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saturday, May 25, 2013

LEADERS Making a Difference in Our cOMMunities

Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013




Editor’s Note

Table of Contents

here’s no shortage of leaders in DeKalb County, and this special section tells the stories of but a few. Local leaders come from all walks of life, from the county’s farm fields to its athletic fields. They arrive in ambulances, police cars and fire trucks to help us when they’re called, or are in their classrooms ready to teach or learn when the bell sounds. Although the people featured in this section come from different backgrounds and walks of life, all of them have chosen to accept challenges and work in fields they are passionate about. Many have taken on great responsibility. All have had enough drive and skill to achieve some success. How did they do it, and why? What do they plan to do next? Read on, and they will tell you. – Eric Olson

ENTREPRENEURS/BUSINESS LEADERS ......................4 Q&A with Matt Duffy ..............................................................4 Leader profile – Frank Roberts .................................................5 Leader profile – Linda Underwood ...........................................6 TEACHERS/LEARNERS .............................................7 Leader profile – Phil Jerbi ........................................................8 Q&A with Mark Ekstrom .......................................................10 Leader profile – Linda Fulton .................................................11 Q&A with Sarah Stuebing ....................................................12 RESCUERS .............................................................14 Q&A with Eric Hicks .............................................................14 Leader profile – Ian Wheeler .................................................15 Leader profile – Andy Sullivan ...............................................16 GROWERS ............................................................17 Leader profile – John Ward ...................................................18 Leader profile – Mike Schweitzer ...........................................19 Leader profile – Paul Taylor ...................................................20 COMPETITORS ......................................................21 Q&A with Mason Lucca ........................................................21 Leader profile – Dave Hillmer ................................................22 Leader profile – Ed Mathey ...................................................23



Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013

Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013




Businesses are Q&A learning through MATT DUFFY the tough times By FELIX SARVER



ven in tough times, businesses can become stronger and better. Matt Duffy, executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said he believes business owners will run their companies more efficiently in the future. He’s noticed in the past year or two people are more inclined to take risks to start a business, unlike five years ago when the economy was in the grips of a recession. “I don’t think people realized how difficult it was, and you always kind of assume it’s going to turn around,” Duffy said. But Duffy also thinks the tough times encouraged businesses to streamline staffing and operations. Brian Grainger, who has owned Solid Construction Services at 1440 Pleasant St. since 2009, said he also thinks businesses can become better during a tough economy. A lot of great businesses made their start in poor economic times and survived because they were able to control their overhead costs, he said. “I think one of the benefits of starting on a challenging economy is if the economy increases, you’re a little leaner,” Grainger said, whereas those that begin at the height of a boom may not have learned to control their overhead. Duffy pointed to local nonprofit organizations as an example of businesses rolling with the punches. Nonprofit organizations took the lean manufacturing business model and applied it to their own work, and are now more efficient even as their state and federal funding are

slashed. “They’ve been able to make changes and run things in a way without fear of shutting their doors,” Duffy said. Small businesses can have some advantages over big businesses, especially when it comes to customer service. Grainger said he closed some of his own construction companies to start Solid Construction Services, which provides better customer service. Grainger said he thinks the key to success is customer service. “I think people at the end of the day still want to meet you,” Grainger said. Scott Morrow, who runs Flippin Eggs at 831 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb, has always tried to serve his customers well, noting he’s given out promotional gifts and aims to hire only friendly servers. The restaurant started out slow but expanded quickly through advertising and marketing. Morrow said social media is also useful. Other businesses that have used it have succeeded, he said. “I think right now, especially with the way the economy is, you’re just gonna have to separate yourself from your competitors,” Morrow said.  Duffy said those interested in becoming an entrepreneur should do their homework and put together a proper business plan. The Center for Business Development at Kishwaukee College and the Service Core of Retired Executives are two resources people can use to develop or evaluate their business plans, Duffy said.  “If you do your homework and ask the right people the right questions, you’ll be in a better position to succeed,” Duffy said.


att Duffy has been with the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce for four years, the past year as executive director. Prior to joining the chamber, he worked in the restaurant business, retail stores, sales, indoor sport facilities and he did an internship in the Super Bowl. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in sports management, with a minor in business, from Barry University in Florida. Here, Duffy explains his role as executive director and how he works with local businesses. DC: How did you get to this position as the executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce? DUFFY: I’ve done a lot of

Matt Duffy

different types of things in the past ... One of the things that I’ve done with the Chamber is work with a lot of different types of businesses. I’ve run a restaurant, I’ve run an indoor sports facility … and by doing that, that kind of helped me prepare for this. But probably the biggest reason I got more involved, while I was doing those things, I was involved

with the Chamber in different committees and I got to know what the Chamber was all about and connect with a lot of people to help get a better grasp for how the Chamber works. DC: What are some of your favorite businesses that you’ve worked with in DeKalb? DUFFY: Favorites? That’s a loaded question there! It’s hard to pick favorites on businesses. We do a lot with small businesses in general. The large businesses are the ones that are the most visible and are the ones that very supportive of the Chamber, … but really helping small businesses is what the Chamber’s role is. ... We like to work with small businesses to really help them See DUFFY, page 5

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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013




astle Bank has been an important DeKalb County lender since it opened in 1856, and for the past 30 years, Frank Roberts has been a fixture for this organization. Roberts, executive vice president of Castle Bank, has witnessed numerous economic downturns and prosperous upswings. Roberts has been instrumental in steering one of DeKalb County’s most prominent banks through very adverse business conditions to remain as a successful lending institution. “When the economy started to struggle, no one was immune to its effects,” Roberts said. “However in recent years, the business climate in the county has seen promising growth. We have seen consistent additions to the retail sector and a fair amount of real estate development, which is a very positive sign.” Canadian-born Roberts moved to the U.S. with his family when he was only 3 years old, and has grown his roots in DeKalb ever since. He is a Northern Illinois University alum and is married to his high school sweetheart. They have six children together. He credits the community with part of Castle Bank’s success. “Working closely with other community leaders and the dedicated members of our community has allowed us to prosper,” said Roberts. In addition to his executive duties at Castle bank, Roberts serves as board president for Re:New DeKalb, the organization dedicated to expanding and strengthening


From page 4 take it to the next level and find out what’s out there. DC: How does the Chamber bring small businesses to the attention of people in DeKalb? DUFFY: A lot of what we do is not only with the public but with other businesses. We do a Business and Community Expo,

