Monday, April 28, 2008

Early Advantage

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Former Sycamore High School soccer standout Brad Horton (center) dresses before practice at his new school, Northern Illinois University, where he enrolled this spring to get a head start on his athletic and academic career. “It’s definitely a lot different than anything I’ve done before," Horton said of the last few months, during which time he has lived at home while studying and practicing at NIU.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Despite being selected as an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in 2007, in 2008, Brad Horton is another first-year player on the Northern Illinois University soccer squad. As part of his freshman duties, Horton helped to carry nets on to the field before practice on Wednesday.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Eighteen-year-old Northern Illinois University freshman Brad Horton, shown during soccer practice at Huskie Stadium on Tuesday, is the first early enrollee to be recruited by men's head coach Steve Simmons, right.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Brad Horton, center, enjoys some frozen custard at Ollie's Frozen Custard in Sycamore on Thursday with Sycamore High School friends, clockwise from rear, Ryan Peifer, Andy Maratto, and Elliot Leinhard. "It's almost like I'm two different people," Horton said of having a life at Northern Illinois University and one with his high school friends.

One Hour With: Valvoline Instant Oil Change

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Brandon Green, 20, braces himself against the side of a Dodge Caravan to attempt to loosen a stubborn serpentine belt at Valvoline Instant Oil Change Friday afternoon in DeKalb. Despite breaking a flashlight and bloodying his hands in the process, Green installed a new belt without losing his temper. "I like to make things work out the best they can," he said.

Oil Toil

Editor's note: This is the ninth in an occasional series chronicling an hour in the life of DeKalb County residents. Daily Chronicle photographer Eric Sumberg spent time at Valvoline Instant Oil Change at 2615 Sycamore Road in DeKalb from 4-5 p.m. Friday.

A little before 4 p.m. Friday, four men stood in a small circle in the pit area of Valvoline Instant Oil Change in DeKalb.

It was a brief respite for Drew Hurdy, 26, Brandon Green, 20, Joe Ybarra, 21, and Jarret Wheeler, 21, who had serviced a parade of vehicles since the shop opened at 8 a.m.

“It's steady,” shop manager Hurdy said. “But it's starting to slow down. Gas prices are having an impact on it.”

The basic oil change with inspection costs $31.99, up from $29.99 in January. For that, customers get a look at their lights and fluid levels, an oil change and a filter change.

“A lot of people come in and ask how much. We say $31.99 and they say, ‘I'm outta here,'” Green said.

Employees at the oil-change shop see things most motorists rarely come across. Mice are a common sight, often nesting in part of the engine.

At about 4:10 p.m., a Dodge Caravan pulled into the lot.

“Customer on the lot,” Hurdy shouted as the other three employees moved into position. After a quick inspection of the vehicle, Ybarra opened the hood and started seeing to the fluid levels.

“Tail lights, that's good!” Hurdy said.

“Going to raise it up,” Ybarra replied as Wheeler checked tire pressure on the vehicle while it rose. After draining the oil into a pan, Ybarra grabbed a hose hanging from the ceiling - a hose connected to a container filled with nonsynthetic 5w-30 oil. After taking care of the oil, he took the dipstick over to show the customer that the job had been done. Hurdy walked over and did a final check.

“We're ready to roll,” he said as he slammed the hood shut, sending the car off 15 minutes after it had pulled in.

At about 4:30 p.m., a brief storm interrupted work.

“Is it raining?” Green asked no one in particular.

Ybarra said he views his job at the DeKalb shop as a great start to what he wants to do with his life.

“I want to be a technician working on Porsches,” he said. “I want to be known in the industry. This is a great learning opportunity.”

The shop soon filled up with vehicles, mostly minivans and sport utility vehicles. The employees shouted out what they were doing to keep their boss, and the customer, aware of their progress.

“When you're busy, time goes by real fast,” Wheeler, above, said. “We try to make it fun.”

When it was nearly 5 p.m., the rush had abated for a few minutes. Hurdy fielded a phone call by announcing, “Having a great day at Valvoline Instant Oil Change, how can I help you?”

Behind him, Ybarra announced a new car on the lot.

