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November 2013

Helping Make Magic Happen Pest Control a Family Business Love of Theater Searching for Ghosts Dwight Bernard

contents Publisher Bob Dennis


Editor Tesa Glass Associate Editor Rick Hayes Advertising Manager Sheonna Hill Business Manager Brenda Moore Circulation Director Jimmy Bass Advertising Account Executives Missi Morgan Jeff Mullen Barry Waggoner Editorial Staff Writers Paul Hines Travis Morse


Helping Make Magic Happen


Pest Control is a Family Business


Love of Theater


10 Dwight Bernard 14 Searching for



Mailing Address P.O. Box 489 • Mt. Vernon, Illinois 62864

Street Address 911 Broadway • Mt. Vernon, Illinois 62864

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Mt. Vernon NOW Magazine© 2013 by Mt. Vernon Register-News. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any form without prior written permission is strictly prohibited.


from the cover

The Children’s Theater at Mt. Vernon Township High School see story on pages 8-9

14 November 2013

Helping Make By Rene Womble For most people, retirement means a time to kick back and relax without the worries and rigor of a full-time job. No more punching the clock, no more 9 to 5 schedule — just easy, lazy days when you can do what you want to — sit back and enjoy life. For Lonnie Hicks, retirement means something a little different. Hicks is not taking it easy in his retirement, at least not in the traditional sense, but he sure is having a great time. Lonnie Hicks grew up in the small town of Bonnie just outside of Mt. Vernon. He attended Mt. Vernon Township High School and then Mt. Vernon Community College, which would eventually become Rend Lake College. He then transferred to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where he completed his studies in English and library science. After graduation, he taught English at Mt. Vernon Township High School, and then became the assistant librarian at

Wirth Junior High School in Cahokia — a job he held for 20 years. He later moved on to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville where he worked for 12 years in the cataloguing section of the Lovejoy Library on the SIUE campus. At the end of 2000, Hicks was given the opportunity to take early retirement from his job at the college, and he thought it was a pretty good idea. He exercised this option, and that is where his story really begins. Hicks did spend some time doing retiree type of things such as taking hiking trips sponsored by SIUE to Texas and the Grand Canyon, but he was still thinking he needed something more. He decided to take a parttime job working for the Disney Store in downtown St. Louis at Union Station. This was a job he truly enjoyed. When he found out it was possible to transfer within the Disney Corporation to various places including Walt Disney World, he started making plans. Hicks’ sister, Kathy P a g e , already lived in Florida, so he knew he would h a v e

connections far away from home. Florida sounded like a nice place to live — for a retired gentleman — so he began applying for jobs to transfer his employment to Florida and start working in the Walt Disney World amusement park complex. His big move was to occur in the fall of 2001. Then terrorists struck our country on Sept. 11 and all hiring at Disney ceased. While the country tried to recover from such a devastating event, Hicks stayed at his home in Belleville and continued working at the Disney Store in St. Louis until the following year, when jobs started to open up in Florida once again. Walt Disney World is comprised of four different theme parks including The Magic Kingdom, MGM Studios, Epcot Center and The Animal Kingdom. Hicks would have been happy working in any of these venues, but he thought The Magic Kingdom would be his first choice. Human Resources at Disney thought differently. “It was God and pixie dust that put me where I am today because it’s where I’ve been since I started here,” Hicks said. That place is the American Adventure Pavilion located inside Epcot Center where Hicks serves as a guest host to visitors. However, his knowledge of all things Disney is also quite impressive — something he shares with guests any time he gets the chance. The American Adventure Pavilion was designed to be the focal point for Epcot, drawing people into the park much like Cinderella’s Castle is meant to do for the Magic Kingdom. It is a single large building designed in colonial style. The Pavilion is home to “The American Adventure” which 3

is a stage play featuring audio-animatronic characters taking theatre goers through American History. The show is hosted by a virtual Benjamin Franklin and his virtual partner, Mark Twain. It is presented in a huge 1,000seat auditorium and covers a large part of American history from the Civil War to the Great Depression and into present day.

