By Steve Robinson | July 27, 2013 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

ethanharrisriggsNORMAL – In many ways, Ethan Harris Riggs comes across as your typical kid about to become a high school sophomore this fall. He enjoys hanging out with friends, and he’s loving the time away from school for the summer. It’s a summer that even includes enjoying visiting his grandparents, Charlie and Victoria Harris of Bloomington, for a week.

Ethan’s vacation will last a full week, too, unless he gets a callback for a movie audition he’s anticipating. That would mean flying back to Los Angeles, where he lives with his mother, actress Kymberly Harris, to continue the audition process.

As you might have guessed, 15-year-old Ethan Harris Riggs is an actor, and he’s becoming known to the population known as “tweens” (those kids between ages 10-12), and teens through a new TV show called “Awesomeness TV,” a sketch comedy show on the Nickelodeon Cable Network. The show runs Monday nights at 7p.m. on Comcast Channel 35. The show debuted in early July and features a cast of young high school-aged performers doing character sketches, celebrity satires, and music video parodies.

“Awesomeness TV” started out as a show on the internet on YouTube,” Ethan explained. DreamWorks Studios saw the internet sensation, and teamed up with Nickelodeon to bring the show to TV.

“Once that happened, the show’s budget got higher, and the producers started hiring professional actors like myself,” Ethan explained. “I’ve done about four sketches now, including one sketch last week and one sketch the week before that.” He said, to this point, he has been in a total of four sketches since the show debuted. The show presents sketches that are mostly done on location, Ethan said.

Now 15, Ethan is about to enter his sophomore year at The Music Academy At Hamilton High School in Culver City, Calif. He lived in New York City when he was younger, and he started out appearing in print ads as a baby and toddler when he and his mother lived the first six years of his life in New York City.

NickelodeonKymberly Harris, who has appeared in films and television, moved from the Big Apple to Bloomington when Ethan was six and opened a theatre training school called Theatresool, offering classes for aspiring actors of all ages. “Theatrescool is what helped me and motivated me,” Ethan said about the local training ground that specializes in method acting.

In the roughly seven years he and his mother lived here, Ethan attended Thomas Metcalf Elementary School and was part of local productions, including “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory”, and appeared in local TV commercials for local businesses such as Busey Bank and the Normal CornBelters.

Some attendees could also remember Ethan in past productions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at the Bloomington Center For The Performing Arts. He has played both young Tiny Tim and a young Ebenezer Scrooge. “That was a blast,” Ethan said of being in those productions.

Now living in L. A., Ethan has an agent who helps him find acting jobs, sending him on auditions in hopes his skills, talent, and professionalism will land him work. “My agent sends me out for TV shows and commercials,” Ethan said. “It’s a blast.” Currently, viewers might recognize him, he said from an ad he has done for Direct TV satellite service.

When he works on commercials or other such projects during the school year, Ethan said tutors are provided at the studio to help him with his studies, even during the summer.

“I go out for callbacks and auditions frequently,” Ethan said. “For kids who want to get into the business, you have to train. Training is the most important part of being an actor.” He adds even kids his age who are serious about the business should learn to personalize their working relationships with the people they come in contact with.

At his high school, Ethan said, professional actors have helped train students. One of the more notable performers has received instruction from at his school is actor Daniel Roebuck, whose appearances on the small screen include the TV series Glee and the feature film version of the 1960-era TV show The Fugitive.

But while he’s enjoying his life right now, Ethan does ponder the need to stay grounded and remember all those who have helped him, not just along the way but as he continues his journey as an actor. “There are no small people, only big egos,” Ethan reminds.

Ethan said he’s “excited” about being among the next generation of actors people will see on their TV, movie, and computer screens. “It’s just a real joyous experience to be an actor on their way up,” he said. “It’s a rush and it’s really, really fun.”

By Steve Robinson | July 26, 2013 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – The way Linda Bowman saw it, 35 years ago, she and her husband made the choice to live in Normal. On July 25, she reasoned, the Town chose them back.

When the announcement of Normal’s annual honor of “Citizen of the Year” was made at a ceremony on Thursday, July 25, Mrs. Bowman said she was genuinely surprised she and her husband had been named for the honor at The Corn Crib preceding the baseball game between the Normal CornBelters and the Frontier Greys.

With improvements made to Illinois State University, at one stretch during a deepening recession, Dr. Al Bowman spearheaded a drive for improvements to the campus while at the same time making sure the University watched its pocketbook.