Sycamore 1-0 DeKalb

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore junior forward Nici Newquist was the outstanding player of Thursday's soccer game against DeKalb.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb goalkeeper Kay Smith, left, tries to haul in a corner kick as Sycamore's Tory Tipton, center, and DeKalb's Kristin Jorgenson, right, battle for position in the second half of Thursday's game.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore forward Nici Newquist (center) celebrates with her teammates after she scored the game-winning goal at 75:03 into Thursday's match against DeKalb.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore's Tory Tilton, top, crashes down on top of DeKalb's Kristin Jorgenson in the second half of their game on Thursday.

Huml's Day

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore High School catcher Elora Oprins applies the tag moments too late as Kaneland's Mallory Huml slides past her to score in the top of the second inning of the Knights' 4-0 victory over the Spartans on Tuesday in Sycamore.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore could manage only 9 hits off of Kaneland's Huml and scored no runs to drop their record to 8-5.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Earthly Treasures

Environmentalism has come into the mainstream.

The environmental movement has evolved from Henry David Thoreau writing about Walden Pond to the creation in the early 1900s of the National Park Service to such legislation as the Clean Air Act in the 1960s to former Vice President Al Gore's climate-change movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

It wasn't always that way.

“People tend to hear the word environmentalists and they get all bent out of shape,” said Peggy Doty, a natural resources educator with the University of Illinois Extension. “The real true environmentalists of the world are trying to balance the perspectives.”

There are many people locally who share Doty's understanding about environmentalists. In celebration of Earth Day, which is Tuesday, several shared why they love the Earth - and how they're helping to preserve and improve it.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Terry Hannan, 55, is superintendent of the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District, a position he has held for 33 years. Hannan is standing on the shores of the Little Rock Creek in the Afton Forest Preserve south of DeKalb, a tract of prairie, marsh and forest that he helped to develop in 1975. “It’s just nice to see what a wonderful place this has become here,” Hannan said.

Terry Hannan

When Terry Hannan came to DeKalb to work as the superintendent of the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District in 1975, there were three preserves - Chief Shabbona, Sannauk and Russell Woods. Today, there are 14 properties and two more pending.

“That was all done on a shoestring budget,” Hannan said with a smile.

The key to maintaining all of the properties can be found in the philosophy behind the preserves, he said.

“It's plants that naturally grow here. With the prairie, you're not watering or fertilizing or mowing,” he said. “It's one-tenth the cost of a typical residential or corporate landscape, plus it has a sense of history. It changes every month, and it provides beauty and habitat.”

At one time, preserves had non-native species growing that weren't part of the natural landscape of the county's prairies and wetlands.

A movement started in the mid-1980s to restore landscapes to look like native northern Illinois habitats. The Afton Forest Preserve is a prime example: Purchased in 1984, it has grown from 5 acres to 240 acres of wetland, forest preserve and prairie. At least 157 bird species have been recorded by bird-watchers in the preserve.

“All the forest preserves have their special place or their niche,” Hannan said. “You'll get a whole different look at wildlife.”

A referendum approved in 2005 has provided funding for land acquisitions, which means area residents can be assured that the lands they love will continue to be well cared for and that new lands will likely be added.

Hannan credits volunteers, his staff, DeKalb County residents and the DeKalb County Board's ecological vision for making his life's cause so successful.

“It's been a great journey,” Hannan said. “I've learned a lot, I've met a lot of wonderful people, and it's been a good ride here.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Photographed on a bridge crossing the Kishwaukee River, Peggy Doty, 43, is the natural resources educator for the DeKalb County office of the University of Illinois Extension. She works at a satellite office at the natural resource center in the Russell Woods Forest Preserve in Genoa. Doty wants to ensure that the next generation is prepared for its ecological responsibility. “When these kids grow up and they’re a part of a governmental system, they can make sound decisions,” Doty said.

Peggy Doty

As an educator, Peggy Doty wants her students to be emotionally connected to the Earth.

“Everybody needs to be allowed to find that connection,” Doty said. “Without dirt we don't eat, yet who cares about soil?”

Doty, 43, has been working as a natural resources educator for nine years with the University of Illinois Extension. Nearly 6,000 schoolchildren have attended her programs, which are held at the natural resource center in Genoa and at other forest preserves in DeKalb County. What excites Doty is the variety that she has, not only in her small patch, but also in the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District as a whole. The city of Genoa recently approved a wildlife habitat improvement project that Doty believes will further enrich the learning environment for students.