Hicks cautioned, “This is not the Hall of Presidents like many people think it is,” Hicks said. “The Hall of Presidents is in The Magic Kingdom and was opened in 1971. Our pavilion has been here since Epcot opened in 1982, and we present a much different show than what the Hall of Presidents has.” Walt Disney was a pioneer in animatronics

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from the beginning. In 1963, robotic tiki birds were made to entertain guests as they dined in one of the park’s restaurant. From tiki birds, animatronic humans soon followed with the development of a robotic Abraham Lincoln. Now, audio-animatronic characters grace the stage in the American Adventure show as they tell the story of American history so that it literally comes alive. So what exactly does Hicks do as a guest host at the American Adventure Pavilion? Well, it changes often. There are several guest hosts there and they rotate between jobs which keeps the job interesting and always fun. One day, he could be greeting guests as they enter the pavilion. Another day, he may be emceeing the show. Another day, he may be running the show. He says it never gets old and he enjoys any aspect of the responsibilities he’s been given. What is it like to be working in “the happiest place on Earth? “It is definitely a very cheerful and friendly place to work at,” he sad with a chuckle., “But ,it is still work for me.” He likened his job to working in the theater. Having acted and directed in some theater productions including Easter

pageants at both Central Christian Church and Southwest Christian Church, he said, “Backstage can be chaotic, sometimes messy, and not always happy one hundred percent of the time. However, when you step out on the stage, you become your character and you play your part with gusto. You become who you need to be. We are not employees of Disney, we are cast members and are encouraged to provide magical moments to guests whenever we can.” Hicks has been rewarded for his exemplary work at the Disney Corporation. Each year, about 500 people are selected out of approximately 66,000 employees to receive the “Partners in Excellence” award. Hicks was one of these honorees. He is well-known for providing hand crafted calligraphy cards to guests celebrating special events like a birthday, wedding or anniversary. The American Adventure pavilion is very special to Hicks. He said he loves its location because there is a venue just outside where many celebrations, festivals, and concerts are held – and he gets to be right there for all of them. There also was a replica of a Virginia sloop boat called the Golden Dream outside of the pavilion that was damaged in 2004 due to a hurricane. When Disney replaced the boat with a new one, Hicks was instrumental in bringing about a dedication ceremony to honor the occasion. Former Epcot Vice President Brad Rex calls Hicks an ambassador of the American Adventure because of his dedication to the attraction. Hicks still has family in the Mt. Vernon area, and looks forward to family visiting. “Well, they always want to come see me. After all, I do live in Florida!” He said he has had some amazing experiences as a cast member at Disney, and has met wonderful people from all over the world. All cast members

wear name tags with their hometown printed on them, and he has often had people comment about the fact that he hails from Mt. Vernon. Hicks said every day is an adventure with a new experience just around the corner. “Sometimes I pinch myself to think that not only am I the same little boy who watched ‘Uncle Walt’ on TV there in Bonnie, Illinois, but I’m also the same guy who now is actually a part of the world Disney created,” Hicks said. “Sometimes dreams really do come true!”

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Local Man makes A FAMILY BUSINESS Pest control specialist Mike Melton said his most dangerous job was helping remove rattlesnakes from under a cabin near the Shawnee National Forest in 2010. The owner of the property had unwittingly built his cabin over a rattlesnake den and Melton was called in to help with the removal. Ultimately, no one was injured, but it was risky work. “It was very dangerous,” Melton said. “We found three (snakes). I think there were more than that, but that’s all we could find.”


Despite the danger inherent in his profession, Melton said he loves his job as the owner-operator of Melton’s Critter Control, which serves the entire Southern Illinois area. And Melton has made his business a family affair. Both of his teenage sons, Joshua and Daniel, as well as Joshua’s girlfriend Kylee Griffith, all pitch in to help. “The best part of the job is helping the people protect their property,” Mike Melton said. “The most challenging part is figuring out where an animal is getting in the house.” Melton’s assistants are very enthusiastic about the work. His youngest son, Daniel, is 13 and Mike jokingly refers to him as a “skunk charmer.” Daniel can walk up to a skunk, talk to

