The year in review part 2: 2012 featured tragedy, triumph

By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor


A time to build up and a time to tear down. To everything there is a season, and 2012 was a perfect example in the Rantoul area.

In other words, a typical year.

Tear down as in demolition of a former downtown movie landmark, a fatal fire and cancer claiming the life of a young resident.

And build up as in the start of a stadium renovation project in Fisher and the announcement of major building projects in Rantoul (Easton-Bell and senior villas).

Following is a lock back at the final six months of the year just past.

It’s Easton-Bell
Area residents learned in June that a mammoth new distribution facility would be built west of Rantoul, but the identity of the occupant wasn’t made available.

It was later announced that Easton-Bell would build the 815,000-square-foot facility in the industrial park, just west of Interstate 57.

The facility will house a distribution center, assembly plant and shared-service center. The company employs about 300 people and has two facilities currently in Rantoul. With the change, the new facility will house all employees and parts of the company in one location.

Back in the saddle: police officer returns to work
Rantoul police officer Tim Rivest returned to work after being treated for cancer, the July 4 Press reported.

Rivest, who had hardly been sick a day in his life, underwent treatment for testicular cancer, which had advanced to stage 3C — the highest stage for that type of cancer.

Rivest returned to work after eight months of treatment and recovery.

Davis earns release after 32 years
Andre Davis, who served 32 years in prison for a Rantoul murder that DNA evidence now shows was committed by another man, was released from prison the previous Friday, the Press reported July 4.

Given the collapse of prosecutors’ case against him, it was no great surprise that authorities dropped the case. But the decision came suddenly when the Champaign County state’s attorney’s office filed a brief, one-sentence motion dismissing the charges against Davis, 51.

Davis had been convicted of snatching 3-year-old Brianna Stickle from her Eastview Drive home in Rantoul. Her body was found about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8, 1980. She had been raped and suffocated.

Evidence discovered the DNA belonged to Maurice Tucker, ironically a prosecution witness against Davis. Taylor’s whereabouts are unknown.

Cory Wagner loses battle with cancer
A young man who became the subject of many local prayers and efforts lost his battle with cancer in July.

Nine-year-old Cory Wagner died in the evening hours of July 10 at Children’s Hospital, St. Louis, 11 days shy of his 10th birthday.

When Cory was diagnosed with cancer in December 2010, the outpouring of support from the community was evident. Cory’s Crew was formed, with many Rantoul Township High School students showing support by wearing blue t-shirts. Hashtags on Twitter labeled “Cory’sCrew” became popular around the area, and various fundraisers were held for his family.

He died from the effects of rhadbomyosarcoma, a form of cancer that attacks the tissues in the body.

“You definitely want to hug your kids,” Scott Amerio, a friend of the Wagner family, said following Cory’s death. “I think that’s probably going to be his legacy is just how well-liked he was by the entire town.”

Work begins on Fisher stadium renovation
Removal of the metal pipes and fence around the track was the first task to be completed, in preparation for electrical lines and the drainage system to be trenched in the coming weeks for the Fisher High School stadium renovation project in late July.

Excavation of the track was scheduled to begin after the football season and is expected to be completed by this summer. If the appropriate funds have been contributed, the bleachers and press box will also be completed in the summer.

Fundraising efforts continue toward the $500,000 goal.

Extended drought shrinks level of aquifer
The top level of the Mahomet Aquifer near Rantoul is 11 feet lower than it was in March, according to the Illinois State Water Survey.

Steve Wilson, ISWS groundwater hydrologist, said a quarterly test conducted July 20 east of the village showed that the top of the aquifer was 64 feet below land surface compared to 53 feet below land surface in March — a drop of 11 feet.

But Wilson said that is not unusual.

“When I looked back through the years, the water levels have (gone down during summer months).”

Water — the lack of it in the form of rain and the availability of it underground — were on the public’s mind more so than usual due to one of the worst droughts in modern history.

Village now owns White Hall
The possible demolition of White Hall on the former Chanute Air Force Base has taken another step forward.

Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams said in early August that the village bought the deed to the property of the mammoth structure that, when built in 1941, was the largest building owned by the Department of Defense until the construction of The Pentagon.

It has been empty since 1993 when Chanute closed for good, and has gone through five private owners since.

The village reached a settlement agreement with Seven Stars Development LLC, Marlton, N.J., to acquire the deed to the property.

