2021 Year in Review: Top stories from the MidWeek this year

The end of the year is a time for looking forward and a time for looking back. These are 12 of the top stories featured in the pages of The MidWeek during each month of 2021.

January: Fundraising begins for DeKalb’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Clock

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Clock celebrated the 100th anniversary of its dedication this year. The clock is located in Memorial Park at the intersection of First Street and Lincoln Highway in downtown DeKalb.

Since last winter, the DeKalb Rotary Club and the American Legion Post 66 fundraised to restore the clock. The Rotary Club, Legion post and clock each celebrated 100 years of existence in 2021.

On Nov. 11, a rededication ceremony was held for the clock in conjunction with a full military ceremony for Veterans Day.

Although the clock was structurally sound, its mechanisms were not working. It needed mechanical repairs and historic restoration, including solving leakage problems, removing rust and placing stainless steel bolts. The cost of fixing the clock’s interior mechanisms was about $7,000, and painting and restoring the exterior of the clock cost between $15,000 and $16,000. The clock was restored by R.W. Keys and Son.

February: ‘Hateful Things’ exhibit opens at NIU

The traveling exhibit “Hateful Things,” created and circulated by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, was on display at Northern Illinois University’s Pick Museum of Anthropology from February through April.

The exhibit featured 39 items that represent nearly 150 years of anti-Black and racist material and imagery. The exhibit was co-sponsored by the museum, NIU’s Center for Black Studies and Friends of the NIU Libraries.

March: Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra returns to stage

After more than a year since its last performance, the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra returned to the stage for a spring concert.

The performance was recorded on NIU’s Boutell Memorial Concert Hall stage and was made available for virtual viewing.

In accordance with health guidelines during the pandemic, musicians performed socially distanced while on stage. They also wore face masks with mouth slits to play their instruments and used bell covers that filter the air that comes from their instrument without distorting or muffling the sound. The concert was recorded in three separate sections with industrial fans filtering and circulating the air during intermissions.

April: Community group Trash Squirrels help clean up DeKalb

The Facebook group Trash Squirrels: Cleaning Up DeKalb, held a cleanup event around Earth Day.

The group filled 25 garbage bags and one bag for recycling during the event held along Greenwood Acres Drive in DeKalb. The items collected weighed a total 168 pounds.

The group’s mission is to help make the community look better by picking up garbage along roads and in parks.

In 2021, Trash Squirrels held 24 cleanup events and picked up more than 3 tons of trash. The group was thanked publicly during the DeKalb City Council meeting on Nov. 22.

May: Stage Coach Players celebrate 75th season

After being closed for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Stage Coach opened its 75th season with “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” on May 20.

The 75th season marks the anniversary of the group’s first production, “Pure as the Driven Snow,” which opened March 27, 1947. Stage Coach is the longest continuous-running community theater group in Illinois.

This year’s shows included “When I Grow Up: A Musical Cabaret” in July, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woof” in August, “The Red Velvet Cake War” in September, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: A Musical Thriller” in October and “Elf: the Musical” in December.

June: Two new murals created in DeKalb

The City of DeKalb has two new murals, and the Citizens’ Community Enhancement Commission hopes they are catalysts to new public works of art.

On June 18, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of DeKalb’s colorful Unity mural. The mural, nicknamed “Project Underpass,” is located in the pedestrian underpass below Lincoln Highway that connects NIU and Prairie Park in DeKalb. The mural was painted by four local artists – Aaron Robertson, Shannon Gallagher, Jordan Jacob and Ivy Vargas – over four months.

On June 22, the city’s Public Works department held a community mural painting event to paint the Hopkins Park pedestrian underpass below Sycamore Road in DeKalb.

Artists interested in creating a mural in DeKalb can participate in the city’s Public Mural Program.

The city’s Citizens’ Community Enhancement Commission has created guidelines to help artists get started. For more information about murals in DeKalb, visit www.cityofdekalb.com/murals.

July: St. John celebrates paying off its mortgage

Seventeen years after a fire destroyed the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John in Sycamore, the congregation gathered July 25 to celebrate paying off the debt of its new church with a mortgage-burning ceremony.

