BEST ANIMAL RESCUE ORGANIZATION
Animal Protective League
1001 Taintor Road, 544-7387
Springfield has at least five places where you can adopt an unwanted dog or cat, but Animal Protective League is, by far, the favorite with readers, who gave the APL more than twice as many tail-wags as all other contenders combined. Maybe it’s the dog washes, with all proceeds going to help animals. Maybe it’s the five-year-old spay/neuter clinic that some say has helped fuel a steep decline in euthanizations at Sangamon County Animal Control. Maybe it’s a track record dating back more than 50 years. Likely, it is all this and more. The Animal Protective League really is man’s best friend’s best friend.
Runner-up: Forever Home Feline Ranch
BEST DESTINATION TO ENTERTAIN KIDS
Knight’s Action Park
1700 Knight’s Recreation Drive, 546-8881
When the summer sun settles into scorch mode, Springfield is lucky it has a little oasis on the south end of town. Knight’s Action Park and Caribbean Water Adventure offers heat relief with its wave pool, bumper boats and water slides – all on top of batting cages and a 50-tee driving range. Getting its start in 1952, a driving range served as the seed that gave life to what’s now a sprawling complex of family fun. Open year-round, the park remains a kid (and adult) haven even after the pool closes, as folks continue flocking there for the driving range and mini-golf course. Next door, get comfy in the car at the Route 66 Twin Drive-In for double feature movies between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL COACH
Rochester High School
What a difference a state championship makes. Last year, Ken Leonard, football coach at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, won best high school coach, besting his son Derek Leonard, football coach at Rochester High School, by a single vote. Then Rochester went out and won the 2010 state championship, going undefeated and winning the first, and so far only, Leonard Bowl that marked the end of SHG’s 59-game winning streak in the Central State Eight. This time around, Derek Leonard took first by nearly 40 votes, with you-know-who finishing second. It figures. Derek Leonard, a 1998 SHG graduate, played quarterback for his dad, who apparently taught him everything he knows on the gridiron.
Runner-up: Ken Leonard, football, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School
MOST INTERESTING RESTROOMS
211 S. Fifth St., 789-8988
When the Corleone family learned that Sollozzo would be dining at Louis’, a tiny restaurant in the Bronx, the first thought wasn’t the veal but the men’s room and its toilet that flushed with a pull rope – perfect for hiding a gun! Even gangsters appreciate quirky bathrooms, but the restrooms at Stella Blue are the farthest thing from The Godfather’s old-time toilets. From boldly blue walls punctuated by yellow tentacles of a painted sun to a rigidly steep sloping sink and the mirror’s organic frame, the bathrooms at Stella Blue are works of modern art.
BEST LOCAL CHARACTER
C-note Fodizzle - KISS-FM 99.7
C-note Fodizzle – the bravest commercial radio personality you’ve ever heard and this year’s best local character. As can be seen on archived video clips on KISS-FM 99.7’s website, C-note is adventurous, letting listeners live vicariously as he experiments with downing raw eggs, shaving off his eyebrows and eating hot, hot, hot red peppers without a soothing beverage in hand. “He’ll do anything for a laugh,” says Bondsy, host of “The Morning Grind,” which airs daily with C-note between 6 and 10 a.m. “He’s like a cartoon character in real life.” But C-note is more than silly experiments, as evidenced by his occasional web post on a variety of topics – from Mayor Tim Davlin’s death to the pitfalls of wearing socks with sandals in the wintertime. A Springfield native, C-note writes that “radio to me is my life, it’s who I am as a person.”
Runner-up: Gus Gordon
BEST QUIRKY PLACE TO TAKE A VISITOR
Cozy Dog Drive-In
2935 S. Sixth St., 525-1992
Don’t bother bringing anything to read when you hit the Cozy Dog. From newspaper clippings to old menus to toys to license plates, you could spend hours just staring at stuff tacked to the walls and still miss something. There’s even a gas pump inside this Route 66-centric spot that’s a must-stop for anyone touring The Mother Road. But this is far from a tourist trap. The clientele ranges from out-of-towners to old farts who gather to solve the world’s problems over coffee. It’s moved a time or two since dishing out the first wiener-on-a-stick in 1946, but the atmosphere remains and it looks every bit a vintage drive-in.
Runner-up: Penny Lane
BEST REAL-LIFE SUPERHERO
Chad Young and Josh Powell
Twenty-five is too young to die, but that became the story last fall of two young men from the Springfield area. In two separate incidents in Afghanistan, they both lost their lives while serving their country – a sacrifice Best of Springfield voters say makes them, and all others who save or defend lives, worthy of the “real-life superhero” title.
Cpl. Chad Young, of Rochester, surprised his family when he told them, about a year after graduating from Glenwood High School, that he had joined the army. Described by his mother, Brett Young, as outgoing and happy, Chad even enjoyed his job in the army – route clearance. Ensuring the safety of all those traveling behind him, Chad Young’s job was to clear the way of any improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the same type of weapon that would strike his own vehicle and kill him on Nov. 3, 2010. “He was kind; he would never ever hurt a soul; he was fun and he loved his family,” Brett Young says.
