DeKalb County Life for May 16, 2016: NIU students get real; Baby talk from Jessi; Doug visits Wrigley Field; Finding local history books; Craig lauds Ralph on his 90th


(See explanation about this sign’s slogan at bottom of this blog)

Real community involvement through NIU class


NGO class students from the team studying mental health issues are from left Nathan Huff, Diamond Gill, Jeremy Perotta, Danielle Nunez, and Dione Dodson. (DCL Photo by Barry Schrader)

By Barry Schrader, DeKalb County Life

Universities are often accused of sequestering students for four years and filling them full of academic subjects that have no relevancy in the outside world where they must deal with issues they were never exposed to before.

This is not the case in the Center for NGO Leadership and Development Department (NGOLD) where Associate Professor Mark Schuller teaches a course titled “Nonprofits and Community Engagement.” His Civic Leadership and Community Engagement class offers hands-on opportunities for students to get involved in the community to address local problems and issues. Students learn and apply organizing skills in a concrete campaign throughout the semester, working in teams with a community agency or activist.

In the semester just ended his class tackled the following areas in the local community: the Food Desert problem, coordinated by Dan Kenney of the DeKalb County Community Gardens, Diversity and Multicultural Committee of School District 428 promoting diversity in education,  working with The Rev. Joseph Mitchell, and 350.kish headed by Dave Davis from the local branch of a worldwide organization fighting global climate change. They focused on getting NIU to divest from fossil fuels.

The fourth project was Mental Health Needs at NIU and in DeKalb County where they worked with me (Barry Schrader) to identify shortcomings and areas of need in mental health treatment and facilities. This article will focus on this topic of most interest to me

My involvement began when several ideas for this term’s class projects were investigated by the professor, interviewing us and then selecting four areas he thought would be of greatest value as a learning experience for his students. Each of the community participants made a pitch for his or her project to the students who then signed up for the one they found of most interest to them.

At the initial session I briefed the five students in my group on the current state of affairs in mental health treatment and shortcomings around the area. They also received information on the status of mental health services at NIU. During the course these students collected and evaluated statistics, met with mental health professionals, attended public meetings dealing with the KishHealth purchase by Northwestern Medical, and other mental health-related matters, plus contacting Medical staff at NIU to learn more about their services and needs of the student population.

In the process they learned how to utilize the Freedom of Information Act to gather information and stats not readily available to the public in open records. They also wrote letters to the editor expressing their concerns about mental health issues in the community.

After spending the semester with them I can report that they learned a lot about conditions in the outside world (DeKalb County) as well as mental health needs at NIU. They were exposed to the same bureaucratic roadblocks and hidden agendas that frustrates many of us when trying to find out how patients are treated or shuffled off to medical facilities out of the area.. They learned the difference between public agencies like the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board and County Public Health Department and the closed world of the KishHealth Not-for-Profit Corporation which does not hold open meetings, share budgets and meeting minutes, or have to answer toanyone in Public Health or Mental Health officials

While gathering statistics from health agencies and law enforcement they found out how large the population of people needing mental health care is in this county. From a County Health Department report they found that how many patients seek or are placed in the system for mental health care, many needing hospitalization for mental illness-related conditions. Many of them are transported out of the county for care since Kish Hospital closed its inpatient mental health unit some eight years ago. The report also states that the average length of stay for those hospitalized from this county is 7.2 days and totals 4,209 patient days in the hospital for the year studied.

They also studied the reports compiled by law enforcement showing the number of people placed in jail that should be receiving outside psychiatric help and medication. Some 30 percent of those in the county’s jail need or require psychiatric attention and/or medication. They also learned about a proposal for a Mental Health Court and a countywide effort called the Mental Health Coordinating Council being formed by several agencies.

Their findings brought them to the realization that there are many shortcomings in the mental health system both at NIU and in the broader community. Their conclusion is as follows and I quote: “There is an overwhelming need for additional behavioral health services on NIU’s campus and within DeKalb County. The lack of service has led to multiple deaths on campus, social anxiety needs, and even more issues within DeKalb County. With these deaths, it creates additional needs within the community for these services. There is without a doubt an immense need for not only NIU but also DeKalb County to seek additional funding from the state and other sources to assist in providing for the overwhelming behavioral health needs of the community.”

In one semester students can only grapple with a limited amount of material and visit a few agencies and public meetings. But what they learned was an eye opener and I am sure will have an impact on them in the future as they pursue careers in the outside world that in every case will involve some sort of behavioral health issue, whether at their workplace or in their outside activities. I found their level of interest and commitment to learn as much as possible in three months refreshing, and helpful to some of us with mental health care concerns.

