On the Record with Madeline DeVito

SYCAMORE – Although Madeline DeVito is only 25 years old, she knows that her love of cars is life-long.

As a young girl, she remembers attending the Fizz Ehrler Memorial Turning Back Time Car Show with her father. This year, she is the director of the show and the club’s president.

The 21st annual car show will be held from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 25, in downtown Sycamore. The event will feature more than 1,000 cars and motorcycles.

When not helping organize the car show, DeVito is a fifth-grade teacher at North Grove Elementary School in Sycamore. She graduated from Sycamore High School in 2013 and she graduated summa cum laude from Northern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2017.

DeVito spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about her leadership position and the upcoming car show.

Milton: Tell me about the Fizz Ehrler Memorial Turning Back Time Car Show.

DeVito: We are the second largest annual event that Sycamore holds next to Pumpkin Fest. There will be more than 1,000 cars and motorcycles, and we close Route 64 through Sycamore for the day. All of downtown and the side streets are filled with classic cars.

Milton: What sets this car show apart from others?

DeVito: We’re not a judged show, we’re a participant-judged show. We have a kids’ choice award, which allows kids to get to judge cars, and the winning car wins a big trophy. Also, although cars are the main attraction, we also have vendors, food and a ceremony with the national anthem, a plane fly-over and a performance by Beth Fowler School of Dance.

Milton: Is the event free?

DeVito: The event is free to attend as a spectator and is open to the public. To participate and show your car, it is $10 online or $15 at the gate. The money we raise with the event is used to give back and donate to different local organizations, including cancer research and scholarships. Our biggest loss from last year is not only not being able to hold the event, but not being able to give money to places we typically donate to. A cruise drive-thru was held last year, and we accepted donations for Safe Passage. However, a drive-thru event wasn’t nearly as much fun. The fun part is having everyone downtown and see it come to life. We’re expecting our biggest show yet this year.

Milton: What do you do as your role of event director?

DeVito: I’m the point person for everything. I work very closely with the police department, fire department and city staff to make sure we have permitting and all of our ducks in a row to have the event. I also run all of our club’s meetings. We meet once a month year-round and then weekly in July before the show date. I’m the person called when people have questions. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of calls asking if the event is still happening. Yes, it’s happening this year, and we’re all really looking forward to the event.

Milton: Why are you involved with the show?

DeVito: I grew up going to the show. I was born and raised in Sycamore. I went with my dad to the show as a little kid. He was friends with Fizz Ehrler, the namesake of the show. 2015 was the first year I was on the board. I helped out wherever was needed, including being club secretary, until more recently. Cars have just always been a passion of mine. I’m a Jeep girl. I have a Jeep, my dad had a jeep, my husband, who was my high school sweetheart, also loves classic cars. At first, it was tagging along with my family to car shows, now I love going and getting involved myself.

Milton: Is it rare to see women involved in car shows?

DeVito: There have been a couple of other women involved in the club: one was a treasurer and there were a couple of women in the past involved because their husbands were in it. I’d love to see more women get involved. This year, the Midwest Women Riders are handling the motorcycle show portion. They’re an all-female motorcycle group. Love to see more young people in general, especially young women, get involved.

Milton: Do you have to know about cars to attend the event?

DeVito: You don’t have to know about cars or have to know how to fix a car. There’s always something to do at the event, something to see and learn. There’s something there for everybody. You see things you’d never see just driving down the street. There was a Jeepster one year that looked like two front ends smushed together in one car. You get to see blasts from the past, so many unique pieces of history in one place at one time. The nostalgia and atmosphere of the event is really cool, whether you’re a car person or not. It’s also all about raising money to give back to the community. The car show is the way we do that. It’s about creating an awesome, family-friendly event for the community that everyone can attend.

Milton: How has the event grown through the years?

DeVito: Chuck Criswell created the show in honor of Fizz Ehrler, and Chuck has since passed away. I think he’d be really proud with how much the show has grown in the past 21 years. The first show, there were only 300 cars and a few hundred spectators. Now we have more than 1,000 cars and thousands of spectators. Just recently, before the end of the school year, my students were writing about their favorite memories. One student said that his favorite family tradition is attending the big car show downtown. I think I surprised him when I told him I’m involved with helping run that event. But having kids get excited, attending the event with their family, is what it’s all about. I love seeing car owners interact with kids, telling stories and history about their cars and sharing their passion with others.

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.