Best of Springfield®

Best of 2012 (Part 2)


Our voters had impeccable taste in choosing this intensely hot country band, as this summer the group finished first in a national contest judged by country music industry hot shots. After beating out some 300 other bands vying in the Battle for the Saddle, Brushfire performed at Nashville’s legendary nightclub the Wildhorse Saloon and wowed the place. Nice job IT readers! The band keeps busy playing some of the biggest and best venues around, including Country Thunder in Wisconsin and Chicago’s Country Music Festival and Joe’s Bar, plus the famous Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City, Fla. They are no slouches when it comes to opening for the famous folk either, including the likes of Keith Urban, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Big & Rich and many more. We’re happy to have Brushfire around for 2012 as best new band, but with a resume like that we wonder what category they’ll take in 2013. The other bands receiving a respectable number of votes include Leaving Ashland and Future Vintage.
Runner-up: Big Daddy Jasper


Manned by a group of local music veterans, KFD brings a different ideal to the cover band in central Illinois. Pulling off songs as varied and tricky as Live and Let Die, Bennie and the Jets, Billy Jean and Don’t Do Me Like That, the rocking quintet goes to the extreme and eclectic when covering the covers. With Perry Zubeck of Cats on Holiday fame on keys and vocals, Mike Williams of Lost Boys and Misspent Youth on lead guitar and harmony, Kortney Leatherwood, multi-instrumentalist, rhythm guitarist, and lead vocalist, Shaun Tobin of Lost Boys on lead and harmony vocals, plus drums and Steve Gragert of the Dirty Ernies on bass and harmony, the experienced group brings down the house using John Cota for sound engineer and Nate Wilson on lights and production for that real rock show feeling wherever they play. Bands receiving honorable mention for considerable vote gathering include Nil8, Hipbone Sam and Broken Stone.
Runner-up: Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters

Debbie Ross Band

With strong, soaring vocals and a powerful stage presence, Debbie Ross rules the roost for soulful singing around town. Not known as a jazz group particularly, the band certainly has the chops to play jazz all night long, but generally they hang around in the pop and rhythm and blues arena, playing tunes and taking turns at vocals until Debbie commands the stage. DRB plays the state fair every year and pops up in various venues when the mood strikes and the gig is right. Local jazz standard-bearers Jane Hartman, Frank Trompeter and Frank Parker all received votes in this category, but fewer than the nearly 500 garnered by Debbie Ross. The people have spoken.
Runner-up: Dave Littrell

Hipbone Sam

He’s everywhere at once. He’s blues, rock, rock ’n’ roll and little bit country. He’s Hipbone Sam (aka Kevin Hawkins) and band, taking the central Illinois scene by storm. Not exclusively blues, but certainly blues-based, Hipbone, known for his classic “Say, yeah!” gets the crowd going with a bounce and a beat along with a hoot and a holler, making participation with the audience a standard function at every show. During the 2012 season the enthusiastic group played the Prairie Capital Convention Center, Nauvoo Grape Festival, Petersburg Harvest Fest, Illinois State Fair Bud and Miller tents as well as several shows in Iowa and Missouri. Celebrating their third CD release Best of Hipbone Sam in October and a three-year band anniversary in January 2013, Mr. Sam and band recently signed deals with AMI Entertainment and TouchTunes for jukebox access in the U.S., Canada and on military bases worldwide. How do they sing the blues with success like that?
Runner-up: Debbie Ross Band

Still Kick’n

Solidly scoring more votes by hundreds than any other artist in any category, Still Kick’n reigns supreme as the best band, period. Comfortable playing a bar, a fair, a festival, homecoming, burgoo, beer tent, street party or concert stage, the band has opened for major country acts such as Chris Young, Lady Antebellum, Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence and Neal McCoy, plus played every venue around. With main member Pat McCue on lead and backup vocals, keyboards and acoustic guitar, Kelsey Hickman on lead vocals, Jen Campbell doing backup vocals and acoustic guitar, Don Hinkle on electric and steel guitar, John Peters on bass and Bill Wycoff on drums, the group plays originals and covers, billing themselves as the hottest country band in central Illinois. And they are.
Runner-up: Brushfire

Gus Gordon

What would our theater community be without the consistent and creative work of Gus Gordon? Fortunately for us, we’ll never know. Gordon again tops all performances by local actors, this time for his interpretation of Don Quixote in the Over the Moon Production of Man of La Mancha under the direction of Leigh Steiner. Gus sported a beard for the part and added all the Gordon gusto that makes him a perennial choice in this category. In March of 2012 Gus stepped down from his longtime position as chief meteorologist at WICS to take the newly created position of artistic director at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. His continuing commitment to providing the finest in live theater entertainment for the Springfield community has endeared him to fellow workers and attending audiences in central Illinois, while voting his performances the best, year after year.
Runner-up: Corey Blissett

Best of 2012 (Part 2)
Anna Bussing

As a vibrant member of Springfield’s acting community, Anna Bussing acts, sings, dances and directs while giving her all to whatever activity she commits to do. This summer as Polly in the Doug Hahn and Gary Shull directed Crazy for You she won the hearts of local theatergoers. The musical, a vehicle for the songs of George Gershwin, also garnered quite a few votes for best live theater production, proving the overall show was a smashing success. Bussing’s performance was a showstopper though, and she was rewarded for her dazzling and dandy work with a resounding hurrah from our perceptive readers. The race was close with Hannah Siehr, Debbie Ross and Christie Lazzarides all receiving a substantial number of votes and runner-up Katie Ford for her part in Legally Blonde trailed Bussing by only a few votes.
Runner-up: Katie Ford