His wife, Linda, spent her time serving as a full-time instructor in ISU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and donating her time to charitable causes.

Mayor Chris Koos told the gathering that choosing the Town’s Citizen of the Year “is actually a hard decision to make every year because that citizen exemplifies the volunteerism, the dedication to the community, the hard work that they do in the community, and what special members of the community they are and the great work that they do for us.”

When Koos announced the names of the latest residents to receive the honor, a number of the 300 invited guests at the event let out audible approval followed by a standing ovation from those attending the gathering.

Among Mrs. Bowman’s many charitable endeavors have been involvement with the American Red Cross, YWCA, Normal History Club, and the Children’s Discovery Museum Foundation Board.

Dr. Bowman served as interim President of the University for one year before being named ISU’s 17th President in March 2004. Koos credited Bowman’s leadership for the University winding up on the list of “first choice universities,” as selected by U. S. News & World Report Magazine, as well as high marks for the University in freshmen ACT scores and graduation rates.

“Al and Linda’s positive influence on the community began long ago, before they became president and first lady of Illinois State University,” Koos told the gathering. “Both have active and engaged members of the community for over 35 years. Both Linda and Al Bowman have played an instrumental role in the success of Normal, Bloomington, and McLean County.”

“We are extremely fortunate to have the continued support and involvement of Linda and Al Bowman in our community,” Koos told those assembled. “They have and will continue to be important assets to our community, and I’m honored to name them citizens of the year.”

Dr. Bowman stepped down in May from a 35-year teaching career, including the last nine as ISU President. He told the gathering, “This is really an honor. It’s been a privilege to have been part of this community for 35 years. I’ve never regretted one day of deciding to come to Illinois State University. Linda and I have enjoyed every day of this journey.”

Following the ceremony, Mrs. Bowman said she had no idea about the honor until she heard Koos speak her name. “I’m thrilled and honored beyond measure,” she said of the accolade the couple received. ”To have the leaders of this town say to us that they view us as leaders ourselves and that we’re important to the town, it’s a tremendous honor.”

“I was shocked,” Dr. Bowman said of the honor. “I had no idea this was going to happen. In my opinion, the award is for the campus, not for me. The campus has made incredible progress and I think my presidency gets a lot of credit for it. But the real credit goes to the students, faculty, and staff that have done all the hard work to get us where we are.”

Mrs. Bowman said she graduated from ISU in 1979, and aside from a teaching job in Gibson City after graduation, has lived and worked in Normal. “We chose this community,” Linda Bowman said. And now, with receiving this award, she said, “Normal has chosen us.”

Numerous local dignitaries such as State Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th), Rep. Keith Sommer (R-88th), Bloomington City Council member Judy Stearns, former Normal Mayor Paul Harmon, and former Normal Town Council member Adam Nielsen, were on hand for the event, as were members of the Normal Town Council.

The Town began giving out “Citizen of the Year” honors in 1957, and has done so annually with the exception of 1974 when no award was given out. The Bowmans are just the third couple to receive the honor. Arthur and Faith Larsen received the honor in 1983, and Paul and Sandra Harmon received the honor in 1993.

By Steve Robinson | July 20, 2013 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

Normal CornBelters Pitcher Ryan Demmin was wearing a Washington Nationals cap when I interviewed him recently, probably the only concrete sign he had been with that team’s minor league system without seeing him in full uniform. With the help of his stint at The Corn Crib, Demmin hopes to get back into affiliated ball.

Signed by the Nationals in 2010, Demmin started his playing career with a college summer league affiliate of Washington’s, located in Mankato, Minn. He quickly advanced later that season to rookie league playing for the Burlington (Vermont) Lake Monsters. By 2011, he was a starter for the Nationals’ Class A Auburn Doubledays, located in New York State. He moved along the Class A path to Hagerstown, N. Y., where he finished out that season.

By the time the 2012 season began, the Nationals moved Demmin to their Class A team in Woodridge, Va., before finally releasing him in spring training this year. When he reported for spring training this season, Demmin explained, “It was basically a numbers game as far as the pitchers they had was concerned. I threw as well as I could. They had a number of high prospect lefties and they just parted ways with my contract.”

Demmin is a little different from most of his CornBelters teammates in that he has an agent who represents him, based in Dallas. So when he had to go look for a new team, and once the CornBelters became his new team, the agreement between player and team was done through his agent.

Demmin said his release from Washington “was a little tough because I had dedicated three to four years to the Nationals. I appreciate them giving me a chance to play professional baseball, and I loved every second of that experience.”

