By Steve Robinson | November 30, 2018 - 2:29 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – If possible, a good office assistant tries to anticipate his or her supervisor’s needs on any project. Such an assistant learns to put personal needs on the back burner when changes occur, as well. Sandy Fedden was considering retirement in 2017 when her boss, City Manager Mark Peterson, announced in 2016 he was going to retire this past March. Not wanting to leave Peterson’s successor, Pam Reece, in a position to have to find a new assistant immediately, Fedden opted to stay, she said at that time, until December

But with her daughter expecting her third child, Fedden surprised everyone and asked to retire at the end of November. On Nov. 29, the Town of Normal held a farewell function for Fedden who had worked for the Town for 38 years. The function was held at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center of the Bloomington-Normal Marriott in Uptown. By proclamation as introduced at the gathering that day, the Town designated Nov. 30, her last day on the job, as Sandra A. Fedden Appreciation Day.

Fedden began her career with the Town in 1980 working for its Parks and Recreation Department working for its director at that time, the late Ron Blemler. After a few years, she moved on to the Town’s Public Works Department for a time before returning to Parks and Recreation. She moved from there to the Town’s Administration division in 1994, becoming an executive secretary moving up to the position of executive assistant of administration, the post she held as she left the Town on her last day of work.

While she was in the Town’s Administration division, Fedden, who started her career with the Town at age 21, has worked for all three city managers – David Anderson, Peterson, and Reece. Fedden said, “It’s been great” to have worked with the administrators the Town has had for as long as they have been here. “Every boss that I’ve worked for has been just fantastic,” Fedden said. “So have the people I’ve worked with. It’s just been phenomenal.”

Fedden said Peterson and Reece asked her if she would consider staying another year while the change of City Managers was in progress. Fedden agreed to give it one more year.

In addition to three city managers, Fedden has served for two mayors and 18 Town Council members. As part of her duties related to Town Council, she was responsible for planning thousands of meetings, coordinating hundreds of events and assembling over 600 Council packets.

The job has also afforded Fedden opportunities to meet some famous folks along the way, among them: Former President Barack Obama when he was a State Senator, Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and 1960s-era singer Gary Puckett.

“When I took the job in ’80, I had just turned 21, and I was going to take this job in Parks and Rec and get a little bit of clerical experience and move on,” Fedden recalled. “And once I got here, it was a good fit. The people I worked for and with were great and time just kept going on, and here I am 38 years later.”

As part of her job, Fedden served on the board of the Town’s credit union and in 2007, served as head of the Town’s United Way Pacesetter Committee. During that year, the charity saw an increase in giving by Town employees of 113 percent over the numbers from the previous year.

“You get to meet a lot of people in this position, and to me, that’s rewarding,” Fedden said. “I like trying to help people and find a solution to their problems. You try to help folks find solutions so they don’t have to make multiple phone calls. That’s part of our customer service philosophy here. And having them say ‘thank you’ for what you’ve done for them is rewarding.”

Fedden said she will miss the people she has worked with over the years, and plans to stay in touch.

Fedden and her retired husband, Alan, have one daughter, Katie. Katie and her husband, Ethan Glasford, just had the couple’s third child. First on Fedden’s list of retirement adventures is to go to South Dakota to visit the newest grandchild.

Receives Thanks At Reception: At the reception held on her next to last day working for the Town, Reece thanked Fedden for her efforts. Peterson came to congratulate her on her retirement, and although he was not able to attend, Anderson sent her a videotape message congratulating her for her time with the Town. Between 50-60 people attended that function.

“I’ve Enjoyed My Jobs With The Town”: After putting in 38 years, Fedden summarized her time with the Town by saying, “I’ve enjoyed my jobs with the Town. I don’t have any regrets or complaints about them. The Town of Normal is a great place to work, and I will always tell people that.”

