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Monthly Archives: December 2014

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Our View: Part 2 of our 2014 headlines review


There were more than a thousand front-page headlines in the Rockford Register Star in 2014. Our wish list, however, was only 10. The first five “headlines we want to see” appeared Tuesday. Here’s the second set.

6. Cure for cancer has been found: Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Although there is no cure yet, you’re chances of surviving some forms of cancer is greater than ever. Survival rates have improved because of early detection. Go to the doctor, get a checkup and you’re more likely to be around for many years.

7. Transform Rockford sees immediate results: It’s been a little more than a year since the public got its first taste of the Transform Rockford movement to make this community into one of the best places in the country to live. Hundreds of people have been engaged in the process. The immediate result has been a community that is beginning to believe in itself, a community that thinks it can be better than what has been portrayed in national survey after national survey.
The Register Star published eight Transform Rockford special sections this year. We’ve dealt with crime, jobs, health, transportation, quality of life, higher education and public education.
Our reporters visited other cities, we’ve examined best practices, we’ve made suggestions about how to move the community forward. We know what must be done — now we must do it.

8. Morrissey, Christiansen star in Starlight staging of “Odd Couple”: We were joking, of course, although they both do well in front of an audience. This suggested headline was our way of saying we hoped for an improved relationship between Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey and Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen. We wouldn’t say they’re best buds, but at least they’re talking. There are so many issues that affect the city and the county. They have to work together for the betterment of the Rockford region.

9. Pope welcomes divorced, remarried faithful to Communion: In October, a 12-page report written by a committee of bishops picked by Pope Francis, called for the church to welcome and accept gay people, unmarried couples and those who have divorced.
It’s a “preliminary document” and no church doctrine or teaching has changed, or is expected to change. The document will be discussed and debated until the next assembly of bishops in October.
The pope will ultimately set the tone for the church, but his first two years have been lessons in understanding, openness and mercy.

10. Register Star makes everyone happy: OK, you can tell we had inhaled a bit too much ink by the time we got to No. 10. Our print product is not what it used to be, but the number of people who read what’s in print, online or in social media is greater than ever. We’re delivering information in new ways and will continue to strive to improve our products for our readers no matter the medium. We look forward to 2015.


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Physical Infrastructure: Design Work Approved for Rockford’s Amtrak Station

ROCKFORD (WIFR) — Train travel between Rockford and Chicago is another step closer to becoming reality.


The design work for the station on South Main has been approved by the Rockford city council. The city and Rockford Mass Transit Authority are accepting $3 million in state and federal grants to pay for this stage of the project. The overall cost of the station hasn’t been announced. Amtrak service is supposed to return to Rockford by the end of next year.


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Our View: We did see some Rockford news we wanted from 2014


We began the year by putting together a list of “headlines we’d like to see” in 2014. Today we look at the top five. These five make it appear as if Rockford had a pretty good year.

1. Steep drop in violent crime stuns, pleases cops: You may not consider it a steep drop, but there have been 7.5 percent fewer crimes across major categories, Rockford police Chief Chet Epperson says. Incidents of gunfire and crimes involving guns are down 29 percent in 2014, which is a steep drop.

The Winnebago County Violent Crime Task Force — a collaboration of Rockford, Winnebago County, Loves Park and state police, along with the Winnebago County state’s attorney and Illinois Department of Corrections — has been credited with much of the crime decline.

2. RFD lands huge maintenance shop: “Rockford airport lands $40M jet repair and maintenance facility” is how the actual headline read Aug. 17 when Rockford Chicago International Airport Director Mike Dunn said the airport will build a $40 million, 200,000-square-foot maintenance, repair and overhaul facility to be leased by Wood Dale-based AAR Corp. the largest MRO operator in North America.

The MRO is expected to employ at least 500 people in the next few years and perhaps as many as 1,000. The facility will have Rock Valley College-trained workers available. RVC broke ground in July on a $5.1 million, 40,000-square-foot building at the airport. RVC needed the new building so it could expand its aviation maintenance program,

RVC and the airport is a pairing that probably will bring us more good-news headlines.

3. Jobless rate here slips below 10 percent: Finally. The jobless rate in Winnebago and Boone counties dipped below double digits briefly in 2013, but 2014 saw consistent single-digit numbers: 9.2 percent in April, a low of 8.2 percent in September, and 8.4 percent in October.

November and December numbers are not available yet. Rockford still is well below state (6.4 percent in November) and national rates (5.8 percent).

