Going Above and Beyond

click to enlarge Going Above and Beyond
Painting by Felicia Olin

The people, places and things we relied on to get us through while we stayed home.

We've all had to adapt to a new way of life, mostly on short notice. Whether it is a business owner trying to figure out how to continue to provide goods and services or a teacher engaging with students from a distance, there are many people going above and beyond during these challenging times. With that in mind, we decided to ask our readers to tell us about the people, places and things who kept them going during the last few months. The following results are based on our readers' votes from May 21 to June 8 in four different categories.

Stage 1: Preparation

When Governor JB Pritzker originally announced his stay-at-home order on March 21, it was only through April 7, but there was already a sense that we would need to hunker down for a while. Almost overnight, basic household supplies and grocery staples became hard to find. People began sharing on social media about rumors of delivery trucks arriving or photos of stocked shelves when there was something to be had. Here's how we got prepared.

Grocery store (delivery)
Runners Up: ALDI, Schnucks (Montvale)

Grocery store (in person)
Runners Up: Schnucks (Montvale), Humphrey's Market

Most helpful bank
United Community Bank
Runners Up: Bank of Springfield, INB, Marine Bank

Most helpful credit union
Heartland Credit Union
Runners Up: CEFCU, Illinois Educators Credit Union

Place to buy fresh meat
Humphrey's Market
Runners Up: Magro's Meat & Produce, Country Market

Place to buy fresh produce
Old Capitol Farmers Market
Runners Up: Humphrey's Market, Meijer

Place to find toilet paper
Sam's Club
Runners Up: Meijer, Family Dollar

Place to get a mask
Reverie Apparel
Runners Up: Food Fantasies, Menards

Mel-O-Cream Donuts
Runners Up: Staff Meals, Concordia Village

Old Capitol Farmers Market

Michael Higgins, owner of Maldaner's restaurant, knows the Old Capitol Farmers Market as well as anyone – over the years, he's been a constant presence. He's not ready to say the market is back to normal – we won't know that, he says, until later in the summer, when tomato season comes in earnest and other vegetables hit their peaks. But it looks good so far. Crowds are back, with strawberries, cucumbers, onions, peppers, pecans and other good stuff from the earth mixed in with freshly baked bread, gourmet coffee and other treats to enjoy when you're not eating your vegetables.

Putting vendors in the middle of the street, instead of on the sides, seems a wise move that keeps shoppers separated as they stroll on either side of Adams Street instead of moving as a single herd down the center of the thoroughfare. How much fun is this? Ask Chad Wallace, proprietor of Oak Tree Farms in Ashland. Wallace has been selling at the market for more than a dozen years, and a shortage of product didn't stop him from coming last weekend, when his offerings were limited to CBD oil and a couple varieties of sausage, with "sold out" written next to more than a dozen other things on his offerings board. Why bother making the trip? "It's always good to say hello to the folks," Wallace explains. "A lot of times, people worry about you if you're not here." Put another way, the market is family, really, and neither merchants nor customers are going to let a pandemic get in their way.

Downtown Springfield Inc. has worked closely with Sangamon County Public Health, the City of Springfield and longtime sponsor HSHS St. John’s to enact safety precautions. Visit http://www.downtownspringfield.org/old-capitol-farmers-market/ for more details or information on pre-orders with curbside pickup, a new service this year.

Humphrey's Market

Independently owned and operated since 1932, Humphrey's is a gem in the heart of the east side, providing great prices and great quality on meats, produce and groceries. A hot lunch counter serves a delicious lunch on the go.

When meat was in scarce supply at chain stores, it was plentiful at Humphrey's, which butchers in-house. Customers remark that the meat is so fresh it nearly moos. The selection has to be seen to be believed. Humphrey's has always offered phone-in orders and home delivery, but has now added the option of curbside pickup.

Reverie Apparel

Patrick Russell opened his doors on a lively block of Adams Street downtown only last November to sell T-shirts. When the coronavirus made its presence known, Russell worked with artist Kim Stevens, who sewed about 50 masks for area nursing and assisted living homes, which were donated free of charge. Russell also sells plain, printed or custom-made masks at cost.

"There's a fine line between my need to make a living and selling Personal Protective Equipment to help us function in daily life," says Russell. "That's why we're selling them for $5."

Mel-O-Cream Donuts

Mel-O-Cream Donuts International and the four retail locations teamed up to create some joy in Springfield during this stressful time.

Chad Larson, co-owner of Mel-O-Cream Donuts International, said, "We can't provide ventilators, but we can provide doughnuts and bring a smile to someone's face."

Amanda Crossland, who owns and operates the four retail stores, worked with Larson and coordinated the effort to donate and deliver doughnuts far and wide.

Mel-O-Cream gave a big thank you to health care workers in early April when more than 6,000 doughnuts were delivered to various locations of HSHS St. John's, Springfield Clinic and Memorial Medical Center. In addition, Crossland made deliveries to Springfield's first responders, fire departments and police departments plus took more than 2,500 doughnuts to area nursing homes and supportive living facilities. Larson said, "We wanted to make sure the people behind the scenes were getting recognized for the work they do to clean and maintain the facilities."

