DeKalb County Online for July 11, 2016: New book/coffee shop opens; Four NIU founders portraits; Independence Day reflections; Discovering Sycamore Speedway; Part 2 on helping the poor; More from Barry’s party line


DeKalb Chamber welcomed Common Grounds proprietor Jeff Foster (center, in black shirt) and his wife Michelle (holding giant scissors) as they opened their new business at 150 E. Lincoln Highway. Among those taking part in the ribbon cutting were Chamber executive Matt Duffy, DeKalb Mayor John Rey and Chamber members Shirley West, Rosalie Williams, Rich Kakuri, Emily Douglas, Marshall Boyle, Dave Yanke, John Broich, and Marcus Tryggestad. (DeKalb County Life Online photos)

New book and coffee shop opening

By Barry Schrader, DCL editor (

There’s a new bookshop and coffee house in DeKalb, but it will be a “David and Goliath” battle to see if Common Grounds will be able to survive the arrival of a chain bookstore Book World which plans to open in September.

Opening his independent business at 150 E. Lincoln Highway (second door west of the DeKalb Chamber office) is Jeff Foster who moved his family to town earlier this year, including wife Michelle and three children. He had a “soft opening” this past weekend (closed on Sundays only) with a formal Chamber welcome and ribbon-cutting today (July 11). He said he needs about a month for ramping up to full coffee service and stocking more inventory in book titles, but for now offers used books and a variety of blends for tea and coffee drinkers.

Foster attended both Robert Morris College and then Moody Bible Institute before deciding to strike out on his own as an entrepreneur. He has had experience as a graphic designer and commercial artist in his earlier career. He also is a licensed pastor in the Free Methodist Church but is currently affiliated with the First Church of the Nazarene in DeKalb.

“Its a brand new experience for me, a dream I have had for some time,” Foster explained. He chose DeKalb for the new enterprise because he wanted to move his family out from the Chicago area to a quieter neighborhood and raise his family in a more rural setting. He also likes the atmosphere of a college town with all the cultural offerings and diversity of the community. He said the business is set up as a not-for-profit so as to keep costs and prices low, but they still have to pay sales tax.

The 900-square foot store has six tables for seating 12 customers at once. If they are ever able to add a second bathroom they can expand that number, he said. The capacity of the store is 50 however, so people can order drinks to carry out or browse the used book section at their leisure.

The idea for the business name came from a conversation between Foster and a Jewish friend as they were talking about “common ground” among all religions. So from that his friend said why not use that name. Hence “Common Grounds” is the business’s name and logo design on the awning.

Foster encourages open dialog among people of different faiths and backgrounds. It is not a place to force anyone’s beliefs on others, he said. “It should be a place where anyone can be inspired.” He intends to host young people’s discussion groups on Friday nights, then expanding evening events to include other local groups, writers and artists. There is free wifi for people bringing their own laptops and tablets. He will also offer computer use and printers for those needing that service, and free shipping for people ordering books online at the store.

(Note: People going online should be alerted to use the correct web address: and NOT the .com address which belongs to another coffee business elsewhere.)

Foster asked for patience from first time visitors as he and his young staff acquaint themselves with the new equipment needed to concoct the various brews, and complete the interior of the store. He is hanging local artists’ works, which are for sale, and also encouraging local authors to put their books in the store on consignment. He plans to add more new books as the business grows.

His hours are fluid at this time so people need to check the front door to determine when he is open during the “shakedown” period. He plans a formal grand opening by August. The Chamber welcoming group arrived at noon today and Mayor John Rey joined in a welcome and greeting.


Jeff Foster and his family stand in the kitchen area where the brews are concocted.


Mayor Rey and Jeff Foster display his first $2 earned the first day he opened in front of the store with the business name on the awning.

