Normal 150 YearsNORMAL – Race relations in the years of Normal’s early formation was the subject of the fourth lecture sponsored by the Town as part of Normal’s 150th Anniversary. Dr. Mark Wyman, professor emeritus of History at Illinois State University painted a picture of how this community saw the subject, first through the mind of Town founder Jesse W. Fell through to nearly present day.

An objection to slavery and an answered prayer for Fell are tied together to answer, partially, the question of how race relations here were dealt with during the Town’s early years, according to Wyman. Fell support for Abraham Lincoln aided in Lincoln’s run for the Presidency, Wyman explained. Wyman added a letter from Fell to his brother explained Fell’s desire that God would answer their prayer for “this great nation to come out of its present troubles redeemed and purified by this great sin.” Wyman said Fell, however, did not spell out what “great sin” he was referring to.

“I do believe that our communities of Normal and Bloomington – and I must include Bloomington although it was a few miles away then – did not see rigid patterns of racial segregation setting in right after the Civil War,” Wyman explained to an audience of roughly 75 people who gathered for the fourth in a series of presentations giving perspective to a specific aspect of Normal history held in Normal Town Council Chambers at Uptown Station. “Blacks were voting; One was even elected to Countywide office. The local hotel accepted blacks, and there was even evidence they were eating in restaurants.” Wyman said he believed such a situation could be attributed to two parties: Fell, and the area newspaper at the time, the Bloomington Leader.

But all was not as routine for black children in the community, who were not permitted to attend public schools, including the “Model School,” the grade school operated by Illinois State Normal University. Wyman said local farmer Edwin Bakewell was a leader who condoned this practice, explaining Bakewell’s belief as “that colored children should not have all things in common with white.” Wyman said Bakewell told an audience of supporters once that to let black children into the local schools. “Bakewell said he would be sorry to have Normal pattern after Chicago, the very hotbed of superlative radicalism.”

When a vote was taken within the community to decide the matter of whether to let black children attend school in Normal in 1867, it passed by a 65-1 vote, Wyman said. In May that same year, a special election was held which finally decided the matter, again passing by a 92-2 count. Seven votes favored a special school for blacks, Wyman added.

Normal’s population in 1900 was reported was just under 4,000 with 253 blacks, roughly 6.7 percent of the population, while Bloomington had 23,000 residents, 600 of whom were black, or 2.6 percent of the population, Wyman said.

But it was not all tranquil for blacks in the 1920s, Wyman reported, as the Ku Klux Klan did operate in the area, their presence most heavily felt between 1922-1924. Other communities in the area reported Klan meetings, Wyman said, through the group’s state newspaper. Towanda, Lexington, East Peoria, and Urbana also had a noticeable Klan presence.

In terms of public accommodation, blacks found themselves restricted in a number of ways, Wyman said. Hotels were off limits to blacks by the end of the 1920s, Wyman said. Movie houses required blacks to sit in the back, Wyman said. Cafés did not allow blacks to sit and dine, forcing to take their purchases in a bag and leave, or if blacks insisted on staying, were required to sit in the back of the dining area.

In 1920s, Black students at ISNU, having been prohibited from attending school-sponsored functions, asked the University’s Student Activity Fund for aid in holding their own dance functions, Wyman said. Fell Hall, built on the ISNU campus in 1918, started out as a women’s dorm, which included one wing for blacks, Wyman explained. When the University leased a house on University St., it converted it into a male dormitory, Smith House, where 33 white students resided while black men had to rent rooms in private homes in town.

The “Chat-N-Chew” café was opened by a black proprietor in the 1930s Wyman added, the Chat-N-Chew’s aim was to give black students “somewhere to go hang out, as well as carrying grocery items.” By the 1950s, Normal found itself at what was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Wyman said, starting with a segregated eatery called The Pilgrim Café. It was located behind where today stands The Alamo II Bookstore. After a letter to the University student newspaper, The Vidette, was published in 1947 complained The Pilgrim Café did not serve blacks, picketing by both black and white students took place. Wyman said the owners of The Pilgrim Café responded saying they were just abiding by policies of restaurants in town at the time, and besides, the restaurant’s owners contended, ISNU operated a cafeteria open to all students,

Following WW II, many industries in the community hired both blacks and whites, Wyman said. It was an era that saw Jackie Robinson enter Major League Baseball and President Harry S. Truman end segregation in the military, after all, Wyman recounted. In 1950, the City of Bloomington formed a Human Relations Council, devoting much of its time to restaurant segregation, he added.

