DeKalb County Life for April 18, 2016: Man of the Year Bill Nicklas; Steve Kapitan’s redemption; Craig Rice; Steve Bigolin; Doug Oleson; Jessi Haish-LaRue

Fairdale slowly on the mend


By Barry Schrader, DeKalb County Life Online
Magazine Cover Illustration by John DiDonna

The date April 9 will go down in history as both the worst day (2015) and the happiest day (2016) for Fairdale and the surrounding neighborhood. The EF4 tornado last year caused $7.9 million in property damage, struck 66 dwellings, demolishing 21 of them and dislocating many of the village’s residents.

A celebration called “The year of new beginnings” like Faridale has never seen since its founding in 1875 took place this April 9, bringing together the residents, first responders, area officials, and even Gov. Bruce Rauner. It was a bittersweet occasion for the families of Geri Schultz and Jackie Klosa who lost their lives in the storm, but they will be remembered with a memorial bench and historical marker in the newly-recored playground and community park.

The central figure in the miraculous recovery effort is Bill Nicklas, who stepped up to lead the Longterm Recovery Corporation that pitched in to save the tiny community from hopelessness. A proclamation read by Rep. Bob Pritchard at the celebration said it well: “We designate April 9, 2016 as Honorary Bill Nicklas Day in honor of his leadership, compassion, service and commitment to the people of Fairdale.” I would even go further and suggest he should be named Person of the Year for the whole county. A lasting reminder is a small rock with his name inscribed on it at the park.

With his background in city government (city manager for both DeKalb and Sycamore) and his executive experience with NIU he had the knowledge, background and skills to bring Fairdale back to life. Some of the major accomplishments include creating a package sewage plant for residents to connect, plus bringing a natural gas pipeline from Kirkland so people would not have to deal with propane tanks at each residence. I don’t want to overlook the other board members on the recovery team and here they are: Donna Turner (president succeeding Bill Nicklas), David Novotny, Jessica Fruit, Kevin Bunge, Donna Moulton, Jim Bruch, Phil Montgomery, Deanna Cada, Kim Radostis, Tracy Jones, and Mary Jo Marshall.

There were a lot of heroes among the first responders present including the Kirkland Fire Department, County Sheriff’s Department, and other rescue workers from Kirkland and surrounding areas. Scoutmaster Tom Barone, whose Troop 26 took part in the flag raising ceremony, told me the Kirkland Lions helped coordinate the distribution of some $200,000 in donations to the survivors, all in cash. It was appropriate that three of Kirkland’s firefighters, Lt. Vinnie Marietta, Jake Miller and Kris Havermmehl raised the American flag for the first time on the new park’s flagpole.

Now lets hope in another 12 months we can report on continued progress in the rebuilding and restoration of the devastated area.

Clem 1

Clem Schultz, husband of tornado victim Geri Schultz, pauses at the historical memorial marker during the April 9 observance. (DCL photo)


Raising the American flag for the first time at Fairdale on April 9 were three of the first responders; Lt. Vinnie Margiotta, Jake Miller, and Kris Havermehl.

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Forget what you’ve heard about

Steve Kapitan’s resignation as City Clerk

By Lynn Fazekas

I’m going to ask you to set aside for a few moments everything you’ve heard about why Steve Kapitan resigned as DeKalb City Clerk in 2012. Instead, I’d like for you to entertain the possibility that he was a casualty of a DeKalb city government intent on exchanging its elected city clerk for an appointed clerk for quite some time.

Consider these events:

2006: City council approves a referendum to ask residents to switch to an appointed clerk. Voters reject the proposal with 62.53% of the vote.

2009: Kapitan wins election as city clerk.

2010: Council eliminates the full-time deputy clerk from the FY2011 budget, leaving Kapitan with a staff of one part-timer.

