It has been a challenging spring. The cold and rainy weather has set back much of the routine gardening work. Early in April we planted salad green plants and peas in our small high tunnel and have been enjoying fresh green salads while patiently waiting for warmer weather to plant other favorite vegetables outside. Our asparagus began producing early this year and the rhubarb has never looked better.

This year we delayed our planting schedule due to the cold and wet soil. Potatoes were planted in early May instead of early April. Onions and leek plants were completed by mid- May. The only other crop that was planted by mid-May was kohlrabi. It is always difficult for us to wait until the end of May to begin planting the warm weather crops. Patience does have its rewards. Planting too early can bring disappointing results due to late frosts or spring storms.

June is the month to plant the heat loving vegetables. These include peppers, eggplant, zucchini, beans, cucumbers, squash, melons and, yes, even tomatoes. These summer vegetables should be watered daily until they are well established. If they dry out, fast and even growth will be impeded.

Avoid allowing weeds to gain a foothold in the garden as they compete with plants for moisture and nutrients. Lightly hoe around plants but pull those weeds that sprout in the rows so they do not overtake or choke out the little shoots.

Continue watering as necessary. A deep slow watering of an inch of water per week is much better for plants. Try to water at least to four or five inches deep. Watering in the morning allows leaves to dry and will prevent sun evaporation. If possible, do not water the plant foliage or allow water to splash from the soil onto the plants. This will help prevent fungal growth and the spread of soil borne diseases.

Sun and heat are essential for heat loving plants to reach flowering and fruiting. When plants begin to flower it is time to fertilize them again. The extra nutrient boost will help blossoms to develop into fruit and keep the plants strong and healthy.

While the moral victory note comes with Marengo’s defeat of arch-rival Sterling, for the second time this season, the main story is the number of games left to the IHSA Class 3A championship game can be counted on one hand. The Indians (31-6) now head into a June 1 matchup against the Kaneland Knights, which bumped off Belvidere 10-5, for the Sterling Sectional crown.

The Marengo varsity softball team’s troubles with the Sterling Golden Warriors, prior to the May 30 game, included elimination in the sectional final last season, and twice in three seasons before that. The Indians dodged them in 2015, advancing to the state final. In 2016, Marengo walked off with a 7-1 victory in an Apr. 14 game, and then, faced them in the sectional semi-final.

Coming into the game, Sterling pitcher Jaime Eilers had struck out all fifteen batters in a five-inning contest, while Marengo countered with Marian Dionne. Both pitchers threw hard, with Eilers hitting two batters, and Dionne hitting one, and the pitching lines said everything. The Indians had only three hits, and Sterling got four hits.

The difference was the Indians’ Hannah Ritter socking a home run in the third inning, her third of the year, and Lauren Aubry connecting on a first-pitch homer in the fifth inning. Megan Anthony picked up a single in the second inning, for the team’s third hit. Dionne struck out seven, with no walks, to earn the shutout victory.

In getting to the sectional, the Indians added a regional title to their season’s accomplishments, giving them eleven consecutive regional wins. Marengo did it in dramatic fashion, taking the May 27 championship round against Marian Central in a nine-inning, 5-1 win. Hurricanes’ pitcher, Maddie Peters, had no-hit Marengo through six innings, walking one batter, and a runner reaching base on an error.

In the seventh, Marengo pitcher Dionne hit her 16th home run to tie the score, 1-1. The game went into extra frames, with Dionne tossing all the way, garnering seven strikeouts. The ninth inning saw the Indians load the bases for Ritter. She made contact for her first career grand slam, and second 2016 home run, to end the game.

They had previously beaten Woodstock North in the playoffs, by a 4-2 score, to reach the championship final.

The IHSA Class 2A Charleston Track and Field State Meet for girls and boys teams were held on successive weekends. Preliminary results for the May 19 girls events included Marengo squad members: Lillie Simmons in the 100-meters (12.65), Bailey Bertrand in the shot put (35’ 1.25”) and the discus (102’ 6”), and Jordan Parker in the long jump (15’ 1”).

The boys competition was held May 26 and preliminary results included Blaine Borhart (15.29) and Finn Schirmer (15.45) in the 110-meter high hurdles, Finn Schirmer in the 100-meters (11.15), Borhart (40.43) and Schirmer (41.77) in the intermittent 300-meter hurdles, and the 4x400-meter relay team (3:35.65) consisting of Borhart, Jadon Kozin, Kenny Gaines, and Jashiel Lopez.