ISNU became Illinois State University formally in 1964 and “began to grow rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing in a sharp growth in the number of African American students and the hiring of black faculty,” Wyman said. It was change of a sort that caught Normal residents off-guard, Wyman said.

One of the few genuine failures for the community occurred during the era around World War I, Wyman said, when the notion of establishing an orphanage for black children who lost parents during battle failed to gain public support. Opposition to the idea including citizens presenting a petition opposing the idea to Normal Town Council members,

Barbershops in the community had been segregated before the Civil War, Wyman relayed. White barbers, he explained, did not accept black patrons for fear of losing their white clientele. In 1961, Charles Barton, then-vice president of the University NAACP chapter, decided to see what would happen if he walked in to get a cut. At one shop, Wyman said, Barton got a cut with no problem. But at a second shop, the proprietor told Barton he didn’t have the tools to do the job.

This news was relayed to then ISU President Robert Bone, Wyman said. According to Wyman, Burton reportedly explained, “President Bone and the Deans said if the merchants of the town didn’t cut all the students’ hair, then they weren’t going to get their hair cut either.” After that, Burton relayed Normal’s barber shops were no longer off limits to blacks.

By Steve Robinson | September 26, 2015 - 11:00 pm
Posted in Category: Bloomington HS, NCHS, The Normalite

Steve RobinsonAfter 34 seasons, Rigo Schmelzer is going to finish out his career as head football coach at Bloomington High School when this current season ends. The sad thing is, that ending will, due to BHS’ 0-5 record as of last Friday, isn’t indicative of all the good Schmelzer has done while at BHS.

Prior to the Raiders’ game at Normal Community High School on Sept. 25, Schmelzer was greeted at mid-field of Ironmen Field by NCHS head coach Wes Temples, NCHS Athletic Director Andy Turner, and NCHS Principal David Bollman. They each shook Schmelzer’s hand and then presented him with a gift certificate to a local steakhouse. The crowd of between 1,500-1,600 spectators applauded in appreciation, one can assume, for Schmelzer, to wish him a happy retirement.

Besides asking him the usual postgame questions, I checked with Schmelzer to see what he was thinking as he made his last trips around the Big 12 Conference. “Football’s a great game and it’s a way for communities to come together and to form good sportsmanship habits and rivalries while making good memories,” Schmelzer began. “In 34 years, there are some games and players that stand out in my mind.”

Addressing BHS’ gridiron situation this season, Schmelzer said, “I’m disappointed, obviously, for our current seniors and for how things have played out in the last couple years.” Schmelzer’s disappointment concerning those last couple years was not something he felt alone in, I’m sure, as every player, parent, and fan of the Raiders felt it, too. But those same folks should also feel a sense of pride in having had someone of Schmelzer’s caliber to lead the team.

On another subject, it didn’t rain last Friday when NCHS hosted BHS. While that’s not exactly bulletin material, it was a relief to members of NCHS’ Marching Band, who got to play at halftime of a game for the first time this season.

With just five home games on the Ironmen’s schedule, two of which were postponed by lightning and heavy rain, I’m sure the kids were happy to finally be able to strut their stuff in front of the home crowd this season.

The Ironmen’s next game is Oct. 9 against Peoria Richwoods, while no newcomer to the Big 12 in other sports, is getting acquainted with how the league’s teams play football. Peoria Richwoods, along with the River City’s schools, belonged to another smaller conference last season.

FootballNORMAL – Junior wide receiver Steven Towns scored two touchdowns for Normal Community High School en route to the Ironmen’s 49-14 romp over Bloomington High School in a Big 12 Conference showdown at Ironmen Field on Sept. 25.

Bloomington (0-5, 0-1 Big 12 Conference) punted the ball away turning it over on downs to NCHS who took advantage of the situation quickly, marching 70 yards on 11 plays, concluding with senior running back Alec Bozarth’s 2 yard run into the end zone, followed by the extra point by senior kicker Dalton Bruso, giving the Ironmen a quick 7-0 lead at 6:22 in the first quarter.

