A Life-Altering Transformation

A series of body contouring surgeries enabled a local woman to look and feel healthier—and regain her self-confidence. 

Two and a half years ago, Jessica King weighed more than 300 pounds and desperately wanted to lose weight. Like many people, she “yo-yo dieted”—losing 30 or 40 pounds, only to gain it back—which took a psychological and physical toll. The final straw for King came after an embarrassing incident at Six Flags. She and her children stood in line for nearly two hours to go on the Batman ride, only to be turned away when the safety belt wouldn’t fit around her waist. “At that point I knew my weight was not only affecting me, but my kids,” she recalls. “And that was unacceptable to me.” 

King had been researching weight-loss surgeries for years—even qualifying for the procedure twice, only to back out. After the Six Flags incident and with much deliberation, King consulted with Dr. J. Stephen Marshall of Peoria Surgical Group about weight-loss surgeries. He recommended she go with a gastric bypass, which reduces the size of the stomach and redirects food from the small intestine to absorb fewer calories. Dr. Marshall performed her surgery on December 6, 2017. 

In the following months, King changed her eating habits, switching to a Keto diet, and started exercising at three months post-op. “The misconception with weight loss surgery is that it’s a magic cure, when in reality it’s a tool that helps you learn how to eat correctly for the rest of your life,” she explains. In 15 months, she dropped 190 pounds, but her makeover journey was far from over. The massive weight loss came with another set of problems—excess, sagging skin.  Read the rest of the article here.

Making a Better Earth

There is ample evidence that humans are overrunning the planet’s resources and causing ecological destruction to our natural environment. The good news is, we can slow this process considerably by simply reconsidering the way we consume and dispose of food. Convincing people to change their habits is an uphill battle, say Luke and Yvonne Rosenbohm, but it’s one they’ve taken on to ensure a more sustainable future for the next generation.  

Luke and Yvonne at the Peoria Riverfront Market
Luke and Yvonne at the Peoria Riverfront Market

“We want to fix this problem for our kids,” Yvonne says, “before the government mandates it.” As our landfills begin to run out of space, that is a very real possibility. 

About 20 percent of what goes into landfills is food waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—and composting is one of the best ways to reduce this waste. Enter Better Earth Logistics, which provides a conduit to local businesses and residents by collecting and hauling their food waste to be composted. 

The business was born in 2015 to provide an extra service for Luke’s parents’ company, Better Earth Compost. “My dad was getting a lot of calls from people wanting their food waste picked up, and he didn’t have that service,” Luke explains. So he and Yvonne purchased a truck, and soon he was making pickups at local businesses, while she handled marketing and built their web presence. It’s proven to be a winning combination—for the Rosenbohms, for local businesses and for the planet.

A Mission Beyond Transport 
In early 2018, Better Earth Logistics got a boost from the Tazewell County Green Initiatives program and Peoria County Sustainability team, who wanted to help them expand their services to more people. The primary obstacle was the cost of containers, so both counties purchased roughly 100 containers for use by local businesses. And as Better Earth’s business has picked up, it’s clear the company is much more than a transport service. Read the rest of the article here.

Built for Music Lovers

Jason Miles and Sean Kenny outside of Kenny’s Westside Pub in downtown Peoria

Established as a neighborhood bar and restaurant on Farmington Road six years ago, Kenny’s Westside Pub has always hosted live music. But after relocating to downtown Peoria in 2016, a noticeable shift occurred. “We became a live music venue—not just a bar that has live music,” says owner Sean Kenny. “We’re hosting ticketed events with national acts, so people are traveling from the entire Midwest to see shows here.”

And Kenny has Jason Miles, his good friend and director of entertainment, to thank for this. Miles has been promoting music for 20 years—working with Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment for the past five, and booking talent for some of the area’s biggest music festivals, including Summer Camp and the Peoria Blues & Heritage Music Festival. “Kenny’s was built for music lovers and that’s the clientele we want to cater to,” Miles affirms. 