By Steve Robinson | November 23, 2018 - 8:06 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

I realize the high school basketball season is just getting underway, but a local event where fans of round ball really get their fix, the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, known to locals by the nickname, “The Classic,” will be here before you know it. The annual Boys’ tournament will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

The Classic will run Wednesday, Dec. 26 through “Championship Day” on Saturday, December 29. fans can catch games at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus, Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, and at a venue making a return appearance after being absent for a while, Bloomington High School (more about BHS’ return to “The Classic” shortly).

Dave Oloffson, vice president of Classic Tournament, Inc., the non-profit group which has operated the tournament since 1995, said there will be nine new teams coming into the tournament this year, and that ticket sales began online earlier this month at the event’s website,

Oloffson said there are a couple of benefits to buying an all-tournament pass in advance of the event. First, he explained, “Doing ticket purchases in advance is cheaper than if you went to every session, obviously, and paid the per session price. Buying an all-tournament pass gets you into every game of the tournament – boys’ and girls’, all 128 games – you could see bits and pieces of each one.”

“Secondly, for each tournament pass you purchase online, we will donate $5 back to the participating team of your choice,” Oloffson said, encouraging fans to consider such purchases. “It’s a good fundraiser for those teams. If 20 people go online and each buy a pass, that starts to add up to help the school.”

Oloffson said the silent auction featuring items autographed by former “The Classic” players who have gone on to play in the pros will be back and available at NCHS and Shirk Center. Monies raised at the silent auction are used for the tournament’s scholarship fund, he reminded. The scholarship has been part of the tournament since 2006, Oloffson reminded, adding the Tournament’s organizing committee will award four $1,500 scholarships this year. High school seniors playing the tournament this year will be eligible for and have the chance to apply for those scholarships.

Players wishing to apply for the scholarships, in addition to being on a team’s active roster, must write an essay, list their extracurricular activities in school, and meet a specific grade point average requirement, Oloffson said.

“We’re always thankful to our venues who host our tournament,” Oloffson said. “I don’t think they get enough credit. It takes a lot because we have to have six courts at four different venues. The logistics and scheduling didn’t work at Bloomington Central Catholic this year so Bloomington High School will host girls’ tournament games.” BHS has been a tournament venue for “The Classic” before, the last time being in 2002. Before that, BHS was a host venue twice previously, in 1999 and 2001.

“BHS is a great place to watch basketball,” Oloffson said. “It gives you a chance to experience watching a game in an old-time, old school fieldhouse atmosphere. You don’t get that with newer schools nowadays. We’re excited about that.”

Tournament Hasn’t Run In Consecutive Years: If folks reading this were around in this area in the mid-to-late 1980s and can’t recall this tournament being active at that time, you’ve got good memories for events. Oloffson said there were no “Classic” tournaments from 1986-1989, but said he isn’t aware of the reason for that.

This will not just be the 40th year for the boys’ part of the tournament, but also the 23rd year for the girls’ tournament, as well as the 20th year State Farm Insurance has been involved. This will also be the 17th straight year The Classic will also have “The Ron Knisley Memorial Shootout,” featuring local and area Special Olympics basketball teams, each getting in some games to get their seasons started in preparation toward a State Tournament held on Illinois State University’s campus in March.

Next week, I will have some more information on the tournament which ought to get fans a little more ready for the event as the dates get nearer.

By Steve Robinson | November 19, 2018 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Beginning in mid-December, those persons who choose to stay in lodging known as AirBnBs – private residences which offer a room with a bed and breakfast to total strangers for a charge – will, just like hotels and motels do currently, be required to pay taxes to the Town of Normal . That’s the result of a unanimous vote by Normal Town Council members at the governing body’s regular meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station Monday night.

The ordinance take effect April 1, as a result of the Council vote, and would impose a 6 percent rental charge for customers’ lodging bill, explained City Manager Pam Reece. Six percent is the current amount charged as a result of the Town’s hotel/motel tax.