I have nothing but praise for Professor Schuller and the NGO department for immersing students in real world problems, reaching outside the “halls of ivy” to confront issues and crises that occur everyday in our communities, state and nation.

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Baby talk


By Jessi Haish-LaRue (

The other night was just like any other night. My husband and I were making dinner together, side-by-side, as we do. But today felt different. It was one of those nights when everything seems to have a warm glow to it; everyone is in a good mood and it’s one of those moments when you realize you’re exactly where you need to be.

I glanced over to make sure he wasn’t holding anything sharp before I decided to speak. I took a breath, and then let it out.

“I want to have a baby.”

I’m glad I checked the contents of his hands, because he nearly knocked the garlic salt shaker right off the counter. His head spun to look at me. I was already facing him and waiting for his reaction.

My husband and I have been on the fence about wanting to have children since we got engaged. We had a lot of hesitation about it; he was unsure because he has never met his own father and he’s worried about being a good one to his own child. I was unsure because I always thought I had to choose between my passion – writing – and having children. But recently, I realized that having children wasn’t something that happens instead of something else — it’s something beyond that. It’s something different and it’s something even bigger.

I explained to my husband about how I’ve been thinking about kids for weeks. I told him that although I’m not ready yet (we want to purchase a house first,) I do know that I want to eventually have children. That’s the first step, right?

Once the initial shock from my announcement wore off, he nodded and seemed to understand. And the more I explained my reasoning for wanting to have children, the more he expressed his desire to have children, too. Although neither of us have flat-out admitted that we want children, in this moment it was like we knew what we wanted all along.

I told him that I’d been thinking about the one thing that’s most important to me in the whole world. I asked him what was most important to him. Then, almost in unison we agreed: Family.

We are family people. Although we come from different lives, different family backgrounds, we’ve become our own family since we moved in together. And we are ridiculously close with my parents and sister. So why wouldn’t we want to keep that going, with even more family of our own?

The more we talked about it, the more excited we became. We could be good parents, we realized. Or at least, we would try to be the very best. Why? We’re hardworking, loving people. And those are the traits we’d want to pass on to our children. It just makes sense. And our passions, our lives, that we were so worried about losing? We know those will never be lost.

We are nowhere near ready to have those kids yet (sorry, mom and dad!) We need a little more time and money. We’ll get there. But now we know that it’s something we want to do, and it’s something we look forward to. We are two people in love with each other, our lives and our family, and that’s something we want to share and hold on to forever.

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From the Doug-out


By Doug Oleson (

I recently went on a bus trip to see the Cubs play.

As anyone who has ever been on a Cubs’ bus trip knows, there’s more to going to a major league baseball game in Chicago than just the game. In fact, it’s many things; the game is just one of them.

It’s that anticipation of wondering if it’s going to rain the day you go in, and if your favorite pitcher is on the mound, and if you’re going to have good seats or not.

It’s taking the expressway and watching the endless stream of bumper-to- bumper traffic heading away from the city and wondering where are they all coming from and what do they all do?

It’s that shock you always get, even though you know it’s coming, when you see those landmark skyscrapers and all those giant, magnificent buildings off in the distance, kind of like a warning sign that you’re entering a whole different world than what you’re used to.

It’s passing all those neighborhoods and stores and businesses and wondering how could anyone distinguish one from another.

It’s marveling at how close the brick homes are to each other and what do the people who live in them do for privacy, if anything.

It’s seeing people holding up handmade, cardboard signs asking for money, some who are obviously indigent and a couple who are dressed better than you.

 It’s that sense of nostalgia that sweeps over you when you see that big red sign in front of Wrigley Field, and no matter how old you are or how many times you’ve been there you’re a wide-eyed kid all over again.

It’s settling down into your seats and looking over that beautiful old ball park with that old green scoreboard in center field and wondering what it must be like to come there every day, and you can’t help hoping no one comes along to change any of it.

It’s thinking of your late father who took you to your very first game, who you later took to games when he could no longer drive, and knowing how much he would have enjoyed this.

It’s that unmistakable taste of a hot dog with mustard or nachos with melted cheese or shelled peanuts washed down with a diet Coke, which for some reason always tastes better at the ball park than anywhere else.

 It’s carefully passing a Styrofoam cup of beer – at $8.75 a cup, not wanting to spill any – to the guy a few seats away from you. (Not that I care, but why are those guys always seated in the middle of a long row and not at the end by the aisle?)

 It’s shouting to the person next to you to be heard over the loud speaker system which is much louder than it needs to be. This is a ball park, after all, not a sports bar.

