People, businesses, events bring change to Rantoul area: Year in review part 1

An evening storm swept through Rantoul in late May, felling this large sign at the Circle K filling station/convenience store on South Murray Road, shutting down power to part of the community. Throughout the town, trees and large limbs were blown down, including one limb that came down on top of a car. Much of the Rantoul area was affected. The storm was one of the newsworthy events of 2019.

To quote Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”: “My! People come and go so quickly here!”If there was a theme for the top news stories in the Rantoul Press coverage area for the first six months of 2019, it would be “comings and goings.” People came and went. So did businesses.

Here is our look at some of the top stories of the year just past for January through June.

Three take new positions in Thomasboro

In February, three people were named to new positions with the village of Thomasboro.

Jasmyne Boyce of Rantoul was named the new village clerk to replace Jeremy Reale, who resigned in September 2018 but agreed to stay until a replacement was found. Reale serves as village administrator/treasurer for the village of Fisher.

Mayor Tyler Evans said he hoped to expand Boyce’s duties beyond those of the clerk.

After she was sworn in, she had a three-month probationary period

Also, John Curry was appointed to fill the seat on the village board that had been empty since Trustee Anna Martin resigned in December 2018.

Curry, who is retired, said he has been a Thomasboro resident for about 40 years.

The third appointment was Gary Rosenbeck, who is retired from Illinois Department of Transportation highway maintenance, to serve as part-time public works employee.

He was charged primarily with street maintenance.

New businesses in Fisher

Also in February, Fisher’s business climate was looking up with the announcement two new businesses would opening in the coming weeks.

A dental office was slated to open in town March 11, and a bakery and ice cream shop later in the year.

Dr. David Noh and a partner said he would open Fisher Dental in the former pharmacy facility.

Mayor Mike Bayler and Reale met with Noh and partner, who also operate clinics in Champaign, Mahomet and Onarga.

The office will be open on Mondays and until noon on Saturday to start, with more hours coming as needed.  

Bayler and Reale also announced another new business for the town.

Sited for the other half of Ingold’s Meat and Deli: Crow Ridge Ice Cream and Bakery.

That opening was set for mid- to-late April. However, it has not yet opened. A laundromat opened in December and will include gaming machines, which have not yet been installed.

Eighth-grade graduation ceremony returns

The Rantoul City Schools board approved, at its February monthly meeting, the restoration of the eighth-grade graduation ceremony.

In 2013, the board did away with the graduation service, citing safety concerns. Board President Joan Fitzgarrald said the board overstepped its boundaries by voting to cancel the event.

“Our responsibility is not to get in the school and tell ... each individual school what to do,” Fitzgarrald said. “The community wants that graduation back, and I respect the community. So, I’m saying bring it back and decide what to do. Let us know what you are doing, because we are still going to monitor safety, though. I’m sure they are not going to do anything that isn’t safe.”

There was some controversy later, however, when some parents objected to the graduation ceremony being held in the morning. Previously, the services were held of an evening.

Those objecting to a morning ceremony said it made it difficult for many people to attend. Resident Wendell Golston presented a petition bearing the names of more than 300 signatures asking for the change to an evening time.

Superintendent Michelle Ramage said student attendance is often low at evening events.

The school board kept the time at 9 a.m.

School districts make changes at the top

Several changes were in the works at area school districts in 2019.

• It was announced in February that PVO South Principal Jeffrey Isenhower would later take over as superintendent of the Prairieview-Ogden school district, which includes the junior high in Flatville.

Beginning July 1, 2020, he will succeed Vic White, who is retiring, as the district’s top official.

Isenhower came to PVO 13 years ago after jobs at Urbana High School and Centennial High School. His salary will be $107,000.

• In April, Paxton-Buckley-Loda administrator and head football coach Jeff Graham was named to succeed long-time administrator Dru Lobmaster at Ludlow Grade School.

Graham began his duties July 1 in the dual capacity of superintendent/principal. At PBL, he served as high school director of student services and was a 12-year veteran as the school’s head football coach.

As administrator at Ludlow for 12 years, Lobmaster was the longest-tenured administrator in the grade school’s history.

• In June, a new superintendent and a new principal were hired at Potomac Grade School to succeed Larry Maynard, who took the superintendent’s job at Oakwood.

The Potomac school board hired Jim Owens of Danville for the superintendent’s position and Gifford resident Candace Roberts Freeman as principal.

Owens, a retired superintendent, has held several positions in the educational field, including teacher, principal, and, most recently, superintendent of the Westville school district.

Freeman is a graduate of Illinois State University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She continued her education at Eastern Illinois University, where she earned a master’s degree in educational administration.

Owens and Freeman started their jobs July 1.

• At the end of June, longtime Gifford Grade School Superintendent Rod Grimsley retired and was succeeded by Principal Jay Smith. His retirement didn’t last long, though. He was hired in August to head the Crescent-Iroquois grade school district.

Smith, who was hired as principal at Gifford at the start of the 2018-19 school year, was officially hired as Gifford superintendent in December 2018 when the school board approved a four-year contract.

Grimsley, who served at Gifford for eight years, announced earlier he would be retiring at the end of the school year.

Smith will receive an annual salary of $107,500 with a 3 percent increase each year of the contract that ends June 30, 2023.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from Greenville College, a master’s degree at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, a specialist degree at Eastern Illinois University, and in 2015 earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from McKendree University.

