ROCHELLE — On Aug. 25, longtime Colonial Flowers & Gifts Owner Naomi Baldwin was awarded the Blackhawk Waterways Tourism in Northwest Illinois Above & Beyond for Tourism Award at the organization’s annual dinner at Chicagoland Skydiving Center.
Blackhawk Waterways looks to promote tourism in the Northwest Illinois counties of Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside.
Baldwin has owned Colonial Flowers & Gifts since 1968 and has spent those 54 years trying to bring customers and improvement to the downtown area and business community.
The tourism award surprised Baldwin, who attended the dinner but did not expect it. Her daughter, Robin, and other family members were told ahead of time and Robin presented the award to Baldwin.
“Really seldom do I get surprised by things,” Baldwin said. “I can usually tell. I got emotional that evening, especially with my daughter doing the presentation. I guess it makes me proud, because I'm really into Rochelle. I think Rochelle is really a great town. We have so much to offer, so it's easy to promote Rochelle. From the railroad park to Chicagoland Skydiving Center. To talk about what Rochelle has to offer, it's easy for me. I feel blessed to be where I'm at."
Baldwin’s efforts have also included helping to originally start the Lincoln Highway Heritage Festival, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. She said she’s enjoyed seeing all of the changes to the downtown over the years and she likes showing visiting family and friends the improvements when they visit.
"It's easy for me to promote Rochelle, and along with that I'm promoting my own business,” Baldwin said. “As visitors from out of town come, that just adds to our economy. And when I go on a road trip with my family, we love to stop in little towns and just check them out. I think that's what a lot of people do when they come through here. Or if they're just here to visit."
Baldwin said businesses downtown and in Rochelle as a whole working as a team is the key to tourism success. Having more visitors helps the whole community.
If Baldwin doesn’t have something a customer is looking for in her shop, she’ll send them to another local business. Sometimes people stop into Colonial Flowers & Gifts just to ask for directions. Baldwin has maps with every downtown business on them.
"That's what brings everything together,” Baldwin said. “Businesses working as a team makes it win-win for everybody. We show them the map and say, 'You need to go see this, this and this.' We send people to the library and the museum. The downtown is absolutely gorgeous thanks to the city. The improvement in the last four years has been great."
After 54 years, Baldwin still enjoys driving down Lincoln Highway into the downtown and seeing the mural, streets, flowers and businesses. She hasn’t slowed down her tourism promotion efforts. She spent Tuesday night in a meeting discussing fall plans for the downtown.
“I just continue doing it,” Baldwin said. “It’s just a part of my DNA I guess.”