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Connie Licon set to exit county museum

KANKAKEE — It was a job she never sought. It was a position she took with the plan it would last only six months.

Oftentimes, however, life has a way of changing such plans and now, 12 years after accepting the role as the interim director of the Kankakee County Museum on Kankakee’s westside, Licon will leave the organization and head off into retirement.

She will be heading the search for a new executive director, with the hope of having a new person in place by January.

Licon will stay on with the organization until April 30.

The 50,000-square-foot museum, a community jewel along South Eighth Avenue in the Small Memorial Park, is operated under the guidance of the Kankakee County Historical Society.

Founded in 1906, the society is one of the oldest continuously active historical societies in Illinois.

“It’s going to be very difficult to walk away,” said Licon, of Clifton. “The people here are family. This will definitely be hard. But it’s time for a new chapter in life, a new adventure. I’m ready.”

The new adventure Licon speaks of with a large smile across her face will consist of her and her husband, Art, moving to northern Colorado where her son, Jason, lives with his wife, Cassandra, and their three children. Jason, the former manager of the Greater Kankakee Airport, is the manager of the Northern Colorado Regional Airport.

But while Licon, 72, moves on to new adventures in the western portion of the country, Kankakee County will have lost one of its true champions.


Robert de Oliveira, president of the historical society’s board of directors, credited Licon for what he described as a “decade of tremendous success.” He said Licon was a chief reason events such as the Rhubarb Festival, Artisan Fair and the annual Gallery of Trees were so well received by the community.

He said finding someone to replace Licon and maintain the high standard of performance she set will be a challenge.

“This is a real loss for us. But every organization at some point faces this,” de Oliveira said. He said what will be most difficult in replacing Licon will be her vast network of connections.

“Connie knows everyone and everybody respects her. When she talks to someone she makes that person feel like they are the only person in the room. She has a great gift of how to connect to people,” he said. He noted because of that gift, it is hard to say no to her.

De Olivera said the museum has begun advertising for a new executive director. The goal is to interviewed a list a finalists by mid February. The board hopes to the director on the job by March 1 so the person can spend two months with Licon learning the position and meeting people within the community.


A 1966 graduate of Kankakee High School, Licon had a rather indirect path to the museum.

Following high school, she set out to become a school teacher. She attended what was then known as Olivet Nazarene College where she was studying to become a school teacher. However, teaching jobs were in short supply then and she noticed an advertisement for flight attendant. The jumbo jets were just making their appearance at that point, so she changed course and became a flight attendant for Continental Airlines.

After an extended career of crisscrossing the country, she shifted gears and entered the world of convention and visitors bureaus. She worked for the Texas Convention & Visitors Bureau and then the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce. She later spent five years as executive director of the Kankakee County CVB. She also worked five years as the marketing director for the Exit 308 Partners in Kankakee, which was the development company which set the path for where the Hilton Garden Inn & Suites is located as well as the Walmart store on Kankakee’s south side.

It was at that point when recession sparked by the collapse of the housing market in 2008 devastated many businesses. Development in the south Kankakee stopped.

In June 2009, the museum was going through a change as well as it was seeking a new leader to replace then-director Norm Stevens. Licon was asked if this would be something which interested her. Never one to say no, she accepted the offer. She would serve for six months.

“I’ve been lucky, always,” she conceded about landing on her feet regarding her professional career.

Before the six-month stint concluded, she was asked if she would consider have the word “interim” removed from her title? Once again, she agreed.

“Helping the museum has meant everything to me. I’ve loved it,” she acknowledged.


Along the way she has helped reshape the location. She has brought in location exhibits. She has insisted on exhibits being refreshed so people would keep coming back. Along the way she even had to face the unusual incident of the theft of the Lincoln Hands sculpture in December 2015. The incident created national news.

The hands, the work of renown sculpture George Gray Bernard, were eventually found in the back of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Kankakee in early 2017.

