Author Archives: transformrockford

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Unity, Pride, Culture – Slice: Community groups band to build RocVale playground

ROCKFORD — To many of the 50 children at RocVale Children’s Home, a division of Milestone Inc., the Rockford IceHogs and the team’s mascot, Hammy, are heroes.

“Our kids love to go to the IceHogs games and they love Hammy,” said Arles Hendershott, resource development director at Milestone.

And after today, the team’s hero status will skyrocket into the stratosphere — all because of a playground.

In the spring of last year, Shawn Way, Milestone’s chief executive officer, tasked Hendershott with raising money for an upgrade to RocVale’s oldest playground equipment. RocVale, 4450 N. Rockton Ave., is a residential facility for children, ages 6 to 21, with developmental disabilities.

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Economy & Jobs: Inside Manufacturing: Retooling the Future at AME & Hennig

Their work with machine tools has given Advanced Machine & Engineering and its sister company, Hennig Inc., a global reputation for com-engineered manufacturing products. See inside this Rockford operation.

Advanced Machine & Engineering first hired Nick Roeling as an apprentice and taught him to refine metal parts on manual machines. Today he is a sales associate at the company.

Advanced Machine & Engineering first hired Nick Roeling as an apprentice and taught him to refine metal parts on manual machines. Today he is a sales associate at the company.

Machine tools are the unsung heroes of today’s manufacturing world. In the modern, advanced manufacturing setting, these tools are the workhorses that can transform blocks of metal into high-precision components for all kinds of industries. The general public rarely sees these machines in action, yet they’re the lifeblood of a modern factory.

In a place like Rockford, where nearly 20 percent of the workforce is tied into manufacturing, these tools are enabling a new age of precision-engineered parts and requiring a highly skilled workforce.

Enter Advanced Machine & Engineering Co. (AME), which has built a global reputation for machine tool components and custom-engineered machining processes. Over the past 50 years, this family-owned company has built a reputation for doing difficult jobs with a high degree of precision.

Along its journey, this homegrown company has purchased global players and built relationships with international manufacturers, putting itself in some of the biggest machining markets in the world. But in its mission to think globally and act locally, this company’s loyalty to Rockford is unwavering.

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1 MILLION CUPS Program (Every Wednesday)

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1 Million Cups is led by more than 300 volunteers in 35+ states, one U.S. territory, and six time zones. It attracts an estimated national weekly attendance of more than 2,500 people.

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Check out the Transformational Project Inventory! #RockfordRegionProjects

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Jake Wilson literally in the middle of the draft T-Map

Jake Wilson literally in the middle of the draft T-Map


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Arts & Recreation – Day Trip: Discoveries for all ages to be made in Rockford

ROCKFORD – Those 21 and older have the floor during Discover the Spirits on Oct. 21 at the Discovery Center Museum.


During this evening event, guests can sample from nearly 80 alcoholic beverages to raise money for the museum. The entry fee includes 10 tastings.

It’s not just spirits to be found. Music by Frank Calvagna and Vince Chiarelli, as well as Carl Cole’s Sounds of Good News will perform. And what fun would drinks be without some food to taste? The treats will come from Five Forks, Thunder Bay Grill, Sweet Dreams Bakery, Olive Oil Experience, Pinnon’s Meats and Chick-fil-A.

Just when it seems like a quiet evening of food, song and science is all there is, along come the science demonstrations – and even an explosion! The event also features an intuitive reader who will give guests insight into their life, a silent auction, and a caricature artist.

“This is a one-of-a-kind event,” Marketing Director Ann Marie Walker said in a news release. “Where else in Rockford can you help a child by acting like a child? All the proceeds support our mission to inspire a love of science among the children in our region.”

Go to or call 815-963-6769 to make a reservation.

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A Nation Engaged: A Rockford Developer Invests In The Middle

What does it mean to be an American? We continue our election year series, A Nation Engaged, by looking at American Identity.

Sunil Puri, in his Rockford office with a map pinned full of the places his family has visited.

Nearly four decades ago, Sunil Puri left Mumbai, India to visit a relative in the U.S. He showed up in Rockford, Illinois, fresh out of high school and with $150 in his pocket. He’s come a long way since 1979.

“I was a rebel who believed in the promise called America,” says Puri. And not with a solid blessing from his parents. But as the youngest of six sons, he knew the opportunities in his family’s business were limited for him.