Name: Frank Roberts Hometown: Chatham, Ontario, Canada Everyday job: Executive Vice President, Castle Bank Why I do it: “I’m proud to be part of a strong, proud community and want to do everything I can to help it succeed in all its endeavors.” redevelopment in DeKalb’s urban core. Roberts also has served on the boards and committees of the Kishwaukee College Foundation, DeKalb County Community Foundation, DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, City of DeKalb, DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, DeKalb School District 428, Cornerstone Christian Academy, and the Jacob Haish Foundation. As a longtime community and business leader, Roberts attributes the strength of the county’s tight-knit community to the relentless will and determination of its residents. “Throughout even the most trying of times, the people of our community have shown amazing positivity, and that has really been an integral part to the perseverance they have shown,” he said. Roberts himself has held and continues to hold a determined optimism for the stability and future of DeKalb County, its economy, and its residents. “I think it’s key that the people in our county unite,” he said, “and put together a long-term strategic plan that promotes growth in our community.”

and partner with the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce ... but through our newsletter, our website, our events – all the things we provide – that’s the way we provide recognition. DC: Have you ever run a business of your own? DUFFY: I have not, actually. I’ve worked in the lead position in a number of different businesses. ... It may have

Rob Winner –

Castle Bank’s Frank Roberts was honored by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce in the past year and plays a vital role with Re:New DeKalb.

been owned by an owner or ownership group, but you’re the one doing payroll and scheduling and ordering stuff. So you wear a lot of hats and do a lot of things. ... So I’d say I’ve run a business in essence, but I haven’t come from that entrepreneurial side of it. DC: Could you explain to me what you do in your day-to-day business as executive director?

DUFFY: Something different every day. ... I sit on a lot of boards, a lot of committees, a lot of task forces and councils – whatever the case may be – for economic development. What can we do to help encourage more people to come to the area? ... Serving as an advocate for business is what I do in a variety of different things. DC: What what sort of skills

do you rely on to do your job? DUFFY: Communication is a big skill, but it’s really more the experienced I’ve gathered. But communication is huge, ... being able to listen. The biggest thing that I do with people is ask them, ‘What are your goals?’ I can’t tell you what the Chamber can do for you until I know what it is that you want to do. Then I can give you some suggestions.

Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013






or newly elected president of Genoa Main Street Linda Underwood, DeKalb County offers limitless potential. A real estate agent at Century 21, Underwood devotes much of her spare time to help improve the small-town culture in Genoa. She has been an a key player in the development of Genoa Springboard, Main Street’s business incubator. “We hope to continually build Genoa’s successful economic structure,” said Underwood. “It’s an amazing place to grow and prosper.” Underwood, a native of Hampshire and graduate of Burlington Central High School, is at the forefront of networking and communicating with new businesses and business owners hoping to establish their company in a small-town setting. She has worked tirelessly to build community efforts within the town of Genoa. Genoa Main Street has organized events such as the Annual Volunteer and Partner Recognition Dinner and Dessert Auction, Community Ice Skating Rink and Economic Restructuring, and the Genoa Main Street and Downtown Businesses High School Scholarship Program. “I strive to help make this a great place to live,” said Underwood. “DeKalb County has grown in a very positive direction over the last 10 years, and I only see that continuing.”

THE STATS Name: Linda Underwood Hometown: Hampshire Everyday job: Real estate agent for Century 21 Why I do it: “For the love of making my community a great place to live and grow in.” One of Underwood’s strengths with Genoa Main Street is her background in real estate. As a Realtor, she lends her expertise to the organization’s business incubator – a program designed to support the successful development of entreprenial companies through an array of business support resources and services. “Linda has been extremely instrumental in advising businesses on strategic real estate decisions,” said Mim Evans, Genoa Main Street executive director. “Her guidance and insight serves as a very beneficial tool to upcoming entrepreneurs. She really brings a wealth of knowledge and ideas to what we aim to accomplish here and is a tremendous asset to our community.” Underwood attributes the success in her community leadership to working closely with business members and residents and working toward a common goal and unifying bond. “We have made remarkable strides in our business community over the years and improved the already impressive culture we have,” Underwood said. “I see this as a very positive sign of things to come.”

Rob Winner –

Linda Underwood is the president of Genoa Main Street. The organization has won numerous statewide main street awards.

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By STEPHANIE HICKMAN t’s been a busy year for schools in DeKalb County. Continuing to implement national common core standards, integrating technology and developing stronger curriculum while dealing with unknown revenues from the state has been a challenge for many districts. But that hasn’t stopped them from maximizing the limited resources they have. Post-secondary institutions such as Kishwaukee College continue to assist the local districts in preparing students to be college- and career-ready through dual enrollment programs. The districts also have been able to benefit schools like Northern Illinois University through

partnerships offering instructional opportunities for their own students. Sycamore School District 427 Superintendent Kathy Countryman said it’s essential to work with other schools, including NIU and Kishwaukee College, to better the development of students. Kishwaukee College President Tom Choice said the college has benefited from working with the local school districts, which is where the majority its students come from. Choice said although enrollment has increased tremendously over the years, the college also has had to tighten its budget. But he doesn’t feel it has hindered the success of the students and their ability to find work. “We believe they’re very well prepared,” he said. “We get good feedback from employers that they really

like our graduates.” Kishwaukee College and many local districts, including DeKalb, Genoa-Kingston and Sycamore, also continue to find ways to enhance technology in the classroom. Genoa-Kingston High School hopes to replace textbooks with a tablet for every student by the year 2020, said Superintendent Joe Burgess. Countryman said although Sycamore students are using technology more often, it’s something that is constantly changing and could be built upon. “How kids use technology needs to be looked at,” she said. “Not as an aside, but integrated into learning.” DeKalb School District 428 Superintendent Jim Briscoe said although the district was recognized in U.S. News and World Report this year


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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013

School districts facing challenges head-on

Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013






atalie Klein frantically searched Phil Jerbi’s classroom for the missing piece to her building prototype. The Genoa-Kingston High School senior started to panic when she realized she might have to rebuild the window to her small model shed, which she had been working on for awhile during Jerbi’s technology production classes. “Take a deep breath,” Jerbi told her. “That’s step one.” Klein exhaled, calmed herself and started gathering supplies to build another window. Solving mini-crises like Klein’s doesn’t happen every day, but Jerbi said he always has to be prepared for something new, especially when teaching technology. “The curriculum in this class is constantly changing and evolving,” he said. “And it’s our job to keep up.” Jerbi, a firm believer in hands-on learning and critical thinking, jokes and laughs with his students while they work, building a rapport similar to that of a real-world work environment. “I am not their teacher,” he said. “I am their executive.” But Jerbi said it’s important the students enjoy the work they do when they come to class. “If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to learn anything,” he said. Jerbi’s students are able to walk around and interact with each other, asking questions and giving advice on their projects, which he said is the best resource for them. Genoa-Kingston District 424 Superintendent Joe Burgess said peer interaction among the students is one of the keys to the success of Jerbi’s technology program. Burgess said the school is working to further advance its technology program