Old Capitol Blues & BBQs
When it comes to festivals, central Illinois sure likes ’em and most use live music performances as an integral part of the program. No wonder then, readers combined the categories of Best Festival and Best Live Music Event in the Past 12 Months through the voting process. The Old Capitol Blues & BBQs was the clear winner in both by hundreds of votes, absolutely establishing this event as the capital city favorite. Most likely it’s the combination of nationally known acts with up and comers, the Illinois Central Blues Club International Blues Challenge contest and the tasty BBQs served up by vendors that makes this the popular event it is. Hosted by Downtown Springfield, Inc., and sponsored by many local businesses the OCB&Bs is truly a community effort to bring food, music and people together for a weekend of fun and frolic in the downtown area. Other events receiving substantial numbers of votes include St. Patrick’s Day and the Chatham Sweetcorn Festival. Luke Bryan at the Sangamon County Fair and Miranda Lambert and Eric Church at the Illinois State Fair scored up there in the Live Music Event balloting with lots of reader comments about those three nationally known acts.
Runner-up: Best Festival - Fat Ass 5K.
Runner-up: Best Live Music Event in the

Past 12 Months - SOHO Fest

Sluggo’s in AMF Strike and Spare

2660 West Lawrence Avenue,

Go ahead and put these guys in the hall of fame already so someone else can win for a change. Once again Sluggo’s by far and away, claims the prize for the best place to sing that amazing Japanese import known as karaoke. And why shouldn’t they take the blue ribbon every year? The host is gracious and consistent, the audience respectful and understanding, the performers decent and good with drinks designed to best promote the love and respect for the fine art of karaoke singing. With the competition fierce, as shown by the many karaoke nights around the capital city scene and the endless supply of participants, Sluggo’s is the preferred choice to read the lyrics on the screen with a microphone in hand and become a singing star, if only for the evening.
Runner-up: The Blue Grouch

Grease, SHG

With the tallies all counted, the production of Grease at SHG ran away with as the best high school musical. Votes were tight for second place between Legally Blonde at Chatham’s Glenwood, Willy Wonka at Rochester and Thoroughly Modern Millie at Springfield, but it was the fine SHG doings that topped the category for our readers. The show, a now familiar take on the distant 50s in America, starred Danny Guttas as Danny Zuko and Sadie Hamilton played the part of Sandy Dumbrowski. The production played in March this year as SHG’s spring musical. As the high school musicals continue to rise in sophistication of presentation and demonstration of talent, all levels of local theater rise as well. The improvements raise standards and bring more experience into the Muni and other area acting places. So we dip our collective hat to SHG and to all the area high schools putting out productions worthy of a Broadway show and offer a hearty congratulations.
Runner up: Legally Blonde – Chatham Glenwood High School

Best of 2012 (Part 2)
The Muni / Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Understandably there was some confusion in this category over whether to vote for the venue or the production, but there was no confusion over the ultimate top vote-getter. The Muni outran the competition for best venue, receiving votes for every production this season with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast outranking the other shows on the Muni schedule. At the summer musical business for more than 60 years, the Muni draws nearly 40,000 audience members each year using home-grown talent and lots of volunteer work to make the magic happen. How wonderful that Springfield has so many theatrical choices, including the Hoogland, Theatre Centre, Sangamon Auditorium and The Legacy Theatre. Even many of the local high school stage plays reach phenomenal heights of production. But of all the choices it’s the longtime, community-based, outdoor theater near Lake Springfield that won the hearts and garnered the most support from our readers.
Runner up: Hoogland Center for the Arts / Rocky Horror Picture Show

John & Michelle In the Morning – WFMB

There was no doubt in the voting here. John Spaulding and Michelle Mitchell of WFMB’s “In the Morning” are by far the favorite morning radio show for Springfielders and readers of Illinois Times. John’s been in radio for more than 30 years, working his way to the top with many stops along the way before joining with Michelle to create the winning combo. Michelle, originally from St. Louis, brings just enough of her “big city” attitude to make the whole thing a lot of fun. Apart from being actually entertaining and genuinely witty (not easy and not a trait of all morning DJs), the two banter well, know the community well and just fit together well to make us feel comfortable listening – and that’s no easy feat early in the morning. They also know their country music and manage to sneak in some really good artists, not just the popular, flippant songs on the charts that Nashville churns out like so much fluff. For all those reasons and more, congratulations to John and Michelle for the good work and for being recognized for it. Other substantial vote-getters include Dave & Dina (WDBR), Free Beer & Hot Wings (WQLZ) and Molson & Josie (Alice at 97.7).
Runner-up: The Morning Grind – 99.7 Kiss FM

Knight’s Action Park

1700 Knight’s Recreation Drive, 546-8881
Central Illinois loves Knight’s Action Park. And no wonder. Going strong for 45 years, the park continues to grow, providing more rides and features every few years. Families have always loved the water slides, lazy river and children’s pool in the water park. The same holds true for the huge wave pool, and the other popular attractions, Devil Ray and Royal Flush, built even more recently. Also available for family fun are pedal boats, bumper boats, a 50-tee driving range, miniature golf course, batting cages, kiddie rides, paratrooper and an indoor arcade. Only a block down the road is the Route 66 Twin Drive In Theater hosting the latest and greatest movies during warmer months.
Runner-up: Southwind Park

Capt. Bill Beaty – Fire Station #2

Bill Beaty says being a firefighter was his childhood dream. “I like the work, I like helping people,” he says. “There’s a bit of an adrenaline rush at times. You get to ride in a big red truck and make lots of noise. We get to tear stuff up sometimes. It’s a little bit of everything.” Beaty serves as captain of the second shift at Fire Station #2 in Springfield, and while he modestly claims his fellow firefighters set him up to win “Best Firefighter” as a joke, he admits to giving firefighting everything he’s got. “I try to do the job right and look out for my crew,” he says. Driver engineer Mike Dozier, one of Beaty’s close friends at the fire station, says Beaty is a good firefighter because “he likes his job, and he cares about what he does.” And it doesn’t hurt that Beaty makes a mean pot of chili, either.
Runner-up: Kevin Lloyd

