Looking back at the News Progress in 2015

•January 6, 2016•

File Photo Andrea Ebert and Jasper brought mini horse therapy to an Aspen Creek visit.

File Photo
Andrea Ebert and Jasper brought mini horse therapy to an Aspen Creek visit.

• January 7, 2015 

The Okaw Valley Timberwolves used a surging third quarter performance to pull away from Stewardson-Strawsburg and ultimately win 67-53.

The ALAH Knights dominated the Windsor Blue Devils 71-33 during the Tri County Holiday Tournament.

Lady Redskins have strong finish beating Mattoon 59-49.

Lady Timberwolves get 63-32 win over Decatur Christian.

The French family has spent 20 years randomly selecting Lovington Grade School students to receive four bicycles.

A $200,000 loss in state aid prompts Sullivan District 300 to increase its tax levy by 6.73 percent.

Moultrie County Board votes to consolidate payroll schedules from three to one. Read More

Christmas Season is the Reason for Glow on Lincoln Street

Photo by Mike Brothers News Progress Holiday Decorating Contest winner for Sullivan is the Wilma Wiley home at 420 Lincoln Street.

Photo by Mike Brothers
News Progress Holiday Decorating Contest winner for Sullivan is the Wilma Wiley home at 420 Lincoln Street.

•December 23, 2015•

There is a glow in the 400 block of Lincoln Street in Sullivan and the Christmas season is the reason.

Clark W. Griswold watch out, Miles Wiley is on a Christmas decorating mission in Sullivan.

Not unlike the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation movie’s obsessive holiday decorator, Miles’ mission is to squeeze as much Christmas as possible onto his grandmother Wilma Wiley’s  Lincoln Street lawn.

He is a  14-year-old student, whom his teacher refers to as Clark, and Miles has been in the decorating game since he was five.

“The first year I had two lighted reindeer, a couple of wooden reindeer, Santa and candy cane path markers,” Miles began, noting the path markers are all that remain of the first year.”

Each year the yard fills with more seasonal decorations, some donated by neighbors, some discovered by family members and some found online.

“We added that manger scene this year,” Wiley said, noting they drove to Alton to pick it up, and it wasn’t nearly as large as he had hoped.

One of the oldest pieces of the collection is a lighted Santa that was Miles’ mother’s.

“Wind is always an issue so the first year we had the Santa standing out in the yard, and he blew down,” Wiley said, noting one of the lights burned a hole is his tummy, but he has remained on duty ever since regardless of injury. Read More

Jingle Bell Jive

 A Musical Journey

Photo by Dan Hagen John Stephens and Therese Kincade take center stage backed by 27 performers.

Photo by Dan Hagen
John Stephens and Therese Kincade take center stage backed by 27 performers.

•December 16, 2015•

By Dan Hagen
For the News Progress

The Little Theatre adds a fresh treat to traditional holiday fare in the person of Decatur’s Julie McClarey, an undefeated National Ragtime Piano Playing Award winner three years running.

A large video screen above the stage catches McClarey’s almost hypnotic fingers flashing on the keyboards as she plays Celebration of Joy and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and, in the second act of the show, The Bell Carol and Oh, Holy Night. She enlivens her performance by crowd-pleasing virtuoso stunts such as playing with her hands behind her back.

The rest of the Little Theatre’s Jingle Bell Jive holiday show spotlights the home team as the Little Theatre’s Executive Producer John Stephens and Associate Artistic Director Therese Kincade take center stage backed by 27 other performers and directed by Jesse Sharp. Stephens, Kincade and Sharp also wrote the show.

The set features a tiered stage with varicolored holiday-lighted steps that are echoed in lights surrounding the stage. The happy-feet choreography, and there’s a lot of it, is by Megan Farley and Lexie Dorsett Sharp, and the ever-changing colorful costumes — gold lamé gowns giving way to prancing reindeer hats — are by Stephens.

