Best of Springfield®

Best of Springfield 2009 continued



Rather than name a single winner in this eatery category, we thought it would be more fun to alert readers to several delightful out-of-the-way discoveries nominated in our Best of Springfield survey.

Westwoods Lodge

2406 W Jefferson St, 698-9256

Tucked away on Jefferson, this place is easy to pass until you go there once. Then you’ll never pass it up again. A haven for hunters, wannabe hunters, or non-hunters who just love good food, Westwoods Lodge has a menu that looks like it came out of your camp nightmares, but worry not. The “Pinecones”? Tasty deep fried mashed potatoes. “Acorns”? Whole mini-potatoes with garlic and pamesean. Their take on the horseshoe, the “Snowshoe,” comes with all kinds of unique options. We recommend the brisket sandwich and, if you can handle it, their Bear Track Dessert, which is a deep-fried cheesecake topped with honey, cinnamon, sugar and whipped cream. Be still our beating hearts.

Star 66 Café

3752 Camp Butler Rd., 523-0611

Who knew a tiny restaurant next to a gas station would be such a favorite? Then we went and figured out exactly what people were talking about. This word-of-mouth café isn’t just for truckers on a road break. Often packed, especially on Sunday mornings, Star 66 carries tasty classic comfort dishes delivered to your table by fast and skilled servers. In fact, their service is what our voters spoke of most in their comments. “When I’m hungry, I don’t need anything fancy. Just truly delicious food and good people.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Morning Star

6141 Main St, Salisbury, 626-2022

Though Morning Star is only 12 years old, its rustic quality brings you to another time altogether. Owner Pat Adamski says this was her goal. Returning to Springfield after living in Israel, Pat was ready to follow her dream of opening a tea room, and, with her parents Bill and Georgia, purchased a 100-year-old barn and used its pieces for the parts of the café. Yes, that’s a 100-year-old door you’re pushing open to get your sandwiches and pies. Well known for her chicken salad and olive nut sandwiches, broccoli salad, and delicious desserts, Pat’s favorites are the crépes. The spinach chicken mushroom crépe? with Swiss cheese sauce is her top pick. Trust us, there’s nothing on the menu that will disappoint you.


310 E Ebony St, Thayer, 965-9860

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and though Maggie’s in Thayer has seen a few different owners in its day, its most famous menu items have been in place since the 1930s. Opened in 1929 by Maggie Enrietta, Maggie’s current iteration still serves its famous fried chicken, spaghetti and house dressing that has kept the American-Italian style family restaurant in business. Owner Josh Snodgrass stays true to the restaurant’s roots when asked about his favorite – he picked the fried chicken, but in the spirit of modernity, he is also a big fan of their horseshoes. Attracting locals and visitors from the surrounding areas, Maggie’s is as much of a mainstay as its menu favorites.

Huddle House

994 Ann Rutledge Rd, Williamsville, 566-2067

Started in Georgia in 1964, the 24-hour Huddle House now has over 430 locations. The one that causes our locals to pull over within minutes of starting a road trip is in Williamsville. Known for its breakfast delights like pecan waffles and the intimidating “Smothered Southern” (biscuits, hashbrowns, bacon or sausage, topped with gravy, re-topped with cheese), they also have a huge lunch and dinner menu with down home favorites like ribeye and country-fried steak. You can get everything to go, too, that is if you can handle waiting to eat it all.

Blucat Café

112 W Main St, Williamsville, 566-2800

The Blucat Café in Williamsville may be aesthetically lovely and interesting, but it’s more than just a pretty face. The breads are all made in-house, the menu offers delicious homemade takes on classics like corned beef and the ubiquitous horseshoe, and the pies are outstanding. Plus who doesn’t like dinner and a show? Live music makes an already winning restaurant experience even more so. A reader writes: “The Blucat Café is phenomenal! Great food, music and Jill Manning, the owner, is friendly and makes sure her customers are happy. She’ll even make something special. The homemade bread is fab!”

The Creek Pub & Grill

1081 Jason Pl, Chatham, 483-8282

Get ready for new things, Creek-lovers. The Creek is, as we speak, readying to roll out their new menu, with more dinner options and a few healthier items, available right around Halloween, perhaps as you read this. With its numerous flat screen TVs and game room, The Creek is a great place for families, particularly on half-priced pizza night every Monday. Says manager Kevin Daugherty, “It gives Chatham another option without having to drive to Springfield. We get regulars from Auburn and Divernon who want a good place to eat, but don’t want to bother with the hustle and bustle of traffic in Springfield.”


