Raising the Barn

The Village of Goodfield welcomes the Conklin Players back to the Barn.

If you had told Mary Simon two years ago that the Barn would be rebuilt and booking future performances, she wouldn’t have believed you. The director of the Conklin Players was sure that her turn in local theater was up. The Barn II in Goodfield, the theater troupe’s longtime home, had closed in the summer of 2015 after irreparable wind damage rendered the building unsafe. Undeterred, Simon moved her operations to Five Points Washington, where the troupe performed until the end of 2017.

“I was giving everything we made at Five Points to the troupe to try to keep them solvent,” she recalls. “And then I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I had cashed out my insurance policies. I borrowed against things. My credit card debt was huge… I was tapped out.” But just two weeks after Simon gave up, Abby Reel walked into her life and proposed a plan that turned everything around.

A Storied History
A native of nearby Congerville, Abby Reel essentially grew up with The Barn’s cast of colorful characters as a backdrop. Her parents, Les and Carolyn Reel, were huge supporters of the theater—attending performances regularly, becoming friends with Simon and founder Chaunce Conklin, and encouraging their daughter to join—which she did as a teenager, working there before heading off to college.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Reel is now owner of the Barn III, still under construction. The new venue is set to open in February with support from its community, a massive fundraising effort, and a sizable loan from Morton Community Bank. You know what they say about it taking a village. Well, it took that and more.

Although Abby Reel and Mary Simon act as partners, Simon is quick to point out that Reel is the boss—“It’s her nickel,” she explains. No doubt there’s a mutual affection and respect between the two. Several times during our conversation, Simon leaned close to Reel, patted her hand and mentioned how grateful she is to her for saving the Barn—not only for herself but for her beloved troupe, who were displaced when the last incarnation went out of business.

“We make decisions together, collaborate [and] compromise,” Reel notes. “And I think it’s really interesting how similar we are… in terms of how we think about taking care of people.” In fact, before embarking on their partnership, Reel, a licensed therapist, asked Simon to take a personality test. She had an inkling that they shared a lot of common traits and wanted to know how they would work together. Read the rest here.

Innovations in Neuroscience

It’s projected that more than 12 million Americans—nearly one in 25—will suffer from a neurodegenerative disorder such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s or dementia within the next 30 years. These diseases have lasting effects, not only for patients who live with the condition, gradually losing their physical or mental capabilities, but also the caregivers and family members who suffer emotionally and financially.

“Some studies argue that neurological conditions cause the greatest effect on lost ‘quality-of-life years’ compared to non-neurological conditions,” says Dr. Chris Zallek, neuromuscular disorders specialist with OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute (INI). “One reason neurological conditions seem so common and are increasingly present in the population is because our population is aging.” It’s a national epidemic with a significant local connection.

In collaboration with the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP), health professionals at OSF IN are making major strides in research to help detect and diagnose patients earlier, thus helping them manage the effects of their disease for a better quality of life. But research requires investment.

Two retired Caterpillar executives—both diagnosed with neurological disorders—have been on the frontlines of advocacy, raising money and awareness for their related causes. First diagnosed with MS more than 40 years ago, Larry Wallden reorganized the local MS Council to ensure that local funding stayed in central Illinois, while Ed Rapp, diagnosed with ALS in 2015, founded the Stay Strong vs. ALS charitable fund to find a cure and bring assistive technologies to others suffering from the disease. Their work—and that of many others—has been instrumental in putting Peoria on the map for neuroscience innovations and the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. Read the rest here.

Breathing Life into an Historic Building

When Raphael and Katie Couri Rodolfi purchased the F. Meyer Block Building on Adams Street in 2017, they acquired a little slice of Peoria history. Built in 1885 as Meyer Hardware, the structure has seen its share of tenants over nearly 135 years, weathering economies good and bad. Having set up their own ventures in the building—alongside a pair of other businesses—the Rodolfis are in it for the long haul.

The entrepreneurial couple has longed to open shop in Peoria, initially setting their sights on finding a location along West Main Street near their home. When they couldn’t find the right space for their needs, they expanded their search to the Warehouse District.

“We really liked everything that was happening down here. The city had redone the streets, making it more pedestrian-friendly. Sugar [Wood-Fired Bistro] was established and Zion [Coffee Bar] was moving in,” Katie recalls. “So all of that felt more like ‘city life.’ We lived in Chicago for a number of years, and Paris on and off, so we appreciate pedestrian-friendly cities and all the joy that can come with that.”

The addition of rehabbed loft apartments within walking distance—including Cooperage 214, Winkler Lofts and Persimmon Lofts—also sealed their resolve to put their roots downtown. Shortly after purchasing the building, Raphael moved his video production company, Videogenique, into one of the open office spaces. “The structure has a lot of character, which is 100 percent what we love about it,” he explains. While his large, open space on the first floor remains largely unchanged, he quickly went to work updating the other spaces to accommodate potential tenants. “We made mostly cosmetic changes like painting, tearing out old carpet and replacing acoustic ceiling tiles with metal tiles. It made a huge difference.”