ADMINISTRATOR BODEN NOT RETAINED

The contract of City Administrator Gary Boden was not renewed, and effectively ended his tenure with Marengo, which began in 2012. The announcement came May 19, although his contract had expired Apr. 24, coinciding with the change and swearing-in ceremony of the new city council, under new Mayor John Koziol.

The Apr. 24 city council meeting included an executive session, convened by Koziol, to review the retention of Boden.

“To my understanding, I am still the assistant city administrator, and conducting my own duties in that capacity,” Josh Blakemore said, after the May 22 city council session.

Boden had served as Marengo’s City administrator since 2012, and the Rockford-area native had previously held similar job titles with the city of Whitewater, WI, and Clinton, IA. He also served as the assistant city administrator for DeKalb.

Boden was not available for comment.

FALL 2017 TARGET COMPLETION FOR WATER MAIN WORK

Infrastructure improvements will be taking place during the summer to replace water mains along Grant Highway (Route 20) and State Street, from 2nd to 8th avenues. The matter was approved by the council, and work begun last month. The total estimated cost of the project has been tabbed at $1.782 million, with $107,000 carved out for the engineering studies.

“The engineering is Phase I, and it’s a water main replacement, which is pretty straight-forward,” said Josh Blakemore, Marengo’s assistant city administrator. “It’s set for a fall 2017 finish, but as for a hard timeline of work, that will be formed in the near future. There are easements and right-ofways to consider for the project.”

The instances of recent water main breaks and transit lines were discussed at the Apr. 24 council session, with requests for cost estimates from the village engineering firm on the work for State Street, also the oldest lines remaining in the municipality. McHenry-based H.R. Green is preparing the engineering studies.

ROUTE 23/I-90 INTERCHANGE MOVING FORWARD

The $32 million Route 23/ I-90 tollway interchange project is moving ahead, with tollway bridge replacement expected this summer, and plans for city officials to appear at the McHenry County Board’s transportation committee to glean updates on progress and timelines. Traffic on Route 23 is down to a single-lane, as the east side of the overpass bridge is removed.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Illinois Tollway Authority have design plans to expand the bridges length and width, while adding deeper shoulder pull-offs. A $9 million cost for the bridge work has been cited. Improvements for Route 23 will be dovetailed into the latter stages next year, when completion is expected.

A public meeting is also being arranged for feedback and input on the project, from the community and initial partners in the effort. The McHenry County Board had listed the project as “needed,” as it was a major entry point to the county, and could translate into an economic boost to the area in revenue and jobs.

FARMERS MARKET RETURNS TO CITY ON SATURDAYS

In a unanimous vote during its May 22 regular meeting, the Marengo City Council approved a community initiative to return the Saturday Farmer’s Market to use the municipal parking lot. The action is contingent upon the Marengo Action Committee, an ad hoc group of residents, obtaining business insurance, health department permits, and waste disposal arrangements for the open-air event.

Tentative Sat. dates slated for the market have been framed for June 10 through Sept. 30. The request, forwarded to the city, indicated that nearly 25 vendors were interested in participating with organizers to join the event.

 

It's difficult to determine with any certainty what Marengo’s first commercial business was. Was it Calvin Spencer’s hotel that was built at the corner of modern day Grant Highway and State Street? Or was it a “tiny shoe shop” as related by Arvilla Damon Coon in her work the Life and Labors of Auntie Coon. Coon briefly described the evolution of Marengo’s early business community in the days when the prairie gave way to a town. She wrote, “…after some time a tiny shoe shop was opened on the corner, later a drygoods and grocery store combined, and finally a post-office.” One thing is for certain, and that is that in the 182 years since the Marengo area was settled our community has seen its share of businesses (and industries) come and go.

Over the years I’ve written about the area’s pickle industry, ice industry, dairy industry, grain milling industry, the stove factory, and various businesses that supported horse and buggy transportation. This month I’m going to talk about several businesses that operated in Marengo in the days gone by.

When you buy cheese today it’s either wrapped in plastic or contained in a plastic bag. There was a time when the cheese container was made of wood and some of these these cheese boxes were manufactured in Marengo. The N.L. Jackson cheese box factory stood on the west side of State Street slightly south of Railroad Street. In 1871 the building was constructed to serve as a sash and blind factory. As the story goes with many commercial enterprises; after six years the sash and blind factory gave way to a cooperage where barrels were manufactured, and two years later in 1879 the business converted to the cheese box and butter tub factory. In 1883 the building burned in a fire that ravaged a portion of Marengo’s downtown business district. This was not Marengo’s first foray into the cheese container industry. Previously, in 1865, R.M Patrick operated a cheese box factory on State Street “at the foot of Woleban’s Hill,” but that business failed after a few years.

