The cause for a June 11 explosion in Marengo’s 7th Circle neighborhood has been tracked to a gas leak but investigators from Northern Illinois Gas (NICOR) are searching for the source, whether a line leak, or an appliance malfunction in one of the homes. A fence cordon continues blocking access to the destruction area, largely for safety purposes, while insurance adjusters determine which homes are lost, uninhabitable, or repairable.

Evidence that includes gas appliances such as hot water tanks, ovens, and pipe fittings have been removed from the site to a separate location, by NICOR investigators. Previously, the Marengo Fire Protection District, and the state of Illinois Fire Marshall, had canvassed for their respective data-gathering efforts. Fire district officials were also guiding insurance company representatives through uninhabitable homes, as a precaution.

“The source is still under investigation, where and how it originated, even though we know the devastation was caused by gas,” said Bob Bradbury, the fire protection district’s Chief. “NICOR is basically heading the overall investigation, at this point, since it is their infrastructure. Appliances that were in some of the destroyed homes were taken out for testing to see if the cause for the explosion came from a unit.”

On June 11, at approximately 4:50 a.m., the 500 block of 7th Circle suffered a gas explosion that destroyed two homes, set four others afire, left nineteen residences uninhabitable, and damaged more than fifty other homes throughout the area. The early morning catastrophe generated a Level 3 code on the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) calling for assistance from personnel from counties and municipalities, as well as WI-based emergency response teams. “There were two people that received burn injuries, and were in a house, next to one that exploded… we’re extremely lucky there weren’t more,” said Bradbury. “They were taken to Woodstock Centegra Hospital, and treated. They’re doing fine, I’m told.”

While NICOR and the Illinois Fire Marshall’s office complete their separate investigations, the sheer scope of the physical damage and displacement of families is staggering. The night of the incident, and the next day, found Mayor John Koziol in the City Hall, with other staff, trying to coordinate relief efforts, holding a town hall session to provide information and answer resident questions, along with just listening to community members.

“What we can do, we will do,” said Koziol. “We worked with the Marengo Area OutReach Enterprises (MORE Center), a non-profit group, to help victims that were impacted by this emergency. They accepted donations, and goods…our community really came together to help each other through fundraisers, and assistance. There were some complaints that people were unable to get their insurance companies to act, and we referred them to that specific state department.

The state of Illinois Department of Insurance ( gov) is fielding queries from residents, and responding accordingly to contact insurance providers.

A June 24 fundraiser helped the family of Marengo Community high School wrestling coach Tim Keefer, one of the many effected by the incident that lost their home and possessions. An impromptu wrestling tournament held in Homer Barry gymnasium at the campus brought out more 200 athletes, from around McHenry County, and represented all age brackets. Donations raised through the event were estimated to be approximately $5,500.

"Most of the impacted families have made other arrangements for living spaces, with rentals or staying with friends,” said Bradbury. “There were about nineteen families, at the time.”

Koziol noted, “We’re moving forward. This is our community.”

A replacement and total damage assessment cost has yet to be calculated.

“It would be a shame for the actions of one or two individuals to spoil things for hundreds of people, but that’s what will happen if there is any more vandalism,” Roger Brandt stated adamantly.

Brandt, of Union, is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Siems Memorial Park, a private park maintained by an endowment left by its builder, Mike Siems, when he died in 1978. The 35 acre park can be booked through Siems Memorial Park, Inc.’s Board of Directors for picnics, parties, weddings, and other popular outdoor gatherings. There is no swimming, but there is fishing, hiking, playground equipment and a large pavilion. Use of the park for such private events will continue.

The park has become much more than that to the people of Union and Marengo. Located on High Bridge Road, in Union, it is popular place for families to come to play, hike, fish and relax. It is opened every day from 5 or 6 in the morning until 7:30 or 8 in the evening. Thanks to the Siems endowment, upkeep and park improvements have been ongoing. Brandt reports that “in 2016 the Board spent $6,400 to install electricity, $7,000 for new playground equipment, and in 2017, $9,000 for new tables.