Tracey Sims

TurnOut Movement Arts Studio

1820 Stevenson Dr., 816-3888

Opening her own studio in her second year of grad school, Tracey Sims initially started as a hip hop instructor. Over time, she came to offer all aspects of dance, including the class that you let us know touched you most: her Gettin’ Down dance class for kids with Down Syndrome. Inspired by her boyfriend’s brother, who has Down’s, Sims decided to do her master’s in Movement Therapy final project on teaching dance to other people with the condition. “I’d done so much work and research… it made it easy to do it as a class at the studio.” Our voters were very thankful. “The Turnout Dance Studio, under the direction of Miss Tracey, gives my handicapped daughter a chance to be like all kids. Tracey is a positive influence and a great role model for the students as well as the young people she has working with her.”

Runner-up: Janet Cripe at Dance Creations


Gus Gordon

You’ve seen him on TV – the reserved weatherman on the Channel 20 news. But Gus Gordon gets to be an entirely different person on stage, and his passion for acting has earned him the title of “Best actor” many years in a row. From his first acting role in his high school production of A Christmas Carol, Gordon was hooked. Acting, he says, helped him gain confidence and find his standing in the social structure of high school. “I wouldn’t be doing what I do today, as a weatherman, unless I’d taken that first step and auditioned for a show,” he says. But the modest meteorologist is quick to heap praise on his fellow Springfield actors, of whom he says there are “so many others worthy” of being called “best.” Gordon’s next on-stage performance will be around Christmas, when he will star in the new musical, Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!). Until then, his fans will have to settle for watching him “perform” the forecast.

Runner-up: Mary Kate Smith


Founder Kim Leistner Little will celebrate the fifth anniversary of this November. Her initial newsletter sent to 30 friends at the start has grown to a thriving enterprise that draws 10,000 hits a month. “The intention is for people to get with us when they’re pregnant and stay with us,” she explains. “When we started we focused on kids from birth to pre-school, but now we’re from birth to college; most from birth to age 13. The page was redesigned since readers voted it Best Blog in 2008. Among the additions, a “Mom’s Faves” page, Featured Events listed at the home page, a What Do You Think? poll, and coupons aplenty. From a one-woman show, Kim has added four paid staffers and a volunteer advisory board. Plans to franchise are in the works.

Capitol Fax Blog and Blog Free Springfield finished second and third in the voting.

Runner-up: Capitol Fax Blog



Felicia Olin

The bright red flowers float effortlessly against a turquoise background as the corseted waif looks on pensively. It’s a scene depicted vibrantly in one of Felicia Olin’s signature paintings, and it shows why Olin was voted “best artist” as a wild card by IT readers. A reader writes: “Felicia Olin blew me away this year with her gallery show at the Robert Morris Galery downtown. Her creative expression is a treat to behold!” Evoking shades of Salvador Dali and Mark Ryden, her paintings convey profound emotion, despite the often impassive expressions on her subjects’ faces. Her style, she says, came from trusting her instincts and making art that she enjoys. “I look at everything, and I take things that I like and mesh it together,” Olin says. Her art hangs in galleries from the Hoogland Center to the Sangamo Club and more. “I think there’s just some kind of connection,” Olin says when asked why her artwork has become so popular. “I’m able to put something on the page that people just relate to.”


Kevin Veara, Black Moon Tattoos

1009 W. Edwards St., 793-1875

Even if you have never had any desire to have any ink inserted into your skin with a pointed instrument, we urge you to visit Kevin Veara’s Web site and look through his gallery of paintings. No sooner will the window open than you will be saying “take this sharp object, sir, and draw this bird all over my face. And let’s throw in some ear gauges while we’re at it. Rawk.” On your skin or on a canvas, his art is just that: art. Beautiful, stunning, intricate, and above all else, passionate art. A self-identified environmentalist, Veara’s work shows a keen interest in the natural world, and his bird pieces are famous. Using natural color schemes and extraordinary attention to detail, Veara is slowly wearing away most preconceived notions of tattoos and tattoo artists. One pin prick at a time.

Runner up: Jason Lee at New Age


Fiddler on the Roof

Springfield Muni Opera

You know we are a town that loves our theater when we brave the mosquitoes to head out to the Muni in droves at least four times a year every summer. No show brought out the Off Spray-coated crowds quite like Fiddler on the Roof. Directed by Chuck Hoots, and starring Muni’s own jack-of-all-trades Steve Kaplan (he sings, he acts, he directs, he sits on the board, he drills teeth!) as Tevye, Fiddler is the classic Broadway tale of a poor milkman and his family in a 1905 Russian shtetl as he attempts to maintain his strong faith in the face of his daughters’ changing lives, while the Tsar is evicting Jews from their village. It’s a beloved story of clinging to tradition as the world around you changes.

