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$700,000 donation kick-starts pet clinic, cat shelter in Aroma Park

AROMA PARK — Karen Hemza has made it her life’s mission to work with and care for animals, most notably horses and cats.

Art Morrical, who has been her neighbor for more than 25 years in unincorporated St. Anne, had the means to make Hemza’s mission become an even greater reality than she could have ever imagined.

Thanks to a $700,000 gift from Morrical to Hemza, the two have combined to not only create Sunrise Center Cat Rescue, at 3306 Waldron Road in Aroma Park, but also establish Furry Friends Spay & Neuter Clinic, within the same building.

The above figure is correct.

To date, Morrical, born and raised in the St. Anne area and a 1978 graduate of Kankakee Eastridge High School, who has since gone on to gain considerable wealth through early investment in the crypto coin currency, known as Hex, has donated more than $700,000 to Hemza to establish the dual-purpose location within Aroma Park.

The goal is to have the location up and running prior to the end of the year.

Area veterinarian Dr. Diane Fedrow will oversee the “reduced cost” spay-and-neuter clinic for dogs and cats.

“There is a big, big need for a clinic like this,” said Fedrow, who only recently opened her vet clinic at 711 Alma Parkway in Bourbonnais. “To have something like this in our county is very important.”

Fedrow noted the cost for the spay and neuter procedures will be in the range of 50 percent less than what it would cost at a vet’s office.

‘MAKE-SHIFT’ SHELTER NO MORE

For a large portion of her adult life, Hemza has taken care of these animals — up to 90 cats and 35 horses — on her family’s 65-acre farm in rural St. Anne.

Keenly aware of the large and growing problems of stray cats and dogs wandering throughout the area, she has searched for ways to reduce those numbers. Of course, the only way to impact that situation is “fixing” the animals.

Many people do not have the resources to accomplish that and the problem simply multiplies. A cat can have up to six litters of kittens on a yearly basis, so it is easy to see how the cat problem can rapidly grow.

A lover of cats himself, Morrical, whose cat named Hexius is constantly by his side, said when he learned of Hemza’s plan, he simply told her to find that location and he would take care of the expense.

He adopted Hex from Hemza a few years ago. The neighbors have been friends since.

When she realized Morrical would back up his words with cash, she went out as instructed and found a building. She located a vacant building that once housed an air-conditioning business, and he wrote the check for $300,000 to cover the costs. He had since armed her with another $400,000 to begin plans for transforming the location into a vet clinic and a cat sanctuary.

Cats will also be adopted out of the sanctuary.

Much work needs to be done and the goal is to begin work in short order.

Henza has been operating what she described as a “make-shift” shelter on her farm for the past 15 or so years. Sunrise Farm is actually a horse training and therapy horse riding business.

She has always wanted more and she appears she will soon have it.

“If someone would have told me that we would soon be having this in Aroma Park, I would have called them a liar,” she said with a large smile. “I’ve always been scraping and scrounging. For this to drop in my lap is amazing.”

The clinic portion of the location will be open to anyone. It is not income-restricted.

NEED TO ‘GIVE BACK’ TO AREA

Morrical, who attended Kankakee Community College for one year after high school graduation, earned an electrical engineering degree from Bradley University in 1982. He then earned a master’s degree in complicated science from North Central College in Naperville.

Morrical is the son of the late Victor and Helen Morrical. Victor was described by Art as a blue-collar worker. He was a line worker at the former Roper plant here.

“I’ve always wanted to give back, and I love cats to death,” he said.

Morrical said the $700,000 he donated is not the end of the road. He said there is more money to come as he wants to see this site remain in operation for the long term.

“This is going to be a forever place,” he said, adding he plans to set up a trust fund to sustain it long after he departs this world.

“Cats aren’t going anywhere, so this place is not going anywhere. This will be here helping our rescue community,” he said.

The extreme size of the donation makes most people take a giant step back — Hemza included. But for Morrical, it simply doesn’t faze him.

“The amount of money to everyone else is important,” he said. :To me, this was the right thing to do and it was the right place to do it. ... This will hold a lot of cats.”

Hemza said people notice the cats walking around houses or in alleys, but really don’t give much of a thought to them. But the animals, she said, need to be cared for and despite what may be good intentions of some residents, houses or backyards cannot be turned in pet sanctuaries.

“This is a dream come true,” she said. “We are sharing a dream come true. I never thought this would be attainable.”

Dr. Fedrow is hoping to have a couple doctors at the site to take care of the clinic’s medical needs.

“He believes in the cause and this is fantastic,” she said.

One might wonder if Fedrow is taking business away from her own clinic or from veterinarians around the region.

She said she is not. She said there is plenty of spaying and neutering business to go around.

She said there are waiting lists throughout the area. It is not uncommon for a pet owner to wait a month or more to have their pet’s procedure completed.

“I told Karen I would do the best I can,” she said. “It was not a tough sell to get me on board.”


Local
Kankakee County joins lawsuit against state regarding ICE detainees

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County will join a federal lawsuit to fight a new law that would end its agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigrant detainees.

The Kankakee County Board unanimously approved the move during a special meeting Wednesday. The county will join a federal lawsuit against Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul in conjunction with McHenry County.

Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the Illinois Way Forward Act signed into law Aug. 2 by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. The act requires that existing agreements between ICE and jails in McHenry, Pulaski and Kankakee counties end by Jan. 1. The bill also prohibits any future agreements.

