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Looking ahead: Healthcare

By Lee Provost | lprovost@daily-journal.com

In the midst of a global pandemic, no other group is more scrutinized than those who lead healthcare.

And more than any other person in Kankakee County, John Bevis was in the eye of the healthcare storm in 2020.

The Kankakee County Health Department administrator believes 2021 can only be better than 2020 and if that happens — as most everyone believes — people will see much less of him. And that’s a good thing.

On the frontline of Kankakee County’s fight to protect the residents, Bevis is now heading the campaign to get as many of the 100,000-plus county residents vaccinated as possible to quell any more potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

“The more people we can get vaccinated, the quicker we can get back the normalcy which everyone is clamoring for,” Bevis said. “We can knock COVID down — probably not out — but certainly down.”

With his fingers crossed, Bevis said hopefully within the coming weeks and months as vaccinations become more available, “we can begin to peel back the mitigation and get our economy, our businesses, opening again and move forward.”

He credited the public for taking the needed strides to quell the viruses spread.

“We can’t take the foot off the gas just yet because the vaccine is getting here,” Bevis cautioned. “But I can absolutely say I’m not sorry to see 2020 go. It’s been a very challenging year. But it was also exciting to see how we all can work together.

“I’ll be glad to see 2020 in the rear-view mirror; 2021 can’t be any worse, so it’s got to be better.”

Chris Shride, president of AMITA St. Mary’s Hospital, said his hope — beyond the public getting passed this healthcare crisis — is what the pandemic should have taught us as a community.

“I’m hoping for a reawakening of neighbors authentically caring for neighbors,” he said. “I know so many people have gone through so much, but in some way if we have gone through this struggle as a community and if we can shoulder each other’s load, then maybe we have learned so much more.”

The virus, of course, did not discriminate. It affected every age group, economic level and region, he noted.

“The important thing now is what do we do with this sense of community? If this drives us to do something better as a result then maybe we will come out of this better,” he said. “... I look forward to a sharing of a renewed and empowered commitment to caring for community. I’m looking forward to [AMITA] demonstrating our commitment to show this.”

Phil Kambic, president and CEO of Riverside Healthcare, said 2020 showed how focused and committed the community is to healthcare. It also showed how quickly things can be accomplished when organizations act as one.

“Of course the goal right now is to stop this crazy pandemic, but this year was good from the fact it showed what we can do,” he said. “When I look back on 2020, I think many good things will have been learned. We learned how to better use technology, we saw the great value of working together.”

Kambic said the first step will be getting the community back to normal. Getting people back to work, getting children back to school, getting back to normal lives.

“But I believe we have also learned to be more patient and kind to one another,” he said. “We all struggled at some point in 2020.”

Looking ahead: Education

The pandemic spared no institution in 2020, schools included.

K-12 schools were forced to close their doors in mid-March and offer remote learning — a foreign concept for many — and colleges and universities soon followed suit and moved online for the rest of the semester.

As 2020 ends, hybrid learning has become part of the “new normal,” and many in the education field are feeling hopeful looking toward the future in 2021.

Kankakee Community College President Michael Boyd said the community will need to do a lot of healing in 2021, and KCC has a critical role in this process.

He recalled coming out of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010 when KCC saw its highest number of students enrolled.

“We know that during a challenging time in a local economy, it’s the community college where people will go to get their training, get their workforce education they need to re-enter the job market,” Boyd said. “We need to be at our strongest when our community needs us the most.”

Boyd said the prospect of providing COVID-19 vaccinations for college employees in the near future brings optimism for the new year.

“I think as more and more people receive a vaccination, there’s going to be more and more willingness to do it, and our hope is that people will choose that,” he said.

Kankakee Superintendent Genevra Walters said the vaccine is giving people hope they are nearing the end of the pandemic, rather than stuck somewhere in the middle.

“There will be a little bit more time, but at the end of 2021, I think we will be more comfortable in terms of the ‘new norm’ than we are now,” she said.

Despite moving back in the direction of normalcy, Walters believes education will never be the same. The pandemic has made inequities transparent, such as the lack of resources and technology in some districts.