The incident introduced Licon to the world of FBI agents. It was an episode she will never forget, much like her unexpected tenure as the leader of the museum.

As she reflected on her tenure, she could not have envisioned a better place to conclude her diverse career.

“There is never a dull day here. Every day we discover something new. My message to the community is this: Come and see where you are living. This museum is a vital part of our community.”

The same thing could be said about Connie Licon.

Bradley board approves relocation of DMV office

BRADLEY — Area residents seeking driver’s licenses, license plates or answers to other vehicle-related issues will soon be headed to the Village Square Shopping Plaza.

The Bradley Village Board OK’d the move of the Secretary of State’s office from 1111 Blatt Boulevard to 111 Village Square.

The Department of Motor Vehicle facility could be ready for customers as early as mid January as the village board, by a 5-0 vote on Thursday, approved the move.

The facility needed the village’s OK for the move because the location was only permitted to house either municipal offices or a post office, not a state-run office.

The driver’s license facility has been on Blatt Boulevard for more than 40 years.

Bradley officials had some issues with traffic flow and parking in the Village Square complex with the facility moving there. The ownership and the Secretary of State’s office satisfied those concerns, which green-lighted the board’s approval.

The Village Square complex, located near the intersection of Kinzie Avenue and North Street, had a vacant 6,000-square-foot property — formerly the home of Premier Rental Purchase — that the state will be leasing.

The shopping complex is owned by Langham Creek Partners of West Lake, Calif.

What will be the fate of the 3,700-square-foot Blatt Boulevard property is unknown. Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson said after Thursday’s meeting, the building is in a good location and should present an opportunity to someone.

Regarding the move of the DMV, Watson is hopeful those who need service at the DMV will discover the many small businesses which call the shopping complex home.

“This will certainly drive a lot of people to that shopping center,” he said.

Pritzker warns that return to stay-at-home order possible

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois residents are being urged to stay at home as much as possible for at least the next three weeks as the second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks continues to sweep across the state.

The latest advisory from the Illinois Department of Public Health does not represent a renewal of the stay-at-home order that was in effect this spring, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned Thursday that if current trends continue, stricter mitigation orders could be in store.

“With many community leaders choosing not to listen to the doctors, we are left with not many tools left in our toolbox to fight this,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago. “The numbers don’t lie. If things don’t take a turn in the coming days, we will quickly reach the point when some form of a mandatory stay-at-home order is all that will be left.”

The latest guidelines urge all Illinois residents to stay at home as much as possible, leaving home only for work or school if they are not working or learning remotely, grocery shopping, visiting a doctor or getting a COVID-19 test.

Earlier Thursday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a 30-day stay-at-home “advisory” for residents of that city, where the rolling seven-day average test positivity rate hit 13.9 percent on Monday, Nov. 9.

Both Chicago’s and the state’s advisories extend through the upcoming Thanksgiving Day weekend, and public health officials strongly urged people to avoid any type of gathering outside of their own households.

“With the rising prevalence of this virus, attending even the smallest gathering that mixes households or traveling to surrounding areas, that increases the risk of further spread of this virus,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said during the briefing. “Again, our goal is to reduce transmission. It’s always been our goal, but especially as we head into the holidays so that businesses, so that schools, so that our veterans’ homes can be safe.”

Ezike also spoke of recent outbreaks that have occurred at a number of state-run veterans’ homes, including one in LaSalle, where more than 150 cases of COVID-19 and nine virus-related have been confirmed among residents and staff.

The new stay-at-home advisory came as the state recorded a new record for the number of people hospitalized with the disease.

As of late Thursday night, 5,362 people were reported hospitalized, an increase of more than 100 from the day before. That included 990 people in intensive care units and 488 patients on ventilators.

During the briefing, Pritzker used some of the strongest language yet in talking about local elected officials who have so far refused to enforce the state’s mitigation orders aimed at controlling the spread of the virus.