It’s funny how this holiday tends to gravitate toward different eras in different regions. In England it’s the Dickensian 19th century, and here it seems to be the 1940s, perhaps because of the inherent poignance of family holidays haunted by a world war. True to form, the show opens with the chorus boys and girls performing the big band era’s Glenn Miller hit In the Mood, then shifts swiftly into a little of We Need a Little Christmas, from the musical Mame, as Stephens and Kincade step on stage.

Brisk and breezy, the show’s 22 songs are linked by scripted patter and thankfully unburdened by story. Stephens follows up with The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, then Nick Carroll, Christopher Timson, Galloway Stevens, Michael Ferraro and Clint Hromsco perform White Christmas. Read More

Director Retires, Prairie Winds Blow On

Photo submitted Pictured is Virginia Darnell

Photo submitted
Pictured is Virginia Darnell

•December 2, 2015•

For 30 amazing years Virginia Darnell directed the Prairie Winds from Sullivan as they performed for seniors in Moultrie, Douglas, Shelby and Coles counties.

Last week Virginia directed her final performance at Courtyard Estates in Sullivan, announcing it was time to step aside and do other things.

Darnell, Theresa Shaw, Anna Ruscin, and Mike Grose are all retiring from the group with a dinner reception in their honor set for Monday, December 7 at the First Christian Church in Sullivan.

While working as activity director at an area nursing home in 1986, Darnell noticed the folks there needed quality entertainment.

“People in our nursing homes need and appreciate good singing programs,” Virginia said of her reason for getting the group of eight together.

Photo Submitted Prairie Winds performs a special tribute to Virginia Darnell during the 30th anniversary concert held at Courtyard Estates in Sullivan.

Photo Submitted
Prairie Winds performs a special tribute to Virginia Darnell during the 30th anniversary concert held at Courtyard Estates in Sullivan.

The original group included Debbie Seelhoefer, Teresa Shaw, Janet Roney, John Shuman, Jerry Dycus, Steve Jackson and Mike Gross.

The group first began rehearsals at Virginia or Debbie’s home with the guys and gals practicing separately. They combined for a joint rehearsal before the show.

The first year’s 12 performances were at nursing homes in Sullivan, Mattoon and Arthur.

As owner of Golden Horizons, which creates and sells activity products to nursing and senior centers, Virginia’s connections brought more performance requests for Prairie Winds.

The group has grown to 22 members who learn two separate shows a year for which they have 14 performances of each.

Although the group numbers and ambition of the shows have increased, one fundamental commitment has remained with Prairie Winds. In the beginning members made a commitment to dedicate nearly every Monday night for Prairie Winds. With the exception of July and December members still meet every Monday to either rehearse or perform.
Read More

Winters Bring Song and Fine Art to Downtown Arthur

Photo Mike Brothers Arthur gallery owners Joan and Jerry Winters pose in front of a mural of their former home in Carmel, Calif.  along with store pets Monet and Manet.

Photo Mike Brothers
Arthur gallery owners Joan and Jerry Winters pose in front of a mural of their former home in Carmel, Calif. along with store pets Monet and Manet.

•November 25, 2015•

By Ariana Cherry
for the News Progress

The small, yet busy, little town  of Arthur has gained another piece of magic in its downtown area.

Alongside the Amish businesses just down the street from the old-fashioned soda fountain at Dicks Pharmacy, Winters Fine Art Gallery offers original pieces of beautiful artwork.  The quaintness and spirit of the small community caught the hearts of the new gallery owners on a visit here.

“We came back to visit family. Someone invited us to Yoder’s, and we thought this looked like a nice village to have a shop in. We love the people. This is something we’ve always wanted to do,” said Joan Winters, one of the owners of Winters Fine Art Gallery.

It seemed to be by chance that Joan and her husband Jerry came here, as they actually lived in Carmel, California for 50 years where they ran a similar art gallery. Not only did they have a gallery across the United States but they also had one out of the country that was in Vezelay, France. The couple still own a home there where they visit from time to time.  Now the two live in Decatur where Joan’s daughter lives. She has a niece who lives in Bloomington, Indiana so having a business in this area made sense to be closer to family.