After Washington released Demmin, his agents went shopping for their client’s next team, a kind of luxury, one would suppose, for most players at the independent level of the game. One gets the impression that, without an agent, word of mouth and checking with previous coaches, or personal connections are how players are able to find their next team.

When he found his next team in Normal, Demmin said, the agents “went through the contract, made sure there was nothing wrong with it, and I just let them deal with all the paperwork, and I just go out and play ball.”

A native of Oshkosh, Wis., Demmin said signing with the CornBelters put him “in a position to play close to home, just four hours away. This was a perfect fit.” The 25-year-old said his father has been down to see a few of his games at The Corn Crib. Demmin himself wasn’t a complete stranger to Normal, either, because he attended a baseball camp at Illinois State University when he was in high school.

Demmin said one thing that pitching coaches in the Nationals system stressed, regardless of which team he played with, was that their pitchers be able to get batters out with four or fewer pitches. But as he went through the Nationals system, going from team-to-team, the advice pitching coaches gave Demmin about what kind of pitches he should throw and what type of pitcher he ought to consider himself to be – starter, middle relief, or closer – constantly changed.

To make the situation worse, Demmin said he had difficulty grasping the four-pitches-or-less concept enough to make it work in his favor, and that led to his not knowing what his role on the ball club should be. Last season alone while being with different teams within the Washington system, he went from reliever to starter to long-inning specialist.

“I kept flipping back and forth and it was just really tough,” Demmin said, explaining the frustration the constant role-change caused him.

Being in Normal, Demmin said, has helped with his command of his pitches. “My command is where it should be right now,” he explained. “I never really had that much command before. I was kind of an erratic pitcher. Right now, I’m just fine-tuning what I need to be successful at at this level.”

But as the saying goes, “if they could see him now,” the Nationals pitching coaches would see a young man who, through 10 starting assignments with Normal, has a 4-3 record and has struck out 66 batters in 69.2 innings of work. He is carrying the seventh-lowest Earned Run Average among league pitchers, at 2.07.

CornBelters Manager Brooks Carey said Demmin, with output he has produced shows “he’s a professional,” and really needs to be advancing to the next level. Carey had plenty of descriptives for his pitcher: “He’s polished. He’s tough. He’s durable. He’s strong. He’s the total package for a left-hander.”

Carey admits, It’s tough to find lefties who have the type of command and the type of control of the strike zone that Demmin has, and he definitely has the breaking pitch to throw at higher levels than where he’s pitching right now. There’s nothing flat about his pitches. Everything is sharp and crisp.”

Let’s hope one of the scouts who pass through The Corn Crib shows up on a night Demmin is starting to see what he can do. It would be great to see him get back to organized ball.

‘Belters Closing In On 2nd Place: A three-game sweep of Evansville last weekend helped push Normal within 1 ½ games of second place Schaumburg and within three games of first place Gateway. Normal will have visited Joliet Monday through Wednesday before returning to The Corn Crib for a three-game series against the always-traveling Frontier Greys Thursday through Saturday, July 25-27. On Sunday, July 28, Carey’s troops begin a nine-day road trip, playing three games each at Washington, Florence, and Southern Illinois. The team gets a day of rest Aug. 6 before a key three-game set at The Corn Crib against Schaumburg beginning Wednesday, Aug. 7.

By Steve Robinson | July 15, 2013 - 10:40 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved an ordinance which rezoned a piece of local property which will soon be used for housing nuns affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

The house, located at 505 Kingsley, had been zoned as R-1B Single Family Housing. But such zoning only allows for up to two unrelated persons to live in the residence. Council members unanimously approved a zoning change to S-2 Public Lands and Institutions. That change would allow for the house to be considered a church facility with a function similar to a small dormitory. In 2007, Council members made a similar zoning code change for the Diocese’s adjacent house at 701 Hale St. in order to permit the housing of six campus ministers.

Council members passed a second resolution related to the residence by approving a site plan for 505 Kingsley. Under the proposal presented by the Diocese and previously approved by the Normal Planning Commission, following a public hearing on July 8. The main portion of the house will remain and a section of the house with the garage will be demolished, making way for construction of a two-story addition, including a two-car garage to be built at the northern edge of the remaining part of the house.