Read the rest here.

Building a Chamber

Maria Galindo and her brothers César and Arturo Vargas are first-generation Americans. Their father and grandfather first came from Mexico to the United States in the 1960s through the federal government’s bracero program, which allowed temporary guest workers into the country to work in the fields of the southwestern states. The entire family emigrated from Mexico in 1974.

“My father chose to move to Illinois, landing a factory job at Butternut Bakery, so he didn’t have to work the fields,” César explains. “Our family was part of a new wave of immigrants settling in Peoria.” They settled on the city’s south side, where Maria, César, Arturo and their four siblings grew up and attended school.

Today, César is an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher in Peoria Public Schools, helping the next generation of Spanish-speaking students achieve success in their education. Arturo, an artist, and his wife Carla opened Casa de Arte in Peoria’s Warehouse District last fall; while Maria is a teacher’s aide at the Valeska Hinton Center, pursing her degree in early childhood education while operating the Tianguis outdoor market in the summer. All are active in the Hispanic business community, but it was an outsider who helped them start up the Peoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (PHCC).

Enter John Lamb, attorney and global communicator for the Caterpillar Latino Connection, a resource group for Cat’s Latino employees. Lamb’s ties to the Hispanic community go back to his college days, when he spent a summer in Mexico doing missionary work. Upon graduating, he worked in Santiago, Chile for a few years before returning to his hometown of Nashville, where he served on the board of the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. After attending law school in Chicago, he joined Cat Financial supporting its Latin American subsidiaries, moving back to Santiago in 2012 before transferring to Peoria in 2016. Read the full article here.

Illustrating an Ale Narrative

With so many microbrews infiltrating the marketplace—and taking up valuable shelf space in retail outlets—having a memorable package design that stands out from the crowd is more important than ever. So when Ommegang Brewery, based in Cooperstown, New York, decided to update its brand, they hired French illustrator, Yann Legendre, to bring their packaging to life.

Each ale has a fun, quirky back story, so the art needed to portray those qualities and bring them to life. Legendre notes, “They were looking for an artist who would bring a sense of movement, openness, storytelling, and wit in the art, to both honor their history and reflect a stylish, dynamic, and modern approach.”

He credits Ommegang’s art director Larry Bennett, with devising the clever stories. “Typically, we look for a story idea that may lead to a brewing idea, that will create an even better story idea,” Bennett says. “We have a great history with Belgium and American brewing, so we don’t often have to pull rabbits out of hats. Unless it’s a story that involves magic.” Read the rest of the story here.

This is my birth mother

I’ve never met her. She had me shortly after her 21st birthday and gave me up for adoption. People look at this photo and think it’s me.

She was a college student at University of Wisconsin in Platteville, studying to be a teacher. In spring of 1969, she discovered she was pregnant with me. In those days young, single, pregnant women were hidden away, so when the semester ended, she went to a home for unwed mothers in Milwaukee. Not surprisingly, the birth father wanted nothing to do with the situation. It didn’t matter. She knew what she was going to do.

Only a couple of close friends and her immediate family knew she was pregnant. People from her small hometown in Indiana believed she stayed at school for the summer, and when she didn’t return to school in the fall, her friends there were told she was taking a semester off.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to bring a baby into this world and then give her away. Nine months of caring for another being growing in your body, all the while knowing you’re going to hand her off to someone else. But she did. She made the ultimate sacrifice to give me a better life, and I’d like to think, not halt hers … but fate has a way of intervening.

She was never able to fulfill her dream of finishing school and becoming a teacher. Six months after she gave birth to me, she was killed in a car accident. She had finally gotten her life back together only to be taken in a single, senseless act.

I searched for her and spent years on a waiting list, only to discover she had been dead my entire life. I was devastated. Not because I needed a mother — I have loving, supportive parents — but I always thought a piece of me was missing. Still do. I don’t know if meeting her would have changed that.

I met her sister and mother for the first time in my early 20s. I felt their grief, but also joy. I’m the spitting image of her, so I imagine for them, it was like seeing a ghost. They stared at me and commented on our shared characteristics — a similar crooked eye tooth, and nearly identical facial features. At the time, I was a couple years older than she was when she died, so time stood still and there I was.

Several years later, when I attended the funeral service for her mother, I could feel eyes on me. It was a neighbor who was in on the secret, and she instantly knew who I was. By that time, 40 years had passed, yet few people there knew of my existence until that day. It was surreal and sweet to meet her friends and relatives. They spoke fondly of her and recalled the emotional hardship on her family after her death.

