DeKalb County Life for Feb. 22, 2016: Now appearing every other week; From the Party Line; Rhodes Scholar; Bigolin on lost cemetery; Oleson on old Oscars; Jessi on loving Sycamore

From the party line…

New publishing schedule – every other week

By Barry Schrader, DeKalb County Life Online editor

Being realistic, we need more time between postings online to research, write and edit our work before it is posted in DeKalb County Life Online each time. So starting with this issue we will publish every other Monday. When you have an all-volunteer effort, deadlines cannot be mandated and contributors work at their own speed. As of this writing all three of my journalistic colleagues—Steve Bigolin, Jessi Haish LaRue, Doug Oleson and Curtis Clegg have never missed a deadline; only I am slowing down.
We will continue to fulfill this niche with DeKalb County news and views and hope to add more writers in the weeks ahead.
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Speaking of new voices, Jim Mason, local landlord for a lot of properties in DeKalb, has started his own radio program on WLBK radio each Thursday morning from 9:10 to 9:40 a.m. Jim is paying for it himself so he can espouse his own views without fear of advertiser displeasure or political pressure on the radio station. Titled “The Inconvenient Truth” the show is manly focused on issues he is passionate about, not mincing any words when criticizing the city government, school district, or NIU leadership, including its Board of Trustees.
His first show last week was an opening salvo at some of those topics, with WLBK on-air personality Terry Ryan providing some banter between them. He outlined his plan to introduce a topic, then discuss the subject in more detail, and allow for live call-ins the last part of the show.
He introduced some controversial topics at the outset—why didn’t we combine the Sycamore and DeKalb High Schools, why does DeKalb High need its own football field when NIU has one available for rent, and why is NIU spending millions on building new dorms when there is plenty of off-campus housing in the private sector available at a lower price. He could have added a joint swimming pool between the two cities, a merger of the two city police and fire departments into one Public Safety Department managed by the Sheriff’s Office, and even exposing the KishHealth machinations. If you can’t listen at the day and time he broadcasts, then go to his website and listen to it at your leisure: (
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In case you are wondering what is ahead regarding the $340 million hospital giveaway brouhaha, the County Board’s Health and Human Services Committee meets March 7 in the Legislative Center just north of the county jail building and expects to have KishHealth execs appear to discuss concerns the county and public have with their recent sale and related issues.
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You will notice the NINA logo shown here below; that means DeKalb County Life Online has joined the “legitimate” news media by becoming a member of the Northern Illinois Newspapers Association. This includes reporting news and views as well as sharing input from the public. So send us suggestions to cover, discuss or opine on matters you can;’t find in the mainstream media. We can’ begin to duplicate or compete with their coverage (Chronicle, Midweek, Northern Star, B95 and WLBK) but can look for areas that may be overlooked or we think need more coverage, including opinions on local matters.

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OLLIE’S FROZEN CUSTARD re-opens this Wednesday, so come snow, sleet or rain, get in line for their 2016 kickoff which, in DeKalb, rivals the first game of the season for the Cubs or White Sox.
See you back here with a fresh DeKalb County Life Online posted on Monday, March 7. (Contact info:


An interview with a Rhodes Scholar – a local farmboy


John Jordan, right, and his schoolmate and lifelong friend Jeff Strack enjoyed some time together recently at the Stracks’ home in DeKalb. (DCL photo)

