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Food is more than just a business for Sublette meat shop’s new owners; it’s a chance to play a part in people’s special moments

ALSO INSIDE ... Congregation is happy to say ‘God bless our new home’

People’s pastor in Amboy is building bridges to a better community

From little tees grow mighty Oaks challenges in Sublette

Restaurant/ bar is one big happy family business

Horns of plenty at Nachusa Grasslands

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One big happy family business Ralphie & LuLu’s has become like a home away from for folks in and around Ashton

Publisher Don T. Bricker General Manager/ Advertising Director Jennifer Heintzelman

From little tees grow might Oaks challenges Whether you’re a beginner or a skilled golfer, a Sublette golf course rises to the challenge

Magazine Editors Kathleen Schultz & Rusty Schrader Page Design Rusty Schrader


God bless our new home It’s a match made in heaven for a former church and its new congregation

Published by Sauk Valley Media 3200 E. Lincolnway Sterling, IL 61081 815-625-3600

People’s pastor


Articles and advertisements are the property of Sauk Valley Media. No portion of Small Town Living Magazine may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. Ad content is not the responsibility of Sauk Valley Media. The information in this magazine is believed to be accurate; however, Sauk Valley Media cannot and does not guarantee its accuracy. Sauk Valley Media cannot and will not be held liable for the quality or performance of goods and services provided by advertisers listed in any portion of this magazine.



The Rev. McWethy is building bridges to a better community

A slice of life Food is more than just a business for the new owners of Country Village Meats; it’s a chance to meat and greet the people in their community, and play a part in their special moments

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In the nearly 20 years since it opened, Ralphie & LuLu’s has become like a home away from for folks in and around Ashton

family business

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The head of the family operation, Dave Balch bought Ralphie & LuLu’s in 2001 and named it after his grandkids. Balch likes having families around at his business, his own included: Two grandchildren work part-time at the restaurant, and a granddaughter waitresses when she comes home from college. “Grandkids, my son, daughter, their spouses – the entire family helps out in some way or another,” he said.



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Timber Lake Playhouse (TLP), the professional summer theatre of northwestern Illinois, has the shows you will love: hot new shows just leaving Broadway, great American plays, everyone’s “old favorite” musicals, and the best in country, pop, and rock-n-roll revues. Timber Lake Playhouse hires the best young theatrical talent from all over the United States, and we regularly bring back talented alumni who have gone on to stellar careers on Broadway, TV and Film. Noted past performers are Tony Winning Actress Jayne Houdyshell, Michael Gross (Family Ties), Andrea McArdle (Broadway’s original Annie), Jennifer Garner and Saundra Santiago (Miami Vice, Guiding Light, The Sopranos, and Broadway's Evita and more). Santiago last appeared at TLP in 2016 as Rose in Gypsy. Located just south of Mount Carroll, Illinois about 10 miles from the Mississippi River, TLP is a short drive from Fulton, Sterling and Rockford, Illinois. The current theatre building opened in 1975 with 371 seats. The building is fully air conditioned, and the fifteen-acre wooded campus is perfect for any other activity you and your guests desire. From picnicking on the deck overlooking beautiful Timber Lake to attending a pre-show activity in our newly acquired rustic barn, or walking through the woods on the nature trails to dining on The Deck prior to our weekend shows, TLP is a great destination for a day of fun. Check out our website at for more information about our shows and other activities.


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alphie & LuLu’s origin story is pretty simple: “It all started when I opened my big mouth 18 years ago,� owner Dave Balch said. The spot came up for rent, and “I told a guy that he should rent it out and sell beer. About 2 years later, he came around and said he decided he would.� A year after that, Balch took over what by then was a fully functioning restaurant and bar. He named it Ralphie & Lulu’s, the nicknames of two of his grandchildren – “Ralphie,� who was about 4 years old at the time, and “Lulu,� who was less than a year. Time has passed, and the restaurant – and the kids – have grown considerably. “Now, I look straight at Lulu, and I have to look up to see Ralphie,� Balch said. This summer, Ralphie & Lulu’s begins its 18th year in business, and it couldn’t have made it without the commitment of the entire family to the restaurant’s success. There’s a full bar and menu. The specialty is fried chicken, and a crowd favorite is Chicken Ralphie, hand-battered chicken strips. Ralphie & Lulu’s also serves a lot of fish, such as cod and bluegill, and the steak and pork chops are always a huge hit with the locals.