Runner-up: The Muni’s High School Musical


As You Like It

University of Illinois at Springfield

Shakespeare’s tale of love, deception and cross-dressing has been performed many times, many ways, in many places. For the first time ever, UIS was the stage, and its students not-so-merely the players. Associate Professor of Theatre, Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson tells us that the show came about as schoolwork. “For the 2008-2009 school year, my idea was to offer, in tandem, a Shakespeare class and a Shakespeare production.” The class, “Playing Shakespeare,” was offered for the first time in the fall of 2008 and by spring, they were ready to take the stage, with Thibodeaux-Thompson encouraging his students to audition. “We had a total of 18 actors in 23 roles. Approximately 80 percent were students, with 20 percent community actors, faculty and alumni. I enjoy a mix of students and community actors. I was very proud in a lot of ways.”

Runner-up: Rod Blagojevich Superstar!


Back to the 80s

Sacred Heart-Griffin High School

Written like a teen comedy, Back to the 80s features an array of songs more often heard on your favorite mix tape. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Come On Eileen,” and the Rick Astley 80s classic/modern-day Internet sensation “Never Gonna Give You Up” are some hits in this show, first staged in Australia in 2004. Narrated by a near-30 man waxing nostalgic on his high school years in the Me Decade, it’s fun, lively and really colorful. Neons abound. Never heard of it? Director and teacher Bill Bauser reminds us that this is nothing new for SHG. “SHG likes to do shows that are undiscovered. It was fun for the faculty and staff to work on a show with music we grew up with, and fun for the kids to discover a new decade of music they wouldn’t normally get to sing in school.”

Runner-up: Glenwood High School’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat


Rev. Msgnr. John Ossola

Little Flower Catholic School

The Rev. Monsignor John Ossola wouldn’t call himself an “activist,” he says, nor does he consider himself a leader – but isn’t that what humble people always say? Serving the Church of the Little Flower and the church’s nearby school, Ossola often works with youth and has directed the diocese’s anti-abortion office, earning him the title of “best activist church leader” from IT readers. A member of the clergy for 45 years, Ossola enjoys counseling his parishioners in times of need. “I enjoy dealing with people at pivotal times in their lives,” Ossola says. “It’s so growth-fulfilling for them.”

Runner-up: John Wentz of South Side Christian Church

Best of Springfield 2009 continued


Unverzagt Family Chiropractic

1329 S. Fourth St., 544-3628

Not much can ruin a relaxing weekend as easily as back pain. That’s why Stephen C. Unverzagt is happy to swing by his chiropractic clinic even after hours or on weekends to give the occasional back adjustment. Chosen by IT readers as the hardest working local business owner in Springfield, Unverzagt offers treatment for all sorts of back, neck and joint pain, as well as sports rehab, nutrition counseling and more. His comfortable office feels like a home, and his warm family is always there to make you feel welcome. He especially likes proving to suffering skeptics that chiropractic care really works. “Everyone that has come to us has stayed,” he says. And if that’s not enough, the recently-added massage therapist should have you back on your feet in no time.

Runner-up: Tracey Sims - TurnOut Movement Arts Studio


Stephen Unverzagt

The wild card is the peoples’ category: you told us what “best of” we missed. Stephen Unverzagt staged a write-in campaign for Best Chiropractor on Facebook, and his eager clients were more than happy to nominate him. One satisfied customer says, “Stephen Unverzagt is the best chiropractor ever….He is so good that none of my ‘old’ aches and pains hurt anymore.” Unverzagt says almost all of his clients are referrals from other clients, which just goes to show that a job well done is its own advertisement. In business since June, Unverzagt says he is glad to be serving Springfield, and he enjoys making clients feel comfortable and pain-free.

Wild Card Runner-up: Best Sandwich – Head West Sub Stop


Best of Springfield 2009 continued


Phil Seck

Sacred Heart-Griffin High School

Voted the Best of Springfield is Sacred Heart-Griffin’s freshman English teacher Phil Seck. He is somewhat of a legend for being a bit on the strict side. Is it earned? “If by strict you mean firm, fair, with high expectations, then great. You earn that.” His Best Of voting students agree. “Mr. Seck can be very strict and expects a lot out of you, but if you just shut up and listen you will figure out that he is like that because he cares about his students and wants them to do well.” He got into teaching because he had teachers just like him. “I had a speech teacher in high school who said there were two options for me: comedy or teaching. Without that nudge, I may never have gone into this.” His favorite part of teaching: “When the students’ light bulb goes off and all of a sudden, they get it. It’s theirs.”