THE STATS Name: Phil Jerbi Hometown: Gardner Everyday job: Genoa-Kingston High School teacher Why I do it: “Our goal is to make our students more employable than any other school out there.” through state-of-the-art technology as part of their Vision 20/20 plan. Burgess formed the 20/20 planning group of parents, students, administrators, teachers and business leaders a few years ago to develop a more digital school, complete with tablets for each student, by the year 2020. Burgess said some of the group’s greatest insights have come from the students. “I think the process has been done in a way that we’ve made a point to listen to our students,” he said. “They’re teaching us what technology can do for them.” The technology G-K offers already has helped senior Ray Puckett, who has become well-versed in a computer-aided drafting software to design three-dimensional replicas of buildings, including the high school. The program is similar to software used by professional architecture firms, Puckett said. Puckett said the programs were intimidating at first. “All we had was a rectangle,” he said. “[Jerbi said], ‘Here’s what you need. Make it happen.’” Jerbi said it’s impressive the way the students have responded to these projects using the software. “For the average student, it is very complex,” Jerbi said. “But it becomes routine.” Puckett is one of three students enrolled in the school’s internship program with Custom Aluminum Products in Genoa, where they earn school credit and an hourly wage. The students have de-

Rob Winner –

Phil Jerbi instructs a drafting class at Genoa-Kingston High School. signed, developed and created prototypes for different parts that have been used by major companies including John Deere, Jerbi said. The company has offered two of the student interns scholarships to Kishwaukee College, where they will earn

their associate’s degrees in mechanical engineering. But Jerbi’s students’ accomplishments don’t stop there. As part of Jerbi’s curriculum, students must submit a building design in the annual American Institute of Archi-

tects’ student contest. The designs are for real buildings, like the sports complex in Rockford’s Ingersoll building. Jerbi said that of the 88 total entries from 80 schools in northern Illinois, 58 were from G-K students, who comprised five of the seven finalists including the firstand second-place winners. Jerbi’s techonology production classes are all at capacity this year, accomodating 172 students, with their popularity continuing to grow. “Kids want to be part of something that’s successful,” Jerbi said. The success of the students beyond his classroom is something Jerbi takes pride in, he said. “Our goal is to make our students more employable than any other school out there,” he said. “And I think we’re on the right track.”

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Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013

Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013







ark Ekstrom has worked with students of all ages in his 16 years as an educator. He started as a high school agriculture teacher in Gilman and has worked his way up to an elementary school administrator role in Sycamore. He is now in his sixth year as principal at Southeast Elementary School where he has impacted many young lives. The Daily Chronicle talked with Ekstrom about his tenure as principal and his longterm goals for the school and its students. DC: How did you get to where you are today? EKSTROM: I started out as an agriculture teacher, and so I have two degrees. My first one’s agribusiness, and then agriculture education. And then I got my masters in leadership to become a principal. … I’ve always wanted to help kids, and I thought a great way to help out would be at the elementary level as a principal. I always go back to my elementary principal, Mr. Warner, who was a motivational factor. I wanted to do the same thing for kids that he did for me when I went to Burlington School. DC: What’s the most challenging part about your job? EKSTROM: You never know what each day is going to bring. DC: What’s the most rewarding part? EKSTROM: The most rewarding part is that I really enjoy seeing the kids learning each and every day.  DC: Would you say your students inspire you? EKSTROM: Yes. The students are what keep me young. ... They’re full of energy, and my job is to help guide them

So the kids really enjoyed hearing about faraway places and getting to meet people from those places. And they’re right in our backyard, when you think about it, over at NIU. DC: What do some of your students tell you are their dreams for their future? EKSTROM: They have many aspirations, which is outstanding. So our job is to really help them find some of those careers. I know it’s only elementary, but we get them Rob Winner – thinking about the end result Southeast Elementary School principal Mark Ekstrom and a group of of finding a job later on and fifth-graders are pictured on April 26 in Sycamore. something that’s a passion for them. ... So it’s amazing to see through choices that they make national Night, we had students those already blossom at this and help steer them in the right from NIU with 16 different age ... We have a wide array of direction for some, and other countries represented. Students different interests. So our job ones to keep going in the right from those actual countries is to make sure to help them direction. To be a great model is came here and promoted what move forward, to help them what my job is for them. they do over in their homelands. aspire to those interests. DC: What are you most proud of at Southeast Elementary? EKSTROM: I have the best teachers. They are great to work with. And I have great students and great parents. I’ve really got everything all the way around. All my staff is phenomenal, they’re warm, they’re welcoming, they work hard. ... For me, that’s the best thing. They make me want to come to my job each day and keep that going for everyone. DC: What are your goals for the school down the road? EKSTROM: Our biggest goal is to make sure the kids are always learning, always moving forward individually to the best potential that they can. Provide a safe and secure environment for them at all times. And also be a safe place to make mistakes. And of course learn from those mistakes. DC: Have you been doing anything recently at the school? EKSTROM: We had an Inter-

DC: Have you been working with the community at all? EKSTROM: Right now, we’re working with the (Kishwaukee Family) YMCA and the community gardens project to put gardens out on our school grounds to provide for our local food pantries and our local families who may need some fresh produce, [which] will be raised right here on the school grounds. ... We have something called K-Kids here, that’s part of the Kiwanis. So we have a good working relationship with them. They give a lot back to the community. … They collected change for UNICEF, they planted flowers a couple weeks ago to help beautify the school grounds. So it’s their start for community service. ... It’s important that they know to give back to their community.


leader profile LINDA FULTON



By STEPHANIE HICKMAN or Linda Fulton, the hardest part of her job is parting with it. The eighth-grade language arts teacher at Huntley Middle School will trade in her red pens and lesson plans for the retired life after 22 years in the DeKalb School District. Although the 65-year-old Fulton said she looks forward to spending more time with her retired husband, she still is not ready to leave. “I’m having a hard time with it,” she said. “I’m not burned out yet with the kids.” A graduate of Northern Illinois University, the Chicago native didn’t become a teacher until later in life. After working as a writer for The MidWeek and the Daily Chronicle, Fulton became inspired to jumpstart

Name: Linda Fulton Hometown: Chicago Everyday job: Huntley Middle School language arts teacher Why I do it: “I always knew I wanted to teach.” her dream of teaching while helping her daughter, a new teacher at the time, grade essays at home. “I always knew I wanted to teach,” she said. “So I thought, ‘I better get to it!’” After teaching students as young as third grade and as old as high school, Fulton has called Huntley Middle School home for the past 16 years. Rob Winner –

See FULTON, page 13

Linda Fulton is seen outside her classroom at Huntley Middle School in DeKalb.