2012: Kapitan resigns following a meeting at the state’s attorney’s office for alleged Open Meetings Act violations involving meeting minutes that are not prepared by deadline. Council votes to change ordinances involving the clerk, including providing supervision of the office and slashing compensation to $5,000 per year. Council approves another referendum to switch to an appointed clerk that is again soundly defeated, this time with 70.49 percent of the vote.

2013: Liz Peerboom is elected to a four-year term as city clerk, but she resigns in September 2014, describing a hostile work environment in which she is not allowed her own office or even her own desk.

I once emailed a deputy clerk a photo of a desk made of cardboard that looked better than the banged-up plywood number she had to use. We were making a joke of it, but the neglect was actually quite stunning when you consider that the office was the face of DeKalb for many members of the public (back before the second floor became the Fortress of Solitude, anyway).

If you want to get a handle on the power struggle exposed by these events, you have to go no farther than understanding what the administrators at City of DeKalb want from the clerk, which is the same as what regular readers of my blog know they want from everyone: to be free of reminders about pesky rules. It is a fact that a city clerk who is elected does not have a boss, and does not have to sign and seal every document placed in front of him or her.

Let me throw a “what if” scenario into the mix as an example. As it happens, the day before Steve Kapitan resigned was the day that the city issued a liquor license on the same day the application was brought in. In order to achieve that, they had to ignore several procedures contained in the liquor code. Both mayor and city clerk had to sign the license.

Now imagine if an independently-elected clerk cared about the rules and refused to sign. Replacing the elected clerk with a city employee greatly reduces the risk of this happening.

But back to verifiable facts. These include episodes of blatant hypocrisy. Exhibit A is the city’s claim that it did everything it could to support Kapitan, which is preposterous on its face because the one thing that would have helped was to restore the deputy they had taken away. Exhibit B is the claim that they had to push Kapitan out over fears that his failure to complete meeting minutes in a timely manner would place a terrible legal liability on the city, but a) to my knowledge, nobody in DeKalb has ever been prosecuted over an Open Meetings Act violation; b) even if somebody were prosecuted for an OMA violation, the fine is no big deal for a city; and c) the city has been found to be in violation of OMA several times since then for missing deadlines on posting meeting minutes, and you don’t see anybody clutching their pearls over it.

And they continue to play this way, to get their way. Here’s how Liz Peerboom described daily work experiences as clerk upon her resignation:

  “I knew that I would have battles, but I could not have imagined how much I would have to battle every day. They break all kinds of rules and tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I raise a concern. They don’t like me because I call them on it.”

How I wish that Liz would have gone public with her battles instead of suffering in silence. I do believe that many of the 70.49 percent of voters who were savvy enough to retain an elected clerk would have rallied around her.

Fortunately, though, there are other opportunities for rallying, which I’ll share with you soon.
(Reprinted with permission from Barb City blog)

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Prairie Ponderings


By Craig Rice (

“So, how did Great Niece #7 get the rope burn on her neck?” asked my wife. No.7 is my nephew’s daughter, our 7th great niece. A carload of us had driven to Kankakee, IL, for my nephew Jeff’s birthday party celebrating 40 years. Now we were returning home.

(I know. I know. There is disagreement whether a nephew’s offspring is a grand- or great-niece/nephew.)

The return car trip, about two and a half hours, provided us a chance to review and comment on the day’s activities. My wife, who was riding shotgun while our son was driving, continued, “Blah, blah, blah ….”

“What did you say?” I asked from the back seat where I was riding next to our grandson. My wife seems to mumble more and more these days. She twisted around so she could project her voice to the back seat.

“HER GRANDMOTHER WAS CONCERNED,” she said. Thinking to myself, you do not have to yell. I’m not deaf.

My wife wondered if one of our grandchildren had done something with a rope to cause the burn.

My nephew’s house backs up to a park that has fun playground equipment for kids. There are swings, monkey bars and a fancy slide with a climbing wall next to it. There is even a glide bench, which I sat on it to watch the children play. Our grandchildren and great nieces are six years and under. They play together but not with each other. Each was on a different piece of equipment.

