Year in Review 2022: July through December

Now overlooking the downtown gazebo area is a 54-by-24-foot mural depicting flowers and insects. The mural was designed and painted by local artists and siblings Mat and Mandey Steder and commissioned by the City of Rochelle.

A look back at some of the top Rochelle News-Leader stories of the past year

The January through June Year in Review appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 28 edition of the Rochelle News-Leader.


Sunday, July 3

ROCHELLE — After a referendum passed on Tuesday, the Creston-Dement Library District is now able to issue $2.2 million in bonds to build a new library building.

A total of 163 votes were seen on the issue in the Dement precinct with 117 voting in favor of the new library and 46 against it.  

The total cost of the project is $2.6 million. At least $400,000 of that will be covered by grant dollars. With a 3.75 percent interest rate, which is the lowest and where the market is now, the property tax increase on a homeowner with a $100,000 home will be $72 on an annual basis. At 4.75 percent, the worst scenario for an interest rate, it's a $79 year property tax increase for a $100,000 home. 

The process of bringing a new library to Creston has taken about 10 years. The main reason for the desire for a new building is the library outgrowing its current space at 107 S. Main St. The new library would be built at the corner of Main and Cederholm Streets on land that was donated years ago for a new library.

“The library is a very important part of the community,” Creston-Dement Library Board Member Doug Kroupa said prior to the vote. “What we'll see in town coming down Main Street if the referendum passes will be a new library that will be just about 7,500 square feet. This is a great time to do it. We're at low interest rates. The prices of materials are coming down. We're out of room in this facility.”

Wednesday, July 6

ROCHELLE — Fuel costs have risen around $2 per gallon between just before spring planting and now for Steward-area corn, soybean and cattle farmer Dean Svela. Fuel tanks on tractors can range between 250-425 gallons.

“That adds up a lot when you're filling up a tractor,” Svela said. “$5 a gallon for fuel, that's about $1,000 every time you fuel up. You try not to think about it.” 

Fuel prices aren’t the only input expense that farmers have seen rise. Prices of chemicals like fertilizer, anhydrous ammonia and weed control have skyrocketed and have been in shorter supply. Oil and any oil-based products are up in price. Svela said seed costs increased by just a little, and he was surprised that they didn't increase more.

“Anything that goes into our everyday lifestyle as far as building a crop for the fall,” Svela said. “All of our inputs have seen prices rise.”

The lowest percentage increase that Rochelle-area sweet corn, corn and soybean farmer Jeff Rainwater has seen on an input from last year to this year is six percent. The highest he’s seen is a 19 percent increase. 

Farmers often utilize fuel contracts that can get them ahead of the game if prices rise afterwards. But Rainwater’s contract expired at the end of 2021 and by then, prices were already higher and have gone up since. 

“Fuel prices are ridiculous compared to a year ago,” Rainwater said. “It’s been going in this direction for a while now. It’s troublesome when you’re trying to run a business. And it’s for no real good reason.”

Sunday, July 10

ROCHELLE — Mark Papke’s mantra as a shop teacher at Rochelle Middle School when speaking to students was “plan your work, work your plan.”

Papke retired earlier this year after 30 years at RMS. The reason he got into teaching was because he enjoys helping others and showing them how a process goes. He likes seeing students’ eyes light up when they learn something. He wanted to teach kids to present the best possible project when they take it home finished for their moms and dads. 

“I just loved seeing that lightbulb go off and showing them how to use tools and go step-by-step,” Papke said. “I just loved to give students an idea and have them see the process. I think I made an impact on people's lives. I had a couple that said, 'Now I know how to build things. Thank you. No one ever taught me before.'"

In Papke’s shop class, sixth graders learned drafting and made can projects and bird houses. Seventh graders worked with plastics and made higher-level can projects and bird houses. Eighth graders did woodworking, learned mass production and again made can projects.

“It was my dream job and I interviewed for it in 1992 and I got it,” Papke said. “Kids loved to make bird houses. They'd bring them home and I'd see parents in the grocery store and they'd tell me they loved it. We made planes, boats and tractors. All sorts of things. I helped with intramurals and the HUB Program after school. I was head wrestling coach for a couple of years. I did the gamut."

