DeKalb County Life for January 9, 2017: Man of the Year Dan Kenney; Meet the City Clerk hopeful; Guest column by Jeff Strack; Jessi looks ahead at 2017; Prairie Ponderings; Doug reviews 2016; Steve looks at past mayors; New guest poet Chuck Holdridge; Man of the Year’s literary efforts

Man of the Year – Dan Kenney

For the second year DeKalb County Life Online has named an outstanding individual as our pick for the best person to honor for their efforts in 2016 and a lifetime before that. Last year it was Bill Nicklas for his outstanding efforts that restored Fairdale after the devastating tornado.

This year we chose to honor Dan Kenney, a true renaissance man who is talented in so many ways and the most generous, giving person one could imagine. Dan is probably best known for his indefatigable gardening effort which has brought food to many people in need as well as an outdoor experience for scores of other people who volunteer with him.

Dan is the founder and executive director of the DeKalb County Community Gardens, which each year provides tons of fresh produce for local food pantries, schools, senior citizen homes, and Meals on Wheels.

After he retired from a 25-year career in teaching in 2013 at the age of 60 he has devoted is life to his passion—providing food for the needy and teaching others how to garden and benefit from this wholesome pastime.

Recognized statewide for his work, he was named a Governor’s appointee to the Illinois Local Foods, Farms, and Jobs Council in 2014. He also is on the statewide board of directors for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Locally he is a mayoral appointee to the City of DeKalb Citizen’s Environmental Commission. In his role on the commission he was the lead convener of a citizen task force creating a City of DeKalb Sustainability Plan.  His is also a member of  the Board of Directors for the DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Dan also serves as the chair of the Barb Food Mart School District Food Pantry Board of Directors. In addition to that he is the treasurer of the annual Sondra King Memorial Hunger CROP Walk. And he serves on the DeKalb County Local Food Security Council. Plus all that, he is a member of the Proudly DeKalb Coordinating Committee, and is the coordinator for the DeKalb County Community Commercial Shared-Use Dream Kitchen Project.

Now here is a surprising facet of his his life that makes him a renaissance man: He is a published writer and poet (see one of his poems and a short story at the end of this blog). His work has been published in the Rockford Review and the Iodine Poetry Journal.  He is also a journalist—having written an investigative piece that was published in the Family Farm Defender magazine.

Just to highlight a few of his recognitions: In 2015 he was presented with the Illinois Governor’s Volunteer Service Award; also that year he accepted a “Tribute to Heroes” award by the Boy Scouts of America, and in 2014 was the first person ever chosen to receive the “Outstanding Community Leader Award” presented by the Kishwaukee YMCA. Back in 2010 he had received the DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation District Conservation Teacher of the Year Award. And in 2012 was honored with the Jim Grosklogs’ People Responsible for Improving DeKalb’s Environment Award presented by the DeKalb’s Citizens’ Environmental Commission and the City of DeKalb.

 Looking at his home garden on Birchwood in DeKalb one has to ask what all is planted there. Besides the usual vegetables, he pointed out a stand of Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sun chokes. He has also nurtured three small potted fig trees through two winters indoors.

He and his wife Maylan Dunn-Kenney have been married for 10 years and share two cats named Sammy and Skeeter. Mayan is a retired professor from NIU where she taught in the early childhood education field.

Looking forward to Spring Dan is already at work lining up garden and farm plots around the county. Interesting in working with him? His email is

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Meet Sue Herrmann – DeKalb’s next city clerk

(Editor’s Note: Sue Hermmann is the only candidate to file for the office of DeKalb City Clerk in the upcoming April 4 election. I know her as a server at Lincoln Inn, so asked her some questions to get better acquainted. Her responses are shared here.)

QUESTION: What made you decide to run for office and why city clerk?

