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Family lays to rest Jannette Johnson

Jannette Johnson was laid to rest by her family Saturday, nearly 38 years after having gone missing.

A 29-year-old Kankakee resident, Johnson was reported missing on Aug. 3, 1985, by her family.

On the evening of Aug. 2, Johnson’s family members saw her pull in and park in the rear of her residence, according to Kankakee police. The following morning, her vehicle was located in front of the residence on the street, witnesses said.

A window was partially rolled down, her purse and other personal items were inside, but Johnson was nowhere to be found, police and witnesses reported. There have been no suspects identified in her disappearance, according to police.

Johnson’s daughter, Joretha (Wills) Hampton, has been on a journey, first to find her mother and now to learn who killed her.

Hampton was just 11 at the time of her mother’s disappearance.

Hampton and her brother, Jerry Wills Jr., spoke during Saturday’s private burial at Evergreen Cemetery in Chebanse.

The family, joined by others, held a balloon release in Johnson’s memory near the family’s original home in the 600 block of Oak Street in Kankakee.

Hampton said it is time to move ahead.

“I’m walking back from this. I am not giving up,” Hampton said. “I still want to know why she was murdered and who murdered her.”

Kankakee Police Detective Logan Andersen contacted Hampton this past November regarding her mother’s case.

It was then that Hampton learned the remains found in late 1985 in eastern Kankakee County were indeed those of her mother.

The ID was made in November 2020 using DNA from family members.

The case is now a homicide investigation, according to police. Kankakee Police Chief Robin Passwater said Monday the investigation continues.

Johnson’s mother, Mary Moore, held out hope they would find her daughter, Hampton said.

Moore died in February 2021. Three days before she passed, Hampton talked with her regarding the continued search for answers in Johnson’s death.

“She said she was at peace and that God chose me to take this to the end,” Hampton said.

Hampton said her faith has been a bedrock.

“God gave me the torch. He has blown out the torch. He told me it is time to leave it to them [police] to complete the journey.”

1st phase of Riverside ER rehab complete

KANKAKEE — Sometimes, the emergency room is in need of critical care. A large portion of that care has been received.

The first phase of the $14 million overhaul of Riverside Medical Center’s emergency room is complete and the only remaining hurdle is the official OK from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The IDPH permit is expected June 8.

Phase 1, noted Riverside Healthcare CEO Phil Kambic, represents about 70% of the approximate 21,000 square feet of space that has been reconstructed.

The second phase of the reconstruction project, which has been headed by PSI Construction of Kankakee, is likely to begin by mid-June and the goal is to be completed by late November.

This two-phased project marked the first major overhaul of the emergency department within the past 35 years, Kambic said.

Of course, closing the emergency room while under construction was not an option. Riverside was forced to reconfigure vast sections of the hospital’s main floor along Wall Street to accommodate the portions of the ER which were being redesigned and rebuilt.

“Hopefully we delivered on everything we promised,” said Christine Langellier, Riverside’s director of emergency services.

The ER is one of the most heavily-used areas of Riverside. In 2020, some 36,252 people visited the emergency room. In 2021, the number grew to 39,308. Those figures represent a decline from the pre-COVID-19 days when some 44,000 came to the location annually.

Kambic was not bashful about the giant step forward the hospital has taken in delivering emergency services to the community.

Kambic noted hospital staff visited numerous trauma centers throughout the state and came away with the best these sites had to offer. Riverside, he said, instituted those aspects into the design plans and thus far have delivered on a major healthcare upgrade for the region.

“This is a state-of-the-art emergency room. There is not a better ER in this state,” he said.

“The community deserves to have the latest in emergency medicine innovations,” he said. “From technology and equipment to patient flow and process improvement, our team has looked at all aspects of care in the emergency room and we have re-engineered that space to be able to provide state-of-the-art care.”

When arriving, the first major change patients will encounter is the new patient-only entrance, located by the “A” or south entrance. The ambulance canopy in now for ambulances only.

This feature enhances safety and security for patients as well as EMS personnel and emergency department staff.

With 35 patient-care areas, Riverside’s rebuilt emergency department is better equipped to meet the community’s needs, officials stressed.

The ER is staffed by approximately 40 nurses, 20 technicians and 10 doctors.

Patient privacy was a priority and now each ER patient room is private. Gone are the days of patients separated in a single area by a sliding curtain.

There are two consult rooms for families awaiting news about those in need of care. The new design features six “rapid assessment rooms” to address minor procedures such as blood draws, stitches and other less extreme cases.

The ER also features improved care for treating victims of sexual assault. The hospital designed a special treatment room with increased privacy for these patients, including a private bathroom and shower.

“It was our effort to create a space to feel like their home,” Langellier said. “Our architects really delivered on this space. We want people to have the best under the worst of circumstances.”

The ER also features two adjacent trauma rooms connected by a physician pass-through area, allowing staff ease to go from one trauma room to the next without entering the main hallway.

“When patients come to Riverside’s emergency department, we want them to know that they are being treated with respect and dignity throughout their experience,” Kambic said.

