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After 140 years, 'little church on the hill' closes

BONFIELD — After 160 years as a congregation and 140 years in the same building, Bonfield First United Methodist Church closed its doors following an afternoon service Sunday.

Articles, photos and albums, newspaper clippings and more that told the history of the church were on display at Sunday’s service.

Pastor Keith Blankenship spoke of that history during the service. He’s been with the congregation since July 2019, but there were more than 70 pastors who came before him.

Those attending the service Sunday at the church — which has called 172 N. Church St. home since 1881 — also shared their personal histories with the church.

Lisa Gronert, who has been attending the church since childhood, said that she has fond memories of singing with her sister, mother and grandmother.

“I’ve had a lot of memories … I grew up here,” Gronert said. “It’s really hard for this place to close.”

James Welsh, of Bonfield, shared a similar sentiment in saying that it’s the people who made the church what it was, saying that it was here that he “found a family.”

“We’ll all go off to different churches, but our family will be in our heart,” he said.

Dianne Wells said the church made her “who she is today.” She has been attending the church since getting married there in the 1950s.

“We may be closing today, but those memories will live on,” Wells told the congregation.

As the administrative board chair, Wells later explained that the church’s closure was “a hard decision.” There were a number of reasons for the closure, the main being financial hardships due to general expenses and upkeep, and COVID-reduced attendance.

‘The little church on the hill’

Following the opportunity for members to share their memories, former Bonfield FUMC pastor, Steve Goodin, spoke about his time serving the church in the early 1990s.

“I can tell you really enjoyed each other’s company, and you truly did pass the peace of Christ with one another,” Goodin said. “I hope that every congregation can learn to do that with their loving members.”

Blankenship then returned to the altar and shared written notes from other former pastors, including Steven Friese who remembered the building and congregation as “the little church on the hill.” Friese was also chaplain for the Bonfield Fire Department.

With a message of “moving forward,” Blankenship then went through the order of decommissioning and disbanding the church. He released the building for “other honorable use” and gave vocal confirmation that “[this is] no longer the place of meeting for Bonfield First United Methodist Church.”

The service included a number of songs sang by member Chuck Voigt and included hymns that circled back to the message of a church existing in the heart and not a building.

When the service concluded, many stuck around to chat and share stories with one another while enjoying the displays.

The service’s bulletin invited congregation members to join the parish’s other two churches, including Bonfield Evangelical United Methodist Church and Grand Prairie United Methodist Church. Blankenship serves as the pastor at those churches, both located in Bonfield.

For more information, contact secretary Hope Raymond at 815-802-9805.

3 former Kankakee City Council members honored

This past week, the Kankakee City Council honored three people with street designations within the city’s 1st Ward.

Sometimes, it seems, street designations can be handed out in a rather casual manner, but there could be no argument when it came to these honorees.

The trio honored were the late James “Bubba” Cox, a former Kankakee 1st Ward alderman; JoAnn Ford-Box, also a former 1st Ward alderwoman; and Patricia Polk, a former 1st Ward Kankakee alderwoman, a Kankakee County Board member and one of the first minorities to serve on the Miss America Board of Directors.

The honorary street designation for Cox is the 400 block of North Indiana Avenue. Ford-Box Way will be the 200 block of North Chicago Avenue. Patricia Polk Lane will be the 300 block of North Chicago Avenue.

Anyone who followed the political career of Bubba Cox, from 1999 to 2015, would never forget his passion and dedication to the city, but in particular to the 1st Ward, one of the most impoverished areas of the city.

The 1953 graduate of Kankakee High School, Cox served in the U.S. Air Force and then came home and worked at the Quaker Oats plant for 28 years before retiring in 1991.

A longtime coach for the Kankakee Jaycees Little League, he also served as a mentor to many within the city’s northside neighborhoods.

JoAnn Ford-Box, who served on the council from 1985 to 2001, was one of my favorite council members during my early years of covering the council under then-Mayor Donald Green.

Ford-Box has called Kankakee home for 53 years.

Polk, a council member from 1991-95 and a current 19th District Kankakee County Board member, may be best known as a volunteer consultant to several nonprofit organizations and as president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation.