I explained what I saw. At the top of the slide, there was a piece of sash cord tied to a bar. It reached down to the ground on one side of the slide. When the kids got ready to sit down at the top, they would steady themselves by grabbing on the rope, then let loose and slide down.

During my childhood on the farm, I learned that ropes are useful but can be dangerous if used wrongly. My parents cautioned: Never play with a rope while climbing trees. Never wrap a rope around your neck. From my view on the glide, which was several hops, skips and jumps away from the playground equipment, a flag went up in my brain when I saw the rope dangling there. It was just a yellow cautionary flag, not a red one, because an adult was standing at the base of the slide watching over the kids.

No. 7 climbed to the top of the slide, steadied herself and sat down. It was a windy day and the breeze caught the rope and whipped it across the slide when she was almost down. The rope slid across her neck.

Her neck must have burned because she left the play area and came over to the glide and sat next to me. I didn’t see anything, but the shadows were intense in the late afternoon so I might have missed indications. She wasn’t crying and she talked so I didn’t think any more of it.

She left the glide after a while and went back to the playground. Later, she had her uncle lift her over the backyard fence and she went in the house. When the rest of us left the playground, I noticed that one of the adults had removed the rope from the slide and cut it into short pieces.

My wife said #7 came in the house from the playground and complained of a sore neck to her mother and grandmother. They gave her a cold cloth to hold against the rope burn. Later #7 asked if she could watch television while she recovered. Her mom refused the request, so she then sought sympathy in her grandmother’s lap.

So that’s the story how Great Niece #7 got a rope burn.


Steve Bigolin writes about…

The changing faces of DeKalb


 This June will mark 49 years since I first set foot in DeKalb to attend orientations for becoming a Freshman at Northern.  How different the city and campus were back in those days compared to today.  First, the City of DeKalb:
  The East-West Tollway – I-88 did not exist, neither did Peace Road.  Annie Glidden Road ended just south of West Lincoln Highway, with Route 38 being Alternate 30.  The DeKalb City Hall was on South 2nd Street in a crumbling early-1890’s building.  The train station at 6th and Locust streets still offered daily passenger service to and from Chicago.  The Post Office was at 330 Grove Street, which is today Club 55 DeKalb, otherwise known as the DeKalb Senior Center.  The Pearl Street underpass was the only shortcut to avoid a train.  Downtown DeKalb was the retail hub of the community, as very little shopping was out on Sycamore Road.  What became Barb City Manor was DeKalb Public Hospital.
Sycamore Road beyond Northland Plaza was referred to by the students as “No Mans Land.”  The shopping center with Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Kohls, etc. was the DeKalb County Poor Farm from the 1850’s, with the DeKalb County Nursing Home and Health Department where today are Pier One Imports, Sears, TJ Max, etc.
A smattering of one-time farmhouses still dotted portions of Sycamore Road.  Twin Tavern was on East Lincoln Highway in downtown DeKalb.  The Nehring Electrical Works West Plant was where the East Lincoln McDonald’s now is.  Sixth Street ran south from Lincoln Highway.  DeKalb had only two banks – First National (the original) and DeKalb Trust & Savings – and one savings and loan – DeKalb Savings & Loan.
Among the city’s industries were G.E., Barber Greene, Wurlitzer, Cyclone Fence, Spaulding Fibre, Mica Pellets, Alkor Manufacturing,  Joseph Brody & Brothers, Creamery Package, Del Monte, DeKalb Commercial Body, DeKalb Feed, DeKalb Precision Industries, DeKalb Toys, Elmer Larson, Newquist Foundry, and DeKalb Forge. Where have they all gone?
The Junction Shopping Center was the site of a ramshackle trailer court that was a mud hole when it rained.  Pizza Villa was on North 4th Street.  National Tea Grocery was in the building at 121 West Lincoln Highway that is First National Bank’s office building today.  A & P Grocery was at 302 Grove Street, now Faranda’s.  The DuVal Drive Inn was an outdoor movie theatre at the old Ace Hardware Shopping Center on Sycamore Road.
Who would ever have thought the day would come when Dresser Road would be so busy that three stop lights would be along it?  Certainly not the Dresser family.  James Court Apartments is where the old Ilehamwood Stock Farm had been.  Historic DeKalb High School became Clinton Rosette Middle School, being torn down after the new Rosette was erected.
Ward’s, Frank Phillips, The Reliable, University Shoppe, Honey Girl, Spurgeons, Penney’s and Malone’s were all downtown mainstays.  The building occupied by Fatty’s was Mr. Steak.  The vacant lot next to Taco Bell was Sambo’s Restaurant.  Remember their Tiger Special?  Village Commons replaced a number of small homes.  Caesar’s Palace was a pool hall in University City Shopping Center.
The second floor of the two-story building in University City was a nightclub – 19 Up. Castle View Real Estate, Responsive Roofing, and Vinny’s Pizza are in the building that had been a Texaco Gas Station.  Harrison and John streets both intersected with Lincoln Highway.  Spudnut Doughnuts was where Papa John’s Pizza is.  An old red brick farmhouse stood on the site of Tom & Jerry’s.  A Clark Gas Station was where Hickey’s Corner Store is.  American Liquor’s was Cork & Bottle.  