A crowd of about 1,000 fans were present for the contest which had NCHS getting the ball back after BHS’ ensuing drive ended in a punt, and increasing the Ironmen’s lead, 14-0 at 4:21 in the quarter, thanks to junior running back Dakota Cremeens dashing 60 yards for a touchdown, followed by Bruso’s extra point.

NCHS FootballAn interception of a BHS pass by NCHS senior defensive back Jared Pratt helped the Ironmen toward their next score – an 18 yard pass from junior quarterback Grant Price to junior wide receiver Steven Towns, putting NCHS up, 21-0, followed by Bruso’s extra point, to go into the second quarter.

NCHS, Ranked No. 5 in Illinois High School Association Class 7A (5-0, 3-0 Big 12) increased their lead, 28-0, to open the second quarter on a 7 yard rushing score by Towns which capped an 8 play 84 yard march, followed by Bruso’s next extra point. NCHS would get the ball back when BHS’ next series ended in a punt,, and Price would use the keeper play to score from 7 yards out to increase that lead to 35-0, after another Bruso extra point.

BHS would get on the scoreboard with 1:08 until halftime when Raiders senior quarterback Tyler Stewart would connect with junior running back Cary Stewart from 30 yards out to cut the Ironmen’s lead, 35-7 following senior kicker Drew Humprey’s extra point.

NCHS would get one more score as Price would connect with Rahuba from 25 yards out as time expired on the clock for the half to increase the Ironmen’s lead, 42-7 after Bruso’s extra point.

Sophomore running back Varshaun Dixon scored from 20 yards out at 7:32 in the third quarter, and Bruso’s extra point gave NCHS a 49-7 lead. As a result, game officials at that point, employed the use of the Illinois High School Association Mercy Rule, using a continuously running clock, stopping it only for team timeouts or injury timeouts.

BHS FootballThe final score was reached when BHS junior quarterback Ben Nibur dashed into the end zone for the Raiders’ last score of the night from five yards out, followed by Humprey’s extra point.

“Our kids played well,” NCHS head coach Wes Temples said after the contest. But he admitted errors on the field need to be cleaned up, such as late hits leading to penalties.

“We honestly felt we had an opportunity to find some schemes within their defense,”,Schmelzer said of his team’s offensive plan of attack. It was a strategy that failed to pay off. “I’m disappointed from the offensive side of the ball because that’s what I’m supposed to be responsible for.”

Beating BHS gave NCHS its 20th consecutive Big 12 victory win, NCHS visits second ranked Peoria on Oct. 2.

By Steve Robinson | September 24, 2015 - 10:28 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – As expected, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board unanimously approved a budget of over $95 million to work with for the 2015-16 school year at their Sept. 23 meeting held at district headquarters. The fiscal year expires for the district on June 30, 2016. Marty Hickman, Business Manager and Treasurer for the district, laid out the budget for the coming school year at the Board’s meeting at the end of August, and said, barring any changes, it would likely stay that way when Board members approved it at this meeting.

The budget had no changes by the time of this meeting, and, at a public hearing concerning the budget which took place as part of this meeting, no members of the public made any comments.

But there was still plenty to talk about among Board members considering a financial state of affairs that includes the State Legislature not passing a budget to keep the State running for the full fiscal year. Unit 5 anticipates taking in $96.3 million while spending $95.8 million in its education fund, the primary operating fund. That leaves the district with reserve cash totaling $513,000, according to Hickman. Hickman credited taxes from increased property values and general state aid payments for the increase

However, the district finds itself with a $2 million deficit in the transportation fund. The district has found itself with $9.9 million in costs against $7.9 million in revenue. Those numbers are despite any cuts made by the district. Hickman said. $1.2 million of that total is the fault of an accounting error, leaving an $800,000 “structural deficit.

“There’s not a lot of reserves if an emergency occurs,” Hickman reminded Board members again at this session. “We have a balanced budget but we haven’t heard how the State plans to make payments to us come spring.” The payments Hickman was referring to are reimbursements normally made to the district’s transportation and special education coffers. Springfield has made the payments but they have arrived, in recent years, at almost the last minute as the existing fiscal year was coming to an end.

The district anticipates a 2 percent increase in revenue as a result of property taxes collected, Hickman told Board members.

“The question is, ‘how many State payments will we get?,’” pondered Board Member John Puzauskas. He reminded Board members the State, for the last few years, has managed to provide three of the four payments they should be providing the district, and doing it within the present fiscal year.

