Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Champaign Co. Board Backs Naming Courthouse After Former State’s Attorney

The Champaign County Board has passed a resolution to name Urbana's federal courthouse after the county's first African-American elected official.

James Burgess was selected as state's attorney in 1972.

The 19-to-8 vote means a resolution with Burgess' name will be passed on to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson with hopes of gaining their approval. Burgess' son, Steve Burgess, told the board last night he's already talked with two of those three.

"I am waiting for a decision from Senator Durbin whether or not - not to say it's going to happen, but at least make a decision whether he thinks this is the right thing to by introducing a bill," he said. "He may ultimately decide that it's not, and I'm okay with that. But I think I'm at least entitled to having a decision from them, yes or no."

Burgess' effort to place his late father's name on the courthouse has lasted more than a year. Democrat Tom Betz said he knew and admired Burgess, but says the method for placing any name on a building is flawed.

"I have slowly but surely reached the conclusion that it's such a divisive process that we would be wise not to actually name some of these buildings," he said. "Call it what it is - it's the United States District Court for this district. Just as it's the Champaign County Courthouse. I don't think it needs to bear any name other than that at this point."

Burgess, who died in 1997, was a Democrat. But Betz and four other Democrats voted against the measure: Geraldo Rosales, Lloyd Carter, Ralph Langenheim, and Pattsi Petrie. Republicans Diane Michaels, Ron Bensyl, and Steve Moser also opposed it.

Democrat Chris Alix suggested the idea. He calls Burgess an inspirational story for not only his time as a state's attorney and US Attorney during the 70's and 80's, but as a World War II veteran with the 761st Tank Battalion.

(Photo Courtesy of Museum of the Grand Prairie, Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Construction on Decatur WWII Memorial Expected to Start in Spring

After several years of planning, construction on a World War II memorial in Decatur may finally start.

The project has faced a series of delays because of a lack of funding, but now with about $25,000 needed to complete the memorial; organizers hope to break ground in May. This would be the first phase of the project, which will go up in front of the Decatur Civic Center. It is the brainchild of Pete Nicholls, a World War II veteran who passed away three years ago.

Nicolls' son, Pete, said his father was injured during the war after he jumped on a grenade, and saved the lives of two other soldiers.

"He was very involved in veterans his whole life after that, and around Decatur he realized there were several war memorials, but there was none dedicated to the World War II veterans," Nicolls said.

The monument will include five head stones representing each service of the armed services, and it will have a five-foot globe that is going to be on a pedestal. Nicolls said the pedestal will have a list of area veterans who died during the war. Nicolls said he hopes to see the memorial completed by next year.

Gordon Brenner, who is on the World War II Memorial committee, began working on the project in 2004 with the elder Nicolls.

"(Nicolls) said I know I may not live long enough to see this thing built, and so he said I want someone I know who's going to carry on and see this to the end," Brenner said. "I told him, 'Pete, you ain't going nowhere until we get this thing built.' I said, 'I would be honored to help you.'"

Before Nicolls passed away, he and Brenner spent time researching World War II military casualties from Macon County. Brenner said the memorial will serve as a lasting tribute to about 360 area veterans who died during the war.

Categories: Architecture, History

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 03, 2011

Author Wes Moore Talks About Meeting the Other Wes Moore

More than a decade ago, a man named Wes Moore was convicted of murdering a police officer during a botched robbery. What he didn't know was that another man with the same name grew up not far from him in Baltimore. The two frequented the same places, had run-ins with the law, and were fatherless. While one Wes Moore will spend the rest of his life behind bars, the other has a successful career as a businessman, motivational speaker, and author.

In the book titled "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates," Wes Moore talks about meeting the man with the same name, but a very different life. Moore spoke with Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers shortly before giving a presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 2 at the University of Illinois' Alice Campbell Alumni Center as part of the United Way of Champaign County's Pillar Celebration.

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Categories: Biography, Education, History

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 27, 2011

Man Thought to be Gacy Victim, Found Living in Florida

A man thought to have been a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy has been discovered living in Florida.

After the Cook County Sheriff exhumed remains of eight Gacy victims, the family of Harold Wayne Lovell came forward in an effort to find a match. Instead, they discovered that Lovell had been living in Florida all along. He'd vanished from Aurora in 1977 and had some trouble with the police along the way. Sheriff Tom Dart said the family was convinced Lovell was a victim based on a piece of jewelry found at Gacy's house. But they had no dental records to make a comparison at the time.

Lovell, now 53, has been reunited with his family.

Sheriff Dart said investigations have become more accurate over the past couple of decades.

"Back in the late 70s and prior to that, the way that missing persons were handled as a whole was not very scientific at all. And so people that had concerns back then, now would be the time whether or not they thought they were involved in the Gacy case or not. Come forward and have your DNA submitted," Dart said.

Dart said more than 120 families have come forward to see if their loved one is possibly among the victims. Results could be revealed in two to three weeks.

Gacy was convicted of murdering 33 men and boys in the 1970s. He was executed in 1994.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Urbana Marks Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy

The city of Urbana is paying homage to Abraham Lincoln through a series of video podcasts that guide visitors through a tour of the community.