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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013







arah Stuebing has taken advantage of nearly every opportunity offered to her during her time at Northern Illinois University. The DeKalb High School alum and junior biology major has participated in various research projects and organizations that have helped her excel as a student and future veterinarian. The Daily Chronicle spoke with Stuebing about growing up in DeKalb, pursuing her college degree locally and what her future plans are. DC: You grew up in DeKalb,

so what made you want to go to NIU? STUEBING: I’d have to say, to be honest, I came here because it was easy, which was not the right reason to come here, but it ended up being the best decision I think I could’ve made. … I said: “When I can do this in my own backyard, why would I Rob Winner – not?” It’s been a huge asset. ... Junior Sarah Stuebing, a DeKalb native, studies biology at Northern I’ve gotten involved in so many Illinois University. things, had so many opporturesearch my freshman year nities. NIU’s been incredibly So freshman year I did my own through a new program that supportive of me and all the research project on horses and they have called Research crazy ideas I have. equine gait analysis. I worked Rookies. It was the first year DC: Tell me a little bit about with three different professors what you’re involved with at NIU. they actually had that program, on that project. Since nobody STUEBING: I’m really involved and it was all about getting knew what this was supposed freshmen involved in research. in research. I started with to be, I just had this idea and I

tried it out. And these professors were willing to help me, and they were phenomenal. And how many people can say that at NIU they’ve done a horse project, at any age, let alone as a freshman? For the past two years, I’ve been in a neuroscience lab working with rats. With all my research, I try to involve animals in some way. That’s my goal is animal experience and research at the same time if at all possible ... Basically we’re trying to look at the spacial orientation or the wandering that’s often seen with Alzheimer’s or stroke patients, and we’re trying to understand how different parts of the brain contribute to it, which is really neat. Another crazy research project I did was last summer. I went to Argentina and worked with monkeys and was See STUEBING, page 13

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From page 11 Teaching at the middle school level is a special experience, she said. “They’re knowledgeable enough to know they are on the brink of their future,” she said. Huntley Middle School principal Roger Scott said Fulton has been a strong, positive influence on her students, faculty and the school. “She definitely is a motivator,” he said. “She doesn’t let kids just slip through the cracks.” Fulton encourages her students to express themselves through their writing, which is why she said she always accepts any of their written pieces as extra credit. “For years and years, I have really emphasized writing,” she said. “The stories that they tell are just absolutely amazing.” Reading the students’ work, ranging from personal accounts to poems and creative pieces, can be very revealing, she said. “To them, it’s very real what they’re writing,” she said. Despite some misspellings and grammatical errors, Fulton said her students’ writing also shows their growth as learn-

ers and as people. Fulton takes pride in her students’ work, displaying their projects and book reports all over the classroom and in the hallways. She also has projects of her own displayed next to her students’, serving as an example of what she expects from them in their work. “She leads by example,” Scott said. “She certainly is a role model.” Even after her students have moved on from the halls of Huntley, Fulton said she keeps in contact with many of them. She also enjoys running into them around the community. As her final school year comes to a close, Fulton said the experience is bittersweet. “There are days, sure,” she said. “But I really love what I do. I enjoy being with the kids.” Her students’ appreciation surrounds her as flowers and cards are displayed throughout the classroom with messages like: “Thanks for helping us bloom,” and “You have no idea the impact you make on this community.” Scott said he also is grateful for the hard work Fulton has demonstrated over the years. “[She’s] someone who has put in her time,” he said, “and has done the district very well.”

• STUEBING From page 12

documenting and analyzing their facial expressions, which is something that’s never been done before in the species of monkey. I think it has potential to be really useful in terms of providing a standard in trying to interpret their behavior. I also co-founded and am the president of the Pre-Veterinary Medicine Association at NIU. I’m a Northern Lights ambassador, so I get to represent the university and work with alumni and new and incoming students. I teach Sunday School. I have three horses that I train myself and I teach horseback riding as well. DC: Where do you see yourself five or 10 years down the road? STUEBING: I would love to be a vet. I’d love to do something more involved. Not just a typical sort of small animal practice veterinarian … I’d love to teach. I’d love to do

the research and a little bit of overseeing the animals as well would be a great combination. Otherwise, maybe working for the government. The CDC, something like when there are outbreaks with swine flu and research and veterinary background that could come in handy. I like to think big. So something different. No cookie-cutter vet. But I’d be more than happy doing that, too. DC: What drives your success as a student? STUEBING: For the moment, I’d say that goal of going to vet school. My goal from day one is to get to a point where I can help people by helping animals. Make a difference in animals’ eyes and therefore helping the owners too. That’s really what keeps me going is getting to that point and really being able to do what I want to do ... The little veterinary opportunities that I do have from time to time just remind me how much that is what I want to do.



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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013





Doing more with less






he Daily Chronicle sat down with DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks to talk about the progress the DeKalb Fire Department has made since his promotion. Hicks was named interim chief in February 2012 after Bruce Harrison announced his retirement. In July, the DeKalb City Council promoted Hicks to fire chief. DC: You took over the department a little more than a year ago. You were named chief in July. What has the fire department done within the past year? HICKS: Starting last February was when I was named interim chief, I did an evaluation of what the department needed. ... Over the last few years, the department took a pretty hard hit on attrition, especially of upper-type personnel. ... We were at 60 in 2007. Today ... we’re at 52 personnel total, that includes linemen and personnel staff. I looked at it and said, to move forward, we somehow have to start rebuilding the organization from that level. To make any program work, you have to have people to run the program. ... We re-organized our whole management team, from lieutenants to the chief in the last year. ... The next thing we worked on is how we were going to re-staff. We had lost at least five line personnel, and we were approaching $1 million in overtime. We worked with [the city] council and staff to develop a plan to reduce that overtime pay and bring some people back on staff. July 1 of this year ... we will have five new additional firefighters. We’ll be at 57. DC: During our first interview, you said every fire chief has a theme and your theme was rebuilding. Going off the staff personnel, what else is the department doing to rebuild?

DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks

HICKS: Next thing we’re looking at is our equipment. We had good times here in the early 2000s, mid-2000s. Now we’re going through times where we haven’t bought anything. ... Everything we have is very expensive. You have to keep your stock up. ... We start working with a plan to start upgrading our equipment. We wrote an interest-free loan grant (application) and we were accepted for that grant over the summer. We’re currently in the building stage of an engine which will be delivered here in July. DC: Where do you see the department going forward into fiscal 2014 and into the future? HICKS: We continue to build relationships, refine our service, keep costs fiscally responsible. ... We’re doing a strategic plan. We just got done working with the Center for Governmental Studies. We’re doing a whole new strategic plan for the fire department which will include mission statements, goals, where we want to be – short-term and long-term. DC: Did the fire department’s strategic plan need to be updated? What kind of purpose does a strategic plan serve a fire department? HICKS: You want to know See HICKS, page 16

or the past few years, municipal governments have been doing more with less, and the same is true for fire and police departments. At a May 13 city council meeting, DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks said the fire department responded to a record 5,224 requests for service in 2012. “[There were] more requests than any other year in the history of the fire department,” Hicks said. “And we did so with the lowest staff since 2007.” 2012 was a year of change for the DeKalb police and fire departments. It saw the retirements of Fire Chief Bruce Harrison and Police Chief Bill Feithen, who were replaced by Hicks and Gene Lowery, respectively. During the same time period, Pete Polarek replaced Mark Kessler as the head of Sycamore Fire. The heads of these divisions join colleagues in other municipal departments facing the same issue: how to maintain or increase services with fewer resources. “We all have to act smarter and more efficient, and I think we’ve been doing that,” DeKalb City Manager Mark Biernacki said. Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory echoed similar sentiments. He said budgets have increased as a result of cost-of-living

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adjustments. “As we look out into the future, as growth (in Sycamore) occurs, we’ll need to plan for all departments in terms of what our staffing is,” Gregory said. Staffing is an issue for the DeKalb departments. Both Lowery and Hicks want to increase the number of police officers and firefighters on their staffs. By July 1, Hicks plans to have added five new firefighters, bringing staffing up to 57. Lowery previously said his budget can allow for two more officers to add to the existing 61, but he will be formally requesting the DeKalb City Council for more help. In 2012, DeKalb police had 40,908 calls for service, making that 647 calls per officer. By comparison, Sycamore police had about 19,000 calls for service during the same year. Biernacki identified joint service agreements, whether formal or informal, as being key to the future as departments deal with constrained resources. Noting that Illinois leads the nation in units of government, Biernacki said there may come a time where consolidation of some kind might be the answer. “The model we’ve been accustomed to for the past decades, I don’t think that’s a model that will last into the future,” Biernacki said. He added, however, that such decisions are ultimately made by the voters via referendum.

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By DAVID THOMAS Ever since he started playing with fire trucks as a little boy, Ian Wheeler has wanted to help people. Working as a paramedic with the Sycamore Fire Department for the past five years, he has done just that. “Any time we’d see a fire engine or an ambulance driving by, we’d follow it, see what they’re doing,” Wheeler said. “Unlike trying to become a Superman or Batman, this is a dream that never died.” He was a student at Sycamore High School when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred. It was on that day that Wheeler realized he was on the right path.

Name: Ian Wheeler Hometown: Sycamore Everyday job: Sycamore Fire Department paramedic Why I do it: “I love helping people. ... It’s something that’s in my blood.” “Seeing the amount of courageous people that, when there’s danger, they’re not avoiding it,” Wheeler said. “They’re going the other way. I love helping people. ... It’s something that’s in my blood.” After high school, he went to Rock Valley College in Rockford and Kishwaukee College, earning degrees in fire science and emergency management services,

respectively. As a paramedic, Wheeler said he mostly responds to emergency medical calls, not calls for fire emergencies. “You call 9-1-1 for something, we’re going to do our best to take care of it and keep everybody healthy and safe,” he said. Like any first responder, the life of a paramedic is filled with sacrifice. Wheeler said he’s accepted the fact that he’ll have to miss some important events in his family’s lives. “That’s something you just have to deal with,” Wheeler said. “We’re just born differently. ... As much as we’re going to miss their things, we’ll still have that time to spend with them.” Still, Wheeler acknowl-

Rob Winner –

Ian Wheeler is an Emergency Medical Technician with the Sycamore Fire Department. edged it’s heartbreaking to know he could suffer a career-ending injury any day. To him, there’s no injury that could prevent him from doing his job, but he’s aware his superiors might not feel the same way. Wheeler, 25, said he’s also not interesting in leaving the city he has called home, and the people he regards as a

second family. However, he acknowledged that feeling of brotherhood would be present wherever he went. “That’s the great thing about this fire department family, history and tradition,” Wheeler said. “I am definitely not going anywhere. This is where I was born. ... It’s just a great community. Everything’s great.”

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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013




leader profile ANDY SULLIVAN By DAVID THOMAS dthomas@shawmedia


t. Andy Sullivan has spent 16 years with the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. Half of that time he had a partner named Maverick. “It was amazing,” Sullivan said about his German shepherd. “You always had a partner with you. It was a lot of fun ... That was probably the most fun portion of my career so far. I got to do a lot of interesting things.” Maverick died a couple of years ago, and Sullivan now spends his time overseeing the office’s patrol division and its 29 officers. His division handles calls for service or any other special details, he said. Sullivan was born and raised in DeKalb, where he still lives with his wife and three children. He described himself as having “deep-seeded roots” in the area. “I grew up in this community. I like the people here, I enjoy working with people,” Sullivan said. “If you can increase the quality of life for people here, it’d be nice to have your hand in it.” Sullivan added that he tries to make every day a better day for his colleagues and the community he serves. After graduating from DeKalb High School, he went


From page 14 where you want to be, and where you need to go. We had a strategic plan, but we had a strategic plan for different economic times. The economic times drive every organization, every business ... I think we have a pretty good plan, it’s about done. DC: I know you said the plan is still in the works, but could you give me an idea of where you want it to go? HICKS: A lot of it is going

THE STATS Name: Andy Sullivan Hometown: DeKalb Everyday job: DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant Why I do it: “If you can increase the quality of life for people here, it’d be nice to have your hand in it.” to Kishwaukee College. One of his professors worked for the Illinois State Police, and it was then that Sullivan began pursuing a career in law enforcement. “When I first went (to Kishwaukee College), I didn’t know,” Sullivan said. “I took some law enforcement classes and it really sparked my interest.” After an internship at the DeKalb Police Department, Sullivan began working parttime at the DeKalb County Jail. He was hired full-time in 1997. Sullivan’s time at the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office included a 10-week professional development seminar hosted by the FBI. His participation is denoted by an FBI pin on his uniform. Through classes offered by the University of Virginia, Sullivan and 250 other colleagues learned about street gang activity, leadership, and

to deal with training, how we structure our days, how we become more effective ... and to do more with less. How are we going to do that? The guys are doing a lot. We’ve brought a lot of programs back within the last year. The biggest one I am most happy with is the training program we brought back...Part of our reorganization plan was to bring back a full-time training officer. His job is training. He doesn’t really do anything else except line up training for the guys.

statement analysis. “It gives you a huge networking base,” Sullivan said. “If I needed something ... if nobody around here had dealt with (a specific scenario) before, I have 250 other people I can contact and see if they have ever experienced that same situation. It was a tremendous learning experience.” Sullivan described law enforcement as a very rewarding career. He said his children have no expectations to become police officers themselves; he just encouraged them to do whatever makes them happy. He has no regrets about his line of work. “It can be a very fun job, or it can be a very boring job,” Sullivan said. “You never know what each day is going to be, and that’s what makes it so nice, because every day is different.”