“My kids don't have a prairie to study right here in Genoa, but this would give them a prairie,” she said. “It's a community gift.”

Managing how DeKalb County grows in tandem with its preservation is at the heart of what Doty sees as her mission as an educator.

“Growth isn't bad,” she said. “But growth without green space, we aren't OK.”

True environmentalism, Doty said, is trying to balance perspectives so that the policymakers of today have a sound basis for making decisions that affect the planet.

“Everything is connected,” Doty said. “You can't stop it, fighting it is ridiculous, so how do you work with it?”

As the University of Illinois Extension system faces a potential loss of matching funds from the state for the 2008 fiscal year, Doty worries a generational gap may emerge if students don't learn that the natural habitat is worth saving.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Craig Gilbertson, 58, shown at the Wilkinson/Renwick Marsh near Glidden Road north of DeKalb, is the chairman of the executive committee of the Kishwaukee Solduc Group of the Sierra Club. “When people actually see what there is, they care about saving it,” Gilbertson said of preserving DeKalb County’s natural habitats.

Craig Gilbertson

When Craig Gilbertson was a child, his father shared a few lessons with him.

“He taught me an appreciation of nature,” said Gilbertson, now 58. “He was what you would have called a conservationist. Don't waste, don't destroy things, preserve stuff for the future.”

When he was a sixth-grader attending a summer school for children of students at Northern Illinois University, Gilbertson went on a class trip to what is now called the Wilkinson/Renwick Marsh, a patch of woods and wetlands on Glidden Road north of DeKalb.

“We took water samples and looked at them under the microscope,” he recalled. “It was really neat; it was the first time I'd ever seen anything like that.”

Four decades later, the DeKalb resident is still coming to the spot, now a part of the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District. But now he's the one passing along the lessons to his grandchildren.

“It's a little area of peace, and sometimes you need to get away from buildings and people,” he said. “A natural area is one of the best areas you can find for people who are stressed out.”

Gilbertson is the chairman of the executive committee of the Kishwaukee Solduc Group of the Sierra Club. The group numbers more than 350, and its geographic range extends through DeKalb, Grundy and LaSalle counties. Preserving land through education and advocacy is this group's niche in the region's spectrum of environmental advocacy.

“There's more than one environmental organization, and they each do certain things very well,” he said. “There's a lot of overlap, but it's more complementary rather than competitive.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Monroe Center resident Rick Hoffman, 54, stands on the more than 300 acres of reclaimed floodplain that he and four neighbors have planted with thousands of trees native to Illinois as part of a plan to create a filter strip along the Kishwaukee River. “It’s a very satisfying feeling,” Hoffman says of the land, which has been growing without the need for management since 2000.

Rick Hoffman

Rick Hoffman asked himself a question.

“What else can we do to manage this land?”

In the upper northwest corner of DeKalb County, Hoffman, a former farmer and now a real estate broker, had built his home along the Kishwaukee River. The farmland that surrounded it flooded sometimes. His solution was trees - thousands of trees - 12 different species on a patch of 300 acres, 182 of which were his, that would create one of the first planned riverbank forest buffers in DeKalb County.

“It improves the quality of the stream and it provides an area for the floodplain to go,” Hoffman said.

The trees and native grasses that now stand taller than the people around them were planned by George Poe, an Illinois district forester with the state's Department of Natural Resources. They were planted in groups of 400 per acre, roughly 10 feet apart from each other. At the 12 year mark, they will be trimmed down to approximately 200 per acre. The trees will be harvested periodically but never clear-cut. Conservation easements provide that the land will always be in a natural state.

As a farmer and a broker, Hoffman has ties to both sides of the land.

“I've always believed in conservation and protection of the land,” he said. “I believe (this land) should not be farmed, to protect the quality of the river.”

Not every landowner can do what Hoffman and his neighbors have done. He acknowledges that if he had high-quality soil for farming, he likely wouldn't have made the land into a buffer.

“There's a place for everything,” Hoffman said. “I'm protecting land that needs protecting.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Eric Mogren, 47, is a professor of environmental history at Northern Illinois University and is an avid archer. Mogren stands on the grounds of the Kishwaukee Archers, a 20-acre tract of land north of Sycamore. “I don’t have the mountains out my back door,” Mogren said, “But I have this place.”