By Travis Morse

it, and even pick up the animal without getting sprayed, Mike said. Mike said if he tries to pick up a skunk, he “just gets sprayed.” Melton’s Critter Control is based out of Bonnie, but much of its business comes from Mt. Vernon and the surrounding area. Mike Melton is a former Mt. Vernon firefighter. Unlike many other exterminators, Melton only deals in wildlife, not insects. The most common animals he removes are: skunks, raccoons, bats, and groundhogs. Snake calls are more rare, he said. Melton’s method of capture can vary, depending on the animal he’s hunting. For skunks, raccoons, and groundhogs, Melton mostly uses live traps. Bats, though, are a trickier matter, he said. They are considered an endangered species so Melton is not allowed to catch or kill them. Instead, Melton has to locate the hole where they are entering a house and then install an “excluder cone” to prevent them from getting back in. “All you can do is exclude them from the building,” Melton said. Melton said he euthanizes skunks and raccoons, but usually lets groundhogs go November 2013

in another location. Skunks and raccoons, he said, can be a danger to the public since they carry rabies and distemper. He added that he can’t help people with deer or turkeys due to hunting regulations for those animals. Melton’s Critter Control has been in business since 1997. Melton also worked for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources from 1982 to 1993, and was a Mt. Vernon firefighter from 1993 to 2003. As part of his work with IDNR, Melton raised pheasants and quails at the Mt.

T i p p i t t remarked that there weren’t really any exterminators in Southern Illinois specializing in skunks and other wildlife pests. Melton took this idea to heart. “I thought it was a good idea,” Melton said. Part of Tippitt’s

Photos by Travis Morse

Vernon State Game Farm. “I just like wildlife,” Melton said. “I’ve dealt with animals all my life.” Melton was inspired to start his own pest control business after having a conversation with his friend, John Tippitt, a district wildlife biologist for IDNR.

job is to administer a test for nuisance animal trappers so those trappers can obtain a state license. He administered the test for Melton. “We encourage private individuals to contact us and take the test,” Tippitt said. “There’s a need for it. I get a lot of calls every year (about nuisance animals) from people in my district.” Even so, Tippitt said trapping an animal is not always the answer. Sometimes, a homeowner is engaging in an activity that attracts these pests and their best course of

action is to correct their behavior. For example, many nuisance animals are drawn to homes because the resident leaves cat food outside for their pet, Tippitt said. “The odor attracts skunks, possums, and raccoons,” Tippitt said. Melton said his business is still going strong and that this year has been especially busy. Bat calls, in particular, were very common this summer. As far as animal trends, Melton said he’s been catching a lot more baby raccoons and groundhogs than adults recently. To protect their homes, residents should get rid of their pet doors as this gives pests easy access to the house, Melton said. Many times, residents will keep their pets in the garage and vermin will smell the pets and then get in through the pet door. “One of the big problems in garages (is) pet doors,” Melton said. Mike Melton currently lives in Bonnie with his wife, Stephanie, and two sons. The Meltons have been married since 1988. For more information on Melton’s Critter Control, call 316-4588.



By Robbie Edwards

People rarely think about how much time and commitment goes into putting on a theatrical production. The Children’s Theater at Mt. Vernon Township High School has a devoted group of individuals who work hand in hand to bring fairy tales to life on stage. Each person is just important as the next. Whether it is an actor or a set designer no one has a small part. Just ask the theater director at MVTHS, Mary Beth Mezo, and costume supervisor and makeup artist, DeAnna Endsley, both of whom coordinate the Children’s Theater. These two women are no strangers to life behind the curtains. Between the two of them they have about 23 years of experience. The theater is a place for both a positive learning experience and for life lessons. Mezo and Endsley pride themselves on making every effort to stress the importance of this aspect along with the November 2013

Photos by Robbie Ewards key value of dedication. Mezo got her start at MVTHS by meeting Jim Miller through Junior Women’s Club while performing and working with the clown, Popcorn Pete. Jim Miller was the director of the drama department before Mezo took over. Miller retired but he continued to work for the Children’s Theater. Soon, however, he was told to reduce his stress level by his doctor, Mezo said. This is when Mezo was asked to take over the drama department at the school. “It has been one of the greatest things I could ever imagine,” said Mezo. Mezo wasn’t hugely involved in drama in the past, only a few shows in high school. She credits a lot of what she has learned from Miller. She continues to learn through each and every show in which she is involved.