Polk is heavily involved in the Miss America and Miss Illinois programs and was named to the Miss Illinois Hall of Fame.

These three were great representatives for the portion of the city they served.

While they certainly had different ways to represent the citizens and the manner in which they operated within the council framework, each was successful.

Cox passed away in December 2020, and I for one, certainly miss his frequent stops at The Journal to discuss city issues or his latest concerns. God bless this trio.

Four arrested following Bourbonnais shooting

BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais police arrested three men and a woman in connection with a shooting early Sunday in the parking lot of TJ Donlins, a sports bar located at 118 Main St. NW in Bourbonnais.

An unnamed victim was shot several times at approximately 2 a.m. and was transported to a Kankakee hospital, Bourbonnais Deputy Police Chief Dave Anderson said. The individual’s condition is not known.

The four suspects were detained after their vehicle was stopped by Kankakee police, Anderson said. The motive for the shooting and if there’s a connection between all those involved are unclear at this point, Anderson said Sunday evening.

The shooting remains under investigation.

Bourbonnais looks at improving its northern gateway

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct that Lakota Group of Chicago is the consultant for Bourbonnais' Community Campus Plan.

BOURBONNAIS — Maybe there is more to a sign welcoming you when entering a community than just its name.

Bourbonnais officials are looking into ways it can tie the residential, commercial, retail and office areas as traffic enters via the northern edge of the village, from U.S. Route 45/52 and the Bourbonnais Parkway.

It is called the Northern Gateway Streetscape Plan.

“The Northern Gateway Streetscape Plan is the village’s opportunity to create a sense of place for residents and visitors as they enter from the Bourbonnais Parkway Interchange and travel along North Convent and Burns Road,” said Laurie Cyr, the village’s assistant administrator.

The 4-mile corridor runs from the Bourbonnais Parkway south to Olivet Nazarene University at the intersection of Illinois Route 102 and Route 45/52.

The project is part of the village’s “Imagine Bourbonnais” initiative.

Cyr said the village values the input of its 20,000 residents.

“We want the people’s input as we go ahead making plans. This is their village,” Cyr said. “We value and want their input. We ask for it. No one can say we did not talk to them.”

The village awarded a contract to Hitchcock Design Group of Naperville on the initial step of gathering information from residents and business owners.

Trustees approved a $59,600 contract with the company for the work.

“Before we put pen to paper, we want to listen to the community and get their perspective to make this unique for them,” Michael Wood of Hitchcock said at a recent public open house.

An online survey asking for input for the project was placed on the village’s website on Sept. 20 and now has more than 200 responses, according to Lindy Casey, the village’s marketing and public engagement manager.

“The overall feedback will be reviewed and assessed once the survey is closed,” Casey said. “The end date is currently tentative as our goal is to engage as many community members and stakeholders as possible.

The idea is to come up with a design that allows for the corridor to be tied together. One that allows safety for pedestrians as well as better access to businesses and residential areas.

Funding for the project will come from two of the village’s three business districts: North Convent Street Business District, which runs north from William Latham Sr. Drive to Hilltop Drive, and the Bourbonnais Business District, which encompasses an area north of Larry Power Road to the Bourbonnais Parkway and around the 318 Exit of Interstate 57.

The districts are funded by a 1 percent sales tax, making it 7.25 percent for the businesses located inside the district. It excludes the sale of grocery items as well as vehicle titles or registrations in the state.

State law allows for municipalities to create such zones.

Community campus

The Lakota Group of Chicago was hired by the village to work on its Community Campus Plan., which was introduced in the fall of 2019 and public input was strong.

There were more than 3,000 participants who took online surveys or attended an open house. The Community Campus Plan is currently in the design phase with a projected groundbreaking in summer 2022.

“We received such an amazing response for the first ‘Imagine Bourbonnais’ Community Campus project,” Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said. “We want to provide additional opportunities for public input and strongly encourage involvement for the new Streetscape Improvement Plan.”

The plan looks to make the area around the Municipal Center on Main Street NW and William Latham Sr. Drive a focal point for community activities.

Currently, the area is used as the grounds for the annual Friendship Festival each June.

The campus will allow for year-round use for such events at concerts, other festivals and other activities.