Meri Havernar

McClernand Elementary

Teaching special needs kids has long been important to Meri Havernar. “In college, I started in speech pathology, and seeing the kids with developmental disabilities, I just wanted to get more involved.” Involved is exactly what she’s been as the K-2 special education teacher at McClernand. In her current class, she teaches 11 kids, with disabilities ranging from learning disorders to cognitive and developmental delays. It certainly takes a strong person to handle the emotional side of this kind of teaching. “The work is so motivating, but can be very emotional because you work so hard for their success and for their families.” To Meri, it’s worth it. “Watching them progress, and eventually move into general education, those little steps to success, it’s exciting.”


Jennifer Allender

Owen Marsh Elementary

It is common for people to underestimate special needs children, especially for those who have never spent much time around them. Jennifer Allender is trying to change that. Teaching K-2 special education, Allender teaches a cross-categorical group of kids, a “variety of diverse learners,” and she knows that just because they learn differently or are disabled, it doesn’t make then un-able. “They’re very capable, but in different ways. If you tell me they can’t, I’m going to show you they can.” Luckily, she’s not alone in this. Working with four one-on-one classroom aides, she’s been able to help her students grow through education. “Even when I don’t win, if I can make a difference for one day, make them love learning, it’s worth it.”


Josh Lee

Riverton Middle School

In his positions as Riverton Middle School’s P.E. teacher, health teacher, and the head coach of the Riverton High School football team, Josh Lee estimates that he spends around 60 hours a week with his students. “I care about the kids, in and out of school. I spend a lot of time with them and get to know them pretty well.” As well he should. His first eighth-graders are now juniors in high school, and he’s one of the few teachers to get to work with some of them all the way through. “Having kids in two classes and coaching, I see them in the classroom setting and in sports. I see all sides of them, and they see all sides of me. Not many get that chance.”


Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield

Since he first held elected office at age 21 as a precinct committeeman, Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, says his job has been to serve the public. Bomke has earned the title of “most effective local government employee” at least twice before, but voters can’t seem to get enough of him. (He beat runner-up Lisa Madigan by almost 90 votes.) Bomke says that he doesn’t have any hobbies because he’s too busy with work, but the job is more than just voting on bills. “A lot of people think all we do is pass legislation,” Bomke says. “But legislation is only about 10 to 15 percent of what we do. The other 80 to 85 percent is public services.” One satisfied constituent says Bomke resolved her problem within one day, adding, “He is a great man, and would help anyone to the best of his ability.”

Runner-up: Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson


Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County, 523-2710

Very few activities have as much positive influence on a community as volunteering, and with Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County on the scene, the community is in good hands. The group uses volunteer labor to build affordable housing for those in need, typically building about five houses per year. They also have a resale shop specializing in building materials and a program that teaches vocational skills to prison inmates. Executive director Dana Plummer says it feels good to help others. “It’s such a good feeling to do what you love to do and know you’ve touched so many peoples’ lives,” Plummer said. “It really changes their entire lives. It’s an amazing thing.”

Runner-up: Animal Protective League


Wes Barr

Hundreds of kids around the city will have Christmas this year because of one man…but it isn’t Santa Claus. For the past five years, Springfield native Wes Barr has coordinated the local Toys for Tots program, for which IT readers voted him “outstanding volunteer” of 2009. Barr says he first got involved because he was impressed with the local Red Cross chapter, and he wanted to do something to help others. The cop and former Marine says the charity distributed more than 15,000 toys last year to kids in low-income homes around the city. But the humble servant refuses to take all the credit. “We have a database of about 200 volunteers,” Barr says. “The number of volunteers that show up every week is impressive. They’re really dedicated to bringing Christmas to kids that otherwise might not have it.”

Runner-up: Butch Elzea


Jim Leach, WMAY

A lot’s changed since readers last bestowed this honor upon WMAY’s morning host. “I have more experience and a few more gray hairs,” says Leach. Well, that, and the whole political changing of the guard, which has been a point of contention within the country, but a godsend for talk radio hosts. “When I started, I was this liberal voice in Bush’s America. Now it’s Barack Obama’s America, and it’s really ramped up the intensity.” No stranger to political shouting matches, Leach has shown his bravery by taking to the Facebook and Twitter, both veritable basements for political fight club-ing. But he has no fear. “Cat fights may break out on the Internet, but we’ve been doing that on the air for years. We broke that ground.” Leach does have one source of lament in these changing times: “We don’t have Blagojevich to kick around anymore.”