Eric Mogren

After a certain point, Eric Mogren realized he needed to call DeKalb County his home.

“I can't constantly be thinking this place is strange and alien,” the 47-year-old Mogren said. “The time has come to really appreciate this place.”

Raised the son of a forest ecologist in the mountains of Colorado, Mogren was used to seeing beauty around every corner. When he came to DeKalb in 1995 to teach history at Northern Illinois University, he saw a different land. By 2005, he had learned to appreciate the land so much that he had published a history of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, “Native Soil.”

“This is a very managed environment. There's very little that isn't closely managed,” he said. “These fields are all very well tended and manicured, and they've been that way for 150 years.”

Mogren is an avid archer, having taken the sport up again after a hiatus a few years ago. Walking through the patch of land on which the Kishwaukee Archers club has its targets, he has found that he can speak of his craft and his land interchangeably.

“You have to be patient. That kind of beauty takes some kind of investment,” he said. “It's wonderful. Stand outside in a beautiful woods and a beautiful bow that is a part of me.”

Mogren knows that it's often the process that yields the true beauty that he seeks in his life.

“You have to be the whole thing, a part of it all,” he said. “I'm striving for that quality. I come out here and life is no longer complicated.”

Two Buds

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Reese, a four-month-old golden retriever, right, hit the ground, running, as he tried to keep up with his friend Harley, 3, in the Afton Forest Preserve on Thursday evening south of DeKalb. Reese, who is owned by Lance Reinbolz and Allison Karns, and Harley, who is owned by Jared Burke, all of DeKalb, were out playing together for the first time. "She's usually good for 30-45 minutes before I'm tired and want to go home," Burke said.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Big Day at The Cell

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Chicago's Dale Peters, 68, a 1963 graduate of Northern Illinois University, holds his hat over his heart during a moment of silence to remember those killed both on the campus of Virginia Tech University one year ago and the five students who were killed on the DeKalb campus on Feb. 14. Peters, who came to the university to offer his support as a grief counselor for students the week following the attack, was among the 4,600 paid attendees at Wednesday evening's NIU baseball game against Notre Dame Univeristy at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. All proceeds from the game were donated by the Chicago White Sox to the February 14 Student Scholarship Fund.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Members of the Northern Illinois University baseball team watch as a highlight reel of their squad in action is played over the Jumbotron before the start of their game against Notre Dame at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University's Pat Minogue slides in safely to steal second base past Notre Dame second baseman Jeremy Barnes in the second inning of Wednesday night's game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

NIU Takes Two

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG The Northern Illinois University bench empties to welcome Jeff Thomas after he scored on a single by Danny Reed in a six-run sixth inning for the Huskies in their 14-11 victory in the first game of a doubleheader against Akron on Sunday afternoon. NIU won their second game by a score of 14-10.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University third baseman Jordin Hood blocks an incoming throw as Akron's Drew Turocy slides in to the base in the seventh inning of the Huskies 14-11 victory over the Zips in the top half of their doubleheader on Sunday afternoon in DeKalb.

One Hour With: Steve Franklin

ERIC SUMBERG | Steve Franklin, 23, is a pizza delivery man for World Famous Pizza in their Sycamore and DeKalb locations. "There is something gratifying about delivering a service to people," Franklin said as he drove the streets of Sycamore on Sunday evening delivering pies.

Editor's Note: This is the seventh in an occasional series chronicling an hour in the life of DeKalb County residents. Steve Franklin, 23, is a pizza delivery man for World Famous Pizza in Sycamore and DeKalb. Daily Chronicle Photographer Eric Sumberg spent time with him from 6-7 p.m. Sunday.

Slice of Life

A smattering of twenty-somethings work behind the counter on Sunday nights at World Famous Pizza, 124 E. State St. in Sycamore.

Pizza delivery man Steve Franklin, 23, meanders into the back of the shop a little after 6 p.m. He wears a five-o'clock shadow to go along with his Chicago Bears sweat shirt, a knit hat from a brewery in Colorado and an NIU memorial button on his vest.

“I'm a big Chicago sports fan in general,” said Franklin, who attends Kishwaukee Community College part time.