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Steve Bigolin writes about…

The NIU founders portraits


From left are Isaac Ellwood, Jacob Haish, Clinton Rosette and Joseph Glidden

With the opening of Northern Illinois State Normal School – now NIU – in September of 1899, DeKalb Chronicle editor Clinton Rosette made the suggestion that there be portraits commissioned of founding fathers Joseph Glidden, Isaac Ellwood, and Jacob Haish, so that future generations of students would always know who they were.  These would hang in a place of honor in Altgeld Hall for all time.
Oral tradition holds that Ellwood paid for his portrait as well as that of Glidden.  Leading Midwestern portrait painter of the time Albert Finney Brooks was hired for the job. Matching gold colored frames contained the paintings, and they were hung to either side of Altgeld auditorium’s stage.  The Glidden is believed to have been posed for in the Ellwood House library, as it depicts an ornately carved piece of furniture behind Glidden generally thought to be one of two bookcases still found in the room.
Jacob Haish saw to the completion of his portrait.  Unlike his normally flamboyant personality, the painting was small and very formal looking.  it was nothing worth comparing to those of Glidden and Ellwood as a result.  Haish was said to have been so embarrassed by it that he chose not to give it to the school.  To this day it remains in the possession of Haish family members in Pennsylvania.  The late Verna Haish Wright, who was a niece of Jacob’s, and lived at his mansion in her days as a student at Northern, obtained the portrait from her uncle years ago, passing it down to her son and family.  I met them in May of 1981 when they were invited to a Haish event at the original Kishwaukee Hospital.  The family later shared with me a copy of the portrait.
Not to be outdone by Glidden and Ellwood, Haish hired another artist who did a portrait more to his liking, which is said to have cost $5,000.  Haish was so pleased with this one that he declined to donate it to Northern either.  It remained in his mansion until the night before the house was torn down, when it was “night requisitioned” to save it by members of the Masonic Lodge.  They have had it on display ever since in the Masonic Temple.
In 1917, for some reason not preserved in NIU records, the Ellwoods asked for Issac’s portrait back.  They traded a younger, lesser quality one for the Brooks painting.  The original went to Texas, where it would remain until about 1970, then being sent to Ellwood House where it has been displayed ever since.
When the Glidden and the new Ellwood paintings stopped being on display in Altgeld is unknown.  I first saw them in the mid 1970’s, hidden from view in a storage closet on the ground floor of Swen Parson Hall’s new wing.  The old University Archives had control of them in those days.  The late Jesse Glidden later told me the Gliddens were quite upset about the situation, and thought of asking for Uncle Joseph’s back.  The two portraits now hang in Founders Memorial Library.
  After Founders opened in the late 1970’s, William Haendel of the School of Art completed a plaque to hang in the Library, containing likenesses of founding fathers Glidden, Ellwood and Haish.  In additions to them however Clinton Rosette was included after years of being the unsung founder.
For a brief time in the summer of 1976, the Glidden, Ellwood, and Haish portraits all hung together in one place.  The exhibit gallery in the Holmes Student Center was host to a photo display dealing with historic DeKalb homes.  NIU took the Glidden and Ellwood portraits out of storage, while the Masonic Lodge lent the Haish. The portraits really added a fine touch to the exhibits.
More recently in 2010, DeKalb Public Library attempted to borrow the Haish portrait for use during the 80th anniversary celebration of the building, which Haish donated the money for.  Sometime since being up at NIU though, a long tear had developed down the right side of the canvas.  The Masons were willing to lend the Library the painting, but only if they paid to restore it. An estimate from the Chicago Conservation Center was $2,000, which the library could not afford, so the portrait was never made available.

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From the Doug-Out


By Doug Oleson (

It’s an intriguing question.

I was watching the Independence Day parade in Rochelle the other day when an elderly gentleman sitting next to me turned and muttered: “This doesn’t seem like the Fourth of July, does it?’

In a way, he was right. It’s not often you see people bundled up in sweaters and blankets as they endure 66-degree breezes this time of year as they did for this year’s annual parade.

But the question got me to thinking: Exactly what is a holiday suppose to feel like?

Obviously, the answer varies from person to person, based on their individual experiences and beliefs. Christmas and Easter, for instance, have a much different meaning to me than it does my best friend, who is an avowed atheist. You could probably say the same thing for anyone of the Jewish and Muslim faiths as well.

Realistically, although I respect and admire him very much, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday probably doesn’t carry the same emotional meaning to me, a white person, as it does to someone who is African American. Nor does the Labor Day holiday mean as much to me now that I’m not working as it did when I was. Or Halloween, since I’m the one handing out the candy rather than receiving it.