“I see the pandemic as teaching us a lot about our families, about education, about our students, about the need to be more flexible,” Walters said. “I think it’s taught us a lot; the question is: Are we going to learn from it?”

Walters said going forward schools should provide flexible learning opportunities based on students’ needs, whether that is a remote, hybrid or in-person environment.

“In the traditional system, everyone got the same thing. I think what we’ve learned from this pandemic is everybody is going to react differently to different situations.”

Bourbonnais Superintendent Adam Ehrman also has a positive outlook for education in the new year. Looking ahead, educators must be willing to adapt and turn challenges into opportunities, he said.

“I thought I had seen almost anything that could be thrown at a superintendent,” he said. “I’ve been a superintendent for over a decade, and then March hit in 2020, and I realized I hadn’t seen everything. That was a pretty good lesson to learn.”

Ehrman recalled that around this time last year, he was thinking about snow days. Now, with remote learning options, it’s not nearly as big a consideration.

“My outlook for 2021 is hope. I think that it’s probably going to ring a bell in everybody’s mindset that they are excited to see 2020 go away to look towards 2021.”

Hamim Lillard, community outreach specialist with the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office who specializes in working with at-risk youth in local schools, said he is looking forward to the new year as well.

Lillard started in the newly created position in late summer. His objectives include working to intervene with youth before they enter the criminal justice system.

“The only thing we can do is pray that COVID goes away and that we can get even more active,” he said.

Lillard said he has already received a few applications for one of the office’s newer initiatives, I Can Go to College, which aims to help kids realize their potential and attain financial help for college.

“I’m excited about that,” he said. “I’ll be really excited when we can get like 20 [applicants] and take it from there.”

Lillard said he is planning to expand in 2021. Some new events might focus on teen dating violence and bullying, for example.

“We already have a game plan that comes the first week of January,” Lillard said. “We’re not going to let COVID stop us.”

Looking ahead: Business

Tim Nugent

By Chris Breach | cbreach@daily-journal.com

The coronavirus impacted area business like never before in terms of how they had to adapt and adjust their business models or plans. Below are the outlooks, hopes and dreams from area business leaders.

Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee Count, said the organization is eyeing a prosperous 2021. Although the county hasn’t been unscathed by the pandemic, it is in good shape.

“We’ve made a pretty good recovery,” Nugent said. “I think Kankakee County is fortunate to have so many essential businesses and manufacturing businesses that didn’t feel the brunt as much as some of the other areas in the state. We’re fortunate there.

“Unfortunately, the restaurants and bars, the entertainment industries took a big hit, and it’s going to take some time for them to recover. We’re certainly hoping the vaccine makes the difference, and we can get back to normal. In a normal world the economic outlook is bright.”

Nugent said the county has had a pretty good economic run the past few years.

“We’ve had some big companies that had left, but we’ve had bigger companies that have come back in and taken their place,” he said. “We’re still getting some calls and still see that happening. There’s a good economic future once we get past the virus.”

Nugent said the county is in a good position for the new year.

“We’re still in the middle of the country,” he said. “We’re still 40-some miles south of one of the largest cities in the country. We have economical land for development, and some of the moods are changing. ... We’re very well positioned for a post-COVID world.”

Christy Smith, owner of Kankakee’s DressWell Boutique, 150 N. Schuyler Ave., is hoping to turn the corner in 2021.

“You know 2020 was a struggle for small businesses,” Smith said. “We are just praying that we’ve learned a lot of different ways to engage with our customers whether it’s shopping in store or by Facetime or processing orders over the phone, offering curbside pickup and local deliveries.

“We are just ready to do whatever we have to do to continue to keep our doors open. With the vaccine just being released, we’re just hopeful that that’s going to help us return to normal. If that can’t happen, we feel we’re positioned to be able to still serve our customers and still offer a fun shopping experience.”

Smith said they’ve learned to adapt.

“We had to basically change our entire business model because we were set up for 100 percent in-store customer service,” she said. “We didn’t have a website, so what we were doing was relying on social media to still keep that interaction with our customers. The other thing that we did in trying to really be prepared for 2021 is we moved locations. My Bourbonnais store [DressWell] is now sitting next to Evolve Clothing in Kankakee, and then we’ve opened a third store — the Clothing Bar in the old DressWell Boutique in Bourbonnais.”