It’s that humbling experience of using the men’s room, something you have to experience to know what I’m talking about.

It’s gazing out at first base and imagining Ernie Banks scoop up a low front from Ryne Sandberg – not that they ever played together – or watching Billy Williams with that sweet swing of his at the plate, or Fergie Jenkins firing another fast ball, or Jose Cardinal’s hat falling off that huge Afro of his as he dove for a line drive, or seeing Ron Santo clicking his heels down the left field line after another exciting Cub win.

It’s singing the Cubs’ fight song after a win and waiting for the “W” flag to be hoisted over the centerfield bleachers, as a brief fireworks display goes off – something new, I think.

It’s that little anxious feeling you get as you stand outside the park on Addison Street, along with what seems like 30,000 other people, waiting for your bus to arrive and hoping you didn’t get your directions mixed up or that something happened to it. And then that mighty sigh of relief when it finally pulls up and you get on and your seat is waiting for you just like you left it.

 But most of all, it’s that thankful feeling you get – maybe the best of the whole experience – as the driver starts to pull away in all that bedlam and traffic and noise and everything else that makes a big city what it is, and you’re not the one who has to drive.

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Steve Bigolin reports on. . .

Source books for local history

(First of 2 parts)


Late in 2012 the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society published the most recently completed county history book—Acres of Change 1963-2012. It is a 50 year update of the book From Oxen To Jets, published in 1963, which has been long out of print.  Many histories and other types of sources preceded it however, dating back to 1868.

Henry L. Boies, Editor of the Sycamore True Republican newspaper, was then author of the 1868 History of DeKalb County, Illinois.  Coming less than a handful of years after the end of the Civil War, it is believed to have been one of the first county histories done in the state.  Mr. Boies complained about the fact that so much of the material dealing with the early history of DeKalb County had already been lost by the time of his book, yet his history contained 530 pages.  For many years the fair market value of an original Boies History was said to be $150.  I bought mine in the early 1990’s at an antique shop in Sandwich for $75.  Considering its age, it was in good condition, and still had the fold-out map in the front cover, which adds to the value.  The most extensive portion of the book deals with the county’s involvement with the Civil War.  Not too long ago a Boies History sold at an auction in McHenry County for $550, to a resident of DeKalb County.

The next historical source was not actually a history.  Published in 1871, it was the Combination Atlas Map of DeKalb County Illinois.  The oversized book contained detailed maps of each township, showing land ownership. Included with it were144 pen and ink sketches of homes and buildings in the various cities and towns, as well as out in the rural areas of the county.
During the DeKalb County Sesquicentennial in 1986-87, I drove around the county to verify how many places still exist from 1871, and found that approximately 50 survive in one form or another.  My atlas came to me from a local estate.

In 1876 there came the book Taxpayers and Voters of DeKalb County, Illinois, more commonly referred to as Voters and Taxpayers.  While it had a historical section, the book was primarily a township by township, alphabetical listing of people who owned land, how much, what it was worth, where they had come to DeKalb County from, what their political/religious affiliations were, etc.  I bought mine at an auction in Aurora over 30 years ago for $25, another bargain I was told.

The first of the three biographical histories appeared in 1885 – The Portrait And Biographical Album of DeKalb County, Illinois.  The book contained sections on the U.S. Presidents, Illinois Governors, DeKalb County people, and an extensive section dealing with general DeKalb County history, the townships, and the cities and towns then existing.  It is the largest single volume of the county’s history, totaling 902 pages.  I got mine from an area estate in the 1970’s.

In 1892 another plat book was published – The Platbook of DeKalb County, Illinois.  The special feature of this one came in the form of extensive city and town maps, showing the rough outline of houses and buildings on each lot.  Like its predecessor in 1871, the book had a fair market value years ago of $100, and today sells at auction for several hundred dollars. The various maps included are drawn in color, as were those from 1871.  Again, I got mine from a local estate.

The second biographical history was the Biographical Record of DeKalb County, Illinois from 1898.  It was strictly biographical, with no general historical section.  While it updated information on people discussed in 1885 history, it was no where near as extensive, containing just pages.  I have never seen one for sale.
(Part 2 continues in next issue.)

Book coverAC

This is the latest in a series of history books on DeKalb County.

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Prairie Ponderings


By Craig Rice (

Now here’s some happy news. Ralph Johnson of Waterman, who has collected and restored antique tractors for a long time—for over 50 years—is celebrating his 90th birthday. His family is holding an open house for him from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 22 at Salem Lutheran Church, 1145 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore.

