who have embraced Heroic Age from our beginning and persistently support us as our business continues to grow and expand.
What sparked your passion and interest in the arts?
My passion for the arts has its origin in comic books, especially Spider-Man. As a young boy, comic books taught me to love stories — in particular, visual storytelling, which leads directly into my involvement in filmmaking.
Who are some of the biggest influences on your work?
The biggest influences on my work as an illustrator are John Romita Jr., John Byrne and Todd McFarlane. My commercial and filmmaking influences are Sam Raimi and Quentin Tarantino, and my overall influences as a creator and storyteller are J. K. Rowling and Stan Lee. One of my greatest career moments was actually being introduced to Stan Lee as a co-worker in my early days working for Marvel Entertainment.
Do you have any dream projects that you’d like to work on someday?
I have been lucky enough to work on projects involving most of the characters I loved as a child, like Spider-Man and Darth Vader. However, I have a few projects that I am really looking forward to working on in the upcoming year, particularly our horror film "Trick and Treats." I feel its story is going to be a real game changer. Also, one day I want to find the time to finish my novel.
If you could share one piece of advice to a young, up-and-coming artist, what would it be?
My advice for young artists is to embrace technology, dive deeply into anything that can give you an artistic advantage, and then make a plan to achieve your goals and stick to it.
5 Questions with ... Storm Edwards, program director/sales for Cromwell Radio
Name: Storm Edwards
Occupation: Program director/sales for Cromwell Radio, and on-air host on 106.7 The Fox
City of residency: Decatur
What's the best part about your job, Storm?
The fact that you never have the same day twice in radio. I've done it for over half of my life. Also, rock music is fun and exciting! It provides a lot of emotions. I love getting to meet listeners and working with local businesses. It's just all of what I love.
Who are some of your favorite artists/bands?
I really like Foo Fighters, Aerosmith, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Breaking Benjamin, Disturbed ... it's a humongous list.
How about your listeners? What kind of requests do you get from them?
The Fox is classic rock, so it's a little different. It's not new music, unlike our new sister station, 106.3 The Buzz. We get a lot of requests for Guns n' Roses, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Tom Petty has been very popular since his passing.
You were very active in the development of the 9/11 Memorial that was erected in Nelson Park. Why is community engagement important to you?
I love hanging out with people, and we have a great community. Having the power of the radio station behind us, it would be so silly not to give back. We do the (Law Enforcement Torch Run) Polar Plunge (for Special Olympics) every year, we do the (American Cancer Society) Relay for Life every year. We have tons of events throughout the year, and we try to stay very focused on our community. I also have a daughter, and I believe it's important to instill upon her to give back and help out with some of our great charities.
Who were some of the biggest influences on your career and approach to radio?
I would say my old general manager, Glen Gardner. He was hugely influential on me and was a brilliant man. I'd also say my current general manager, Tara Nickerson, has been profoundly impactful upon me. I've learned a lot from her, and I've learned a ton from both of them about the business, and about making sure that we are doing good in the community and are paying it forward.
5 Questions with ... Roger Chaney, Decatur Park District construction and trades superintendent
Name: Roger Chaney
Occupation: Construction and trades superintendent for the Decatur Park District
City of residency: Decatur
What's an average day at work for you?
Every day is a new adventure. We start by prioritizing our workday as it changes daily, and sometimes hourly. Usually our group is performing maintenance or repairs on one or more of the district's facilities along with the usual problem solving and paperwork.
What do you love most about working to make Decatur's parks great?
It's just good to be part of a large group of people that care about the district. We try to do our part in doing a good job and be as efficient as possible, and it's always good to be able to look at our work and know we have made a difference.
What sparked your interest in drag racing?
I have been a drag racing fan my entire life. It is one of the few things that still thrills me. To see and hear a professional fuel car with 10,000 horsepower go 1,320 feet in less than 4 seconds, 330 miles per hour, is unbelievable. It's hard to imagine unless you have witnessed it in person. It's a modern marvel, and to clarify, my car is a little over half that fast.
How often do you take your car out for a spin?
We only had it out about six times last year, but this year we hope to go 2 to 3 times that much this year.
In addition to drag racing, what are some of your other hobbies?
I enjoy cars, boats, motorcycles and almost anything that goes fast. I like old John Deere tractors; I am intrigued by helicopters and have recently flown one. I am working toward becoming more proficient at that.
5 Questions with ... Matt Whitehead, CEO of the Decatur Family YMCA
Name: Matt Whitehead
Occupation: CEO of the Decatur Family YMCA
City of residency: Decatur
What's new at the Y for 2018?
This year, we actually just launched a "Pedaling for Parkinson's" program. Several YMCA facilities across the country are doing the same thing. We were able to get a grant to purchase some new spin bikes, and we'll use them to have a class that's especially for Parkinson's patients. It's been studied that if they pedal at a certain speed for a period of time, it helps with the symptoms. We're also going to launch a diabetes prevention program at some point.
Did you have any New Year's resolutions? If so, how's your progress going?
Just like many others, it was to work out and be healthier. I am off to a pretty decent start. I also want to get better at golf. I want to play more, and would like to get better at golf because it's enjoyable and relaxing.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Two things: I've always been pro-Decatur. Being in this position, I've gotten to meet a lot of people in the city, and I've come to love this community. We have so many great people, and I enjoy meeting them. I also love the impact that the Y has. We have programs for seniors, for people who want to work to become happier and healthier and all of our youth programs. I just love the impact it has on the community.
Outside of work, what are some of your hobbies?
I have two children and two stepchildren, all between 13 and 17, and they all play sports. So, I spend a lot of time watching youth sports. We also enjoy boating, camping and backpacking. I really enjoy doing things outdoors like that.
In addition to the people, what other things do you like about Decatur?
Decatur has a lot of things to offer. Things for the family, a great park district, zoo, children's museum, restaurants and a lot of other stuff to offer. You may have to look for it sometimes, but there's always stuff to do. Plus, it's about an hour drive from Bloomington, Champaign and Springfield, and two hours from Chicago and other cities. And there's a lot of people in the community that care about this community. I think Decatur is primed to have some great things happen.
5 Questions with ... Candice Hart, horticulture educator
Name: Candice Hart
City of residency: Bloomington
What sparked your interest in teaching horticulture, Candice?
What started it off was a class in high school. There were classes that were offered by my school's agriculture program, so I took this horticulture class and fell in love. I was also thinking that I wanted to teach, so I just decided to combine two interests into one. Plus, I've had an interest in gardening and horticulture since I was about 8 years old.
What's your all-time favorite plant?
There's so many! In general, it would be flowers. They're my favorite thing to grow. Anything flowery is my go-to, and roses are up at the top for me. I love to work with roses in my floral designs I put together for friends.
Any new going on at the extension office's horticulture department?
This fall, we're going to be doing a new hybrid master gardening training class for people interested in learning about gardening. Normally, we do this training in the winter, which is considered an off-season for gardening. We decided to switch it up this year and do it in the fall. We're going to bring in plant samples, and give people a lot of hands-on interaction with plants.
What do you love most about teaching horticulture to others?
It's just really rewarding to see someone get excited about a topic that they may not have heard of before. There's a lot of new possibilities that can come with it. For example, we've started doing a new master gardening project at the Decatur Correctional Center, and it's exciting to see the ladies learn their new skills. These are things that they can learn to help better their lives.
Do you have any go-to spots to check out your favorite plants or landscaping?
Anywhere I'm going, I always search and see if there's a botanical garden in town. I really like Chicago's and Missouri's, but there's also a lot of nice local gems. Peoria has a nice botanical garden, too. You can find a lot of inspiration just by walking among the plants, especially on things that you can do in your own garden. I also love to shop at garden centers to check out the newest varieties.
5 questions with PGA season looming
KAPALUA, Hawaii — The PGA Tour rings in the new year at Kapalua for the 20th straight time. After all these years, the one moment that stands above all others was the titanic battle between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els in 2000.
Both made eagle on the 18th hole to force a playoff. Both made birdie on the first extra hole. Woods ended it with a 35-foot birdie putt on the next hole that was downhill and into the grain with about 6 feet of break. Equally memorable was what Els said when it was over:
"He's 24. He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s."
Woods turned 42 on Saturday. He's still not bigger than Jack Nicklaus when it comes to golf's ultimate yardstick, most majors won.
But he's still Tiger, and that means a lot.
He commands more attention than major champions nearly half his age. And that's why Woods, who makes golf must-see TV when he's playing, leads the list of five questions to consider for 2018.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM TIGER?
The question wasn't much different a year ago.
Woods returned to the Hero World Challenge after a 15-month recovery from two more back surgeries, and more was made of his 24 birdies than finishing 15th against an 18-man field in an unofficial holiday event. When the new year began, he lasted three rounds over two tournaments and was out again.
This time, he is returning from fusion surgery on his lower back. Most noticeable last month in the Bahamas was his power, and Woods said in a recent blog that he is hitting a full club longer than he was before. Adding to the higher level of optimism is the amount of golf he played leading up to his return — and not the score, but the company. Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger all played with Woods and liked what they saw.
The measure will be the full schedule that he wants to play, though he has not said what or where that would be. And if his health is as solid as he is letting on, golf will get a full dose of Woods in the majors for the first time since 2015.
WHO'S ON THE PLANE TO FRANCE?
The Americans haven't won the Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993, two months after Jordan Spieth was born.
That's old news.
The Americans won the last Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and they start 2018 with the top three players in the world ranking and five of the top eight. That means they will be favored on paper, and most American golf fans will be dismissive of Europe's chances.
That's old news, too.
The more pertinent question is who goes to Paris for the matches?
Much attention will be on Phil Mickelson, who hasn't missed a team competition since 1993 and is desperate to make the next one. He hasn't won since 2013 and was a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup.