Smith said they’re hopeful for some normalcy by the spring.

“That’s what we’re really, really hoping,” she said. “… We’re ready for people to actually walk in and shop.”

Jeff Hammes, president of Peoples Bank of Kankakee County, is looking forward to getting back to normal.

“Life without COVID and being able to greet our customers and our coworkers with a smile and a handshake,” he said. “And I’ve got to tell you we’re probably not going to be shaking hands. I think we just miss being around people.”

Hammes said Peoples Bank has weathered the storm.

“Community banks have played an important role in refinancing a lot of homes and saving customers interest and being able to lower the interest rate on the mortgages for their customers,” he said. “And we’ve been a safe place for their deposits.

“We’ve also helped a lot of businesses with the PPV program. We’ve weathered the storm, but we’re looking forward to more normal days ahead.”

Peoples Bank has also played a role in the uptick in real estate. Hammes is hopeful that continues.

Tom Spellman, owner of the Hoppy Pig restaurant and bar in Bradley, is looking forward to a brighter 2021. The Hoppy Pig is expanding with a carryout catering and bottle shop businesses next door to its location to the north.

“It’s going to be called ‘Little Pig’ for the carryout-catering, and then the Barrel Room at the bottle shop, which will have a menu with small bites in there, self-serve wine and beer,” Spellman said. “You can taste everything before you purchase it.”

Spellman said it’s going to take a while for customers to get used to going out again.

“There’s a lot of people who have stayed home this whole time,” he said. “It’s not like there’s going to be a switch and they’re going to turn off [the COVID], and all of a sudden, it’s business as usual no matter how much my hopes and dreams would be that.”

He said there’s still uncertainty, and the Hoppy Pig has been able to survive during the pandemic.

“It’s hard to know what is going to happen,” Spellman said. “We’re hoping by the second quarter we’re more back to normal.”

Becky Broderick, newly-appointed executive director of the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce, is poised for the Chamber to hosts its 2021 programs.

“With the vaccine distribution we are looking forward to events in the second half of the year,” she said.

One of those events is the Taste of Kankakee County, which could likely be held in the summer.

“We are looking into it, and we’re hoping to possibly do it outdoors,” Broderick said.

Membership has remained strong for the Chamber, but at the outset of the new year not much will change.

“We’re going to start off with more virtual events for the beginning of 2021,” Broderick said.

Looking ahead: Government

With a wary eye on the COVID pandemic, five local elected government officials see 2021 as a year to build on current projects and add new ones.

Getting past the pandemic is key to things taking off.

Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore is ready to continue the progress the village made in 2020.

“We’re going to get over this COVID,” he said. “We’re going to get going.”

Riverside Healthcare’s new facility at its Bourbonnais campus is going strong. OAK Orthopedics’ new surgical center broke ground in the fall.

“Those are signs of the growth we see in the village,” Schore said. “There are other projects we want to keep working on. That makes for a bright 2021.”

That includes the village’s Community Campus Plan.

It is a plan of how the village can improve the area around the village municipal center. Making it a year-round attraction.

There have been some businesses that have weathered the pandemic, but others haven’t been as fortunate.

“Hopefully we don’t lose small business. Some stores, such as hardware, have done well,” Schore said. “But there are other services that are hanging on. I’m hopeful they will make it.”

Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson has a list of items that make 2021 look to be bright for the village.

Watson will be seeking to become the mayor full-time in the April 6 municipal election. Watson became mayor pro tem following the resignation of then-Mayor Bruce Adams in April 2019.

He will be challenged by former village trustee Lori Gadbois, who is also the current Kankakee County Recorder of Deeds, and Gene Jordan, owner of Glassworks.

“I expect 2021 to be optimistic. We are upbeat,” Watson said.

Grant programs will aid Bradley in rehabbing houses, extend help to local small businesses hurt by the COVID pandemic, expand its recent FeedingMission outreach for families in need and work on existing infrastructure and projects like expanding the sidewalk on the northside of North Street east from Juniper Drive.

