How difficult would it be to fit an elephant into any living room within Marengo’s city limits? I’ll venture to answer, “impossible”! Likewise, our elected city officials had a similar situation with the huge McGill industrial building located within a Central Business District which rightfully did not allow industrial use. But the officials have approved an acceptable use for the building which has created a fair degree of original, historical appearance for which its new owners must be applauded!

So, if by chance you have recently been in the 100 block area of East Prairie Street, you will have noticed the rebirth of the original building and the remaining additions that were added over the years. The first significant addition occurred during the winter of 1951 under the direction of local contractor, Ralph Deneen, which added about 1500 feet of additional factory area.

The original two-story McGill building was built in the 1890’s by George Crego to house his livery stable business which he was moving from Coral Township. Eventual individual owners were early car dealers, Charles Dietz, Pete Jobe and Ralph Joslyn. The company came into existence in 1878 in Chicago, engaged solely in the manufacture of ticket punches for the railroads and other traction systems. In 1922 the company developed a highspeed money changer which was a boon for conductors of railroads and street car lines. The buildings name sake, George McGill, brought his business to Marengo in 1924, later building a beautiful brick home at 104 West Street in the mid 1930’s. In 1932 he added the manufacture of mouse traps which brought a fair degree of notoriety to Marengo. It’s new use in 2018 will be that of a shooting range for our local and out of town gun enthusiasts, complementing, our local Marengo Guns business on E. Grant Highway.

During my younger years, I recall b-b guns or rifles being brought to school, on the school bus, by close friends planning to go hunting together after school. The men of the family were taught early in their lives the proper and safe use of a gun. Targets were often set up for target practice in an open field area. The rules were set and accepted. Duck, goose, and pheasant hunting brought some mighty delicious meat to our table. But as we all know, times change. Subdivisions have sprung up in the open field areas. Our residents needed a contained and safe location for their target practice. This new business will serve our current police officers and likely, those in our neighboring communities. It will bring people to our local businesses, especially our many truly good restaurants and those making and / or selling baked goods

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized military commanders to create exclusion zones for persons who were considered a threat to national security. Large portions of the West Coast and the state of Arizona were declared exclusion zones, and the federal government established relocation centers for the displaced people in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. The target population for relocations was German, Italian, and Japanese nationals; and unfortunately a group of Americans referred to as Nisei, or native born Japanese Americans. On March 18, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102 which officially created the War Relocation Authority (WRA), and the relocation of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans was initiated. These people were torn from their homes; forced to leave behind many of their possessions; and were interred in one of the ten established relocation centers.

During World War II the US military distributed sweet treats to the troops as a morale booster, and a quick source of energy. The military’s D rations and K rations included chocolate bars that were specifically designed as a high energy food source.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this story – the WRA relocating Japanese Americans, and the US military distributing candy bars to the troops? Well there is method to the madness! During World War II the Curtiss Candy Company was headquartered in McHenry County; more specifically in Cary, and they had a farm west of Marengo.

In 1916 an unemployed Otto Y. Schnering unleashed his entrepreneurial spirit and for $100.00 purchased some candy-making equipment, and the Curtiss Candy Company was born. Schnering initially produced his candy products in the back of a hardware store on the north side of Chicago, and the first few years of business were shaky. He did hit upon enough success with a bar called Kandy-Kake that allowed the company to move from the hardware store, and to expand its operations in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago. A year later in 1920 Schnering’s confectionary enterprise was again burdened by financial woes. Not dissuaded by the money problems the clever entrepreneur came up with a new product in 1921 – the Baby Ruth candy bar. I’m sure almost every reader has heard of this treat – caramel covered in peanuts and dipped in chocolate! This candy bar was well-known even before its co-starring role with Bill Murray in the famous pool scene in the movie Caddy Shack.

Schnering also developed a marketing gimmick where he cut the cost of the candy bar to a nickel during a time when other candy bars were selling for a dime. He also gave merchants the first box of twelve bars for free. The public fell in love with the product, and the bars flew off of the rack. Sales expanded to the national level, and according to the website Immigrant Entrepreneurship the Baby Ruth and another product the Polar Bar “generated over $1 million dollars in sales in 1921.” By 1928 Curtiss Candy Company operated three production plants and employed 3,500 workers.

In the early 1940’s Schnering purchased 650 acres of farmland in Cary, and soon afterward he expanded his farming interests with additional land purchases in other McHenry County locales such as Algonquin and Marengo. When World War II broke out the US government deemed the candy industry as necessary – because of the inclusion of chocolate and candy in the soldiers’ rations. The candy industry wasn’t re-tooled for war production, and continued to produce sweet treats. However, the candy-makers (like other industries) suffered from a labor crunch which was created by potential workers heading off to fight for freedom in far-off lands.