Crossland said, "I can't say enough about the new owners of Mel-O-Cream International, Eric, Chad and Chris Larson.  They mobilized their team and resources to make this happen. We had the privilege of helping organize the efforts with the community."

Crossland herself is fairly new to the doughnut world, having purchased the retail locations in July 2019. She has adapted to the mandate to close dine-in restaurants by taking special orders and serving doughnuts through the drive-up locations at 525 North Grand Ave E. and 3010 S. Sixth St.

Larson said, "Mel-O-Cream has been in this community for so long that we are Springfield. We are connected to its soul."


Stage 2: Staying busy

We all have well-intentioned projects that we never seem to find time for, but being stuck at home limited the excuses. Quarantine cleaning became a thing, and many people tackled projects in their house or yard. Houses of worship, gyms, museums and art galleries that weren't allowed to be open all began to devise ways to keep people engaged. Musicians who could no longer hold public concerts began performing in their living rooms. Here's how we stayed busy at home.

Educational resources for adults
Lincoln Land Community College
Runners Up: Lincoln Library, Chatham Area Public Library

Educational resources for kids
Springfield School District 186
Runners Up: Westminster Presbyterian Preschool, Trinity Lutheran School

Garden center
Apple Barn
Runners Up: Seaney Farms, New City Greenhouse

Home repair service
Schneider Construction
Runners Up: Buraski Builders, Inc., Reliable Handyman Service

Landscape material delivery
Pleasant Nursery
Runners Up: Designer Landscapes, Chapman Stone

Local musician (solo) offering virtual concerts
Tom Irwin
Runners Up: Avery Kern, Ed Clark

Local musicians (group) offering virtual concerts
Springfield Theatre Center Broadway Battle
Runners Up: Big Daddy Jasper, The Legacy Theatre Ghostlight Songs

Online art show
Felicia Olin
Runners Up: Springfield Art Association, Staunztastic Art Virtual POP! Show

Online church or religious service
West Side Christian Church
Runners Up: St. Agnes Parish, Blessed Sacrament Parish

Online shopping experience
District 23
Runners Up: Cardologist, Kennedy Sue Gift & Home

Online workout classes
Fitness with Ali Griffith
Runners Up: Studio M Dance Centre, Above & Beyond Dance Company

Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon
Runners Up: Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, Lincoln Memorial Garden

Springfield Public School District 186

When it was announced schools would close in March, many families began to scramble to find ways to continue learning at home. At the same time, District 186 was finding ways to continue teaching. Students were offered iPads and Chromebooks and the district stayed in regular communication. On its website, it offered a number of options for families, in addition to the resources provided by teachers who kept in regular contact with students through the end of the school year. The district still offers learning ideas and links for those who want to continue their remote learning through the summer months: sps186.org/homebasedlearning.

Tom Irwin

Tom Irwin was one of the first Springfield-area musicians to make the switch from live music to virtual, playing a total of 40 concerts online during the quarantine rather than his regular Friday night gigs at George Rank's, among others. He also continued to write his weekly "Now Playing" column for Illinois Times, adapting it to highlight other musical events happening virtually and continually encouraging his fellow musicians to share information about their online concerts. This marks his 20th year as an IT contributor, and it's no wonder he continues to be popular with our readers.

Felicia Olin

For more than a decade, Olin has been widely regarded as one of the best artists in Springfield. She's won multiple awards and her list of affiliations is long. But even more prolific than her involvement is the sheer amount of her work. When hunting for painted rocks was a popular pastime, Olin painted dozens – if not hundreds – and left them around town for people to find. She's left hidden pieces around art shows for lucky patrons to happen upon. She donates dozens of pieces for the Old Capitol Art Fair kids' tent every year. When the fair was canceled, she gave out the pieces for free from her alley, where she has painted an "outdoor art gallery" on her fence. Sometimes macabre and always whimsical, her work is uplifting and ever-present throughout Springfield. Her love of nature and fairy tales is often the inspiration. During this challenging time, it's no surprise that her artwork inspires those in the city she loves and shares so freely with.

Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon

Even in the darkest, most uncertain days, when no one knew how many might die or get sick, the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Washington Park rang out as it has for decades. We may be far from fancy free, but melancholy comes tough when the bells play "Georgy Girl." Now, perhaps more than ever, the carillon has become an audio anchor that brings smiles and thoughtfulness to whomever is within listening distance. Folks, a few at least, are prone to gather near the tower when the bells ring, which has been often. Pandemic hasn't interfered with the usual summer schedule, so there's been music in the air at least five days a week. Passersby stare at the weatherproof television that shows the carillonist at work far over their heads. People on nearby benches look upward, as if mesmerized. Others lie on their backs and consider the sky. "The Star-Spangled Banner" marks the end of a 30-minute show that was over far too soon. No one stands. No one kneels. But mothers push baby strollers through the park and toddlers frolick and joggers jog and life goes on, a bit brighter than it did before.