SHG Football
1601 West Washington

A curious choice at first glance to call a longtime sporting experience our best new local event. The folks who voted for this must have been thinking of the brand spanking new football stadium located on the West Campus of SHG. The state-of-the-art Cyclone Stadium is designed to hold 4,600 fans with a possibility of 2,000 more for SRO, has a press box and an electronic scoreboard with video capabilities, synthetic field turf and multitude of other wonderful features. The Cyclones are for sure perennial winners locally and in the state tournament as well and for every Friday night home game we are positive it is an event. Honorable mention goes to Pridefest for coming in a close second, an amazing feat in itself. Other events garnering attention include last year’s winner, the Downhome Music Festival, Rochester High School football and Bike Night at Quaker Steak and Lube.
Runner-up: Pridefest

Wes Barr and Madelyn Woodruff

Anyone who has read our past Best of Springfield editions knows exactly who Wes Barr is. He’s our perennial winner in this category, easily clenching it several years running. Barr, a fixture in the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office, serves in so many volunteer roles that it’s hard to name them all. He coordinates the local Toys for Tots drive, is president of the board at Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County, works on the United Cerebral Palsy telethon every year, and does tons more. But this year, we decided to also give credit to another local volunteer who got a lot of votes. Madelyn Woodruff of Springfield has volunteered for nine years with The Red Cross Meals on Wheels program, which delivers nutritious, low-cost or free meals to seniors, disabled people and others. Previously a second-grade teacher at Dubois Elementary School for 31 years, Woodruff also volunteers for the after-school program at her church, Douglas Avenue United Methodist, and at the Midwest Mission Distribution Center, which ships disaster relief supplies, educational materials and medical supplies around the world. “I think it’s important to help others and to serve mankind,” Woodruff says. “There are some people who cannot get out of the house, and I would like to think that someone would come to my aid if I were in need.”

Mark Mahoney
Springfield public works director

OK, voters, let’s get one thing straight: A bureaucrat, by definition, is someone who works in government but not elected – you can look it up. That rules out state Sen. Larry Bomke, a fine fellow, but not a bureaucrat. Nor is U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who also was a top finisher. So we’re going to make our own call here and anoint Mark Mahoney, Springfield public works director. What makes Mahoney great? For one thing, he didn’t need the job. That he took a pay cut when he moved from being clerk of the Illinois House in 2011 to head of one of the most thankless jobs in city government speaks to his commitment to the city. While some questioned whether someone with zero experience in the construction and public infrastructure biz could cut it, Mahoney has proven those fears groundless by reorganizing the department and shooting straight with neighborhood groups that give him high marks for candor and communication. Mahoney, a former Ward 6 alderman, could have run for a third term, but he’s making the entire city better where he’s at now. To be sure, the city is still without a plan to fix crumbling infrastructure, and Mahoney hasn’t been able to steamline an archaic garbage-collection non-system that encourages fly dumping, but that’s not his fault. He has given his best and not embarrassed himself in the process. Don’t count him out to be mayor one day.

State Sen. Larry Bomke

After being an elected official for more than half his life, first on the Sangamon County board, then in the state Senate, Sen. Larry Bomke is moving on. He was mapped out of the district that he has represented for nearly 18 years and the redrawing of the legislative map, he says, is reason enough to call it quits. “I would have continued if my district had not changed,” Bomke says. “Certainly, that was an indication it was time to leave.” Will he miss it? “No, I won’t,” says Bomke, who also runs an insurance agency. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I appreciate constituents giving me the opportunity to serve. It’s time for me to get on with my private business.” Bomke figures his work in creating the Springfield medical district will be considered his greatest legislative accomplishment, but he remembers smaller things, like the time he called up a contractor whose work on an elderly lady’s porch wasn’t up to snuff. “Senator Bomke here,” the call began, and even though he had no power to do anything, bombast from the normally mild-mannered Bomke – to call him the Clark Kent of the Senate would be no exaggeration – worked, and the porch got fixed. He also made Paul Harvey’s radio show during the 2004 campaign for mowing an elderly constituent’s lawn when he found out while doorbelling that she needed a hand. He’ll have plenty of time for mowing now, and his pastures, hopefully will be greener than they have been in state government.
Runner-up: Barack Obama

Best of 2012 (Part 2)
Mark Poani – Chatham Police Department

If you’re a law-breaking kid in Chatham, the best you can hope for is to be busted by Officer Mark Poani. Not only is he friendly and genuine, but part of his job is serving as an advocate for juveniles who are picked up by the Chatham Police. Poani, who also handles DUI enforcement for Chatham, previously served in the Air Force for four years as a nuclear munitions specialist and earned a degree from UIS. Now in his sixth year with the Chatham Police, Poani is a field training officer and firearms instructor, and he visits Chatham schools twice a year to talk with students about not drinking and driving. Poani says he tries to be helpful and generous in his work. After offering some humorous mispronunciations of Poani’s surname (It’s really pronounced “Poe-nye,” but none of the others are fit to print), his fellow Chatham Police officers said Poani is a “professional, outstanding officer.” And Poani says he truly enjoys his job. “I like the opportunity to work with people in the community, to help them resolve their issues or problems. Whether it’s a criminal investigation or just sitting down with a juvenile in crisis, I try to develop a rapport.”
Runner-up: Wes Barr, Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office