Bringing Music To the Masses
In the early 2000s, the two worked together at Eamon Patrick’s Public House—which happened to be located where Kenny’s Westside is now. “I was a bartender and it was the best job I ever had,” Kenny recalls. “I loved the music and the whole vibe, and Jason was a young independent promoter… well, younger,” he smiles with a wink and a nod to Miles, who’s sitting beside him. The experience helped inspire the opening of his own establishment on Farmington Road, which they used to call a “mini-Eamon Patrick’s.” 

“Jason and I have the same brain when it comes to music,” he continues. “When you come to Kenny’s, you’re going to see a lot of bluegrass, funk, jazz, Americana—all original music. You’ll never see a cover band here.” Having staked out their niche, they generally steer away from popular genres like classic rock, country and EDM. “That stuff isn’t in our wheelhouse, and it’s not what our customers expect.” Read the rest of the article here.

The Sweet (& Tangy) Taste of Success

Lovingood Foods founders, Tony & Brenda Lovingood

For as long as she can remember, Brenda Lovingood has been making barbecue sauce for family and friends, slathering it on chicken wings, pork and meatballs. She had toyed with the idea of selling her homemade sauce for more than a decade, but life always got in the way. Both she and her husband Tony had full-time jobs and were busy raising their 11 children, while running a catering business on the side. “It always got put on the backburner,” Brenda recalls, “until one day I just decided I was going to do it.” 

That day finally arrived in 2016 after she attended the Women in Business Success Conference organized by Doris Symonds, who had been encouraging her to bottle her sauce for years. “It was like a one-stop shop,” Brenda says of the conference, where she gathered information about marketing and finances. “It was also the kick I needed to get going.” In addition, she and Tony met with Kevin Evans, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bradley University, who helped them strategize their objectives and establish the business. 

Converting the Masses
Lovingood Foods was formed in July of 2016, and within two years, the couple was selling cases of their barbecue sauce to local and regional stores including Hy-Vee, Alwan & Sons Meat Company, Save-A-Lot, and Haddad’s. “We literally walked into stores with a sample tray so they could taste the product,” Brenda says, and their hands-on tactic worked. They now drive to King’s Food Products in Belleville, Illinois—where the sauce is produced in large quantities—every three weeks to pick up cases for delivery. Read the rest of the article here.

Building a Headband Brand

Megan Ray, founder of Hello Headband

A local maker finds success online and at pop-up shops throughout central Illinois.

As with many good things, Hello Headband started on a whim. Founder Megan Ray has always been a “maker,” teaching herself to sew at age nine, experimenting with fabrics and color, and keeping a close eye on fashion trends. On a lark in 2011, when she was 21 and still living in her parents’ home, she made a headband, put it on, and walked downstairs to show her mom and younger sister, Erin. 

“I thought it was kind of funny—at the time headbands weren’t super-popular,” Megan recalls. “I asked what they thought… and to my surprise my sister said, ‘That’s actually really cute. I would wear that.’” When she did, her friends loved it and asked where they could get one. Soon Megan was making headbands for friends and family; eventually, she was making so many they encouraged her to open an Etsy shop, which she did under the name Raydiant Apparel

Sales took off and before she knew it, she was buying loads of fabric and spending all her free time making headbands. But free time was something Megan was running low on, given her full-time job while also attending nursing school. By 2013 she couldn’t sustain it all, so she quit her job and left school. “I thought if I’m going to pursue this, now is the time to do it. If it fails, I can always go back to school,” she explains. Turns out it was the best decision she ever made. Read the rest of the article here.

Igniting the Senses

Sensory Ignite’s volunteer planning committee, led by Brandon Mooberry (left), is comprised of numerous local agencies.

Ignite Peoria, an initiative of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, has become a fixture of Peoria’s arts community over the last six years. Home of the Midwest Makerfest, Ignite is a creative extravaganza of art, music, science and robotics, featuring exhibit booths, live performances and hands-on workshops. The excitement is palpable at every turn, but with so much to see and do, the many activities have the potential to overwhelm individuals with sensory sensitivities. Enter Sensory Ignite, headed up by local musician Brandon Mooberry, which will run in conjunction with the main event—but in a separate area for those with sensitivities to loud noises, bright lights and big crowds. Read the rest here.