The Rural Mail Box Company operated for some time in Marengo. The early days of this business are somewhat sketchy, but it is fairly well documented that the company operated in early 1900’s. An article in the November 15, 1901, edition of the Marengo Republican News reported that the company was expanding its operations with the addition of new manufacturing space. It seems that business was brisk because the article stated that the factory was running day and evening and that it was behind on orders. Eleven “hands” were employed manufacturing rural mailboxes and it was anticipated that more workers would be hired with the recent expansion. Over the years the business was operated by George A. Bennett and S.B. Oakley, and owned the patent for the P.B. Englar rural mailbox.

Before electricity windmills were used to pump water from the ground and two Marengo entrepreneurs, Fred Smith and Thomas Bright, manufactured this essential piece of equipment. The firm was known as Smith and Bright and the product was the “Galvanized Steel Aermotor” windmill. The business was small and the windmills were made by hand, but nonetheless the business was profitable. The September 12, 1935, edition of the Marengo Republican News described the Smith and Bright windmills as having a “short tower,” but several contemporary articles that described the successes of the company mentioned that the windmills were up to fifty feet tall.

In 1923 the Marengo Specialty Company opened its doors in the Riley Building on East Prairie Street. The company manufactured a variety of clothing items to include raincoats, knickers, men’s trousers, sweaters, and sports coats. In its hey-day the business employed twenty-five women to make these products, but eventually cast them aside and specialized in “firemen’s raincoats.” The Marengo Republican News speculated that fewer than a dozen companies were involved in this type of business in the 1920’s and 30’s. The firemen’s raincoats were sold directly to firemen across the United States.

This is just a small glimpse into Marengo’s commercial past. There are many more businesses from Marengo’s heydays to ponder on, and they will definitely be discussed in these pages in the future!

Andrew Butzow (Marengo), Dylan Page (Belvidere), Drew Mateja (Marengo), Oryi Tucker (Belvidere)

On Sunday, March 19th, the Illinois State YMCA Championship swim meet was held in St. John, Indiana where the Belvidere Barracuda swim team competed. Two of our own Marengo boys, Andrew Butzow and Drew Mateja, swam in several events but the most important race of the day was the 200M Free Relay. The four young men on the Barracuda relay team had a chance to break the Belvidere YMCA record for this event. This would be the last competition for the two 21 year old boys, Andrew Butzow and Dylan Page of Belvidere, since swimmers can only compete until the age of 21 through the YMCA swim program. Andrew Butzow had chased this dream for several years. Drew Mateja (Marengo) and Oryi Tucker (Belvidere) swam the third and final legs of the relay and both swimmers swam their leg in just over 23 seconds. The Barracuda relay team got a best time of 1:36.58 and broke the Belvidere record! The boys were elated that they not only broke the record, but shaved 2 seconds off the old record! Their names will be added to the record board in the pool area of the Belvidere YMCA

Seated l to r: Doris McNeese, Mary Reh, and Marcella Spears Standing: Jean Thornhill

They all changed their last name over the years, but for decades in Marengo they were known as the Wright sisters. The oldest sister, Mary Wright Reh, turned 100 on May 24. She was honored with an open house at Indian Oaks Park on May 21.

Mary lived in Marengo until 18 months ago when she moved to an assisted living facility in Rockford where she can be near her sons, grandson and their families. Carrying on the tradition of staying in their own homes, younger sisters, Marcella Wright Spears, 98, and Doris Wright McNeese, 96, live in Marengo. The youngest sister, Jean Wright Thornhill, only 86, lives farther away— in Hampshire with her husband.

At Mary’s birthday gathering they enjoyed visiting with family and friends, including many Marengo neighbors. Most of all, they enjoyed visiting with each other. “Every time we get together I learn something new about days gone by,” commented Jean Thornhill. “I’m so proud of my three sisters!”

Jean is the only sister who never lived on the family farm, where the three older girls spent their first years until Mary was 10. She heard yet another new story this time: “I never had a doll,” explained Mary, “and—Jean doesn’t know this—but when she was born she became my doll. I dressed her up and carried her everywhere.”

When asked what she thought about reaching her 100th birthday, Mary shrugged and said, “I don’t really know. It just crept up on me.”

Thanks to generous donations and some enormous volunteer efforts, kids in Marengo now have a new playground to enjoy at Indian Oaks Park. We needed a little help building the playground and on May 13, Marengo answered the call. The local business community, elected officials, members of the fire and police departments, the school district and residents volunteered their time, whether it was serving food, assembling a slide or shoveling mulch. By that afternoon, kids were already putting the playground to good use.