  The Glass & Key Shop at 6th & Locust was where Monarch Bakery is now.  Gene’s Produce was at North 7th and Oak streets.  The 1906 Post Office stood where Walgreen’s parking lot is now.
  The former Mike Mooney Building at 204 No. 4th Street was 4th Street Motors, owned by Joe Katz.  Manning Ford was where Delano’s Home Decorating is now.  Road Ranger on Annie Glidden was Buhrs Car Wash. Nansen Glidden’s house was moved to West Hillcrest to be replaced by Old Orchard Townhouses and Copy Service. Yen Ching restaurant took the place of American National Bank, which had replaced a chicken restaurant. The Farm Bureau building was on the west side of the 300 block of North 6th. Fire Station #1 was where part of the park is at 4th and Lincoln.
  Restaurants included Dearth Brothers, Fife N Drum, Around the Clock, The Cabin, China Light, Its Greek to Me, Crystal Chandelier, The Uptown, Dill Pickle and Hops. Pizza parlors included Ricks Alex’s, Luigi;s Touth Down Inn and Pagliai’s.
Enough already with the changing faces of DeKalb. I’ve gone on way too long; yet there are still so many others I could list. In my next column I’ll take a look at the NIU campus.

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From the Doug-out


By Doug Oleson (

As everyone knows, Easter is over.

Or is it?

For years now, I’ve tried to write some inspirational little ditty before every major Christian holiday. It’s not that I’m trying to convert anyone to what I believe or that I think I can change the world or anything like that. It just seems like the right thing to do. Maybe the Holy Spirit is moving me to do it or it’s just something I do because it makes me feel good, I don’t know.

Not this year, though.

I wish I could say I had some major, life-changing reason why I didn’t, but I don’t. The truth is I simply got too busy with all  my petty little problems and concerns and I just forgot. Actually, it didn’t dawn on me until I was sitting in the back pew – like any good Lutheran does – for Maundy Thursday services.

Unfortunately, it happens. It’s not a good excuse, but it’s the truth. And, as they say, the truth shall set you free.

Except in this case, I feel real bad about it.

Holy Week is usually a special time for me, just as much as Christmas, if not more so. For those few days, I feel something I can’t really explain, except that I don’t feel it at any other time of the year.

For those who may not know, Holy Week is the time when Christians believe that Jesus was betrayed (Maundy Thursday), was crucified, died and was buried for our sins (Good Friday), then on the third day rose from death (Easter morning). In this manner, Christians believe Jesus saved all believers.