Sunday, July 17

ROCHELLE — In spring 2020 when Shay Ward and her family were living in Aurora, somebody in their neighborhood put up a little free library (LFL).  It was during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and the family enjoyed it and set out to find other LFLs.

The family loved the idea so much, it decided it wanted one of their own. Ward’s father made up some plans and built it himself. The shingles and siding were hand-cut and it took him several months to build.

But in the summer of 2020, Ward’s 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, passed away unexpectedly. Last summer, the Ward family moved to Rochelle. This June to mark the two-year anniversary of losing Ellie, the entire family planted a tree and placed a memorial stone in her honor. They also launched the LFL at their 7th Avenue home with a plaque marked in memory of Ellie.

The LFL is stocked with a variety of books for kids, teens, and adults. The books are "always a gift, never for sale" and there’s no need to return them. People can pass books on to others or bring them back for others to enjoy. Books can also be donated to keep the library stocked. The Ward family’s LFL is charter #148288 and can be found on the LFL app or the website

“It was kind of cathartic to have everyone at our house that day,” Ward said. “Everyone was happy to be together to honor Ellie’s memory in a positive way. The kids were helpful and it felt like a bonding experience. It was a therapeutic way to work through the process of losing her. I think it helped all of us.”


Sunday, Aug. 7

ROCHELLE — After starting Studio C Dance on her own last fall, Cecillia Stover expected to have 20 dancers. Her first season finished in May with over 100 dancers on stage at a recital. 

A ribbon cutting for Studio C Dance was held Tuesday by the Rochelle Chamber of Commerce. The business, located at 101 Eighth Ave. (Teen Town), offers dance classes for ages 3-18 in different styles and has competitive and recreational environments for anyone that wants to participate. 

Stover has danced her entire life and has spent the past seven years teaching for other studios. Once she started teaching dance, she realized that was her passion, rather than dancing herself. 

"I was probably put into dance by my mom just for something to do when I was about three. But it ended up being my passion,” Stover said. “When I was 16, I went and stayed out in New York by myself and trained with Joffrey and then I went to school at Columbia for dance. There's a huge group of people in Rochelle who love to dance like I do. They deserve somebody who's passionate about it to teach it to them and a program that is actually going to serve them whether they want to just do it for fun or do something with it after high school."

Wednesday, Aug. 10

ROCHELLE — On Friday, Kennay Farms Distilling hosted a tapping event for Homefront IPA, a beer brewed in collaboration with Hops for Heroes that supports military service members and veterans.

Hops for Heroes is a campaign by national nonprofit Soldiers’ Angels that works with craft breweries of all sizes like Kennay Farms Distilling. 100 percent of proceeds from the beer will be donated to the nonprofit. 

Kennay Farms was one of 14 breweries in the U.S. to participate and was sent the ingredients and recipe by Soldiers’ Angels. Along with the first tapping of the beer, the Friday event also featured raffles and giveaways, guest appearances, and complimentary appetizers by Acres Bistro, Brewski’s Bar & Grill and Flight Deck Bar & Grill.

Soldiers’ Angels provided assistance to more than 982,000 service members, veterans, wounded heroes and their families in 2021 alone. Kennay Farms Distilling Owner Doris Kennay said Friday that the cause is near and dear to her family’s hearts. 

“We have several veterans in our family,” Kennay said. “In our production area, we have a veterans wall where my dad and Rick's dad are shown along with several uncles and cousins and our nephew, Adam. We always like to honor them.”

Sunday, Aug. 21

ROCHELLE — A movie crew recently wrapped up filming in the area including locations in Rochelle and Creston. 

“Dandelions” stars Scott Michael Foster, Kate Cobb and Kevin Bigley and is about a writer that returns to his rural hometown filled with the friends and places that he’s used as inspiration in his successful novels. 

“When he comes home to pick up the pieces after his dad dies, he's faced with those people,” Bigley, also the writer and executive producer of the film, said. “They're seemingly OK with his success, but what transpires is kind of this twilight zone series of events that makes him unable to leave. His car doesn't work and his phone stops working and he starts to feel like he's potentially being kept there and all of these people that are seemingly fine with his success might be harboring some resentment and a form of payback. It plays with his own perception.”