And I’m pretty sure Columbus Day has a different connotation for Native Americans than it does for those of us whose relatives came here from Europe or Asia or wherever. (Being of Norwegian descent, I still say Leif Erickson was here first, but that’s another column.)

Getting back to the Fourth of July: the day never held as much significance to me as I know it should have. When I was growing up, my father worked in the fields for Del Monte so he seldom had the holiday off. For many years, it was just another work day for him and just another, hot, summer day for me. As a result, my family seldom did anything to celebrate the way others did. We didn’t go to state parks or have family picnics or shoot off fire crackers with friends and neighbors or any of those things. My sister and I were lucky if someone took us to the local park to watch fireworks.

I’m not complaining; that’s just the way it was. And I guess that attitude has carried over the older I get.

Like my father, when I started working for local newspapers, I also had to work that day. Ironically, instead of cultivating corn and soybeans like he did, my job was to report on local Fourth of July activities. In that way, I got to see them, I just wasn’t able to take part in them.

For the most part, what the Fourth of July means to me is taking pictures of people, floats and flags, listening to patriotic speeches and interviewing anyone dressed in red, white and blue garb.

To someone else, that may not seem very exciting, but that’s what the day means to me. I didn’t – and still don’t – know anything else.

And I wouldn’t change it if I could.

As I watched my town’s fireworks display this year, which I could conveniently see between the trees in my back yard, I couldn’t help thinking how the Fourth of July is a special day no matter how you look at it.

And whatever it means to you…

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A first visit to Sycamore Speedway


By Jessi Haish LaRue (

DeKalb County offers endless activities and events in the summertime, and there’s always something new to discover – even for lifelong residents.

I visited Sycamore Speedway to see some stock car racing for the first time ever during the Fourth of July weekend. Maybe I’m a lousy Sycamore resident, but I’d never considered making a trip to the speedway before that. In fact, this trip was the idea of my younger sister who wanted to go for her birthday.

I grew up watching NASCAR with my parents, just like a lot of other ‘90s babies that I know, but as I grew older, my interest in racing waned. However, when I was at Sycamore Speedway, which is actually located four miles east of Sycamore, I found myself enjoying every minute.

We were able to enjoy almost six hours of entertainment for less than $20 per person, snacks included. Just make sure you bring something soft to sit on if you stick around that long – – the wooden benches will leave you aching after a while.

Everything about the experience was small town life at its finest – from the warm greeting from the ticket taker, to the low concession prices all rung up by mental math, not a machine, to the cheers of an audience that featured people of all ages, stages and walks of life.

Sycamore Speedway boasts itself as the “Midwest’s best clay track.” According to its website, it started out as a go-cart track, called Bob-Jo Speedway in 1960, and held its first stock car races in 1963. In 1970 the name of the track was changed to Sycamore Speedway because of its proximity to the “rapidly growing” community.

After more than 50 years, Sycamore Speedway still offers a nostalgic experience for all people, even those who may not consider themselves “race fans.” I don’t know much about the actual sport, but the atmosphere is infectious and you quickly find yourself cheering for wins and gasping at collisions. And for the people who sat behind us, they were simply fascinated by “how the sky goes on forever,” out in the country. For them, it was an escape.

There’s simply something for everyone.

Editor’s Note: the speedway was the site of a segment of the movie “At Any Price” filmed in 2011 starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. Even local people were shown in it, most notably the late Wilbur Bastian.

(For more information about Sycamore Speedway and their current season, visit

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Prairie Ponderings


By Craig Rice (

Last time I shared this space with you I questioned whether I had failed a test of my righteousness when I backed off from helping a man who tapped on my car window in a McDonald’s parking lot. I drove off. Later I felt guilty for not helping him. Well, I had a chance to retake the test.

About a week later, my wife and I visited the Target store on Sycamore Road to fill a prescription. While she wandered over to the pharmacy, I hoofed over to the restroom. Great joy—I had the facility to myself. As I washed at the sink and dried my hands under the atomic air blaster, someone else entered.

