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Perry, Randolph and Washington counties taking the right steps to improve BY JOE SZYNKOWSKI For The Southern


he 70,000 people who make up Perry, Randolph and Washington counties have recently enjoyed substantial progress within their communities. Downtowns in Du Quoin and Pinckneyville are experiencing major overhauls while staying true to their rich Perry County history. Chester’s scenic spot on the

Mississippi River continues to draw in more and more tourists for its now year-long celebration of its cartoon character claim-to-fame. From clean coal to new business buildings, major development is under way in Washington County. These counties are also enhancing and advancing their position in healthcare and education — two pillars of any successful community. Driving all of this newfound success are growth-minded, forward-thinking

leaders and devoted, prideful citizens all working toward attaining a common goal — civic excellence. “The most important thing is that steps forward are being taken to improve the looks of our community,” said Carrie Gilliam, development coordinator for Pinckneyville. “No one wants to invest in a losing horse, so in order to grow in all areas of development, we need to look like a winning thoroughbred.”





Hicks Trading Station sits off Illinois 13 in Pinckneyville.

Pinckneyville is a shooter’s hotspot BY JOE SZYNKOWSKI

Commerce. “We have two of the best gun-smithing stores in the nation and several With the national and retail gun shops. We’re in regional gun-buying market clicking at a near- close proximity to both public hunting at Pyramid unprecedented pace, State Park and year-round Pinckneyville’s slew of competitive shooting at gun businesses are helping support the city’s the World Recreational and Shooting Complex in economic growth. Sparta. Now with Illinois John Mann and Stuart laws that were recently Wright have found their passed, we feel that the nationally renowned gun stores are, and will gunsmithing expertise in high demand, while Hicks continue to be a valuable asset to commerce in our Trading Station is a community.” popular stop for people Here is a breakdown of looking for one of the area’s largest inventories. the three local shops and their services. And with the popular Mann & Son Sporting Grand American Goods sells a vast variety trapshooting event of guns, ammunition, coming to Sparta in early August, all three business accessories and gear. Mann is a respected are priming for a busy gunsmith, as his business couple of weeks. “Every community has a is a service center for Remington. The shop also niche, and with our area serves as a parts center for lending itself to the outdoors and sportsmen, other brands, including the gun and gun-smithing Benelli, Stoeger and Franchi. businesses in Mann’s father, Thomas, Pinckneyville complement the Southern opened the shop on Walnut Street in 1946 Illinois area very well,” after coming home from said Jill Fox, executive military service. In 1962, director of the Pinckneyville Chamber of he bought property on the


500 block of Water Street, where the business still operates. Two other smiths work for John, who took over operations in 1978. ‘Gunsmithing done the Wright way’ is the slogan of Wright’s Inc., which routinely handles projects as basic as cleaning and as complex as full restoration. Stuart Wright and his two smiths specialize in the repair of Brownings, Berettas and Perazzis. Wright, an SIU graduate and former electrician in the coal mines, turned his hobby of refinishing and re-bluing guns into a fullfledged business. He reached out to Herb Orre — a legendary Winchester gunsmith, inspector and designer — to teach him the ins and outs of the trade. Upon his mentor’s death in 1984, Wright bought the contents of Orre’s shop in Ohio. Nearly five decades ago, Kevin Hicks’ father, Dale, opened Hicks Trading Station after working a few years with Thomas Mann. Once specializing

GUN SHOPS Mann & Son Where: 515 W. Water St., Pinckneyville Contact: 618-357-2911 Wright’s Inc. Where: 1104 S. Main St., Pinckneyville Contact: 618-357-8933 Hicks Trading Station Where: 4952 Illinois 13, Pinckneyville Contact: 618-357-2583 in sporting goods, the business now fields one of the largest inventories of new and used guns, ammunition and accessories in Southern Illinois. In 1978, Kevin Hicks came home from Greenville College, where he played baseball and earned a degree. He worked with his father for about 15 years before taking over store operations. At Hicks Trading Station, buyers can find plenty of collectibles, trades and high-quality repair services.


John Mann, owner of Mann & Son Sporting Goods, works on a gun in his Pinckneyville shop.



