By Steve Robinson | January 25, 2019 - 10:45 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

A member of Boy Scout Troop 12 in the Twin Cities, when Jack DeKeersgieter sought to go after his Citizenship In The Community merit badge, this young man did a little research, but didn’t have to go far to find a cause worth fighting for.

Jack, now an eighth grader at Chiddix Junior High School, lives near Colene Hoose Elementary School in Normal. After a traffic fatality at one of the intersections near the school a few years ago, people wondered why there wasn’t some sort of traffic sign installed there. Knowing of the tragedy and living in the area gave Jack an idea with some encouragement from mom Kristine and dad Paul DeKeersgieter.

The fatality in question happened in September 2016 when Normal resident Lanny Lobdell was killed as he jogged across the crosswalk at the four-way intersection of Grandview Drive and Vernon Avenue. He was struck by a car driven by an Illinois State University student from Belvidere. Normal Police issued a citation to the driver of the car that struck Lobdell for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

“We live near that intersection, so we had seen people run cars through it regularly,” Jack explained. Part of the requirement for the badge, he added, was those seeking the badge needed to come up with an issue which would necessitate talking directly with a Town official.

Kristine DeKeersgieter said Jack might not have remembered the accident, but once she brought it back into focus for him, Jack said doing something to prevent another such tragedy from being repeated was what he wanted to take on to earn his badge.

Jack said the requirement for earning the badge is to address a public official on a topic. From there, the process for Jack, or any other Scout for that matter in the circumstance, was to pick the subject and approach a public official to discuss it.

“The merit badge wants boys to be familiar with Town government,” his mother added. “They want you to go interview a government official and then after the interview is completed, the requirement for the badge is done.”

“The kids are supposed to learn how to navigate through the Town, so that if you have an issue, you find out who you would talk to in the city government,” added Paul DeKeersgieter.

Jack approached Wayne Aldrich, Normal’s Public Works Director, to discuss what could be done to put flashing LED lights at that intersection to help make drivers more cautious about going through it. Aldrich added if Jack could get more than one citizen to agree the sign was needed, and speak with some Normal Town Council members, the Town would be able to justify putting the LED lights at that corner.

Jack’s next step to get the Town to consider putting the new lights in place was to go door-to-door to get residents in the area to sign a petition to the Town asking for the change at that intersection. But before he even began his trek to get signatures, Jack and his mother contacted Annette Lobdell, Lanny Lobdell’s widow, to make her aware of what he was about to undertake. Lobdell and her son, Chad, gave their blessings to Jack’s mission, Kristine DeKeersgieter said.

Jack even devised a plan for tackling the task of getting the signatures, his father said, explaining his son created a color-coded map of the neighborhoods where they would seek those signatures. Jack, his folks, and two siblings canvassed the area. As he was gathering signatures, Jack found it didn’t take long to find a connection to a Town Council member. That’s because one person who answered one of Jack’s ringing doorbells was Missy McCarthy, wife of Normal Town Council Member Kevin McCarthy, who let her husband know about this young constituent’s determination to see that intersection to be made safer.

Probably without knowing what the term means, Jack “is very civic minded,” Kevin McCarthy said. “He found something that was near and dear and important to his community, and he dug and dug, and kept following the lead.”

“His perseverance struck me,” added another Normal Town Council member Jack made contact with to seek help for the change he sought, Kathleen Lorenz. “He accomplished what he needed to simply by talking to Wayne Aldrich, the Town’s public works director. And he could have stopped there after talking to Wayne and been done with it, gotten his badge and been on his way. But he saw the bigger need and showed a pretty mature attitude and perspective for a young person.”

That perspective shined as he was asked by Mayor Chris Koos to sit at the speaker’s table to present and explain his request during a Council meeting in November. He did it with notes and a poise which left the room of roughly 40 folks attending impressed, and his family proud.

“I think he had a good case and a good idea when we originally met,” Aldrich added. “We had used these signs in a couple different areas, as has Bloomington, but I didn’t know if they would be applied at that intersection but I was aware of some safety issue at that intersection.”

At their second meeting in November, Normal Town Council members 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.

“Jack’s proposed solution will result in a safer intersection,” stated Town Engineer Ryan Otto. Prior to the flashing sign recently installed, he added, there had just been stop signs at the four corners of that intersection. “He’s an intelligent young man and an advocate for something he believed in. That’s very commendable.”

“We thought the reason he chose this was because he went to Hoose, he goes to Chiddix, he’s lived in that area his whole life, within blocks of this intersection and he didn’t want to see anybody else pass away there,” his mother theorized.

He may be 14 now, but when he gets older and ready to go into the working world, Jack said he would really like to do something that involves how transportation systems are developed. He even uses a computer game that helps kids construct buildings. It’s been something he has had interest in since he was younger, his folks said. His mother said when he gets to college, her son might want to look into classes which teach about urban planning.

This experience, it appears, didn’t just get Jack a merit badge. It appears to have also given him an inkling of what such a career would be like.

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