The “Dandelions” film was born out of a short that was shot by the group in Bigley’s hometown in Northern California, which he said is similar to rural Illinois. When their production company. Dandelions Movie, LLC, partnered with executive producers Chicago Media Angels, the story was envisioned in rural Illinois. 

“As we did more research and scouting, we found these towns that were kind of a perfect fit,” Bigley said. “Not one town in particular was a standout. They all had their own unique buildings and personalities.”

The crew set up home base at a hotel in DeKalb and did location scouting and filming around the area including in Rochelle, Esmond, Creston, Malta, DeKalb, Sycamore and Dundee.


Wednesday, Sept. 7

ROCHELLE — On Aug. 25, longtime Colonial Flowers 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 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."

Wednesday, Sept. 14

ROCHELLE — A family with longstanding ties to the Rochelle community has purchased the building at 1010 N. 15th St. that formerly housed the Kishwaukee Family YMCA Child Care Center and plans to open it as a daycare again this year. 

Ron and Joni Spartz are the new owners of the building and daycare and their daughter, Kristin Spartz Barlow, will run it as its director.  Rochelle has been without a daycare since 2020 when Kishwaukee Family YMCA Child Care Center closed. The City of Rochelle took on preliminary work after the closure in hopes of a daycare coming back to town. It put out a survey to residents last year that came back with overwhelming results in favor of a daycare with 72 percent of respondents saying they’re in need of a daycare and 71 percent saying their children would be likely to attend a daycare if it opened in town.

“We saw online that there were a lot of people talking about how there's no childcare here in town,” Barlow said. “I've been working in childcare since 2015. It was just sad to see what happened to the daycare situation in Rochelle. I have friends who worked here, my kids went here. I have friends who had kids going here when it closed. It's like nothing was happening for years. I heard it was going to come up for sale. I got the information and went to my mom and talked to her."

ROCHELLE — On Saturday at the Rochelle Municipal Airport, the Rochelle Area Community Foundation hosted the first annual Planes, Trains & Automobiles fundraiser event. 

The RACF and presenting sponsors Zekelman Industries and the City of Rochelle and Rochelle Municipal Utilities put on the event from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the proceeds of which will support the RACF and its nonprofit mission as it looks forward to strengthening its community impact. Along with unique aircraft and train exhibits, the event featured cars from each decade going back an entire century including vehicles from The Hamilton Collection, which exhibited several hyper cars from its $30 million collection.

The event also included an online-only silent auction and food vendors.

"Today has by far exceeded our expectations,” RACF Executive Director Emily Anaya said. “The amount of people that have come out in support of this event is truly amazing. We've had people come all the way from California. We have local people here and people from surrounding areas. It's been a great turnout. I think it's been very family-oriented and has brought out a diverse group. It's fun for all."

Sunday, Sept. 25

ROCHELLE — Now overlooking the downtown gazebo area is a 54-by-24-foot mural depicting flowers and insects.

The mural was designed and painted by local artists and siblings Mat and Mandey Steder and commissioned by the City of Rochelle. Mat owns a tattoo shop downtown and Mandey is a graphic designer.  

The Steder siblings said feedback from passersby and social media has been positive since they started work on the mural.

“I think we were looking for something that was for all ages that everyone could relate to,” Mandey said. “It brightens up this area. A lot of events are held down here. It's just non-specific. It's floral and it goes with the outdoors. People seem to be loving it when they walk by, no matter the age of the person.”


Sunday, Oct. 2

ROCHELLE — On Tuesday, a ceremony was held dedicating the Illinois Route 251 overpass in the heart of Rochelle to the memory of the late State Sen. John B. "Jack" Roe. 

In 1976, Sen. Roe was approached by local civic and business leaders to obtain assistance and funding to place an overpass on then-U.S. Route 51 through Rochelle. At that time, U.S. Route 51 was the major north-south thoroughfare through Illinois. The City of Rochelle had two sets of railroad tracks, the Chicago Northwestern and Burlington Northern, with as many as 80 trains a day going through the city, creating delays of 15 to 20 minutes for each train. Consequently, Rochelle became known as “Jamtown” and “Delaysville” by truck drivers. Sen. Roe secured the necessary funding to construct the Rochelle overpass to remedy the logjam and facilitate the flow of commerce. 