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Pinckneyville has high hopes for façade improvement program BY JOE SZYNKOWSKI

in theirs,” Gilliam said. “We cannot force a business owner to improve the looks of his or her Pinckneyville business owners looking for a little business. They have to have the community spirit help to rejuvenate, and the want-to to rehabilitate or restore improve themselves.” their storefronts have Eligible activities may found it. involve major Now, it’s up to them to maintenance, repair, utilize it. general rehabilitation and The city of restoration of commercial Pinckneyville’s Façade storefronts and upperImprovement Grant story facades, along with Program was created as the removal and part of an overall replacement of redevelopment initiative commercial signs and to improve the quality of awnings. Other eligible life for downtown activities are restoration businesses and visitors. of exterior building The program is designed components, repair and to assist property and replacement of doors and business owners in upper windows, rehabilitating the rehabilitation of exterior commercial façades of woodwork and completion their properties for the of handicapped-access purpose of creating a projects. positive visual impact, “Many here have stimulating private forgotten what a great investment and town we have been and complementing other community revitalization can still become,” Gilliam said. “Sometimes lipstick efforts. Participants are eligible and rouge are all it takes to brighten up the spirits of to receive a 50-50 our citizens, and if our city matching grant, up to government can assist $10,000, for design with some of the improvements to makeover costs, maybe commercial properties that will be enough to within the business motivate those in our city district. “Although we are taught to take advantage of this we are not to judge a book program.” The overall objective of by its cover, the looks of a town, or business for that the program is to make matter, will determine if a businesses more attractive potential patron will stop,” to locals and visitors alike. The better a business said Carrie Gilliam, city development coordinator. looks aesthetically, the more likely that they Pinckneyville’s leaders conceptualized the façade turn foot traffic into paying customers, Gilliam program in 2007 when said. voters passed a business “Something as simple as district sales tax peeling paint or keeping resolution. With funding weeds trimmed down in now in shape, the city is between sidewalk cracks ready to help business can really affect how owners reach their someone will view a improvement goals. business or a town,” she A similar initiative has said. “If a business owner paid dividends for Du Quoin, just 12 miles down is not willing to care for the outside of his or her the highway. building, what makes a “I hope we have the success and the number of person think they are caring for what is on the participants in our program as they have had inside?”


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A artist’s rendering of the future Pinckneyville Community Hospital.

Pinckneyville hospital project awaiting word on USDA funding

Du Quoin continues to re-invent its downtown


Waiting is nothing new for the Pinckneyville Community Hospital board of directors. For more than a decade, hospital leaders have discussed building a new hospital to replace the current building, which was built in the 1960s. Multiple barriers and funding fallout have lengthened the delay, but officials are hopeful their patience will soon pay off. In March 2012, after some tweaking of numbers and modifications to the original design and plan, the board voted unanimously to proceed with a $20 million loan application with U.S. Department of Agriculture over a 40-year payout period. “At this point, we’re waiting for the USDA to tell us if we are funded,” said hospital administrator Tom Hudgins. “We are getting pretty close, and if all goes well, we are hoping to be moving dirt in September.” The revised plan for a new hospital would retain the core services of the current 25-bed critical access hospital in the new facility. Rehabilitation services and administrative offices would remain at their current locations, and the new hospital would be built with expansion in mind for the future. The hospital district purchased


Flowers are pictured in a downtown park in April in in Du Quoin.