Rob Winner –

DeKalb County Sheriff’s Lt. Andy Sullivan is pictured in DeKalb.

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Agriculture is valuable commodity for county By JILLIAN DUCHNOWSKI One can easily see how important agriculture is to DeKalb County’s economy by skimming statistics from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The county is the second-largest hog-producer in the state, marketing about 506,000 pigs a year, according to the DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s website. The county produces $260 million worth of corn annually on about 233,500 acres of land, and about $66 million worth of soybeans on about 92,000 acres, according to the farm bureau. The total value of agriculture production is DeKalb County is about $426 million. As technology drives farmers to take on more and more acreage, the

DeKalb County Farm Bureau has shifted focus from educating farmers about new technologies and techniques to educating non-farmers. The bureau is advocating for agriculture with the county, state and federal government, while educating local non-farming residents about farming. “We’re also there trying to lead with providing information to show the non-farm public to show what we do on the farm to be good stewards of the land and good caregivers for the livestock,” said Mark Tuttle, farm board president. The organization’s mission has come full circle. In 1912, a predecessor to the farm bureau formed to hire a permanent farm adviser to help farmers improve soil fertility – and ultimately increase field yields, accord-

ing to the farm bureau website. They discussed crop rotation and using barnyard manure, and the association purchased limestone in bulk to pass the savings onto local farmers. About a century later, technology, seed and other companies provide plenty of education for farmers, so farm bureau members are spending more time teaching local elementary school students about farming through Ag in the Classroom. For example, Roger and Vickie Faivre taught first-graders in Malta and Cortland how to plant soybean and corn seeds, according to the farm bureau’s March issue of Point of View. Other volunteers, including Mark and Mary Yeager and FFA member Paul Deutsch, taught secondgraders how to make ice cream while discussing how milk production.

The farm bureau’s other major focus – lobbying – is important because unlike other businesses, farmers cannot easily move their operations to other states if they disagree with major legislation. “The land can’t pack up and go,” Tuttle said. “The land’s got to stay here in Illinois, and we’ve got to deal with it.” Tuttle also reminds DeKalb County residents that agriculture provides several jobs off the farm, too. Fertilizer plants, transportation over waterways, food processing and banking all are connected with farming, so that about 40 percent of Illinois jobs are related to agriculture in some way, Tuttle said. “There are a lot of jobs in agriculture that don’t deal with a person sitting on a tractor,” Tuttle said.

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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013






amily, community and farming are very important to John Ward. His son, Stephen, lives on the original family farm – which was called Dayton Farms when it was founded back in 1836 – and named his son Dayton Ward in honor of that heritage. Dayton Ward and his sister, Sarah, are the seventh generation of the family to live on a DeKalb County farm. So much has changed over the years. Originally, the family specialized in sheep. They switched to cattle in the 1920s and hogs in the ’50s. Now, they raise about 9,500 head of hogs a year, wean to finish, under contract with Illini Farms. “Cattle had taken over for sheep,” John Ward said. “You don’t find many cattle people around here. I think there are three or four. But there are a lot of hog people.” Just as John Ward has watched a change in livestock, his career has seen other sweeping changes in agriculture. Technology now is present everywhere: from seeds, to mapping fields and planting. Tractors have display screens, combines can steer automatically, and farmers can sell their products by text or email. John Ward often tucks his smartphone in the front pocket of his overalls. “You might sell corn locally; you might sell corn to some ethanol plant 200 miles away,” he said, remembering that local sales were the only option only 10 or 15 years ago. Meanwhile, the farms and the equipment on them both have gotten much larger. John Ward started out with 240 acres in 1972, but now his family farms about 2,500 acres: 1,500 acres of corn, 850 acres of soybeans, 100 acres of wheat and 50 acres of hay.

THE STATS Name: John Ward Hometown: Sycamore Everyday job: Farmer; mostly hogs, corn and soybeans Why I do it: “We’ve always loved the farm, and we’ve always loved the community. Those are the two things that have always guided us.” “In order to support a family, it takes a lot more acres than it used to,” John Ward said. Both John and his wife, Betsy, are pleased that Stephen, now 42, was interested in forming a business partnership with his father and running the family farm. Stephen basically runs the show, allowing John to slow down a bit at age 69. Betsy retired as a secretary about a year ago, but still runs for parts, gives workers rides and helps with computer work. John Ward is on the Kishwaukee Hospital Foundation Board and a trustee for both the Sycamore Rural Fire Protection District and Sycamore Township. Years ago, he was a school board member for Sycamore School District 427. Now, Stephen Ward is on the Cortland Township Board, is active with Boy Scouts and a Republican precinct committeeman. “We’ve always loved the farm, and we’ve always loved the community,” John Ward said. “Those are the two things that have always guided us.” John Ward said he never wanted his son to feel obligated to make a career in agriculture, and he knew his daughter, Stephanie Palmer, was not interested in farming, although she was the Illinois Pork Queen during her freshman year of college. Now 46, she’s a middle school principal in Oak Brook and frequently brings her two boys, Joran and

Rob Winner –

John Ward is pictured at his farm in Sycamore. Dalton, out to their grandparents’ farm. Joran is Swedish for farmer, but it’s too soon to

tell if his name will become an indicator of his profession. “Don’t know what his

grandkids will do,” Betsy Ward said. “That’s up in their air.”

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n the past three years, Mike Schweitzer has embraced strip-till farming. It’s a technique in which farmers only till eight- to 10-inch strips of their fields. Within those strips, they apply fertilizer and plant the seeds, but they leave the rest of the crop residue intact. It helps prevent the soil from blowing or washing away, and it seems to require less fuel. “We’re getting just as good of yields as we could if we were using broad tillage practices,” Schweitzer said. “It’s good for our pocketbook, as well as the environment.”

