From bad weather to new mayor: 2013 in review part 1

While the latter half of the year featured, by far, the biggest story of 2013 — maybe the biggest in 20 years — the first six months also had its share of top stories.
Following are the top stories from January-June as selected by Rantoul Press staff.

Numerous horses rescued
Eleven horses that were found to have been neglected on a Vermilion County farm were taken to a Dewey horse rescue, the Press reported Jan. 16. Following a call from a neighbor, investigators from Dewey’s Society for Hooved Animals Rescue and Emergency found 11 emaciated horses — and one dead horse — at a farm near Muncie, about 2 miles east of Fithian.
SHARE board member Lori Cooper said all the horses were suffering from neglect. She said two of the horses were blind. It was not believed the blindness was a result of malnourishment. One of the horses collapsed while being loaded into a horse trailer. The horses were also suffering from rain rot — a bacterial skin infection.

Camp Rantoul returns
University of Illinois football coach Tim Beckman decided to return the team to Camp Rantoul for a second straight year under his leadership. And this time it would be for two weeks, not one, the Press reported Feb. 20.
The Athletic Department announced over the weekend, Camp Rantoul would be held Aug. 11-20.

Fisher hires new police chief, moves ahead on electric aggregation
The Fisher Village Board hired a new police chief, the Press reported Feb. 20. He is Steven Bein, 49, who most recently worked as a part-time Gibson City police officer. Bein worked full-time as a police officer from 1988-1995. He has also served 31 years in the military.
The village board also voted to educate the public about the benefits of approving an agreement with Integrys Energy Services for electric services. Residents voted April 9 to approve the agreement.

 RCS looking at major budget cuts
Rantoul City Schools officials expected the district to be nearly $1 million in the red for the 2013-14 school year, the Press reported Feb. 20.
The state owed the district $268,000.
The school board directed Superintendent Michelle Ramage to prepare a tentative budget for the upcoming years, with major cuts expected.

Move into new Fisher school
On March 13, the Press reported that beginning Monday, March 25, junior high students in Fisher would have a new place to learn.
The move into the new junior high wing at Fisher Junior-Senior High began that week.
The new wing, which is part of a $7 million project that also included renovation of the existing junior-senior high building and construction of a school/community fitness facility, has 10 classrooms and a computer and science lab.

Gifford planning for the future
Work was to begin on two major projects in Gifford during the year.
The March 13 edition reported the village board voted at its monthly meeting to get started on the projects — a comprehensive park and recreation plan and a five-year capital improvement plan. Both projects were spearheaded by MSA Professional Services Inc., based in Champaign.
The purpose of the comprehensive park and recreation plan was to provide immediate recommendations for park acquisition, improvement and maintenance to satisfy the recreational needs of current and future residents. The plan will allow the village to maintain eligibility for Illinois Department of Natural Resources Open Spaces Lands Acquisition and Development funding for park acquisition and development.
The capital improvement plan is an ongoing, systematic approach to identify, schedule and efficiently allocate public dollars to needed capital projects.

Two Fisher residents die in weather-related wreck
Two Fisher residents died the afternoon of March 5 in a weather-related wreck in rural Fisher, the March 13 Press reported.
Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said a van and a semitrailer truck collided near the intersection of the Dewey-Fisher Road and County Road 2700 N. A van containing Leah C. Forbes, 49, and Lindsey M. Forbes, 18, both of Fisher, was struck by the side of the semitrailer truck when the driver of the van lost control and slid into the oncoming lane.

Ludlow to get loan to repair water tower
The village of Ludlow was to receive a low-interest loan from the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission to help pay a portion of the village water tower project.
The March 20 edition reported Mayor Pete Walker said he was informed that the commission had approved a 3 percent loan for $40,000, to be paid back over five year.

PVO to ask voters to approve tax hike
Voters in the Prairieview-Ogden school district will be asked to approve a tax increase in March.
The PVO board approved placing an education fund tax hike question on the March 14, 2014, ballot.
The amount of the tax proposal was to be decided by the board, ranging from 30 cents to 40 cents per $100 equalized assessed valuation, the Press reported March 20.

Parents ask that principal resignation not be accepted
Members of the Rantoul City Schools board heard from two concerned parents who asked that a letter of resignation from an elementary school principal not be accepted. The board also approved the elimination of 18 educational support positions, to be voted on at the April 11 board meeting, the March 20 Press reported.
The parents asked the board not to accept the resignation of Eastlawn Elementary Principal Jason Wallace.
Andy Graham and Jessica Comstock, who both send their children to Eastlawn, said Wallace was a proactive principal who makes the school welcoming to all students. Wallace had been the principal at Eastlawn for six years. The board accepted Wallace’s resignation.