One arrested for mobile home fire
At first it appeared to be just the loss of a home. Firefighters were called in late August to a mobile home fire in the Heritage Estates mobile home park.

But it was later learned that Brandon A.F. Young, 21, who was listed as homeless, had been arrested for arson. A Rantoul firefighter, Capt. Dean McMorris, was also injured fighting the fire.

Young later said he and a friend had torched the mobile home. Police searched for his friend.

It wasn’t until later, when a police investigator was examining the site, that a body was found in the rubble. It turned out to be Young’s friend, William Shawn Richardson, 21.

Young was sentenced to 11 years in prison for aggravated arson. The fire destroyed the recently vacated mobile home and damaged a neighboring one.

Wings Theater to be demolished
It was announced in September that Rantoul’s last connection with Hollywood — the movie theater — would be no more in a couple of weeks.

The Wings Theater building at 133 S. Garrard St. would be demolished.

The theater was opened in 1976 or 1977, according to village of Rantoul records, but had been closed since February 2000.

It was owned by American Multi-Cinema, Kansas City, Mo. Formerly owned by the Kerasotes Theatres chain, the two-screen theater was converted into a storage building when it was closed more than a dozen years ago.

Rantoul officials had inquired over the years about the theater reopening, but Kerasotes officials refused to do so because it would be competition for other theaters they own in Champaign.

Entrepreneurs discuss ways to fix downtown
A number of downtown Rantoul business owners stepped forward in late September to work toward  a goal of revitalizing the business area.

About 35 people attended a meeting at Around The Corner Thrift, Resale and Antiques store at 119 E. Sangamon Ave. The business was one of several new ones that had opened downtown.

Paula Hopkins, owner of A House of Flowers and who spearheaded the effort, said change wouldn’t happen overnight. But she said it won’t happen at all unless the business people take action.

Senior villas to be built
A part of Rantoul that has seen growth in recent months can expect to see more.

Miller-Valentine Residential Construction, Cincinnati, in early October announced plans to build 42 units of ranch-style multiplex villas in the area of Twin Lakes Drive and Alta Brown Drive, north of Brookstone Estates.

The project includes 10 one-bedroom units and 32 two-bedroom units.

Each one-bedroom unit will be about 1,128 square feet, while the two-bedroom units will be 1,188 square feet, which includes a garage.

Seven housing units will be constructed — three eight-unit buildings, one six-unit building and three four-unit buildings.

Ott’s Drive-in turns 50
A fixture in Rantoul celebrated half a century in mid-October.

Ott’s Drive-in, operated by the Mayer family, opened at the corner of Campbell Avenue and Century Boulevard in 1962. On Oct. 23, the business celebrated the 50-year milestone with hourly drawings for gifts, prizes, Illini tickets and Ott’s Bucks.

Precious little has changed there in the last four decades. It still has 14 stools at the counter, and the original white Formica booths accommodate another 38 customers. The hours, however, have gotten shorter. Once open from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week, Ott’s is now open only for breakfast and lunch Tuesday-Saturday.

Hours being cut at area post offices
It was known earlier in the year that area post offices faced shorter hours. The Postal Service formally announced what those hours would be in late October.

Now open eight hours a day on week days, for example, Ludlow Post Office will be open four hours a day and two hours on Saturdays

A total of 260 customer surveys were mailed to Ludlow postal customers, and 82 were returned. The vast majority of the respondents (83 percent) said they preferred that hours be realigned over other options.

Hours will also be cut in Armstrong (to two per day), Dewey (four) and Royal (two). In Penfield there will be no change in hours, and in Potomac, hours will actually increase from 5 1/2 per day to six. Rantoul Post Office's hours won't be cut.

Couple scammed out of more than $100,000
A Rantoul couple — Chuck and Nancy Padilla — were bilked out of $109,000, their life savings, by a caller who said he was their grandson.

In early August, the Padillas received a call from a man claiming to be their grandson, Brian Padilla, who lives in Paris, France, with his family. The caller said he was in Mexico at a friend’s wedding when he crashed a car.

He needed money, first to get out of jail, later to hire a lawyer and eventually to pay for the car and a nearby building that was damaged.

But it wasn’t their grandson, and the couple can’t understand how the scammer could imitate their grandson’s voice so closely and knew so much about them.