By Barry Schrader

How many people outside the Sycamore High Class of 1953 know that only one native of DeKalb County has the distinction of being chosen as a Rhodes Scholar in its 112 year history?
I had not known him until Jeff Strack introduced me to his boyhood friend John Jordan a few years ago. My first question to John was: Was your father the Rupert Jordan I knew who served on the county board for many years (1948-1972)? The answer was yes.
So recently I finally had the opportunity to interview him after sharing a hearty breakfast at the Strack home, compliments of Mary Lu.
First I should explain about the prestigious Rhodes Scholar, first awarded in 1904 to the best and brightest from around the English-speaking world. According to their website, they are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead. The Rhodes Trust, a British charity formed at the bequest of Cecil J. Rhodes, provides full financial support for Scholars to pursue a degree or degrees at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
So how did young John, a graduate of Sycamore High School and  upperclassman at Illinois Wesleyan University, earn this rare honor? He modestly says it might be that the scholarship committee found him at a small midwestern college in Bloomington and decided that a farm boy who got his start at a one-room school might find this an enriching experience and contribute to the diversity of the class he was about to enter at Oxford.
But learning about his school years and his accomplishments I am certain it was more than just that. In telling his story he continually remarked on his close friendship with Jeff and how they were so much alike in upbringing, attending a country school and farming, plus political thought, yet took such different paths through life.
John also credited his high school teacher Walter Hauswald who showed him options in life other than agriculture, and his religious upbringing by parents Rupert and Ruth Jordan at the Sycamore Methodist Church that contributed greatly during his formative years that led him down the path to the ministry and social as well as civil rights activism the rest of his life.
I want to interject a story he told me toward the end of our taped interview, something Jeff reminded him about, which points out his social conscience and being a risk taker. While John was an administrator in the New York City office of the Methodist Board of Global Ministries, one of his responsibilities was overseeing a project called United Methodist Voluntary Service which linked up local community groups to organize them for social change.
At one point he was helping a group in Mississippi where a young African American entrepreneur had managed to get elected mayor. Apparently the White power structure wanted to get rid of him so trumped up charges against him and he was jailed. This Methodist-affiliated support group  was planning a rally in support of the young man and John and his staff provided funding for transporting people from out of the area to take part. This information found its way into the local White-controlled press and “it blew up in our face” as he mildly put it.
At that point the Methodist Church’s hierarchy found that John had not cleared the funding through all the right channels and used that as a reason to suspend him and his staff for causing such a furor. He was eventually re-assigned and kept his job for several more years. His final work assignment in New York City was to serve as the Managing Publisher of the (liberal) theological journal Christianity and Crisis.
Now getting back to his early years—after graduating with a BA degree from Oxford in the field of philosophy, politics and economics, he chose to attend a theological school in New Jersey, Drew University, with the aim of becoming a campus pastor. Meanwhile, he married his Illinois Wesleyan fiance Pat, a Galesburg native.
As part of his schooling he was sent to he University of California at Berkley to intern as a campus minister, something that later on led him back there to become the Interdenominational Director of International Student Programs. Eventually he was called to New York City where he worked in the Methodist Church Board offices for 20 years in various capacities.
By chance a former student friend from his Rhodes days, who had become the Director of Continuing Education at the University of Illinois, contacted him about a position in Urbana. The friend said it would be a perfect fit for John, as executive director of the YMCA, the oldest and best-endowed campus Y in the country. He took the job and said it was a wonderful 10 years, not only as a minister but as an administrator, fundraiser, and having so many interactions with the university community. He retired in 1999 and he and wife Pat have remained there ever since, while traveling around the country and the world and making occasional visits back to the Sycamore area, even though the family farm was sold 15 years ago by him and his two siblings David and Louise after 149 years of Jordan ownership.
Asked where he thought this country is headed, he remarked that “we are headed into an uncertain future—it could go either way (politically). It depends on what forces can be rallied…. I have been pro-Obama, but he has been so thwarted and limited in what he could do. What he has been able to accomplish—will it last if someone from a different political alignment can erase or undo all of what he has done….It depends a lot on the Parties and their programs, maybe even changes in the Constitution are needed.”
  And so I reached my self-imposed word limit of 1,000 words for a feature, despite his having so much more of his life story to share. But fortunately, he has written three books about his family, his genealogy and his own experiences, which he donated to the Sycamore History Museum and can be enjoyed there. They are “Rupert J. Jordan—1907-1994—An extended family history,” then two volumes on his life “Its been a mostly wonderful life—so far!” Books 1 and 2.