The Americans had 14 players in their 20s win on the PGA Tour last year, and six of them were on the Presidents Cup team. Odds are not all of those six will be in France, and U.S. captain Jim Furyk could have some tough choices for his picks.
WHAT WILL THE SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE?
Sometime this summer, the PGA Tour will announce a significant overhaul to a schedule that for years has been predictable.
This is the last PGA Championship in August before it moves to May in 2019. Paring the number of PGA Tour events to achieve a Labor Day finish to the FedEx Cup won't be an issue with the loss of one playoff event (Boston), moving one event to the fall (Greenbrier) and likely converting one into a World Golf Championship (Memphis).
The tough part is figuring out where everything else goes.
That starts with March, which currently features a pair of World Golf Championships (Mexico, Match Play) and next year adds The Players Championship. Something will have to give. Also, title sponsorships must be resolved for the Houston Open and possibly Colonial.
HOW WILL RORY MCILROY RESPOND?
For the first time since 2009, Rory McIlroy goes into a new year outside the top 10 in the world. Attribute that to nagging injuries that persuaded him to take a long break at the end of last year to get his health and game in order.
He will have gone more than three months without competition when he returns in Abu Dhabi, the start of an ambitious schedule in which he will play eight times before he gets to Augusta National.
Golf should have a good idea by then if McIlroy is back in the conversation.
WHO MAKES IT BACK TO PARADISE?
Justin Thomas said he would love nothing better than to start every year at Kapalua.
As good as he is, there's no guarantee.
Only nine players from the 32-man field last year made it back to start 2018. Among the missing are Jason Day, who started last year at No. 1, and Bubba Watson, missing from the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time in four years. Spieth missed out in 2015. Rickie Fowler wasn't at Kapalua last year.
There were 14 first-time winners last year on the PGA Tour. It's not getting any easier to win.
That applies to Woods, too.
5 Questions with ... Jim McRoberts, president of the Brickhouse Foundation
Name: Jim McRoberts
Occupation: Founder and president of the Brickhouse Foundation
City of residency: Decatur
Jim, you started the non-profit Brickhouse Foundation in June. What are you most proud of the organization accomplishing so far?
I'm happy that we have opened the doors to the men that are seeking recovery from addiction, and I'm also really proud that we can begin to start filling the void in Decatur for people to receive long-term recovery. I'm actually very ecstatic that we're beginning to support a need that continues to grow, and the support from the variety of different people who have been there to give me direction, and to give me hope and strength and guidance.
The new year begins tomorrow. Do you have any goals for the foundation to accomplish in 2018?
It might sound like a lofty goal, but with God, everything is possible. We hope to have a women's home up and running so we can serve the women battling addictions in Decatur. We are also trying to have a civic center so that we can provide a central meeting place in the city to house different meetings and to be a place for the homeless women to find cold cots. There's a huge gap there in Decatur, as women don't really have a place to go at night when it's cold outside.
We'd also like to put together an ex-offender job service to help place those individuals in working environments. Those are three gaps that I'm aware need to be filled, and we're going to do everything we can to fill them.
Is the amount of community support that the foundation receives encouraging?
It's a starting point. People are starting to come out and recognize not just the need, but the opportunity that we're creating. It could have a positive ripple effect on not just the individuals who need help, but also Decatur as a whole. I feel honored.
In order to keep the foundation going, you have to wear a lot of hats. What keeps you going?
I have a passion to see the changes that each and every one of these individuals is making. It is having a positive impact on so many, and for those that are ready, it's a great opportunity to get back on your feet. To live a full, happy life. In some of these individuals, you can see the positive changes. In time, we will grow, and we will learn how to better serve the community.
Do you have any personal goals you'd like to achieve in 2018?
To be a better man, a better servant to God and to become stronger at asking for help and to become a better communicator.
5 Questions with ... Kyle Karsten of Decatur's Salvation Army
Name: Kyle Karsten
Occupation: Director of development and community relations for the Salvation Army
City of residency: Decatur, by way of Eureka, Missouri
Kyle, you grew up in the home of Six Flags St. Louis. Do you have a favorite ride at the park?
I'll go old school and classic and say the Screamin' Eagle. When I was growing up, it was the tallest, fastest and steepest roller-coaster around. Those are the kind of roller-coasters I still enjoy today, the crazy person that I am. I was also a fan of the Buccaneer, which was a pirate ship that just rocked back and forth. I've got lots of good memories from going there.
Have you ever rang the bell at one of the Salvation Army's kettle stands?
Yes. This is my second Christmas with the Salvation Army, and my wife and I, along with some of the Salvation Army's staff, have volunteered before. I really enjoyed that, and not as a person being paid, but as a volunteer. It's a nice thing to be a part of, just being out there and wishing people Merry Christmas.
What's your technique when it comes to ringing the bell?
My style is holding it at the top of the handle, with the silver bell hanging straight down, and ringing it every few seconds. Then I'll wait, ring with some pauses in between, and just let my wrists go side-to-side.
What do you enjoy the most about community outreach?
I love seeing people. You can't go to a location to ring a bell without seeing people that you know, whether it's family or just someone you interacted with in a social setting. I love seeing the camaraderie between people.
Do you and your family have any special traditions around Christmas time?
It's just family. It's spending time with immediate family, or spending time with extended family. No matter how it looked over the years, or how old my children were, it was always family and celebrating the baby Jesus, who is the reason for the season.
5 Questions with: Kim Taylor Decatur Youth Hockey Association President
Name: Kim Taylor
Title: Decatur Youth Hockey Association President
City of Residence: Decatur
How did you become associated with DYHA? This is my ninth year serving on the DYHA board of directors. Hockey runs in the family blood. My husband has played hockey since he was 4, here in Decatur. He came back to coach after her quit hockey. When he and I were dating, he was coaching hockey with DYHA. Once our first son was born and old enough to skate, we came back to hockey. Our oldest, Brendan, will be 16 in a month. We have another one, Aidan, who is 12.
As soon as our youngest started playing, I became a volunteer. I got involved with the association anyway I could. A few years after that I ran for a board position. I was secretary for several years, then that progressed into vice presidency. When the president’s term ended, I became president last year. Now I am in my second term.
What do you love about the association? I love giving back. I love seeing the association grow. I love all the good things that hockey does. We give back to the community.
My favorite part is seeing the smiles on the little guys faces. Our Learn to Skate program, I love seeing them step on the ice for the first time and want to come back again.
I love seeing our numbers grow. There was a time I was concerned Decatur Hockey might not continue to prosper. That made me nervous. I didn’t want to see it not be here.
Hockeyville help with that. We were runner-up for Hockeyville U.S.A. That put Decatur Hockey on the map. During that time people came to us and said they didn’t know Decatur had hockey.
A lot of communities have hockey year-round. With Decatur only having ice six months out of the year, that makes it hard.
What is your experience on the ice? I’m lucky to stand up on skates. I can get around the ice, but I can’t stop. I go into the boards or run into somebody to stop.
I’m still a fan. I love the family. My kids play a lot of youth sports. There is no greater connection and no greater family than a hockey family. It’s like hockey runs deep down into your soul.
The joke in our family is that my husband takes care of the stuff on the ice and take care of the stuff off the ice. I’ve been a team manager, a tournament director, just about everything the association as done I’ve touched. I like leadership roles and I like to give back.
What are your hobbies? I love to shop. If you ask people, they will tell you I like to shoe shop. But most of the time, whatever my kids are involved in, I’m involved in. I enjoy my kids’ activities. They play travel baseball and travel hockey. We travel all summer and all winter.
What are your hopes for the league? I hope we continue to grow, especially at the lower age. That is what is going to keep Decatur Hockey successful. We need the lower numbers to continue to survive. I hope we continue to give back to the community.
My biggest wish is that we continue to grow and be sustainable.
And I hope kids continue to love the game.
5 questions with ... Josh McGrath, Decatur Park District horticulturist
Name: Josh McGrath
Occupation: Horticulture supervisor for the Decatur Park District
City of residency: Decatur
What sparked your interest in horticulture?
Mostly, my grandmother got me interested in it. When I was probably about 10 years old, I thought it was pretty cool that she was out here growing all of these vegetables in her garden. I thought that was neat, and I enjoyed being outside, so that's pretty much how I got into it. She got me started on planting seeds, how to take cuttings, how to water correctly and other things.
What's your favorite thing to plant?
I like planting vegetables. I've got a small farm that I do on the side, and it's great to be able to provide for myself, for my family and other people. We sell a lot of vegetables at the farmer's market at Richland (Community College). I think it's great to talk to the customers and know that they're consuming the food that you're producing.
What's the best part about sharing your product with the community?
Just to be able to know that you're able to provide nourishment for people, especially when they find something that they like for the first time, and want more of it. I'm also a beekeeper, and I sell some honey on the side too.
That sounds interesting. Are there some misconceptions about beekeeping that people should be aware of?
I've been a beekeeper for 8 years, and a lot of people think that it's easy, and that all you have to do is go out and collect honey. It's a lot more than that. Some people don't realize how much more it is, and how expensive it is.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved with horticulture or beekeeping?
As I would say with anything else, find a mentor. Someone that you can sit down and learn from. A lot of people have a lot of experience, and sometimes that experience is more than you can get out of a textbook. Book knowledge is great, but when it's time to actually get out there and do the job, then book knowledge alone is nothing.
5 Questions with Michael Kehoe, founder of Johego
Name: Michael Kehoe
Occupation: Executive director of Johego
City of residency: St. Louis, by way of Decatur
Your company, Johego, was recently awarded a contract with the Missouri Foundation for Health. What does this mean for the company's future going forward?
Johego is a nonprofit that develops software to connect people in need with essential services: overnight shelter, substance abuse treatment, and more. In the short term, this $270,000 award means that Johego will be able to expand our geographic coverage to 18 additional counties throughout Northeastern, Central, and Southwestern Missouri, which will allow nearly 1.1 million Missourians to find medical and social services using our software.