Runner-up: Alice FM’s Molson and Josie


Best of Springfield 2009 continued
Brandi Booker, C-Note, and Bondsy of Kiss FM


Kiss FM 99.7FM

Playing the country’s chart-toppers may be nothing new, but some Top 40 stations in the area tend to leave hip hop behind. Not Kiss FM. Popular hip hop tracks make the rounds during daily airplay, and every Saturday night, DJ Captain rolls out his Bad Boy Hip Hop Show, featuring the best in the genre, from the old school on. The rest of the week sees one of Springfield’s favorite radio personalities, Bondsy, hosting his morning show, The Morning Grind. Our favorite part of The Morning Grind is that if you miss it in the morning because you slept in (you slacker), you can catch it online via their UStream video channel. While you watch the video, you can chat with Bondsy in the window on the right. Music to party to and they’re tech savvy? Genius.


WDBR 103.7FM

In second place, holding its own against the likes of similarly formatted radio stations and tornadoes, WDBR has earned its longstanding claim of “Springfield’s #1 Hit Music Station.” Playing top 40 pop and rock hits, what sets WDBR apart is its array of on-air personalities, such as Dave and Dina in the Morning and Bob Parrish, and its events, often with nonprofits like Children’s Miracle Network. Not into the new pop music the kids today seem to like? Well then ’90s at Noon is for you, a very fun throwback to the ’DBR of the olden times (as in 10 to 19 years ago). Mmm bop!


Alice 97.7FM

Tied for third are Alice and WQNA, so here are some words about each. Alice is hard to define. The standard term is “adult alternative,” but program director Susan Groves says it best. “Alice is just Alice. It’s made just for Springfield, by our listeners for our listeners. It’s not cookie cutter.” In any given car ride, you can hear the latest Death Cab, followed by a live Sister Hazel track, then a Talking Heads tune. It’s as though your own iPod was plugged and broadcast all over Springfield. They even get in “moods” just like the rest of us, with “You Can Call Me Al” or “Under the Milky Way Tonight” playing every single day for a week. This is awesome. Also awesome? Unlike other morning shows, Alice’s Molson & Josie in the Mornings actually play songs in between talking, meaning a full day of music just rockin’ enough to make you dance a bit in your car (yes, we’re “that driver”).



And “all hail Metal Chris” was their rally cry. WQNA, operated out of the Capital Area Career Center, is a completely non-commercial station, run chiefly by students and volunteers. Their more open format allows air play for music that other stations largely ignore, such as reggae, folk, real jazz and soul, electronic, classic country, and best of all, according to you, METAL! “WQNA is the only station in central Illinois that plays heavy metal! True underground metal that other radio stations have probably never heard of, and they play local metal bands.” Thrash on, friends, thrash on.


Lost Bridge Trail

The Lost Bridge Trail has been called a “nice rural escape in the middle of an urban area” by one of our favorite local bicyclists. The five-mile, paved trail connects Springfield to Rochester via an old railbed. Built in 1995, the community’s oldest bike trail begins near the Illinois Department of Transportation building on the east side and continues further east through dense trees and cornfields and over the Sangamon River. Rochester added offshoots to its community park and baseball complex on its end; future developments on the Springfield side call for extending the trail southeast to Taylorville and Pana.

Runner-up: Interurban Trail


Illinois State Fair

Illinois State Fairgrounds

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 people attend the Illinois State Fair each year, making it the perfect venue to see and be seen. The fair, created in 1853 to celebrate the state’s agriculture industry, pulls in families in a 100-mile radius to participate in various activities from the hog-calling contest to the new demolition derby and wine-tasting. If the crowd’s still not diverse enough for you people-watchers, head over to the Ethnic Village, where you’ll find food from 14 different countries and a daily lineup of stage performances from area cultural music and dance groups.

Runner-up: Washington Park


Animal Protective League

1001 Taintor Rd., 544-7387

Looking to adopt a new furry friend? Nearly 950 voters — the most who voted in any category — want you to check out the Animal Protective League. The nonprofit makes adopting easy, giving you immediate insight into potential pets. For example, Richie, a hound mix, was chained outside and abandoned for a year, so the APL lets you know that he’s skittish around kids, cats and tiny dogs. Its Web site quotes Richie saying, “But I have so much love to give. Everyone who gets to know me says that I am a delightful, charming gentleman.” The APL finds permanent homes for 2,000 animals annually; all of them are up-to-date on shots and spayed/neutered. They’re located behind the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Taintor Road, across from Gate 6.