Historian Steve Bigolin writes about…

The Pleasant Street Cemetery debacle


Are you aware that once upon a time there was a small cemetery on Pleasant Street in DeKalb? City maps from as early as 1871 clearly show where it had been.  It existed from 1866 to 1952, when it was unceremoniously disbanded.
Members of the Needham family established it as their private burial ground, later opening it up to the general public apparently.  They were the second family to reside in the old red brick house at 860 North Seventh Street.  Prior to the spring of 1952, as one headed north on Tenth Street, upon arriving at Pleasant it was necessary to turn either right or left, as the cemetery blocked the way to the north.
By 1952, James Paxton of Sycamore purchased the property, and he had absolutely no interest in owning a cemetery.  He went before the DeKalb City Council though, with plans to change the lay of the land.  Mr. Paxton asked the City Council to declare the cemetery abandoned.
Paxton stated it had been 40 or more years since the last burial for one thing.  The cemetery detracted from the property values of homes in the adjacent older residential neighborhood as well, and also it was a regularly prime target for vandalism.  He asked to be allowed to relocate the 35 or so burials, to subdivide the grounds, and erect houses on the property.
The Council gave Paxton’s plan the okay, but required him to work in conjunction with a licensed Undertaker for the removal of the bodies.  He didn’t and the City didn’t press matters either.  They let him do what he did.
In the early 1980’s the Genealogical Society of DeKalb County researched what happened.  They found that a brother-in-law of Paxton’s, Sycamore contractor Boyd Hoover, was hired to remove the bodies.  As foundations were being dug later for the houses, bones kept on turning up – not whole skeletons, just scattered bones – and so Hoover would be called back to remove the bones.
It had long been known that a large pile of stones at the southwest corner of Oakwood Cemetery – off North First Street behind the Congregational Church – had come from Pleasant Street Cemetery.  As it turns out there was more to that pile however.  At a program I presented to DeKalb County Farm Bureau Prime Timers Luncheon several years ago,  Boyd Hoover’s widow – who I had long known – was one of those attending, and I finally thought to ask her about his role in relocating the remains from Pleasant Street.  She was very reticent about saying anything, however after the program she came up to the stage with a man in tow, who introduced himself as one of the four who removed the bodies.  He didn’t pull punches either with his remarks.
To quote what he said:  “We dug a big hole at Oakwood, and dumped everything from Pleasant Street in it.”  At the southwest corner, I asked?  “Yep, at the southwest corner,” he said. And so had ended Pleasant Street Cemetery.  Eight one-story 1950’s style wooden ranch houses occupy the former cemetery today.
Since shortly after one of the houses was built, it was claimed to be haunted.  The original owner reported that every now and then late at night a baby would be heard crying, but they didn’t have a baby in the family.  Several years ago at the Sycamore History Museum I crossed paths with the grown daughter of those people, who said her mother first told the story of the crying baby, and it was true.
According to the research of the Genealogical Society from the early 1980’s, the only baby or infant buried at Pleasant Street Cemetery was a 20-month-old boy named Glinnie Drake, who died in February of 1888.  Is it his restless spirit that inhabits the house in question?  Decide for yourself.  That’s the story, and it first came to my attention in 1974 from a woman who grew up in the Pleasant Street neighborhood.
Eli and Lois Needham Gilbert were buried in the cemetery.  Family members in 1952 paid to have their brown granite marker moved to Oakwood.  To this day however they can’t say for sure that those bodies lie in the ground beneath it.
I like to refer to the disappearance of the Pleasant Street Cemetery as being DeKalb’s answer to the Burr Oak Cemetery situation a few years ago in Cook County.
—Steve Bigolin