The former playground, which had been in place for more than three decades, was removed in the spring of 2016 after the park district risk-management agency determined it was no longer safe. Without the resources in place to purchase a new playground, the community helped raise the more than $30,000 needed to replace it.

This was a true community effort. Thank you for making a difference for our park and for our kids! The new playground really sets the stage for an exciting summer at Marengo Park District. For the first time in four years, we are reintroducing our popular summer camp program starting on June 19.

We have six weeks of summer activities planned for 6- to 12-year-olds, including field trips, visual and performing arts, sports, games and much more. Kids enrolled in Summer Camp can also participate in Before Camp and After Camp time slots ranging from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Looking for something for the whole family? Our Movies in the Park had such a great reception last year that we’re bringing them back this summer.

We’ll be showing the movies “Sing,” “Finding Dory” and “The Lego Batman Movie.” Come out around dusk on the third Fridays in June, July and August to enjoy a family flick, and leave your wallet at home.

Indian Oaks Park was a hive of activity on Saturday, May 13. Volunteers were constructing new playground equipment.

Registration table volunteer Nicole Hamilton said, “I am here today to have my kids watch the new playground go up and be a part of the work. We’ve got the playground, children’s hand prints on picnic tables, disc golf, a drum circle, seed planting, river rock painting, and bird feeders - a lot of activities for the kids while the adults are building.

“We have people from Intren, the Police Department, park district volunteers, community members, and the 4-H is coming later. We have had 35 people register today, paramedics and fire rescue members are here as well, plus the kids, plus everyone who pre-registered, over 100 people total. We started at 8 a.m. and will keep going until it is done - we think it will be around 2 p.m.

“The goal is that everything will be done today,” said Beth Dixon. “Our next goal is to install a splash pad.”xxxxxxxxxxxx “We are trying to make our community better one piece at a time,” said Jolene Wright. “If my kids had had a football game today, I would have missed it and I have not missed even one of my sons’ games. That’s how important this is.”

A few of Marengo’s notables came out to help: Miss Lopez, principal of Locust School; Stephanie Keenum, teacher at Marengo Middle School; Mrs. Secor, 3rd grade at Locust School; Alderman Nickki DeBoer and Alderman Mike Miller; Greg Wright, president of School District 165 Board; Rick Czepczynski, of the District 165 School Board; members of the Fire Department and Police Department; Locust School provided breakfast and 4-H Eagles provided lunch.

Early Sunday morning Alderman Mike Miller was on site. He said, “This is a community built playground to keep costs down. We wanted good lighting to cut down vandalism and we wanted the playground near the buildings for our preschoolers. Intren donated $10,000 to make this playground happen and it will be named ‘Intren Playground.’

“We are still waiting for a few pieces to arrive. There will be digger machines for the kids to play with and a piece of the ‘treehouse’ has yet to come. We decided not to wait for them in order to get the playground built.

“Darryl Koeper builds golf courses. He donated his time and equipment. We had to build up the playground area a little and brought in clean fill from the Taco Bell construction site. Real Construction worked with us. Kunde Excavating was here for several nights. Mike Pottinger donated four truckloads of gravel for the sidewalk and called in favors.

“Steve Doyle, a park district employee, is still donating time this morning to complete the area for the community. Everyone pitched in and there were a lot of good comments on the Forum last night.”

Further information can be found online at www. marengoparkdistrict.org.

   
                                                                    
            

As I was reading through Let’s Go by Wayne Pierce, which is a book about the history of the 325th Glider Infantry during WWII, a name I recognized appeared: Lt. Clarence Knutson. I ‘ve written stories about Knutson and his brother, Marine Private Charles Knutson, who both were killed in action. My only sources for these stories were old newspaper articles. Pierce furnished me with contact information for Karen (Knutson) Cini, who is Clarence’s daughter. Karen and I have corresponded since my initial contact in 2004. I would like to thank her for sharing about her father.

This stone marks the grave of Sidney Babcock, a private in the 15th Illinois Infantry. Sidney was too sick to travel and was left at the train depot in Keokuk, Iowa, where he subsequently died in a hospital.

The sacrifices of many local soldiers fade from the memories of local communities. Every once in a while the dust gets blown off the pages of some old newspaper or diary and the sacrifices of these warriors of yesteryear are revealed. I found two such stories while scouring obscure issues of the Marengo Journal from the year 1861. The first of these two experiences, the drowning of Charles Morris of the 15th Illinois Infantry in the Pecatonica River in Freeport, Illinois, was related to readers in last month’s issue of the Marengo-Union Times.

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