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Looking back on 2013

Editor’s note: This is another segment in a series that looks back on some of the headlines in Bureau County during 2013.

March 2: Princeton Christian Academy’s Sophia Brandenburg snags the county’s spelling bee championship title, making it her second consecutive win in the annual Bureau County Spelling Bee. Brandenburg, an eighth-grader, defeated 22 fellow contestants during four rounds of competition held at the Bureau County Metro Center in Princeton. Runner-up was Conner Whitten, an eighth-grader from Cherry Grade School.

March 5: With winter months slowly moving past, it seems so is the flu season.
Deb Piper of the Bureau/Putnam County Health Department says although the number of flu cases is slowing down, it’s still uncertain when the cases will be cleared. The flu season started early this year, mid-November, and has been a more severe season throughout the country, though considered moderate in Illinois, she said.

March 7: An early morning blaze at Habanero’s Mexican Grill and Cantina in Princeton leaves the downtown restaurant in complete shambles. The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the state fire marshal. Princeton Fire Chief Chuck Woolley says a passerby notified authorities the South Main Street business was on fire. Mutual aid was provided by an estimated 13 neighboring fire departments.

March 9: Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson announces he will not seek re-election in November 2014. Thompson, a Democrat from Ladd, is serving his third term in office, having been first elected sheriff in November 2002 when he defeated incumbent sheriff Bill Rosenow, a Republican from Sheffield. Thompson says he decided not to seek re-election for personal reasons in the sense that he has developed opinions about government and its methodologies which makes it difficult to continue as sheriff.

March 12: The Ladd Community School District is one of 64 school districts in Illinois selected for a pilot program to evaluate kindergarten students for school readiness.
Ladd Superintendent Michelle Zeko says she’s excited for this opportunity for Ladd to participate in the statewide Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) pilot project.

March 14: The Bureau County Board wrestles again with what kind of resolution they want to sign in support of concealed weapon legislation in Illinois. Board member Robin Rediger presents information on six concealed carry bills being considered by Springfield legislators. After board discussion, Rediger says he will come back to next month’s meeting with a more general resolution showing the county’s support of concealed carry legislation and also requesting a portion of the application fee remain in the county for administrative costs.

March 16: DePue High School students announce they will present their environmental project results to the Illinois Lake Management Association at Illinois State University. During the last couple years, the DePue student environmental group has developed a method to encapsulate and immobilize contaminates in soil, sediment, sludge and waste piles. The challenge was sparked after students tested and found high levels of heavy metals in the topsoil of residential areas in DePue, the students said.

March 19: Bureau County Clerk Kami Hieronymus confirms Walnut village president candidate Robert Brasen and Walnut village trustee candidate Lori Wilkinson have withdrawn their names from the April 9 consolidated election ballot. Both Brasen and Wilkinson are incumbents to the Walnut Village Board. Brasen says he does not agree with the infrastructure within the village government. Wilkinson says there is division on the board, and she does not feel all members have the best interest of the residents in mind.

March 21: The voters of Cherry and the school board decide they want their students to go to Dimmick. Cherry Superintendent Jim Boyle says the process has begun to pursue a consolidation agreement with the Dimmick School District. A combination of evaporating state aid, shrinking property values and declining enrollment had led the Cherry board to pursue closing the school at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

March 23: After eight years of praying and planning, the new WUNT Christian radio station will go on air at 1 p.m. Sunday, broadcasting from its Sheffield site. Program Director Paul Butler says WUNT 88.3 FM will go on air with a special one-hour program featuring prayers for the dedication of the station, interviews with staff and board members, and music.

March 26: Princeton native Ben Parr is named by Forbes Magazine as one of the “Top 30 Under 30” in technology and applications. In the recent Forbes Magazine announcement, Parr is photographed with Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni as co-founders of #DominateFund, a new seed-stage capital fund investment firm which focuses on its Hollywood connections.

