Year in Review 2020

A look back at highlights of each of the past 12 months

The end of the year is a time for looking forward and a time for looking back. Here are 12 of the top stories featured in the pages of The MidWeek during each month of 2020.

January - NIU celebrates 125th anniversary

On Jan. 30, a reception took place at the Holmes Student Center to kick off Northern Illinois University’s 125th anniversary.

Matt Streb, chief of staff for the office of NIU’s president and co-chairman for the 125th anniversary planning committee, described the event as an “opportunity for staff, faculty, administrators, students and alumni to get together and celebrate NIU’s history.”

On May 22, 1895, Gov. John Peter Altgeld signed legislation providing for the creation of a normal school in northern Illinois. Normal schools trained high school graduates to become teachers.

DeKalb competed with other northern Illinois towns to be the location of the normal school. Dixon, Rockford, Polo, Oregon, Fulton, Freeport and DeKalb were the main competitors, but it came down to a contest between DeKalb and Rockford.

According to NIU’s 125 Key Moments, the political connections of Isaac Ellwood and the large financial and land donations by Ellwood, Jacob Haish and Joseph Glidden swayed the selection committee.

On July 15, 1895, the decision to select DeKalb as the school’s location was announced, and DeKalb celebrated with fireworks, flags and a 15-minute salute from every factory whistle in town.

Northern Illinois State Normal School opened its doors to 146 female and 27 male students on Sept. 11, 1899.

February - Leap Day babies born

Four babies were born on Leap Day at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital.

The first baby, born at 4:28 a.m. Feb. 29, was Brecken John Day, the son of Haley Earle of Leland and Derek Day of Sandwich.

Other Leap Day babies included Ryder Norris, born to Amanda Sarabia and Jared Norris of Rochelle at 6:04 a.m.; Logan Xavier Pratscher, born to Jasmine and Jake Pratscher of DeKalb at 9:04 a.m.; and Judah Kwamena Elorm Goka, born to Rachel Efua Yalley-Goka and Benjamin Goka of DeKalb at 5:55 p.m.

According to the DeKalb County Health Department, three babies were born in DeKalb County on Leap Day 2016 and 2000, and one baby was born on Leap Day in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

The probability of a Leap Day birthday is 1 in 1,461, meaning less than 0.07% of the world’s population, or less than 5 million people, have a Feb. 29 birthday. In the United States, only about 205,000 people were born on Leap Day.

March - Drive-in worship services begin

On March 28, members of about a dozen churches came together to pray in an unconventional way because of the threat of COVID-19.

A community drive-in worship service was in the parking lot of School Tool Box, 12107 Barber Greene Road in DeKalb. More than 150 cars were parked in the lot for the nondenominational Christian worship service.

The time of the event was moved an hour and a half earlier because of Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive stay-at-home order.

The worship service, which lasted about an hour, featured music, prayers, preaching and announcements of volunteer opportunities.

April - Documenting the pandemic

The DeKalb County History Center is asking community members to record their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

The center, in partnership with more than 20 other history organizations, records DeKalb County’s past. They are all committed to collecting and preserving archival materials, photos, artifacts and books for future generations. Through the years, the organizations have documented floods, tornadoes, shootings and fires, and hope to add a historical record of COVID-19.

Every community member of every age is invited to participate by submitting photos, stories, poems, artwork or journal entries to

May - Quilters make masks

From April until May, the DeKalb County Quilters’ Guild and the DeKalb County Mask Makers made more than 4,000 face coverings for about 40 local organizations. At first, the masks were distributed by Hertz Farm Management in DeKalb, but are now distributed by the DeKalb County Health Department.

On May 1, a statewide mandate went into effect, requiring all Illinoisans wear a mask or face covering when they leave their home or report to work and when they cannot maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves and others.

June - DeKalb City Hall’s new home

DeKalb City Hall moved June 5 from 200 S. Fourth St. to its new location at 164 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb.

The building, built in 1892, originally housed DeKalb National Bank and Sheets & Knodle Hardware. Through the years, it also housed a hardware store.