According to Franklin, being a pizza delivery man and a supporter of Chicago's professional teams go hand in hand. If you're delivering pies, you can catch the games on the radio. If you're working out of the DeKalb location of World Famous Pizza, which shares space in Lord Stanley's Annex, you can watch a game at the bar in the downtime between deliveries.

“It's partly one of the more enjoyable things about delivering pies,” Franklin said.

The DeKalb resident has been working for World Famous Pizza for more than three years. He started delivering because it fit well with his schedule at school and because he wanted some spending money. Most nights, he works in DeKalb, though he spends Sunday evenings in Sycamore.

“I enjoy working out in Sycamore. The tips always seem like they're a little bit better,” he said.

On a good night, he can deliver to 15 houses and pull in $60 to $70 in tips over a five-hour shift. But the ethos of Steve Franklin is less about quantity and more about quality. Quality of life, that is.

“I enjoy doing a service to society, but at the same time, I enjoy not working too hard,” he said as he waited for a second pizza to emerge from the oven at about 6:30 Sunday evening. “It can be a mentally stimulating job. You gotta be on top of everything.”

Like many delivery people before him, Franklin has a beef with people who don't tip.

“A lot of people, I don't know if they don't understand the concept of tips,” he said. “If you can afford to get a pizza delivered, why not throw the delivery guy a couple of bones?”

Like many other vehicle-based businessmen, Franklin and the rest of the World Famous Pizza fleet are grappling with the effects of the rising cost of fuel.

“The war in Iraq as it affects the pizza driver,” chimed Tyler McKellar, the store's weekend manager, as he came back to check on pizzas.

By 6:40 p.m., with two pies in his heat-retaining carrying case, Franklin was ready to hit the roads of Sycamore.

The odometer on his 1996 red Ford Escort wagon, piled high with old copies of the Chicago Sun Times and the Northern Star, a bottle of Scope, and some Pepto-Bismol, reads over 200,000.

“It's a pretty crappy car. Gas efficiency on it is what's key,” Franklin said. “I would deliver on a bike if I had a way of keeping the pies warm.”

The first stop on his route, a home on South Maple Street, went smoothly, a $2 tip included. The second pie, to a home on Maness Court, was undeliverable. More concerned than annoyed, he shifts his car into first gear, does a U-turn and calls the office to double-check the address. After Franklin makes a brief stop back at the restaurant, the customer calls to say she was at another location nearby.

“We deliver to these people a lot,” he said as he returned to his car. “It could be worse."

Monday, April 14, 2008


Chronicle photos ERIC SUMBERG Juan Avila, 21, locks on to, bobbles and celebrates a touchdown pass from Alex Hunter during a pick-up football game at Sycamore Middle School on a wet and cold Saturday afternoon.

Above and Beyond

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Emily Halbesma, 25 (left), and Becky Brockschmidt, 20, stare at each other in mock seriousness as they race along the track at the Convocation Center underneath the letters of “Hope” during the seventh annual NIU Relay for Life on Friday evening. Organizers hoped that the walk, which went from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday, would raise around $75,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Relay for Life

Story and Photograph by Eric Sumberg

The participation rate has gone through the roof.

When Northern Illinois University held its first Relay for Life event in 2002, 13 teams took part. During this year's event, which was held Friday night and Saturday morning at the Convocation Center, 92 teams participated.

“I think the energy in this event is above and beyond,” Erin Koertgen, 30, a staff partner with the American Cancer Society, said Friday night at the Convo Center.

This year's NIU relay, which benefits the American Cancer Society, brought in about 1,000 participants who walked, ran, skipped and laughed their way around the oval track at the facility from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.

Hundreds of relays are held throughout the country annually, and each follow the same format: It's an overnight event in which participants designate at least one team member at a time to walk or run on a track throughout the night.

The theme of this year's event at NIU was “Follow the Cancer Free Road,” a reference to the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” and several groups that set up a tent or blanket on the floor of the Convo Center took that to heart. Under one tent, for instance, was a pair of legs, recreating one of the movie's scenes involving the Wicked Witch of the West.

“I think it's the team creativity,” Koertgen said of what makes this event special. “They really get into it every year.”

Around 7:30 p.m. Friday, some groups of students were walking in packs, some arm in arm. NIU junior Becky Brockschmidt, 20, was walking with a group from the Public Relations Students Society of America. Both of her parents are cancer survivors, and she has done other benefits walks in the past, she said. Friday night was her first cancer walk at NIU.