Townsend to step down as Ludlow principal
Tom Townsend was to step  down as part-time principal at Ludlow Grade School, the Press reported March 27.
The resignation would take effect at the end of the 2012-13 school year and was announced at the school board’s monthly meeting.
Townsend served as principal during two stints at Ludlow — during the 2005-06 and 06-07 school years while Jerry Zachary was superintendent and the last two years with Dru Lobmaster as superintendent.

Cuts in the offing at Thomasboro Grade School
Cuts in sports and personnel were in the offing at Thomasboro Grade School.
The March 27 Press reported the school board agreed to pare the number of sport offerings — in part due to low participation numbers — and several staff positions, partly due to questions over the availability of federal funds for the 2013-14 school year.
The board also heard parents’ comments asking that band and chorus not be eliminated and some classes not be combined.

Trooper lifts car off student
Ethan Asofksy’s mother raised him right.
Meeting the state trooper who helped lift a car off his upper body alongside a snowy Interstate 57 near Rantoul, the aspiring journalist told the rescuer, “I owe you a thank you note.”
The 21-year-old University of Illinois student confessed he was on morphine in the hospital after the incident, referring to his initial meeting with Illinois State Trooper Brian Scott, one of three men who helped lift a crossover vehicle off Asofsky hours earlier, the April 3 Rantoul Press reported.
“I just said, ‘I could never repay you,’” Asofsky said he told Scott.

Deena’s closing
Connie Franzen remembers a time when four employees worked at Deena’s women’s clothing store in downtown Rantoul.
“We were busy all the time,” she remembered for a story in the April 10 Press.
At the time of the closing, the business had two people working at a time — Franzen and one of three part-time employees. And they’re not that busy.
Because of the changes in times, styles and mode of dress, the store, one of downtown Rantoul’s staples, was forced to close.
The store began a going-out-of-business sale the following Monday.

Thomasboro firm expanding on former base
A Thomasboro manufacturing company would expand operations to a site on the former Chanute Air Force Base, according to the April 10 Press.
Altamont Co., a design and manufacturing company that makes pistol grips and knife grips, is renovating the former BX building on base.
Altamont Co. President Ken Enright said his company has purchased the 55,000-square-foot building, which sits on 5 acres.
Purchase of the property doesn’t mean Altamont will be closing its Thomasboro plant; rather, it is growing, Enright said.

Smith elected Rantoul mayor
Chuck Smith did what many prognosticators gave him little chance of doing. He won election as Rantoul’s mayor.
The April 17 Press reported Smith had won the village’s top post over long-term incumbent Neil Williams.
Shortly after the final tally came in, Smith said he felt like he was “walking on a cloud.”
“I can’t believe it,” he said.

An ill wind sweeps through Rantoul area
The Nov. 17 tornado that so heavily damaged Gifford wasn’t the only example of Mother Nature’s fury in 2013.
A dramatic wind storm caused extensive damage, primarily in rural Rantoul, the April 24 Press reported.
Most of the damage was confined to the area west of the village. One of those who saw the damage first-hand was Mark Hardy, co-owner of Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch.
Hardy was in a barn where some of the ranch’s reindeer are kept a few miles west of the reindeer ranch when the storm collapsed the barn on top of him. Fortunately for Hardy, the barn didn’t come down completely on him. Two stumps that were used for yard decorations that were being stored there kept that part of the barn where Hardy was, off him.
Nearby, a large limb came down on the house of Corrine Hemrich. Other properties had roof and tree damage, and tractor trailers were overturned.
Power was also knocked out to the industrial park. The storm, which packed winds up to 70 mph, knocked down numerous power poles.
Conair in the industrial park sustained damage when the winds ripped off a portion of the exterior.

Golf course purchased
It’s the largest golf course, acreage-wise, in Champaign County, and it’s under new ownership.
Kevin and Rhonda Applebee of Urbana purchased Willow Pond Golf Course in Rantoul from Ken Roessler.
The May 8 Press reported Applebee said they bought the 185-acre course, located on the former Chanute Air Force Base, because they were “looking at a different opportunity because I sold some real estate.”
“It’s a beautiful property,” he said.
The Applebees own and operate Flooring Surfaces, Champaign, and several other businesses.