Brad Jones, aka The Cinema Snob

Brad Jones of Springfield is no Roger Ebert, but the famous Chicago film critic was the inspiration for a just-regular-guy who has taken the Internet by storm as The Cinema Snob. Jones easily recalls his indignation several years ago while watching Ebert review Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. “He got on this huge soapbox about it – ‘This movie teaches young people that there’s nothing to life other than you’ll have sex and get killed,’” Jones remembers. “I’m like, ‘Dude, it’s about a guy in a hockey mask.’ That’s really where the idea came from.” And so Jones now makes his living by reviewing exploitation/horror (don’t dare call them “bad”) movies on the Internet, playing the part of a pretentious critic who takes seriously such movies as Nail Gun Massacre. Jones’ review of the slasher film from the 1980s (“That movie sucks,” he says) prompted a complaint by the makers to Youtube, which removed Jones’ review and prompted him to start his own website in 2009. And things took off from there. Jones is now living the dream, reviewing and occasionally making movies full time after stints as a radio disc jockey (his voice invites comparisons with Don Pardo) and a driver for the circulation department at the State Journal-Register. He was recently invited to work as a game show host in Chicago. While Jones enjoys classics such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane, he prefers talking about Caligula and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and he’s helped make Springfield famous with movie fans from as far away as Canada who voted him the capital city’s best local character.
Runner-up: Gus Gordon

Henry Haupt
spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White

Henry Haupt is the best in the business for several reasons. He returns phone calls pronto. He’s been known to answer calls from reporters even when he’s sick or on vacation. But the best thing Haupt does is get out of the way. Most folks think of the secretary of state’s office as the place to get a driver’s license, but the office does a ton of other stuff, from regulating the securities industry to keeping track of corporate records to watching over the Capitol campus – the agency even has its own police force. No one person could possibly know the answer to everything, and Haupt doesn’t pretend he has more brain cells than anyone else. Rather than relaying information to reporters from bureaucrats or demanding questions in writing, which makes follow-up questions tough and invites inaccuracies, Haupt tracks the bureaucrats down and gets them on the phone with journalists, and he does it quickly. Actually having a conversation with folks who have firsthand knowledge has grown rare in government, but Haupt has kept common sense alive on the Capitol campus. He doesn’t get quoted much, and when you think about it, that’s a good thing.

3631 S. Sixth St., 787-8348
2701 E. Sangamon Ave, 788-8250
2811 W. Lawrence Ave., 787-2729

If you’re looking to get in shape, FitClub has got you covered. With three locations and long hours (The west branch is open 24 hours during the week.), FitClub is probably the most accessible health outfit in the city. They have the latest high-tech equipment, pools at two locations, and lots of the more traditional weights and exercise machines. FitClub goes by what they call the Four Pillars of Fitness: nutrition, exercise, supplements and coaching. Need motivation and guidance? They offer group exercise classes or their certified personal trainers work one-on-one to create custom workout plans. Of the 200-plus group exercise sessions they hold each week, there are classes on cycling, Pilates, core strengthening, weightlifting, cardio, conditioning, water aerobics and more. All ages are welcome, and they’ll work with any fitness level or ability. They even offer free child care while you’re working out. Voters lauded FitClub’s equipment, staff and prices. That’s probably why they’ve won this category for several years running.
Runner-up: YMCA

Best of 2012 (Part 2)
T.C. Roesch - Roesch’s Gym
1137 N. MacArthur Blvd., 553-4665

Anyone who finds bodybuilders intimidating hasn’t met T.C. Roesch. While he jokes that he may look like a convict with this shaven head, bulging muscles and tattoo-covered arms, the exceedingly friendly personal trainer says the only thing he’ll beat you with is his Bible. Though Roesch admits that he likes the occasional treat of beer and pizza, he states his training philosophy like this: “In the end, we only get one shot with this body, this temple. This is my way of giving back to Christ, and I try to give people a lifestyle: positive in, positive out.” Despite his shaven head, Roesch jokingly calls himself “The Hairdresser” because he builds a rapport with his clients and gets to know them like family. But don’t go to Roesch’s Gym to relax. As one voter put it, “Everyone is there to work hard.” Roesch backs that up: “You tell me what you can do, and then I’ll push you just a little bit further.”
Runner-up: Wayne Carrels – HIPE

Animal Protective League
1001 Taintor Road, 544-7387

This one wasn’t close, and for good reason. The APL has been saving dogs and cats in Sangamon County for more than five decades. It adds up to tens of thousands of creatures that would likely be dead but for the kindness of folks who can’t bear the thought of putting the needle to healthy would-be pets. And what great pets they turn out to be. “I got the best dog they ever had, so it might suck now,” wrote one obviously tongue-in-cheek voter, one of nearly 2,000 readers who decreed the APL to be Springfield’s best when it comes to rescuing animals. The only downside to APL is that it is not a bigger place. Some animals, unfortunately, must be turned away for lack of space. But along with the rest of us, there are plenty of Fidos and Spots and Puffs and Fluffies who are very glad they’re around.
Runner-up: Sangamon County Animal Shelter

Derek Leonard, Rochester High School

Derek Leonard, Rochester High School football coach, isn’t fast becoming a legend, he’s already arrived. The Rockets last year won their second consecutive state championship, and it’s looking good this fall as Leonard’s team opened the season with a 7-1 record. If the Rockets go all the way, it will be Leonard’s third championship in eight years as head of Rochester’s football program, and the team nearly went to the state championship game in 2009, when the Rockets lost by one point after going for a two-point conversion in the waning seconds and got stopped one yard short of the goal line. It doesn’t seem to matter how many players graduate. Even with 19 new starters, the Rockets were best in the land in 2011. This is the first and only job as a head football coach for Leonard, who is in his early 30s. With a record like this, Leonard could easily move on to a bigger school or, perhaps, a college program. And so Rockets fans should enjoy Leonard while they can. His father Ken Leonard, who coaches the Sacred Heart-Griffin team, has long been regarded as one of the best football coaches in the state. But he shouldn’t be embarrassed if folks refer to him as Derek Leonard’s father instead of calling the Rochester coach Ken Leonard’s son.
Runner-up: Ken Leonard, Sacred Heart-Griffin