In the long term, our work with Missouri Foundation for Health will position Johego favorably for additional expansion throughout Missouri and beyond.
You've mentioned that you want to expand Johego's reach into Illinois someday. What inspires you to continue working to build your company?
If I wanted to watch a particular movie at the theater, I could pull out my smartphone, go online, and purchase a ticket for a time and place that works with my schedule -- all within a matter of minutes. If, instead, I wanted to connect someone with mental health treatment, legal assistance, or other essential services, I might need hours or days to do so.
It is my belief that connecting a friend or family member with essential services should be just as easy as buying tickets for movies, and I want as many people as possible to have that opportunity, no matter who and where they are.
How did you celebrate Thanksgiving this year?
I spent Thanksgiving with my parents in Decatur, enjoying classic family recipes and taking advantage of the good weather to walk some of it off.
What are some things that you are most thankful for?
I try to be thankful for as much as I can, but I am most thankful for the unconditional love and support of my parents and brother throughout my life.
In your opinion, what's the best side dish to eat during the holidays?
By far, my favorite side dish is stuffing, in almost any of its forms, since I almost never eat it outside of the holidays.
5 Questions with Amber D. Kaylor, Children's Museum of Illinois executive director
Name: Amber D. Kaylor
Occupation: Executive Director of the Children's Museum of Illinois
City of residency: Decatur
What do you love about your job?
The kids. I am able to be a part of something that enriches the lives of children. We are helping to educate them and we get to do it in an incredible environment. Seeing the joy on the faces of children when they walk through our doors and as they interact with exhibits makes every day a great day.
For those who haven't visited the museum recently, what's new?
If you haven't been lately then we have several new exhibits! We have added five new exhibits in the last year, including Soy City Toddler Port, Illumination Station, Healthy Mouth, Clean Water and I Spy. We work hard to keep things fresh and exciting. We want families to visit us often and to have fun, new experiences with each visit.
We have also added accommodations for our families who may have children with sensory processing issues or autism. Light filtering glasses, noise cancelling headphones and schedules are always available at the front desk. Just ask a staff member if your family needs any of these items. We also have a social story on our website that can be viewed prior to your visit.
And of course, the new "Heroes Hall" addition is under construction and due to open in the summer of 2018. I could not be more excited about this amazing extension of CMofIL!
What's your favorite exhibit at the museum?
Illumination Station is my favorite. It is basically a 4-by-8 Lite Brite, which takes me back to my childhood. It is definitely a favorite among the adults that visit the museum.
If money were no obstacle, what is something that you would like to see at the museum?
Ha! This could take a while to answer. Short answer is that I would pay my staff more. They work so hard and truly care about the children we serve. I am impressed by them daily. The other thing I would like to see is a new climber structure. Ours is approaching the 20-year-old mark and is showing its age. It would be great to update the centerpiece of the museum.
When you're not at work, what are some of your favorite activities?
I have an amazing 2-year-old son and the best husband on the planet. Anything I do with them is my favorite activity. I also love to exercise. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's a wonderful stress reliever. I belong to the Decatur Athletic Club and enjoy taking classes there.
5 questions with Ken Hendriksen, St. Teresa Educational Foundation executive director
How long have you been at St. Teresa H.S. and what is your current role?
I have been at St. Teresa High School since November, 2007. I served as the CEO/Principal until July 2017 and now serve as the Executive Director of the St. Teresa Educational Foundation and Development. This is my 45th year in education, 41 of those in administration.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I absolutely enjoy working with both students and adults on a daily basis. St. Teresa is a very special educational institution that provides expanded opportunities for students to flourish in a faith-based environment. What I enjoy most is seeing our graduates leave St. Teresa well-prepared to go forward into the world and succeed in whatever endeavor they undertake.
What advice would you give to students pursuing a career in education?
A career in education can be most rewarding. Students pursuing a degree in teaching should become involved early on with their communities’ local and civic organizations. Successful educators are visible and make it a point to volunteer and take on leadership roles where they live. It has been my strong belief that a successful teacher or administrator must treat all people with respect, regardless of one’s occupation, financial status, and/or beliefs. Being positive each day is of upmost importance.
St. Teresa has begun its “Sustain the Future” campaign. What is its goal?
The goal is to raise $10.5 million, to be added to the St. Teresa Educational Foundation allowing the schools operational activities to be sustained for many years. The success of this campaign, which is the most important task I have undertaken in my 45-year educational journey, will truly ensure that St. Teresa maintains the high-quality, faith-based education that our tradition has been built on.
When you’re not in school, what is a favorite activity/hobby?
When not at school I love to walk and play golf, when possible. I am an avid sports fan who loves the Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Northwestern and Notre Dame football, and all St. Teresa sports!!
5 Questions with ... John Stephens, Little Theatre-On the Square
Name: John Stephens
Occupation: Executive producer for The Little Theatre-On the Square
City of residency: Sullivan
What are some things that you and the rest of the Little Theatre staff take into consideration when choosing shows to perform on stage?
We pick out the entire season of shows at one time, and we try to appease to as many people as possible. We look for very family friendly shows, more risqué and more adult shows, classics shows and brand new ones that have never been done here before. I pick 10 shows that I'd be interested in doing, and then I discuss them with our board of trustees. We try to be mindful of what shows are being put on in communities similar to ours. I don't want to copy what they're doing, because I want them to be as successful as us.
What's your favorite play or musical of all time, and why?
"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." It's a really fun show. The music is really up and fun, and it has a little silliness in it. I love when our audience laughs out loud. Plus, a lot of audiences like things that are a little naughty, but not dirty. It's a fun show to produce, and it's fun to see what the audience's reaction to it will be.
Looking forward to the Little Theatre's upcoming season, is there a performance that you're particularly excited to show to your audience?
Yes, it's called "Million Dollar Quartet." It's a show about a historical event where Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley got into a studio together and recorded some of their best-known songs. It's really kind of a cool idea, and it features a lot of songs that people love. It's kind of a concert, so I think that could appeal to people that aren't really into Broadway musicals.
If money or stage rights were no object, what's your dream show to produce in Sullivan?
I'd say "Wicked" or "The Phantom of the Opera." I think they would sell really well. Another one that would be really fun to produce would be "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." Set wise, it's a giant production that moves around a lot. That's one of my dream shows, so the first thing I'd need to do is get the money to build a bigger stage. But for now, I'd love to do "Wicked," and when it's available, we will.
What do you love about what you do?
Making the audience smile. It's all about making them happy, and taking them out of the world that they're living in. At the end of their two hours, I hope that we've taken their mind off of some things for a little while. I don't act, or get on stage very often, but I love giving other people the opportunity to perform — whether it's through teaching or producing. There's not a bigger high in the world than hearing that applause from the people in the audience.
5 questions with Decatur fire Chief Jeff Abbott
Name: Jeff Abbott
Occupation: Decatur fire chief
City of residency: Decatur
Lots of kids say they want to be firefighters when they grow up. Was joining the Fire Department something that you wanted to do when you were young?
I grew up in a small town that had a volunteer fire department, so I was exposed to firefighting at an early age. I joined the volunteer department after high school, and I really enjoyed going on emergency calls and helping make a difference. When I found out you could make a career out of being a firefighter, I started taking fire tests and was hired by the city of Decatur. I never imagined that I would end up being the fire chief here. I’ll never forget receiving the phone call from human resources offering me a job with the Fire Department. It was a dream come true for me.
What's the best part of your job?
The best part is that I actually have this job! There are so many people who take firefighting exams, and don’t ever get hired. That's something I haven't forgotten over the years, and I try to make sure new firefighters don’t forget about the opportunity they are being given. There are two sides to this job for me. One is the administrative side that I have to perform. I have to do my best to make sure the other 110 members of the department have the equipment and training to allow them to successfully deliver our services to the community. The second part is actually going to fires. I try to go to as many as I can. This is where you get to see how the department performs. It also provides the validation for everything you try to do for the community and see how we help people at their worst time.
Do you feel strong support for the Fire Department in Decatur?
Overall, I would say yes. I know there is strong support from the mayor and city manager.
Since becoming fire chief, have you learned anything new or interesting about the area?
I've been here for almost 23 years. While I may not know everything about the area, nothing new or surprising has occurred since I became fire chief. I have seen a lot of areas decline since I've lived here, and I would like to be around for the city's revitalization in the years ahead.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to do woodworking in my garage and lift weights. But, the older I get, I’m liking the weightlifting less and less! My wife and I also like to use the bike path in our neighborhood to walk our dog or go jogging.
5 questions with Dani Feller, co-owner of Black Iron Coffee Co.
Name: Dani Feller
Occupation: Co-owner of Black Iron Coffee Co.
City of Residence: Mount Zion
What inspired you and your husband, Jason, to go into business together?
We both worked different jobs, and we wanted to be able to go into business together. My husband is absolutely obsessed with coffee, so that's sort of the route that we took. One thing led to another, and it all worked out great. We found a place, and we wanted to do something here in Mount Zion because we love the community.
Do you love coffee as much as Jason does?
I can't go a day without it. It's bad if I don't have it.
In your opinion, what's the best thing on the menu?
Food-wise, we make everything from scratch here in our kitchen, so I'd have to say cinnamon rolls. I make some good cinnamon rolls. And then coffee, I drink an iced coffee every morning with a lot of heavy whip in it. It's a good kickstart to the day because I get up early. Right now, we're working extra hard because we recently started our Sundog Roastery.
How much work goes into roasting your own coffee beans?
