Mediacom in final phase of digital upgrade

–Analog reception goes away Aug. 5, big HD boost to follow
Mediacom Communications announced last week that its digital upgrade is proceeding smoothly and the next step removed most analog signal reception on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. Mediacom also made public its list of 63 new high-definition (HD) channels and 20 standard definition (SD) channels to be added in August to boost the number of available HD viewing choices to over 100 channels.

Beginning Tuesday, Aug. 5, analog frequencies were not used for channels 23-78, leaving digital-only reception for the Family Cable channel series that includes cable news, sports and entertainment networks. The upgrade is a change that requires the use of a digital adapter in order to maintain reception for those channels. Ten popular cable channels switched to digital reception on July 29.

The network changes affect cable customers in a 13-county area of Eastern Illinois. Mediacom regional VP Todd Curtis said the upgrade will expand network capacity for delivery of faster broadband Internet speeds and more HD video channels. Most immediately, he said, will be the arrival of 63 new HD and 20 SD channels in August.

“With the conversion of Family Cable channels to digital reception on August 5, we’ll take an unprecedented step to increase our HD lineup in a single day. With this upgrade, Mediacom customers will be able to choose from over 100 channels delivered in the superior quality of high-definition,” Curtis said. The new HD channels, he said, will be automatic additions to customers’ existing channel subscriptions, with no price changes due to the upgrade.

“Our digital upgrade provides benefits to all customers, even those without the newer or bigger HD entertainment systems,” Curtis said.

For example, he pointed to the additional basic-level channels that local television stations offer in digital reception. With the use of a digital adapter, non-digital TVs can tune in more basic channels.

Mediacom is providing the adapters at no cost through July 31, 2015.

Moose to honor Harris

Joe Harris of Tuscola, a member of Tuscola Lodge 729, Loyal Order of Moose, was summoned to receive the Pilgrim Degree of Merit, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a member of the Loyal Order of Moose. The conferral was held in the House of God at Mooseheart on Sat., May 31, 2014.

Members receiving this degree are entitled to wear a coveted gold blazer, which is formally presented to the honoree during a special ceremony attended by other Pilgrims, members of the higher degrees of both the Loyal Order of Moose and Women of the Moose, family, friends, community leaders, and other members of the Order. Harris will receive his blazer at Tuscola Lodge 729 on Sun., August 17, 2014 at 2 p.m. Also present will be leaders of the Illinois Association to offer their congratulations to Brother Harris. Appetizers will be served beforehand, at 1 p.m.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal Aug. 6, 2014 edition

Tuscola teen’s death suicide

By Colleen Lehmann
A Tuscola family, and community, is in mourning following the death of a 15-year-old boy last Thursday.

Clio Means, who would have been a sophomore at Tuscola High School this fall, died at his home on Daggy Street in Tuscola of what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Douglas County Coroner Joe Victory said his office received a call at 4:47 p.m. Thurs., July 24, 2014, and Clio was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:06 p.m.

“This young man died as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was believed to be home alone at the time of the incident, and his parents discovered him after returning home from work that day. There was a note found as well. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the family at this most difficult time,” said Victor.

Clio, the son of Jim and Cathy Means of Tuscola and Lori Seiler-Derby and Robert Seiler of Urbana, was a middle distance runner on the high school track team and a member of Boy Scout Troop 95.

Tuscola High School guidance counselor Justin Bozarth confirmed school staff were at the high school Thursday night and throughout the day Friday to provide grief counseling for any students who felt the need for it.

“There’s been social workers/counselors available to talk, and several students have stopped in to write messages on a banner. Clio will be greatly missed at school. He was a wonderful young man whom the staff really enjoyed. It was a pleasure to have him in the Tuscola schools,” Bozarth added.

A memorial fund in Clio’s name has been set up at First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust in Tuscola.

Happy 100th birthday to University of Illinois Extension

University of Illinois Extension—which provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems—celebrated a century of serving Illinois communities last month.