Name: Mike Schweitzer Hometown: Malta Everyday job: Crop farmer, corn and soybeans Why I do it: “I always wanted to come back and farm.” Mike’s father, Paul Schweitzer, 70, couldn’t conceive of strip-tilling decades ago. Paul Schweitzer started farming largely because he enjoyed being his own boss, the challenge of trying to achieve better yields each year and working with the machinery. For awhile, the family farm included cattle, as well as growing some hay and oats. They got out of livestock

about 15 years ago, though. “We were feeding cattle, and it wasn’t a really profitable any more,” Paul Schweitzer said. “We never really lost money, but we weren’t feeding enough to make much money for the investment we had.” The farm has undergone a more subtle transition over the past 7 years, though. Mike Schweitzer, 30, finished his Bachelor’s degree at University of Illinois in 2004 and entered a partnership with his dad that saw him gradually assume more and more responsibility for the farm. They began using high-level GPS 5 or 6 years ago and fully converted to strip-till farming about 3 years ago.

Rob Winner –

Paul Schweitzer (left) and his son Mike Schweitzer look over a field sprayer while preparing for the upcoming planting season in Malta on March 27. They had to invest in the technology to make that possible, so it might be nice to farm more acreage to maximize that investment, Michael Schweitzer said. But he couldn’t imagine farming any other way now.

“The soil seems a lot more resilient,” Michael Schweitzer said. “The nice part is, we’re not putting the land in a position where water can run across it and wash it away and wind can blow across it.”

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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013




leader profile PAUL TAYLOR




aul Taylor can look behind the yard where he learned to ride a bike as a boy and see about a third of the land he farms today. Taylor, 61, grows mostly soybeans and corn on about 650 acres in Esmond. He also rotates vegetables for Del Monte including sweet corn, green peas and lima beans. Taylor, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, figures grain farming is going the way of the rest of agriculture. His grandfather operated a self-sustaining 130-acre farm, which Taylor knows would be next to impossible in today’s environment. Family farming operations are handling more and more acres, and technology continues to improve efficiency. “We jokingly say sometimes that there will be six farmers operating all the land in DeKalb County in 50 years,” Taylor said. In the past decade or so, he’s seen technology improve tractors with GPS and auto steer and transform planting and fertilizing decisions into year-round considerations. Grain farming has evolved so much it would be hard for those who do not come from farming families or have substantial startup money to build a career in

Name: Paul Taylor Hometown: Esmond Everyday job: Crop farmer, President of the Illinois Corn Growers Association Why I do it: “At this stage in my life, it’s a great way to utilize the experiences and training I’ve had to pay back to my community.” the field, unless they wanted to specialize in a niche market. “It’s not an 8-to-5 kind of job,” Taylor said. Taylor is slowly downsizing his own operation, though. He has two grown sons: One has no interest in farming, while the other is unsure about making the career change that would be involved. Taylor has another endeavor that could take more of his time: He is eyeing a seat on the National Corn Growers Association board. He plans to run for a threeyear term this summer. The state organization is pushing for a new five-year farm bill with an affordable crop insurance program and continued use of ethanol and other biofuels. State corn growers also are advocating for improvements to the state’s rural infrastructure, primarily locks and dams that would maintain their ability to get their product to New Orleans by barge to

Rob Winner –

Paul Taylor of Esmond prepares some field machinery on his farm on April 30. export. Personally, Taylor fears the infrastructure issues won’t be addressed until there’s a near catastrophe,

but in general, he figures preparation is more important the planning. He figures one needs to prepare for the future by building skills

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enoa-Kingston senior Mason Lucca is about to finish up a long and successful career at G-K. Lucca was a Daily Chronicle All-Area boys golf selection in the fall and was an All-Area pick as a guard for the Cogs’ basketball team in the winter. Lucca is concluding his athletic career at G-K this spring with the Cogs’ baseball team. One of four brothers who attends or has attended G-K, Lucca talked with the Daily Chronicle about his experiences. The following is an edited transcript. DC: What was the first sport you really got into? LUCCA: Baseball’s always been pretty big in my life. That was the first sport (I played). Basketball kind of progressed, and then golf. DC: Do you remember how you got into each sport you now play at G-K? LUCCA: I’d say my older brothers (Bret and Adam) kind of paved the way for me. If it wasn’t for having two older brothers, I don’t think I’d be as interested in sports as I am now. DC: In basketball, you’ve gotten to play on the same team as your older brother Bret and younger brother Tommy. What’s that experience been like, being able to play on the same team as your older brother and younger brother? LUCCA: I would say it’s a best-case situation, I think. Bret, he showed me the ropes, me playing up with him. Kind of showed me how to be a leader and take kids under your wing, and kind of show the other kids the ropes. And then I kind of got to use that more when my little brother (G-K freshman Tommy) played up with me, and I kind of got to show him the ropes as I took him under my wing.

Mason Lucca

DC: What’s the competition at home been like for you guys, just playing around the house? LUCCA: It’s pretty cutthroat. We’re all really competitive. We get into it sometimes, but that’s kind of what brothers do, I guess. It’s all in good fun though. DC: What’s your favorite memory as a G-K athlete? LUCCA: I’d have to say my sophomore year, playing up with my older brother. Us advancing to the state Sweet 16 for basketball. DC: What are the challenges of being a three-sport athlete? LUCCA: It’s a lot to balance. You never have any downtime really. It’s from one sport on to the next, practices every day. It’s kind of tough because I’m also involved in student council and stuff like that. I’m in other clubs and also sports. It’s tough to manage with grades and stuff. I think it’s taught me a lot on how to manage my time. DC: Is there any advice you’d give to other three-sport athletes? LUCCA: I’m coming down to my last few weeks of baseball season, it’s starting to really hit me. Just cherish every game, not get too down on yourself. It goes on and you can always rebound back, especially if you play multiple sports. I’ve had some losing seasons at Genoa. It’s tough to handle at first, but it can really get you motivated for the next season and the next sport.



uring Matt Weckler’s first years coaching football at Belvidere, he was content with the facilities the school

had. The grass fields never kept Weckler’s teams from having success as the Bucs went 31-29 and made the playoffs in four of six seasons during his tenure, but he saw other schools with more opportunities as the years went on. When the DeKalb head coaching job opened up late in 2012, the Barbs’ brandnew football stadium, weight room and turf field were part of an easy sell to Weckler, who was hired in February. Weckler envisions small advantages for the Barbs, including better practices as the season progresses and the ability to switch practices between grass and turf depending on the opponent. “Later in the year that you actually play, the harder the ground usually gets because of the frost,” Weckler said. “The more you’re on the grass and on the practice field, the grass wears off. It becomes dirt and almost a cement-like surface. The turf … it’s constant, it’s the same.” The 2-year-old athletic facilities at the new DeKalb High School have been well-re-

ceived by local athletes and coaches and the advantages have already been felt by teams besides football. “With the weather this year, baseball and softball weren’t always able to practice on their fields, but they were able to practice on the turf,” DeKalb athletic director Bryon Houy said. “Without that … you’d have all the teams inside.” The new facilities are part of the reason DeKalb has been able to host 38 additional events or tournaments this year outside of those annually put on by its sports teams. Houy has had requests from other high school teams and local club teams to use the gym or outdoor fields. The Illinois Chaos, a minor league football team, is making the high school its new site for home games this summer and Houy said there have been talks about getting the school involved when the state football finals come to town in November. Local athletes gain competitive advantages from daily use, and the district draws additional revenue from many of these events, but Houy sees a bigger positive as well. “It exposes our school and the community to the outside people,” Houy said. “They come here and see that we can put on a good tournament and they want to come back. I think that represents DeKalb well.”