What I find interesting is – outside of Christian churches – how little attention is paid to that eventful weekend in what is supposedly a Christian country. (To be fair, equal attention should also be paid to other major religion’s events as well.)

Compared to Christmas, there are very few Easter movies, songs or TV specials. In fact, I can’t recall a single TV sitcom that has an Easter theme, where almost all of them – even those whose main characters profess to be atheists, like “The Big Bang Theory” – have some sort of Christmas-themed show. Speaking of that, when was the last time you heard a new Easter song?

I also find it interesting that the major TV networks seem to think the only religious movie they can show during Easter weekend is “The 10 Commandments,” which is shown every year. The only network I saw airing Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was on Univision. At first it was a little unnerving, watching it on a Spanish channel, until it dawned on me it didn’t matter either way since the original movie is in subtitles anyway.

In retrospect, these things don’t really surprise me since I’ve always felt the reason Christmas is more popular than Easter is because Santa Claus is more popular than the Easter Bunny. Apparently, presents top jelly beans any day.

In any event, I was kind of moping around, feeling guilty, when something unexpected happened: I realized that it doesn’t matter.

Easter isn’t a one day event, or even a three-day one. It lasts a lot longer than that.

The celebration may be over, but the meaning behind the event lives on. For Christians, it lives on forever – and not the same kind of forever a lot of people mean when they use the same phrase. I remember when Michael Jackson passed away a few years ago and one fan after another said his music will live “forever.” Maybe. But somehow I doubt people will be singing “Billie Jean” or “Thriller” 25 million years from now.

Of course, I could be wrong, but I really don’t think so.

To me, what Jesus did is just as relevant right now, today, as it was when He did it two thousand years ago or when I sat in church celebrating it a month ago, or last year, or 50 years ago, or whenever. The celebration of what He did may be over, the results of what He did live on in the hearts of all those who believe in Him, which I do.

So, in a sense, I’m kind of glad I didn’t write something before Easter. I think it might mean more writing about it now.

The one thing I do wonder about is why do Christians have a special day to celebrate the events of Easter and not one to celebrate the day when we believe he ascended into heaven. I would think that is just as significant because it actually completes His mission on earth.

Oh, well, that may be a column for next year.

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Researching the Haish heritage


By Jessi Haish-LaRue (

I may be a little biased when it comes to my favorite barbed wire baron. I’ll pick my great, great, great, great uncle any day.

Not only am I proud of my relationship to barbed wire inventor Jacob Haish, but I also have a passionate belief that he has a story that needs to be told. And although I may not share his last name these days, I still have that great desire to know the entire story.

Jacob Haish had so many contributions to the city of DeKalb and truly the rest of the world, and I’ve been wanting to learn more about him. So I’ve decided to take on the Jacob Haish story.

I’ve started a rough blog, “A Twist in History:  The Jacob Haish Story,” over at

Through interviews and good old fashioned research, I plan on telling the story of Jacob Haish through his relatives, fans, and the people who study him.

I also plan to tell my story of “Growing up Haish,” and documenting what it’s like to gather research on a famous ancestor. You can expect to see article-type stories and photographs over at the blog as I fill it with things I learn along the way. And if it goes well, I’d love to someday print it all as a book.

I started my project last weekend when I took a trip to southern Missouri to visit with my great-grandfather. He showed me old newspaper clippings about Haish’s life, and told me stories about seeing the Haish mansion when it was still intact, and how his parents knew Jacob Haish. One of the best moments was when my great-grandfather held up a photo of Jacob Haish and said “God, he’s handsome! He looks just like me!”

I can’t wait to share that story and many others with anyone who is interested.

If you are interested in sharing your Jacob Haish story, or can point me in the right direction to one, please feel free to send me an email at the address above. I can’t wait to find out just how deep Haish’s impact runs in this community, and what he still means to people to this day.

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Fav foto of firefighters

Fav Foto

Kirkland firefighters march to the Fairdale Community Park for the April 9 dedication ceremony.

(Photo by Barry Schrader)



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