Family and friends of Roe attended the ceremony Tuesday at the Flagg-Rochelle Public Library. Mayor John Bearrows spoke at the event along with State Rep. Tom Demmer and State Sen. Brian Stewart, who co-sponsored House Joint Resolution 57 in Springfield to designate the Illinois Route 251 overpass in Rochelle in honor of Sen. Roe. The resolution was passed unanimously earlier this year.

ROCHELLE — On Sept. 25, Bryn Kissack of Rochelle celebrated her 16th birthday with a Walk ‘N Roll event to raise money for the Illinois Spina Bifida Association at the Helms Field track. 

Over 400 people attended the event and over $23,000 was raised. People of all ages joined Kissack by walking or rolling by her side on the track. The Rockford Chariots organization attended and brought wheelchairs. Buzzed by Sonset played live music and Ralfie’s BBQ provided lunch.

Bryn’s mother, Jennifer, said the ISBA told her it was the biggest event they’ve had in over a decade. The ISBA is a 501c3 charity serving more than 900 families throughout Illinois, including Bryn and the Kissacks. It provides community programs and services for individuals affected by spina bifida as well as research, advocacy, education and support initiatives. 

“It meant a lot for us to raise that money for the ISBA, and I know it meant a lot to them,” Bryn said. “I'm very thankful we decided to help them out as much as we did because they've done so much for me and for our family and they're still helping and working with us. They're very supportive of every family with kids that have my disability.”

Sunday, Oct. 16

ROCHELLE — During Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Rochelle Elementary School District Board of Education, HUB Program Director Yazmin Nambo said that the district will be receiving grant funding to continue the HUB Program. 

The program, which is specifically targeted to support the district’s K-8 at-risk youth using a before and after-school model plus summer school. has been fully-funded by a grant for the past 10 years. In the past, the district has received about $435,000 per year to run the program at no cost to it and the community.

The district recently had to reapply for the Illinois State Board of Education Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant cycle. The district was originally awarded the grant 10 years ago, and five years after that, the state decided the awardees of the original cycle would get an automatic rollover for five more years. 

Nambo and Superintendent Jason Harper said the district has not yet officially been told the amount it will be receiving, but in the past the grant has always supplied the amount that the district was approved for. 

Wednesday, Oct. 19

ROCHELLE — Rochelle Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Gregg Olson said Oct. 14 that the hospital is currently in the process of putting together a comprehensive facility plan for future improvements. 

About nine months ago, RCH leadership decided to put projects on hold to make sure that future facility improvements worked with each other. The hospital has been in talks with four architectural firms for the plan and has three proposals it will soon consider. Once leadership decides on one, it will go before the hospital board for presentation and approval, Olson said. “Once that happens, then the firm we select would have until about the middle of February to actually put the plan together,” Olson said. “It will look at our total campus here and decide what changes we need to make and what the priority and sequence of the changes will be. This is going to be a multi-year plan. It could go out as long as 10 years. There could be some significant changes that come out of this plan.”

Sunday, Oct. 23

ROCHELLE — On Oct. 7, Headon’s Fine Meats opened a second satellite location at Benny’s Corner Market in Rochelle, Headon’s Owner Mark Hibshman said. The longtime Creston shop also has a satellite location at the Benny’s Corner Market in Davis Junction that opened earlier this year.

The Rochelle location will be stocked with fresh meat each day along with frozen meat products including brats, burgers and hot dogs. There will be deli items and local items like vinegar and oil will be sold as well. The space inside the Rochelle Benny’s became available recently and Hibshman said he decided on the move due to the success of the Davis Junction location. Headon’s products were previously sold at the Rochelle Benny’s on a smaller scale.

“We started selling some of our products outside of the Creston store for the first time here,” Hibshman said. “And then we opened the Davis Junction location in April or May and it's just been great out there. Especially out in that area, because there's really no meat markets out there. When this space became available, [Benny’s Corner Market Owner] Tim Hayden and I chatted it all through and decided it would be a good spot to open a little satellite store here.”

Hibshman said the grab and go model has been a good compliment to the main Headon’s shop in Creston.


