Best of Springfield®

Best of People


Best school crossing guard
Rosemary Thomas
She starts her mornings as crossing guard at St. Aloysius school, then by 8:30 she’s on the job at Ridgely elementary. She’s back again at both schools in the afternoon. The children all know her as “Grandma,” a reminder that she got acquainted the Ridgely and the the importance of crossing safety when she accompanied her grandchildren to school. Her late husband, Richard, was also crossing guard in his retirement. “We like children and we look out for their safety,” she says. An IT reader writes about her: “The second day of school my kindergartener did not want to go into school and she took the time to come over to us and speak to him. He has gone to school with no problem ever since.” But safety isn’t all fun and games. Another reader writes that Rosemary is a “tough cookie who always goes above and beyond to make sure the kids are safe.” Her comment: “People forget it’s a 20 mile-per-hour zone. They need to slow down, open their eyes and look out for my children.”

BEST School bus driver
Ward Iaun
Ward Iaun picks up and delivers 85 children on his daily school bus routes – to DuBois and Owen Marsh elementary schools, and Grant Middle School. He knows each of them on a first-name basis. He’s known all the names each year for the 13 years he’s been driving a school bus, so that’s well over 1,000 Jasons and Amandas and Emilys he’s greeted over the years. “I smile and wish them a good day,” he says, knowing how important it is for them to arrive at school happy. “I get paid, but this is kind of a ministry,” Iaun says. “I let kids know I like them.” He retired in 1996 from a career in education, first as a teacher and coach, later as a staff member for the State Board of Education. “This is a good way for me to stay involved with children.” What are the challenges? “Getting up early. It’s hard to go to work at 6:30 on a cold morning.” Are there discipline problems? “If I tell them to sit down they sit down. I have a delightful group of kids.”

Most effective elected official
Mary Ann Lamm
Sangamon County Recorder
Come December we’ll miss seeing her in the Sangamon County Courthouse, now that Mary Ann Lamm is retiring after 32 years of service as County Recorder. She was the first woman ever elected to county office. When she started, all the books and records were kept by hand, but within six months she had the first computers ordered. Though she has an efficient and dedicated staff to take walk-in clients, she often provides personal service to those who come with the toughest questions. “She makes your request seem like the most important item on her calendar,” an IT reader writes. Lamm’s six grandchildren have been known to say, “Meema you never quit working!” She’s looking forward to more time with the kids, hoping her recent bout with cancer doesn’t interfere. “I’m going to be tough and hang in there,” she says. We wish her well.
Alderman Sam Cahnman deserves mention here as well, with readers commending him for leading the move to downsize the county board, for assisting the homeless with the CWLP Roundup program and for being a tireless campaigner for a Best of Springfield award!

Best mechanic
Johnny Thomas
E. E. Thomas Auto Center
1140 W. Jefferson, 787-0115

Johnny Thomas is a glass-half-full kind of guy. Or brakes. “I don’t tell a customer his brakes are half-shot. I tell him they’re ‘only’ halfway down and he might as well put some more miles on them before they’re replaced. I try to put myself in the customer’s shoes,” he says. He learned customer service, as well as auto repair, from his father, Richard, who died last year, and from his grandfather, Estel Elmer (Tommy) Thomas, who founded the E. E. Thomas Auto Center in 1934.
Johnny and two other mechanics work on all types of vehicles, so he’s studying every day on the computer, which has replaced the book manuals his father used. He keeps his overhead down by wearing a lot of hats for his business — phone answerer and bookkeeper as well as mechanic. That allows him to treat his customers right. “I try to keep the final invoice down as much as I can,” he says.

high school athlete

Mike Grimski
Sacred Heart-Griffin

He isn’t the best yet, but if drive and ambition have anything to say about it, Mike Grimski, sophomore at Sacred Heart-Griffin, will earn his way to the top in basketball soon. “Mark my word, this kid will be the next pro basketball player from Springfield,” says his trainer, Wayne Carrels. “He is more dedicated than almost any athlete I have worked with, and he is respectful to adults.” This six-foot-three sophomore goes to the gym every day, and works with a trainer twice a week, to “get stronger for basketball.” He hopes to earn a spot on the varsity this year, but definitely has his eye on next year, after this year’s seniors graduate. Mike says staying focused as an athlete keeps him out of trouble, but that’s not why he works so hard. “I just want to be the best,” he says.

Outstanding female high school athlete
Madison Hannah
Glenwood High School

A 14-year-old freshman, Madison Hannah has been in and around volleyball all of her life. “My mom [Elizabeth Gregurich] was varsity coach at Glenwood when I was born,” says Madison Hannah, captain of her junior varsity volleyball team. So far the team has won some and lost some, “but we keep getting better.” As captain, “I don’t try to get on to people,” she says. “I just try to get everybody up and happy.” Here’s what IT reader Robin Lamb had to say about her: “She is extremely uypbeat and motivates her team members to perform their very best. Madison is a star — she can serve ace after ace, spike the ball to no return and has a unique setting style. The best part of watching her is seeing her and her teammates have so much fun out there on the court. Her fun spirit, personality, gorgeous looks and talent make Madison my number one pick! Go Titans!”