The Padillas wanted to tell their story so something similar wouldn’t happen to others.

Their grandson, meanwhile, is trying to help them recoup a little of the money. (See related story on this website.)

Rantoul area voters back Romney
President Barack Obama was returned to office for a second term, but if Rantoul area voters had their say, it would have been his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who would be the man to work in the Oval Office.

In the Rantoul Press coverage area, Romney received 58 percent of the vote, although there were local precincts that favored Obama.
Romney pulled in 3,750 votes to Obama’s 2,696.

Walldogs in Rantoul?
Can a locally influenced mural inspire the people of Rantoul while simultaneously rejuvenating a downtown in need of more visitor attraction?

Hopkins, owner of A House of Flowers, believes it can, and that’s why she initiated a meeting with other local business owners. Hopkins saw a TV report on how a few murals in Danville and Arcola drew attention to their communities, and she wanted to see if Rantoul could benefit similarly.

The murals that have Hopkins so excited were created by a group of artists called Walldogs, who have painted murals in small towns across America in a joint effort with the community to bring pride and business back into the towns.

Hopkins hopes the group can meet again in January.

Changes at air museum
The time(line), it has changed at Chanute Air Museum. And that’s not all.

A major project involved refurbishing the timeline that features some of the rich history that was Chanute. As the economic health of the air museum steadily improves, employees and a solid core of volunteers continue to add to the array of attractions at the museum.

A DC-9 flight simulator has been added, and restoration of a vintage World War II-era P-51 fighter plane is nearing completion.

Residents blame irrigation for wells going dry
Several Fisher-Dewey-Foosland area residents contracted with an Urbana attorney to possibly seek legal recourse after their wells went dry during the summer — a result, they say, of nearby irrigation units, it was reported in December.

The residents said they had never had problems with their wells before a nearby irrigation unit went online. A farmer who owned the irrigation unit said the summer drought was the cause of the wells going dry.

A state hydrologist said despite the irrigation unit being drilled down to the Mahomet Aquifer, it could have sapped water from a higher Glasford aquifer into which the residents’ home wells were tapped.

Athletic director resigns
It was a short stay on the job for Joe Bendoraitis, who had been hired in May to serve as Rantoul Township High School athletic director and football coach. Bendoraitis tendered his resignation in mid-December.

He resigned after only five months on the job.

Amerio, RTHS superintendent, said Bendoraitis resigned due to family and personal reasons. He declined further comment on the former AD’s reasons for stepping down.

Bleak financial news for schools
Both RTHS and Rantoul City Schools face difficult financial times as a result of cuts by the state of Illinois.

Amerio informed RTHS board members at their Dec. 10 meeting that projections indicate the district will receive anywhere from 80 to 85 percent of its general state aid payments next school year, down from 89 percent this year.

Amerio said the district received $300,000 less in general state aid this year, and he expects another $300,000 loss for next year.

Meantime, RCS projects “big trims” to its budget as it faces a budget deficit of more than $1 million by 2016.

Superintendent Michelle Ramage gave a PowerPoint presentation presenting that projection.

The amended budget for the 2012-13 school year indicates RCS will have a deficit of $449,71 that could increase to $934,000 the next year — up to $1.4 million for the 2015-16 school year.

Tigers second in state
The St. Malachy eighth-grade girls basketball team notched its name in the record books at the school, bringing home its second straight Class 1A second-place trophy in the state tournament.

A year after playing Atwood-Hammond for the seventh-grade state championship, the Tigers played the same school for the top honor Dec. 13, again falling just short.

It was a special group of girls who suited up for St. Malachy. In two seasons, the Tigers lost only three of their 51 games.

Two candidates file for mayor
Two men have filed to run for mayor of Rantoul — incumbent Neal Williams, who will seek his fourth term, and Chuck Smith. A coin flip resulted in Smith’s name set to appear first on the ballot in the April 9 election.

Four candidates have filed for three four-year terms on the village board. They were newcomers Sam Hall and Jeremy Reale and incumbents Roger Jones and Tony Brown. Two people — Chad Smith and Kevin Hunt — have filed for a two-year unexpired term on the village board of the late Jim Stubblefield.

Incumbent Mike Graham is unopposed for re-election as village treasurer.

In Thomasboro, long-term Mayor Tony Grilo opted not to seek re-election.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com
 

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