When it comes down to it, you just want to make sure you're making a roast that you like. Then, you just have other people try it and give you feedback. You want to start with a good bean, that comes from a good company where people are treated fairly, and they're getting the right price. We want to make sure it's fair trade, and start with a good foundation. The whole process of roasting takes a lot of practice, and concentration. It's a lot of fun, and it's rewarding.
Out of the four seasons, which has the best seasonal drinks?
I would say the fall and the winter, because you have those fun flavors. Pumpkin is so popular, but then we introduce the peppermint bark. I say the colder seasons because people tend to hang out in here more, and hunker down, and enjoy their drink. Definitely the cooler seasons because of that aspects.
5 questions with Dan Nash, COO of Knockerball Max
Name: Dan Nash
Occupation: Chief Operating Officer of Knockerball Max
City of Residence: Mount Zion
Knockerball is growing in popularity around the country. What persuaded you to open up shop in Mount Zion?
My business partner brought the idea to me about a year and a half ago. We kicked it around for a long time before finally deciding to pull the trigger. Both of us were very intrigued at how fun it looked.
What is fun about knockerball?
It's physical, and you're allowed to do things that you normally wouldn't be able to do. It takes that fear away. You're able to run into your buddy, or run into your brother and sister, or your husband or wife and knock each other around without fear of injury. There's little to know risk of injury if the rules are being followed. Plus, it's just something new to most people. Immediately there's going to be that appeal.
Is providing people a fun, local activity important to you?
The Decatur-Macon County area is on the upswing. It's important to always present an image of a good quality of life. There's a lot that goes into that, like having entertainment, and having something to do. That was a big, deciding factor when we opened the business. We're not the only ones. There's a lot of new and exciting things out there, and there's more to come. We just wanted to be a part of that.
You're opening a new Knockerball Max location at Hickory Point Mall this October. Are you excited?
I could not be more excited! We didn't know what to expect, as far as response. I didn't think anyone would find out when we were going to open, but the response we have received so far has surpassed our wildest expectations. We're very excited about the store.
Lastly, do you have any advice for people playing knockerball for the first time?
First and foremost, follow the simple safety rules. If you're not injured, you're going to have fun. Secondly, show no mercy and have fun!
5 questions with Nate Allen, owner of Goodfellas Fine Cigars
Name: Nate Allen
Occupation: Owner of Goodfellas Fine Cigars and Emporium, 160 N. Merchant Street
City of Residence: Decatur
Was it always your dream to take over the family business?
No, I just fell into it. After a year as an art and business major in college, I left, came back home and went to Richland. I finished there, and then decided to buy the store. I didn't want to work for anyone anymore, and I was working here already helping my dad out, so I bought it from him. The rest is history.
What's your favorite thing about interacting with your customers?
Getting to know people. I just don't shut up. I just keep talking, and talking, and talking. I want people to trust me. My objective is not to get you to come in here and take you for as much money as I can. I'm too honest for that stuff. At the end of the day, I feel that if you are more honest with people, they are going to come back.
Does being a local business owner make you proud?
Oh yeah. It's like you built something, and you built something that is successful. This was able to allow you to build other things, and allows you other opportunities where you actually are a part of the community. If people were to ask around town where you go to get cigars, they'd say "You go downtown." It just clicks, and everyone knows where you are.
What makes a cigar a "good" cigar?
I get a lot of people who come in and ask me "What do you like?" and it's one of those situations where what I like may not be what they like. I tell people that all of the time, because my tastes may be different than yours. Quality can depend on where do they grow the tobacco, or how long has it aged. It's just too much to put on paper.
It's easy to see that you love Goodfellas the store. Are you a fan of the movie "Goodfellas"?
It's one of the best movies of all time. Super cool.
5 questions with ... Amy Bliefnick, executive director of Macon Resources
Name: Amy Bliefnick
Occupation: Executive Director of Macon Resources, Inc.
City of Residence: Decatur
You say you've lived in Decatur for almost your entire life. What's your favorite thing about the city?
It's the people. I think the people in Decatur are outstanding. Everyone here has such a "can-do" attitude, and it makes me proud to be from Decatur. There's so much to do here! It's also a nice place to raise a family, go to church and get involved with the community.
Why is community involvement important to you?
It enriches your life by giving you a chance to give back. Through that giving back, you gain friendship, and opportunities to enrich others by making this a great place to live. It also makes you a stronger individual. My life is so rich because of some of the friendships I've made here.
What's the best part of your job?
I joined Macon Resources in January, and I feel so blessed to be here. It's because of our clients. We get to see them every day, and every day I get to see them grow and learn. They have such wonderful spirits and attitudes, that it makes me a better person.
Looking forward, do you have any goals you'd like to accomplish with Macon Resources?
I think a lot of people don't know what we do here. I'd like us to be better educators of the opportunities that we offer our clients, because I don't know if we do enough to tell those stories. I want to invite people to see the facility, show the place, and make people more aware. I also want to grow the program by placing our clients in jobs for growth opportunities.
Outside of work, what are some things you like to do in your spare time?
I love to golf, I love to boat, I love to play tennis, I love to be with my friends and family and I love to enjoy life.
5 Questions with ... Julie Stalets, owner of Coffee Connection
Name: Julie Stalets
Occupation: Owner of Coffee Connection
City of residence: Decatur
What inspired you to open your own coffee shop in Decatur?
Prior to Coffee Connection, I worked in marketing for National City Bank. At the time, there wasn’t any locally owned coffee shops, and my business partner and I thought it would be a great opportunity. But I felt that one of us really needed to be there full-time to make it work.
Then, in 2007 when the mortgage industry wasn't doing well, my job was eliminated. This gave us an opportunity to reconsider opening a shop, and we decided to give it a try.
What does a regular day working at Coffee Connection look like?
I wake up extremely early, and drink coffee. Then, I go to work in either our drive through shop (2505 N. Main St) or our shop inside of Decatur Memorial Hospital. I love serving and interacting with our awesome customers, but that means that I'm also human resources, maintenance, doing all of the paperwork ... it's a lot of work!
What's currently the most popular thing on the menu?
Our customers have a lot of favorites, so it's very hard to pick only one. Some of our most popular drink items are our house blend coffee, chai tea latte, white-on-white mocha and our iced tea.
What's your favorite thing about coffee?
I love the taste and I love the smell. The best part is getting the days of our customers started in the morning.
Fall is quickly approaching. Do you have an opinion on pumpkin spice?
This time of the year, it's very popular. Everything is pumpkin: pumpkin-white-on-white, pumpkin chair, pumpkin white chocolate mocha. I do like it! I had a pumpkin spice latte not too long ago.
5 questions with ... Mia Tyus, on-air host for Cromwell Radio
Name: Mia Tyus
Occupation: Host of the "Keeping it Real" show for the Cromwell Radio Group on Magic 95.5
Place of residence: Decatur
You were born and raised in Decatur. What's your favorite thing about living here?
I love the support in this community. That's important to me, because I'm a firm believer that we all need each other. In this community, there's literally a sense of family. There's a niceness that goes on everywhere, and that's what I love about it.
What's the best thing about hosting your own radio show?
I feel like my reach is farther when it comes to empowering and educating the community. I feel like my job is a ministry, and with radio, I'm able to reach out to a wide range of people.
Why do you value community engagement?
That's important, because I don't think we can do this thing called life without other people. I know that I need people, and I just feel like this is home.
Outside of the recording booth, what are some other things that you'd like to do for the community?
I'd love to host a couples' conference. Once a month, maybe we'd host a date night, where all of the couples get together and go out together. I think dating is critical to a healthy relationship. My husband and I like to do out-of-the-box dates, and keep things interesting! It helps us reconnect with each other, and always keep in mind why we like each other. I just think that's really, really important to society.
Do you have any favorite activities?
I love to travel. I also love going to concerts. That's one of the things that my husband and I do a lot of. I also love to spend family time with my kids.
5 questions with ... Danita Roseman, recreation supervisor for the DISC
Name: Danita Roseman
Occupation: Recreation supervisor for the Decatur Indoor Sports Center
City of residence: Oreana
You spent a lot of time this summer overseeing the Fairview Aquatic Center. What's your favorite thing about working at the pool?
I think the fun part is that we have a lot of regulars at the pool. There's a lot of people in the swim lesson program, and it's nice to watch them develop and grow so much. It's also nice just having our regulars come by and watching them have a good time. It's contagious.
Why should people consider going for a swim every now and then?
It's something that people can do for their whole life, whether you're 6 or 80 years old. If you're having a boring day, you can just lay out and enjoy the water. It's a fun and leisurely thing to do.
How are you preparing for the new water park to open at Nelson Park next year?
I've been to a lot of water parks, and a lot of amusement parks before, and it's come in handy when planning for this new facility. I've met with supervisors, and we've discussed what people like or don't like about water parks, and it's given me a different insight about them. We're trying to plan out a good experience for everybody.
What excites you most about the water park?
Just having a new place to go to! It'll be something different, with a lot of different things that are going to give us more possibilities than what we had with just one pool. With a whole new facility, there will be new programs and more special events, like character parties. Those are "in" right now.
Who are you going to dress as for the first character party at the park?
A mermaid would be perfect for the pool setting. People like mermaids. They're magical.
5 questions with ... Jim Lovelace, artist and owner of Jim's Art Gallery
Name: Jim Lovelace
Occupation: Transportation director for the Chatham School District and owner of Jim’s Art Gallery; work recently featured at Decatur Celebration
City of residence: Chatham
When did you first starting considering oil painting as a hobby?
I started back in January of 2013. The reason behind it was that I started contemplating retiring from doing my two other hobbies, refereeing football and basketball, someday and needed something to fill the void. Even though I was never really an art person, and I didn’t take art classes, and didn’t go to art shows, I thought “Maybe I could do this.”
I mentioned it to my kids, and they got such a kick out of it, they got me some canvases at Christmas time as a gag gift. I started messing around with them, one thing led to another, and here we are today.