“All we can do is create a budget with the best information we have,” Hickman responded. He said there is always the possibility Springfield could, in Unit 5’s checking to see when they might receive a payment, “Could come back and say, ‘sorry…?’ Yes.”

“We’re working very hard to control what we can control,” Hickman told Board members. Schuster, who, along with Puzauskas, sits on the district’s Finance Committee, told Board members that committee “will be focused on the budget throughout the year, so there’ll be no surprises.”

In order to make sure the district’s budget is prepared for the 2016-17 school year, Puzauskas said, “We need to have significant changes in the transportation arena.”

Unit 5 map“5 Essentials” Study Report Presented: Board members heard from Carmen Bergmann, director of elementary education for the district concerning the results from the 2015 “5 Essentials” Survey. For the third year in a row, district students and parents participated in the survey to get a glimpse of how those groups see the district in certain categories.

The survey is divided into five “Essentials”-Effective Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, Supportive Environment, Involved Families, and Ambitious Instruction. These five areas emerged as the essential components related to improvement in schools during a study completed by the University of Chicago Consortium.

In each of the five areas, a school or district can fall into one of five performance levels: Least Implementation, Less Implementation, Average Implementation, More Implementation, or Most Implementation. Also in her report to Board members, Bergmann relayed Unit 5 scored Average Implementation in Effective Leaders, Collaborative Leaders, Supportive Environment, and Involved Families; and scored More Implementation in Ambitious Instruction.

In a memo to Board members, Bergmann relayed finding Ambitious Instruction given a rating of “More Implementation” was a positive because the information came directly from data collected as a result of talking to students.

Also as part of the study, schools and districts receive an overall performance level, and depending on the category discussed can give an opinion ranging from one of 5 levels: Not yet; Partially; Moderately; Organized; or Well-Organized.

The results of the survey placed Unit 5 at the Organized performance level. Each Essential contains key indicators that contribute to the rating for that Essential. A common thread throughout Unit 5’s results was trust and collaboration. In Effective Leaders, the highest indicator mentioned was Teacher-Principal Trust. In Collaborative Teachers, the highest indicators included Collaborative Practices and Teacher-Teacher Trust. In Involved Families, the highest indicator was Teacher-Parent Trust. In Supportive Environment, the highest indicator was Student-Teacher Trust.

Normal 150 YearsNORMAL – These days, getting around from place to place in town is fairly simple: Normal is serviced by a public bus service; four Cab companies, two operating under one owner. Getting out of town for interstate travel if one doesn’t want to do the driving can be handled by two interstate bus lines, or Amtrak, both modes handled at Uptown Station, or by air through visiting Central Illinois Regional Airport.

But once the Town of Normal was formed, modern methods of transportation became available. “It said something about the community,” explained Mike Matejka, governmental affairs director for Great Plains Laborers’ District Council and vice president of Illinois Labor History Society.

Matejka and local historian and author Terri Ryburn chronicled Normal’s transportation history from being a small railway town to the present in a presentation, “Growing From The Junction: The Evolution Of Transportation In Normal” in Normal Town Council Chambers on Sunday, Sept. 20. Their talk was part of a series of lectures on the Town’s history commemorating its 150th anniversary.

“Transportation really changes who we are,” Matejka told the gathering of between 20-25 people present. “And, of course, Normal wouldn’t exist if it weren’t at a transportation crossroads. It brings new people in. It brings commercial opportunity. It kind of mixes things up and connects people to a faster, broader world and a broader way of life.”

When people first settled in this area, the section of the Town now known as Towanda Barnes was originally used as a stagecoach stop, Matejka said. He said the Town was built up around transportation infrastructure of other communities. If it weren’t for that, Matejka said, the Town likely wouldn’t exist. “That infrastructure is very critical to the development of this community.”

Two railways – Illinois Central Railroad and the Chicago & Mississippi, later known as the Chicago & Alton Railroad – “intersected in a very novel situation” at Normal, Matejka said. Illinois Central Railroad built lines from Galena south to downstate Cairo, with branches from Chicago to Centralia, he explained, taking 4,000 immigrant workers’ labor to construct all those miles of railroad. Workers building the rail line lived in shanties on land that was at the time open prairie.