From the Doug-Out

A review of past Oscar winners

By Doug Oleson (


As most people know, the annual Academy Awards show is coming up. I don’t really care who wins or who is wearing what dress, but I usually watch it anyway, more out of habit than anything else. Plus, there’s nothing else on.
Since I don’t go to the  movies anymore I haven’t seen any of the films that are nominated this year so I can’t make any of those predictions about who’s going to win or who deserves to win or should have been nominated and wasn’t and all that. What I can do, however, is write about last year’s Oscar winners. Thanks to a free weekend special on HBO and Showtime right before Christmas I got to see many of the top-rated films and performances from 2014. (I hope this doesn’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t gotten a free preview themselves yet. I know I always hate it when that happens to me.)
For best actor in a supporting role, I can’t really comment on this since I didn’t see the eventual winner,  J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash.” I like him, it wasn’t that, there just wasn’t enough time to see all the movies I was hoping to see, including the one he was in.
Of the ones I did see, I thought Edward Norton did the best job portraying an actor trying to cash in on his fame by doing a small budget Broadway show in “Birdman.”
Best actress in a supporting role: Patricia Arquette won for “Boyhood.” While I’m sure it was a demanding role for her considering the film was shot periodically over a period of 12 years, and she was good in it, she wouldn’t have been my choice. Personally, I preferred Emma “BIrdman,” if nothing else, for one spectacular scene. Midway through the film she’s telling off her father (Michael Keaton) about how he thinks he has wasted his life. With the camera just focused on her, you can only see her talking. In one brilliant moment, you can see by her reaction how much she has just hurt her father by what she has just said. The look on her face, when she realizes what she’s done, says everything. It is one of the great moments in cinema history, in my opinion, which is probably why Alejandro Gonzalez won the Oscar for best director.
Best actor: Like a lot of people who don’t see the nominated performances. I tend to pull for my favorite actors who are nominated rather than how good they may or may not have been. In this case, I was hoping Keaton would win for “Birdman.” I’ve always liked him and thought he was an under-appreciated actor. After seeing his incredible performance, I was convinced he should win. I liked him more than Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper,” who was also very good, although Benedict Cumberbatch was even better in “The Imitation Game.”
But then I saw Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything.” And it was obvious who the winner should be. In some ways, his performance was similar to Russell Crowe, who won an Oscar a few years earlier for “A Beautiful Mind,” only better. He brought an amazing man and an amazing story to life.
I didn’t know who Redmayne – who reminded me a lot of Sheldon Cooper in the popular TV series “The Big Theory” – was before this, but I have a hunch we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future. In fact, I think he’s nominated again this year.
Best actress: Like best supporting actor, I didn’t see the winner in this one either. It’s not that I don’t like Julianne Moore, I just thought a movie about dementia, which she was in, would be too depressing. I’ve seen the effects of it first hand, I don’t need to shell out $12 to see it in a movie theater.
Of the performances I did see, I really wasn’t that impressed with any of them. For instance, I normally like Reese WItherspoon, who was nominated, but just thought she was only OK. She was much better as June Carter Cash, the role she won an Oscar for a few years earlier.
To be honest, I still have no idea who one of the nominated actresses – Marion Cofillard – even is.
Best motion picture: This was a pretty tough category as there were so many outstanding films on such a wide variety of subjects. The only nominated film  I didn’t see was “Selma,” only because it wasn’t offered on the free weekend special. Another one, The Grand Budapest Hotel,” I turned off after a few minutes because it was boring and I just didn’t care.
Of the  ones I saw, I really liked “American Sniper” more than I thought I would. More than a simple war movie, it shows the affect that war has on those when they come home from fighting and try to lead what we consider a normal life. How can you train someone to kill and then expect them to be normal after that? Very well done.
Another outstanding film is “The Imitation Game,” about a team of Allies who solve the Nazi secret code. It was surprisingly intriguing and took a dramatic turn at the end I never saw coming, which always adds to any film. I thought it was going to be boring, but it was far from it. Based on a true story, the movie is very socially significant, especially in light of what has happened in modern society the last few years. It was interesting to see just how much times have changed. Instead of being hailed a hero for what he did to help end the war and save millions of lives, the main character is sent to prison for his chosen lifestyle. The only criticism is that it was a little longer than necessary.
The most intriguing film I saw, which I highly recommend, is “Gone Girl.” in which Ben Afflec is accused of murdering his wife who has mysteriously disappeared. Extremely well made, it has a number of twists and turns – a couple of which I saw coming, and a few I did not.
For all its hype, I really didn’t care that much for “Boyhood,” which Richard Linke wrote and shot over a 12-year span showing a young boy growing up. At its core, it was basically an average film about a very dysfunctional family.Throughout the film, which was much too long, I kept thinking that this is more interesting than entertaining. I watched the whole thing waiting for something to happen. Instead it ended with one of those final scenes that leave  you asking yourself: “Was that it?”
  Another film I really didn’t care for, although I thought I was going to like, was “Wild.” I just thought the whole thing was kind of pointless. Reese WItherspoon goes on a long hike by herself for some reason or other. I forget now why, which doesn’t matter because I just don’t care.
The winner was “Birdman,” which has nothing to do with the old Burt Lancaster movie of 50 years ago. The prison depicted here is one of the mind, not a cell. The film shows what goes on behind the scenes of producing a Broadway play, especially one  which carries a lot of expectations. I’m not sure it was my favorite of the nominated films — a little too neurotic and ego-driven for me — but I can see why it won, if that makes any sense.
Ironically, my favorite movie of 2014 wasn’t nominated for anything, and that was “Monuments’ Men.” It had four of my favorite actors: Bill Murray, George Clooney, Matt Damon and John Goodman. Very loosely based on a true story, it’s about a group of Allied art experts who went to Europe near the end of World War II in the hopes of salvaging as much of the art the Nazis had stolen as possible. A friend of mine saw the film and wasn’t thrilled by it, but I absolutely loved it.
  I guess we all have our own tastes, which is what makes art – and life – as interesting as it is.
I just can’t wait for next Christmas to roll around so I can review this weekend’s winners and losers.