Since you’ve been doing this for a couple of years, how do they feel about it now?
They’re probably my biggest fans — my wife, daughter and two sons. It’s really nice to have your family support you, because without their support, I wouldn’t have made it this far.
Your art primarily focuses on landscapes, and creating intimate portraits of nature. What is it about the outdoors sparks your creativity?
I’ve spent all of my adult life hunting, and fishing, and camping. Ninety-five percent of the time, there’s something in my paintings that I’ve recalled from some place that I’ve been, or something that I’ve done before. Since I’ve spent a lot of my life outdoors, and enjoyed that immensely, I like to bring those things back to life in my paintings.
Do you prefer to work on your paintings outside or indoors?
I always paint in a safe spot, so primarily from my studio at home. I don’t go to some other place to paint a scene, and I almost never look at a picture and try to recreate something else. I’m trying to create something unique, and if someone decides to buy one of my paintings, it’ll be something that’s come from my imagination.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other people looking for a creative outlet?
Try it. Give it your best effort, and don’t give up on it if it’s something that you enjoy doing. You’ll never be at the top at first, but I always encourage people to follow their hearts and follow their dreams. You never know where that could take you.
5 questions with ... Kim Soman Deatherage, owner of Novel Ideas
Name: Kim Soman Deatherage
Occupation: Owner of Novel Ideas Books and Gifts
City of residence: Decatur, by way of Wisconsin
What is your favorite thing about owning a bookstore?
My people. I have interesting people who come in looking for different things. We are much more than just a used book store. We have new books, used books and bargain books, and we have everything else. Having a shop like this is kind of like being a bartender for book lovers. Sometimes people are looking for information, sometimes they’re looking for direction, sometimes they’re looking for fun. Helping them have that “a-ha” moment is what we try to do.
What’s the most interesting thing that a customer has tried to find at Novel Ideas?
There’s so many things! Interesting is a relative statement because some requests are “What’s the rarest book you have?”, but it can also be “I collect pop-up books. What do you have?." It doesn’t have to be expensive to be interesting. Sometimes interesting is a 7-year-old boy who goes “You need to have the ‘Haunted Library’ book series in here,” and so we have them. That’s something that I can pass on to other people. We’re always gathering information to help and solve problems.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I like older books — things that have a sense of character that the modern books will never have. Sometimes that’s an illustrated book, sometimes it’s one with a really cool binding, sometimes it’s the content.
Is it important that people try their best to preserve older books?
Yes. It's like we're the guardians of these books, rather than owners. They give us a perspective of history. They give us a different perspective on how new things are. That's the kind of thing that influences who we are and how we think. It's just so cool! When older books survive, it gives us an appreciation that we're here for just a moment, and the books go on.
What’s your favorite quotation from an author?
Mark Twain once said, “Those who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t.” I even have that on a poster.
5 questions with ... Terri Chance, Owner, Mister Softee Truck
Name: Terri Chance
Occupation: Owner, Mister Softee Truck
City of residence: Decatur
What’s the best part of owning an ice cream truck?
Making everyone happy! I love seeing the smiles on faces of people both young and old. It is truly a joy hearing stories from people about their childhood regarding the Mister Softee Ice Cream Truck. Almost every day, someone comes up to the truck with a huge smile on their face, saying " Mister Softee! I haven't seen one of these since I was a kid!" Knowing that we bring happy memories to people really just makes us happy.
We also have several regular customers with small children who are now growing up with the Mister Softee truck coming to their birthday parties or to their neighborhood. When we show up to a business and serve employees, we have felt such a deep appreciation for our business. It's great to feel like we are the highlight of people's day!
What was the biggest hurdle you overcame to get into the business?
My own fear of whether people would remember Mister Softee and welcome us "back" with open arms. I was also very fearful of leaving the corporate world and going into business with my daughter, Haley, and her family, but it's turned out to be the biggest blessing!
Do you feel strong support for Mister Softee in Decatur?
We have felt really strong support! Our business is growing year by year and we are getting busier and busier. This is the first year where we have felt the impact of having to turn people down because we are already booked and we haven't been able to run the neighborhoods as much as we have in the past.
Also, we have been building some really great partnerships in this town. Last year, we started partnering with Hickory Point Bank to give away ice cream cones at Blues in the Park and Shake the Lake. Starting this year we have partnered with the Macon County Sheriff's Department for community events, again giving out cones.
We also have a fantastic relationship with the Decatur Park District to attend private and community events at Decatur Parks. We have cultivated relationships with so many people in this community, that without the truck, we would never have known!
Do you have a set route? What is the best way for people to find you
No, we do not have set routes. We do neighborhoods when we can or if a neighborhood contacts us to visit, we let them know when we can be there. We have worked very hard to make our business event-oriented. We do special events, birthday parties, weddings, corporate picnics, employee appreciation days, nursing homes, school events and more!
The best way for people to find us is to follow our Facebook page. We do our best to post daily where the truck will be located and when it is open to the public! We can also be contacted by phone or text at (217) 521-7020 or (217) 972-1225.
What kind of ice cream is your favorite?
I love ALL ice cream. Since we offer a variety of toppings, I'm always trying to create new sundae or milkshake combinations!
5 questions with ... Lori Sturgill, Decatur Celebration producer
Name: Lori Sturgill
Occupation: Director/Producer of Decatur Celebration
City of residence: Decatur
You've been Decatur Celebration Producer for seven years now. How has the event evolved and changed over that time?
When I became the producer of the festival, I came in on an agenda of change. It seemed like for many years, we kept saying, ‘This might be the last year of the festival,’ and just kind of had a negative image. I wanted to turn that around, and I also wanted to reshape our focus on diversity of entertainment. I also wanted to add a lot of new features to the event and shake things up a little bit. At this point, I keep saying to myself that I want to have an easy year and not change anything, but that never seems to happen.
Since I started, we had the 21 Film Festival for several years and an art area surrounding that. The wine garden and craft beer became part of the festival. We always had a VIP tent, but that was previously only available to sponsors, and now we’ve opened that up to the public.
The festival constantly evolves because we’re constantly looking to see what the audience wants. When I first came in, the audience seems to be asking for upscale areas to the festival, so that’s why the wine garden was born.
I had a goal to start recycling, which we did in 2011. If I want to say anything was my passion project, that was probably it from the beginning. The staff of Macon County Environmental Management has made recycling super easy. They hadn’t been asked to do it before. When we did ask, they were totally onboard.
What new foods or features should people make sure not to miss this year?
Land of Lincoln Credit Union is sponsoring a virtual reality experience this year with Heroic Age Studios. You'll put the headphones on and feel like you’re in the the middle of whatever the experience is. I’m not going to ruin that for anybody, but let’s say maybe you’re walking a tightrope between two buildings; your body reacts to that in a stressful manner because it feels so real to you.
Jim Beam has come on as a sponsor, so we’ll be doing some cocktails in two locations, one by the Show Stage and one outside of the post office area.
This year we’re doing something new called Celeroochelooza; it’s going to be a really cool area for teenagers. In addition, Kids Block has expanded and the entrance is moving to South Franklin, across from the Decatur Public Library. They have expanded the games and everything in there, including a mermaid in a tank and building project with materials provided by Lowe’s.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is providing a family care center for the second year. They will have an air-conditioned, private area where mothers can breastfeed. There’s also diaper changing and a resting area if you’re getting hot; it’s all kind of around the aspect of helping families while they’re down there.
This is the first year that the Celebration will have a fence and charge admission. Are there any misconceptions about these changes, or the festival overall, that you'd like to clear up?
There are definitely questions that people had about the fence. One is: Where are the admission gates? You can find a map on the Decatur Celebration website; they are pretty much all over the perimeter. Anywhere that you normally would have walked in, most likely there will be an admission gate there now.
Some people asked if they had to have an admission wristband to get in and also one for food and beverage. No, you just have to have the admission wristband to get in. There’s only one wristband, and that’s what it is.
Other people had asked if they needed a wristband to watch the parade. No, you don’t necessarily have to, although you certainly can. Half of the parade route, all along Main Street from North Street to the Ameren parking lot on the south side, is outside the fence. You can stand anywhere along there and watch the parade without needing to have a wristband.
I want to make sure that people know wristbands cost $5 in advance, and those advance sales end at close of business on Tuesday. After that, it’s $8 at the gate. Wristbands are available at the following Decatur businesses:
- Brinkoetter & Associates
- Coffee Connection
- County Market on Pershing
- Cricket Wireless
- Decatur Earthmover Credit Union
- Hickory Point Bank
- Land of Lincoln Credit Union
- Soy Capital Bank & Trust
- Town & Country Bank
Of all the headliners you've booked as Producer, which one made you the most personally excited?
I loved having En Vogue here. I grew up participating in choir and I loved to sing; I was always listening to their tapes over and over again, just trying to sing everything exactly like they did.
What is your favorite Celebration food?
It changes every year because I like to try the new things. This year I’m really excited about lobster mac and cheese. I also love the crab cakes and the fish tacos — I guess I have a seafood theme.
5 questions with ... DJ Mondo, radio personality with Hot 105.5
Name: DJ Mondo
Occupation: DJ and radio personality on Hot 105.5 with Neuhoff Media.
City of Residence: Bloomington
What was your first big break as a DJ?
I started doing college radio at Illinois State University back in 2006. Then I started at Hot 105 in 2008. So I've been doing this officially a little over 10 years now.
Did you always want to be on the radio, or did you originally have another career path in mind?
Ever since I was little, I've always wanted to DJ. When I started off doing club shows and various parties, I was just doing the mixes at first. Then when I got to college, I started talking on air, and I kind of liked it. It just took off ever since then.
What's your favorite genre of music to play during your sets?
Old school house music. I like hip-hop and R&B too, but I like old school house music because it's feel-good music.