and are expected to arrive this fall. “The trees won’t outgrow their little spot in the sidewalk,” Ashauer said. “Their roots go down instead of pushing Through strategic partnerships and up on the concrete. And we will place selective investments, Du Quoin them in such a way that they will continues to progressively overhaul its complement the streetscape and downtown. business landscape.” The Southern Illinois Coal Belt The downtown renaissance won’t Champion Community, Inc., and the city of Du Quoin partnered to create and stop with the new trees. Next spring should sprout just as much implement the innovative façade development, as a new surface will be improvement program that has led to put down on Main Street. Businesses attractive awnings and infrastructure will also continue to improve their enhancements throughout the internal and external appearances, while downtown area. the city will look for new ways to Next up is a much-needed project advance its efforts. aimed at improving downtown Even Du Quoin’s historic St. Nicholas sidewalks. Hotel — a pillar during the days of the “We’ve had cars pull on to the curbs Illinois Central Railroad — will undergo and destroy the sidewalk,” said city economic development coordinator Jeff a transformation. After escaping the wrecking ball three Ashauer, who proactively sought out the years ago, the St. Nicholas will soon be grant to replace and unify the home to a new restaurant and downtown sidewalks. “It’s so high in microbrewery with an elevator to upper some places that you can scrape your floor meeting rooms. bumper off.” It will be one of many collaborative A color-coordinated streetscape will initiatives that are concurrently helping also be completed this summer, with powder-black metal touches, decorative Du Quoin re-establish itself as a Southern Illinois powerhouse. crosswalks and new landscaping. “It “From tourism to the city council to will all have a very heritage flair to it,” the Chamber, we have an amazing Ashauer said. group,” said Mayor Rex Duncan. New trees will add to the new look



Pinckneyville Community Hospital sits at the corner of Jackson and Walnut streets in Pinckneyville, just west of the Perry County Courthouse.

property near the intersection of White Walnut Road and Illinois 154 in 2008. Originally designed at slightly more than 100,000 square feet, the new hospital design was scaled back to reduce costs from $34 million to $20 million. The revised plan will still offer more space, consolidate medical services under a single roof and keep in line with the latest medical trends, Hudgins said. “It would make it much easier on our patients coming in to receive services in a more timely fashion,” Hudgins said. “It would also increase the operating efficiencies in the building.” The layout of the hospital would also allow officials to make seamless additions in the future. “It really has been designed in a way that we can adapt it internally and

externally for many years to come,” Hudgins said. Last year began a renewal in building a new hospital in Pinckneyville after a major effort to do so hit a roadblock in 2010 when the Department of Housing and Urban Development declined to back financing. But officials persisted and have been working hand in hand with the USDA to provide all required information to expedite the loan process. Hudgins said a new hospital would have a substantial effect on recruitment of medical professionals. “We have had really good luck in securing an excellent staff,” he said. “A new building with updated facilities and equipment would make us more attractive to other top talent. It will catch your eye when you’re driving up.”

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DETAILS Sparta Public Library Where: 211 W. Broadway, Sparta Hours: Noon-7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday For more information, call 618-443-5014 or visit

Sparta Library gears up for annual book sale THE SOUTHERN FILE PHOTO

The Popeye Statue is shown next to the Mississippi River in Chester.


New statue, bands and carnival highlighting annual Popeye Picnic BY JOE SZYNKOWSKI FOR THE SOUTHERN

Since moving from Memphis 19 years ago, Debbie Brooks has seen firsthand the power of Popeye. Every year, visitors come to Chester to celebrate the nation’s favorite sailor man. While in town, they visit Brooks’ store, Spinach Can Collectibles. “The store has seen people from 70 countries and all 50 states,” Brooks said. “Now the police officers wear a Popeye patch on their uniforms, and they’re having their cars painted with the police badge.” Chester’s police department also features

DETAILS World Shooting and Recreational Complex Where: 1 Main Event Lane, Suite 510, Sparta Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday Shoot Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. WednesdaySunday For more information, call 618-295-2700 Upcoming Events July 27: Kaskaskia Cowboys Club Championships July 27: RCCS Jakes Day July 28: Farm Bureau Sporting Clays Shoot Aug. 3-17: Grand American (AIM) Championships Aug. 22: Kaskaskia Cowboys Aug. 22: USPSA Aug. 22: Scholastic Pistol Program Aug. 23: IDPA Aug. 24: Lewis and Clark Boy Scout Sporting Clays Aug. 31: Outlaw Cowboy Shoot

its own Popeye rescue boat, the SS Olive, while its fire department has Popeye painted on its station and trucks. Local businesses have Popeye plastered on their signs as a showing of citywide pride for one of the most popular cartoon characters of all time. The local enthusiasm for Popeye and his pals is contagious for Chester tourists, most of who come for the annual Popeye Picnic. This year’s edition, the 34th, is set for early September and will feature a new carnival, up-and-coming bands and plenty of familyfriendly activities. Also new to this year’s festival will be the addition of Popeye’s dad, Poopdeck Pappy, to the Popeye and Friends Character Trail.

