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Manteno grandmother has sewn, donated over 2,000 face masks

MANTENO— Marjorie Cilley has sewn and donated 2,000 face masks and counting since the start of the pandemic and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

The time and dedication she puts into the task would be impressive at any age, but at 91 years old, Cilley’s busy hands are a force for good.

The former kindergarten teacher’s handiwork has made its way from her Manteno home to a health clinic in Texas, the Navajo Nation in Arizona, family members in Seattle, California and Ohio, and as far away as her grandson’s mission trip in Austria.

She has provided them for Riverside hospital patients, left them for shoppers at the Kankakee Farmers Market and sent them to a grocery store in Eureka, Ill., and various other places suggested by her pastor at Manteno United Methodist Church.

She also leaves masks out on a chair on her front lawn for neighbors and passers-by to take as they need; she offers them for free, but people have started donating money and materials for her efforts.

One mask recipient brought Cilley a dozen roses, and a mother brought her two small daughters over with pictures they drew to thank her.

“It’s so neat to see people are appreciative of what she’s doing,” said daughter Ruth Reynolds, of Manteno. “That’s not why she’s doing it. She is doing it just to keep busy, to have something to do and give them away.”

Last week, Cilley was busy making 200 child-sized white cloth masks for the Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana.

It takes her about 20 minutes to make one mask from start to finish.

“If I worked hard into the night, I could probably do 30, but if I’m kind of lazy, I could probably do 20 in a day,” she said.

A pile of thank-you cards from mask recipients lie next to spools of thread and elastic on a table in her living room reminding her of why she is determined to help others during this time.

“I’m very humbled to think that people have taken time to thank me for the masks,” she said.

Cilley began sewing face masks before returning home from Arizona, where she spends winters, in mid-March. She realized she would need a mask for the plane, so she found instructions online on how to make them.

She gave extras out to family and friends and hasn’t turned back since.

“Because I live alone, I don’t have a lot to do,” Cilley said. “I thought, ‘Well, I like to make the masks, so I think I’ll make them and I’ll just offer them to anybody that wants them.’”

Her knack for sewing dates much further back than the pandemic.

Cilley recalled sewing next to her grandmother, a perfectionist who would make her redo something if it didn’t look right.

She also remembered a time when her sewing teacher in junior high school noticed her talents and asked if she could make her a dress.

“I am very careful with my sewing,” she said. “I want things to look really nice when I’m done.”

Cilley takes pride in what she sews, from face masks and microwave bowl cozies to the clothes she used to sew for her four children.

“I would encourage people, if they can do something [to help others], just do it,” she said. “If it’s a little bit uncomfortable, and you think nobody is going to appreciate it, maybe somebody will.”

Reynolds added that her mother’s energy and drive to keep making masks is “pretty remarkable.”

“For a while we couldn’t get elastic, and she was running out of fabric,” Reynolds said. “I said, ‘I guess you can’t make any more.’ Then somebody brought her fabric, and somebody else brought elastic. I’m like, ‘Well, I guess God still wants you to make masks.’”

Prices on mask-making materials have fluctuated over the past several months because of increased demand. They’ve gone back down, but certain patterned fabrics are still hard to come by.

“I’ve done all the sports teams, but you cannot find any Cubs or Sox fabric anywhere,” Cilley said. “It’s disappointing because a lot of people would like that.”

Cilley was a kindergarten teacher for 32 years, including 25 years at Glen Ellyn School District 41. She has 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Like many people right now, she hasn’t been able to see them as often as she would like to during the pandemic.

“If I didn’t keep busy with something, my knitting, sewing, whatever, I might be depressed,” Cilley said. “I might wish that I had more people come visit or be unhappy with the weather or something, but when I keep busy, then I just am content with life.”

What is 2020 teaching you?

Tim Nugent, president/CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County and Manteno mayor, could only laugh at the question.

I normally write my weekly business column about business, industry or governmental happenings within Kankakee County or nearby regions.

This week — based on extra time I had to just sit and think in the darkness in the breezeway of my Kankakee home due to a couple days of living without electricity — my thoughts turned to 2020 and what this crazy, unsettling, frightening, frustrating and sometimes calming year has meant, or more importantly, has taught.

Our nation and our region came into 2020 on a high. Unemployment was at record lows. The stock market was near record highs. The economy was churning. What other great things might be next?

Then things changed. In a big way.

In mid-March COVID-19 hit. Virus. Quarantine. Shelter-in-place. These words took over our vocabulary.

“It’s the year of the virus,” Nugent said. “Normally in a year like this the news would be dominated by politics, campaigns and elections. It’s been no county fairs, no Bears camp, no summer festivals. So many normal things have been lost. I guess I would say 2020 is the ‘Year of the Cancellation.’

“Everything you ever thought that could be canceled, has been. Who ever thought the Pope would cancel Easter?”

Then civil unrest overwhelmed the nation. Kankakee County has been the home to several marches and demonstrations. Fortunately, the vast majority of them have been peaceful and well organized.

But that can’t be said for communities elsewhere.

There has been street closures, looting and demonstrations. At the same time, businesses were reeling from the state-mandated closures.

Then, this past week, Kankakee County suffered yet another setback when a quick-hitting, powerful storm arrived mid-Monday afternoon and extreme high winds leveled so many trees, knocking out power throughout Kankakee County and much of northern Illinois. Business once again took a significant body blow.