Ralphie & LuLu’s has a patio where customers can enjoy some al fresco fun.

Continued on pages 8-9





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These walls can talk, and they’ve got a community’s story to tell ... Ralphie & LuLu’s feels just like home, with photos of its hometown and local memorabilia (right and center far right) as well as family photos of owner Dave Balch and his kin (bottom right) hanging on the walls. Other items of decor fit right in with the farm country it calls home, like this Allis-Chalmers sign (top right), on loan from one of the bar’s regulars. Below, this clock once hung in a local Chevy dealership.

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Continued from page 7

Ralphie & Lulu’s also offers takeout and loves serving large groups. House cook Carol Goley is just as dedicated as Balch and has been with him since the very beginning, working to perfect all of the original recipes. Once a month you can find the whole Ralphie & Lulu’s crew belting out their favorite karaoke tunes. This is a night nobody MORE INFO in Ashton wants to Ralphie & LuLu’s, 812 miss. Main St. in Ashton, serves lunch and There’s also dart dinner, and offers boards and TVs catering and takeout. to keep the crowd Reservations are takentertained. en, and walk-ins and groups are welcome. It all makes Outdoor seating also Ralphie & Lulu’s is available. a home away from Call 815-453-2103 or home for Ashton find it on Facebook for more information. and other nearby residents who’ve been around for years, and for those who come back for a visit. “It seems like whenever someone comes back to town after leaving, they stop in for dinner,” Balch said. Seeing a nice mix of new and familiar faces

Ralphie and Lulu’s has five gambling machines where customers can try their luck.

is what makes the business so rewarding, said Balch, adding that he owes a lot to his regulars, many from Oregon, Rochelle, and surrounding towns, who eat there often. Heather Ramirez is one of those regulars. “The chicken is so yummy, the atmosphere is laid back and you feel right at home,” she said. It’s a family-oriented atmosphere, and “children are always welcome,” Balch said. In fact, the best part, Balch said, is when “people come in when they are children and

then come back with their kids once they’re grown.” Balch likes having families around, his own included: Two grandchildren work part-time at the restaurant, and a granddaughter waitresses when she comes home from college, “Grandkids, my son, daughter, their spouses – the entire family helps out in some way or another,” he said. Stop by Ralphie & Lulu’s to get a taste of that family vibe, and you’ll quickly become a part of the family yourself. n

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This project was supported by Grant #2015-VA-GX-0049, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice, or the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. s m a l l

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From little tees


mighty Oaks CHALLENGES

Whether you’re a beginner or a skilled golfer, a Sublette golf course rises to the challenge

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ittle strokes won’t fell great oaks, but they might send your golf ball bouncing off one at a Sublette golf course if you’re not careful. And trees aren’t the only challenge that can test even the most skilled tee totaler’s patience. Shady Oaks Country Club offers 6,200 yards of greens for golfers, but like its website says: “Don’t let the yardage fool you.” It may not measure up to monster-sized courses, but the 18-hole course prides itself on a layout that offers tight, tree-lined fairways and small, sloped greens that will have even the most seasoned golfers gritting their teeth. Continued on page 13 SVM photo illustration


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Continued from page 11

The public, par-71 course has four different tees to fit any skill level, whether you just want to putter around or you’re the kind of player who makes other golfers green with envy. The 125-acre course had only six holes when it opened in 1961. It was expanded to nine in 1965, then to 18 holes in 1996, when it was opened to the public. Shady Oaks draws golfers from all across the area, even as far away as Chicago, thanks to nearby Woodhaven Lakes campground, about 3 miles away. Golf course Superintendent Eric Henkle of Amboy supervises the maintenance of the grounds, and the business is managed by Greg and Chris Walker. For Henkle, tending to the tees is a matter of the mow the merrier. “I liked golf when I was a kid, and during college I mowed a lot to get by.” He earned his bachelor’s in turf grass management at Illinois State University. He’s been on Shady Oaks’ maintenance staff for almost 18 years now, and he still loves what he does. “For me, it’s all about being able to see a product at the end of the day and see what kind of improvements you can do to make it better,” he said. Recently, he’s been helping with improvements to the course and clubhouse. “We’ve cut

It may not measure up to monster-sized courses, but Shady Oaks’ course prides itself on a layout that offers tight, tree-lined fairways and small, sloped greens that will have even the most seasoned golfers gritting their teeth.

down a lot of trees, we’ve repaired the driveways. We do small things out on the course and try to improve year in and year out however we can.” One of those improvements is hard to miss: a big new deck on the front of the clubhouse,



where people can relax and even grill out. They also can shop for golf goods at the pro shop, grab some food and drinks and watch a game on one of the three big-screen TVs, or play the poker machines.