The building was purchased around 1966 by Paul Nehring and remained in the Nehring family until 2001, when Shirley Nehring, Paul’s widow, donated the property to the DeKalb Park District.

The park district rented the building to a number of businesses and organizations, including the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association. On Dec. 27, 2019, the park district sold the building to the city of DeKalb for $1.

Before the city moved into the building June 5, renovations took place, including restroom upgrades, carpet replacement, painting, and computer and internet updating.

The finance department and the building department are on the first floor of City Hall. Offices belonging to the mayor, city manager, city planner, human resources, administrative law clerk and management analyst are on the second floor. The basement is used for storage.

July - Summerfest celebrated differently in Waterman

Tractors of all makes, models, shapes and sizes paraded through the streets of Waterman on July 18 as part of the modified 20th annual Waterman Lions Summerfest, made different by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The parade of about 70 tractors was led by DeKalb County Farm Bureau President Mark Tuttle. Many tractor drivers participated in a ride before and after the parade to and from the park in Rollo.

The parade was co-sponsored by the Waterman Lions Club and the DeKalb County Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. Money raised from the parade entry fee benefited the farm bureau’s Ag in the Classroom program and will help support the Waterman Lions Club’s charitable community work.

August - 4-H Project Show goes virtual

To end the 4-H year, a large countywide general project show and a livestock fair is held, where the projects are judged. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 4-H members submitted videos of their projects virtually, instead of showing them in-person.

4-H clubs have two divisions: Cloverbuds for ages 5 to 7 and Community for ages 8 to 18. There are 16 clubs in DeKalb County with about 400 members. The 4-H year begins Sept. 1 and ends Aug. 31.

Community club members can choose from more than 170 projects, including livestock, computers, nutrition, woodworking and electricity. They work on one project throughout the year.

September - ‘Project Underpass’ brings people together

A unity mural, nicknamed “Project Underpass,” was started at the pedestrian underpass that connects Northern Illinois University and Prairie Park in DeKalb.

HomeTown Association of Realtors collaborated with DeKalb 5th Ward Alderman Scott McAdams and DeKalb-based artist Aaron C. Robertson from Off the Tracks Gallery to create the mural. HomeTown received a $1,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors to address graffiti cleanup in the wake of recent racial injustice demonstrations after the death of George Floyd.

The NAR Community Rebuilding Grant helped pay for paint and supplies and the artists volunteered their time and work.

Contributing artists include the project’s director and founder, Aaron C. Robertson, project administrator Shannon Gallagher, Ivy Vargas and Jordan Jacob. The photographer is Jamie McKinley Boz and the videographer is Nathan Stein.

The mural was finished in December.

October - ‘Masked Pumpkins’ seen by car

Although the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival didn’t happen this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sycamore Lions Club still hosted its 59th annual Pumpkin Display and Decorating Contest.

The drive-thru display, featuring 31 sections, five age groups and opportunities for participation by youth and adult organizations and families, was held Oct. 23-25 at Sycamore Park on Airport Road.

There were 329 entries in this year’s contest. The Pick of the Patch award was given to Irish McCoy and the Presidents Award was given to the Sycamore Public Library.

The 2020 Pumpkin Festival Theme, “Masked Pumpkins,” was submitted by Owen Anderson who is home-schooled.

November - Veteran tribute established in Sycamore

Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang spearheaded the founding of Sycamore Grove, A Tribute to Veterans. The grove is located adjacent to the Sycamore Middle School along Route 23 and the North Main Street Trail.

The grove of trees is a living and growing tribute to veterans, honoring their memories and recognizing their sacrifices.

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, families of veterans dedicated a tree in the grove by placing a tag that lists the veteran’s name, branch of service, rank, type of tree and the dedication date.

December - Residents lighten up the holidays

Three organizations hosted holiday light competitions for the first time this year: the DeKalb Park District, the Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sycamore Park District.

The DeKalb Park District’s Holiday House Decorating Contest had 11 participants; 21 houses decorated for Illuminate Genoa, the Chamber’s holiday light competition sponsored by Tobinson’s Ace Hardware; and 29 homes participated in the Sycamore Park District’s Holiday House Decorating Contest, sponsored by Resource Bank.

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.