Do you choose the songs you play at live events ahead of time, or do you make decisions based on how the audience is reacting?
I really just feed off of the crowd. I know what the top songs are, and what everyone wants to hear, but I don't really make any specific playlists. I'll just have a lot of songs that people want to hear, and some stuff that I think will sound good, and just feed of of the crowd's energy.
What advice would you have for anyone who aspires to be a DJ?
Start DJing on turntables first, so you can really learn how to DJ and not just push some buttons. When you have more control over sound and you're doing it yourself, you put more of yourself into it. That's what distances you from other DJs. If you can master that, then the things you can do will be even better than what you can do with computer assistance.
5 questions with ... Aric Lee, radio personality with Neuhoff Media
Name: Aric Lee
Occupation: Radio Personality on WSOY-AM & WDZ-AM with Neuhoff Media
City of residence: Decatur
How did you get started in radio, and what do you love about it?
I'm the worst story for a youngster wanting a career in radio. After working for the sports department for seven years at the Herald & Review, I built relationships with the WSOY radio guys (Ron Rector and Ron James), and when I switched jobs and offered them any help, I completely tumbled into a radio life. I was solely a play-by-play broadcaster for two seasons, before WDZ was converted to a 24-hour sports station, opening the door for nine years of a local sports/talk show, before switching to WSOY this March.
What I love is that every day is different. Sometimes completely different. I get to tell great stories of how people/athletes are bettering the community I adore. With a show built around community involvement and entertainment, we all get to learn things together, or remind each other of the utter good that happens around us. As a sports broadcaster, I get to deliver stories of high school and Millikin athletics, and there's often a natural high from watching athletes really get it, and grow up before our eyes.
What's your secret to get people to loosen up during on-air interviews?
They are in the studio for a reason, so I simply want to utilize whatever they are passionate about. If someone tells me they are nervous, it's easy, you love whatever we're going to talk about, so act like we're just chatting about it .... and it always works to make fun of myself, or someone we both know. Seventy percent of the time, laughter works, every time.
Your show moved earlier this year from ESPN 1050 AM to WSOY 1340 AM/103.3 FM. What’s been the most interesting or surprising thing about the change?
The most interesting is learning the ins and outs of so many organizations/events/people in the community, who I never had the opportunity to chat with in the sports world. Surprising is the feedback. My co-host/producer (Nick Smith), or I, get positive feedback regularly, and the reply is always the same: We really appreciate you listening.
As a Decatur native, what’s your favorite thing about the city?
Seriously, the people and talent in Decatur is absolutely phenomenal. We have unique food & chefs. We have amazing artistry which continues to grow. Incredible county and city police forces. And obviously, the people. The WSOY Community Food Drive blows my mind every October. And nearly every single time you see someone in need, the community delivers. We do things together, for better or worse, no matter what.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Decatur Celebration?
It's an extremely busy weekend with our NowDecatur.com coverage that we attack as a team, to make sure everyone feels like they never left the party. But nevertheless, when Sunday night rolls around, and I leave the office, with all the incredible volunteers tearing it all down, I get that sad feeling that it's over. The Celebration is just another thing that Champaign, Bloomington, & Springfield could never do like we do! But to answer the question for 2017: One, "Country Grammar" (by Nelly). Two, "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" (by Travis Tritt). And Three, one or six Thai Chickens.
5 questions with ... Paul Osborne, editor/publisher of Decatur Tribune
Name: Paul Osborne
Occupation: Editor/Publisher of the Decatur Tribune
City of residence: Decatur
What made you want to buy a newspaper? Did you always want to be a journalist?
Since I was a kid I've been attracted to the spoken and printed word and how they are reported and used to inform and inspire people. I started public speaking when I was a student at Roosevelt Junior High School and printed my first magazine with multi-state distribution when I was a teenager. Although I studied for the ministry and did a lot of public speaking, I felt a lot more people could be reached through publishing.
I started my publishing business in Decatur in 1964 and bought the Decatur Tribune in 1969 -- one year after it was founded and one week before it was going to close down. I was strongly advised by local business leaders not to buy a failing newspaper. I saw it as a great opportunity to not only inform the public but express personal views on the editorial page. I've been editor and publisher for every issue since that time and the Tribune has won numerous journalism and community awards for reporting and editorial stands over the decades.
The decision to buy the Tribune also led to many other opportunities in radio, television and purchasing other newspapers over the decades and to being elected twice as mayor of Decatur. I don't believe any of that would have happened without making the decision to buy the Tribune.
What do you think of the state of journalism today — both how it’s produced and how it is received by the public?
Overall, the credibility of journalism has suffered in recent years as the way news is delivered has become so diverse. Radio, television, cable news, the web, Facebook and a host of other means of reporting what is called "news" have produced an endless number of stories and fake news 24-7 which tend to dilute the credibility of all news sources.
Nearly 50 years ago, when I bought the Decatur Tribune, Decatur also had two radio stations, the Herald & Review, a television station and not much else to inform the public. With so many "news" sources today, readers are challenged to determine what is true and what is rumor. Although a lot has changed, I still love publishing "print on paper" and reading newspapers.
Who have been some of your favorite interviews over the years?
Exclusive interview with Presidential Candidate Ronald Reagan, a late night one-on-one interview with Sen. Chuck Percy when it appeared he was going to be defeated after serving many years in the U. S. Senate, exclusive one-on-one interview with Nancy Reagan when she made a stop in Decatur and many more political, entertainment figures and local people with interesting stories have been among my favorites. The best part of the exclusive interviews was being able to see another interesting side of a person that is usually hidden from the public image. Most of the time, the "hidden side" I saw was the best side.
What advice do you have for other small business owners in Decatur?
Stay focused, work hard and treat customers the way you want to be treated. It's also important to hire good people who understand what you and the business are about. Be prepared to always work a lot more than a 40-hour week, have an understanding family and pray a lot. Don't give up when there are tough times because they will come now and then. Use the tough times to build better times and always be willing to give back to the community.
How would you describe Decatur to someone who had never been here?
When I started my business over a half century ago, I saw Decatur as a city of opportunity. Although a lot has changed in Decatur, and the world, since that time, I see the changes as presenting our city with additional opportunities. We have two hospitals, Richland Community College, Millikin University, Lake Decatur, one of the best park systems anywhere, major industries, great police and fire departments, an amazing history, and so much more — and great, great people who continue to demonstrate their generosity in so many ways. I love this city for all it has been, it is, and will be, and wouldn't think of living or having a business anywhere else. My life has been so blessed by being a resident of Decatur.
5 questions with ... Jacques Nuzzo, Illinois Raptor Center
Name: Jacques Timothy Nuzzo
Occupation: Program Director (Director of Non Human Resources) at the Illinois Raptor Center
City of residence: Decatur
For those who aren’t familiar with it, what is the Illinois Raptor Center?
The official mission statement for the Illinois Raptor Center is: The purpose of the Illinois Raptor Center is to ensure the well being of native animals through wildlife rehabilitation; to increase conservation awareness through educational outreach; to contribute expertise and support to conservation partners; and to improve our understanding of wildlife health through hands-on research.
Basically, we have state and federal permits to make decisions on orphaned or injured native or migratory wildlife. We also do programs educating the public on wild things that live right here in Central Illinois.
We help other organizations through consulting or problem solving wildlife issues. We also gather data on birds of prey for various research projects pertaining to the welfare of raptors.
If money were no object, what would you love to add to the facility?
One of the things I love about the IRC is that we are pretty good problem solvers. We have a range of technological gadgets to help us in helping animals. I would love to see more of this equipment on hand. Things like GoPro cameras, drones and trail cameras have helped us immensely and also provide wonderful educational videos and pictures. The technology advances quickly, and I wish we could just keep up with it.
How did you get involved with wildlife rescue?
I've always been fascinated with animals, but more with the science of them and their role in the grander scheme of things. I love how they fit in to the natural world. I’ve been observing things outdoors for as long as I can remember. From a young age I would find animals in situations while observing and would love to figure out how I could help but not interfere too much in their lives.
I found a bird downtown Decatur one year with a broken wing and contacted Jane Seitz ,the executive director for the IRC, who was a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and fell in love with what she was doing. Together we started to figure out ways to do more for animals by focusing on their natural behaviors and trying to use those behaviors to help them survive in the wild. I personally believe we have done a fantastic job.
What are some misconceptions about raptors, or wildlife in general, that you’d like to correct?
I think a lot of people think we are a state or federally funded facility. We do have to operate on permits from the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but we do not receive any funding from these agencies. We are a true not-for-profit and everything we have has been achieved through fundraising, newsletter, programs, grants and sponsorships. We work extremely hard to keep the center up and running. All that we have started in a garage, and now is a 25-acre, extremely well built, and state-of-the-art facility for rehabilitation.
We are also not law enforcement when it comes to wildlife or conservation issues and violations, but we do work very closely with law enforcement agencies and are sometimes the first to see these laws broken and can report them directly to officials.
What’s your favorite bird and why?
I like all birds. It’s so hard to pin one down. If you want to see me pull over a car in the middle of driving or don a ghillie suit and hide in a natural prairie, in the middle of winter, then hands down it’s the Short-eared Owl. This little nomadic migrant is just the most beautiful owl species there is. It’s camouflaged for life in the grass. Its calls are “barks” and “meows” that sound so wonderful across windswept fields. It floats like a giant butterfly when searching for its prey. It’s also very endangered in Illinois, and rarely seen nesting. The bird is a true mystery because of its nomadic behavior.
5 questions with ... Abi McIntosh, Standing Paddle Co. and New Era Signs
Name: Abi McIntosh
Occupation: Co-owner of Standing Paddle Co and New Era Signs Inc.
City of residence: Decatur
What is stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and how did you get into it?