Wednesday, Nov. 2

ROCHELLE — On Sunday, Oct. 30, a groundbreaking event was held by Habitat for Humanity of Ogle County for its latest home in Rochelle. 

The new home at 110 S. 9th Street will be the county organization’s 13th overall and third build in Rochelle. Ashlie Minton, a mother of four, has been chosen as the homeowner. Work on the site began in early October and Habitat is hoping to make significant progress before winter comes into full swing. The home is slated for completion by early summer of 2022.

“We're excited,” Habitat Board President Gail Tuttle said. “We have a dedicated team and we're going to get this started.”

Sunday, Nov. 13

ROCHELLE — On Wednesday, the City of Rochelle and the Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corporation (GREDCO) hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rochelle Intermodal Transload Center (RITC) at 1851 S. Steward Road, a new intermodal container yard in the heart of Rochelle’s industrial park.

The project will return intermodal services to the city after the Union Pacific Railroad’s decision to close the intermodal ramp at Global III in Rochelle in May 2019. The RITC will be served by the City of Rochelle Railroad, a city-owned short line railroad that connects businesses and industries to both the Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) main line Railroads.

City officials aim for the facility to give local and regional industries a cost-effective alternative to moving freight through Chicago. 

“To see this project come to fruition today makes me very proud to say the least,” Mayor John Bearrows said. “It represents a public-private partnership that is truly in the best interest of the region. This is truly a monumental milestone for this area relative to the shipping business. With the current fuel cost, labor shortage, supply chain troubles and many other issues that face our smaller and larger shippers alike, this will be their saving grace.”


Sunday, Dec. 11

ROCHELLE — On Thursday evening, Rochelle’s Community Action Network hosted its annual CAN Shopping Trip event. 

Through community donations, each year CAN hosts families and takes children shopping. This year, 225 kids were identified by the elementary school district and volunteers took them shopping at Walmart with a $75 gift card and a list from their parents. They shop for clothes and a toy. The event was hosted at the First Presbyterian Church and buses took shoppers and kids to Walmart. A spaghetti dinner was served and families had access to donated coats from CAN’s coat drive and Rochelle Rotary Club donated a book for each child. Santa Claus was also on site to see the kids. 

"This is our major event,” CAN Board Treasurer Mike Dale said. “But it's all volunteers. I guess it's a lot of work for us, but it doesn't seem like much because we've done it for so long and the board's been pretty consistent. The thing I like about this event is how it involves the whole community. The schools help, our board is out there, all the people and local service clubs donate to us, Golden K calls the volunteers and Rotary is always donating. The high school's cheerleaders shop for the younger kids. Walmart gave us a donation and helped us with the shopping. And then people from the community send us checks for the kids to support it. I think it's a true community event.”

Wednesday, Dec.  14

ROCHELLE — Rochelle Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Gregg Olson has worked with the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network since it started in 2003. 

But he did not expect to win ICAHN’s highest award for exemplary and visionary leadership in rural healthcare in recent weeks. The 2022 Presidential Award was presented to Olson on Nov. 10 during ICAHN’s annual conference in Champaign. 

"It was a surprise,” Olson said. “I do what I think is right and what I can for the organization because I believe in it. It wasn't any kind of award that I was chasing. It was just doing the things that I felt were right for the organization and for RCH. I'm very humbled. It was nice for the acknowledgement. It was a very nice surprise."

Sunday, Dec. 18

ROCHELLE — On Thursday, a retirement party was held at City Hall for K9 Axel of the Rochelle Police Department. 

Axel retired recently due to age and his handler, now-Sgt. Ryan Beery, being promoted within the department. RPD employees and members of the community had the chance Thursday to wish the K9 officer well in retirement. Axel will live with Beery and his family going forward. 

"It's been emotional,” Beery said. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be. Leaving for work every day and him staying home has been strange. He's still getting adjusted to that. It's going to be a good thing. I'm happy with where I'm at and what I'm doing. All good things have to come to an end. It's been a good run."

Axel was with the department and Beery for seven years. RPD Chief Eric Higby said it was nice to see Axel into his retirement. 

“A lot of departments aren't afforded that opportunity because the dog gets ill or something happens,” Higby said. “He had a good long service life and was a good dog for us. It's nice to see him have the opportunity to retire and be with the Beery family."