    ANSWER: With all of the excitement regarding the last presidential race, I started to get more interested in the logistics of politics, not only at a federal, but at a local level as well. I was discussing my interest of getting politically involved in the community with a friend who shared with me that the position of City Clerk was open in the upcoming election.  I did some research on the position and learned about some of the duties that I would be required to perform and I am confident that they are within my capabilities. The money is not a motivator in my decision, I was actually pleased to find out that this was a part-time position that I could fit into my schedule outside of my full-time position at The Lincoln Inn.  I have never campaigned for another person; however this is not my first go at politics.  I was the 8th grade class president at the middle school I attended for one year in Ashton, IL.

Q: How do you plan to balance two jobs?

A: My schedule at The Lincoln Inn is ideal because I work early mornings into the early afternoon leaving my late afternoon and evenings available for plenty of other activities.  The key to balancing multiple jobs is staying organized and efficient.

Q: Do you have any office experience and do you know any city officials?

A:  I’ve always had a preference for fast-paced occupations as opposed to office work but I do have some experience in participating in structured meetings and recording meetings.  When I was in college I was the President of the Criminal Justice Club for two years, Secretary of the Skills USA organization for one year, the Vice President for the Skills USA organization, and during my last year at Kishwaukee Community College I was the President of both organizations simultaneously. I am from DeKalb and often come into contact with key people in the community, but to my knowledge I do not personally know anyone who works at City Hall.

Q: Has the Barb City PAC contacted you or have you sought their support?

A:  I have not been in touch with anyone from the Barb City PAC, but my involvement in local politics is still at the very beginning stages.

Q: What are your outside interests?

A: I enjoy reading, anything that I can get my hands on.  Murder mysteries, ancient history, and everything in between, but I am currently reading Robert’s Rules of Order.  I enjoy attending local music shows and supporting the aspiring artists that we have right here in our community.

Q: What is your educational background from high school and college?

A: I attended DeKalb High School until my sophomore year in 2007 when I decided to transfer to a homeschooling program in order to complete my high school academics early. I graduated later that year with my high school diploma. I attended Kishwaukee Community College where I graduated with my A.A.S in Criminal Justice and an emphasis in Forensic Technology. I plan on transferring to NIU to continue my education in Psychology with a minor in Criminology.

Q: Where are you and your family from?

A: I have lived in the DeKalb area since I was 6 years old, but my family has lived here for many years.  My parents both attended DHS and my grandfather is a retired elevator technician from NIU.  I have two boys, Lukas and Levitikus, who are also students in the district.  Lukas is 7-years-old and is in first grade at Tyler Elementary. Levitikus is 5-years-old and attends the Pre-K program at the ELDC at Huntley Middle School.

Q: What about your work experience?

A: I have been at The Lincoln Inn just shy of two years but I have worked as a server in the area on and off since I was 15.  My first job serving was at Tommy O’s in Sycamore, I also worked at Kish Corner while that was open, but before I was at The Lincoln Inn I decided to make motherhood and advanced education my main priorities.

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Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above!

By Jeff Strack, guest contributor

 One of the things that I miss since moving to town, is the relatively unobstructed view of the sky we enjoyed on the farm.  Feathery Cirrus  clouds which signal a coming change in the weather can be glimpsed through trees and over rooftops, but such a truncated view lacks the impact those clouds had on me as a farm kid.
Growing up on “Long Acres”, the Norman Westlake Place north of Sycamore, I spent lots of time outdoors and can still conjure up some of those wide open vistas.  Looking in any direction during the decades of the1930’s and 1940’s, economic activity in surrounding communities was confirmed by the black plumes spewing from the smokestacks of local industry.
Returning from a Saturday night visit to Cortland, my folks’ home turf, on a sultry summer evening, lightning flashes across the distant horizon suggested that anxiously awaited showers would be watering some other farmers’ crops that evening.
With the coming of fall, the subdued white glow of the Northern Lights issued a warning of the impending arrival of colder weather.  And during one brief interval of heightened solar activity, for several nights the Aurora Borealis jitterbugged across the sky in brilliant hues of red and green, a rare treat for midwesterners.
  My mother always insisted that we should be interested in and not frightened by storms.  Protected by our broad wrap-around front porch, we would watch the cloud-to-cloud lightning play and counting “one one thousand – two one thousand” would estimate how soon a downpour might arrive from the southwest.
   A large crow population nested in woodlands a few miles to the east of Long Acres. Just before dusk those birds formed an undulating dark ribbon from horizon to horizon as they streamed home from daytime foraging.
Montanans say that they live in “big sky country”, but our Northern Illinois prairies certainly share that distinction.  As the old Western tune implores, “Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above.”