“2020 will be remembered for a lot of things,” Nugent said. “Not much of it good.”

Angela Morrey, executive director of the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce since April, said the year has brought much pain, but, at the same time, it has shown what people are capable of.

“I look at like ‘give me what you got, I can handle it,’” she said. She said there is no question these events have taken an emotional toll. She said when the virus hit, there was so much uncertainty.

“Now I think we are seeing the rallying mentality. People are recognizing there are great opportunities and they can pivot their business,” she said.

“... It’s showing we have the ability to be flexible. That’s huge for our businesses, industries and schools. We can change on a dime and still prevail.”

But at the same time, Floreno wouldn’t object to some calm.

“I wouldn’t mind if I had a minute to breathe,” she said.

Phil Kambic, Riverside Healthcare’s president and CEO, said despite all the obstacles thrown at him, the hospital and the region, people and organizations have found they have the ability to change and change rapidly.

“2020 has taught me so much. In that way, it’s been a very good year. I’ve learned that if we put our minds together we can accomplish a lot in a very short time,” he said. “It’s also taught us not to fall into complacency. Don’t sell yourself short. But I do have to say, I’m ready to move on from 2020.”

Staci Wilken, executive director of the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said this year has provided the opportunity for inventory of the things that truly matter.

“For me, as a leader of an organization and as a person, we’ve seen the curtain pulled back on Zoom calls. We see real life happening,” she said, noting it provides a peak into people’s lives. “We are not just programmed to do our jobs. ... Is Staci Wilken a human being behind her CVB curtain? We are not just employees, but people. Sometimes we lose sight of that.”

She said this year should have also demonstrated how important travel and tourism is the economy. Hotels, restaurants and gas stations should forever be recognized as vital entities.

“Without people traveling, it’s changed our landscape. How will services be provided without those tax dollars?”

Like Kambic, Wilken said much can be gained by this.

“It’s fostered creativity. Things like restaurants offering curbside service. ... It’s forced us to do inventory within ourselves. It showed us how important it is to get back to being real people.”

For Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of Kankakee Economic & Community Development, 2020 has been a time to learn.

“We are resilient people,” she said.

People will have to be, she said.

“I had plans and a vision. Of course we couldn’t do any of it. So what do we do next? We adapt technology to keep moving forward. We have to be patient and flexible.”

Brewer-Watson said this year can also be viewed as a blessing.

“It’s provided a slower pace, which has allowed us to take a deeper dive into issues. ... I also got to enjoy being at home more.”

2 arrested in connection with what’s now a double homicide

Editor's note: The story has been updated with the name of the second suspect as well as clarifying where each suspect was taken into custody.

KANKAKEE — Kankakee police have arrested two men believed to be involved in what has become a double homicide at an apartment building in the 400 block of West Bourbonnais Street.

On Sunday, police issued a release reporting that a Kankakee man was taken into custody in Dixon, which is near where Illinois State Police recovered a truck that belonged to first homicide victim, Albert Zaragoza, 66, of Kankakee.

Zaragoza’s body was found strangled in his apartment on Aug. 11. He was last seen alive on Aug. 9. His Ford F150 pickup truck, which was missing at the time his body was found, was located unoccupied and parked on Interstate 88 near Dixon by Illinois State Police.

Based on information provided to investigators and personal property found in the vehicle, Kankakee investigators and Dixon police began searching the Dixon area for two subjects who were believed to have been in possession of the truck after Zaragoza’s death.

At about 8 a.m. Saturday, Dixon police located Joseph Jaworowski, 35, of Kankakee, and arrested him. He was turned over to Kankakee police.

Jaworowski was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle and concealment of a homicide in Kankakee County court on Monday. A judge set his bond at $500,000. 

At about 1:45 p.m. Saturday, the body of Elliott Sheppard, 41, who had also resided in the same apartment building but in a different apartment than Zaragoza, was located in the attic of the building. Sheppard had also been strangled. Family members had reported him missing on Aug. 12. They have been notified.

At 11 a.m. Sunday, Kankakee detectives located the second suspect, Aaron J. Thomas, 32, of Kankakee, in the 300 block of East River Road. After a foot pursuit, the detectives and patrol officers, with the assistance of an Illinois State Police K-9 unit, took Thomas into custody. Thomas was charged with murder and possession of a motor vehicle. He was also charged with parole violation.

The matter is still under investigation.

UPDATED: Power fully restored to Kankakee County

Daily Journal staff report

In the hours just before the calendar page turned to an entire week without power, ComEd’s outage map shows service has been fully restored to Kankakee County and its neighboring counties with the exception of Grundy County. One outage there is affecting less than five customers.

Systemwide, ComEd was reporting 10 outages affecting 55 customers early this morning. Through its social media outlets, the utility told customers that crews are still working around the clock to restore power and rebuild parts of the grid.

The derecho storm that blew through the area on Aug. 10 resulted in widespread power outages. ComEd reported that 810,000 customers systemwide were without power following the storm.

In the days that followed, more than 3,300 ComEd employees and contractors were working to restore power.

“This was a storm of historical proportion, both meteorologically and in its impact on our system,” Terry Donnelly, president and COO of ComEd, said on Wednesday. “In many hard-hit areas, we are not repairing the system, we’re rebuilding it.”

The National Weather Service in Chicago confirmed a total of 15 tornadoes during the storm. It’s the second-highest number of tornadoes to occur on a single day for the NWS’s Chicago region, according to ComEd.