In mid-June an unwelcome addition appeared— spray paint graffiti on the park’s brick gate. Graffiti—and lots more of it— may be a common sight in many places, but it is new at Siems Park in Union and it will not be tolerated. “We have to pay to have it removed, and now we’re discussing installing security cameras out there,” said Brandt.

It would behoove nearby residents to keep their eyes and ears open to help forestall any more vandalism at Siems Park or anywhere else in Union. If any more vandalism occurs in Siems Memorial Park, it will be closed to public and only opened for authorized events.


 The Illinois Department of Transportation issued a notice that all major road projects would cease operation, as of June 30, due to a lack of funding at the state level to pay for construction. The Illinois State Legislature has not passed an operating budget for three years, and the impasse was identified as the main issue.

A stop-gap budget, for a six-month duration, was passed one year ago, coinciding with the fiscal year calendar of the state (July 1-June 30), although the passage was largely an emergency measure. IDOT was given the ability to pay vendors, although a specific fund earmarked for transportation projects only, cannot be accessed, a result of the budget stalemate.

The project involving the I-90/Route 23 interchange, with overpass and access lanes, will continue, as it is being funded through a separate agency, the Illinois Tollway Authority Board, which derives it monies from toll, and I-Pass, sales. The project is expected to be completed in 2018, and is currently centering on access ramps.


McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally announced two felony charges against a 16-year old juvenile that allegedly threatened a Marengo police officer with a handgun, resulting in the officer shooting the individual. The injury to the leg was not life-threatening. In announcing the charges June 8, Kenneally said in a phone conversation, “Because the individual is a juvenile, we cannot release further information.”

An accompanying press release stated, in part, “Following its review of the investigation, the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office finds that the Marengo officer was facing an imminent threat of deadly force and acted appropriately in self-defense, and in accordance with his responsibilities as a peace officer.”

The two charges, both Class 4 felonies, included unlawful use of weapons and aggravated assault to a peace officer with a firearm. The incident occurred May 13, when officers confronted the youth at a Prairie Street residence, not his own, who brandished a handgun. He told officers he would not be sent back to prison. The officer wounded him, he was then taken to the hospital for treatment, and was placed into custody.

“The officer is all right,” said Marengo Police Chief Rich Solarz. “I don’t know the particulars of the individual’s reasons for doing that (threatening the officer). He was going to be returned to a juvenile detention center, not a prison, but some centers can feel like that.”

The state’s attorney’s office also said that the sentencing will be on another scale, due to the juvenile’s age, as opposed to an adult.


Several individuals broke into the Marengo Gun Shop, and made off with an undetermined number of firearms. The June 16 incident occurred at approximately 1:30 a.m., when the glass doors in front of the store were smashed to gain entry. Video surveillance footage from the store, and several surrounding businesses have been gathered and are being reviewed for identification. The store, located at 20014 Grant Highway (Route 20), suffered a break-in in 2016.

“They entered about 1:30 a.m., and it was not determined how many firearms were taken,” said Marengo Police Chief Rich Solarz. “At this point, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco is heading the investigation, and we will provide support as needed. Surveillance footage was obtained and they are being reviewed. The investigation is ongoing, we have no more information at this time.”

Store owner, Dominick De Bock, was not available for comment, and was being interviewed by federal authorities.

The incident comes more than one year, after a similar robbery involving two Chicago men, Nathaniel Green, 28, and Skyler Green, 28. The Apr. 2016 incident was followed by the Marengo Police Department, when it received a tip that the store would be the target of a theft, over that particular weekend. The Federal ATF, Illinois State Police and the McHenry County Sheriff ’s Office were also involved.

Each individual charged with attempted burglary and criminal damage to property.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Marengo Area News Briefs

Marengo Area News Briefs

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Pondering the Past, Tales Lost in Time

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