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Prairie Ponderings

Tombstone of Jonathan W. Rice: Was he an abolitionist lynched by secret members of the Knights of the Golden Circle or was he a suicide? We may never know. The monument is flanked by his great-great-great-grandchildren Janelle Rice Stein and Nathan Rice. They are the son and daughter of columnist Craig Rice. The grave is located in Prospect Cemetery, Radnor Township, Dunlap, IL. (Rice photo)

By Craig Rice (

Stories of the Underground Railroad and abolitionist activities in DeKalb County prior to the Civil War have often appeared in local media. As recently as October of last year, the county historical society marked three locations in the county as stations that served runaway slaves making their way to Canada.

My branch of the Rice family did not live in DeKalb County at the time of the abolition movement. It may have been involved in the movement, though, through a hanging.

My cousin Linda wrote in her holiday greeting card, “Uncle Phil told me that our great-great-grandfather was lynched on his farm near Princeville because he helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad. Do you know more about this?” Her Uncle Phil was my father.

I did an afternoon’s worth of research on the internet. What I found was a copy of the autumn 1993 issue of the Edmund Rice (1638) Association Newsletter with an article by Margaret Smith King, a Rice cousin, which told a little about my great- great-grandfather. King (1929-2010) lived in the Peoria area where she was involved in genealogy. For many years, she was on the board of directors of the Peoria County Genealogical Society where she served as librarian much of the time.

My great-great-grandfather was Jonathan W. Rice. He was born in 1811 in Marlboro, Mass. King wrote that Rice had settled in Medina Township in Peoria County in 1838.

“When the War of the Rebellion developed,” King wrote, “Jonathan, being a person of Christian character, felt deeply for the plight of the Negro. He opened his house for their use as an underground railroad, risking his safety for the benefit of the slave.” This didn’t sit well for some of his neighbors who may have been secret members of a pro-slavery society called the “Knights of the Golden Circle.”

This organization was active in Ohio, Indiana, southern and central Illinois, as well as in the southern states, especially Texas. Its objective was to form a slave-holding empire in the shape of a circle with its capital in Havana, Cuba, extending through the southern states, Mexico, Central America, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

With members in every state by the end of the Civil War, it was the most powerful secret and subversive organization in the history of the United States. At one time, it claimed 48 thousand members from the North.
This is according to information on the web site: The society plotted against Lincoln, planning to kidnap him before his inauguration in 1861, and continued plotting against the Union during the War. John Wilkes Booth was a member of the secret society.

According to Margaret Smith King, the Confederate sympathizers met in Peoria in 1864. She wrote, “On 24 June 1865 they sought out Jonathan and hung him in a pear tree in a nearby orchard.”

King said relatives and neighbors might have taken part in the lynching. “The family decided never to speak of it again for fear of others being hurt. They claimed it was a suicide and nothing was ever mentioned again.”

The Knights of the Golden Circle persisted even after the Civil War. It finally died out around 1916 because many of the original knights had died of old age and because the United States entered World War I.

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From the Doug-out

By Doug Oleson
Years from now, I can’t help wondering how historical pundits are going to record the past 12 months. As someone who was there, 2016 may very well be the strangest  years I have ever lived through.

It was a  year in which a raspy singer named Bob Dylan – who wrote the immortal line: “If you don’t want to be a bum, better chew gum.” won the Nobel Prize in Literature; the Chicago Cubs ended a 108 year drought by winning the World Series in one of the most dramatic seventh game thrillers in history; and Donald Trump overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to beat Hillary Clinton, the presumptive favorite, in one of the biggest upsets to win the presidency.