Runner-up: Illinois Humane Society


The Kids Closet

130 S. John St., Rochester, 1-888-537-2578

Since Kitty Boyce launched The Kids Closet 18 years ago the store has matured. Though she no longer sells items on consignment, she gives in-store credit to those who bring in freshly laundered clothes three years old or less in good condition. Her customers range from Petersburg to Pana. Times were rocky from February to mid-May this year when a federal edict forbade sales of toys and baby furniture. Though some toy sales are permitted today, baby furniture sales are permanently discontinued due to lead and chemical concerns. The Closet has also expanded, offering ladies and juniors clothing, home décor, furniture and books. “Jeans are hot these days, from newborn to plus-size ladies and young men student sizes. We can never get enough,” she says. “Depending on the brand, they sell for from 25 percent to maybe half of retail for new.” Their Web site is also worth a look-see: Second and third behind the top vote recipient were Sojourn Resale and Just Kids.

Runner-up: Sojourn Resale


Best of Springfield 2009 continued


Fit Club

South, 3631 S. Sixth, 787-8348

North, 2701 E. Sangamon, 788-8250

West, 2811 W. Lawrence, 787-1111

Carlinville, 935 E. Morgan, 854-2000

The personal touch is what made Fit Club the top choice in the weight loss category. It can be intimidating walking into a busy gym feeling more fat than fit. That’s why Fit Club has arranged a special 12-week weight loss program that begins with a private consultation that takes into account limitations and abilities, with an evaluation that documents where you are, and where you want to be. You get one-on-one nutritional coaching with a personal trainer, plus two exercise sessions per week for 12 weeks, again with a personal trainer dedicated to getting results. The most important equipment may not be the exercise machines, but the Web site that monitors your food intake and calories consumed, plus the armband you’re given to measure calories burned throughout the day. As long as you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight.

Dr. Kevin Imhoff, the CEO and co-founder, got started in the fitness center business 15 years ago, and Fit Club itself celebrates its 10-year anniversary Nov. 14 at Fit Club South. “There is no greater feeling than to see people who have gotten success with our program,” Imhoff says. “We’ve had a role in changing their lives.”

Runner-up: Cardinal Fitness


Fit Club

All locations, www.

With the largest collection of weight machines and free weights in central Illinois, Fit Club has what you need. And it has the confidence of “Best of” voters, who named it the best gym for weight training. There are computerized weight machines, air pressure machines, and equipment that operates with weight stacks, plus 10 types of “gravity” machines that use your body weight for resistance training. Coming soon is an “Art of Strength” center at Fit Club West that uses kettle-bell weights to make you stronger. With all this variety available, you need a plan, a program and a personal trainer to get you started and guide you through – Fit Club can supply those too. All you need to do is show up and do the work.

Another place to show up is Gold’s Gym, which readers gave a strong second place in the weight training category. With its abundance of machines and free weights, a friendly staff and personal trainers to show you what to do, and many classes to make working out fun and affordable, Gold’s celebrates its fifth anniversary this fall strong and fit. Another thing Gold’s has going for it is its central city location – easy to get to and embodying the east side development others only talk about.

Runner-up: Gold’s Gym


Wayne Carrels – H.I.P.E

3430 Constitution Dr., Suite 113

787-HIPE (4473)

If you want a challenging workout, Wayne Carrels is your guy. The ex-Navy personal trainer owns and operates H.I.P.E. (High Intensity Practical Exercises). Carrels is a modest, high-energy man with a passion for fitness, which explains why his clients were so enthusiastic when nominating him as best fitness instructor. “He is so creative and pushes you to limits you didn’t know you could go for,” said one happy voter. The best part about his classes is the price. For a measly five bucks per class, you get a turbocharged workout with personal attention. With no monthly contract, no initiation fees and a highly-motivational trainer, H.I.P.E is a great deal and a great workout.

Runner-up: Monica Maggio – Zumba classes


Sam Madonia

Abraham Lincoln actually won “local character” this year, but he wouldn’t return our phone calls, so Sam Madonia agreed to take his place. The former Lincoln High School teacher of 30 years now entertains sports fans and morning listeners on Springfield’s WFMB 1450 AM. He attributes his “character” status to his name recognition – from 35 years in radio and from belonging to a family of longtime Springfield residents. Madonia jokes that he thought he was retiring when he stopped teaching. Still, he seems as busy as ever, setting up informational exhibits and school DUI displays for the Illinois Secretary of State over the past 14 years. Springfield, Madonia says, is an outstanding city. “It’s been called an overgrown small town, but it’s a great place,” he says. “It’s a really solid community of good people.”


