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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
Part one of two
It was a year of extreme weather (high heat, drought) and new beginnings (a new 815,000-square-foot Easton-Bell plant), a year of compassion (police mentor Rantoul students) and loss (school funding continues to slide).
In many ways it was a year unlike any other, while at the same time typical of most.
It was 2012 in the Rantoul area.
Following are the top stories from the first six months of the year the world didn’t come to an end, despite Mayan predictions.
“It looks like a tornado hit”
As is usually the case in the news business, things don’t start to happen until later in the year. That was the case again in 2012 when the first top story didn’t occur until February.
It was Feb. 1, to be exact when it was reported that it appeared a tornado had rolled through Rantoul as the Westview Enterprises mobile home park on Rantoul’s north side was demolished. More than 40 mobile homes were torn down and their debris scattered across the former park.
Roland Jensen, who with wife Dorothy owned the park, said they had been trying to sell the park and decided to have it demolished and then move to Wisconsin, where they planned to retire.
A Mattoon firm — Baby Huey’s Sanitation and Recyling — was hired to tear down the mobile home park and then clean it up. The firm accomplished the first part but not the latter, and the village of Rantoul had to step in and have the work done.
The village then bought the land and took the cost of having the cleanup done out of the purchase price.
New doors to be added to schools
On Feb. 14, the Press reported that 43 new doors would be installed at the four elementary schools and J.W. Eater Junior High School during the summer.
The RCS board approved a $499,999 contract with Mays Maune McWard Construction Service and Supply, Fenton, Mo., to replace the doors.
A total of $250,000 of the cost would be paid from an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant secured by former RCS Superintendent Bill Trankina.
The airlock doors in the foyers of all four schools and a large number of outside doors were replaced, some of which were the originals.
Community Experience Plan
Betty Brennan, owner and president of Rantoul’s Taylor Studios, announced in February plans to develop a Community Experience Plan for the village with the help of local leaders.
“One of the goals is to provide a sense of place for a community, which is really an identity that the community can latch onto and identify with,” Pete Salmon, an interpretive planner at Taylor, said.
Salmon explained CEP as “It looks at the people of the community, the resources of the community, some of the uniqueness of the community, and tries to establish what this community has that others don’t.”
Several meetings have been held to formulate the plan, the design of which is ongoing.
Police mentor Northview students
Police Chief Paul Farber and some other members of the Rantoul Police Department have turned into carpenters of sorts with the help of students at Rantoul’s Northview School in late February.
They are helping students build what the Rev. Dr. Harold Davis, founder of TALKS Mentoring, calls a bridge to wisdom.
The police officers have agreed to come to the school each week to help students they are mentoring gain a little more wisdom to build the metaphorical bridge.
Farber said the mentoring program has gone well and is continuing at Northview.
RTHS boys basketball success
The Rantoul Township High School boys basketball games were a hot ticket during the 2011-12 year. The Eagles played to full crowds at home and did something they hadn’t done since the 1989-90 season — win 20 games.
They accomplished that feat with a 70-62 win against Bloomington Central Catholic.
The Eagles finished 21-6 and lost to Champaign Centennial in a Class 3A regional semifinal game.
Most of T’boro bus program eliminated
The Thomasboro school board announced that most of its students would have to find alternate means of getting to and from school and school-related activities.
The reason: Transportation would be eliminated for in-town students as well as preschool classes and for most sports road contests for the 2012-13 school year. Only students living 1.5 miles or farther away from town or east of U.S. 45 would be transported by bus to and from school.
The school made the move due to a reduction in state funding for transportation to schools.
Illini continue in Camp Rantoul
One of the first things Rantoul area University of Illinois fans wanted to know after Tim Beckman was named the new Illini football coach was whether the team would continue to call Rantoul home for its preseason camp.
After a great deal of thought, Beckman made the decision in mid-March that he would bring the team back in late summer — but for just one week, not two, as they had under former coaches Ron Turner and Ron Zook.
Beckman may have wished he had kept the team in Rantoul longer as the Illini suffered through a miserable season that produced just two wins.
Water towers to come down
It was announced in late March that work would begin soon on demolition of three inactive water towers on the former Chanute Air Force Base, along with the refurbishment and repainting of one water tower on the former base.
The Air Force paid for the $1.33 million cost.
Two of the water towers that came down were located along U.S. 45 across from the Rantoul Business Center. The other one was in east Rantoul near Salt Fork Creek, while the fire tower at the old fire station off of Veterans Parkway was refurbished and repainted.
Fire at Dunkin’ Donuts
Rantoul firefighters determined that discarded cigarettes had probably caused a costly fire at the Rantoul Dunkin’ Donuts in April.
The fire caused an estimated $50,000 damage to the business at 402 S. Century Blvd.
Someone dropped a cigarette in mulch beside the building. The mulch caught fire, and it melted a plastic fitting on the gas lines on the manifold for the building, which allowed natural gas to seep out and catch fire.
The fire on the west side of the building became like “a blow torch,” Fire Chief Ken Waters said.
Zehr, Banner inducted into Fisher Hall of Fame
Class of 1971 graduate Gregg Zehr and class of 1963 graduate Delmar Banner were inducted into the Fisher High School Hall of Fame in late April.