“The anniversary commemorates the 1914 signing of the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service to share land-grant university research with communities and provide practical information to farmers and homemakers,” said Sandra Davis, U of I Extension County director serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. “Today, University of Illinois Extension continues to provide educational services and research-based information aimed at making life better, healthier, safer and more prosperous for all Illinois residents and their communities.”

University of Illinois Extension played an important role in many major events in history – from the adoption of hybridized corn and the creation of rural electric cooperatives to the start of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the introduction of Telenet, the first distance-learning system. Since its inception, Extension has had its hand in important research and events, and in bringing together people around a shared cause or concern.

Illinois has progressed over time from predominantly rural to a growing urban and suburban state, and Extension has evolved along with it. Extension people bring resources and research to the people of Illinois, whether that is a one-on-one visit for the “quintessential county agent experience” or a visit to one of hundreds of online tools.

Dr. George Czapar, associate dean and director of University of Illinois Extension and Outreach, shared how the statewide organization is starting the next 100 years with a new initiative.

“As we move forward, we are working to broaden our approach to provide research-based information from the whole University,” Czapar said. “We want to raise awareness of Extension and use the Extension network around the state to spread a vast array of campus research and resources.”

This means Extension will serve as the outreach arm for additional colleges and units at the University of Illinois, in addition to the longstanding collaboration with the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

For more information about University of Illinois Extension, visit the state website at web.extension.illinois.edu/state.

Recreational fires smoke out discussion at city council

–Alderman Seip resigns due to moving out of ward
By Colleen Lehmann
Enjoying a relaxing fire on a cool summer evening is a great way to unwind, but at what point does it become intrusive to others around you, and to what lengths, if any, should a municipality go to mitigate potential problems?

This was a discussion topic at the Tuscola City Council meeting held Monday night, July 28, 2014. City Administrator Drew Hoel noted the current ordinance addressing recreational fires states that they are not allowed, except for the purposes of preparation and cooking of food.

Alderwoman Phyllis Truitt, one of and speaking on behalf of asthmatic residents, said she has “absolutely no problem” with fire pits “unless there’s choking smoke due to the materials that are being burned and it comes into my home, making it hard to breathe. At that point, shouldn’t there be some recourse?”

Truitt also reported having been at a TCHS track meet during which heavy smoke from a nearby resident’s large fire obscured the track and caused breathing difficulties for some attendees.

Hoel brought up ordinance language in another community “as a first stab for discussion purposes.” Said recommendations included using appropriate materials such as hardwoods rather than those that result in choking smoke, keeping the fire attended to at all times until it is properly extinguished, keeping the fire within the confines of the fire pit/ring, keeping the fire pit/ring a reasonable size and placing the fire pit/ring a reasonable distance from surrounding structures, and keeping the fire pit/ring away from combustible materials.

Garnering most debate was the issue of “reasonable” size of a fire pit and “reasonable” distance” from structures. Numbers bandied about included 4×4 for maximum size and 15 to 20 feet as reasonable distance from structures. Whether even to have specific numbers attached to an ordinance was also discussed.

Alderman Alan Shoemaker’s initial stance on having specific guidelines was that it would be clearer for community members to know what was allowed and would make enforcement of the ordinance easier for officials responding to complaints. Mayor Dan Kleiss advocated for leaving more up to the discretion of the responding officer.

“I think there’s a difference between a small fire ring and a large fire pit. With a small ring, it would most likely be very reasonable to have it 10 feet from your house, but if we have a 15-foot restriction that might mean someone with a small lot size technically would not be able to have one. Plus, my understanding is the main issue here is the nuisance smoke rather than recreational fires themselves. I agree there probably should be some guidelines in place, but I’m a fan of less government rather than more in people’s lives,” Kleiss said.

Hoel suggested fire safety guidelines and preventative measures on the city’s Web site and in other public places to help address the situation. City Attorney Andrew Bequette said he and Hoel would take into consideration the discussion topics and bring back something for council to consider at the next meeting.