In a report to Council members, Reece less than 25 properties are listed on short-term rental websites with that amount slated to increase. Airbnb states a total of 16 properties are listed for this type of lodging in the past three years – 6 entire homes that could be rented; 9 with private rooms, and one that provides a shared room.

Houses could be rented at $100 per night with individual rooms going for $60 per night, according to Reece’s report. The tax is paid by guests at AirBnBs and collected by that company’s corporate entity. Websites which help promote short term rental companies will be notified by the Town to make AirBnB operators of their responsibility to collect the tax and pay the Town.

In a public comment to Council members, Ray Ceresa, president of Bloomington-Normal Hotel and Lodging Association told Council members hotels associated with the group “are not afraid to compete with AirBnBs.”

AirBnBs “are not what I bought into when I bought in my neighborhood,” stated Council Member Jeff Fritzen. “These are businesses and they should contribute taxes as businesses do.” Council Member Chemberly Cummings said she sees AirBnB operators paying the tax as a means “of paying a fair share.”

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz asked Reece how payment of the tax would be enforced. Reece replied the Town will do “spot checks and respond to complaints from neighbors.”

Ordinance Prohibiting Minors Using E-Cigs, Vaping, Unanimously Passes: Council members unanimously passed an ordinance amending Town Code to prohibit the sale of tobacco, nicotine, and smoking devices including vapor, cigars, cigarettes and pipes to minors. The ordinance will be put into effect December 1, Reece stated in a written report to Council members.

Vendors caught selling tobacco or related products to minors will be subject to a $50 fine for a first offense. Normal Police conducts audits of businesses selling tobacco in Town.

Members of an Illinois State University advocacy group called Tobacco 21 Coalition brought the idea for this action to Council members during the annual Town-ISU Meet And Greet event held Oct. 1 at Medici Restaurant in Uptown.

At least 20 states have adopted legislation at State level and 26 communities in Illinois , including Peoria and Washington, have adopted similar ordinances.

Boy Scout’s Project Leads To Lights At Grandview & Vernon: Council members also unanimously passed a motion approving criteria and analysis for installation of flashing LED stop signs and authorizing installation of the signs at the intersection of Vernon Ave. and Grandview Dr., and approving an associated budget adjustment of $3,500.

But this was one time such action was taken because the Town found it necessary and took action, but rather they were made aware of the situation by a resident – one who approached the Town to aid in a project in order to work toward earning a Boy Scout merit badge in Citizenship.

Jack DeKeersgieter, an eighth grade student at Chiddix Junior High School approached the Town about putting in an embedded LED stop sign or flashing LED stop sign at the intersection in question for among other reasons that the intersection had sight restrictions and cars going through it at fairly high speeds. One pedestrian, Lanny Lobdell, was killed two years ago at the intersection DeKeersgieter was lobbying for installing such a sign.

In his quest to see the signs getting placed, DeKeersgieter involved administrators at Colene Hoose Elementary School and contacting Town Council members Kevin McCarthy and Lorenz. He said he also met with Lobdell’s widow, as well as with Hoose Principal Adam Zbrozek.

DeKeersgieter was invited by Mayor Chris Koos to sit at the speaker’s table and explain to Council members why he felt the need to take on this project. As he explained his need to become involved in getting the project started, he was flanked by Town Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich and Town Engineer Ryan Otto.

“My mom and I brainstormed ideas and she talked about the intersection, where a car ran a stop sign and accidentally caused the death of Mr. Lanny Lobdell in August 2016,” DeKeersgieter told Council members. “I chose this issue right away because it made me feel sad Mr. Lobdell lost his life there and couldn’t spend more time with his family. I didn’t want any other person or kid from my old school, Colene Hoose, to die, too, when it could be safer for the school and Constitution Trail with a blinking LED stop sign.”

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 5, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 14, 2018.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract with Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. to perform emergency creek bank erosion repairs and stabilization in Sugar Creek for an amount not to exceed $319,000 and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a contract with Electronics Recycling Services for calendar year 2019.