A large fire ignited in the church on Main Street shortly after 5 p.m. Feb. 9, 2004. The fire caused about $4 million worth of damage, and the building had to be demolished. When firefighters attempted to open doors to ventilate the building, the fresh oxygen created a backdraft, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms called the largest recorded backdraft in the United States.

Ground was broken for the new church at 26555 Brickville Road in Sycamore in August 2005. The new church, which is approximately 50% bigger than the previous one, opened its doors and celebrated its first service on Feb. 11, 2007. A formal dedication service, open house and facility tours were held April 29, 2007.

In December 2020, the congregation paid off its $1.25 million mortgage that was taken out to build the church. The congregation has held numerous fundraising events, as well as a debt reduction drive, over the years.

August: Fargo Skateboarding kickflips into new downtown DeKalb location

To increase awareness about the skate shop’s new location, which opened April 1, its new venue space and the indoor skatepark, Fargo Skateboarding held multiple events during Corn Fest weekend, Aug. 27-29.

An open house with free skating and a fundraiser art sale and the “Lost & Found” Art Show, organized by Erin Boyle and Emily Grobe, took place at Fargo’s new location, 621 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb.

Fargo owner Ariel Ries said the events were the “first real big premiere of the new space.” She described the new skate shop and venue space, which together are about 3,000 square feet, as “a place where everyone can feel welcome, accepted and like they belong.”

Fargo Skate Shop first opened in 2007 at 229 E. Lincoln Highway. In 2013, the skate shop began using the Fargo Theatre privately for a skate park. In 2015, the skate shop moved to 629 E. Lincoln Highway, and in 2016, the skate park was opened to the public.

September: Pay-It Forward House sold, but its mission remains the same

Although the Pay-It-Forward House’s physical building, furniture and décor were sold, the nonprofit organization will continue its mission.

The agency provides a home-away-from-home to the family members and friends of patients receiving medical treatment in DeKalb County. The Pay-It-Forward House, 719 Somonauk St. in Sycamore, provided more than 21,660 nights of rest for guests since opening in 2005.

Changes in hospital room privacy and insurance rules suppressed the demand for rooms at the house. The board decided that an operational pivot was in order, transitioning from providing nights of rest in the cozy house on Somonauk Street to providing patients’ family and friends with vouchers for hotel rooms at participating hotels.

October: NIU STEM Fest held on campus after being held virtually last year

NIU’s STEM Fest took place Oct. 23 in the heart of the university’s central campus in the Holmes Student Center, MLK Commons and Founders Memorial Library.

The free event, featured more than 80 exhibits with hands-on activities, crafts and talks related to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

This was the 12th year for STEM Fest. Last year, the event was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event began as a haunted physics lab and has grown since then.

November: St. Vincent de Paul opens free supply closet for the community

Society of St. Vincent de Paul St. Mary/Christ the Teacher Conference started a supply closet for non-food essentials for DeKalb community members.

The pantry will distribute bags of necessary household items that are not covered by food assistance programs. Examples include laundry supplies, personal and bath supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, diapers and household cleaning supplies.

In addition to receiving a bag full of items, recipients also can choose extra items: deodorant, shampoo, diapers, razors, facial tissue, toothbrushes and more.

The SVDP supply closet distributes personal and household items from 4 to 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at 302 Fisk Ave. in DeKalb.

December: Volunteers decorate the Ellwood House for the holidays

About 20 rooms inside the Ellwood House, 409 N. First St. in DeKalb, were decorated for the holidays by 17 organizations and volunteer groups from the community. This year’s decorating color scheme was blue, white and silver.

Highlights of the decorated mansion included a 12-foot tree in the living room, handmade crafts in the basement hallway made by all 180 DeKalb School District second-grade students, a global-themed laundry room decorated by NIU’s Network of Nations, a peacock-themed bedroom and bathroom decorated by Anna-Marie Zurlinden and her mother, a dainty feminine bedroom nicknamed “Patty’s Room” decorated in pink by the Genoa Guest House and a festive third floor ballroom decorated by the DeKalb Area Garden club featuring artificial sweets and treats on display.

Brian Reis, Ellwood House executive director, said the money raised from tours will help repair the mansion, including the wooden balustrades on the exterior of the house and indoor restoration work. Reis was told that historically restoring the mansion will cost approximately $5 million.

Katrina Milton

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.