Ward 2 city alderman Tim Seip tendered his resignation as a councilman, effective at the close of Monday night’s meeting. A move to the country, and out of his representative district, precipitated the resignation.

Mayor Dan Kleiss offered his appreciation for Seip’s service, noting, “I always believed and appreciated that Tim’s heart and mind were in the right place, for the betterment of Tuscola.”

Seip said of his tenure, “I’ve seen a lot of good changes in the 14 years I’ve been here, and I’ve really enjoyed being part of it.”

City Administrator Drew Hoel reported the city’s hail damage claims process continues to move forward, and is approaching the $500,000 mark. That said, he also noted it means the city has triggered the minimum/maximum provision that had allowed the city to self-insure a portion of its loss fund at a reduced premium rate.

“With the significant hail claim, we will have to pay an additional premium of about $54,000, but we are still ahead since we haven’t had a large claim in several years,” explained Hoel.

In other business the council:
•Approved payment of bills totaling $595,270.01 and minutes of the July 14, 2014 meeting.

•Approved Community Building lease with alcohol requests made by Jane Lewis for a Sept. 27 wedding reception, by Kirk Rogers for a Sept. 6 retirement party, and by Santiago Martinez for an Aug. 16 birthday party.

•Approved a request for a Cub Scout day camp June 15-19, 2015 at Ervin Park.

•Approved a request from the Tuscola Can Do For Classrooms committee for a 5K fun run fundraiser to be held Oct. 4 during Homecoming weekend.

•Learned the TIF delinquency list includes Jeannine Garrett, PMG Tuscola, Eddie Boutilier, and Bruce and Andrea Robinson.

•Adjourned at 8:10 p.m. until the next regularly scheduled city council meeting on Mon., Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall.

‘A whole new perspective’ says TCHS student about unique leadership camp

1A-Blake NSLCwebBy Colleen Lehmann
If any Tuscola High School teacher happens to assign a “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” essay, Blake Woodard will have some great subject matter with which to work.

The soon-to-be senior spent what he characterizes as a “life changing” 10 days at a National Students Leadership Conference (NSLC) on the campus of Fordham University in New York City, studying sports and entertainment management. Woodard was afforded the unique opportunity by virtue of an anonymous nomination and recommendation.

“We still don’t know who nominated me for NSLC, but whoever it was, I am so glad they did,” says Woodard. “When my parents (John and Deanna Woodard) and I got the information and started checking out NSLC, it just looked like too good an opportunity to pass up.”

NSLC is a well-regarded and established leadership conference for high-achieving students offering them a blend of classroom activities; hands-on, real world simulations; field trips; and motivational speakers related to a variety of career interests. In Woodard’s case it was sports management, but other areas of concentration included biotechnology; business and financial careers; education and the classroom; journalism, film, and media arts; intelligence and national security; international diplomacy; law and advocacy; engineering; forensic science; culinary arts and restaurant management; medicine and health care; and theatre.

And so on July 8, 2014 Woodard flew from Indianapolis to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, arriving to attend a welcoming barbecue and opening ceremonies. Then it was nine days of morning-to-night immersion in the world of sports/entertainment management and leadership principles. Leadership series lecturers included professors Jay Caputo and Rob Romano.

“They were cool dudes, and offered really great perspectives on things like contract information, the ins and outs of being a sports agent, the kind of issues that arise in dealing with athletes and entertainment figures. I gained a lot of insight I wouldn’t have had any idea about before,” says Woodard.

 

Romano, in particular, piqued Woodard’s interest. He is a former NFL player, now an attorney with his own agency (RISE), representing athletes and coaches on a national and international level. Guest speakers to which the students were also exposed included nationally acclaimed sports business/news names like Aaron Cohen ad Matt Stroup.

Classes on campus were divided into three categories. Client management simulations—Woodard’s favorite–had the attendees drafting letters to potential clients trying to earn their “business,” learning about the negotiation process, public relations hurdles and how to handle them, and contract issues.

A second focus was management labs, offering tips on public speaking, interviewing techniques, and other necessary skills in the job-seeking world.