In regards to the village’s business districts, Watson said plans should be announced in the spring or summer to update West Broadway Street. A possible deal is being worked on for the former Carson Pirie Scott store in Northfield Square mall the village purchased in 2019.

Watson said the village will also be moving forward with upgrading the business district on Illinois 50.

The village will continue eradicating blighted property. An example of that is a two-story home that had been vacant for at least 10 years on the corner of Prairie Street and West North Street was demolished in December.

Shoring up the pension fund will continue as trustees are refinancing a bond issue that will save $2 million at a lower interest rate.

Watson said the village’s efforts to strengthen the budget has earned them statewide recognition.

The residents passed a referendum to increase the village’s sales tax by 1 percent allowing trustees to reduce its tax levy to residents by 50 percent.

Hiring more firefighters to the understaffed fire department is moving forward. There are plans for building a second fire station in the area of the mall.

“At the end of the day, we want to continue to help our residents and businesses,” Watson said.

“We have a cohesive board right now that is like-minded. We want to continue moving forward. Bradley is on the forefront of exciting things this year.”

Kankakee Alderman Fred Tetter (D-7) sees good things coming through projects slated for downtown.

“I know this has been a crazy year (2020) and we can’t wait to get over the COVID and get going,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”

Work should start on the River Valley Metro Transit District’s bus terminal slated for East Chestnut Street and Schuyler Avenue.

Two developers purchased the PNC building and Clock Tower Centre with extensive rehab plans.

It fits into projects that include a riverwalk trail on the north side of the Kankakee River setting at River Street and Schuyler and heading west toward Bird Park. The creation of two TIF districts can help fund projects on the east side of Kankakee as well as downtown.

“You put all those things in a pot and stir them up gives us a forecast that looks good. It is important to get COVID under control to start this process,” Tetter said. “The city is primed for growth and development. The potential is there. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler has concerns about 2021 but is optimistic.

“There are knowns and unknowns, and as with everything in the COVID-19 era,” Wheeler said. “It’s all a ‘box of chocolates,’ You never know what you’re going to get from day to day.

“In general, I am concerned about what 2021 will bring us, but extremely optimistic about our ability to roll with the punches on the county level. We’ve demonstrated that we can since 2017.”

Two major positives for 2021 are grants that will help update accessibility to the Kankakee County Courthouse and for sedimentation issues in the Kankakee River.

The county has managed the reduction in revenues due to COVID by reducing expenses.

“We are on solid footing to provide the services expected in 2021 at current revenue and expense levels,” Wheeler said.

Higher expenses and less revenue could cause trouble but Wheeler said the county has worked hard to go from a $15 million deficit to a $1 million surplus in less than four years.

An unknown when it comes to the budget is what impact COVID will have on things, he said.

“A strength is that we made it to this point, against all odds and beyond anyone’s best plan or intent,” Wheeler said. “But the weakness part is that COVID leaves us vulnerable and unable to adapt to major financial upheaval beyond what we have already mitigated successfully.”

One of the county’s opportunities is continuing the plan to get Hopkins Park a natural gas pipeline and broadband, Wheeler said they have a real opportunity to get this done in 2021, if they keep on the governor’s office.

“What happens in Hopkins Park matters to every community in Kankakee County,” Wheeler said.

Disappearing state and federal aid makes this a good opportunity to band together here in the county with other governmental bodies.

“We have an opportunity to look at contracting redundant entities, and sharing resources locally that make sense. 2021 can be the year that we reinvent how all communities in the county work together,” Wheeler said.

“Normalcy,” 40th District State Senator Pat Joyce (D-Essex) said he is looking forward to in the new year.

“I’m anxious to get back to Springfield. I have been in the senate for a year. I’m looking forward to a full session to fight for the residents of the district,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to talking to people face to face. I can work to help our area.”

Helping restaurants, bars and small businesses get state grants is a Joyce priority. “They are taking it on the chin,” he said.

There have been challenges brought on by the pandemic but Joyce said having a vaccine is a step back to normal.

“You can see it. You can feel it,” he said.

Kankakee's Salvation Army reaches donation goal

With a spike in demand for services combined with an estimated decline in donations amid the pandemic, The Salvation Army of Kankakee County had to get creative and needed community support more than any year in recent memory.