Tracey Sims
TurnOut Movement Arts Studio
6100 S. Second St., 816-3888

Tracey Sims considers the secret to her success talented teachers and students whom she cheers on as if they were her own. Her big family, as she calls them, includes 20 instructors, more than 400 students, two sisters who pitch in and mom Miss Annie who helps keep the books. Also present as constant companion and school mascot is the handsome Buddy the Maltese, who under Tracey’s direction can perform perfectly executed pirouettes. TurnOut Studio was born from Tracey’s passion for dance and wellness and her perseverance in the face of adversity. The name comes not only from the technical dance term in which a dancer’s feet are turned so the toes face toward the sides of the body but also from the notion that things will “turn out” for the best. With two studios, one in Springfield and another in Taylorville, numerous teaching and choreography assignments from St. Louis to local colleges (one BOS voter called her the best choreographer in the area), things have indeed turned out.
Runner-up: Janet Cripe, Dance Creations Dance Studio

Cozy Dog Drive-In
2935 S. Sixth St., 525-1992

Perhaps the quirkiest thing about the Cozy Dog Drive-In is that it is not, in fact, a drive-in, no matter what the sign out front says. There are no car hops, no covered areas with speakers from which you can order without getting out of your car. It does have a drive-through window, but who doesn’t these days? No, the Cozy Dog is as much a drive-in as any given McDonalds, but the place that claims to have pioneered the corn-dog-on-a-stick (and please, let’s not get into who invented the corn dog, stickless or no, or we’ll be here all day) does have plenty of kitsch that makes dining a true experience and a must for out-of-towners in search of a one-stop-shop for all things Route 66. There are maps, license plates, even a gas pump. And the corn – er, cozy – dogs are pretty darn good.
Runner-up: Charlie Parker’s

Food Fantasies
1512 Wabash Ave., 793-8009

Eat from the fruits of the greener side of life at Food Fantasies. Every item in this environmentally friendly and socially conscious store supports quality and sustainable living. Food Fantasies is a wonderland of the gluten-free, the organic or the all-natural. Products such as household cleaners don’t pollute the environment, fresh vegetables come from local growers and dietary supplements contain natural ingredients. In addition, at a time when the small neighborhood grocery is almost an endangered agave in the desert, Food Fantasies remains an orchid in the rainforest. They are, as Food Fantasies folks call themselves, a “quaint” little place to shop. You can grab a healthy bottle of vitamins, soy milk or a great-tasting whole-grain loaf of bread, and get out. Manager Stuart Kainste and staff always have a friendly “hello” and “how are you” when you’re browsing the aisles. On top of that, employees plop a nickel in a jar each time you bring in your own shopping bag, then donate the accumulations to a local cause. October’s cause is Friends of the Sangamon County Animal Control.
Runner-up: American Harvest

Jim Leach, The Jim Leach Show – WMAY 970 AM

Being a continual winner in this category proves Jim Leach gets listened to by our readers – whether they agree with him is another story. Confrontational and informative, Leach puts it out there in rapid-fire comebacks and challenging comments, taking on all callers in an impromptu session of opinions (every one has one, right Jim?) each weekday morning since 1996 on WMAY. Bondsy and Sam Madonia gave Leach a good run for his talk in the vote count, but the controversial and undeniable radio host came out on top again. Not only does he ask the serious questions with intelligence and verve, he interviews different folks in various parts of the community including politics, entertainment and whatever the enterprising radio guy feels is relevant to his audience and to himself. From the ever-popular Butthead of the Week segments on Fridays to his interviews with the mayor, Leach continues to pry and enlighten, cajole and report, giving his all every day to inform the listening public of what needs to be talked about.
Runner-up: Bondsy – The Morning Grind – 99.7 Kiss FM

Aaron Kunz
Williamsville High School

Even from a young age, Aaron Kunz knew he wanted to coach sports, but it wasn’t until a high school math teacher inspired him that Kunz developed a passion for teaching. Originally from New Berlin, Kunz has been teaching math and coaching football at Williamsville High School for about 15 years. Despite teaching the same advanced-placement math courses year after year, Kunz says the students keep it fresh. “It’s like a different day every day,” Kunz says. “You get different kids with different abilities, and every class has its own personality.” He says teaching gives him an opportunity to have a positive impact on students by challenging them. He starts his classes a week before the rest of school to make sure they finish the curriculum. “I think I’m a tough teacher, so sometimes you never know if people even like you, because you push them,” he says. “I think at the time you’re not appreciated, but when they go to college, you’re appreciated a lot more. Every year, I’ll get an email or a call saying, ‘What you taught me really prepared me. Thank you so much.’ That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Runner-up: Michelle Gannar, Lee Elementary School

Best of 2012 (Part 2)
Ace Bike Shop
2500 S. MacArthur Blvd., 523-0188

Ace celebrated its 55th year in business this year, and at the rate they’re going, this place will be in business for another half-century at least. The shop has bikes for every niche – road racing, touring, triathlon, just tooling around town – but it is especially known for its selection of BMX gear. Readers rave about the service and the lack of snobbery. One voter praised the shop for custom ordering a bicycle for a special-needs child with no purchase obligation. We like the stable of used bikes for sale that sits out front, right next to one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, silently urging the couch potatoes among us to get out of our cars and into some fresh air.
Runner-up: R&M Cyclery

Robert’s Seafood Market
1615 Jefferson St., 546-3089

Fish and visitors smell in three days, Ben Franklin once said, but there are no smells at Robert’s Seafood Market aside from the fresh scent of the sea. While others sell oysters in plastic containers, Robert’s sells oysters in shells, often two or three different kinds to allow connoisseurs to select the degree of brine or sweetness that best tickles their palate. The fish counter is a carousel of species that change frequently depending on what’s available and best at that particular time of the year. If you prefer bovine to bass, Robert’s also offers some of the finest beef available, including Kobe and meat from locally raised cattle. But don’t stop there: If you have a craving for rabbit, elk, turtle or ostrich, Robert’s either has it or will get it for you.
Runner-up: Humphrey’s Market