• A resolution authorizing a three-year contract with Monee , Ill.-based Cardno, Inc. fro Riparian area maintenance in an amount not to exceed $80,000 per year.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an intergovernmental agreement with storm water education services provided by the Ecology Action Center for a period not to exceed three years.

By Steve Robinson | November 16, 2018 - 8:05 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

You might think high school students wouldn’t immerse themselves in learning about Veterans Day unless either: A) They had an assignment due on some aspect of the subject; or B) Had a relative who was a veteran and been told stories of that person’s experiences.

The notion of helping extend some form of thanks to Veterans, you could suspect, might not occur to today’s young people.

But if you visited Normal Community West High School Nov. 13, you would have discovered how wrong those notions were and how involved the students were toward making such an event honoring veterans a success.

This year’s Veterans Day dinner at Normal West was the 5th annual event, held first in the corridor between the school library and cafeteria. An honor guard representing U. S. Army, U. S. Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard led off the ceremony with a presentation of colors. A trumpeter played the notes of songs associated with each branch – “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder,” “The Halls Of Montezuma,” and “Semper Paratus” – as another member of the color guard marched swiftly to each of the branch’s flags and saluted.

Once inside the cafeteria, guests would notice a table with a lit candle sitting on it with a single empty chair. That was to symbolize a loved one not present at family gatherings, whether that service member was currently on duty or had given their life in service of this country.

Approximately 240 people – mostly former service members, men and women – then enjoyed the meal of pasta, salad, and bread and a beverage, and listened to songs from different war eras. The songs were performed by three singing groups at the school – Jazz Voices, Colla Voce (translated means “A Voice Of Singing,” I was informed by Normal West vocal teacher Sara Williams), and Fully Diminished.

“We have a really robust offering in Unit 5 of Social Studies classes,” explained John Bierbaum, a Social Studies teacher at Normal West, who developed the idea for this event. “Last year, the State of Illinois mandated that Civics is now a required class in all high schools,” he explained.

In such a class, Bierbaum said, “Students start to ask themselves, ‘How do things work?’ and ‘How can I get involved?’ I think there’s a greater awareness of getting involved in our community in that class.”

Bierbaum said students from Normal West’s Social Studies Club, Art Club, and the school’s Family and Consumer Sciences Department, and the school’s administration headed by Principal David Johnson, all played roles in making this event successful. He said he wished to thank the members of those departments and the administration for assisting with this effort. With how this event has grown in the short time it has existed, Bierbaum said he sees the event “as a mainstay for our school.”

In talking to students, the lesson this event is trying to teach while honoring vets appears to be taking hold. “My grandfather, Jerry Plowman, was a veteran in the Air Force, so I liked to acknowledge him and all the other veterans,” said Normal West senior Maddie Ewing, who was participating in this event for the second time.

Normal West junior Gavin Cunningham said he thinks the school does a good job in involving a number of different departments in this event, bringing together different groups to be associated with it. His father and grandfather, Jeremy Cunningham and James Cunningham, both served in the military, he explained.

For the veterans who came to this event, they say they found it encouraging and surprising these young people were taking such an interest and invested the time it took to honor those who served. “I think it’s pretty mind blowing and it’s a good thing,” was the reaction from William McClain, who served in the Army infantry in Afghanistan for two tours in the late 2000s.

“It’s pretty impressive how much they care about the veteran community and the active duty community,” McCain added. He pointed out the school has a wall of photos of former students who enlisted and are serving or have served in the military. It’s located in the main hall once you get past the main doors to the school.

Rosann Emerson-Fox has been Normal West’s Social Worker for 17 years and was in the National Guard. While she didn’t see combat during her time in the Guard from 1989-1995, she said she “was touched by how the students’ patriotism was instilled. It’s just very touching. With everything that goes on in this world, it’s very refreshing and humbling that our students take time to honor veterans.”