March 28: The Princeton Elementary School Board votes to dismiss 25 employees from next year’s school year through a Reduction in Force action, though a good number of those employees could be rehired if funding allows. The PES Board votes to dismiss with regret the entire staff of the Bright Beginnings/Early Childhood preschool program, as well as 10 teachers aides and two teachers in the elementary/junior high buildings.
March 30: Bureau County learns it will have more than $3 million worth of road work done this spring and summer when Gov. Pat Quinn announces $486 million in road and bridge projects. Local projects include a $2.5 million project on Route 6, beginning east of Sheffield to Hazelwood Drive in Wyanet; a $500,000 update to the Great Sauk Trail rest area on Interstate 80 west of Princeton; and a $254,000 surface treatment project from the Manlius corporate limits to County Highway B.

April 2: Princeton corn and soybean farmer Jim Rapp donates signs from his farm for the new American Experience agriculture exhibition set to open in May 2015 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Tiskilwa farmers Jim and Sharon Covert host Smithsonian curators for a tour of area farms, so they could learn about farming in Illinois and see what items could be included in the American Experience exhibit.

April 4: The Manlius Village Board looks at the expense of moving playground equipment from the Bureau Valley School District into the village. With the lack of volunteerism and the extent of the project, the village board agrees to bid out the project. If the school can work with the village on an extended time, and if the village decides the cost of moving the equipment will be worth it, then the village anticipates the start date of the project to be in July or August.

April 6: Princeton Mayor Keith Cain and the Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley join efforts to proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. The majority of child abuse cases stem from situations and conditions that are preventable, Cain says. Child abuse and neglect not only harm the child, but also increases the likelihood of criminal behavior, substance abuse and health problems, the mayor says.

April 9: Bureau County taxpayers will pay 10s of thousands of dollars for today’s consolidated election, according to Bureau County Clerk Kami Hieronymus. Election supplies and programs, set-up costs, machine programming and election judges are some of the expenses. About 200 different ballot styles are needed, plus additional hours for her staff in preparing for the election and then on election day itself, Hieronymus says.

April 11: The numbers aren’t final, but supporters of the Hall High School referendum are cautiously optimistic the $32 million referendum was approved by voters on Election Day by a three vote margin. Spring Valley Alderman Walt Marini defeats current Mayor Cliff Banks and fellow alderman Jack Narczewski in a race for Spring Valley’s top seat. In Princeton, newcomer Ray Mabry and incumbent Bob Warren win the two open seats on the Princeton City Council, defeating incumbent commissioner Terry Madsen and newcomer Paul Breseman.

April 13: The DePue Citizens Group sponsors a community meeting with Illinois Environmental Protection Agency representatives to hear updates on the cleanup process of DePue’s Superfund Site. IEPA project manager Charlene Falco talks about the five operable units within the site, including the south ditch, phosphogypsum stack, the former New Jersey Zinc Plant site, off-site soils, and DePue Lake.

April 16: The LaMoille Fire Protection District adds a new ambulance to its fleet. Ambulance Director Sarah Stuepfert and her husband, Ed, who serves as LaMoille Fire Chief, bring home the new truck, which will replace LaMoille’s second outbound ambulance purchased around 1990. The $133,000 new purchase was made possible primarily through community donations.

April 18: The financial picture is bleak for the Princeton Elementary School District and getting bleaker, according to PES Superintendent Tim Smith. The PES Board meets in special session to hear an update from Smith on the growing financial needs within the district and what can be done about it. Looking ahead to next year, Smith says he wants to have a planned approach to capture savings for the district. The board will need to look at building use, the transportation program, and consider replacing retiring teachers with less expensive new teachers or not replacing the retirees at all, Smith says.

April 20: Even before the rains stopped, Gov. Pat Quinn declares 38 counties, including Bureau, as state disaster areas. Illinois has seen an incredible level of devastation, and reports indicate conditions will get worse in coming days, Quinn says. The Princeton Water Treatment Plant recorded nearly 6 inches of rain in two days. The heavy rainfall flooded basements, streets and roads, yards and fields throughout Princeton, Bureau County and neighboring counties.