United Community Bank
301 N. Main St. Chatham, 483-2491
Numerous branches

For United Community Bank, banking is about making the community better. Known affectionately by customers as simply “UCB,” the bank earned numerous positive comments from BOS voters, including several lauding its friendly customer service. One even called it the “best banking institution ever.” Not many banks have the ability to actually make customers excited like that, but for bank president and chief operating officer Todd Wise, it’s simple. “We’re the leader in community banking,” he says. “We’re committed to old-style, old-fashioned community banking where we take good care of our customers.” With drive-up hours even on Sundays, three branches in Springfield and numerous more in surrounding cities, UCB is accessible, too. They even have a fancy smartphone app for online banking. UCB offers the same services as regional megabanks, Wise says, but loan decisions at UCB are made locally instead of by some faraway executives in Chicago or New York. “We live in the same community as our customers,” he says.
Runner-up: Bank of Springfield

Paul Venturini
Advanced Center for Pain and Rehab
2060 West Washington St., 787-8200

If you’re skeptical about chiropractors, Dr. Paul Venturini will make a believer out of you. He was voted Best Chiropractor last year, too, and he’s been in practice since 1989. He uses a “whole body” approach that emphasizes total wellness, but he also likes to treat his patients well. “What I do is treat people like I’d treat my own family or like I’d want to be treated,” he says. “Our goal is to put them ahead of anything else and get them well as fast as we can.” He doesn’t stop there, though. His practice offers rehabilitation for injuries, nutrition and exercise advice, and even acupuncture. His patients absolutely love him, saying he’s knowledgeable, “super friendly,” a good listener, and the “absolute best.” One voter said Venturini even “saved” his back. Asked why voters nominated him, Venturini says it’s easy: “We have a large patient base because we’ve taken care of people. We want them to get well, and we put their health first above everything else.”
Runner-up: Chris Reid – Reid Chiropractic & Nutrition Center

Laketown Animal Hospital
1114 Stevenson Drive, 529-4211

Cathy Curry calls Laketown Animal Hospital a “one-stop shop” for animal health, and it certainly seems that way. Curry is administrator of the hospital, which opened way back in 1961. They offer medical, dental and surgical care for pets, in addition to emergency care, boarding and grooming. They have six doctors on staff, and they even have an ultrasound machine. This animal hospital practically has everything you’d expect in a human hospital, but Curry says you’ll get your test results a lot faster at Laketown. She says the hospital’s extensive capabilities are only part of what makes them unique; the other part is customer service. “We know our clients by name,” she says. “We take time to get to know them instead of just rushing them in and out the door to see how many we can get in. We want to bond with our clients and get to know their pets because we care.”
Runner-up: Coble Animal Hospital

Dal Acres Kennels
2508 W. Jefferson St., 793-3647

With Dal Acres having 53 years of experience in the pet care industry, it’s no wonder voters chose them as the best place to board a pet. Owners Glenn and Pat Hudspeth say they love animals, and it’s evident in the clean, comfortable accommodations they offer for pets. They breed champion Akita dogs of their own, they’re members of the American Boarding Kennels Association and they abide by the Pets’ Bill of Rights, which calls for loving, attentive care for all pets. They mainly handle dogs and cats, but they also take the occasional rabbit or turtle, she says. (They don’t take other reptiles or birds.) “We work really hard to make this facility as appealing as possible,” Pat Hudspeth says. “We keep it scrupulously clean and pet-friendly and people-friendly.” The kennels are a family affair, with Glenn Hudspeth’s children and grandchildren working there as managers and groomers. “They’ve grown up doing this, and we know that they know what they’re doing,” Pat Hudspeth says. “Our customers know their pets are going to be safe and clean and happy.”
Runner-up: Kinner Kennels

3183 S. Veterans Parkway, 698-3091

If your pets look good, you look good, and Petsmart has pet grooming down cold. Not only do they stock pet products ranging from ferret deodorizer to hedgehog brushes, but they offer extensive grooming services that you can watch through a large viewing window. Petsmart’s groomers go to a special academy for training, and they’re so confident in their abilities that they offer a “Look Great Guarantee” in case you don’t think they did it right. They’ll trim up your pet’s claws, shampoo its hair, brush its teeth and even clean out its ears. Fleas and ticks are no problem, and they can even give Spot a fancy smell with cologne. One voter praised their flexible scheduling and willingness to “fix any situation.” (We would bet there’s an embarrassing story behind that one.) Petsmart also offers pet boarding and obedience training.
Runner-up: Dog House

Aasne Daniels at Ahh Yoga
1051 Wabash Ave.,725-2373

Any way you look at it, these two Ahh Yoga owners and instructors are winners. Loved by students, one describes our 2012 Best Yoga Instructor Aasne Daniels (a Norwegian family name pronounced OS-ney) with a single word, expert. That expertise involves ardor and dedication. Runner-up and 2011 winner Ami Flammini, on the left above, explains with tears in her eyes that Aasne didn’t miss a single day of class last year as she battled breast cancer. Aasne now offers free classes to those who also battle the disease. Daniels’ interest in yoga started seven years ago after moving to Springfield from Chicago and taking a class at Ahh Yoga. She instantly knew she wanted to teach. So she returned to Chicago to learn and continues to have “a passion for teaching.” She can be found on the yoga mat during the day and in the theater at night – she’s also a locally acclaimed actress. Even her daughter states that everyone at school thinks she’s awesome. Try a class on for size at Ahh Yoga. The one-time fee is $15. Find out for yourself why so many people say “ahh” (literally where the name came from) over Aasne (and Ami) and Ahh Yoga.
Runner-up: Ami Flammini