Redevelopment Agreement With Normal Flats LLC Approved: Council members also unanimously approved a redevelopment agreement with Normal Flats LLC for a multi-story development at 709 S. Main St. The proposed building would have 250 beds and 180 parking spaces. The cost of the building is $21.5 million, and the redevelopment agreement will provide the developer with almost $1.8 million in tax increment financing. However, the parking proposed for the building will eliminate parking already in place for two other current structures in the area, buildings known as Loft I and Loft II. But the development company, headed by Doug Reichl, has a decade-long lease with Illinois State University for parking space nearby.

Town Approves Joining In On Intergovernmental Agreement: Council members unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with Normal-based Unit 5 School District, area law enforcement agencies, and the office of the McLean County States Attorney to share information concerning criminal offenses. The agreement was approved at the Unit 5’s Board at that governing body’s July 10 meeting.

As a result of the agreement, reciprocal reporting of information concerning criminal offenses will now be able to be shared by Unit 5 with the Town, the City of Bloomington; Bloomington School District #87; Illinois State University; Office of the McLean County States Attorney; McLean County Sheriff’s Office; Blue Ridge School District 18; El Paso Gridley School District 11; Eureka Community Unit School District 140; Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Community School District 5; Heyworth Community School District 4; LeRoy Community School District 2; Lexington Community School District 7; Olympia Community School District 16; Prairie Central Community School District 8; Ridgeview Community School District 19; Tri-Valley Community School District 3; and the Regional Office of Education serving McLean and DeWitt Counties, based in Bloomington.

Because it is a lab school operated by ISU, University High School in Normal will be able to participate in this agreement.

“This makes sense for our area and the entire region,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members.

Town Corporation Counsel Steve Mahrt added, “It was done in an effort to get all the players on the same page, and a Unit 5 parents committee got involved.”

Bond Refinancing Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance providing for the issuance of Series 2013 general obligation refunding bonds not to exceed $10 million, which would be used to refund the Town’s 2005 series fixed rate bond issue. Peterson told Council members there was an opportunity to obtain a lower interest cost on the 2005 bonds issue.

Currently, the Town has several bond issues outstanding, according to a report to Council members from Andrew Huhn, the Town’s Director of Finance. The refunding bonds will keep the same final maturity, reaching maturity in 2030. The bonds have a fixed interest rate of 4.42 percent.

Council To Meet Aug. 5 At Normal Library: The Town has scheduled for some renovation to be done in Council Chambers in the next few weeks, making it necessary to hold the group’s Aug. 5 session elsewhere. That meeting will be held in the Community Room in the basement of the Normal Public Library. The meeting will start at 7p.m.

Town of NormalNORMAL– Normal Town Council members, by a vote of 5-1, approved an intergovernmental agreement with Illinois State University to help pay the cost of a new video scoreboard and sound system for Hancock Stadium. The 50-year-old football landmark is in the final stages of a $25 million renovation which would include construction of luxury boxes and new seating on the facility’s east side.

Council Member Scott Preston cast the lone opposing vote, and Council Member Chuck Scott withdrew from voting on the measure because he is an ISU employee.

Former ISU President Dr. Al Bowman made an appeal to Council members at their July 1 meeting, asking Town Council members to consider paying the amount requested over a short period of years.

Normal’s $500,000 would be built into the Town’s budget each year beginning with fiscal year 2013, and would pay for almost half the cost of the new system, estimated at $1.2 million. ISU, in making the request at the Council meeting on July 1, had asked if the Town could make the payment over a two-year period.

But the Town proposed five payments of $100,000 over the next five fiscal years, building the expense into each Town budget in future years. The Council would vote on making the payments on an annual basis, Mayor Chris Koos explained as discussion on the matter began Monday night in Council Chambers at Normal City Hall.

In the discussion before deciding to make the payment, Koos told Council members paying the money would be an action Council members would vote upon each year “until the obligation is met,” he explained. Doing it in this way, Koos said, “would allow Town staff to budget for it every year until the obligation is met.”

Koos noted the revamped Hancock Stadium is “at the front door of our community,” and that ISU Athletics Director Larry Lyons has been contacted by parties with interest in bringing other activities to the community. Koos did not specify beyond that.

“I don’t think you can deny intercollegiate athletics is an entertainment venue and it also promotes the community,” said Council Member Jeff Fritzen. But Fritzen was quick to acknowledge that while there were positives to the Hancock upgrade, he said there are people within the community who might object because it would set a precedent for giving Town money for every entity that requests it.

“But this is not a policy, it’s a project,” Fritzen added. He reminded that $4 of every $5 in student fees at ISU goes toward paying for the stadium upgrade.