Endsley began helping with makeup while working as the secretary for the principal

at MVTHS. Being a Mary Kay Beauty Consultant, she was very eager to work with the theater students. She then retired in 2001 and began doing costumes for the productions. These costumes get sent out by companies for the school to use but Endsley still spends extra time sewing costumes as well. The MVTHS storage closet is full of many examples of Endsley’s labor of love. “The kids are the reason I do what I do. They are such a joy to work with,” said Endlsey. The theater students at MVTHS are a talented and respectful group of young people, said Mezo and Endlsey. They may start out as acquaintances but by the end of the eight weeks of preparation for the production they soon become a close-knit type family. “I am forever amazed at what the kids can accomplish,” said Mezo. “These kids are the cream of the crop,” said Endlsey. Mezo said students seem to prefer shows with good music, dancing, comedy and a happy ending.

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November 2013


Dwight Bernard: “When it quits being fun, I’ll be done.” By Rick Hayes


November 2013

Living in rural America fits Dwight Bernard just fine. He loves working on the family farm and in business with his 90-year-old father, Myrl, who established Bernard & Sons Grain Co. But when baseball season comes around in the spring, Bernard wants to be where the action is — and he’s seen plenty of it as both and player and manager. Bernard played in the major leagues from 1978 to 1982, and his 27 years of coaching has taken him from coast to coast and everywhere in between. “I like it here,” Bernard said recently from the family business southeast of Opdyke. “It’s close to family, and I love to hunt. There is no better part of the country to do that kind of thing than right here in Southern Illinois.” Bernard was drafted by the New York Mets after a successful high school and college career at Mt. Vernon Township High School and Bellmont College, respectively. Bernard was inducted into the MVTHS Hall of Fame in 2007. He met his

November 2013

wife of 40 years, Barbara, in college, and they have three grown children and two grandchildren. As a righth a n d e d pitcher, he was drafted in the second round by the Mets, and was assigned to Victoria, Texas, in double-A ball. In 1975, he was elevated to the triple-A club which eventually lost to the Evansville Triplets in the mini World Series. After stints in Jackson, Miss. and Tidewater, Va., during the 1976 and 1977 seasons, Bernard was called up in June

1978 for the Mets. He went up and down several times during the next two seasons before being traded to the


Brewers. He started the season in Vancouver in 1979, but a thumb operation sidelined him most of the year. In 1981, he returned to Vancouver, and was called up to the bigs late in the year. “That was when they had the mini playoffs and Milwaukee left me on the

roster. I got to pitch against the Yankees,” Bernard recalls, and was with the Brewers the entire 1982 season. “I have thrown 4 2/3 innings in postseason play, and I did not give up a hit,” Bernard said, noting he got to pitch one inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1982 World Series. The Cardinals won the

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of his managerial career. “James Paxton and Taijuan Walker were both good this year. Guys like that you’ve had, and Felix Hernandez in 2004, that have done well …. almost every pitcher that’s been up there I have had over the past 10 years. The whole bullpen at one time this past year had came down and went through me.” Hernandez is a former Cy Young recipient. Bernard’s chief responsibility in the minor leagues is assessing the talent and reporting to top-level major league executives on the progress of individuals, even during the winter months. “You recommend guys that might help your club, and the big club will ask for comparisons. You’re under contract for the whole year,” Bernard said. “When things change at the upper levels different people come in and they bring in their own people.” That’s how Bernard found out he would not be returning to coach for the Mariners’ farm system. “At this point in time, I’m not done with baseball. I’m looking to see what my future options are. I’m hoping to stay in a little longer,” the 61-year-old Bernard said. “When it quits being fun, then I’ll be done.” That’s fine with Bernard. He’s just fine

hanging with his dad and three brothers — Alvin, Gil and Tommy — at the family farm, and getting in a little hunting time after the fall harvest.