Kari Bedford
Kari Bedford Photography

Kari Bedford is one of those people everyone likes. She’s a people person. Beautiful and kind of disposition, all her good traits have carried over into her work at Kari Bedford Photography. She shoots weddings and senior-class photographs that capture a mood or character to a tee. They include amazing backdrops whether a field of wheat or an old barn. The backgrounds are as striking as the portraits. Kari states that she’s “obsessive with good light,” adding that her “first love is storytelling, and documentary photography shows up in my work more than anything else.” In the business 13 years, Kari’s relationships with her clients might just be the top hat to her success. “Magic happens when they trust me,” Kari says. “That magic happens frequently.” No wonder. Kari is a people person. She embodies trust.
Runner-up: Terry Farmer

Beggs Barbershop
2625 S. Sixth St., 525-1244

Dave Beggs and Phil Tackett are the men of Beggs Barbershop. And they are men’s men – ready with a quip and a smirk. “Dave always remembers your name … or at least he pretends to!” writes one patron. “Real guys,” “Dave rocks,” “Dave Beggs is the king!” are a few other comments. The barber snipping away on a client’s cut with an enormous big-screen TV in sight, the atmosphere at Beggs seems like home away from home for the four to six men who come through in what seems like a breeze. Beggs is busy. He half-jokes and says it like it is. “I’ve got good customers. If we don’t get along, they don’t come back.” Many have been coming back for years. Barbering is in owner Dave Beggs’ blood. His dad, Bill, started the business in the ’50s. Beggs says he “grew up in the barbershop” with his dad, then attended National Barber College. His passion still drives him every day.
Runner-up: Unique Blendz Barbershop

Josh Oldridge
Willow & Birch
2525 Wabash Ave., 726-7050

Born and raised in Springfield, Josh Oldridge always thought he’d find himself in the medical profession. Work in a hospital, schooling and other career paths did not click. That’s until the day in conversation with a friend, Dan confessed to his buddy and himself, that he might like to be a hair stylist. It had always been in the back of his mind. Ever since “saying it aloud,” everything has been clicking. With Willow & Birch for about two years, alongside runner-up and owner Jessica Wiltsie, Oldridge smiles with satisfaction. “The best part of my job is that it doesn’t feel like work to me,” he says, adding that he gets to pamper and care for others, giving them the cut or color they really want. His clients call him the “best ever” and an “excellent stylist and professional.” Josh says he has a drive in him to be the best and do the best. That’s the kind of character that puts excellence into everything he does.
Runner-up: Jessica Wiltsie, Willow & Birch

Lake Area Disposal
2106 E. Cornell Ave., 522-9317

Where did the Lone Ranger take Tonto? Cue up the William Tell Overture: Ta-da-dump, ta-da-dump, ta-da-dump, dump dump. Let’s face it, garbage all ends up at the same place, it’s how the journey is made that counts. While Lake Area Disposal stops short of putting your trash on velvet pillows before placing it gently, gently on the heap at the landfill, they do treat their customers right, according to readers who raved about Lake Area going the extra mile by walking up to garages to fetch cans for the forgetful and thanking customers with cards during the holidays. The company founded in 1932 also gets kudos for low prices and reliability. And they’re locally owned, so they know Springfield garbage better than anyone.
Runner-up: Allied Waste

Because it’s a right and a privilege

The vote-counters profess themselves perplexed: How can something be both a right and a privilege? With most other things, it is one or the other. Driving, for instance – that’s a privilege, and if you think it’s a right, try racing around at 90 mph without a valid license and see how long you stay out of jail. Staying silent, that’s a right, as Sgt. Joe Friday tells suspects before he hauls them to the hoosegow. Voting, however, is unique. Of course it is a right. If it was not, this wouldn’t be a democracy – think how different the United States would be if, for example, only people who earned more than $100,000 a year were allowed to vote. At the same time, it is a privilege in the sense that we should all be thankful that we get a chance to throw the rascals out on a regular basis. So make sure to vote this year. You can’t make a living at it, at least not in Springfield, but it’s not a bad way of life.
Runner-up: To have a say

Best of 2012 (Part 2)
New Age Tattoos
2915 S. MacArthur Boulevard, 546-5006

This is the fourth year in a row that New Age Tattoos has been voted the best tattoo and piercing shop. Owner Jason Lee attributes the shop’s winning streak to its cleanliness, customer service and totally unique artwork. They don’t do any pre-drawn “flash” tattoos, so everyone who comes in for ink gets their own custom design. New Age has been open for 14 years, and they now have six artists who each have their own style, in addition to two piercing artists. “We’re always driving ourselves to be better,” Lee says. “It’s never just ‘good enough.’ That’s what allows us to constantly grow and achieve higher goals.” He says when New Age first opened, there were only two tattoo shops in Springfield, but now there are several, each with its own handful of artists, so being chosen as the best is that much more meaningful for him. “We are competing against some awesome artists,” he says. “We don’t just have a bunch of scabs in our industry; we have people who are achieving great things. It’s even more of an honor to tattoo in Springfield now because we’re surrounded by so many great artists.”
Runner-up: Black Moon Tattoos

Land of Lincoln Goodwill
2001 W. Wabash Ave.
815 N. 11th St.
2531 North Dirksen Parkway
75 W. Plummer Blvd., Chatham


Ron Kanoski, the personal injury lawyer who urges television viewers to give him a call so he can help, has good taste. We know, because we have his raincoat. It’s a Burberry trench, way nicer than struggling journalists should be able to afford. We found it at Goodwill, complete with the receipt from a bar tab in the pocket. Kanoski’s apparent weight loss – he looks much better in TV commercials than we do in real life – was our gain. At less than 10 bucks, the coat was the kind of deal that keeps bargain hunters coming back to Goodwill, which recently opened a boutique shop in Chatham, right next door to the regular store. With prices at the boutique starting at $9.99 for a single item, we feared the end of a good thing, but a visit to the regular Chatham store on opening day of the boutique was reassuring. We found a wool peacoat by Mackintosh, a pair of trousers by Corneliani and two Scottish tartan ties, apparently never worn, by Edinburgh Woolen Mills. Out the door for $9.93. At prices like these, friends don’t let friends wear polyester.
Runner-up: T.J. Maxx