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BELOW: A new deck was recently added to the clubhouse at Shady Oaks. TOP LEFT: The banquet area is the perfect size for various gatherings. TOP RIGHT: Hats, tees, even a bucket of “creek balls,” Shady Oaks’ pro shop can get golfers set up with what they need.

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The clubhouse also can be rented out for special occasions: wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners, graduation parties, and more. If you want to join a league, Shady Oaks has them – both men’s and women’s. Whatever your reason for coming to the club, the staff ’s main goal is for people to “get out and enjoy themselves, have a good day, relax, and enjoy the product we put out for them,” Henkle said. As for Henkle himself, he’s got one more goal he’s shooting for: “Trying to get it to quit raining every day.” n

“For me, it’s all about being able to see a product at the end of the day and see what kind of improvements you can do to make it better.” ~ Shady Oaks Golf Course Superintendent Eric Henkle ~

MORE INFO 577 U.S. Route 52, Sublette 815-849-5424 Online: and on Facebook Hours: Call for tee times or check shady-oaks-country-club. RATES Weekdays: 9 holes, $10 with cart; 18 holes, $20 with cart Weekends: 9 holes, $15 with cart, 18 holes, $25 with cart


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A slice life of

Food is more than just a e business for th new owners of e Country Villag Meats; it’s a chance to meat and greet the people in their community, and play a part in their ts special momen

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ot everyone is cut out to be butcher; not so for Paul Darrow. In fact, he just plain loves it. So when opportunity knocked, he and his wife, Laurie, opened the door to a meat shop, and a new chapter in their lives. The Darrows are the couple behind the meat counter at Country Village Meats in Sublette. They bought the business in November 2018 from the Leffelman family, who had owned it for more than 60 years. The shop came along at just the right time for the couple. In November, they found themselves ready for a change. Their children were grown and “we were almost empty-nesters,” Paul said. “We had always talked about owning a business of our own, and it seemed like the right time in our lives to make that change.” When they first checked out the shop, it was love at first bite. “We loved the fact that it had a strong reputation in the community for quality and service. It was a long-established and well-run business,” Paul said. “It was clear to us as we looked at the products and the people that it oozes quality,” he said, adding that they also valued that Country Village “played an important role in the local farm and business community,” something they take pride in continuing in Sublette and the surrounding area. Continued on page 18

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Continued from page 17

Stepping up to the butcher block is nothing new for Paul. He’s been in the food industry his entire life. “I worked in a small family-owned grocery stop in the butcher shop to put myself through college. After college, I worked in the poultry industry. I’ve also worked in consumer packaged goods.” “I’ve enjoyed food as a career from the standpoint of new product development, marketing, and more.” Those skills are coming in handy at a business with a long-standing reputation for being a cut above when it comes to service. Matt Gehrke of Gehrke Grass-Fed Beef in DeKalb has been working with Country Village for the past 3 to 4 years. “They’re a rarity in the fact that they’re a small-town butcher shop but they also still harvest the animal. When I called them, they took the time to walk me through it. There’s nobody like them around.” With the recent change in ownership, the Darrows have been adamant about sticking to the shop’s recipe for success: quality products and quality service – but they’ve also been making their own mark on the meat shop along the way.

Country Village Meats owner Paul Darrow points out cuts of meat on a hindquarter. Darrow enjoys meeting customers who are new to the world of fresh meat markets. “I love it when people call in and they’re ordering their first half hog or beef and need help. I get the opportunity to walk them through the different cuts and options. It’s fun to work with folks and educate them about the food they’re going to eat.”