The Winters are both artists themselves and come from artistic backgrounds. Joan spent the majority of her childhood surrounded by art. Her mother was an artist and painted right up until she passed away at 94.

“She didn’t want any publicity or her tranquility disturbed,” noted Joan. “Art was in my blood. My mom was a painter and Dad was a musician,” she said.

Jerry grew up around the entertainment business. His father was one of the original band members of the “Red Nickels and Five Pennies.” He performed with many well-known bands. Jerry carried on the entertainment tradition by going on tour and performing in USO Shows with Bob Hope.  Read More

Reaching Out, One Treat at a Time

Photo by Keith Stewart Pictured is Devon Flesor Story, part-owner of Flesor’s Candy Kitchen, which is located in Tuscola. She along with her staff will be selling a variety of candies, some new, in Sullivan come November 21 as a fundraiser for the Moultrie County Food Pantry.

Photo by Keith Stewart
Pictured is Devon Flesor Story, part-owner of Flesor’s Candy Kitchen, which is located in Tuscola. She along with her staff will be selling a variety of candies, some new, in Sullivan come November 21 as a fundraiser for the Moultrie County Food Pantry.

Annual candy sale back with more surprises on Nov. 21

•November 18, 2015•

by Keith Stewart
for the News Progress

For the last three years, on one day in November, a candy sale takes place in Sullivan.

And what a difference it makes.

In the days leading up to that one day Devon Flesor Story, part owner of Flesor’s Candy Kitchen in Tuscola, along with her staff, begins making dozens of different treats ahead, for her biggest sale of the year.

But it’s not all about the money.

The sale, which donates 20 percent of its total proceeds from the day to the Moultrie County Food Pantry, has provided thousands of needed dollars this time of year since first beginning in 2012.

“We are excited about the Sullivan sale, as always, because it’s a great fundraiser for their pantry,” said Flesor Story. “But we’re also looking forward to it because it allows us to talk directly to our more immediate customers in the area. We get to gauge their reactions to some of the new products that we’re going to be offering, and that will be great.”

And what is perhaps just as unique about the sale’s ability to help fund a good cause is its display of new candies each year.

An expo of sorts, the sale, in the past, has debuted such custom sweets as Sullivan toffee and the “Sullie”–similar to a Turtle, but with peanuts instead of pecans.

And this year is no different.

“We’re doing an autumn box that has some new cremes in it that we haven’t made before,” said Flesor Story. “We’re making a hazelnut creme with a hazelnut in the middle, so that when you bite into it, you get into the nut; it’s kind of fun. We’re doing pumpkin cremes and other fun, new flavors, too.”

The sale will also have new barks for purchase but will also return favorites such as the chocolate turkeys, Sullivan toffee, and carmel apples.

“We’ll still have all of our tried and true stuff,” said Flesor Story. “We’ll have Paul’s Pecan Favorites, which is our version of the Turtle. We’ll have our carmel apples that people in Sullivan seem to crave. We’ll also have our chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving and lots of fudges and lots of brittles.”
Read More

Making Dads Jump From Their Skin

Photo by Mike Brothers Setting the graveyard nook are (from left) Quinton Cunningham, Chris Crabtree and Cody Board. After two nights of ghoulish fun, the whole thing is removed.

Photo by Mike Brothers
Setting the graveyard nook are (from left) Quinton Cunningham, Chris Crabtree and Cody Board. After two nights of ghoulish fun, the whole thing is removed.

A 12 year tradition

•November 4, 2015•

By Mike Brothers

It’s been 12 years since Chris Crabtree’s kids thought they were too old to trick or treat.

That’s when they started converting the front yard of the family home on Harrison Street into the haunted graveyard.

It was open 6-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 30 and 31 in conjunction with Sullivan trick or treating times.

Open to any and everyone who is willing to test their terror capacity, the Crabtree project gets bigger every year.

“We started out with the ticket booth and four sections that came out to the street,” Crabtree said of the first year, emphasizing the dogwood tree has always been at the center.

Chris and his band of family and friendly volunteers spend weeks building the giant black plastic enclosure.