4. Academies earn all A’s from students, parents, employers: Statistics released by the state showed the four public high schools in Rockford beating the state average (88 percent) for the number of freshmen on track to graduate: 94.1 percent at Guilford, 91.9 percent at Jefferson, 91.5 at Auburn and 90.7 at East.

The Rockford School District was named a Ford Next Generation Learning Community, one of 17 in the United States to be so honored for its commitment to preparing students for the workforce of the 21st century.

David Carson, the district’s executive director of college and career readiness, received the Exemplary Educator Award presented by the National Career Academy Coalition.

These are positive signs as the district transforms into one of the best in the state.

5. Schilling spurns debate, challenges Bustos to pizza bake-off instead: OK, we wanted to have some fun with at least one headline. Not only didn’t we see this, the Schilling-Bustos campaign was not a lot of fun.

The rematch between Republican Bobby Schilling and Democrat Cheri Bustos was one of the nastier congressional races in 2014. Bustos retained her 17th District seat Nov. 4, winning 55 percent of the vote.

The campaign featured accusations of broken promises, miscast votes and other misleading information.

Glad that’s over, but our headline list isn’t. We have five to go. Check back Wednesday.

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New Year’s Resolution: In 2015 #IAmTransformRockford

Make a New Year’s Resolution!

Let us make a commitment to strive to live out the Shared Values in 2015 and continue to transform ourselves and the Rockford Region into “…A Top 25 community where our people are engaged, inspired and are living successful and fulfilling lives.” (excerpt from our vision statement)

If you want to continue this journey of transformation in 2015, post the below affirmation as your New Year’s Resolution!

In 2015 #IAmTransformRockford


We started using a hashtag #IAmTransformRockford over a year ago to send the message that while TransformRockford is a community effort it takes ownership of each member of our community member living out the Shared Values and embracing the transformation process in their own lives.

Directions for each social media platform:
– Facebook Friends: like post & comment on post
– Twitter followers: retweet post & create new post to @transformrkfd
– LinkedIn followers: comment on this post

2014 Year in Review (Top Twitter Posts in Video)

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Unity: A Nationally Renowned Religious Leader Visits Rockford

Rockford (WIFR) — A nationally renowned religious leader was at a Stateline church sharing his beliefs on how we can make the world a better place.


Jim Winkler, President of the National Council of Churches

Jim Winkler, who is the president of the National Council of Churches, spoke this afternoon at Grace United Methodist church. The program was free and open to the public. His topic was about how religious leaders can help bring about world peace. Winkler says this is a very important topic, not just around the world, but also in cities like Rockford.

“A variety of denominations are a part of the national council of churches, so really this gathering could be taking place at any number of churches here in the Rockford area. Cities like Rockford can thrive and I look forward to coming back at a time when there is less crime and violence here in Rockford. I know it can take place and the churches can and should play a role in that process.”

Stanley Campbell, who is the executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries says, “This was a great opportunity because it’s not too often that we get nationally recognized religious leaders here in Rockford.”


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Education & Economy: Manufacturing course gives Rockford graduates a head start in workforce

ROCKFORD — Ron Phillips calls it “mission critical” for the tool-and-die industry to bring in new talent when baby boomers retire.


instructor Eric Lundstrom (left) works with Addison Holderman last summer at Rock Valley College’s Woodward Technology Center as part of the Rockford School District’s Summer Manufacturing Program.

Phillips is general manager at Header Die & Tool, a Rockford-based manufacturer of carbide and steel heading dies, and the Rockford Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 manufacturer of the year.

Four people, about 10 percent of HDT’s workforce, have retired in the past year. Over the next five to 10 years, the rate of retirement is expected to increase.

“We need to aggressively hire and train so the knowledge of those leaving the workforce is not lost,” Phillips said.

That’s where Andrew Sula and Maria Ramirez, recent graduates of the Rockford School District’s Summer Manufacturing Program, come in.

The 10-week course, offered in partnership with Woodward Inc. and Rock Valley College, prepares students for jobs as computer numerical control (CNC) operators. The students are prepped to take tests for a National Institute of Metalworking Skills certification, are eligible to enter a two-year associate-degree program at RVC in manufacturing and engineering technology, and are taught how to interview for a job.

Twenty-four people completed the program this past summer; 22 were hired to full-time jobs by late August.

Sula and Ramirez, East and Jefferson high school graduates, respectively, completed the hands-on program two years ago. Both touted it as an edge for any student looking to enter the manufacturing workforce.

“If you pay attention, listen, read the book and do all the things they want you to do, you’ll be just fine,” said Sula, a carbide toolmaker at HDT. “It’s actually a really good process to see if this is really what you want to do. It gives you a really good look at it. Like, ‘Do I really want to work with metal all day?’ If not, you’re going to figure that out real quick. But if they grasp on to it really well and they like it, it helps a lot.”