As I said, this event is in its fifth year, and Bierbaum told me, “I will do any due diligence to make sure that I honor history and provide opportunities for my students to reflect and be engaged in it. That includes providing tangible opportunities to get involved.”

As these kids get older, and the years slip away from the events being remembered during which veterans served, this type of event becomes more important. The fact this event will likely continue for years to come is also important – not just for current veterans to be thanked, but also for those veterans who will serve this country in the future.

By Steve Robinson | November 15, 2018 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board received previews of two items which will show up for votes at the Board’s December meeting: A new Student Information System and the upcoming annual tax levy.

Information On New Student Information System Given: Board members received an update concerning a new Student Information System the district is being asked to consider purchasing which would replace the current system known as Skyward, which the district has had in use since 2006, explained Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education for the district. The new system, known as Infinite Campus, was sought out because “Skyward takes a lot of training and is not very user friendly.”

“As what we’ve tried to do for teaching and learning, the system we have now has not adapted,” Lamboley said during a break in what was a three-hour meeting. “We feel from what we have already seen at other districts, this will be better.”

Initially, with set-up, implementation, and training sessions, the district would be spending $410,095 for the new system known as Infinite Campus. District Business Manager Marty Hickman told Board members that amount would be paid over the course of two fiscal years. After that, Unit 5 would be paying an estimated future annual payment of $266,155. The funds used to pay for the new system would come from money earmarked for technology within the district’s Education Fund, Hickman added.

Hickman said Infinite Campus has video tutorials, each lasting roughly five minutes, to help users learn how to operate it. He informed Board members the district would be signing a base contract which would last one year. There is an option for opting out of the contract provided the district gives 30 days notice, he added. The Board will vote on whether to make the purchase at its next meeting on Dec. 12.

Board members were informed by Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district, that promotional material will be going out on the district’s website, and will be bilingual, to help get parents up to speed on the change.

Vote On 2018 Tax Levy To Be Taken Next Month: Also at that December session, Board members will vote on approving the 2018 tax levy in time to meet the Christmas day deadline for submitting it to the McLean County Clerk’s Office for filing. Hickman informed Board members. The levy would result in residents’ tax rates going up 36 cents.

For the owner of a $175,000 home, that increase would tack on an additional $210 to their tax bill. Collection of tax levy monies would take place next May and June, Hickman reminded. He added that since the district currently has a deficit in its education fund, and a report from the McLean County Assessor’s Office indicates slight gains in existing property values, the county’s assessor is reporting modest gains in existing property values (EAV), thus making the levy particularly important for residents.

Resource Guide On Dyslexia Coming: Unit 5 will be coming out in the near future with a resource guide for parents and teachers concerning Dyslexia. Jessica Alt, Special Education Administrator for the district, informed Board members. She explained guidelines from the Federal government led to a proposal to hire specialists who know how to help students with the condition which can affect reading comprehension.

State Representative Keith Sommer (R-106th Dist.) was present for the session and has given his backing to help make State funding available to help educators who deal with students who cope with Dyslexia. He told Board members he attended a public session on Dyslexia where parents and teachers would be addressing it and admitted he wondered “if just six people would show up.” He said over 100 came to that public session.

New Courses Coming For Dual Credit: Lamboley and Lindsey Dickenson, a teacher at George L. Evans Junior High School, made a presentation to Board members announcing some new courses which high school students could receive dual credit for. Unit 5 will add four new dual credit courses to the 12 currently offered. Dual credit courses are college courses taught by qualified high school instructors. Students who successfully complete dual credit courses receive both high school and college credit for completing the courses.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, students looking for dual credit will be able to take Introduction to Statistics, Introduction to Education, Principles of Engineering, and Civil Engineering & Architecture. The new offerings will join classes currently offered including Introduction to Welding Processes, Introduction to Oral Communication, Chemistry, and Finite Mathematics.