Like with any presidential election year, I suppose, politics pretty  much dominated the headlines in 2016.

Among other things, one presidential candidate claimed Trump didn’t have big enough hands to be president; Rick Perry was appointed to head the Department of Energy, the same department he said should be dismantled a few years earlier, and the Green Party candidate, who only got one percent of the vote, demanded a recount in key states, alleging voter fraud. (In one of many ironies, Trump actually ended up with a handful of votes more.)

In perhaps the strangest events of the year, Martin Sheen led a group of disillusioned Hollywood actors urged Elector College voters in states that Trump won to disregard the U.S. Constitution and cast their votes for Clinton rather than Trump. Talk about bad losers..

Although it has happened three times before, it was surprising to see Hillary – the first woman nominated by a major political party to run for president – receive more .popular votes than Trump, but less electoral college votes, which is what matters. in a way, considering everything else that happened, it was as fitting as it was ironic.

But, of course, that wasn’t all.

2016 was a year in which Sarah Palin stated the Pope was too liberal for her, a noted atheist claimed that Christianity had nothing to do with Christmas, and a TV program portrayed  Satan as a good guy sometimes going out of his way to help others.

Strangely, some of the best shows on TV were 40 and 50-year old sitcoms on ME-TV..

In the sports world, it was strange to see the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA title and the Cleveland Indians lose to the Cubs in the final game of the World Series while the Cleveland Browns won only one NFL game.

2016 was also the year a middle-aged man named Prince died while the Rolling Stones, all grandfathers in their 70s, kept rocking and rolling with a new album and tour.

It was also a year in which female newscasters were fired for allegedly refusing to have sex with their male bosses, racism continued to raise its ugly head, and police officers were shot simply for being police officers trying to protect and preserve. (This is the 21st century, isn’t it?)

In a way, it was only appropriate that fake news was often more convincing than real news. For instance, how can anyone believe the late Jon Renee Ramsey’s brother could sue a TV network for $750 million because he didn’t like the way they portrayed him? Not seven or 75, but 750 million.

Much closer to home, 2016 was the year a group of children in my neighborhood claimed to be Satanists while their father put up one of the biggest Christmas displays in town.

All things considered, I have to nominate Bob Dylan as the person of our times, which have definitely changed. The raspy voiced singer began the year by releasing a CD of Frank Sinatra ballads, followed by a bootleg collection of 36 CDS of a concert tour he conducted way back in 1966. As if that wasn’t enough, when Mr. Dylan won the Nobel Prize, he not only refused to attend the acceptance ceremony, he sent fellow singer Patty Smith who, ironically forgot some of the words to one of his most iconic songs, “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.”

Obviously, I have no more idea of what kind of rain is going to fall in 2017 than anyone else, but to borrow a line from the former Mr. Zimmerman: “only time will tell who has fell and who’s been left behind when you go your way and I go mine.”

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Looking forward to 2017!

By Jessi Haish LaRue (

I’ve been looking forward to 2017 just so I don’t have to hear about 2016 anymore.

By the end of last year, I was convinced I’d heard it all when it came to blaming 2016 for every incident, minor or major, in our lives. That’s why I want this year to be different.

New Year’s resolutions can be so cliché, but I’ve decided to set them anyway. Maybe they’d be better suited as “goals,” rather than resolutions.

I will learn.
My favorite aspect of school, journalism, and even just talking with people has been that you always walk away learning something new. That buzzing excitement of understanding something for the first time is a uniquely unbeatable feeling. It’s that moment when the lightbulb flashes on right above your head.

This year, there’s so much that can be learned, from professional development at my job to my personal projects. As a history lover, I plan on researching even more about my ancestor, barbed wire baron Jacob Haish. I also crave to learn more about the historical Sycamore street where my husband and I now reside. There are so many stories between these houses and buildings that need to be heard.

I will push myself.
My comfort zone has been, well, comforting, for most of my life. It’s really been just in the last few years that I’ve begun to branch out and try new things. Whether it’s accepting a new job position, picking up a new hobby, or traveling somewhere new, I’m going to do some things out of the ordinary this year. And I’ll be all the better for it because I at least tried, even if it doesn’t necessarily work out in the end.