“To the elected officials who have chosen to disregard public health guidance, those who have stood up at press conferences to question the data and fuel conspiracy theories, those who have taken their absurd crusade to the courts and lost nearly every single time, those who have flat-out told the businesses in their communities to ignore what their local and state public health departments and experts, some of the best in the nation, are telling them, what is it going to take to get you to be part of the solution?” Pritzker said.

“There may be a vaccine on the way in just a few months, but a lot of lives can be saved before that happens,” he added. “And when this is over, there will be an accounting by your constituents of who worked to keep the public safe and who just ignored the science.”{span class=”print_trim”}

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Local health leaders urge residents to keep up safeguards as second wave surges

KANKAKEE — Phil Kambic is forecasting a rough winter.

No, Kambic has not changed careers nor has he taken up meteorology as a hobby. He remains the president and CEO of Riverside Healthcare.

The rough winter Kambic is referring to has nothing to do with the cold, snow or wind chill, but rather the rate of coronavirus-related illness which will grip this region — and most others as well — during the upcoming winter months.

“We will have the cold and flu and COVID has come along with it,” Kambic matter-of-factly stated late this week. “It’s going to be a rough winter for COVID.”

How rough remains to be seen. COVID-19 positivity rates are rising as well as those becoming ill as a result.

Dr. Kalisha Hill, chief medical officer at AMITA St. Mary’s Hospital Kankakee, noted the positivity rate is already high at 12 percent to 13 percent in these past days. The rate had been as low as 2 percent this summer.

“But it’s cooler outside. People are gathering indoors,” Hill said. “There is the fatigue factor of wearing the masks, social distancing. But we just can’t let our guard down. Be just as diligent [with these measures] at home as you are at work.”

Like Kambic, Hill said the next weeks and months may be rather uncomfortable and unusual for people, but taking as many steps as possible to protect others is what is called for.

“Clearly there is a misconception out there that this virus is not serious. I know of many sick people who would beg to differ,” she said.

The two hospital officials have another simple piece of advice: Don’t toss those face masks in the trash just yet.

Kambic said everyone knows wearing the mask is a bother and an inconvenience. But, he said, it is also the best way of preventing the spread of the virus as it blocks saliva particles coming out of a person’s mouth. It is in this mist where the bacteria lives.

But how long will the public be asked to adorn their face with the mask?

“I would anticipate masking through the spring, if not the summer,” Hill said.

The upcoming holiday season, normally a time of gatherings of family and friends, will look much different this year, Hill said. Or at least it should look different, she noted.

People should refrain from organizing or attending these large gatherings. She said families can take to Zoom or some other form of coming together without actually being together to share the holidays. She said it might help people to think of this type of social distancing as the gift of health, rather than a burden of society.

“People should take joy in this. Think of it as sacrificing your norm to keep others healthy. That’s what holidays should be about. You want to see your mom or your dad, your grandparents the next holiday. This sacrifice can be a way to make that happen,” she said.

Both health care leaders stated more is known about COVID-19, so care for those dealing with the illness is better as the world waits for a vaccine.

While Kankakee County is near the top in terms of the number of COVID cases per 1,000 people, both state the availability of testing here.

Dawn Willbarger, vice president of Riverside Medical Group, noted some 800 people on average are being tested daily by the hospital. That fact obviously means the more people tested, the more positive test results there will likely be.

Kambic noted while these numbers can be frightening, he is asking people to remain calm. He said the mortality rate — those passing away due to COVID — has remained low. He said since March, there have been 85 deaths in Kankakee County with COVID being the cause.

“Per capita, that number is not that alarming,” he said, while adding one death is too many.

“We are not at the end of our rope. We are not panicking. People need to continue to do the right things. Wear masks, practice social distancing, wash your hands and get your flu shot,” he said. “We knew [these numers] were going to surge. My message is don’t panic, but be cautious.”

Hill said if people follow those simple guidelines, the more likely the region’s infection numbers will not grow even higher.

“A 12 percent infection rate is high enough,” she said. “I don’t want to see 25 percent.”