Born to Shoot

A local photographer found her passion at an early age, following in her mother’s footsteps.

100 Years… 100 Roses, featuring Newell’s great-great aunt Albertine, earned high honors in the 2015 PPA International Photographic competition.

Even before she was born, Christie Newell was destined to become a photographer. Forty years ago, her mother, Barb   Primm, started a photography business in the basement of their family home, eventually moving into an old Victorian in Bartonville and calling it Sonshine Studio. As a child, Newell accompanied her mother on photo shoots, soaking up the trade and loving it.  

She started working in the studio in high school, learning both the business and creative sides, and eventually shooting sessions with Primm. By the time she graduated, she was ready to pursue photography full-time. “My mom taught me the nuts and bolts, and after high school she sent me to conventions to learn more about the craft,” Newell explains.

She also pursued professional certifications through the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), a go-to resource for the industry with some 30,000 members. A Certified Professional Photographer, Newell holds a Master of Photography degree and a Craftsman degree from the organization. She serves on the American Society of Photographers Board of Directors and the International Photographic Competition Committee, in addition to teaching workshops and speaking at photography conventions. Read the rest of the article here.

Pinnacle of Her Craft

A Peoria woman is one of just eight people in Illinois to have attained Master Knitter status.

This sweater was the final project in the Master Knitting certification process, representing several knitting techniques. Young keeps her “tools of the trade,” at right, organized by category.

Knitting requires sharp thinking, deft motor skills, and lots of time to develop and master a range of different techniques. As a lifelong knitter, Diedre Young of Peoria knows this firsthand and finds the craft beneficial to her well-being as a whole. Each day she carves out time to knit—“regardless of what else may be going on”—typically an hour in the morning before work, and occasionally after. She even takes her knitting on the road so she has a token to remember her travels. It has a “calming effect,” she explains, which belies the lengths she went to in order to become certified as a Master Knitter through The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA). Read the rest of the article here.

Visual Jazz

It’s really no wonder that photographer Natalie Jackson O’Neal’s favorite subjects are musicians. “I grew up in a home constantly pulsating with many genres of musical rhythms,” she recalls. “Jazz has always been my favorite.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that two of her favorite people are well-known musicians—her father Preston Jackson plays jazz guitar, and husband Dexter O’Neal is a singer, guitarist and leader of the Funk Yard. But Natalie really honed her photographic chops as staff photographer for Good News magazine in Atlanta, where she was a regular at jazz clubs. Eventually, many of the musicians she photographed asked her to shoot their gig posters and CD covers.

Jazz vocalist René Marie made a particularly indelible impact on her, Natalie explains. “She was so soulful and strong, energetic and beautiful. She was a treat to shoot because she always gave so much to her audience—and you always captured something new and exciting.”

Natalie’s photographic jazz series, entitled “Straight, No Chaser,” is a visual soundtrack to the Thelonious Monk tune of the same name—“a nod to its fluidity and extreme unpredictability.” Each piece in the series is named after a different jazz number. Read the rest of the article here.

Capturing Moments in Time

Monarch by photographer Jim Burnham

Any photographer will tell you that getting the perfect image is the result of being in the right place at the right time. Jim Burnham is no different, admitting that serendipity plays a major role in some of his best photographs.

His photograph “8 Seconds,” for instance, was a reaction to an unexpected change of scenery. He and some friends from the Peoria Camera Club had gathered one evening on the East Peoria riverfront to capture the supermoon behind the Peoria skyline. Not entirely satisfied with his shots, Burnham noticed something more dynamic was about to happen as the moon moved south. Grabbing his equipment, he raced to position himself up on Fondulac Drive overlooking I-74.

“Once up there, I had no more than five minutes to set up and take some extreme telephoto shots of the moon as it set over Bartonville, with the ADM plant and city lights in the foreground. It turned out to be the best of the bunch.” Read the rest of the article here.