“This is different for me because this is a longer-lasting thing,” she said. “You get to see who is involved and the energy coming off of them.”

Event organizers Blake Horras, a sophomore, and Theresa Hartman, a senior, expected the event would bring in about $75,000. During the last seven years, the NIU relay has raised more than $225,000.

Horras said this year's event had a special meaning in the wake of the Feb. 14 shootings on campus.

“I do think it is more special this year. It's showing the community that we can come together as a full community,” he said.

On the Convo Center floor, members of the NIU Athletic Trainers Student Association were fundraising by offering massages for $1 a minute, foot tapings for $3 and general evaluations for $5.

“We've had a few massages, no one for taping,” 23-year-old NIU junior Angela Silney said. “That's why we're taping ourselves.”

For a participant like Silney, as with most in the Convocation Center, the night was about having fun as well as battling a serious foe.

“It does make it more personal when you know somebody,” she said, adding her grandmother has cancer.

The night was broken up with events such as a luminaria ceremony for cancer survivors, as well as a small ceremony for those involved in the events of Feb. 14.

A fight back ceremony was scheduled for 3 a.m., where participants were asked to take a flag and make a pledge to fight back against one particular element of fighting cancer.

“The thought behind it is that cancer never sleeps, so for one night, neither do all of us,” Koertgen said.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Who Doesn't Like a Good Rain Photo?

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Candice Hendrikson of Sycamore runs along Main Street toward the Sycamore Public Library to return movies in a downpour on Thursday afternoon. DeKalb County should see more precipitation this weekend, as snow is forecast for both Friday and Saturday.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb's Jassmine Marquez, left, battles for the ball with Plainfield North's Kate Lumb in the first half of their 0-0 tie on Monday afternoon at Dekalb High School.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb's Lissy Rogers, front, heads the ball away from Plainfield North's Kat Lipka in the second half of their 0-0 tie Monday afternoon in DeKalb.

Close Knit

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Kristin Roach, 25, knits in the storefront of The Yarn Exchange on East Lincoln Highway in DeKalb on Monday afternoon. Monday was the first day in a month of performance art in which Roach will sit near the store window and knit items such as an afghan and backgammon board to literally and figuratively tie up loose strings before she graduates from Northern Illinois University in May. “It invites viewers to come into the yarn shop,” she said. “We’ll show people how to knit.”

See and Be Seen

Story and Photograph by Eric Sumberg

As she has many times before, 25-year-old Northern Illinois University senior Kristin Roach sat quietly knitting.

But this time she was on display.

Monday marked the first day of nearly one month of Roach's planned live-performance art piece. She will tie up the loose strings of her time in DeKalb by knitting and crocheting in the storefront window of The Yarn Exchange at 134 E. Lincoln Highway.

“I decided I wanted to do an installation at The Yarn Exchange because I wanted it to be site-specific,” said Roach, who will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. “Plus, our front window display has always been a little lacking.”

Roach hails from Moline and moved to DeKalb in the summer of 2005 to pursue painting. She began knitting in the fall of that year and soon was coming to the Yarn Geeks, a gathering of local yarn enthusiasts who meet on Fridays at The Yarn Exchange.

“They taught me a lot about knitting,” Roach said. “From that I started writing my own patterns and really took to it. It was kind of uncanny.”

In January 2006, after an unsuccessful day of job hunting, Roach visited the store to buy yarn to help relieve her stress. Shop owner Sandi Gavin offered her a job on the spot, and she has been at work at the yarn shop and neighboring Encore Clothing ever since.

As a knitter who is an artist, Roach has taken a shine to creating patterns. She will likely have a pattern published in a craft magazine this fall and is a guest designer in an upcoming pattern book.

“I wanted to pay tribute to crafts and women,” Roach said of why she decided to create performance art out of her hobby and job. “I wanted to pay tribute to craft within an art context.”

At about 1 p.m. Monday, she set up shop in the store, which was closed. Using a frame in the store window, she first hung up her unfinished projects, which included an afghan, two sweaters, a tank top, a lace scarf, a backgammon board game and bag, a head wrap and a shawl.

Underneath each project was a pile of yarn, some of it expensive and some bought from a thrift store years ago, waiting to be used.