Cheesy, but true: I’m going to think positive.
There’s definitely a sense of dread that’s been hanging around me, and people that I know, for some time now. From the regular groans of despair in an office setting, to disbelief at the “state of our world,” it seems as if there’s no hope. I find comfort in knowing that I can’t control it all, but I can control my life. Even if all I’m doing is attempting to look at the glass as half full, and implementing small but mighty positive changes in my life, I will have made a change for the better.

After all, isn’t that all we can hope for in the New Year, a better year than the one before?

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Steve Bigolin writes . . .

Researching past DeKalb mayors

Several months ago I was approached by Jeff Birtell, Information Technology Technician with the City of DeKalb, about a project he was interested in getting help to pursue.
This past summer he had taken the pictures of the Mayors which hung in the City Council Chambers, and digitized them.  He then got the idea of doing short video segments about each person – their backgrounds, local events, etc.  Who could he get to help make the projects a reality?  Steve Bigolin!  He and I had known one another since his days as a chef at our Ponderosa Steak House  So he called to let me know what he had in mind.  Could I help him?  Yes I said, well aware that much research would be necessary.
  Since the election of the first Mayor in 1877, 25 men and 3 women have held the office, for anywhere from 2-16 consecutive years.  Jeff made a list for me of all the Mayors and when they served,  This was a starting point.  I began with many of the very early people — all men back in this days.
Working as I now do in the local History Room at DeKalb Public Library, I have a wealth of historical resources literally at my finger tips—biographical histories, city directories, microfilms of the Chronicle back to 1879, assorted clippings and more.  Jeff and I agreed to meet regularly on Thursday mornings at 11:00 for as long as it would take to complete things.  It was summer when we got started, then fall, and we  wrapped up the series on December 10.

Who was the first mayor? Who was mayor when NIU opened? Who was the longest serving mayor? Who was the first female mayor? What happened in DeKalb on Sept. 11, 2001?

While these questions are answered in the tapes, the finished product will not be widely available due to the cost involved. The various clips run from just 30 seconds to 3 1/2 minutes. DeKalb Public Library may acquire copies for the History Room along with a few select other places, and I will have one I would gladly show to interested groups or people.

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The Journey

By Chuck Holdridge
     (Written about his classmates from the Class of 1958
                 at Genoa-Kingston High School)

In a sleepy little farm town on a bright September day
A group of wide eyed travelers set out to find their way
Some came from farmlands where the rich green corn grew tall
Some came from the streets of town in the center of it all

And so it was that in a place perched near the fields of corn
The travelers learned their lessons and young adults were born
The first leg of their journey would last a mere four years
It was a time of magic wonderment, of joy and sometimes tears

And then as quickly as it came the four year trip was done
The great life journey started and they went out one by one
As they set out towards tomorrow to conquer all their fears
They held on to a special bond that lasted through the years

Now they look back in time to that September they had known
Their journey brought them love and life and families of their own
There were days of crushing sadness when loved ones fought for life
And days of love and joy shared by a husband and a wife

So now the travelers gather and laugh at days of old
And treasure the great memories worth more than all their gold
And now they watch their children as they journey on their own
Thank God for loving guidance so that no one walks alone

© Chuck Holdridge 2017

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The endless autumn of my boyhood

By Dan Kenney (2016 Man of the Year)