Dr. Doug Shevlin

Though Dr. Doug Shevlin didn’t get the most votes for “local character,” the comments with his votes were pretty interesting. Readers commented on the Ben Franklin lookalike’s purported collection of satin suits and Latin Rumba records, guarded by a mythical, gun-toting little person named “Mr. Jimmy.” The truth is, unfortunately, less bizarre, but Shevlin is still a pretty interesting guy. An avid music enthusiast and philanthropist, the Chuck Taylor-wearing pathologist is apt to throw dinner parties with hilarious themes (Wurst Party Ever) and take whirlwind cross-country road trips with his friends – once even taking along a cardboard cutout of a co-conspirator who couldn’t go. Shevlin wants the world to know that “a nod is not the same as a wave.” Seems like good advice to us.


Steve E. Unverzagt

Realty Executives, 547-5500

The voting was so close for best local character that it’s worth introducing the runners-up – a cowboy-boot-wearing real estate agent that has been known to pose as the mayor of Springfield. Steve Unverzagt is a Camaro-driving, motorcycle-racing jack-of-all-trades, an eager philanthropist and one heck of a storyteller. He energetically recalls his 12,000-mile solo motorcycle ride to the Arctic Circle, on which he took not much more than a pistol (for the polar bears) and a satellite phone. He’s a Vietnam veteran, a former iron worker and a real maverick if ever there was one. He even raised a successful son (also Steve Unverzagt), who won two “best-of” awards as well this year. “I’ve looked into the abyss and decided I’m not ready to die,” Unverzagt says. “I’m a guy who wants to live, and I live every moment like it’s my last.”


The Station

The Station, repeating as Best Original Band (also, in 2008, the Band Most Likely to Hit it Big) celebrates 10 years as a band in 2009. Just a few months ago founding bassist Josh Kerska left the group and local bass virtuoso Jeff Cunningham joined, while the band continues on as one of the hottest progressive rock acts in the Midwest. The jamming quartet of Cunningham, Dave Littrell, Dave Carter and Kevin Lemen, obviously known for original music, presents an annual Halloween show focusing on a specific music group or event. This year see the Best Original Band for 2009 perform a night of Sly and the Family Stone tunes at City Nights Theater on Oct. 31. Be sure to check out another Station show to hear the catchy and intricate self-penned tunes that won them this category for two years straight. Runner-ups Micah Walk Band and NIL8 show the incredible range of talent our readers had to choose from within the Springfield original music scene.

Runners-up: Micah Walk Band, NIL8



As in many years in the past F5 again handily takes the cake for the Best Cover/Tribute Band. But be prepared music lovers, next year the category is wide open, as these perennial favorites called it quits in 2009. The dance/rock group known to perform songs so up to date they were still on the charts, made their final appearance at the Miller beer tent during the 2009 Illinois State Fair. No matter what your musical opinion of the band was, the fact remains they packed the house wherever and whenever the group showed up to do their thing. Perhaps we have a battle brewing now for 2010, since the next three groups to place, Still Kickn’, Brat Pack and the Dirty Ernies, all came within a few votes of each other. Interestingly enough and a tribute to the diversity of Springfield bar bands is the completely different styles of music displayed by the top four vote-getters. Hear, hear!

Runners-up: Still Kickin’, Brat Pack, Dirty Ernies


Music for Big Kids

In a town known for stability and continuity, new bands are a seldom seen sight in Springfield, or more truthfully, new band names are scarce, since many of the old bands are actually new bands with old names and new members, if you follow this drift. Music for Big Kids (M4BK) handily won this award by nearly double over tied second-place bands Go Tsunami! and Broken Stone. They truly are a brand new band in name and members (with the exception of lead guitarist Michael Sullivan who should be in every new band). M4BK logged local bookings at Bar None, The Plaza, SOHO Music Fest, JP Kelley’s, Marly’s and Harry’s Adult Daycare since first coming together in January of 2009. They head to Cicero’s in St. Louis for an out-of-town show on Nov. 22. The group wasted little time while together and recently recorded a CD of original material called Hold and Hold On to be debuted on Nov. 20 with a release party at Bar None. Just remember folks, no repeat winners in this category!