Area election results

Former Rantoul village trustee Gary Wilson, who mounted an unsuccessful run for mayor two years ago, was returned to the village board in the April election

Wilson was the top vote-getter from among four candidates for three four-year seats. Also elected were Sherry Johnson, who was appointed to the board last year, and incumbent Henry “Hank” Gamel. In the race for a two-year term on the village board, Mark Wilkerson got the nod.

In the race for mayor in Ludlow, incumbent Steve Thomas soundly defeated village Trustee Russ Radke.

In the six-way race for three seats on the Rantoul City Schools board, voters elected appointee Andy Graham, incumbent John Brotherton and newcomer Joe Robinson.

Newcomer Monica Hall was top vote-getter from among five candidates for three seats on the Rantoul Township High School board. Also elected were incumbents Roger Quinlan and Janet Brotherton.

For Gifford school board, two newcomers and one incumbent were elected. Voters elected Caroline Franzen, incumbent Traci L. Harris and Alyson Suits.

Candidates elected for three seats on the Armstrong Township High School board were Gordon Henrick, Andrew J. Cler and John M. Gordon.

Elected to three seats on the Foosland Village Board were Paul Volker, Jacob Jenkins and Dale Alrich.

Midwest Prep Academy leaves

Midwest Prep Academy, which operated the previous two years in Rantoul, would not return for a third year, it was reported in April.

Academy Business Manager Mark Wirth said the move was more for personal reasons than any dissatisfaction with Rantoul. Wirth said he wanted the academy to return to northern Illinois to be closer to his aging parents.

“It’s all about family,” said Wirth, who didn’t rule out a return to Rantoul someday.

The academy will operate this year in Orland Hills, which Wirth said is 15 minutes from his parents’ home.

Marques Sullivan started, and continues to operate, Midwest Prep Academy. Wirth is basically Sullivan’s right hand man.

‘It’s a relief for all of us’

Also in April, the Rantoul Village Board agreed to buy three homes that had been hit by flooding over the years for a total of $285,000.

The most vocal of the homeowners were Debbie and Dale Sleigh, who had to keep a constant check on the weather forecast and the radar map because times of heavy rains were a nightmare for them, her parents who live next door and another resident, Michael Ziegler, all of whom lived on Illinois Drive.

The houses will be demolished and the property turned into a detention pond to handle the massive amounts of stormwater that floods the area during heavy rains.

Purchase price was $120,000 for the Sleighs’ house; $100,000 for the home of her parents, Charles and Elaine Cain; and $65,000 for the home of Michael Ziegler.

Ludlow trustee arrested

A Ludlow Village Board trustee was arrested in May in Rantoul for displaying a handgun.

Ross B. Radke, 62, of 121 S. Church St., Ludlow, was arrested for allegedly displaying a handgun to a customer at a Rantoul laundromat.

He was also charged with two counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, a Class 4 felony.

Rantoul police Lt. Justin Bouse said police were dispatched to the area of Cleaner’s Express, 1109 Klein Ave., at 5:12 p.m. for a report of a person armed with a gun.

Police found Radke and placed him under arrest without incident.

They found a loaded handgun in his coat pocket, two handgun magazines on him and three additional handgun magazines in his belongings that he had at the laundromat. Each magazine contained ammunition.

In September he was charged with attacking a Champaign County corrections officer in the jail.

Chanute environmental group disbands

The Restoration Advisory Board — the citizens group charged with oversight of the environmental cleanup of the former Chanute Air Force Base — held its last meeting in May.

The board had been meeting for the past 25 years to help oversee and provide input on the environmental cleanup.

Four of the six current RAB members were present for the final meeting — Debra Rawlings, Jack Anderson, Doug Rokke and Ian Wang. Lorraine Wirges and Caryl Fothergill were not present.

Paul Carroll, the Air Force environmental coordinator for the former base, estimated 12 to 13 members of the public had served on RAB.

Also present at the meetings have been various officials from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Air Force and contractors hired to do cleanup operations.

It’s these officials who have the technical expertise for cleanup. The RAB members represented the public. Chris Hill of the Illinois EPA is a former RAB regulatory member.

The RAB discontinuance doesn’t mean the handful of remaining cleanup operations will be done in secret. The Air Force will continue to keep the public abreast of the final remediation through  periodic public meetings, newsletters and press releases.

Hangar purchase deal falls through

In June, what some had suspected might happen all along came about.  Los Angeles businessman John Van Der Velde informed the village of Rantoul he was pulling out of a deal to buy the four hangars and the building that houses the AT&T call center on the former Chanute Air Force Base.  

A deal for $5.450 million that featured more twists and bends than a crochet work fell through because, as Van Der Velde said in a letter to the village that week, he was unable to complete the due diligence required.

Rantoul Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said village officials are not sure what part of the due-diligence process Van Der Velde could not complete.

“He knew from the beginning what our expectations were” — to have the process completed by June 15, Eisenhauer said. “We made it very clear. Nor to us did it matter. It all needed to be met. I think he just recognized that, at the end of the day, he was not going to be able to meet it.”

The agreement with Van Der Velde was altered seven times from what he first proposed in March 2018. Under the final agreement, Van Der Velde would have received lease payments from the village for the rental of Hangar 3 over 10 years.

The rental would have been to accommodate the Half Century of Progress farm show, which is held biennially at the former base. The farm show draws upwards of 100,000 visitors to the community. The I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club, which holds the farm show, has used one of the hangars for storage and other purposes.

With the deal having fallen through, it means Van Der Velde will be required to pay back the village a little more than $36,000, which would end the financial obligation he had to the village.