In this unprecedented season, a Christmas miracle happened: The Salvation Army has continued to serve the great need and in the final week of the year, the community has supported in reaching the 2020 Christmas Campaign goal of $205,900.

While the iconic Red Kettle donations fell short as expected due to fewer physical locations, fewer shoppers out at stores and effects from the change shortage, the community made up the difference through online and mailed donations, as well as kettle sponsorships.

And to add to the surprises of the season, this was the first time in 30 years a gold coin had not been found in a red kettle – until Christmas Eve.

On Dec. 24, an anonymous donor dropped a one-ounce American Buffalo Gold Coin in the kettle located at The Salvation Army Community and Worship Center office in Kankakee. It is estimated to be worth nearly $2,000. This marks the 30th year in a row an anonymous donor has dropped a gold coin in a red kettle in Kankakee County.

The community came out in support through more than monetary donations, as they donated toys for children in need of Christmas gifts, as well as food and coats for those in need. The Salvation Army was able to distribute toys to 333 local children and 400 Christmas Dinner Food Boxes to local households in need.

Even with mitigations in effect, in November the organization served over 100 hot Thanksgiving meals in the rain for those who otherwise could not have a traditional meal.

“We are just so incredibly grateful and continually blown away by the generosity of this county,” said Lieutenant T. Scott Parnell, local Corps Officer and executive director. “We didn’t know what to expect coming into this holiday season, but we trusted God would provide. And He used every donor, every bell ringer and every volunteer to do that. The support of this community to those in need is more than I’ve seen in nearly any place I’ve worked through The Salvation Army. It touches me deeply to see it in action.”

The success of the Rescue Christmas Campaign helps support the ongoing services The Salvation Army provides locally in Kankakee County year-round, including food, shelter, housing/utility assistance, case management, youth programs, emotional/spiritual care and more.

Since March, The Salvation Army has served over 51,600 meals, provided housing/utility assistance or emergency shelter to over 85 individuals and families, placed 12 families into permanent housing and given emotional and spiritual care to nearly 900 people locally.

“The Salvation Army in Kankakee should be a place of hope for people. The generosity of our community helps ensure we can be that,” added Lieutenant Parnell.

Donors can continue to support The Salvation Army locally year-round. Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1764, Kankakee or dropped off in person at 148 N. Harrison Ave., Kankakee. They also accept food donations for their ongoing food pantry and feeding programs. For more information, visit sakankakee.org.

Boness retires from Kankakee Fire

KANKAKEE — Kankakee Fire Department Deputy Chief Eric Boness will retire from the city fire force in mid-January.

Boness will conclude his 30-year career on Jan. 16. He has been a member of the city force since December 1990.

A 1986 graduate of Central High School, Boness took his new role of deputy chief on Feb. 1, 2020, when he replaced former Deputy Chief Jeff Bruno, who had retired.

A captain with the force, Boness had also previously served as the department’s EMS coordinator, training officer and shift commander.

Fire Chief Damon Schuldt said the department will not fill the deputy chief position this budget year, which concludes April 30. He was unsure when the position would be filled.

When Boness officially leaves the department, it will have 47 sworn firefighters.

Schuldt noted Boness has devoted the past 30 years of his life to the department and to the area’s fire service.

Along the way, Boness helped create the county’s Haz-Mat Team and lead that unit for many years. He also noted during his time as training officer, he developed the driver training program and officer training program, which included the Blue Card Incident Command System, which is now used by all Kankakee County fire departments.

“We thank DC Boness for his commitment to the city, to the fire department and to the fire service,” Schuldt said.

Boness said he was lucky. He was able to do what he loved, and he loved what he did.

“When you do that, you never work a day in your life. I love getting up and going to work every day, and I will miss the people tremendously,” he said. “The fire department has been a blessing to me. I’ve been able to help many people throughout my career.

“I hope I’ve made a positive impact to the people I work with and the citizens of Kankakee,” he said.

Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong congratulated the deputy chief.

“Anyone who knows him, knows he lived and breathed the fire service. He was extremely dedicated to the department and leaves behind a legacy of professionalism, commitment to life-long learning and leadership,” she said.