EDM property goes up in flames
Rantoul Fire Department investigators were investigating the cause of a Wednesday evening blaze that caused an estimated $1 million damage to a building in Rantoul.
Nobody was reported hurt.
Rantoul Fire Chief Ken Waters said firefighters were sent to the Arrow EDM building, 802 Veterans Parkway, at 6:22 p.m., the May 8 Press reported. The company’s website said it is a manufacturer of ram and wire EDM systems for tool and die shops, mold shops and plants of any size.”
Rantoul firefighters were assisted by the Thomasboro, Ludlow and Gifford fire departments.
“A lady who was passing by said she heard a loud noise, saw flames and smoke rolling out of the building, and reported it,” Waters said.

Springer new RCS assistant superintendent
Rantoul City Schools found its new assistant superintendent by approving the hiring of Michael Springer.
A principal at Sycamore Elementary in Avon, Ind., Springer was approved in the personnel report on the consent agenda by the board, the May 15 Press reported. He was signed to a one-year, $118,000 contract with benefits.
Springer is from this area and wanted to be closer to his family. He will move here with his wife and four children.
“What impressed me and the hiring team the most was when he was out and about with the staff at the various buildings, he was immediately drawn to the students,” Superintendent Michelle Ramage said. “When he would walk into a classroom, he would talk to the students and the teachers. He had a level of comfort about him, … that he belonged to the school.”

Hope for Holley fundraiser
The May 29 Press reported that a fundraiser was planned in June for Holley Brooks, who is battling cancer.
The fundraiser, planned for her and her family, would include the help of people at J.W. Eater Junior High School. T-shirts and wrist bands were being sold to boost the cause, and students and staff were encouraged one day to wear some form of purple and their Hope for Holley T-shirts.
Hope for Holley was named after a Facebook page set up by Judy Herbert to keep friends updated on Holley’s condition.
Brooks, a seventh-grader at Eater, is battling cancer for the second time.

Northview remembers Cory
All the students, staff and some community members from the Northview School family gathered around a young red maple tree.
The tree was dedicated to the memory of Cory Wagner, a Northview youngster who lost his battle with cancer in July 2012.
The May 29 Press reported the students encircled the tree as Cory’s parents, Chris and Michelle Wagner; sister Mallory; and maternal (Chuck and Peg Mabry) and paternal (Keith and Shirley Wagner) grandparents were present.
Northview PE teacher Mike McMahon explained to the students what a memorial tree is, and said he and Chris Wagner planted it with care.
“When you are passing this tree, you can think of Cory or someone else who you know is fighting cancer,” McMahon told the students.

Anderson named Eastlawn principal
Brian Anderson was named the new principal at Eastlawn Elementary School, the June 19 Press reported.
He took over for Jason Wallace, a popular principal who had led the school the previous six years but handed in his resignation in March.
Anderson, who was the assistant principal at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign for the past four years, was introduced at the June Rantoul City Schools board meeting.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started,” Anderson, who signed a 205-day contract worth $77,502, said.
Anderson was selected ahead of five other candidates. Superintendent Michelle Ramage said he stood out from the crowd to the interviewing committee.

Park named after late Fisher board member
The Fisher Village Board honored the memory of the late Carol Mathias by naming the village park she worked so hard to develop after her, it was reported in the June 26 Press.
Mrs. Mathias died June 10 and had served 10 years on the board before resigning in December 2011 for health reasons.
The park is just north of the new community building, and both sit on the former grounds of the Fisher Grade School. The park has tennis and basketball courts and a skate park.
Mrs. Mathias worked to raise funds for the skate park, in part by organizing bake sales, dances and battles of the bands.

Hog waste odor raises a stink
Toni Oliger of rural Rantoul said the odor was enough to make her sick.
Fellow country dweller Julie Hardy said the smell cost her business, Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, thousands of dollars last fall.
Mayor Chuck Smith was concerned that the stench would hurt business development on the village’s west side, the June 26 Press reported.
And that doesn’t take into account the potential health hazard.
The big stink was caused by hog waste sludge being applied to farm fields west of Rantoul from the Rantoul Foods pork plant.
Applying the sludge is an area farmer who is hauling away the pork plant material, spreading it and stockpiling it on fields along  County Road 2900N.
Rantoul Foods officials announced at an August meeting of the Rantoul Village Board they would build a pork rendering plant in hopes of eliminating the odor. The plant would possibly become operational in 2014. Rantoul Foods President James Jendruczek said the company had planned to build the rendering plant all along but not so soon, but he said “recent developments” had made its construction a priority. Those recent developments are believed to be the outcry against the hog waste odor.



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