“It's kind of like a symbolic tying up of loose ends before I leave DeKalb,” Roach said as she knit a yellow scarf decorated with the Greek letters of her boyfriend's fraternity. “In theory I'll try to work through most of them. In theory.”

Roach plans on sitting in the shop window from 1-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday until May 1. The plan already has hit a couple of snags: Roach has been asked to teach spinning yarn for a lesson on medieval times at the DeKalb School District's Brooks Elementary School on Wednesday and has to fill in at Encore Clothing for a few hours on Thursday.

But the artist remains optimistic about her performances.

“I'm thinking during shop hours I'll invite people to come up and knit,” she said.

“It'll do what it's going to do,” she added. “Art is kind of a strange beast like that.”

Monday, April 07, 2008

One Hour With: G-K Track

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Genoa-Kingston High School shot-putters Jacob Dander, 14 (left) and Nick Farace, 17, work on their scales, where they use one side of their body to launch the shot up while the other side moves downward, at spring break track and field practice on Friday in Genoa. “It all has to snap at once to get the proper rotation,” Farace said.

Editor's note: This is the sixth in an occasional series chronicling an hour in the life of DeKalb County residents. The Genoa-Kingston High School boys track and field team practices over their spring break at the high school. Daily Chronicle photographer Eric Sumberg spent time with them from 10:00-11:00 a.m. Friday.

On Track

“You have to look up at the rainbow. Stay back. Much better! Take it back and let it rip!”

The voice of 10-year Genoa-Kingston High School track and field coach Philip Jerbi could be heard Friday over the din of discuses hitting the floor, shot puts landing on wood and pole vaults sliding along the ground.

G-K students are on spring break this week and while the majority of the more experienced runners, jumpers and throwers have gone en masse on a trip to Florida, a contingent of about 25 students remain for practice.

“Your block arm's got to drive through violently!” Jerbi emphatically explained to senior discus thrower Brad Hoepfner, 18, as he tossed his discus into a hanging divider in the school's gym. After a few more throws from his knees, Jerbi is pleased enough with the technique improvement to move on to the next thrower.

The 68-member Cog squad has been growing in recent years thanks to a 22-member senior class and a program that has been gaining momentum for a few years.

“Ten years ago I took over this team and we had 11 kids,” Jerbi said. “We had to build fun into track. I didn't make many kids throw up.”

Three years into his tenure Jerbi had about 30 students. Six or seven years in, he had more than 40. Now, with numbers well above 50, Jerbi is able to work his charges hard and to exploit the advantages of having a deep team.

“Now that our numbers have grown, we can get to that point,” Jerbi said. “Alumni come back and help out. You see them come back and it means we're doing something right. It speaks volumes of where we were and where we're going.”

One alumni helping out Friday was 19-year-old Miles Tischhauser, a student at Kishwaukee College. Tischhauser was a four-year pole vaulter under Jerbi and on Friday worked with a group of six vaulters on technique.

The build up to an actual jump is a series of technical maneuvers, Tischhauser said. Well before a person actually jumps with no safety net, they've done the motions hundreds of times.

“A lot of the vault techniques, there's a million different things that will mess up your vault,” Tischhauser said.

On Friday, he was working on a rope vault - essentially a rope swing on which vaulters practice their dismounting form. Some seemed to have the general idea, hanging without much tension in their arms as their legs swung through and they let go of the rope at its apex, falling gracefully onto the mat. Others hadn't learned how to let their body take over from their mind.

“Don's having a little bit of trouble with it. First thing is a pike, then a swing back and then turn like you're going over the pole,” he said as he watched one of the six freshmen vaulters the Cogs have in training.

Senior Jonathon Brust, 17, above, helped Friday with the technique work alongside Tischhauser, a former teammate whom he considers a mentor. Despite the fact that most of his senior-class teammates were on vacation, Brust said he was happy to be practicing.

“I guess that doing track is more important for me,” he said. “I'm just doing this for fun.”

Brust hopes to clear 12 feet this year, a height that Tischhauser jumped while at Genoa-Kingston. It's within reach, his coach thinks, if he continues to work on his technique and training.

“The more education you have, the more technique you can build,” Tischhauser said.

The field athletes left the gym around 10:40 a.m. to lift weights, weaving their way through a hallway filled with sweaty distance runners who had just finished their weight-lifting session with assistant coach Amy Freeman, a special-education teacher at the school. The runners had been outdoors all week, but Thursday's snowfall kept them off the track.