“This is the sixth year we have totally enclosed the rooms,” he explained,  pointing out his mom Connie Bordher would be at the entrance handing out candy as she has every year.

Crabtree said they handed out about 300 treat bags which brings the two night total of visitors to about 500.

There are up to 14 volunteers needed to man the various fright stations within the black plastic shrouded lawn. Read More

National Award for Sullivan Alum

Photo by RR Best Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best stays connected to Sullivan.

Photo by RR Best
Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best stays connected to Sullivan.

•November 4, 2015•

by Stu D. Baker
for the News Progress

Kathy Best received the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) at the annual meeting held in Austin, Tex.

Best, daughter of the late News Progress publishers Robert and Marion Best, helped lead The Seattle Times to three Pulitzer Prizes.

She is a 1975 graduate of Sullivan High School and spent her life around the small town newspaper business operated by her parents.

After attending Southern Illinois University and University of Illinois in Springfield, professional life has sent Best to metro newspapers in St. Louis, Baltimore and Seattle, but the Sullivan influence is always there.

“I never lose sight of the fact that the people we write about could be our neighbors,” Best said. “Mom and Dad would be at the grocery store or a local restaurant and someone whose story was in the paper would be sitting across the room.”

“You have to always be fair and remember we are writing about human beings.”

Best has traveled the world but has remained connected to Sullivan.

Class of 75 alum Diane Sandrisser Pearl remembers Kathy’s “Best” laugh and smile as just like her mother Marion’s.

“Kathy Best is many things; an encouraging and faithful friend, forever full of small town integrity, laser-focused to make community and people better, thick-skinned beyond strong (must be the red hair), and balances a fiery spirit with freedom of speech. Kathy has always known her meaning in life was finding her gift in journalism. We are all blessed; she selflessly gives that gift away everyday with 110% passion no matter what. Congratulations on another amazing achievement!” Read More

Local Driver Hits the Monster Jam Circuit

Driver Brianna Mahon

Driver Brianna Mahon

There is  a Need for Speed 

•October 28, 2015•

By Mike Brothers

When Brianna Mahon graduated from Sullivan High School in 2008, her need for speed had already taken over the teenage honor student’s life.

Professional MotoCross racing dominated her weekends then, but today she’s getting into bigger machines.

Mahon is a mild-mannered hair dresser working from her rustic shop at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 128 in Dalton City during the week. When the weekend comes, she gets behind the wheel of the Monster Jam Truck Scooby Doo in nationwide events.

Monster Jam competitions are held in large venue stadiums all over the United States and select countries around the world.

The huge 1500 horsepower machines with fiberglass bodies made to look like any cartoon character or figure imaginable negotiate custom made courses in arenas that include jumps, car crushing, racing and freestyle competitions.

The World Finals for Monster Trucks is held in Las Vegas, and Mahon was just completing her first competition season when she got invited.

As Monster Truck Rookie of the Year, Mahon competed in the famous Medusa truck during the World Finals.

She explained that drivers are trained in all trucks. “Scooby is my main ride, but when I went to Belgium, I competed in El Toro Loco and placed.”  Read More

Oktoberfest Enjoys Good Crowd on Brisk Weekend

Photos courtesty Heather Casteel Grand Champion- Moultrie County Dive Team, head cook Roger Farley with Amanda Farley.

Photos courtesty Heather Casteel
Grand Champion- Moultrie County Dive Team, head cook Roger Farley with Amanda Farley.

Variety of Events

•October 21, 2015•

By Stu D. Baker
NP Reporter

The Sullivan Chamber Economic Development put together another successful Ocktoberfest on the Square in Sullivan this past weekend.

In spite of crisp temperatures the crowd was enthusiastic.

“It was a great weekend. It was a little chilly at night, but the tent was warm, and it didn’t seem to stop people from coming out,” event coordinator Laurrie Minor said.  “We had some great food, craft and service vendors for the festivalgoers to enjoy. “

Oktoberfest 5K Run/Walk & Punkin Run

Overall winner in the Octoberfest 5K run/walk and punkin run was Crystal Ashby with a time of 24:53. Read More