Sycamore has been good to me

By Jessi Haish LaRue (


When I was 17 years old, I swore I was going to move to NYC or Chicago. I had to get out of Sycamore and chase my dreams of being a writer in a big city. I was going to be as cool as Carrie Bradshaw, and as timeless as Walter Cronkite.

But my slim paychecks as a high school kid working at a movie theater weren’t going to get me there. And when I found out that my parents expected me to pay for college on my own, my dreams of fleeing the cornfields sort of…fizzled out.

At 18 years old, I attended Kishwaukee College. It was there that I started to get recognition for my “famous” last name, which made me interested in learning more about it. I also realized there was an abundance of opportunities all around me: I became a freelance writer for the Daily Chronicle in my first year of college and I became editor-in-chief of the student paper by the next year. I figured if I was going to be stuck here, in this town and at this school, I better make the most of it. So I went on to NIU and “made the most of it” there, too.

But the more I made “the most of it,” the more I fell in love with my hometown. The more time I spent writing about the residents and the county, digging into local history, and meeting new people, it was like I was seeing my hometown of Sycamore and all of DeKalb County with new eyes. There was a world of possibility right here in this county, and if I had stayed stubborn I might be in another city, with another life. But I wasn’t meant to have that life. There was something even better waiting for me…right here at home.

Now at 25 years old, I love my job in DeKalb and I still see a world of opportunity around me. My husband and I are hoping to buy a house in my hometown of Sycamore. For now we enjoy the benefits of having an apartment in the downtown. Sycamore is such a friendly, thriving town that I’m proud to be a part of. And although “never leaving” gets a bad rap, I’m actually 100 percent confident in my decision to spend my days in the city of Sycamore.

Sycamore has been good to me, my parents, and my other extended family members. I know it’ll be good to my future family. People may knock my decision to stick around for a long while, but my husband and I have found true happiness here, and we can’t wait to make even more memories here. And after all, “Life offers more in Sycamore,” especially to those who stick around for the long haul.



HISTORICAL MURAL PRESERVED—Mayor Ken and Juanita Mundy are shown in front of this collage they recently purchased and had it moved to the Finance Department at the city hall.  It was commissioned by Jack and Lynda Sabani, former owners of Willlow Restaurant on North Main Street in Sycamore.   When the building was sold to Resource Bank they approached Sabanis about the historical artwork since it’s one of a kind and graphically depicts much of Sycamore’s history. (Photo courtesy of the Mundys)


HOLD THEM HIGH!—The photographer asked the recipients of the Volunteer Team of the Year for Sycamore History Museum to raise their awards high and they did. From left are Teresa Jacobsen, researcher on the Historic Homes Tour, JoAnn Minter, volunteer coordinator, Jayne Higgins, chair of the event, and Steve Bigolin, homeowner liaison. They received the recognition at the recent annual meeting. Coming up is their winter fundraiser March 4 where Terry Lynch will portray the famous 1893 World’s Fair architect Daniel Burnham. There will also be period desserts, a silent auction and a cash bar. Event location is St. Mary’s Hall and tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children. For more information call 815-895-5762.     (DeKalb County Life photo)

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