Lincoln spent nearly twenty years practicing law in Urbana.

City Planner Rebecca Bird said while the podcasts focus on sites Lincoln visited, they also explore the connections between the Urbana of Lincoln's era and the historic buildings that still exist today. For example, Bird said one of the featured structures is the Champaign County courthouse, which was built more than 30 years after Lincoln's death.

"So, the courthouse obviously was not built at the time Lincoln was here, but there was another courthouse at this site. It tells the story of at that time, as well as some of the effects of Lincoln," Bird said. "It's the type of tour that it celebrates our heritage. It's something that will be enjoyable to both residents of Urbana and visitors to Urbana."

The video podcasts are available on the city's website. A walking tour of the landmarks featured in the project will start at 10 AM on Saturday at the Urbana Free Library.

Categories: Government, History, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 06, 2011

Teaching 9/11 History in the Classroom

As teachers prepare to talk about the history of the September 11, 2001 attacks to their students, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers visited a group of freshmen at Oakwood High School, right outside of Danville. Their social studies teacher says he doesn't want them to forget about 9/11, even if they don't personally remember it.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Education, History

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 05, 2011

Memorial Grove a Tribute to 9/11 Victims

As people remember the 10-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers looks at the 9/11 Memorial Grove inside Champaign County's River Bend Forest Preserve. He revisits the site, nine years after the first seeds at the memorial were sown.

(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)

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Categories: Environment, History

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 29, 2011

Sept. 11 Panel Members Set Indiana University Talk

Eight members of the Sept. 11 commission will take part in an Indiana University program on the 2001 terrorist attack just days after its 10th anniversary next month.

University officials say those expected to take part in the program on Sept. 15 include commission chairman and former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and its vice chairman, former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton. The school says the members will be together for the first time since the commission's report was released in 2004.

Hamilton says the commission's report shaped the country's response to the attacks in many ways and that the gathering in Bloomington will allow commission members to assess efforts to make the country more secure.

All but two members of the commission are expected to attend the two-hour public discussion.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

C-U Buildings on Preservation Group’s ‘40 Over 40’ List

The restoration of the clock and bell tower at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana is one of 40 success stories that a statewide preservation group is highlighting to mark its 40th anniversary.

Landmarks Illinois isn't taking credit for the entire list of 40 landmarks across the state. Instead, the group's president, Jim Peters, says they show what can be done when people in local communities pull together to save a piece of their history.

In the case of the Champaign County Courthouse, Peters said the county and local donors were able to both preserve the crumbling brick walls of the courthouse --- and rebuild a clock and bell tower that had been shortened by lightning strikes.

"I think people for decades have been trying to get the (courthouse) building restored, and the long-missing tower put back," Peters said. "So we thought that was just an amazing effort. So that kind of --- you know, it was emblematic of that grassroots effort, that stick-to-it-ivness - figuring out they wanted to do something, and just kept at it until it was accomplished."

Champaign's Orpheum Theater is also on Landmarks Illinois' "40 Over 40" list. Local preservationists reopened the old movie house as a children's museum in the 1990s. Other landmarks on the list include the old Chicago Public Library (now a cultural center), the old city hall and fire station in Pontiac (now operating as the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum) and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas house in Springfield.

Peters said most of the preservation efforts have one thing in common--- strong community support.

"What we wanted to focus on were grassroots efforts: community-wide efforts to either save a building, restore a building --- in some cases, even move a building to keep it from being demolished," he said. "You know, a community, a neighborhood group or a city itself."

Landmarks Illinois was founded in 1971 as the Landmarks Preservation Council. Its first project was an unsuccessful effort to save the Louis Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange Building. It claims the preservation of the old downtown Chicago Public Library building as the city's Cultural Center as its first major success. The group expanded its scope to cover Illinois in the late 1970s, and changed its name to Landmarks Illinois in 2006.

Peters said he hopes the "40 Over 40" list can inspire other communities to work to save their important historic buildings.

View a slideshow of some of the sites that made the list:

Categories: Architecture, History

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 22, 2011

Original Freedom Rider to be Honored in Champaign

A memorial service is scheduled Saturday in Champaign for the late civil rights leader, Rev. Ben Cox.

Cox passed away last month in Jackson, Tenn. at the age of 79. He spent years in the Champaign-Urbana area after going to the South in the early 1960s as part of the freedom rides.

Rev. Claude Shelby knew Cox. He is currently the senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church, where a memorial service will be held. He is also organizing the memorial. Shelby said Cox never shied away from being vocal about civil rights issues.

"I remember him as one who paved the way for the generations that followed him," Shelby said. "I was in total agreement with the messages that he gave."

Another longtime friend, Willie Summerville, said Cox left his mark on the community. Summerville, who was a music instructor in the Urbana School District for years, praised Cox's efforts in pushing for civil rights.

"We really, truly had a civil rights icon," Summerville said. "You know, maybe some people will regret that they didn't pick his brain even more while he was here."

Summerville is organizing a large choir performance for the memorial service with singers from area churches.

The memorial begins Saturday at 1pm at Salem Baptist Church on 500 East Park St. in Champaign.


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