April 23: Clean-up continues after heavy rains and flooding soak Bureau County, leaving hundreds of basements flooded throughout the area. The Bureau/Putnam County Health Department issues a health alert for residents as they clean flooded basements. Health risks include potential sewage infiltration and mold development from the moisture.

April 25: As area clean-up efforts continue from last week’s heavy rains and flooding, Bureau County ESDA coordinator Kris Donarski says Bureau County is in the process of assessing the damage to individual homes and businesses. Copies of the damage assessment forms have been sent to all village clerks and city clerks, she says.

Official results of the April 9 consolidated election are tabulated, with all absentee ballots received and counted. There were no changes in the final results. The big question of the April 9 election was the final outcome of the Hall High School referendum, which asked voters to approve $32 million in bonds to build a new school. The final vote went up by one on each side for the Hall referendum, resulting in 1,717 yes votes and 1,714 no votes for the new high school building.

April 27: The local Business Employment Skills Team (B.E.S.T.) program which covers four counties, including Bureau, is combining with a neighboring four-county workforce program. B.E.S.T. Executive Director Pam Furlan makes the announcement at the April Bureau County Board meeting, saying Gov. Pat Quinn approved the consolidation in February. Hopefully, the consolidation will be ready to go by July 1, Furlan said.

April 30: Four Bureau County libraries are among the 230 Illinois libraries to receive “Back to Books” grants from the state of Illinois. Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White makes the announcement, saying the 230 grants total more than $1 million. Bureau County recipients are Ladd Public Library District which received a $5,000 grant; Bureau Valley Community School District, $4,552; Princeton Public Library, $2,500; and the Richard A. Mautino Memorial Library in Spring Valley, $4,475.

May 2: A Bureau Valley South student wins the Bureau County Tar Wars tobacco-free poster contest and then turns around to win the state competition as well. Carson Fisher learns he was the state winner at Tuesday’s awards ceremony sponsored by the Bureau/Putnam County Health Department. Runners-up in the Bureau County contest were Max Wollerman, Jenna Nordstrom, both of Bureau Valley South, and Saylor Jildera of Ohio Grade School. Saylor learns her poster went on to win third place in the state contest.

May 4: Princeton Chamber of Commerce Director Kim Frey kicks-off the Chamber’s annual meeting, stating the Chamber started relationships with 42 new and existing businesses and celebrated 12 ribbon cuttings. The Organization/Service Club Award is presented to the Princeton Jaycees. The Chamber Member of the Year Award is presented to Frankie Wolsfeld. Chamber Ambassador of the Year Awards are presented to Lori Frick and Kay Townsend. Penny Best is named this year’s Homestead Festival grand marshal.

May 7: Tiskilwa Public Library officials learn a state grant will allow the library to build an addition to its building. Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White says the Tiskilwa library is entitled to receive a Fiscal Year 2013 Illinois Public Construction Grant, with a maximum award of $504,241. The grant requires the library to match the grant with an additional $465,453. The library will meet the grant from a combination of savings, donations and a loan from a local bank.

May 9: James Reed of Arlington announces his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the office of Bureau County Sheriff in the March 2014 primary election. He pledges to “be a working sheriff for Bureau County” and has served in nearly every capacity in the sheriff’s office during his 22 years with the department, Reed says.

The Hall High School Board meets with architects to discuss a new high school building. Architects tell the board only 17 of the 54 school referendums on local ballots across Illinois passed in April. Of the 12 building referendums, Hall was one of only two that voters approved.

May 11: The Walnut Village Board nominates and approves Dennis Grobe as acting village president, who will serve until the next general election in two years. Grobe accepted the new position and still retained his position as a village trustee, keeping his voting power as a trustee. The village had no candidate on the April ballot for the president’s position.