Of course, the latest in technology is part of the design.

Each patient room has an “outer screen” on the outside of the room which will alert staff of any special concerns regarding patient’s care, including situations such as the risk of falling or allergies.

The emergency department also has the capability to become what is known as “negative pressure space” to prevent the spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19 or the flu.

Kambic is well aware of the hardship the construction project caused on visitors and he apologized for that issue, but he said he hopes the public will come to realize the level of care and response time will justify that issue.

“There is never a good time to do construction to an emergency room. We believe this project is worth every penny. This will make such a difference.”

Library, park district eye funding

KANKAKEE — A $750,000 funding request by the Kankakee Public Library was reduced to $350,000 by the Kankakee City Council’s Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.

In addition, the Kankakee Valley Park District’s requested of $300,000 of funding from the city’s nearly $15 million allotment of federal funds dedicated to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act was put on hold pending further discussion.

Numerous other organizations also were seeking some portion of the ARPA funding, but city council members clearly stated prior to any proposal made Tuesday that the governmental body should shelter $2 million to $3 million as a rainy-day-type fund.

The administration noted prior to listening to presentations that it had approximately $5.9 million of uncommitted ARPA funds, which came to the city through COVID-19 relief funds. That total includes the $2 million to $3 million the city is considering holding in a reserve fund.

Governmental bodies have until December 2024 to determine where ARPA funds will be spent. Any money not spent by December 2026 must be returned to the federal government, per federal government rules.

The Kankakee Library, which is funded through Kankakee taxpayers and under the control of the Kankakee City Council, does levy its own taxes.

Fourteen-year library director Steve Bertrand and staff initially sought $750,000. The committee, however, through a motion presented by Alderman David Baron and seconded by Alderwoman Carman Lewis, parred the request to less than half at $350,000.

The funding request must now be approved by the full Kankakee City Council.

The exact usage of the money approved by the committee was not specially labeled. Bertrand said he was certainly willing to follow the direction from the council as to how the money should be used.

However, one of the chief items of the library proposal was for a $52,000 annual salary for a position known as a “diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator.”

In the proposal, library staff noted the organization has a strong record of upholding these values, but in the quickly changing cultural landscape, the library is in need of a member whose entire focus is on ensuring these ideals when dealing the public and each other.

The proposal also included an annual $42,000 salary for a position named as teen coordinator. Basically, this person’s charge would be developing activities in the library as a way to provide a barrier between teens and surrounding violence.

The question was asked regarding the fate of these positions if funding was not in place following the conclusion of the ARPA funds.

Bertrand said if funding was not in place, the staff would be out of a job. He noted the library staff has been reduced over the past years from 48 to 33. He said decisions are constantly made to keep the library functioning within its budget.


Park District director Dayna Heitz is seeking $300,000 to upgrade eight parks within the city. The park district is made up of 33 parks within Kankakee Township and Aroma Township.

The parks being targeted are: Cobb, Pioneer, Bert Dear, Washington, Old Fair, Alpiner, Kensington and Gov. Small Memorial Park.

Much of the upgrades deal with either establishing new walking paths or renovating existing walking paths.

Heitz said she was also seeking funds to establish a playground at Bert Dear Park, repurpose the tennis courts at Washington Park and place a soccer field at Old Fair Park.

“We strived to provide and support health and wellness and the quality of life in our community during a health crisis,” she wrote in her proposal. “The pandemic has taught us what is a necessity, vital and truly essential. ... Parks are essential to our community.”

Following her proposal, the committee said it would need more discussion before coming to a decision of the request.

ONU announces new vice president for student development

BOURBONNAIS — Olivet Nazarene University has announced the appointment of Jason Stephens as its next vice president for student development.

Starting Aug. 1, Stephens will be responsible for providing leadership and oversight for all non-academic student activities including athletics, community life, campus recreation, residential life, counseling and health services, multiethnic student services, and spiritual development.

Stephens most recently held the position of dean of student engagement and deputy Title IX coordinator at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Prior positions at Anderson University, Houghton College and Greenville University included director of residential life, assistant director of student programs and resident director.

He currently serves on the executive committee of the Board for the Association for Christians in Student development, a national body of 800 members. He leads annual conference planning for the association and has provided four presentations at other national conferences.

Stephens is pursuing his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Indiana State University, which he is scheduled to complete later this summer, with a dissertation asserting that faith-formation and psychological belonging are essential factors to retain minority students.

He earned a master’s degree in higher education from Geneva College and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Indiana Wesleyan University.

“Jason can enter our community with your confidence,” President Gregg Chenoweth said in a news release. “Jason clearly communicates a heart and vision for a holistic approach to students; is relational, articulate, and a strategic thinker; has a command of the student development discipline and uses data to pursue root causes; shows ambition to engage with and develop his staff; and is student-centric, but capable to make hard decisions for the overall need.

“We welcome Jason to our community, believing this is his time for our time.”

Stephens and his family will move to Kankakee County later this summer.