34TH ANNUAL POPEYE PICNIC Theme: ‘Popeye on the River’ When: Friday-Sunday, Sept. 6-8 Where: Downtown Chester For more information, call 618-826-4567 or visit The trail consists of granite statues of Popeye characters placed in various locations throughout Chester. Since 2006, a key element of the picnic has been the unveiling of a statue depicting one of the characters, which have included Wimpy, Olive Oyl and Bluto. The monuments join the original statue of the sailor himself, which has overlooked the Mississippi River from Segar Park for more than 30 years. Visit for a full list of events and to find ways to get involved in this year’s picnic.

World Shooting Complex continues to aim for the stars BY JOE SZYNKOWSKI FOR THE SOUTHERN

With its biggest event of year about one week away, the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta is readying for an influx of competitors and campers onto its expansive grounds. The Amateur Trapshooting Association’s Grand American is scheduled for Aug. 3-17. The event pumped more than $60 million into the local economy and drew nearly 20,000 people per year during its first five years in Sparta, according to The Tourism Bureau IllinoiSouth. The event will host hundreds of competitors vying for large cash prizes and national recognition. It will also feature evening entertainment, a hall of fame induction ceremony and opening and closing ceremonies. But the complex is about more than the Grand American. It hosts year-round competitions, events, concerts and meetings. It also serves as a premier destination for recreational vehicle owners, offering scenic rustic camping, as well as standard sites with electric, water and sewer. Fishing is also a big draw at the complex, which contains a 117-acre strip pit and Derby Lake on its grounds. Boat ramps and fishing docks are available for anglers hoping to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish, trout and crappie. It was also announced last year that the National Trapshooting Hall of Fame will be built on site, potentially drawing even more visitors and shooting enthusiasts. The hall of fame is expected to be open by the 2014 Grand American.



Gannon Richelman competes at the World Shooting and Recreation Complex Sunday in Sparta.

With extra foot traffic in town created by the annual Grand American trapshooting competition in early August, the Sparta Public Library hopes to see a boost in visitors. Its popular annual book sale begins at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 9. The event will feature great sales on its inventory, including offers of $1 for three hardback books and 25 cents for one paperback, or five paperback for $1. There are books for all ages and interests, especially readers of adult fiction. “We will open that morning to 20, 30 or 50 people here at the beginning,” said Library Director Christy Stupegia. “It’s pretty crazy but it’s a lot of fun.” The fundraiser, which will also feature CDs and DVDs for sale, will help strengthen and sustain valuable services and programming. Eventually, the library hopes to enhance its internet speed and accessibility. It now offers free wireless internet all day, even from the parking lot when the library is closed. The book sale is sponsored by the Friends of the Sparta Public Library, a group that has been instrumental in the library’s success. “They are the best Friends group in Illinois and are so committed to supporting Illinois public libraries,” Stupegia said. The group also hosts an annual dinner and auction that regularly generates $11,000 to $20,000 for the library. “Without that money, we would not be able to offer the services we offer, maintain our computers or buy new ones.” The library provides free services to all residents living within the Sparta city limits, with services available to all others for a fee. It is also part of the group Southern Illinois Libraries on the Go, offering people the chance to download audio books, ebooks and music. Website users can also access the library catalog from home.

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NASHVILLE SPORTS, 2012-13 State Championship: Girls’ basketball State Third Place: Softball Sectional Championship: Girls track Regional Championships: Boys basketball, volleyball, baseball State Second Place: Shawn Rennegarbe, girls golf

What a year! Nashville’s athletics put together an amazing run BY JOE SZYNKOWSKI FOR THE SOUTHERN


Nashville girls basketball players wave to supporters as they are led through town in a parade for them before a coming home celebration for the Hornettes in February in Nashville. The Horenettes won the Class 2A state championship.