The third category was doing an event management simulation. Conference attendees were divided into teams and assigned different tasks related to the planning and hosting of a major sporting competition called the Fordham Games—an Olympic-like competition that included tug-of-war, dodge ball, touch football and more.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal July 30, 2014 edition

The Pharmacy merging with Sav-Mor Pharmacy

By Colleen Lehmann
Going into The Pharmacy on Tuscola’s North Main Street has always felt a bit like stepping back into a kinder, gentler time … an ever-present hint of nostalgia in the air.

That feeling has become more pronounced, with the recent announcement that the downtown business will be closing its doors to retail operations at the end of the month. July 29, 2014 will be the last day The Pharmacy is open to walk-in traffic.

As of July 30, 2014, the business will officially merge with Tuscola’s Sav-Mor Pharmacy. It was, says The Pharmacy owner Todd Lehman of Sullivan, a very difficult decision to make.

“I have been struggling with this for over six months; it’s caused a lot of consternation and sleepless nights. We have a lot of great, tremendously loyal customers, but overall the numbers were going down and it wasn’t making good business sense any more to keep on going like this.”

Several factors were cited by Lehman as leading to the difficult decision to close the doors. Five years ago, when he bought the business from longtime owners Fred and Janice Moody, third-party reimbursement was already beginning to be a problem, and anyone who has lived in Illinois for any time knows that has not improved with time.

“The reimbursement rate for pharmacies is terrible, and the bigger chain pharmacies are the ones with all the negotiating power when it comes to contracts. For the smaller, rural independent pharmacy it’s kind of a take-it-or-leave-it situation. And if you don’t have a lot of other things to encourage foot traffic through the door it continues to become more and more difficult to entice new and greater numbers of customers into your place,” lamented Lehman.

As numbers continued to point to a decision needing to be made, says Lehman, Sav-Mor Pharmacy owner David Falk made an offer to buy out the retail side of the business, “An offer I just couldn’t refuse,” said Lehman.

The Pharmacy customers able to refill their prescriptions at Tuscola’s Sav-Mor Pharmacy, 104 East Southline Road. Free prescription delivery within a 20-mile radius, a drive-thru window for prescription drop-off and pick-up, and the availability of a smartphone app to order refills are some of the services Sav-Mor offers.

Lehman will be working as a fully licensed pharmacist at Sav-Mor, while also continuing operations with his long-term care pharmacy license, what’s known as a “closed door shop,” that does business closely related to nursing home facilities but does not allow for retail disbursement.

•FS acquires Pangburn Propane, Oil
The Pharmacy isn’t the only Tuscola business to have undergone a change of ownership. Illini FS, based in Urbana, has acquired the assets of Pangburn Countryside Propane and Pangburn Oil Co. in Tuscola. Co-owner Mike Pangburn, age 67, will retire at the end of the year, while brother and co-owner John, age 63, will likely stay for another two years.

“We have been considering this for a while. We were looking to retire soon, and with no one in our families in a position to take things over, the handwriting was kind of on the wall,” they noted.

Mike and John’s father, Myron Pangburn, went to work for Standard Oil in 1959, and later he and wife Nola purchased the liquid fuel business and started Pangburn Oil. Mike and John Pangburn established Pangburn Countryside Propane in 2002.

Illini FS, a division of the Growmark regional cooperative, provides agriculture-related products and services to farmers and other rural residents of East Central Illinois.

TEDI/Chamber merger official with TEDI board approval

By Colleen Lehmann
It’s official … Tuscola Chamber of Commerce and Tuscola Economic Development Inc. are now one entity, following a vote in favor of the merger at the TEDI annual meeting held July 17, 2014 at The Smith House.

Serious talks of such action have been ongoing between the two organizations for almost a year, and with a vote to amend TEDI bylaws to form Tuscola Chamber & Economic Development Inc., the deal was sealed. TEDI executive director Brian Moody noted the board of directors for TEDI will essentially remain the same—with representatives from six sectors: agri-business, industrial/utilities, professional, financial, retail services, and individuals/organizations, as well as one each from Chamber, Tuscola School District, and City of Tuscola. The Chamber spot will now be an at-large position, and Lyn Selen has agreed to serve in that role for now. TCEDI officers have yet to be elected.