Ramirez, a CNC programmer at HDT, knows that she’s an example of a woman succeeding in a male-dominated field. She welcomes the opportunity to encourage other young women who enjoy working with their hands to consider a job in tool and die.

“Since I like what I do, I’m not dragging to get out of bed in the morning,” she said.

Phillips hired Sula and Ramirez two years ago and two more Summer Manufacturing grads last year.

“When we get them, they are not completely green,” he said. “The skills they learn in the summer program helps them with real-world experience, what to expect and whom to go to. … And with the shortage of help, they are in great demand.”

Summer Manufacturing is funded by an RVC grant with support from a small group of investors known as the Century Club.

Chris Green: 815-987-1241;; @chrisfgreen


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Transform Rockford: Volunteer Spotlight – Scott Anderson

Name: Scott Anderson

Age: 48

Occupation/profession: Director of operations at Rust-Oleum

In area since: Rockton, 2005

Transform Rockford involvement: Process Team

Quote: “I’m excited that the conversations in the region have evolved from blame and despair to responsibility to reject the current state, responsibility to accept the possibility of excellence, and responsibility to contribute fully as part of the solution.”

Favorite thing about Rockford and why: I love that Rockford is close to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago and yet is clearly its own entity, character and place. We can take advantage of the big-city amenities and have our own unique midcity feel and comfort. The best of all worlds.

What are some recent signs of progress in the Rock River Valley? It is great progress that folks are talking about how we can and not why we can’t or who’s not doing something. Success breeds success, and there are exciting things happening with the growth of downtown as an entertainment center; the tremendous progress of the public school system, colleges, and universities; and economic growth, especially with aerospace and our gem of an airport.

In 2025 I hope we are celebrating our success as a Top 25 community, sharing our success with other communities, and challenging ourselves for the next level of excellence in 2050.


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Entertainment: Families Take Advantage of Man-Made Snow at Alpine Hills

ROCKFORD (WIFR) — Crews at Alpine Hills Winter Adventure Park are making snow overnight and more people are flocking to the park to check out the man-made white stuff.


It’s a picture perfect afternoon of playing in the snow for Chrissy Brandt and her family. She and her daughter spent Sunday on the snow tubing runs while her husband and son caught some air snowboarding at Gateway Parks at Alpine Hills.

“I’ve never done it before, it was very fun, very fast, it was exciting,” says Chrissy Brandt of Rockford.

Instructors say Sunday was the busiest day they’ve seen in the few weeks the park has been open with more than 100 people coming out to play in the man-made snow. Staff members think more people are hearing about the park and are realizing they don’t have to drive as far to enjoy their favorite winter sports.

“It was a lot nicer to drive 20 minutes versus having to drive an hour and a half to two hours and it’s fun!” adds Chrissy Brandt.

Instructors say the park is a good spot for first timers to learn how to ski or snowboard because it’s a smaller park and that can be less intimating for beginners.

“Once we have more snow we’ll have more room also for beginners to learn on and we’ll have a dedicated just path that doesn’t have rails and stuff on it. It’s right in your own city, just come out and learn,” says Gateway Parks instructor Brice Brzostek.

Tyler Grossman drove in from Dixon to hit the hills.

“It’s perfect, it’s nice and small not too crazy, lets you get your legs back from last season,” says Grossman.

When school is out of session, Alpine Hills is open 10am-8pm. To check out admission and rental prices visit:

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Caring: Fire Truck Delivers Gifts to Rockford Families

Posted on

ROCKFORD (WIFR) — A dozen families now have presents under the tree and food on the table this Christmas, thanks to the Rockford Fire Department.

“I knew they were coming but I didn’t know it was going to be like this, a Christmas Christmas.”

From saving lives to saving Christmas, Rockford firefighters are making sure Santa arrives at every home this holiday, including Shante Wilson’s.

“When I saw all of the fire department come up with all of the gifts in their hands, I wanted to cry but I didn’t want to see my son cry because I didn’t want him to think of sadness when it was really tears of joy,” Wilson says.

Tears of joy, coming from the mother of two year old JR. The family just received presents and a bin full of food from Station One on Rockford’s west side.

“It goes hand in hand with what we do every day, we are always out there on the street, we are a busy department so it’s nice to go out there and see people who we see in the time of need, in a joyful event.”

The department raised more than $9,000 for a dozen local families. While JR is opening his present today, Wilson is surprised to see her name on some of the packages.

“Did you know you were getting one?” “No, I didn’t.”

