Gazebo

One of the twin gazebos, donated by David Letterman in 2000, sits in Depot Park in Kankakee.

Retiring TV talk show host David Letterman may be getting one more laugh out of the gag gift of two gazebos he gave the city of Kankakee in 1999.

But, this time, the city won't be the butt of the joke. In fact, it may be Letterman's butt that might just benefit from this comedy comeback.

The plot is being hatched by a group of 35 juniors from Kankakee High School, and the teachers of an English and history hybrid class called American experience. As co-instructors, Steve DiSanto and Bill Curtin explained the project, the two-semester effort was a matter of community pride.

As students Darrylneeshia Mickey, Byron Harris and Walker Dalton explained, the project will involve the demolition of at least one of those gazebos, with the salvaged wood being recycled into a rocking chair that will be delivered to the Letterman show in New York City. The deteriorating gazebos then would be replaced by new structures, paid for through the students' fundraising efforts.

In their introductory letter to Letterman, the students reminded the comic host of the Places Rated Almanac that named Kankakee the worst place to live in America. The gazebos were meant to make residents "feel better" about living here. Then they pointed out that Forbes magazine now ranks Kankakee ninth best in the cost of doing business, second in job growth among small cities and 11 percent below the national average for cost of living.

"Because of those changes ... we no longer need the gazebos," they wrote. Noting that returning them would be difficult, they explained that making the rocking chair out of reclaimed wood might help him adjust to retirement."

While it all sounds like fun, Curtin explained the effort involves a wide range of learning experiences from writing a business letter and making presentations to the city and Kankakee Valley Park District officials to organizing a social media campaign.

"It was kind of hard figuring out what each of us would do," Dalton said. "But we knew there was a strict deadline: He's retiring at the end of May."

"I think the biggest hurdle was getting the city's OK. We had to have that first," Mickey said. "It turns out that the chamber and the city and the public all seem to be behind this. We still have to make our presentation to the park district."

One of the gazebos was built near Court Street and the Canadian National tracks in the city's Depot Park. The other is located in the KVPD's Cobb Park.

While the students continue to work on the details, they also are staying in touch with school administrators. They'll need approval from the school board to travel to NYC for the delivery.

"I've been very impressed with what the students are doing," said Kankakee School District Superintendent Genevra Walters. "I'm happy to see the pride they take in the city and think the level of student engagement is great."

The fundraising challenge is considerable, even with help from the Kankakee Development Corporation. The project budget requires $3,000 for each gazebo kit. The travel expenses are estimated at $700 each for transportation and hotel costs.

"The most important thing is [to show Letterman and his audience] that Kankakee is moving in a positive direction," said Harris.

"And I think we'd like to put some sort of plaque on the new gazebos with that message," Curtin said. "So that's another part of the project."

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