That business aside, Moody offered highlights of activity in which his office has been involved over the last two years. On the economic development front, a veritable boomtown of construction is currently ongoing—with Lambo’s Travel Center having just opened its doors in the past week, and nearby Jimmy John’s sandwich shop hoping to do so sometime in August. The overhaul of this high-visibility corner had been the subject of years of efforts, discussion, and environmental delays, but a partnership of private and public funding has made the dream a reality.

Down the Route 36 corridor, Daylight Donuts shop continues to march toward its grand opening, and next door an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store is expected to be established. Country Companies Insurance (Kris Clodfelder) established a new office on the corridor, and Mooney Ford continues its significant showroom renovation. Other businesses undergoing “makeovers” of varying degrees are Shopko, Burger King, and Tuscola Car Wash.

In the downtown business area, The Vault Arts Collective/Yellow Dog Studios has added a creative flair first sparked by Vintage Karma, and At Home Tuscola—a home furnishings store—is working on taking up residence in the former Sav-Mor Pharmacy building.

Moody noted that word continues to be awaited on a site announcement for Cronus Chemicals, a billion-dollar fertilizer plant project that, it would appear, will likely end up being built just west of Tuscola city limits on acreage originally pursued as a possibility for the troubled FutureGen project. Final word is anticipated sometime in the third quarter of 2014.

Moody has been actively involved with several regional economic development groups—including serving terms as president of East Central Illinois Development Corp. and vice president of East Central Illinois Economic Development District.

Budget figures for the 2014-2015 fiscal year for TEDI show an anticipated income of $137,000 and anticipated expenses of $135,280. Actual budget figures for 2013-2014 were income of $138,781 and expenses of $127,891.

New teachers introduced, approved at BOE meeting

–Technology report, donation highlight agenda
By Colleen Lehmann
New faces will be abounding when students and staff return to Tuscola School District for the 2014-15 school year. At the July 21, 2014 school board meeting, board members were introduced to two new hires—Natalie Jones of Harrisburg who will teach art classes at Tuscola High School and East Prairie, as well as Alicia Mullen, who will be the music teacher at North Ward.

And following an executive session Monday night to discuss personnel and contract negotiation issues, TCHS grad (Class of 2010) Emily Groves was hired as a kindergarten teacher, to replace Stephanie Terwelp, whose resignation was accepted as Terwelp got a teaching job in another community. It was noted one of Grove’s fellow kindergarten teachers will be Jennie (Sullender) Porter, who was Groves’ own kindergarten teacher back in the day.

Resignations were also accepted from special education teachers Chelsie Logan and John O’Dell, and speech pathologist Michelle Doughty. Those positions have yet to be filled.

•All about technology
Technology-related discussions took a front-and-center role in Monday night’s meeting, beginning with the presentation of a check for $7,118.64 to the district representing proceeds from the third annual Marilyn Davidson High Heel Dash held June 14. Organizers Carly McCrory, Mallory Davidson, and Rick Davidson were on hand to deliver the donation, noting it was double the amount raised last year. And this year’s Dash was augmented by the giving of mini art canvases of high heels, made by school district students under the direction of their art teachers, to all participants.

Supt. Michael Smith noted his “absolute delight” with the ongoing association of the Dash with the school district, and praised the Davidsons and McCrory for their dedication to the goal of raising money for technology and keeping former board member Marilyn Davidson’s name alive with the effort.

Technology coordinator Shannon Smith noted the proceeds will be used to purchase 15 iPads and cases for student use. This segued into a planned annual technology update S. Smith presented to the board, as well as a detailed outline of job responsibilities.

Smith noted she had recently attended—at her own expense—the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference held in Atlanta, Ga., which offered numerous ideas for further integration of technology in the classroom and also validated that what has been and is currently being done in District 301 is on board with what the future holds on that front.