Outstanding community volunteer
Ron Homann
Ron Homann was nominated for “Outstanding Community Volunteer” for the way he applies his energies in several different arenas. As co-proprietor of downtown’s Tinsley Dry Goods, he is an active volunteer for Downtown Springfield, Inc., helping to organize promotions like the “Poker Run” during the recent Route 66 Mother Road Festival. And as possessor of a special blood type that can be used for newborns, he donates blood whenever he can. He passed the two-gallon mark last year. But most of his volunteer energy gets poured into extra-curricular activities associated with his job as director of marketing for Senior Services of Central Illinois. “My job is my passion,” he says. For example, in his volunteer capacity he organized the “Rockin’ Into the Future” fundraiser, held for the third time this spring. Local artists painted rocking chairs, which were auctioned off, with proceeds going to projects at the senior center. “I’ve always loved old folks,” Homann says. “They’re interesting and they’re savvy.”

Best hairdresser
Phil Kralik
Celebrity Salon
1129 S. Second St., 753-0453
One of the many votes for Phil Kralik came from an IT reader who had this stunning bit of news: “My husband and I go together to see Phil. I also get my pedicures there. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed. We’ve been customers and friends for many years.” This is such a cruel way to learn that we aren’t the only customers Phil relaxes and has fun with, that we aren’t the only customers he considers friends, that we aren’t the only customers who get a fresh pot of coffee or a lovely glass of wine (depending on the time of day and our mood). We are shocked — shocked! — to learn that Phil apparently makes everybody feel like they’re his favoritest bestest coolest friend who just happens to also pay him money to cut their hair. But then again, we’ve heard that he named his business Celebrity Salon because he “treats everybody like a celebrity.” He also gives a top-quality trim, and a color job that doesn’t look like a color job.

Hardest working small business owner
Roosevelt Pratt
Fashion Afrique
318 E. Monroe, 544-1289

His two-year-old downtown shop is his core business. At Fashion Afrique, Roosevelt Pratt sells fair trade clothing and other handmade products from Africa. The business not only supports this Liberian native, but it also supports artisans back home and helps to keep alive the African culture. In addition to managing his retail store, Pratt teaches French lessons to adults and children, teaches drumming workshops in public schools, conducts classes in African dance and offers Swahili lessons. The store is headquarters for all this now, but he dreams of someday having a separate building for his “Center for Cultural Integration.” His work in Springfield is an attempt to rebuild his career, after two civil wars forced him to leave Liberia, where he had founded and run a school for 15 years. He calls multitasking his “way to relax.” But there’s another reason he works so hard: “I don’t have enough money.”

BEST Personal trainer
Wayne Carrels
(High Intensity Practical Exercises)
3430 Constitution Drive, 787-4473

Wayne Carrels says you can take your pain now, in the physical exertion he’ll put you through, or you can neglect yourself and take your pain later, with medicines, surgery and not being able to do what you want. “Nothing tastes better than being healthy feels,” he says. For 20 years altogether and for the last four in Springfield, Carrels has been trying to help people to take back their health. He specializes in “athletic enhancement” rather than weight loss, but the weight comes off too. “My clients soon learn that food is for fuel, not recreation.” He works one-on-one and with classes, with trainees from 15 to 55. Here are comments from readers: “His hyperactive style and quirky sense of humor make each class challenging, fun and rewarding.” “Not only does he improve your physical being, he also improves your mental state as you begin to focus on the positive instead of getting stuck in the negative.”

Dedicated public servant
Victoria Clemons
Executive director
Downtown Springfield, Inc.

For the past four years Victoria Clemons has been living and breathing downtown Springfield, and she gets those who work with her to do the same. “We’re making people aware of the treasure we have here.” DSI’s work is most visible in its large events like Taste of Downtown and Blues and BBQs, as well as the highly successful twice-weekly Old Capitol Farmers’ Market, which has become a social gathering place as well as an economic development tool. The Upper Story Tour, held in May, and Holiday Walks, coming up on Wednesdays in December, are other favorite perennials. “But there’s a lot more to it than putting up tents and hiring bands,” she says. DSI has been planning the 2009 Lincoln bicentennial, participating in the lawsuit to prevent IDOT jobs from going to Harrisburg, fighting historic site closures and, through its Heritage Foundation, working to preserve the Maisenbacher House. Clemons is dedicated, and busy: “I’m not happy unless my hair’s on fire.” Lately her hair’s been on fire over downtown getting beat up by state government cutbacks. “We’re getting kicked while we’re down. This is the worst time in the world for roadblocks to be put in our way.”

Old Capitol Blues and BBQs
Readers had a hard time choosing between two very popular annual entertainment events — but they had no problem agreeing that Downtown Springfield is fun-central. First place honors go to Downtown Springfield, Inc.’s 12-hour food and music fest. One Saturday each August masters of the barbecue from across the country compete for bragging rights and the rest of us eat, drink and sway to soulful, slammin’ blues. This year this popular event shared the stage with the Obama/Biden show, which gave the Old Capitol Plaza a worldwide audience.
Victoria Clemons, Ann Frescura and their cadre of DSI volunteers were also recognized by “Best of” voters with a second place win for July’s annual Taste of Downtown event, where revelers find bite-sized portions from 17 of downtown’s eateries coupled with a day full of rockin’ entertainment.

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