Zehr is founder and president of Lab126, where he leads the engineering and design team that invented the Amazon Kindle electronic reader. He started the company in 2004 and launched the first Kindle in 2007.
Banner has served in a variety of positions, a few of which include the U.S. Air Force Reserve, general counsel to the Farm Credit Administration and was principal author of the Farm Credit Act amendments of 1980.
On Wall Street, he chartered the Federal Farm Credit Banks Funding Corp. He returned to the area to practice law and for nearly 20 years served as adjunct professor of agricultural law and finance at the University of Illinois. He is founder and chairman of the board of Friends of IERF International, a U.S. mission board to support the ministry of India Evangelistic Relief Fellowship.
Gifford nursing home open house
Officials at Country Health Nursing Home in Gifford showed off their new digs at a ceremony in May.
The $8.9 million project, started in 2008, involved remodeling and expansion and was unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The expansion included gutting and renovation of the building’s original 37 rooms and adding 27 more rooms in extensions that branch off of the south and north wings.
Whereas before some rooms housed as many as four residents, now there are private rooms and rooms with two residents.
The rooms also include more amenities, with an oval sitting room and walk-in shower. Each room also has its own closet.
The project also included a new chapel, new activity room, beauty shop, physicians office and renovation of the old dining room. The front entryway was also remodeled.
Ramage named to lead RCS
In mid-May Michelle Ramage was named superintendent of the Rantoul City Schools district. The change became effective July 1. Ramage had held the position on an interim basis for the previous 15 months after former Superintendent Bill Trankina suffered a stroke.
The board also voted to name Jennifer Ernst the district’s new assistant superintendent. Ernst had served as the district’s lead administrator since Trankina’s stroke in January 2011.
Area post office hours to be cut
Several post offices in the Rantoul area will see their hours dramatically reduced in a cost-cutting move announced in May by the U.S. Postal Service.
Most of the offices are open presently for eight hours a day.
Rantoul’s post office was not affected.
Village to close downtown office building
The village announced in late May it would condemn and close a downtown Rantoul office building.
Mathews Business Centre, 201 E. Sangamon Ave., would be closed due to an unsafe exterior wall.
Village Inspector Dan Culkin said owner Tim Mathews apparently had opted not to repair the property. He was notified the previous fall that the wall on the east side of the two-story building was unsafe and would need to be repaired or the building would be closed.
The building was officially closed July 1.
Park renamed for Rudzinski
A Rantoul park was renamed for a local man who lost his life serving his country overseas.
Glenwood Park on the village’s northwest side was renamed for Staff Sgt. Christopher Rudzinski, who died in October 2009 in Afghanistan.
A ceremony was held in late May to rename the park. After remarks by Mayor Neal Williams, an American flag draped across the sign bearing Ssgt. Rudzinski’s name was removed, folded and given to his widow, Carolina. Ssgt. Rudzinski’s father, Mike, also spoke.
McArthur named Thomasboro superintendent
Bonnie McArthur was named full-time superintendent/principal at Thomasboro Grade School in May.
She succeeded Michelle Ramage as superintendent, a part-time position, after Ramage was named RCS superintendent. McArthur had served as principal the past four years and expanded her duties to the dual role as superintendent/principal, a job that Ramage had held for three years prior to cutting back her hours to spend more time with her son.
New distribution facility to be built
Although the identity of the occupant wouldn’t be known until later, area residents learned in June that a new mammoth distribution facility would be built west of Rantoul, it was announced in June.
Members of the Rantoul Plan Commission approved unanimously a preliminary plat for the two-lot subdivision and recommended the final plat be approved by the village board.
It was later learned that the 815,000-square-foot facility would be occupied by Easton-Bell, which operates two other facilities in the Rantoul area.
Pilot memory care unit opens at Prairie Village
It will be like all in the family at a newly opened memory care unit at Rantoul’s Prairie Village.
The facility, named Katy’s Cottage, is part of a state pilot project for people with Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementia concerns. The completed project was showcased in early June after opening a few weeks earlier in a wing at Prairie Village.
Jolene Grant, Prairie Village executive director, said staff would create a family atmosphere in caring for the residents.
Thomasboro opens fire museum
Nearly two decades in the works, the Robert Morfey Thomasboro Fire Museum held its grand opening in early June with a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony.
Family and friends were among those present.
The museum began as a vision of the late Robert Morfey, who served as fire chief from 1976-1997.
He was an original member of the fire protection district when it formed in 1957. Mr. Morfey had an idea in the early ‘90s to construct a building where the village’s 1924 pumper could be stored and display.
Storm causes heavy damage to school
A brief thunderstorm that rolled through Rantoul in mid-June caused significant damage to Broadmeadow Elementary School.
The roof at the school, which serves children in third through fifth grade, was ripped off by a violent gust of wind around 12:45 p.m., causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. The school is located in southwest Rantoul.
Waters, Rantoul fire chief, said the storm was brief and isolated. He said the damage was caused by straight-line winds.
Waters said there were 3 to 4 inches of water in the gymnasium.
Next week: July-December