Prairie State a source of big power BY JOE SZYNKOWSKI

Generating Company continues to be focused on providing stable, reliable and environmentally After a lengthy friendly power to its nine construction phase, owners, which is our Prairie State Energy mission and dedication,” Campus is fully said vice president of operational and government relations continually seeking ways Ashlie Kuehn. to improve its output. According to PSEC, the In November, Unit 2 of plant’s efficient the campus’ plant went environmental operating live, producing characteristics allow its commercial power for its units to perform in the top nine owners and their 2.5 6 percent of coal-fueled million customers from Missouri to West Virginia. power plants in the nation, making it one of the With a 1,600-megawatt cleanest power plants ever electricity-generating constructed. plant and adjacent coal PSEC invested more mine, it is the largest coalfueled power plant built in than $1 billion in environmental emissions the United States in the control equipment, last 30 years. facilitating its ability to “Prairie State


exceed the newest Environmental Protection Agency and state regulations. Construction of the plant, which began in 2007, fueled the addition of many local jobs. During peak construction, the PSEC employed more than 4,000 union tradesman and women, paying more than $1 billion in wages, and now employs more than 550 permanent employees. The organization, which is owned by eight not-forprofit public power companies and Peabody Energy, also used the products and services of more than 150 local

suppliers and vendors during its construction phase. This has made the project a boon to the local economy and helped build solid relationships with local officials. The company regularly hosts tours for local leaders and meetings with area mayors. With the amount of jobs created on a local scale, community support has also been instrumental to the campus’ growth. “The surrounding communities continue to be supportive of PSGC and vital to our success,” Kuehn said.

Perennially successful across all sports, Nashville Community High School well exceeded even its own high standards this season. The Hornettes capped off special regular seasons with state tournament trophies in basketball and softball, as well as a sectional title in track and a regional plaque in volleyball. Golfer Shawn Rennegarbe earned a secondplace finish at the state tournament, as well. On the boys’ side, the Hornets earned regional championships in basketball and baseball. All combined, it was quite a year to be a Nashville athlete. The school’s success made it the easy winner for The Southern Illinoisan’s first All-Sports Championship Award. “We’re just very fortunate that we have multiple sports; we don’t have just one sport we’re strong in,” Nashville Athletic Director Neil Hamon told The Southern. “We’re a well-rounded school. Our kids put forth a lot of effort and take a lot of pride in what they do, and I think it shows.” An incredibly successful girls’ program anchored Nashville’s year to remember. Rennegarbe and the golf team set the bar high for the rest of the year with a consistent performance throughout the spring. The volleyball team won its second regional in three years, the track team took first at the Sparta sectional and softball brought home the third-place trophy. And then there was basketball, the longtime centerpiece of Nashville sports. The Hornettes captured the school’s first state championship by beating No. 1-ranked Champaign St. Thomas More with a score 42-29. The breakthrough title was the first in Nashville’s eight trips to the state tournament during Coach Wayne Harre’s 13-year career. Nashville finished 33-2 and set a single-season school record for wins.

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AMERICAN THRESHERMAN Steam, Gas ASSOCIATION, INC. & Threshing Show PINCKNEYVILLE, ILLINOIS Wednesday Night Through Sunday • August 14 - 18, 2013

State Hwy. 154, 127 & 13 ~ Pinckneyville Exit 77 On I-57 To 154 To Pinckneyville • Exit 50 On I-64, Then 127 South To Pinckneyville

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Gas Engine Hill Featuring Illinois Built Engines Horse-Powered Farming Horse Pull Wednesday Aug. 14 ~ 7pm Horse/Mule Relay/Obstacle Course Saturday, Aug. 17 ~ 9:30am

Steam Train Rides American & Southern Illinois Railroad

Outdoor Worship And Memorial Service Sunday, Aug. 18 - 8am

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Antique Auto Show & Swap Meet Sunday, Aug. 18 Sponsored By The Egyptian Antique Auto Club Featured Car – Hudson

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TRACTOR PULLS ANTIQUE PULL Thursday, Aug. 15 • 7pm ITPA PULLS Friday & Saturday, Aug. 16 & 17 • 7pm 50/50 Drawing Nightly

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GENERAL INFO (618) 654-9474 And (618) 318-0745 • Phone For Show Days Only (618) 357-6643 Horse Pull Info (618) 336-5384 Flea Market Info (618) 830-0878 Gas Engine Info (217) 821-2665

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Spotlight on Perry, Randolph and Washington Counties  

2013 regional spotlight from The Southern Illinoisan