Runners-up: Go Tsunami!, Broken Stone



Knight’s Action Park and Caribbean Water Adventure

Who hasn’t spent a summer day at Knight’s Action Park and Caribbean Water Adventure either floating on the wave pool, riding the go carts, knocking golf balls, hanging in the batting cage or just goofing off in the arcade? A Springfield area institution for decades, the family-owned and operated business originally started at the east end of South Grand Avenue and opened the current 62-acre amusement park off of I-72 many years ago. Knight’s consistently offers a tradition of fun in the sun for area residents. Recent road closings due to the improvements to I-72 and the wet and unseasonably cool summer of ’09 most certainly affected attendance numbers, but enough central Illinois folks decided Knight’s Action Park is by far the favorite spot for a family to be entertained. Coming in at a distant second was the Illinois State Fair. The Route 66 Drive-in, a part of the Knight’s complex, scored a well-placed third.

Runner-up: Illinois State Fair


Old Capitol Blues and BBQs

When choosing a favorite downtown event it seems our fine citizens have no problem as long as they can have several winners. There was only a six-point gap between top vote getter the Old Capitol Blues & BBQs and a tie for third between Old Capitol Farmers’ Market and the Old Capitol Art Fair, with the Taste of Downtown — the only high-scoring downtown event that doesn’t mention the Old State Capitol in its title by the way — hovering in the middle. In looking for similarities in all four winners other than location, there is the obvious connecting factor of food and art in varying degrees which bodes well for the refinement factor of our populace. The art fair wins in the longevity contest by several decades, but with Downtown Springfield, Inc. (DSI) firmly supporting the remaining three events the future of these favorites in our city culture looks very promising.

Runner-up: Taste of Downtown


Chatham Sweet Corn Festival

Central Illinois residents enjoy their sweet corn and proved it by voting the Chatham Sweet Corn Festival their favorite nonprofit fundraising event. Then again maybe it’s the Illinois Champion Cow Chip Throw that attracts the crowd. Or perhaps the live music shows and the added attraction of blues bands on Saturday afternoon or maybe the availability of cold beer on a hot July day is what does it. Let’s assume the combination of all these factors and more makes this one of most popular events of summer in Sangamon County. Mark your calendars now for the 37th festival coming soon on July 16 and 17, 2010. Relay for Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, polled second with the Edwards Place Fine Arts Fair coming in at number three. All in all, each and every nonprofit fundraising event is a worthy cause and a winner at every level of consideration.

Runner-up: Relay for Life


Marly’s Pub

9 West Old State Capitol Plaza, 522-2280

Marly’s Pub again takes the crown in this category and it’s no surprise either. Owners of the largest bar space consistently booking live music in the city, the downtown venture keeps things hopping with live music six days a week. Other boons of the Irish-flavored nightclub include a large and visible stage, in-house PA system (thanks to Warren) and a fairly varied entertainment schedule within the rock world. It’s the place to find previous Best of Springfield winners Dave and Dave of the Station and Micah Walk performing on a weekly basis plus local, regional and national acts from original roots rockers to ’80s cover bands on the weekends. Up and comers Bar None, just a block and a half south of Marly’s on Fifth and Monroe, rated a respectable second place while Lime Street Café on the near west side pulled a distant but admirable third place showing.

Runner-up: Bar None



Inside Strike ’n Spare Lanes, 2660 W. Lawrence, 787-6111

Springfield loves its karaoke. Just take a look sometime in our Pub Crawl listings and count the karaoke nights. It’s truly amazing to see the sheer numbers with as many as eight separate shows in different bars on Thursday nights listed in a recent IT issue. So it’s no surprise to see a healthy competition and high numbers in the race for Best Bar for Karaoke. Breaktime, located in the same complex as Donnie B’s Funny Bone came out slightly ahead in the heated race, but currently doesn’t host a karaoke night and intends to “see how the market does” before reinstating one in the future. That gives us Sluggo’s, the lounge area inside AMF Strike ’n Spare bowling alley on the west side of town, as the top vote-getter still hosting karaoke. Greg Bomke, your congenial host, runs the show two nights a week and could very well win as longest-running karaoke host in Springfield. But that would be another category.


Rock the Dock

Let there be no doubt about it, Rock the Dock is the most popular event at Lake Springfield, according to our voters. In fact this event received more votes than any other single offering in the whole shebang. Thousands of oohers and ahhers came to the Lake Springfield Marina area to listen to local bands, partake in food and drink, and watch a 35-minute fireworks display last year and a good bunch of them decided to vote Rock the Dock in as the favorite summer event of 2009. Sponsored by Illinois

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