May 14: Local officials work with federal and state officials to determine if Bureau County is eligible for federal assistance following the April 17-18 rains and flooding which damaged properties and infrastructure across the county and state. Bureau County ESDA coordinator Kris Donarski says five teams have been sent out to assess the state, county by county, for damages.

May 16: Tiskilwa residents are invited to see building plans and ask questions about a new addition to the existing library during an open house at the library. Tiskilwa Library Board President Rich Foss says bids for the expansion project are due to be open in May with groundbreaking this summer. Hopefully, the library can occupy the addition next spring or summer, Foss says.

May 18: The discovery recount of the April 9 election votes on the Hall High School referendum does not change the results of the final outcome, that the Hall High School District will get a new high school, according to Bureau County Clerk Kami Hieronymus. The discovery recount was requested by Mary Alice Mueller who had filed a petition in the county clerk office with eight signatures asking for the recount of the referendum votes.

May 21: Two people are arrested Saturday night following an armed robbery on Princeton’s North End business district earlier in the afternoon. Princeton Police Chief Tom Root says David E. Jones, 30, of Kewanee allegedly entered Anne’s Antiques at 938 N. Main St., displayed a handgun, and ordered the owner and a female subject in the store to the floor. He grabbed all the money from the register and fled on foot. Jones was later identified by a female subject, Rebecca L. Daily, 20, of Buda, who was later charged with being Jones’ accomplice.

May 23: With dwindling state dollars hanging over the district’s head, the Princeton Elementary School Board discusses impending cuts that need to be made to keep the district afloat. Those cuts could include closing Reagan Middle School building in Tiskilwa for the 2014-15 school year and implementing a three-year plan to reduce the number of certified and non-certified staff and increase class sizes.

May 25: Perry Memorial Hospital CEO Rex Conger announces the city-owned hospital will close its Women’s Healthcare Unit, which includes obstetrics, labor, delivery and nursery services. The expected closure date is Jan. 1, 2014. The decision was not an easy or a quick one, Conger says. Regulatory changes, changes in patient volume, payer mix and significant reductions in state and federal reductions are many of the issues which helped PMH make the tough decision to close the Women’s Healthcare Unit, which employs 12 staff members, he says.

May 28: The House bill dealing with the medical use of marijuana goes to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature. If signed, the new law would allow patients with certain diseases to receive a prescription from their doctor for marijuana to relieve their symptoms. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association strongly opposed the legislation, as does Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson. The legislation is written in a terrible, unenforceable manner, he says.

May 30: The city of Princeton moves forward with an engineering study into the problems within the city’s sanitary and storm sewer systems. In special session, the Princeton City Council unanimously approves an agreement with the Farnsworth Group to evaluate the city’s sanitary and storm sewer issues, as well as the flooding issues in the Dover Road/Euclid Avenue and the Greencroft/Metro Center areas. The total cost of the study is estimated at $9,100.

The Princeton Police Department is transformed into a murder crime scene, complete with blood, caution tape and fingerprints, as a mock scenario planned out for the Princeton Police Department Explorer Post No. 40 to solve. Solving the crime scene is one of several activities planned for the Explorer group to help them better understand the workings of the police force The group includes young adults from ages 14 to 21 and is led by explorer adviser Jenn Hand.

June 1: Federal Emergency Management Agency team members are expected to be in Bureau County within the next few days to talk with residents and business owners about storm and flood damages received during the April 17-18 heavy rains that hit the area. Bureau County Emergency Services Disaster Agency coordinator Kris Donarski says the FEMA team will go door-to-door in the hardest hit areas of the county, though residents do not have to wait to meet with FEMA representatives before applying for federal assistance.

June 4: The state of Illinois considers legislation which would allow citizens to register online to vote, but Bureau County Clerk Kami Hieronymus says getting more people to register to vote isn’t really the problem. The problem is getting registered voters to actually go out and vote, she said. Though she understands the premise of online registration, there are already several registration options out there for people, including county clerks’ offices, driver’s license facilities, and some high schools, Hieronymus says.