The fire department says the gesture comes easy as they do what they
do best, respond to those in need.

“Just to see my son open up all his gifts, that’s going to be, that’s going to be the light of my life.”

Wilson says this really made her holiday since she’s in school and works.


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Caring: Rockford man to spend Christmas in his own apartment after six years on the streets

ROCKFORD — Jose Reyes will celebrate Christmas Day in his own apartment for the first time in years, not bunked at the house of family willing to take him in for a night or in a tent on the streets.

Struggling with alcohol, medical problems and a divorce, Reyes spent nearly six years homeless in Rockford. Then in October, Rockford Housing Advocate Angie Walker got a tip that Reyes was living behind a garage on 11th Street and went looking for him with a Rockford Fire Department firefighter.

Reyes said Walker may have saved his life.
“It don’t hurt to pray,” Reyes said.
Reyes was one of the 400 to 700 people who are homeless on any given night in Rockford. There were 578,424 homeless people in the U.S. and 13,107 homeless in Illinois, according to a January census count.

As the weather turned cold in October, Reyes was still injured from a brutal mugging in March. Reyes said that it was like a prayer was answered when Walker found him.

“You should have seen him when we found him,” Walker said. “He looks good now. He looks really good right now. He has a broken finger and stuff, but he looks a lot better. Anytime you can help somebody, it makes you feel good. It’s not good for people to be outside.”

Using a small share of about $90,000 in federal and state pass-through “Rapid Re-Housing” grant funding administered by the Rockford Human Services Department, the city arranged to temporarily house Reyes in an apartment at the Lafayette Hotel, 411 Mulberry St.

Walker said she hopes to move Reyes from the hotel apartment that costs about $700 per month to a permanent residence with the Rockford Housing Authority in the coming weeks.

The police, paramedic, jail and medical services spent on homeless people is often more than it costs to simply provide them housing, Walker said.
Reyes has stayed at the hotel for three months. He said he quit drinking and is getting medical care and medication through Crusader Community Health.

A program that adopts a “housing first” approach toward ending homelessness, Rapid Re-Housing is designed to help people quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing where they are offered supportive services and job training assistance, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

In 2014, Rockford Human Services temporarily housed 125 people for a total of 388 nights. The costs are paid primarily through Community Services Block Grants and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Human Services Director George Davis said.

Still, there were six Rockford homeless men killed in fires set to keep warm in 2014.

Once a machinist and a mechanic, Reyes views the assistance from the city and the Rock River Homeless Coalition as a second chance and plans to look for a job soon. The coalition is a collective of the region’s major homeless service providers.
Although a hospital patched Reyes up after he was assaulted by three men March 21 outside a shopping center laundromat in the 3100 block of 11th Street, his injuries never healed.

His middle finger is still broken and juts out at an unnatural angle from his hand. His nose was broken and still bleeds occasionally. Two teeth were knocked out.

Reyes said it was a sunny, cold day as he sat outside the laundromat to escape the wind and eat a bag of chips. He had bought the chips with the last of spare change he’d scraped together.

Homeless and living on the streets for years, Reyes was a solitary figure and an easy target for three men, including one who was armed with a large hunting knife. The bag of chips and the clothes he wore were just about all of the possessions Reyes had in the world. For months he had been sleeping in a tent outside a Rockford friend’s garage.

“Give me your money,” Reyes recalls one of the men saying and threatening him with a big hunting knife. Reyes told the men that he had spent everything he had on the bag of chips. He offered the chips to the men, but one of the men kicked the bag out of his hand and it fell to the pavement.
“If you don’t want ‘em, I’ll take ‘em back,” Reyes remembers telling the men.

One of them stomped on his right hand as he reached for the chips, breaking his middle finger.
He was cut several times in the attack and has horrific scars on his torso and left arm. He still has no sensation in his left hand. He was kicked in the chest and ribs, which caused internal injuries and left him coughing and urinating blood.
Reyes thinks he was targeted because he was homeless and alone.

What’s it like being homeless?
“Rough. Like sandpaper. You don’t know if you are going to get cold or if water is going to leak through your tent, you don’t know if someone is going to come back there and mess with you. They stole a lot of stuff while I was gone,” Reyes said. “You never know where your next meal is going to come from. You don’t know if you are going to get one either.”

Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374;; @jeffkolkey

Need help?Homeless assistance and housing could be available under a new “Chance 4 Change” initiative starting Jan. 2. Call 815-987-5711 or toll free at 844-710-6919. Or visit the Rock River Homeless Coalition intake center at 555 N. Court St. in Rockford.