The saga of Jeffrey Parsons and his company, THR and Associates

This one wasn’t close. By a four-to-one margin, readers voted the apparent collapse of THR and Associates the top scandal over second-place finisher, the mayor’s music curfew. It’s easy to see why. Amid IRS audits and thousands of bounced checks written to employees and folks around the nation who sold gold, silver and other valuables to THR at buying events set up in hotels, company founder Jeffrey Parsons remained nonplussed at court hearings in his pending divorce that revealed a life of unabashed luxury built on buying low and selling high. He batted nary an eye from the witness stand as he talked about buying a home, a boat and a half-share in a Cessna jet for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of silver coins, as if this is just regular life. While the IRS filed millions of dollars in liens against THR and Parsons, he lived it up during jaunts to Florida and the Ozarks, where he maintained a luxury home worth nearly $3 million. That $600,000 in silver sales that were omitted from the company’s tax returns? Just an oversight, Parsons told the divorce court, the venue that provided the best picture of what happens when a guy who started out selling produce from tents set up in parking lots gets into the precious metal business just as the market for bullion is going bananas. Under pressure from the judge in divorce proceedings who threatened him with jail, Parsons declared bankruptcy in September, but don’t think that he’s finished. If nothing else, Parsons over the years has proven resilient. If there’s a way to come out of this smelling like money, he’ll find it.
Runner-up: Mayor’s music curfew

Rod Blagojevich goes to prison

Sorry, but readers who decreed that Scheels was the best thing to happen to Springfield this year are wrong and a little late: We have nothing against the bigger-than-life sporting goods store, but it opened in the summer of 2011, not during the past year. And so we’re going with the jailing of former governor Rod Blagojevich, who finally faced the music in March when he reported to federal prison for a 14-year stint. The jailing of anyone is generally not cause for celebration, but Blagojevich is a special case, and his demise was cathartic for all the state workers who had to put up with working under his let’s-do-it-this-way-because-it’s-Tuesday administration that sailed a rudderless ship of state toward insolvency. He rarely came to Springfield – heck, he rarely came to work at all and complained about what a lousy job he had. “The whole world is passing me by, and I’m stuck in this (expletive) job as governor,” Blago complained in a telephone conversation taped by the FBI. At last report, the former governor was washing dishes, bored and hoping to teach classes on Shakespeare to fellow inmates. Shakespeare. That’s bleepin’ golden.
Runner-up: Fat Ass 5K and Street Party for Charity

Bike paths

With the growing popularity of cycling, running and walking, it’s no surprise that bike paths have become a popular use of tax money. With 459 votes, bike paths easily beat education and repair of sidewalks and streets for “best use of taxpayer funds.” (Some curmudgeonly voters claim there’s no such thing.) Thanks to a number of abandoned rail corridors, Springfield is becoming a good place to bike, with at least four multi-use trails skirting the city. The 5.6-mile Lost Bridge Trail stretches from the IDOT building on Dirksen Parkway to Rochester, providing a paved, mostly tree-canopied path. The 2.1-mile Wabash Trail runs just south of Wabash Avenue from Vredenburgh Park to MacArthur Boulevard, where it meets up with the Interurban Trail. That 8.4-mile path heads south, reaching all the way to Walnut Street in Chatham. The newest addition to the group is the Sangamon Valley Trail, a 5.7-mile path stretching along the western edge of Springfield, from Centennial Park to Stuart Park. That totals nearly 22 miles of trail, and here’s hoping we see more added soon.

Erin’s Pavilion
Southwind Park

Erin’s Pavilion has it all. Want to walk to the reception? No problem, the pavilion has a terrace that’s perfect for ceremonies, complete with a beautiful lake in the background. Time it right, get lucky with the weather and a spectacular sunset will add a glow of romance. What to do when the wee ones get bored and fussy? There’s a playground nearby. What if twice as many people as expected show up? The pavilion can seat 300 for dinner, with room left over for dancing. Looking for something more intimate? The main hall can be divided into as many as four smaller spaces. In short, there are plenty of reasons why Erin’s Pavilion has become one of the area’s most popular spots for weddings and receptions. The betrothed are encouraged to make reservations early to ensure availability.
Runner-up: The Inn at 835

H.D. Smith Gallery
Hoogland Center for the Arts
420 S. Sixth St., 544-2787

H.D. Smith Gallery finds its home on the first floor of the Hoogland Center for the Arts. This elegant fine arts gallery with light-colored wood floors and soft ample ceiling and window lighting is run by the nonprofit Prairie Art Alliance, an arts gallery and school. Different work by juried central Illinois members is on display every six to eight weeks, according to Janet Seitz Carlson, executive director. You can find a wealth of paintings, jewelry, pottery and more to view or purchase. Public receptions kick off the beginning of each exhibition. Not only is the art top notch, but the hors d’oeurvres at these soirées are scrumptious. Opened in 1996, H.D. Smith Gallery gets its name from national health care company H.D. Smith, founded in Springfield in 1954. PAA also operates Gallery II on the Old State Capitol Plaza. Both spaces are open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Gallery II 5 p.m.)
Runner-up: Springfield Art Association

The intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Lawrence Avenue

What do you do with an intersection that is home to more than two dozen accidents in any given year? Nothing, if your name is the City of Springfield. This intersection is notorious, yet the best the city fathers can offer is a blinking yellow light atop a sign reading “Warning: High Accident Intersection” on MacArthur shortly before motorists reach the most dangerous stretch of roadway outside of a demolition-derby figure-eight track. What are folks supposed to do, stop a

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