June 6: Seventeen Bureau County households are approved so far to receive federal disaster assistance for damage costs incurred from the April 17-18 heavy rains and floods. Gov. Pat Quinn says the $65,316 in federal aid designated for Bureau County residents is part of more than $73 million going statewide to help more than 26,000 Illinois residents affected by the April flooding.

June 8: The village of Manlius plans to crack down on people dumping personal trash in the village’s garbage bins. Village board members discuss the issue, with some board members having witnessed people misusing the garbage cans. Following discussion, board members agree they would be on the lookout for people misusing the garbage dumpster and agree persons caught will be ticketed for violating an ordinance.

June 11: Bureau County is one of 24 Illinois counties approved for federal disaster aid for local governments following the heavy rains and flooding in April and May. Gov. Pat Quinn says local governments in approved counties incurred more than $40 million in costs for their flood fight, public safety and recovery efforts. As an example, Princeton City Manager Jeff Clawson says Princeton had about $60,000 in costs due to the April flooding.

June 13: The city of Spring Valley is not sure if any street program will happen this year. The city has only $40,000 to spend from the Motor Fuel taxes, with $50,000 expected annually for the next eight years. Spring Valley Streets and Alleys Committee Chairman Chuck Hansen wants to roll this year’s money into next year and not have a street program in the current year. The council will continue the discussion in future meetings.

June 15: Several Hall High School graduates will be part of the project which will provide a new high school for generations of Spring Valley area children. The Hall High School Board hires Leopardo Construction Company for its $32 million new school facility. Leopardo President Rick Mattioda is a Spring Valley native. Other Spring Valley natives working on the project are Tony Orlandi and Jason Samolinski, who will be on-site every day monitoring the project.

June 18: Celebrating its 43rd year, Gateway Services Inc. announces its 26th annual phone-a-thon, which is Gateway’s largest fundraising event of the year. This year, Gateway Services has set a goal of $45,000. Funds raised will be used to continue to provide quality services to children and adults with disabilities in Bureau, Marshall and Putnam counties.

June 20: Families with more than two students in the Bureau Valley School District will get a little break next school year with student fees. With a recommendation from the Bureau Valley Finance Committee, the school board votes to place a cap on the $100 book and registration fee required per student. The cap will be placed on fees greater than $200. Board President Rick Cernovich speaks out against student fees and fundraising, as he pointed out the district has one big fundraiser called “property taxes.”
The district’s mission is to live within that money provided by taxes, he says.

June 22: The Bureau Valley School Board hears from Ann Lusher, president of the Bureau Valley Education Association (BVEA), about the staff’s concerns that announced cuts will affect student education and make Bureau Valley a less attractive working place for staff. As part of the new year’s budget, the district will make about $475,219 in cuts, included phasing out the German language program, reducing industrial arts and home economics, releasing a tech support employee and a physical education employee, retiring two teachers and changing the staff insurance coverage.

June 25: The Spring Valley Elementary School District board discusses the new addition to John F. Kennedy School. Superintendent Jim Hermes says the size of the project is amazing. So far, construction has been going as planned and the builders have begun moving dirt and getting the area ready for the geothermal heating system.
Pretty much every inch of this property is changing, Hermes says.

June 27: The Manlius Village Board meets in special session to comb through the village’s water billing ordinance and make recommendations for changes to current fees charged for water usage. The issue of water fees has been a topic of discussion at the last couple village board meetings. Village President Rob Hewitt scheduled the special meeting to discuss changes that would better benefit residents and the village. No final action was taken at that meeting.

June 29: Two local emergency preparedness leaders receive state recognition for their roles in the Bureau Putnam County Emergency Preparedness Community Partners (BPEPCP) coalition. Deb Wood and Lisa Clinton, BPEPCP co-chairs, are honored at the Integrated Public Health and Medical Preparedness Summit for coordinating the year’s most creative emergency preparedness exercise in the state, a two-site mock disaster drill involving numerous countywide resources, agencies and emergency responders.

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