I have family in Pensacola, Florida, and first rented a SUP there. We loved it on the bay but I realized right away that would also be something we would enjoy on flat water in Illinois. Our daughters were little, and we could easily put them on the front of our boards. At that time we lived very close to Clinton Lake. I first owned a kayak and found it very liberating to load and unload my own vessel and head out intrepidly on the lake.
We purchased our own board in Florida one year and hauled it back. I would get a lot of funny looks and comments at first, taking what looked like a surf board to the lake. But mocking soon turned to interest, as what had become commonplace in coastal areas has made its way inland. More people are now familiar with SUP and curious to try it.
I networked with other SUP owners locally and a few of us started a Facebook page with the hopes of building some enthusiasm for the sport, a reference for pleasant locations to paddle, etc. Quickly we were receiving weekly messages asking if we offered rentals. I kept saying no to people, and it just felt wrong. If I really loved SUP and wanted others to try it, I may have to take the leap to offer rentals myself. We did some polling, research, shopped for boards, supplies, insurance, and networked with the amazing people at our local Decatur Park District, and Standing Paddle Co. was born late summer 2016.
What options do you have for people to try it locally?
Right here on Lake Decatur at Nelson Park! Isn't that amazing?! We have people coming from Champaign, Springfield, and Bloomington to try this on Lake Decatur. We are located in Nelson Park at the Snack Shack, 2451 E. Cantrell. We are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and also by appointment when possible though the week for small groups.
We have eight SUPs available (six for adults and two for kids) and five kayaks (single seat). We have life jackets for all sizes. We go through some brief instruction before people leave the dock. We start people out on their knees on the SUP and teach them some tips for how to get to their feet, how to deal with boat wakes and traffic, and the best place to stand on their board to maximize stability.
What kind of community reaction have you gotten to offering rentals on Lake Decatur?
I've encountered the occasional naysayer, but largely, I have met the most amazing people since I started doing this out at the lake. I have made new friends, have regular customers, and have experienced such joy seeing people smiling as they paddle back into the dock.
Most people are trepidatious at first. They worry they will fall into the water, the fear they won't be able stand, they tell me they have "horrible balance," etc. Then, 30 minutes later, there they are, paddling back toward the dock with a huge smile on their face, standing on Lake Decatur. It's such a confidence-building exercise and I am so grateful for all of the people who have been willing to try. I also teach SUP yoga classes at the Decatur Athletic Club and Fairview pools, and the response to those classes has been really great as well.
How long have you lived in Decatur and what do you like about the city?
We have lived in Decatur for 3 years now. We love the West End, our girls have been incredibly happy at Dennis Lab School, our Decatur Park District is phenomenal, and it is (by and large) a very economical place to live, work, and raise a family. We have met so many kind, generous, hard working people here. I am grateful to call Decatur home.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start a small business?
I hardly feel like an authority on the subject. We have owned the sign company for 5 years and don't even have a full year vested in Standing Paddle Co. Still, I guess I have learned a few things along the way.
The biggest misnomer to business ownership is the concept that there is somehow more freedom. Starting a business venture that you want desperately to see succeed becomes a part of your every waking moment, and some of your sleeping moments too. Be willing to invest your time and your energy.
Do a lot of polling, research, and networking prior to roll out to make sure there really is interest out there. Try to start small and within your means, if possible. Have a back up plan for the days (and sometimes weeks or months) that things don't do well. If you hire someone, connect with someone who has the same passion and drive that you do, and pay them well, otherwise do it yourself. Facebook is a fantastic small-business marketing tool, use it well, don't abuse it.
5 questions with ... Natalie Beck, Decatur Family YMCA
Name: Natalie Beck
Occupation: Director of Donor Services and Marketing, Decatur Family YMCA
City of residence: Decatur
What’s the best part of your job?
Each day I enjoy connecting with our members, donors and staff. The Decatur Family YMCA is celebrating its 140th year and being a part of that success is a blessing. At the Y, I cherish: hearing the success stories of our members, being a Christian organization and praying before each meeting, working to match a donor’s philanthropic interests with the needs of the Y, and being part of the devoted staff which is a second family to me.
For those who haven’t been out to YMCA recently, what’s new?
We are always evolving to meet the growing needs of our community. Our Before and After School program continues to operate at capacity and we have added more STEM curriculum to better prepare students. We added GLIDE stand-up paddle aquatics classes this year. Our youth soccer program has expanded to a permanent home at Borg-Warner fields.
What are some current programs that are having an impact?
Programs at the Decatur Family YMCA transform lives every day. We offer the LiveSTRONG program which provides cancer survivors a free 12-week exercise and support program. Our aquatics program teaches over 1,700 children to swim each year and we are committed to providing basic lifesaving swim skills for Decatur-area second-graders through our SPLASH program. The Decatur Family YMCA’s Backpack Attack will be held July 29 this year, and over 2,000 backpacks filled with school supplies will be given away to children in need.
If money were no obstacle, what is something the Y would like to do?
I’d love to see the Decatur Family YMCA have a building expansion to include a dedicated youth development building. We would be able to house all of our Before and After School programs in one location, have state-of-the art computer and science labs, tutoring and art studios. I’m also very passionate about equal access for all, and if money were not an obstacle, I’d vote for an outdoor all-access paved track around the perimeter of the Y and an outdoor fitness part with adaptive disability equipment.
When you’re not at work, what’s a favorite activity you have in the community?
I enjoy being a board volunteer for Catholic Charities, the Decatur Parks Foundation and being a member of Rotary Club #180. I am a runner and I’m striving to complete a half marathon in all 50 states, I’ve completed 11 so far. I’ll be running in Alaska this July. My husband Matt and I are very fortunate to have 3 daughters and their families residing in Decatur which allows us to stay super busy being Papa and Nana to 10 wonderful grandchildren.
5 questions with ... Ken Frye, Scovill Zoo
Name: Ken Frye
Occupation: Scovill Zoo Director
City of residency: Forsyth
For those who haven’t been out to Scovill Zoo yet this year, what’s new?
“What’s new at the zoo?” is probably the most frequent question I’m asked and probably for a couple of reasons. One, it rhymes; and two, they are genuinely curious. Zoo babies are always fun to check out! A dozen goats and three wallabies were born this spring. Four baby peachicks are wandering around the zoo with their mother.
In the Herpaquarium, we have a new exhibit of tentacled snakes, which are water snakes from Southeast Asia that have “tentacles” growing off their snouts. We will also be displaying two new red pandas as part of an AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP). Many exhibits have been updated, and a new train shelter has been added. You’ll find lots of “new” at Scovill Zoo!
Are there any common misconceptions about what zookeepers do?
Some people seem to think that zookeepers pick up poo and play with the animals all day. Our keepers do pick up poo, but they also check each animal’s appetite, body condition, and general disposition. They prepare morning and afternoon meals, and add enrichment to the animals’ daily routines through sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Off-season is challenging, since indoor holding areas require hosing and scrubbing, and larger winter diets mean heavier trips to the exhibits.
What’s your favorite animal at the zoo and why?
My answer seems to change weekly! When I first started at the zoo, I loved the wolves, except when they got cranky. I love the camels, except when they are being destructive. It’s hard not to pick the red pandas since they are so adorable. But, believe it or not, my favorite animal is probably the tenrec. This small, hedgehog-like animal from Madagascar is about the size of a mouse. People enjoy meeting our tenrec, Brillo, when we have him out. Tenrecs are familiar-looking and yet strange-looking at the same time.
If money were no obstacle, what animal would you bring to Scovill and why?
River otters! I think people would love to see river otters at Scovill Zoo. These fun, charismatic animals are very active, playing in and out of the water. They also have an important story to tell. Otters were once hunted to the point that none were left in Illinois. Fast forward to today, and river otters are making a comeback in Illinois streams and rivers. The zoo has studied river otters and what it would take to build an exhibit. The cost is in the millions, but since money is no obstacle, let’s do it!
What’s the best part of your job?
I love to see kids’ faces when they make a connection with an animal or when they learn a new animal fact. At that point, I know they will champion animals in their home, community, and around the world.
5 questions with ... Stacey Brohard, Good Samaritan Inn
Name: Rev. Dr. Stacey Brohard
Occupation: Executive Director of The Good Samaritan Inn
City of Residence: Mount Zion
What should people know about The Good Samaritan Inn and the services it provides?
The Good Samaritan Inn has been serving the Greater Decatur Community for 35 years while growing into much more than its humble beginnings as a soup kitchen. Currently, the Inn offers two job skills training programs in culinary arts, horticulture and basic construction. 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.
What observations can you share about the homeless population in Decatur?
Our local organizations are doing an amazing job meeting the needs of our homeless population in Decatur, or at least those wanting help. We have the Continuum of Care (COC) which is a group of organizational leaders focused on homeless population care. This group meets monthly to share issues and solutions in our community. If someone in our community finds themselves in a homeless situation and wants assistance toward rehousing, it will happen. I can truly say there is no legitimate housing need that would drive someone to hold a sign on a street corner.
Are there any misconceptions about your clients that you’d like to correct?
We have a wide variety of clients using our services. The commonality is that of food insecurities. Most wonder how they are going to purchase food on the modest or non-existent income they receive. We have clients of all ages, some housed and some not. Each summer we serve an additional 80 to 100 children per day who would normally rely on school lunches.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
Lately, I have not found too much time for hobbies. Recently, my daughter blessed our family with our fourth grandchild following triplets one year ago. Although I love getting lost in the countryside with my camera or catching bugs in my teeth while riding my Harley, I have a greater passion for family support. There’s nothing better than having so many smiles looking back at you while watching your daughter and son-in-law go crazy trying to raise their young tribe of children.
In June, I will be traveling with family to Bend, Ore., to spend time behind the camera exploring the region with my son and daughter-in-law who live in Corvallis. They spend so much time on their medical careers that they too need the time to unwind in nature.