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“Paul [is] really trying to make it something a little more,” Gehrke said. “He’s updated a lot, improved the customer experience, and they’ve been great to work with. He works with me to package my beef the way the customers want to buy it in the stores.” Paul said he also plans to add salads “and experiment with new and different marinated flavors.” Even when he’s not working, food is on Paul’s mind. “I’ve always loved baking, cooking, and grilling at home, and my wife is a great cook, too” he said. “I have both a personal and professional interest, and when you find that combination, it’s a win.” Darrow especially MORE INFO enjoys meeting customers new to the world of fresh meat markets. “I love it when people call in 401 N. Pennsylvaand they’re ordering their first half nia Ave./U.S. Route hog or beef and need help. I get the 52 in Sublette Hours: 8 a.m. to opportunity to walk them through the 5 p.m. Monday different cuts and options.” through Friday, “It’s fun to work with folks and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. educate them about the food they’re Saturday. going to eat,” he said. 815-849-5532 Whether a customer is asking for Online: countryvilthe best cut of a steak to fit their tastes or what size roast is best to feed a large and on Facebook family, Country Village is there to help with expert advice. The shop’s meats are sold in both local stores and at the shop, which features deli meats and cheeses, fresh-cut steaks, smoked ham, bacon, marinated steaks and pork chops, and its signature sausages and snack sticks. Country Village’s recipes and history in the area dates back to 1954 with the Leffelman family. Laurie said, “We’re fortunate to inherit the recipes and instructions from a master sausage-maker like Dale Leffelman,” the shop’s most recent owner. For the Darrows, food is more than just a product to peddle for profit; it’s a passion. “When we think about our lives, food is essential to the good times with family and friends,” he said. “We feel that we are enhancing people’s lives by giving them great food for the special moments.” n

Along with the fresh meats, Country Village Meats also has a variety of smoked products, prepared in house (above), and the shop also sells pre-seasoned pork, beef and chicken. (left)

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Grace Fellowship Church of Amboy is moving to the former Sublette Union Church at 500 W. Main St. in Sublette. The church was built in 1858 but has been vacant for about 6 years.

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this new home


he spirit is moving Grace Fellowship Church of Amboy – quite literally. The church is moving to the former Sublette Union Church, built in 1858 but vacant for about 6 years. Grace Fellowship’s 80 or so members have been worshipping under less-than-churchly conditions, first renting space in Amboy Junior High School, and most recently renting the Lee County Farm Bureau building, at 37 S. East Ave., also in Amboy. With the help of the congregation and volunteers from Paducah, Kentucky, the building is being restored, and, if all goes well, will reopen Sept. 1 at the latest, the Rev. Brian McWethy said. They’ve already held their first event, a glow-in-the-dark Easter egg hunt on the lawn of the congregation’s new church on Good Friday. Nearly 90 children attended, said Alice McGraw, the church’s financial secretary. “Bringing life back to a church that hasn’t seen people in years gives me goosebumps,” McGraw said. “This is really exciting for us as a church family.”

It was a match made in heaven:

An Amboy congregation needed a home, and a Sublette church needed a congregation. Now, a holy Union has brought them together and soon, that 161-year-old house of worship will be full of Grace


Continued on page 22

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Continued from page 21

Grace already has had a presence in the local community, but the new location will be a way to bring Amboy and Sublette, which also share a school district, even closer together, McWethy said. McWethy, who’s also the chaplain of the Amboy and Sublette fire departments, attended the April Sublette Village Board meeting to introduce himself, and to tell them about taking ownership of the church at 500 W. Main St. He made it clear that the church want to be involved in the community, and that the village could call on his congregation to assist with community events. That kind of involvement is not new to Grace Fellowship The church hosts many events, such as community potlucks. Some folks mistake those annual dinners for fundraisers, but it’s really just a way to bring people together, McWethy said. n

Grace Fellowship’s congregation has been worshipping under less-thanchurchly conditions, first renting space in Amboy Junior High School, and most recently renting the Lee County Farm Bureau building in Amboy. Now, they’ll finally have a house of worship they can call their own (above and at right) with plenty of room for the church’s 80 or so members.

Grace Fellowship Church in Amboy will be moving to 500 W. Main St. in Sublette as soon as the historic church is renovated, by or before Sept. 1. In the meantime, services are being held at the Lee County Farm Bureau, 37 S. East Ave. in Amboy. Call the Rev. Brian McWethy at 815-857-3900 for more information on the church or to help with the remodeling. Grace Fellowship also has two other churches in the area: at 2128 state Route 38 in Ashton, 815-452-7464, and at 14080 state Route 72 in Davis Junction, with services in Monroe Center Elementary School, 815-973-1369. Grace Fellowship is a Baptist denomination. Go to to learn more.

