Gov. Pritzker visits Rochelle, tours Kennay Farms Distilling

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker visited the ‘Hub City’ on Thursday afternoon. He toured Kennay Farms Distilling and spent time with Mayor John Bearrows.

Mayor Bearrows met with Pritzker

ROCHELLE — Gov. JB Pritzker visited the ‘Hub City’ on Thursday afternoon. 

Pritzker was in town visiting Kennay Farms Distilling with a film crew in tow. He recognized the distillery for its work early in the COVID-19 pandemic when it adapted to making hand sanitizer rather than spirits. A member of Pritzker’s video team reached out to Kennay Farms Owner Rick Kennay and asked in the days before to set up a tour and interview, Aubrey Quinn, in charge of marketing at the distillery, said. 

“It was a pretty cool experience,” Quinn said. “We were pleased they picked us out. We felt pretty special. It was cool to meet them. They were shooting video for four hours. They wanted to see products bottled. We bottled a single barrel whiskey. They filmed shots around the tasting room and we walked across the street to eat lunch. It was casual. We talked about the transition that we made last year.”

Quinn said that when the Kennays made the choice to switch to hand sanitizer last year, they didn’t think they would still see the impact and recognition over a year later. The family enjoyed bringing in the people that did the work to be recognized on Thursday. 

“Keep the family safe and the business running,” Quinn said. “We’re still talking about it. It was a big part of our lives when that happened. It was a good recognition of our team. It was quite a commitment for us. It was long hours. It was a good day for everyone and the recognition of their hard work.”

Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows spent about five hours with Pritzker during his visit. He was sworn to secrecy upon learning the Governor would be coming to town three days earlier. They ate lunch together at Acres Bistro. 

Bearrows and Pritzker walked downtown and talked about the city’s history and what it’s doing with infrastructure, Bearrows said. 

“He was very impressed with Rochelle,” Bearrows said. “He liked what he saw. I talked about what we’ve done for our businesses during the pandemic. It was very humbling to me. I will say he’s just a genuine, simple, down-to-earth guy. We had a burger and talked about anything and everything. I had 1.5-2 hours of one-on-one time. It meant a lot to me to meet with somebody that has the influence he does.”

Bearrows said he and the Governor talked about issues concerning the city, including the potential early closure of the Prairie State coal plant, which the city has $150 million in partial ownership debt, that has been talked about for inclusion in a potential energy bill. 

“I feel we made some headway,” Bearrows said. “There are some issues we’re dealing with and I wanted clarification on some bills that are on the house floor.”

Rochelle City Councilman Bil Hayes and his wife, Julie, also met with Pritzker.

Bearrows called Thursday and the chance to meet with the Governor a highlight of his mayoral tenure. 

“I appreciated being able to ask questions and address my concerns,” Bearrows said. “He seemed very concerned and interested in what I had to say.” 

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