Having such a close resemblance to another person was a new, albeit strange, experience for me. “Who do I look like?” is perhaps the biggest question for any adopted person. Seeing photos of her answered that question for me, but it didn’t resolve any lingering identity issues I had. Those are still mine.

I see parts of myself, and her, in my children. I’m so grateful to her for the difficult decision she made so many years ago, and to her family for supporting her.

This article originally published here.

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Moshik Nadav: Bringing Sexy Back to Type

Born and raised in Israel, Moshik Nadav has always had an affinity for letterforms and typography. He immersed himself in graphic design journals at a young age, admiring and studying the work of the masters. While still a student of graphic design, his type designs were gaining recognition by leading international design publications and major online typography and design blogs. By the time he graduated, he had already designed four typefaces.

Nadav established his design business, Moshik Nadav Typography, in 2009, serving a variety of international clients, and in 2013, he moved to New York City. His distinct style can be attributed to his love of fashion and his adoration of the female form. Just as a fashion designer must consider the drape of the fabric on a human figure, Nadav’s affinity for sleek lines and sexy curves are distinct characteristics of his typefaces, which include contrasting line strokes, and delicate, extended serifs that entwine and envelop each other. Every element in his unique letterforms is carefully considered as he bends and manipulates each shape and tendril, while respecting the rules of typography and readability. When an entire alphabet is finished, it’s like a new fashion line hitting the runway—each letter is unique on its own, but when seen as a family, it all works together and it’s undoubtedly Moshik Nadav.

Read the full interview with Nadav here, where he discusses his latest typeface, Lingerie.

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The Canadianist: Highs and Lows

Our friends to the North, Everlovin’ Press in Kingston, Ontario, have created a new series of fine letterpress prints called The Canadianist, featuring five illustrations from select artists to comment on Cananadian culture, from high to low .

Illustrator Tom Froese and Everlovin’ conceived the series to promote the Canadian design and illustration community and showcase the beauty of letterpress. They had previously collaborated on a postcard series entitled Greetings From Canada with a similar tongue-in-cheek mandate.  The Canadianist is their sequel to that. Five artists were invited to address one theme each: Fashion, Food, Flora, Know-How, and Colloquialisms.

Froese says, “Vince and I have a passion for letterpress, and of course would like to establish Everlovin’ as the choicest letterpress printer for designers in the country.” They chose the artists and assigned them themes that they thought would suit their styles and would provide lots of potential for ‘assemblages of Canadiana.’” Read the rest here.

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Where Are the Local Police When You Need Them?

I live near Bradley Park, and I often take my children and dog there. Last week, the unthinkable happened: An unleashed pit bull attacked another dog being walked by its owner.

The pit bull’s owner yelled to his dog, and then he started yelling at the other dog’s owner. His dog was attacking her dog, not the other way around. No one was helping the woman, so I ran over and yelled at the pit bull’s owner, “Your dog should be on a leash.” He approached me holding his dog by the collar in one hand and a can of beer in the other, screaming at me to “Shut the f&%@ up.”

He was within two feet of me. Honestly, I was scared he was going to hit me. I told him repeatedly not to get any closer, and I pulled out my phone and dialed 911. He yelled some more and finally walked away, gathering his friends. At least one other person called 911. I told the dispatcher that he was leaving and where he was walking, thinking a police officer would surely show up soon.

The true crime of this story is that no officers ever arrived. I called again when the man reappeared in the park several minutes later to pick something up that he left behind. I asked if any police were coming and the dispatcher said no, because I had said the guy was leaving. Really? There were plenty of witnesses willing to talk, not to mention a bleeding dog. I gave a description of the man, said he was still there and that we were leaving because I was afraid of him and I had my daughter with me. Again, no cops arrived. Approximately 30 minutes later, after we returned home, the police called and wanted to talk.

When I asked the officer why no one responded, he said that at the same time, he got a call about a guy who broke his leg at the RiverPlex, and that took precedence. Really? Don’t the Fire Department and EMTs deal with a broken leg? I questioned his logic and he said, “How would you feel if you were the guy with the broken leg?” I responded that there was a loose pit bull in a public park attacking another dog and children were present. He seemed to shrug.

Is there only one police officer on duty at a time in this city? I later learned that this officer was from the Park District, where my call was dispatched.

When I call 911, I expect an officer to arrive on the scene, even if the situation has dissipated. I don’t care whose jurisdiction the emergency falls under. Someone better respond, and in a timely manner.

This story was published in the June 6, edition of The Peoria Journal Star.

A Family Affair

Remember when you used to get tons of beautifully-printed self promotions in the mail from designers and artists? The envelopes were bulky and you just knew something good was inside. Unfortunately, those days are long gone and we rarely get physical mail, other than bills. Well, LewisCarnegie, based in Austin, Texas, still attends to this tradition of creating and mailing luscious print promotions with original illustrations to its clients and friends. Read the rest of the story here.

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