Cedar Ridge Elementary Doubles Up On “Good News”: With a population which includes a large number of Spanish speaking students, educators at Cedar Ridge Elementary School dedicated themselves to create something which would not only be inclusive for those students but also educational for the entire student body. A program called Cedar Ridge Se Habla Espanol, which in English means “we speak Spanish,” was created and Patsy Weber and Nela Diaz. The Se Habla Espanol program was begun by a grandparent and the district’s bilingual family coordinator, in efforts to share a love of our school diversity and promote a positive school culture. Se Habla Espanol is a program designed to bridge the language barrier between students at Cedar Ridge in both the school’s English and Spanish speaking classes. During school hours students in our monolingual classes participate in a 30 minute Spanish lesson designed by Weber. Students learn basic Spanish words, culture and songs with their peers.

That wasn’t the only item Cedar Ridge Principal Karrah Jensen had for Board members. In addition, she acknowledged the donation and dedication of a former Cedar Ridge Elementary student, Amber Hitchins. Now a student at Evans Junior High, Hitchins recently completed her Girl Scout Silver Award. Part of working toward this award required Hitchins to complete a project to benefit the community. For that project, Hitchins partnered with Cedar Ridge Elementary to enhance that school’s outdoor learning space with student seating. Cedar Ridge currently has an outdoor dry erase board that was donated in a previous year by the school’s Student Council. The addition of seating would complete this project for the school, designing a full outdoor classroom.

Hitchins presented the school with bench options to meet the needs of the students to make sure they were fitting for our learners. The benches were constructed, delivered and added to the outdoor learning space. In addition to the seating, Hitchins created a Kindness Garden outside near the learning classroom. In the Kindness Garden are large river stones. When Cedar Ridge’s 5th graders graduate and advance to junior high school, they will each receive an opportunity to paint a stone with an inspirational message. The stones will then be left in the Kindness Garden for all of the students to see. Amber Hitchins is the daughter of Unit 5 School Board President Barry Hitchins.

Parkside Junior High’s “Good News”: Darrin Cooper, Principal at Parkside Junior High School, introduced Board members to that school’s Girls’ Cross Country Team. The team had the distinction of placing in every invitational they ran in this year, he explained. In addition, the team can lay claim to being champions at four of those meets, including Intercity, Big 12, one held at Kingsley Junior High School, and their own Parkside Invitational. At their own invitational, PJHS was among 49 teams from across the state competing.

PJHS’ team went on from there to win the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 3A Sectional Championship with their scoring runners all placing in the top 16 out of the field of 94 runners. This qualified PJHS’ Girls Cross Country Team for the IESA State Meet which was hosted by PJHS hosted at Maxwell Park. Members of the 4th place Parkside Junior High School State Cross Country Team are: Reinhart, Kylie Childers, Payton Gaddis, Ashleigh Horton, Erin Jenkins, Lucy Koranek, Madison Schweizer, Madi Smith, Ava Starkey and Eve Whitlow. The Pythons are coached by head coaches Brandon Weber and Paul Bliss, volunteer coaches Brad Horton and Jessica Eberley.

Individual efforts singled out for recognition by the coaches were: Erin Jenkins finishing 21st out of over 300 runners in the Class 3A Girls Race with a time of 11:54.0 earning an individual medal as well as her team medal. Alex Reinhart starred in her 8th grade cross country season this year by winning every meet and invitational she participated in. She demonstrated her skill during the Sectional Meet where she was the Sectional Champion as well as the State Meet where she finished 13 seconds faster than the 2nd place runner. That earned her a 1st place medal and title of IESA Class 3A State Champion. Reinhart set a record in the 2 Mile Run with a time of 11 minutes, 18.1 seconds. That time not only earned Reinhart the State championship, but also broke her own school record. At State, the girls claimed a 4th place trophy.

District’s “Good News” Thanks Board Members: In a final “good news” item, district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel informed those in attendance that Nov. 15 would be Illinois School Board Members Day, and thanked Board members for their service.