“Can you help me?” said the person who was not heading to the urinals or stalls, but who was blocking my exit from the room. Oh God! I thought. Am I being mugged? Here I am alone in the restroom. That only happens in Chicago, not out here in Sycamore and DeKalb. I looked at him. The same man who tapped on my car window at McDonald’s was now in the bathroom at Target. I asked him what kind of help he needed.


“Let’s go out of here and I’ll see what I can do.” I led him out into the lobby. He didn’t mug me from behind. I pulled my wallet out of my hip pocket, withdrew a bill and handed it to him. He immediately took off toward the exit and left me standing there wondering about the coincidence of being panhandled by the same person at different locations within such a short time span.

Was this a do-over test? To paraphrase Mathew 25, verses 35-46: “When you fed, clothed, visited… the least of my brothers you were doing it to me,” said Jesus.

Many of our civic organizations beg for financial support and we don’t think too much about it. For instance, Lions Clubs ask for help for the prevention of blindness and other worthwhile efforts such as One Shot One Life: Lions Measles Initiative. WTTW asks for money for its television programming, as does WNIJ for its radio programming. I get solicitations from the University of Illinois for several affiliated organizations. My mailbox often overflows with letters from various heart, cancer and veteran associations asking for financial help.

Yet, I feel put upon when a person begs me for money. Does he really need it for sustenance or is it going to drugs or booze? Perhaps begging is the livelihood of this individual. Is this what I can expect from now on when shopping in DeKalb/Sycamore?

A few days later, my wife and I were once again shopping in the DeKalb/Sycamore corridor. We stopped at the Sycamore McDonald’s for lunch. As we stood in line waiting to order, who should walk in and stand in line next to us? Yes! It was the same beggar.

“Hello.” I said. “We meet again.” He raised an eyebrow quizzically. “You solicited me in the parking lot at the Sixth Street McDonald’s and in the restroom at Target.” He didn’t ask for help this time. My wife and I got our order and sat down. The panhandler must have left with his order because we didn’t see him sit down.

What are the chances we would see this fellow three times in three visits to DeKalb/Sycamore?

A doctor’s appointment brought us back to DeKalb two weeks later. Following that, we stopped at Ollie’s Frozen Custard for treats. As we enjoyed our sundaes, there came a tapping on my car window.

“Can you help me?”

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Barry Schrader is shown explaining the operation of an 1888 treadle-pumped letterpress at the county fair in Pleasanton, CA. This photo, taken by newspaper photographer Doug Jorgensen, appeared in the Livermore Independent in late June. Along with two other operators Schrader prints some 4,000 souvenir bookmarks during the three-week fair run, handing them out to fairgoers. Schrader has been running the press each June for some 25 years.

Heard on the party line . . .

By Barry Schrader, editor

Fresh back home from three weeks out west where I spend time each summer running an antique printing press at the Alameda County Fair, which is the second largest county fair in California, I am ready for summer fun here. While we were gone the corn shot up four feet and is way higher than the old “knee-high by the 4th” adage.

Looking at the calendar, there are a profusion of summertime events and activities to fill those “lazy, hazy days” until school starts. Sorry to report that kids only have about five weeks left before it is back to hitting the books at most schools.

Topping my list this weekend are the Waterman Tractor Show and the Kingston cardboard boat races, both on Saturday. Then I go away for a week to cohost a national convention of hobby antique printers at the University of Wisconsin/Madison. The University is the site of the largest collection of early printing by amateur press operators and journalists, known as the Library of Amateur Journalism, containing thousands of pieces of printing and writing from the 1880s forward.

Then comes August with the DAAHA Barn Tours, Northern Illinois Steam Power Show, the DeKalb Cornfest, and Genoa Pioneer Day. There are many other attractions I have not mentioned but you can find them online or in the Daily Chronicle/Midweek community events sections.

In keeping with our summer schedule this news and views blog, DeKalb County Life Online, will be published every three weeks through August, the next issue being August 1.

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Donna the tank” in Veterans Memorial Park at First and Lincoln Highway in DeKalb is getting some TLC this month, being worked on in this photo by welder Roman Hasick, along with Brian Kanaly, both from Walt Ltd. Tooling. They said the World War II vintage vehicle will also get a new coat of paint and other restoration work. (DCL Online photo)

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