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People’s pastor


It took the Rev. Brian McWethy a little longer than some people to find his faith, but once he did, he couldn’t wait to show his community what he found STORY BEGINS ON PAGE 24


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rian McWethy wears a lot hats as the lead pastor of Grace Fellowship Church of Amboy, chaplain for the Amboy and Sublette fire departments, church consultant for the Illinois Baptist State Association, and husband and father. The husband and father part came naturally: He and his wife Vickie have four children: Keegan, Caleb, Brianna,and Mikayla. You might find some of his other hats surprising, though: McWethy, a former engineering manager who studied computer science in college, was not raised in a religious family, nor were many of the people around him religious. In fact, he was 29 before he came to Christ. His barber at the time started a discussion about religion with him. “I started out thinking I was going to disprove everything,” but once he started to research the history and anthropology, he couldn’t deny Christ, he said. He clearly remembers the day he first believed: On Aug. 1, 1993, he went home and immediately his wife could tell there was something different about him, McWethy said. He sat on the couch and began quoting scripture. From that point forward, he became involved the church first with Bible studies and children’s programs.

Now, as a pastor, his work “is all about building bridges,” with the community, and with other churches. Grace Fellowship is a Baptist denomination, but McWethy has preached and presided over funerals in churches of other denominations as well. Alice McGraw of Amboy is Grace Fellowship’s financial secretary. She and her husband, John, a retired assistant fire chief who has worked with Chaplain McWethy, also have been congregants about 3 years. One of the ways the church helps its community is by volunteering during Amboy Depot Days, McGraw said. The festival always seems to land on the hottest day of the year, and members of the congregation hand out free bottles of water. Last year, McWethy reached out to many other local churches and persuaded them to share in the effort. “We absolutely love him as a pastor,” McGraw said. “He’s able to break down the Bible into layman’s terms. He writes his own sermons, and reaches people in a way I’ve never seen.” McWethy’s newest venture is spearheading the effort to move the congregation from a rental spot in Amboy to a historic church in Sublette, where he plans to continue reaching out to, and keeping his church involved in, both communities. n 24

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horns o plenty OF

Have you herd the news? There’s been a baby bison boom at Nachusa Grasslands in recent years, and these roamin’ residents of the prairie have become quite the rock stars’


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fter 5 years roaming the prairie, the bison at Nachusa Grasslands seem to like their home. What began as 30 bison relocated to the natural prairie habitat has grown into a herd of 110, with more on the way: Calving season is just beginning at Nachusa, located a few miles northwest of Franklin Grove. The numbers are right where the staff wants them, and they couldn’t be more pleased with how the bison herd has come along, and has become a big attraction to draw in visitors. “Oh, yeah, they really are the rock stars. People are excited about the bison and are always asking about them,” said Cody Considine, resource ecologist for Nachusa. “I grew up in Dixon, and when I see people I know, they don’t ask about my family or anyone – they ask about the bison.” The goal was for the herd to hit an optimum 110 animals, which happened last year. In fact, they had more bison than they would like last year so they had to find new homes for a few. “Last fall we had our first bison sale because we reached our herd size that we want to maintain,” Considine said. “We sold 23 animals and there will be more this fall since we have about


A baby bison nurses at Nachusa Grasslands. What began as 30 bison relocated to the natural prairie habitat has grown into a herd of 110, with more on the way: Calving season is just beginning at Nachusa. The baby bison boom happens in April and May.

30 to 40 calves each year.” The baby bison boom happens in April and May, and as soon as the calves start coming, so

do the crowds. “As soon as the weather gets nice, people will flock out here to get a glimpse,” he said.

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When Elizabeth Bach was hired as an ecosystem restoration scientist last year, she made it a priority to update how the staff keeps track of the bison herd. “She’s really ramping up the science and research part. It’s pretty unique,” Considine said. “In fact, we recently worked with a bison researcher who completed a study on Nachusa.” Cody The new visitor cenConsidine ter, which opened last summer, also has been a CHECK big success. It offers an OUT THE outdoor classroom and HERD plenty of displays to give Nachusa visitors a good grasp of Grasslands is at 2075 Lowden the ecology and work Road in Frankthat takes place at the lin Grove. grasslands. Find it on As soon as people Facebook or to arrive at the visitor learn more. center, though, the questions start coming about where they can see the star attraction. “They are pretty excited about bison conservation,” Considine said. “The community has a special place in their hearts for the bison.” n

ABOVE: A pair of bison fans stop to take some photos of the herd in April as they grazed along Lowden Road at Nachusa Grasslands. LEFT: A baby bison nurses at Nachusa Grasslands.


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