“There they are!” I shouted from the open barn door. The sun was setting, and after hearing their calls from beyond the horizon, and after scanning the sky, I finally spotted the thin black ribbon of Canadian geese, wings gracefully, rhythmically winging over the dark branches of walnut trees and out across the south pasture.
I took off running. Climbing quickly over the rough wooden gate, running across the feed lot, past the few Holsteins waiting to be milked. I climbed up on the fence at the outer edge of the pen and leapt into the tall clover. A clear, sparkling, setting sun, slanting low through the bare branches behind me, as I followed the slow descent of the geese, as they headed toward the small farm pond.
It was my tenth autumn in this world, on this piece of land, known as Henry County, Illinois. And I was just awakening to the larger world around me, realizing with great excitement that there was so much to discover in the rural area of my youth.
I followed the geese and saw them landing with gliding swiftness, wings arched for maneuvering, gently onto the water’s surface. I laid down in the clover and timothy, my chest heaving from the running. I watched through the yellow, tan, and golden grass of October, as the geese settled in for the night.
I tried to watch their every move. There were about 15, calling to one another, dipping their heads into the water, their tail feathers straight up to the darkening sky; just as the golden harvest moon was rising above the hedgerow in the east. It was silent except for my breathing and their occasional squawks.
I would look away periodically to the moon, or to the fading crimson, blue, rose, purple sunset sky behind me. In the distance, across the clover that was getting damp with dew, I could see the barn where my father was milking the cows. Could see him moving around in the pale light of the barn’s naked bulbs, casting a slanted yellow path out into the calming barnyard.
I laid there watching it all, taking it all in, filing it away into the sinew of my bones, into the crevices of my mind, letting it all become a hidden part of my blood.
I am now living through my 61st autumn in this world. I am looking back to that evening on the eve of another winter solstice. And even though that moment in time occurred for me 50 years ago, I can close my eyes and picture it still, and feel the growing chill in the air, as I laid on the dampening ground. As I laid there, I wondered where the day had begun for these winged mysteries. How many miles had they flown today, what had they seen below them as they followed an unknowable instinct, a call that lured them year after year, to fly hundreds of miles, to warmer air. Sometimes flying at night, winging through the darkness, an occasional location call, sometimes low enough that I could hear the near whisper swish of their wings.
Over the years I have traveled thousands of miles from that evening pasture, known deserts, seen mountains, moved on the streets of the world’s largest cities; all the while I was shaped by moments like that night, when I felt at one with the trees, fields, and streams I spent my days exploring. Even as I moved from adolescence into adulthood, I would find myself time and again returning to nature, returning to contact with the Earth. The relationship I had with nature was my foundation, my shelter, my anchor, inspired my continually expanding sense of wonder. Time again, no matter where I found myself, I would seek out even the smallest piece of nature, or try to find my way to a view of the horizon.
It was my experiences with nature that made me aware of the unfathomable world I was a part of, a world that had been here long before I was conceived, and would remain here long after I was no longer walking on the ground, but buried beneath. Knowing this sometimes brings me to a full stop, and overwhelms me with humbleness; or fills me with a strong, sweet sense of deep gratefulness.
At this point in my life I recognize that there are motifs in one’s life. Motifs that run like ribbons through the decades and provides something you can recognize, hold onto, something that adds familiarity to an ever changing world, and life. A common experience that like a favorite food, a certain piece of music, or a certain feeling you get when you achieve that perfect position in bed, and you sleep the sleep of your childhood all over again, even if just for occasional nights. Autumn, and the migratory flight of Canadian geese has been one of those lifeline ribbons for me. And the lone goose, which has been separated from his/her flock has also taken on a symbolic representation for me. For often in my life, I have known the feeling of being separated from the flock, felt as though I was winging my way through life alone, on an unchartered course. By the same token, I have also known the joy of being reunited with the flock, or welcomed into a new flock.
No matter how hard we try, we can never hold all this Earth has to offer. Regardless of how much we try we cannot drink it all up, there will always be more that we will never experience, more we will not know. But, if we are lucky, if we are awake to it, if we are living a life with an open door, we may have an autumn evening that provides one with a lifeline ribbon that connects one’s beginning with one’s ending.
© Dan Kenney 2017

In Our Valley of Snow

cloistered in our

cove of down,

we shall by

love and grace

weather this 
longest of winters.

Spooned beneath

hand-stitched quilts

our bodies sing

yes! – to frost etched

glass, and drifts around

our door. Soon, we

will be sung to wake

by spring’s first


—©Dan Kenney, Winter 2014

Dan stands in his favorite surrounding.

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