The labor pool may have been diminished, but the demand for candy was not. The candy-makers needed milk, cream, and eggs, and workers were required to produce these items. West of Marengo on US Route 20 the Curtis Candy Company operated a large farm, and like its competitors it faced a labor-crunch. The company tried to hire workers of Mexican descent, but was unsuccessful in its efforts, and turned to the WRA to fill its need for manpower. The WRA agreed to send sixteen Nisei farmers from relocation camps to work the Curtiss Candy Company farm.

On paper this was a great plan, but it all too quickly fell apart when resentment and resistance from some Marengo residents surfaced. Return next month to learn how this saga thrust our community into the national spotlight, and how our citizens reacted

Do I really need to stake my tomatoes?

Staking tomatoes does take time and some expense, however, the benefits are earlier, larger and healthier fruit. Maintaining the plant upright allows more sunlight to reach the leaves, better air circulation to keep diseases from spreading and provides easier picking access. If your tomatoes are the bushy determinate type, staking might not be as necessary. Indeterminate types that continue to grow through-out the season can sprawl all over the garden. Tomatoes lying on the ground may rot and suffer attacks from pests.

While sturdy cages are great for determinate plants, indeterminate tomatoes need taller, sturdier cages, pruning or trellising to carry the size and weight of the plants. Be sure to stake the tomato soon after planting to prevent damage to the root system.

Does companion planting really benefit my garden and how should it be done?

The effectiveness of companion planting in the garden is really up for debate. Evidence of benefits is more anecdotal than scientific. Perhaps the best example of effective companion planting is the use of marigolds which seem to repel pests, both the flying kind and the four-legged kind. Planting flowers among vegetables also attracts beneficial insects and pollinators that contribute to healthier and better producing plants. Planting basil around tomatoes repels aphids, white flies, spider mites and hornworms. Basil is also said to improve tomato flavor and pollination. For more information on companion planting check the library for “Carrots Love Tomatoes”.

How do I protect my plants from adult Japanese beetles?

Adult beetles emerge in late June and early July in central and northern Illinois. The beetles feed on a wide range of plants, preferring smartweed, grape, basil, raspberry, rose, crabapple, linden, and willow. The beetles can be controlled by handpicking or using insecticides. Because the beetles are numerous and cause damage for about six weeks and most insecticides last two weeks or less, repeated applications are necessary. Vegetable and other crops can be protected with row cover. Studies have shown that landscapes with Japanese beetle traps are likely to experience

If you have been seeing red, white, and blue rockets scattered here and there around Marengo, and you like fireworks, you may want to drop some money into the rocket. They are the work of a group of volunteers who have missed having fireworks in Marengo. Their intent is to fund a fireworks display at no cost to the city. “A bunch of volunteers are trying to do a good thing for Marengo,” said Mike Miller. “We haven’t had any fireworks in Marengo for a few years and we miss them. We are planning to have live bands and a beer tent behind Trio Grill.

“Jeff Seevers came up with the plan and we put in a lot of work making the canisters. We fabricated, well, mainly Jeff Seevers did the work while I helped, five rocket collection boxes. We are putting them around town to raise money to fund a fireworks display behind the Trio Grill on June 30.

“I am a 1st ward alderman on the City Council and I spoke to the mayor about our plan. Technically, this will be a city sponsored event, but the city will not be paying for it. It will be paid for by donations from the citizens of Marengo. Gene Lindow has been helping quite a bit and UniCarriers has made a sizable donation. We have or will have canisters at places like City Hall, Trio Grill, the Farmers Market, Sullivan’s… They can be moved around.

“We are hoping to set this up as an annual event year after year. Next year, we would like to get schools’ art departments to paint the canisters.

The Spot was voted this year’s Best of the Fox by Northwest Herald readers for the “Best” Video Gaming and “One of the Best” Karaoke.


I took my Kindergartener to his first play last month, put on by the local children’s theatre CAST. It was a great time. We jumped at the chance to see Peter Pan so close to home, at our local high school. The price was reasonable at ten bucks per ticket, and we scored front row tickets by purchasing early. We have never been theatre people, and I have seen limited plays in my life. After seeing this play, I realize what a shame that is.

Ryan was so excited to go on our “date” and see the play. He did not know what to expect, and neither did I. We grabbed our front row seats and the magic began. Peter Pan was played by a - gasp! - girl. And played so darn well, you could barely tell.

Smee was also played (very well) by a female cast member. Captain Hook was a tall, amazingly funny male actor who was kind enough to chat with my guy after the show in full character and snap a picture. Every kiddo, from the smallest mermaid to the loudest Lost Boy, was exceptional. Choreography was amazing, set was on point. It was such a surprising treat for us, and we will surely be back for more.

As my kids get older in our little town, it is such a joy to see them participating in community events and activities, from free Park District events to reasonably priced sports teams with awesome coaches. Marengo Union Times usually updates our family on what is coming up, and I look forward to finding out more about the goings on in our town each month.