The three-part presentation included examples of validation, frustration, and inspiration regarding her efforts to use technology as a hook to instilling an excitement for and love of learning. Validation was having successes in the classroom that prove using technology has helped “hook” students into improving other skills.

“Technology can and should be a mindset, not necessarily a skill set. It can allow students to use it, to the best of their individual abilities to show us how smart they are.”

The biggest frustration for Smith is lack of time and resources to implement some of the technologies out there, though she was quick to point out her gratitude at having the volunteer help of Tracy Hornaday and Smith’s mother, Nancy Brachbill.

And finally, inspiration comes in the form of seeing the successes of students who master skills—both educational and social—through the combined use of technology and other, more traditional classroom techniques and approaches, what she referred to as “led by instruction, powered by technology.”

She concluded, “For the 2014-15 school year, my goal and mantra is going to be ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it. Go from what if to what is.’”

Further technology-related discussion included strategies for how to realistically manage and implement technology with limited staffing and without unduly burdening already-time-strapped classroom teachers.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal July 23, 2014 edition

 

Lambo’s Travel Center officially opens for business in Tuscola

By Colleen Lehmann
Lambo’s Travel Center opened its newest facility last Wednesday, in Tuscola, with little fanfare but ever growing public interest and support. The under-the-radar start was deliberate, says owner Mike Lanman, to help his staff get their bearings and work out any kinks before making a more public announcement.

It certainly didn’t take long for word to leak out, and since the July 16, 2014 soft opening, the 24-hour travel center has been hopping with customers, as well as curious locals wanting to check out Tuscola’s newest business. And an impressive one it is. The 7,000-square foot travel center/convenience store is just that … packed with just about any convenience a traveler could want, and boasting a stylish décor not typically found in such a facility.

Lanman was quick to point out that city fathers have been an essential component in the Tuscola Lambo’s coming to fruition, after three years of outside delays and hurdles.

“I hope the citizens realize how progressive-minded and what long-range thinkers their city officials are. It’s not like that everywhere, as I have experienced in my business. It has truly been a pleasure working with [city administrator] Drew Hoel, [TEDI director] Brian Moody, Mayor Dan Kleiss and all the staff, and had it not been for their help and hard work, this might not have gotten off the ground. They are excellent partners to work with, and that is why Tuscola’s arrow is definitely pointing up,” he said.

He is equally pleased with his new staff of 15 full-time employees, saying, “I am really impressed with the caliber of workers we have hired. They have hit the ground running, know how to treat customers, and are catching on to everything we’ve thrown at them. I couldn’t be happier with them.”

Tuscola Lambo’s features 12 BP gas pumps in front of the building, and in the rear are several pumps for truckers, including bulk diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). Customers can take advantage of reward programs and discount pricing on fuel purchases.

A two-bay car wash will soon be up and running on the west side of the property. Inside there is the convenience store, with cold and room temperature items available. Sandwiches, snacks, toiletries, novelty items, K1 kerosene, ice and more are all available for purchase. You might want to try something at the shake/smoothie station (120 milkshakes sold the first day), and in a nod to fellow businesspeople, there is a display featuring Flesor’s Candy Kitchen’s goodies.

A fully stocked liquor store featuring all manner of spirits, wines, import and domestic beers takes up one side of the store, and in the rear is a video gaming room.

And let’s be honest … one of the primary reasons for pulling into a travel center, aside from getting gas, is to use the restroom. Odd as it sounds, this is a restroom well worth your stop.

“I made a point of doing my research when it came to public restrooms. We wanted something that was nice looking, easy to keep clean, and welcoming, and I think we hit the mark,” says Lanman.

One of the other draws for Lambo will be a good-sized food area with a Cajun flair, featuring fried chicken, rice and beans, jambalaya, honey biscuits, and more. Employees are training on the equipment early this week, and Lanman anticipates having the food available by Wed., July 23.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal July 23, 2014 edition