Now when you step into the president of First Midwest Group’s corner office on the top floor of one of his buildings on the east side of Rockford, the first thing you notice is not the wall to wall view of the rolling golf course. It’s the pictures. Every inch of wall space is covered with framed 8 by 10s of familiar faces — mostly recent presidents –smiling alongside Puri and his family.

They’re the trophies of a fortune earned over three decades as a developer here and a testament to a fortune spent backing his favorite politicians and local charities.  The 56 year old with the brushed-back black hair looks the part of the successful businessman, always in a dark conservative suit with a slightly less conservative tie, smiling and talking a mile a minute.

Puri worked every job he could once he decided to stay in Rockford, from pouring concrete to cleaning nursing home bedpans. His goal was putting himself through the accounting program at Rockford University.  Puri says he was warmly embraced here: by elderly Swedes who helped him with his English. By families who included him in their holiday celebrations. By fellow students who wanted to learn more about his culture.

“People opened their arms and their hearts to immigrants,” he remembers, “Why are people so xenophobic all of a sudden? That’s what made American great! That welcoming built bridges far greater than any money and weapons could buy! It’s about people.”

Puri isn’t talking today about his preferences in this presidential election. A glance at the office photos shows him posing with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. And he was a delegate for Hillary Clinton at this year’s Democratic Convention. But campaign contribution records show donations to Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Sunil Puri wants America’s next president to focus on bolstering the middle class by investing in what he calls the country’s biggest strength: its young people. He says being an American is about doing your part for your own community. For the wealthy, that means being compassionate.

“You will not be taking this money to the moon or to the Mars. It’s still  going to be sharing the same earth with the same people who also deserve to have a decent lifestyle.”

Puri believes in investing in the middle. The middle class, the middle of the country, the political middle, with the hope more people will get the same chance he got as an immigrant here 37 years ago.

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My View: Showing signs of transformation in the Rockford region

The transformation is not simple, and it is sometimes messy. However, it is undeniable, and it is profound.

Below are some of the indicators that tell the tale and show which way the needle is pointing.

First, our region is in the middle of a capital-spending boom. Yes — it is a boom.

Our community is investing more than $2 billion in new and renovated industrial, educational, healthcare and recreational facilities and infrastructure. The list of capital projects is long and historic, including AAR, Woodward, Rock Valley College, our sports complexes, each healthcare provider, Chrysler and its suppliers, community police facilities, Rockford’s South Main Street, historic building renovations, our primary and secondary schools, the YMCA, and many more.

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Caring – Rockford’s Mike Hanson: The man with the ballerina

ROCKFORD — Mike Hanson does not own a watch or phone. He has no appointments, classes or job. He has no place to be, no one waiting for him.

Mike Hanson, a homeless man who spends much of his time in downtown Rockford, poses for a portrait with Auburn High School junior Allison Smith on Sept. 18, 2016, on Main Street. The photo is part of a series that will be included in an art show at a fundraiser for the Rockford Dance Company, where Smith has taken classes since she was 4. Rockford Dance Company Executive Director Emily Cooke thinks the photo is “breathtaking. … Physically he was holding her hand and supporting her, which shows what the Rockford Dance Company is trying to accomplish all the time in our community,” she said. PHOTO PROVIDED BY CARLY RICE

He is free to do as he pleases.

But what he wouldn’t give to lie down in a warm bed or take a hot shower. The Rockford native, who sleeps on the sidewalk in front of the Public Safety Building in downtown Rockford, said he’s been homeless for as long as he can remember.

How to help

Rice, the photographer, is currently putting together a “blessing bag” for Hanson and put a callout on Facebook asking for items such as size 13 shoes, bottles of water, winter clothing and a collapsible cart to transport his bags.

“Let’s go above and beyond and make this man smile like he does for all the people who pass him on the sidewalk and get showered with his compliments and smiles on his good days,” Rice wrote in the post.

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Recreation: Head of the Rock Regatta draws thousands to Rockford, shows off ‘beautiful asset’

ROCKFORD — Thousands gathered on the banks of the Rock River on Sunday to watch the 31st annual Head of the Rock Regatta on a picture-perfect day.


More than 2,000 rowers participated and more than 5,000 spectators were expected at the Columbus Day weekend event.

And judging by the people crowded on the riverbanks, laughing, eating burgers and relaxing in the sunshine, the race exceeded visitor expectations, said event organizer Jane Johnson, the liaison for the YMCA Rowing Crew who hosted the event.

“We had 625 boats registered,” Johnson said. “It’s not quite a record, but it’s a lot of boats.”

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