Council Member Scott Preston, on the other hand, had issues with ISU’s request. He reminded that the scoreboard “is not a taxpayer-supported project.” He said voting to approve the measure to provide the money “was something I am not comfortable with.”

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said approving the expense is not equal to making a policy decision for the Town, to his thinking.

Council Member Cheryl Gaines reminded Council members that, as years have progressed, relations between the Town and ISU have warmed and grown. “We wouldn’t have nearly the things we have in this community if we didn’t have student housing,” she said. “Normal has one of the lowest tax rates in the state.”

Koos told Council members the Town will receive an acknowledgement in some form at the venue for their contribution to the stadium’s newest addition.

Following the meeting, ISU Athletic Director Larry Lyons said, “We’re fine with how the Town wants to do this,” about how the Town wants to handle the financial arrangement. “We’re pleased with the show of support for the project as a whole, and we look forward to working with them.”

ISU’s Board of Trustees would be the next group to approve purchasing the video board and sound system, Lyons said. ISU’s BOT meets at the end of July.

Request To Rezone Main St. Property Denied: Council members denied a request made by Bayo Adanri to rezone a parcel of land at 601 ½ N. Main St. Adanri was looking for Council members to rezone the land at that address as medium density multiple family. On one side of the land is property zoned single family residence to the north and to the south is located Fireside Condominiums at 601 N. Main St., which has 17 units.

Adanri told Council members the land met the qualifications to be zoned medium density. He said he did not know exactly what he wanted to construct on that .45 acres of land, although, in 2009, he applied to the Town for conceptual approval of a complex with between three to five townhomes, and his building concept required numerous code waivers from the Town. At that time, Normal Planning Commission members unanimously voted to reject the concept.

On Monday, Council members heard testimony from Mary Anderson, a resident of Fireside Condominiums, who argued 601 and 601 ½ N. Main St. are zoned single family. “We have to wonder if this request is just a stepping stone to his next request,” Anderson said. Anderson added the land at 601 ½ N. Main St. has no sewer hook-up.

Fritzen said he wanted input from Town Staff regarding the zoning of the land based on Adanri’s presentation to Council members.

Town Corporation Counsel Steve Mahrt, in responding to a question from Koos, explained zoning of land in the Town is governed by the Town’s zoning map. Mahrt said any questions or conflicts are settled by what the zoning map says a piece of land is zoned as.

Because of that, Mahrt explained, to fulfill Adanri’s request for the land, the Town “would have to pigeonhole medium family density in-between the rest of the area which is zoned otherwise.

Liquor Commission Settles Cases: Council members, serving as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, heard from Koos concerning settlements reached in four recent liquor violation cases.

The Town has settled with American Drug Stores, LLC doing business as Osco Drug #3073, 901 S. Cottage Ave, fining the store $250 for selling alcohol to a person under 21 on March 27. This was a first offense for the store.

Settlement was reached with Normal Catering Co, Inc. doing business as Bloomigton-Normal Marriott, fining the hotel $350 on a stipulation, a guilty plea and settlement agreement which was reached on April 3 for a liquor sale to an underage individual on March 27. The fine was imposed just two months short of three-year look-back period for offenses.

Settlement was reached with Meijer Great Lakes Limited Partnership doing business as Meijer Gas Station #207, 1800 E. College Ave. On May 9 at that location, alcohol was furnished to an underage person. It was a first offense for this establishment within a three-year period, and the Town fined Meijer $250 for the first offense.

The last settlement brought to the Commission’s attention was reached with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., doing business as Wal-Mart Supercenter #1125, 300 N. Greenbriar Dr.. At that location, alcohol was furnished to an underage person on May 9. A settlement agreement with the Town was reached on May 22 which included a $2,500 fine because Wal-Mart had a fine in the amount of $1,500 imposed upon it less than two years ago.

All four establishments have paid their fines.

In addition, Commission members approved minutes of two recent meetings – a regular meeting held by Commissioners March 18, and a special meeting held June 3.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held July 1, 2013.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 10, 2013.

• A motion to initiate an amendment to the Town of Normal Comprehensive Plan.

• A resolution accepting easement grant from Monical’s Pizza – Main St. IDOT Improvement.

• A conditional resolution partially approving the seventh addition to The Vineyards Subdivision.

• An ordinance amending the FY2012-13 Operating and Capital Investment Budget.

• An ordinance rezoning property in the Town of Normal (1282 Healing Stone Ct.).

• An ordinance rezoning property in the Town of Normal (309 E. Northtown Rd.).