Parents, I highly recommend checking out and getting involved in something that interests your family! There is bound to be something that suits you. As we sample more and more activities, we continue to be pleasantly surprised and more engaged within the community. We cannot wait for the next play and starting soccer and t-ball this summer. Hope to see you guys there!

Congratulations to the Zion Lutheran Varsity Boys’ Basketball team for taking 4th place in the nation at the Lutheran Basketball Association of America’s Nationals! Zion was one of 32 teams across the country invited to participate in this prestigious national competition as a result of their great achievements (an undefeated regular season, conference champions, and a 3rd place finish at state). Nationals were held at Valparaiso University March 22-25th. Led by head coach, Dave Wascher, and assistant coaches, Scott Shepard and Hunter Simonini, the boys worked hard and won 3 out of 5 games, losing only to the pre-tournament #1 seed and the eventual national champions. In addition, the boys broke the Zion school record with their 4th place finish and Matthew Volkening made the All-Tournament team for Nationals. On Monday, April 9th, the team was recognized by the Marengo City Council. The boys were presented with certificates of achievement. Congratulations, again, to the Zion Panthers!

Troy Umland admits he’s a “walking talking advertisement” for Umland’s Crunchy Cheese Bites wherever he goes. Remember the name of this delicious snack, because it will show up in local stores very soon. And you will know the Marengo connection.

Troy and his wife Barb have lived in Marengo since 1998. They have four kids—12-year-old Julio and 8-year-old triplets, Grace, Faith and Hope. Troy didn’t plan to become part owner of a company making snacks, but when he had the chance to partner with his brother Greg, Greg’s wife Louanne and their son, Taylor, of Carlock, IL, he signed on and brought his 30 plus years of experience in the consumer goods industry to the enterprise.

Greg Umland discovered a new technology for drying food that is energy efficient, faster and produces a more flavorful product. He used the technology to produce “Umland’s Pure Dry 100% Natural Cheese.” Troy joined his brother and family in 2017 and helped rebrand the product. It is totally cheese, not a “cracker type product posing as cheese,” Umland explains, so they named the snack Umland’s Crunchy Cheese Bites. This name truly describes these delicious bites of cheese that come in three flavors: Gouda, Cheddar and Pepper Jack.

Umland entered the product in a contest sponsored by Peapod, searching for the next best new foods. There were 100 entrants. The Cheese Bites made it to the top 18, making them part of an episode of ABC7’s “Windy City Live” show. On that show a panel selected a homemade pasta as the winner. The runner up: Umland’s Crunchy Cheese Bites! Peapod likes them so much they are interested in carrying them.

Greg Umland and his family continue producing the snack in Carlock. Troy Umland of Marengo pursues possible markets for the product in the Midwest, while continuing his full-time job and his life as a husband and father. “Balancing work and life is the challenge,” Umland states. If he can succeed in bringing this very healthy, incredibly delicious snack to local store shelves we will all benefit from his challenge. Watch for it and remember the Marengo connection.

Baggage car 1236 was built in Chicago by Pullman 110 years ago Union, IL – You may know someone whose basement is full of trains, or at least someone who has a few items of train paraphernalia around the house. But the ultimate prize for any train lover is an actual train. This spring the Illinois Railway Museum (“IRM”) in Union, McHenry County, Illinois is making that a real possibility. The museum is making one of the railway cars in its collection available to a good home. The railway car in question won’t fit in your basement – in fact, it may not even fit in your driveway. It is a wooden baggage car from the Chicago & North Western Railway numbered 1236. It was built in Chicago by the Pullman Company in 1908 and is roughly 70’ long, weighing in at about 99,000 lbs. The historic car, which is built mostly of wood, was once used on Chicago & North Western passenger trains to carry passengers’ luggage and small express freight shipments. It was acquired by IRM in 1964 and for a time was used to store spare parts for other trains at the museum. More recently it was employed as a storeroom for the museum’s gift shop. The railway car is mechanically complete but the interior is partly removed – perfect for someone looking to create a unique shop, club room, or getaway. Another identical baggage car owned by the museum is being retained and is currently on public display as an historic artifact. “This car may be surplus to our needs, but it has stuck around for 110 years so far and we are hoping that someone can provide it a good future so that it’s still around in another century,” stated Paul Cronin, IRM General Manager for Collections. Baggage car number 1236 is being offered as-is, where-is at the museum’s property. Serious inquiries can be directed to Paul Cronin, IRM General Manager, and the baggage car is available for inspection to any museum visitor. IRM is open daily until September 16th and weekends through the end of October.

There will be an Old Fashioned, “base ball” match at Village Hall Park off Barreville and Ames roads in Prairie Grove on June 10 at 2 p.m. Civil War-era game pits the McHenry County “Independants” against the Grayslake Athletics. Elmhurst History Museum Director Dave Oberg will umpire and emcee, explaining the rules and teaching the audience to cheer and jeer in proper 19th -century fashion. Free.




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