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series in seven games. He also pitched in postseason games against California and the Yankees. According to an online data source, Bernard was 4-8 lifetime with a 4.14 ERA. He recorded 92 strikeouts. Bernard’s first coaching assignment was in 1986 with Pittsburgh. The following two years, he managed Class A ball for Minnesota, and then he became their pitching coordinator for the next seven years. Bernard coached three seasons for minor league teams in the Milwaukee organization, and became the team’s bullpen coach in 2002. Since 2004, Bernard has coached for the Seattle Mariners at San Bernardino, San Antonio, Tacoma, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa. Bernard doesn’t know where he will end up in 2014. He found out during the Mariners’ series in St. Louis a couple of months ago that his contract would not be renewed — along with two other veteran coaches. Bernard is confident he’ll be somewhere when spring training rolls around in 2014. “The thrill is seeing guys get better and advancing to the major league level, and seeing them succeed,” Bernard said

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CONACT US: 4110 N. Water Tower Place • Mt. Vernon, IL 62864 (618) 731-4278 •


By Travis Morse

in Southern Illinois

Alan Whitmore founded the Southern Illinois Ghost Hunting Team as a way to further the public’s knowledge about the paranormal. In many cases, people are frightened of ghosts and supernatural occurrences when they really shouldn’t be, he said. By educating the public, Whitmore and his team hope to alleviate much of this unnecessary fear, he said. “I like doing it to help people,” Whitmore said. “If somebody doesn’t understand it, we let them know (the spirits) aren’t always here to threaten us. They may be here because they’ve got no place else to go. That’s why I decided to go ahead and start the team — to let people know what the paranormal is all about.” Whitmore, a Central City resident, works in Mt. Vernon and coordinates the team in his spare time. SIGHT, or Southern Illinois Ghost Hunting Team, has been active since November 2010 and has investigated about a dozen paranormal claims in this region,

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including two in Mt. Vernon. business. The team consists of six members and The team then visits the site and does a does not charge for its services. Members “walk-through,” Whitmore said. include: Whitmore, Heaven Farthing, Tim If the homeowner requests it, the team Kellems, Amy Shafer, and Matt and Dawn will then conduct an investigation of Spotanski. the site. This involves the use of audio To Whitmore, the team’s main function and video technology to try and capture is to inform residents about the alleged evidence of the paranormal or to try and spirit activity in their home. “Our main goal is to figure Photos by Travis Morse out who’s there and why they’re there,” Whitmore said. “Those are the questions we want to answer.” A case typically begins by the team receiving a phone call from someone who claims to have experienced something paranormal in their home or November 2013

find a natural cause for the resident’s odd experiences. After the investigation, team members will sit down with the h o m e o w n e r, review any evidence with them, and try to answer their questions. So far, the team has not run into any threatening “spirits or entities,” Whitmore said. If such spirits were encountered, the team would ask a local pastor to help out with the situation, Whitmore said. The team’s newest members, Matt and Dawn Spotanski of DuBois, joined the group in July. Their job is to complete research on a site prior to an investigation, which can be challenging, Dawn said. “It is a lot of fun, (but) the research part of it can be really frustrating because you get to dead ends,” Dawn said. “You find a little piece and then there’s nothing else to go on and you just keep looking for more answers.” On April 30, the team investigated a residence on 13th Street in Mt. Vernon. The homeowner claimed to have seen unexplained shadows throughout the house and told the team a young boy had died of leukemia in the home in the early 1900s, Whitmore said. According to Whitmore, the team collected audio and video evidence of two entities in the home. A child’s voice was allegedly recorded there saying, “where’s my mommy,” Whitmore said. An investigation of the historic Ruebel Hotel in Grafton Oct. 14 also proved fruitful for the team, Whitmore said. While there, team members allegedly collected video evidence of an entity using a thermal scan, he said. Whitmore’s interest in the paranormal comes from personal experience, he said. While growing up in Lawson, Mo., Whitmore said he lived in a haunted house where he would hear voices and see unexplained moving shadows. His parents, who were skeptics, bought him a tape recorder when he was a child, which he used to try and record the voices. November 2013

“I’ve always had an interest in the field,” Whitmore said. Matt Spotanski said he also had a paranormal experience as a child growing up

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in Waltonville. One night, while camping in a yard with friends, he said he saw a “gray face with black eyes” in the bottom window of a house. Ever since that incident, Matt has been fascinated with the paranormal. He said working with the SIGHT team has “validated” his childhood experience. “It just kind of brought everything full circle for me,” Matt said. Whitmore said interest is growing in his team and more and more people are calling them for help. Eight of the team’s 12 investigations have occurred this year, he said. “It’s picking up. The more people know about us, the more people call to talk to us,” Whitmore said. For more information on the team, visit the website, or call (309) 244-5693.

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November 2013

Mt Vernon Now November Issue  
Mt Vernon Now November Issue