His daughter, Shirley Koelling says, “No gifts please, but bring your favorite memory. If you can’t join us, but would like to send a card, his address is: 10876 Waterman Road, Waterman, IL 60556.”

Ralph was born on a farm in rural Clare, Illinois, in the spring of 1924. He graduated from Kingston High School. He farmed for 20 years, worked at Wurlitzer until they disappeared and then at Hiatt Brothers until he retired.

During that time, he took a wife—Marion—and raised five children: Shirley, Bruce, Carroll, Paul and Laurie.

He also joined four antique engine and tractor clubs. His dominant color is red – International Harvester and Farmall tractors. Over 20 years ago, when the International Harvesters Collectors organized a club, Ralph’s membership number was No. 11. The first 10 numbers were reserved for the founders.

Why red tractors? Ralph says, “I suppose because that’s what I grew up with and Dad farmed with them.” He thinks one of the tractors in his collection was one that his dad bought new.

Ralph joined Waterman Lions Club in 1971. His sponsor was the late Wayne Stryker. Ralph has been an active member. He helps with the boys and girls Halloween parties and Easter egg hunts. He helps with the barbecue fundraisers and he stands at the Intersection of Routes 23 & 30 to collect for Candy Day! He is a Melvin Jones Fellow, an award named after the founder of Lions Clubs International, and honors dedicated humanitarian service.
His contribution of time and his displays of antique tractors is a major reason for the success of the Waterman Lions Club Summer Fest and Antique Tractor Show. This year’s show is Saturday, July 16, all day long at Lions Park in Waterman.

I was going to write about new Monsanto soybean seed with the trait that make it tolerant to dicamba herbicide and the company’s effort to market the seed before it is approved in all European markets. I was looking forward to solicitations from law firms from Texas to Minnesota offering to represent my financial concern on how this marketing strategy ruined my bottom line.

In my mind, I could see the situation unfolding like the marketing effort of the Swiss company Syngenta when it sold seed corn with the Viptera insecticide trait to US farmers. China rejected the corn with this modification. As a result, farmers and grain merchandisers claim the market value for US corn dropped. Various groups sued Syngenta to try to recoup their claimed deficiency. Many law groups offered to help me claim my portion of the loss from Syngenta.

Eventually, a Chinese company expressed interest in buying Syngenta, and now people in the know suggest that Bayer, a German chemical company, might be interested in buying Monsanto.

What a muddy puddle: some science and a lot of politics mucking up the water.


 Ralph Johnson crank-starting his Big Red IH tractor (Photo provided)

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SWEETEST ONIONS YOU EVER TASTEDThe Vidalia Onions being sold this month by the DeKalb County Shrine Club at four locations come in 10 pound bags for $10. Shrine president Chuck Slater, at left in photo with John Kessner, explained they have been selling them as a fundraiser for around 30 years. Each May they purchase  some 1,200 bags from Visalia County, Georgia, the only place in the US that produces and has the exclusive rights to grow them. Shriners are down to the last of their shipment but you may still be able to get a bag at their four locations, the Genoa Masonic Lodge near McDonalds on Route 23, across Sycamore Road from McDonalds on the four-lane, RP Lumber parking lot across from the country club, and at the courthouse in Sycamore where Jay Elliot and David Kuhn were stationed Monday. Jay has been here a few days helping the Shriners and flies back to his Paradise, California place on Tuesday. (DCL photo by Barry Schrader)


SEASON OPENINGLaura DeMink Kessel and Robert Glover unveil new signage May 15 at the Glidden Homestead barn on West Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. Sunday was the homestead’s opening day for the 2016 season and a dedication ceremony was held to commemorate the installation of new prairie grasses near the barn. The museum is open each Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment. The summer programs can be found online at or by calling 815-756-7904. (DCL photo by Jessi LaRue)


SIGN ATTRACTS COMMENTSThis sign along Sycamore Road (Route 23) has different catchy messages posted twice a week by staff at the Family Service Agency and this one last week caught people’s attention and produced some comments about it being in poor taste. Others thought it was a very realistic statement about people who may be in conflict over divorce and need to pay more attention to their children. FSA executive director David Miller said he had not had any complaints when he was called today (May 16) about it. He recalled that the most controversial sign a couple years ago was after the Green Bay Packers lost the Super Bowl the slogan was something about Green Bay Packers fans could get counseling at FSA. Apparently some Packers fans don’t have a sense of humor…. (Now when the Cubbies blow another season, Cub fans are used to remorse, saying “Wait ’til next year…” and handle their grief much better)
(DCL Photo)

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