During the first decade of railroad construction in the 1850s, the Town’s population nearly tripled, Matejka explained, going from 10,000 in 1850 to 28,772 in 1860. It was possible to go from Chicago to St. Louis, at that time, in 15 ¼ hours. But that’s because the trip involved using three separate railroad companies and a steamboat which ferried people into St. Louis from East St. Louis.

“With locating a junction where the two railroads cross each other, the Town of Normal becomes an attractive place for Town Founder Jesse Fell to convince the State Legislature to locate a school here because people coming to school here would all be within a day’s train journey from their home,” Matejka explained.

The railroads didn’t just build railways to use Normal and later Bloomington as a stop, as one railroad, the Chicago and Alton, build their 31-building primary repair facility here, giving another huge economic boon to the area,” Matejka said. The shop was placed here in 1854, and by the 1940s, roughly 1,800 people worked there. Their jobs included being machinists, boilermakers, and carpenters. Rail service was based in Bloomington for many years until 1990 when Normal opened its rail station at the south end of the tracks in then-Downtown, now Uptown Normal.

Currently, Matejka said, Uptown Station is the fourth-busiest Amtrak stop in the Midwest. Only three others – in Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee – are busier. “I’d like to see what will happen in the next 10 to 15 years if the proposed high speed rail train starts running from here to Chicago,” Matejka said.

Normal was first to have an airport, at the north end of town from 1924-32, serviced by Century Airlines, which later became American Airlines,” Matejka said. “Our airline service was spotty and didn’t last very long, but we have the claim to the first airport,” he said. The airport closed in 1934.

In terms of ground transportation, the Twin Cities “were linked together by what was known as ‘Bloomington-Normal Horse Railway Company’ starting in 1867,” Matejka said. It was a set of 15-20 seat carriages pulled by mules. An electric trolley system succeeded it in 1890, existing until December of 1937. From there, a company called National City Line purchased the trolleys as they had been doing nationwide. National City Line was owned by General Motors, Firestone Tire Co., Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum. By 1972, Bloomington-Normal Public Transportation Service (BNPTS), now known as Connect Transit, began providing bus service which is still operating today.

Matejka said the three major highway tentacles leading into and out of Normal – Route 51, Route 66, and Route 9 – were known at their early use as Route 2, Route 4, and Route 9 in the 1920s. At that time, a movement in Springfield took hold to see to it those roads became paved. Only Route 9 kept its original designated name, Matejka said.

Ryburn took guests on a journey between 1926-1940 along the part of the community known as Route 66 – the 2,448 mile road that stretches from Lake Michigan to California’s Santa Monica Pier. Along the way, the road weaves through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, and three time zones. Ryburn said laborers earned 40 cents an hour in 1922 to bring Route 66 through Normal.

What is now known as Veterans Parkway took two calendar years to construct in 1940 and 1941, winding on the east side of both Bloomington and Normal. In the 1990s, Route 66 saw a resurgence, Ryburn said. In the period between 1926 and 1940, in a six block area of Normal, businesses flourished. Drivers found within that area at that time many goods and services being offered including 6 gas stations; 3 Garages; 4 diners; 2 tourist camps; 2 markets; and a grocery.

“The road brought many people to Normal,” Ryburn said of the historic highway.

Among some of the more notable businesses along that famed route through town during that early era were:

• Anson’s Lunch Counter at the corner of Willow St. and Fell Ave. It was owned by a black entrepreneur and became the Town’s first lunch counter available to blacks during that era.

• The Shell Inn, located at 1219 S. Main Street. Owned by Gus Belt in 1933, it served a 25-cent fish fry along with, once Prohibition had been eliminated with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution that year, a glass of Meister Brau Beer. Even though Normal was a “dry” town at the time, Ryburn said, some business owners assumed they were covered by the then-newly passed amendment and began serving beer. Belt opened Steak-N-Shake at that same location in 1934. That building remained a Steak-N-Shake until 1990, when the company’s corporate owners at the time moved to a location on Raab Rd. on Normal’s north end.

• 208 Pine and 310 Pine were the locations, respectfully, of Alvin Notestine’s Garage; and Snedaker & Sons Gas Station. The station opened in 1926.

• Sprague’s Super Service Gas, located at 305 Pine St., which originally sold City Service brand Gasoline before becoming a Gulf gas station. The location also had a café inside.

• Pinky’s Lunch Counter, located at 312 W. Willow St., operated by husband & wife Warren and Margaret Kreitzer.