For Staff Sgt. Josh Powell, of Pleasant Plains, fighting for his country was a calling, his father, David Powell, says. A member of the reserves, Josh left college to serve full-time in the army, where he worked as a door-gunner and crew chief, training others to do the job right. He died on Sept. 21, 2010, after a helicopter crash in the mountains while on a mission. Josh’s unit leader, Captain Ryan Travis, wrote about Josh in his company’s newsletter: “He would never fail to get a laugh. He could lighten the mood of any room and nothing ever brought him down. He was the guy that everyone wants to be around and he helped more than a few of us to find our often misplaced smiles.”
Though Best of Springfield voters specifically named Young and Powell as this year’s real-life superheroes, they also named everyone who risks their lives to save or defend someone else’s. From nurses and paramedics to firefighters and police officers, Best of Springfield voters offer a resounding “Thank you!” to all who serve.
Rochester High School
Mark Butcher has the looks of Albert Einstein and a sense of humor akin to that of his teenage students. The 59-year-old physics teacher at Rochester High School is this year’s best schoolteacher. Now in his 20th year of teaching, Butcher came to the career late in life, after 14 years in a hospital laboratory, where he says the people were great but the job a little too routine. What’s his trick? “Any subject has an inherent difficulty you just can’t get away from,” Butcher says. “So you don’t have to make it harder than it is. Eliminate the distractions.” He says school is a fun place: “They [students] make me laugh, and I wake up every morning glad to go to work.”
Runner-up: Steve Welch, Glenwood High School
For this year’s best volunteer, being in law enforcement isn’t enough of a sacrifice. Lifelong Springfield resident Wes Barr says he needs to do more, on his own time, to give back. “I grew up in a family that got assistance from agencies in food and toys,” he says, explaining that he long ago pledged to return the favor whenever able. “I’m fortunate enough in my position to have the opportunity to do that.” Barr is coordinator for the local Toys for Tots drive, president of the local Habitat for Humanity board, helps with the annual United Cerebral Palsy telethon and is on the American Legion’s state commission for the 2012 convention, among a slew of other volunteer activities. This October he accepted an appointment on yet another board, this time the Sangamon County Community Services Block Grant committee, which will recommend programs for mitigating the impact of poverty on low-income county residents. “Once you’ve volunteered and get involved you always get asked to do more,” he says. “You know that you’re making a positive difference in people’s lives. With all of the relationships I’ve been able to develop with other volunteers, I’ve really enjoyed being involved.” Barr, who actively served in the Marine Corps between 1982 and 1985, is now in his 20th year with the Sangamon County sheriff’s office. Barr also received several votes from IT readers in the superhero category.
BEST WHEELCHAIR ATHLETE
Individual Differences, Inc., 3137 Woodward, 1-800-756-3589
A star wrestler in his youth and later a high school wrestling coach, Greg Gardner was faced with a major change of pace after a car hit him more than six years ago. During treatment, complications led to a stroke and spinal cord injury that paralyzed him below the chest. “Prior to my accident, athletics was about seeing improvement. Now, since my accident, I think athletics and working out, it’s more about keeping from digressing in day-to-day life,” he says. But despite the challenges and change in circumstances, this year’s best wheelchair athlete is still helping others to become more physically fit, now through his nonprofit, Individual Differences, Inc. The organization partners with the Illinois Department of Human Services to provide disabled people with financial aid, advocacy services and a space for physical therapy workouts.
BEST WHEELCHAIR ATHLETE
Runner-up: John Nelson and Jeremy Morgan
“If I can do this stuff, anybody can do this,” says Jeremy Morgan, a Springfield resident who’s been wheelchair-bound since his teens due to severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Morgan this summer completed his first two triathlons with the help of John Nelson, who met Morgan late last year through St. Paul Masonic Lodge No. 500. “I really love sharing my joys with other people,” says Nelson, who had asked others with disabilities to team up with him in the past without success. Using a modified racing wheelchair and a boat, Nelson pulls Morgan behind him as he swims, bikes or runs in sanctioned triathlons. “I wanted to share my passion with as many people as possible and Jeremy was willing to give it a try.” Though Nelson is doing some heavy lifting, the feat also takes a toll on Morgan, who has to assume odd positions and endure every bump in the road. “My whole thing is you get one shot at life, right? You should do everything in your power to make every day the best it can be,” Morgan says. Nelson says that, despite the extra 90-plus pounds, competing with Morgan is in many ways easier than competing solo.
“It’s obviously physically harder, but there’s a lot of mental things you have to fight through when you’re doing it on your own,” Nelson says. “With Jeremy, it really helps. Basically, you have your own personal motivator with you the whole time that can give you instant feedback.”