What is your favorite passage from Scripture?
My favorite scripture would be Acts 4:32-35:
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
"And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need."
5 questions with ... Brian Berns, creator of 217 Problems
Name: Brian Berns
Occupation: Social media consultant and creator of 217 Problems
City of residence: Springfield
What is 217 Problems, and how did it originate?
217 Problems is a social media account that is multidimensional content machine. It celebrates and makes fun of what the 217 (area code) is all about. Some days it will be about potholes, other days it will be about supporting a family who lost their home, and every day it's something you can relate to and spark conversation.
How it started: I was at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and created a popular Twitter account there. Right before graduation, I wondered how I could keep this type of thing going to give me an outlet for creativity, and stumbled upon the idea of 217 problems.
What’s your favorite story that has come out of the page?
Oh gosh, so many. I'll give you a couple:
A lady got her purse stolen and I shared her letter to the editor in hopes of someone knowing who did it. A couple of people suggested starting a GoFundMe fundraiser for her, so I did it and over $800 was raised to save the lady's Christmas.
I posted about a missing dog, and a lady who saw the post saw that their neighbor had the dog. The dog was reunited with the owner.
Every time I post someone's car, within five minutes that person is tagged or they comment, "Hey, that's me." The 217 is a big place, and the Internet is a bigger place. Always surprised people see it so soon.
What are some of the weirdest submissions you’ve received?
Everyone dressed in a clown costume driving down the road, and it wasn't even close to Halloween.
Every time someone posts illegal drugs on resale sites. Happens more than you think.
The number of ways people put "217 problems" in their vacation photos and send them in. Example: When someone was in Las Vegas, they took a photo of playing cards 2, A, 7 and a piece of paper that said "problems."
A lady once was selling a TV and her reflection on the TV was naked, so naturally she posted the photo without realizing that.
Also someone selling their used cake on a resale site was classic. "Only one piece gone," they said.
What have you learned about Central Illinois from running 217 Problems?
I've learned a lot! Being from Pleasant Plains, my world before 217 Problems was kind of around Springfield, Plains and that's it. It's made me grow an appreciation for what small-town America is all about.
I've learned most of the 217 has pride, and it's OK to make fun of where you live ... Just other area codes can't do it.
5 questions with ... Nicole Bateman, Limitless Decatur and Midwest Inland Port
Name: Nicole Bateman
Occupation: I serve as both the Community Marketing Manager for Decatur & Macon County and Executive Director of the Midwest Inland Port
City of residence: Decatur
What’s your idea of a perfect day in Decatur?
A perfect day would be spent with my husband and son exploring our parks and conservation trails, afternoon local shopping, sunset dinner overlooking Lake Decatur, and cap it off with a festival or show. Every day in Decatur could be a fun-filled, action packed, perfect day if you want it to be. The possibilities are limitless.
Why do you think some Decatur residents have a negative perception of their community, and what’s the key to changing that?
Let’s be honest, Decatur fell on hard times and when a town our size makes national news over and over again in a short amount of time, it develops a reputation — just or unjust — and it made Decatur an easy target for negative stories and we lost our confidence. Think of Decatur like your classmate that was picked on. We all had one. Over the course of years when others repeatedly told him that he was not good enough, he lost his confidence and didn’t aspire to achieve more. Until one day, a group of people saw his true potential and assets that could chart a new course for his future. That kid is Decatur.
Did Decatur take a beating? Yes. Do we have a vision for our future? Yes. Are there people working day in and day out to build our self-confidence again? Absolutely. The key to changing the negative self-image: We must quit looking in the past. This is a new era. Decatur has an incredible way of re-creating itself. Renewed lakefront activity, micro-breweries, arts and culture, Fortune 500 companies investing and bringing work TO Decatur. Look around and look forward ... it’s a transformation! Chin up, Decatur!
How will the development of the Midwest Inland Port affect the average Decatur resident?
Simply put: quality jobs and more people. The Midwest Inland Port is — in short — our multi-modal hub consisting of planes, trains, automobiles, and a ramp. The ADM Intermodal Ramp is the connecting piece to moving goods between rail and truck, and the Decatur Airport is key for air cargo transferred to truck and vice versa. Regional companies have experienced cost savings in both time and dollars when exporting, importing, and distributing goods from the assets that make up the Midwest Inland Port. Now it’s time to take our message outward and target specific industries to relocate or expand here, and when they do that means more quality jobs and more people moving to the community to fill those positions.
What can the community do to attract and retain more young people?
We’re on the right path with the addition of the lakefront development projects and amphitheater, good schools and parks, and multiple transportation options. These are all things that are attractive to young people. We need to create more downtown living with walkability in mind. Young professionals want to live where the action is, but have walkability (or bike routes) to markets, gyms, retail and additional recreation. How great would it be to have a corridor of young professional housing between Downtown Decatur and the West End, with additional bike and walking trails connecting to Lake Decatur where there is additional housing, retail, and recreation?
How do you think the city will be different in 10 years?
I envision lower unemployment, increased median household income, and increased population. Our schools, college, university, and businesses working together to create a workforce pipeline that supports the needs of the expanding business community. Co-work spaces fostering creativity and a business accelerator that puts innovation at the forefront, a vibrant lakefront scene and a bustling downtown that complements activities taking place throughout other parts of the city. I envision a Decatur that tells its own story so well that you can feel the excitement in every restaurant, hotel, school, office, factory, and home you walk into.
5 questions with ... Katie Gross, Decatur Public Library
Name: Katie Gross
Occupation: Children’s Librarian at Decatur Public Library
City of residence: Decatur
How and why did you come to be a librarian in Decatur?
Our family moved to Decatur from Virginia in 1985 so that I could accept the job as children’s librarian and my husband could go to graduate school (also in library science) at the U of I. I mentally made a two-year commitment, and here I am almost 32 years later! Decatur was a great place to raise three boys, (my husband) Arthur went on to be the A.V. librarian at DPL (since retired) and we put down roots!
What’s the best and worst part of your job?
Connecting kids and books and watching children become eager readers is very rewarding. We’re building literacy, encouraging curiosity, and readers are gaining knowledge, understanding and empathy, more important than ever in today’s world! The most frustrating part of the job is that I rarely accomplish even a third of the things I intend to do. It’s certainly never boring!
Favorite children’s book and why?
Out of a multitude of favorites, one would be Newbery Medal winner "Bud, Not Buddy" by Christopher Paul Curtis. Bud, a motherless 10-year-old in Depression-era Flint, Michigan, runs away from an abusive foster home in search of a father he has never known. The reader will find adventure, mystery, laugh-aloud funny bits, and maybe shed a tear or two while rooting for the ever-so-likable Bud! My favorite fiction books take me inside a character’s skin, mind and soul. Reading this one, I shed my older-white-librarian-who grew-up-in-Alabama persona, and become a young African-American boy on a quest in Michigan 25 years before I was even born. Though I came back to reality at the end, I still carry a little of Bud in my heart.
Since you work with kids a lot: What lessons do you think adults could take from them?
Kids live in the moment, without a lot of preconceived notions, and everything is fresh and new to them. Try to see the world through their unjaundiced eyes!
What upcoming programs and opportunities at the Decatur Public Library should people know about?
The annual summer reading program starts June 1. Read (or listen to) books and collect rewards! Generations of children have participated in this popular library program. Of course we hope the ultimate reward they take away is the pleasure of reading. Other rewards are a ticket to a performance of the new summer ’17 READiculous show, and a paperback book from the Friends.
New this summer will be the radio frequency identification system the library is busy installing, which will make it possible for people to easily check out their materials, which will then be instantly checked in upon return. Among other advantages, we’re hoping for no waiting lines and increased efficiency in getting materials back on the shelves.
5 questions with ... Jerry Johnson, Decatur Area Arts Council
Name: Jerry Johnson
Occupation: Executive Director, Decatur Area Arts Council
City of residence: Decatur
Can you describe the mission of the Decatur Area Arts Council?
The official mission of DAAC is to introduce and promote the arts, enhance arts educational opportunities and increase the impact of and access to the arts to improve the quality of life in the community.
We strive to support arts activities and arts organizations throughout the community and facilitate partnerships to increase the reach and success of these activities and groups. Where we see gaps, we encourage others to develop arts programs to meet unfulfilled needs or sometimes create programs ourselves.
What inspired the push for more murals and public art in Decatur, and what’s next in that effort?
Since its inception, the Decatur Mural Project was intended to be an ongoing effort. The goal is not just to beautify buildings throughout the city but create a sense of pride among Decatur-area residents, along with visually promote the benefit of the arts throughout the community. We have been encouraged by the warm reception the first several pieces have received.
Plans are underway to have three murals painted in 2017 and we hope to make an announce in the next week.
What kind of art do you most like to create and why?
After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in visual art from Millikin University, I was bitten by the theater bug a year later. I find all aspects of theater challenging and exciting, but it is the collaborative nature of the process that appeals to me most. There is nothing as fulfilling as working with a collection of creative, talented, and smart people all aimed at accomplishing the same goals.
Regardless of what I am doing, once it is completed, I am always looking for “what’s next.”
What do you appreciate most about the theater scene in Decatur?
That there are some many varied groups bring productions to the stage, including multiple community theater groups, academic organizations from junior high to university level, as well as organizations like the Decatur Park District. This gives people of all ages and experience levels and chance to learn, grow, and perform.
Who’s your favorite artist and why?
My favorite visual artist is, like millions of other people around the world, Vincent Van Gogh. His work displays a passion and intensity that I find compelling ... everyday scenes that, through his eyes and touch, are taken far beyond the everyday world. I seem to be drawn to the arts, visual, musical, theatrical, etc., that touch me on a visceral because they take me to places that I can’t seem to reach on my own.