The lawsuit said the act violates both the U.S. and Illinois constitutions; it violates intergovernmental immunity; and there is a federal presumption of inconsistent state law.

“This is not an immigration lawsuit, it is a constitutional lawsuit,” said Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler. “The U.S. Constitution has been violated, in multiple areas, and without question. States cannot infringe on interstate commerce, which is precisely what Illinois is doing in this case.

“I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I take on that obligation with pride and passion,” Wheeler added. “But for the Illinois Legislature and the governor, this is pure politics and propaganda with no connection to fixing a broken immigration system.”

He said the counties’ lawsuit is centered firmly on the law and the rights of all citizens, “regardless of the backdrop used to subvert the constitutional rights one does not agree with.”

“States cannot restrict interstate commerce, no matter the depth of their political motivations,” he said.

The lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in Rockford, according to McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally.

“While perhaps proceeding from good intentions, this symbolic law does nothing other than serve as a demonstration of discontent by those in Springfield with current federal immigration policies and will only harm the very immigrants it purports to help,” Keneally said in a press release.

Most detainees held by ICE at the McHenry County Jail previously resided in Illinois, Wisconsin or northwest Indiana. When the new law terminates the existing contract, it will not result in the release of detainees. Rather, they will merely be transferred to other ICE facilities as far away as Louisiana, according to the news release.

By forcing all ICE detention facilities in Illinois to close, detainees currently held in Illinois may be moved to facilities with less favorable safety standards and more crowding, Kenneally said.

“It is difficult to see how moving detainees away from their families and legal teams to overcrowded facilities in less sympathetic jurisdictions will benefit anyone,” Kenneally said.

Kenneally’s office will be handling the lawsuit. Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said his office is not involved in the litigation.

Loss of jobs

As the counties are paid for holding ICE detainees, the end of the agreements will have a detrimental financial impact for both.

For the fiscal years 2016 through 2020, Kankakee County averaged 122 detainees per day. At those rates, according to the lawsuit, the county would lose nearly $4 million in revenue per year. In McHenry County, they average 240 ICE detainees per year and have received $8 million in revenues annually since 2016.

Both counties argue that the loss of revenue would result in lost jobs at their respective correctional facilities.

Kankakee County has had an agreement in place with ICE since March 2019, while McHenry’s began in 2003.


Local
Head-on crash claims lives of 2 people

Two men were killed Tuesday evening in a head-on collision on Route 17 in western Kankakee County.

Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner identified the victims as Jerry Stallings, 47, of Bourbonnais, and Michael Jordan, 37, of Kankakee.

Both victims were pronounced dead at the scene, Gessner said.

Illinois State Police District 21 at Ashkum and the Kankakee County Coroner’s Office are investigating the crash that occurred at approximately 11:50 p.m. on Route 17 at 11000W Road, 2 miles south and west of Bonfield.

Stallings was traveling west on Route 17 in a 2005 Mercury Milan and Jordan was traveling east on Route 17 in a 2013 Cadillac.

For unknown reasons, Stallings’ vehicle crossed the centerline into the path of Jordan’s vehicle, striking it head-on, state police said.

State police said there is no other information available at this time. Gessner said there have been 14 fatal crashes in Kankakee County this year.


Local
Clark out as Bourbonnais Township parks director after 15 years

BRADLEY — The 15-year tenure of Bourbonnais Township Park District executive director Hollice Clark will conclude at the end of April 2022.

At a special BTPD board meeting Wednesday, the board voted 4-0 not to renew Clark’s contract. Clark has served as the park district’s top administrator since April 30, 2007.

Clark, 55, of Bradley, earns an approximate $101,000 salary in the final year of a three-year contract.

The four members of the five-member board went into a closed executive session at about 5:45 p.m. and returned with the decision after about 40 minutes.

Voting not to renew his contract were board president Brian Hebert, vice president David Zinanni, and board members Bill Bukowski and Anthony Settle. The fifth board member, Wayne Delabre, was not at the meeting.

Prior to the board’s discussion, a letter of resignation authored by Delabre, a board member since 2001, was read to the board by Clark. Delabre’s resignation takes effect Sept. 17.

In the letter, Delebre wrote he had never worked with a “less knowledgeable, less professional board” than exists today.

After the executive session and subsequent board vote, board members were set to adjourn the meeting, but Clark interrupted and requested an opportunity to make some comments. He was allowed.

During his sometimes emotional statement, Clark said during the years with the district he had only two goals: enrich the community’s quality of life and make the BTPD the best park district in Kankakee County.

“I am confident that these two goals were met as I walked around the parks and facilities, watching the public enjoying the facilities, parks and programs that the district has,” he said.

He wished the district staff well and thanked them for their work.

“It was an honor to be a part of this work family. As a family, we had our ups and downs, but we all knew it was about making the park district better for the community,” he said. “It has been my honor and privilege to have each of you on my team.”

He said Wednesday night begins his transition to a new role.

Per Clark’s contract, he was to be notified by the board no later than Dec. 1 if it planned not to renew. The board chose to make its move Sept. 1 instead.

After the meeting, Hebert said the board will soon set its course for seeking a new executive director. Hebert declined comment beyond that noting it was a personnel matter.

Bukowski, of Bradley, a board member since May, told The Journal this was a “straightforward decision.”

He said more information may come out later, but the vote was taken and the organization will move forward.


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