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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013






ave Hillmer remembers when the Sycamore girls tennis team didn’t have courts of their own. The team would walk over to West School and play on the elementary school’s four courts. The courts were beaten up and uneven, cracked from the winters when they would be flooded with water and used for ice skating. The girls would pull weeds growing on the courts before every match and Hillmer, then the principal at West, would do some of his own maintenance. “I would go out at noon and unplug the holes so the water would drain off by the time, 3:30, 4 p.m. rolled around,” Hillmer said. “Everybody hated to play there, including us.” Twenty years later and tennis courts are anything but an issue for Hillmer and Sycamore. The new courts at the high school, built around 15 years ago, are just one of the many changes Hillmer has seen during his long tenure as the girls tennis coach. He’s seen the program transformed from a team that had little chance of being competitive to a squad that was one tournament loss away from an undefeated team season last year. “The first year I coached, we won our first two matches and the secretary said ‘We never win here in tennis,’” Hillmer said. “Back then it was so different.” Hillmer got his start in tennis when he was in middle school. He’d loiter around the tennis courts at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s South Side, waiting for one of the college kids to ask him to hit balls. He became principal at Genoa-Kingston in the 1970s and started as the girls tennis

THE STATS Name: Dave Hillmer Hometown: Chicago Everyday job: Sycamore High School girls tennis coach Why I do it: “I love to play. I love the girls. They’re just fun. It keeps me young I think. I really like just being there.” coach at Sycamore in 1979, when he moved into the district as an administrator. “When I first started, girls didn’t pick up a racket until Aug. 15,” Hillmer said. “They’d walk out there and I knew we were beat right then. We’re probably not going to win a lot of stuff.” That mentality eventually changed as more girls started to play in the offseason. Hillmer even organized five unofficial practices in the Sycamore field house this past winter and 14 girls showed up to the first session. Hillmer said the best thing about his coaching career has been the relationships he’s forged. He often has former players call him, asking him to play with them in tournaments or be the fourth player for recreational doubles play on a random weekend. Although Hillmer is the longest-tenured coach at Sycamore, he isn’t sure when he’ll retire from coaching for good. He’s looking forward to possibly coaching one more player who will soon enter high school. “I look ahead and see my granddaughter,” Hillmer said. “In three years she could play and she’s coming to camps this year. I might have to hang on a little longer, we’ll see.”

Daily Chronicle file photo

Sycamore’s girls tennis head coach Dave Hillmer leads varsity practice at Sycamore High School in 2010.

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LEADERS | Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


leader profile ED MATHEY By STEVE NITZ


or Ed Mathey, coaching Division I baseball wasn’t necessarily a lifelong dream. Northern Illinois’ baseball coach spent nine seasons at his alma mater, North Central College in Naperville, where he won three conference titles, including a runner-up finish in an NCAA Division III Regional in 1998. However, when former Huskies coach Dave Schrage took the head coaching job at Evansville, Mathey knew one of Schrage’s assistants, Scott Lawler, who went to Evansville with Mathey. Both Schrage and Lawler talked to then-NIU athletic director Cary Groth and recommended Mathey for the job in DeKalb. Roughly 10 days later, Mathey accepted the position. The 2013 season is his 11th at the helm of the Huskies, and he’s the school’s all-time wins leader – he had 255 entering the season, and coming into the year he had the four highest win totals in the history of the NIU program. “Fortunate events,” Mathey said. “Because in this business there’s always assistants down at SEC schools and Big 12 schools that are looking to be a head coach and they elected to go with somebody from the region, and I was pretty fortunate.” Mathey felt comfortable at North Central. It was important for the native of the south suburbs to be in the Chicago area. His wife, Colleen, is also from the south suburban area, and Mathey liked what Northern had to offer when he arrived in 2002. “My family, we’re from Chicagoland. My wife’s from Chicagoland, so being able to be around extended family is huge,” Mathey said. “I think it’s important too, that we have our own existing family

THE STATS Name: Ed Mathey Hometown: Harvey Everyday job: Northern Illinois University baseball coach Why I do it: “That’s what I’m really proud of, that’s what it’s really all about, because sure we’d love these guys to be Major League Baseball players but it’s more important that they go out, they’re good citizens, they’re good people, they’re good family members.” with three children, it was important that they have a good area to grow up in and we feel like we’ve accomplished that.” Mathey won 34 games in his first season and followed that up with a 31-win campaign in 2004. There were certainly challenges at first. NIU dropped its baseball program after the 1982 season before reviving it in 1991, so there wasn’t really a good base of baseball alums, and some older alums were upset that the program had disbanded. One challenge was trying to establish relationships with alumni. At North Central, Mathey was at a level where programs were more equal, unlike Division I where conferences like the Southeastern and Mid-American are miles apart. The Huskies also have played a tough schedule under Mathey, going against teams from leagues like the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. With that, he knew his win total wasn’t always going to be where he wanted it to be. Mathey wanted to get the right players in the program. “For me it was just a matter of getting the right guys on board,” Mathey said. “Getting the right players in here that really want to play at NIU.” Mathey may have never

had a big dream of coaching Division I baseball. He just wanted to be a good baseball coach and coach at the collegiate level, developing 18-23 year olds as players and people. After 11 years as NIU’s coach, he still talks to a number of his former Huskies. “To put a number on it, I’d probably have to say 25-50 percent I talk to on a regular basis,” he said. “I might go out and play some golf with them. Exchange texts, emails, things like that. Just usually know what’s going on with their lives. “That I’m really proud of, that’s what it’s really all about because sure we’d love these guys to be Major League Baseball players, but it’s more important that they go out, they’re good citizens, they’re good people, they’re good family members.”

Monica Maschak -

Ed Mathey is the winningest baseball coach in Northern Illinois University history after 11 seasons.

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Daily Chronicle / • Saturday, May 25, 2013


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