“The weather has not been cooperating,” Freeman said.

Distance runners in track events are not carbon copies of their pack-mentality cross-country running counterparts. Success is slightly more individual, as not every runner competes in every race. Despite a slightly different tack, they train together and push each other.

“When we have timed events, we use each other as competition,” Nathan Scott, 17, a senior, said as he stretched. “We want to do our best.”

The Cogs are an itchy group, ready for the winter to finally break so they can practice and compete as they want. The season opener, Tuesday at Harvard, is just days away.

“I can't wait for the meet. We've been working hard and hopefully that'll show,” Scott said.

One Hour With: Flo Ryan and Barb Williams

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Flo Ryan (front) and Barb Williams have worked at Davison’s Bakery in DeKalb for decades. “Our main job is keeping the customers happy,” Williams said. “You’re like family to them.”

Editor's note: This is the fifth in an occasional series chronicling an hour in the life of DeKalb County residents. Flo Ryan, 68, and Barb Williams, 73, are clerks at Davison's Bakery in DeKalb. Daily Chronicle photographer Eric Sumberg spent time with them from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Friday.

Morning Tradition

“Age doesn't bother me a lot,” 68-year-old Flo Ryan said Friday when asked how old she was.

“You are what you are, right?” replied Barb Williams.

There is a gentle interplay between the two women who have been behind the counter of Davison's Bakery in DeKalb for more than three decades. Both have been dishing out doughnuts, cookies and loaves of bread for Bill Davison Sr., the shop's founder, and Bill Davison Jr., the bakery's current owner, since shortly after the store opened in 1960 at the corner of Fourth Street and East Lincoln Highway.

“At that time they had parking; they (customers) could run in and get a doughnut,” Williams said.

In 1981, the store moved to the DeKalb Shopping Center on Sycamore Road, where it's a storefront nestled between Big Lots and Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts.

The large baking area in the back of the bakery contains a table on which a young Bill Davison Jr. tried out his culinary skills, Williams recalls.

“I can remember him sitting on this table, making pies for his mother ... bless her heart, she ate it,” Williams said with a smile.

Now that the young baker is in charge of making the butter cookies and other sweets that have satisfied DeKalb area residents for years.

“He's here all night,” Ryan said. “He's the baker, the owner, the manager, everything.”

To be in Davison's on a weekday morning is akin to being in a well-stocked kitchen run by your two aunts. Customers come in and ask how Ryan and Williams are doing, and one of the clerks will fetch a dozen doughnuts or a cup of coffee, still only 40 cents - sometimes without being asked. Often, the clerks will inquire about customers' family and friends, and updates are provided.

“It's always been a family around here, a down-home bakery,” Williams said. “We're like sisters.”

Williams grew up in Big Rock and moved to DeKalb after getting married. She quit a job in Aurora to raise her children and started working part time at Davison's once her youngest was 5. She considers herself “semi-semi-retired.”

Ryan was raised in Malta and moved to DeKalb when she got married 48 years ago. She came to Davison's as a clerk.

“I like it. I love the people. I'm just happy with my life,” Ryan said.

The store opens at 6 a.m. six days each week, and the rush comes anywhere in the 7-9 a.m. time slot. At about 9:10 a.m. Friday, a customer entered the store.

“Debbie, how's she doing?” Ryan asked the woman.

“She has some good days and some bad days,” the customer replied.

While they were talking, Williams went to the back of the store to work on one of her specialties, the smiley-face cookies. The round sweet is more of a butter cookie than a sugar cookie. Williams coats them in frosting and then makes a funnel out of paper to add two blue frosting eyes and a smile. She's been making the cookies since the late 1960s.

“Everyone seems to think they taste better, but there's no taste in the frosting,” Williams said as she moved methodically down the two dozen cookies on her bake sheet. “It doesn't take a genius to do this. Sometimes it gets lumpy and then you have a problem.”

Ryan came into the back of the shop to take a tray of the cookies for the front. Williams called out to her, “Flo, I forgot, Milt called, he wants eight.”

“Can't forget Milt,” Ryan replied, her voice trailing off as she finished her thought while walking to the front of the shop. “Though he forgets us sometimes, forgets to take them with him ...”