Stage 3: Climbing the walls

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and once we'd caught up on our to-do list at home and spent quality time with the family (LOTS of time ... lots and lots of time) we started to go a little stir-crazy. We came up with creative ways to get out of the house while still following the guidelines and started making lists of all the places we were going to go. Anybody else need a haircut and a mani/pedi?

Best take and bake
Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza
Runners Up: Bella Milano, Pease's at BUNN Gourmet

Best takeout
Bella Milano
Runners Up: Cafe Moxo, AZ-T-CA Mexican Grill

First bar to have a drink at when restrictions are lifted
Buzz Bomb Brewing Company
Runners Up: The Alibi, Engrained Brewery & Restaurant

First restaurant to go for dine-in when restrictions are lifted
Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery & Eatery
Runners Up: Bella Milano, Xochimilco Mexican Food

Looking forward to a haircut (barber)
Hair Of The Dog Bar/bershop
Runners Up: The Men's Room, Uppercuts Barbershop

Looking forward to A haircut (salon)
Willow & Birch Salon
Runners Up: BJ Grand Salon & Spa, Engel's on Edwards

Place for a date night
Knights Action Park Route 66 Drive In

Place for a family outing
Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center
Runners Up: Springfield parks, Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon

Copper Pot Cooking Studio
Runners Up: John Geyston Martial Arts, Illinois State Museum

Buzz Bomb Brewing Co.

No Buzz Bomb beer went bad while Springfield thirsted, says a masked-up Benjamin Gines, owner of the downtown Adams Street drinkery, but that largely was a matter of planning and reducing production as closure loomed back in March. And boy, did we ever get thirsty, both for beer and the company of others while sipping suds – the couch or front porch just isn't the same as a beer parlor.

Buzz Bomb has been buzzing bigtime in recent weeks, thanks both to tasty microbrews and location. Customers aren't allowed inside, but there's tons of room in the street, which the city has closed and Buzz Bomb has converted into an Oktoberfest-in-summer type of affair, with room for more than 100 at tables on pavement where cars now are banned. No long-term decisions have been made, but Gines says he'd like to see the street in front of his bar closed permanently.

He says he didn't know quite what to expect when he reopened, but crowds are back, and most customers, Gines says, have been behaving themselves and wearing masks. "It was well over the top of what we thought it would be," he says. While Gines worries that infection rates might jump and prompt a new closure order, so far, things have been working out. "We made it," he said. "Our bills are paid."

Obed and Isaac's

Summer-wise, it doesn't get much better than moderately upscale pub fare with a shandy in the shade at Obed and Isaac's beer garden, where bocce ball and music are both played on occasion and well-behaved dogs are always welcome. Bavarian pretzel rolls are a must and the flatbread pizza isn't far behind. The place was packed on opening day, so much so that we confess we shied away for fear of being around too many people.

A couple days before opening, owner Karen Conn said that Obed's is taking the pandemic seriously. "We're going to do everything that we can to maintain the safety of our staff," she said. "They're going to be asked to wear masks to protect them, wash their hands on a regular basis and wear gloves." If need be, Conn said, customers in violation of health protocols would be asked to leave. "This is serious," she said. "We don't want to have another outbreak. None of us can afford to be closed for another two months."

We've always liked and trusted Conn, but no one we saw in the beer garden – either customer or employee – was wearing a mask during a recent visit on a warm afternoon. Yes, masks can be hot and fog up glasses. But they're a small price to pay for the chance to socialize, and they send a message: We're all in this together, and we care. Please wear them.

Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center

Though the nature center building has been closed, there are still acres to explore at the lake area woodland and prairie preserve. Many have been able to enjoy the coming of spring there, regardless of needing to otherwise stay home. Considered a living memorial to Abraham Lincoln, the land was developed with trails and stone rings which have been used for weddings and other events. While the center urges social distancing and that gatherings be postponed, the trails remain open. The garden sprang to life in the 1930s, in conjunction with the creation of Lake Springfield. It was designed by Jens Jensen, a highly regarded landscape architect of the Prairie School style. The site has always relied on the passion of garden and wildlife enthusiasts and volunteers. If anything, it seems to be gaining popularity, and will live on as one of Springfield's best-loved and enduring areas to enjoy nature.

Copper Pot Cooking Studio

Denise Perry opened Copper Pot Cooking Studio four years ago to teach cooking classes to kids and adults. Her 10-person classes focused on cuisines and cultures not normally found in Springfield. She plans to resume classes once the region reaches Phase 5, but in the meantime, she's adapted her classes to an online format.

In an effort to adapt and share her skills with the community, Perry offered weekly Facebook Live cooking classes for families. This week, she is transitioning to an online culinary camp for kids. For those with a sweet tooth, Perry has a pop-up bakery the last Sunday of each month, providing cooking kits for curbside pickup. Perry also offers virtual cooking events for private groups.


Stage 4: Hope for the future

Throughout it all, there have been those who have continued to encourage and inspire us. From health care professionals and teachers who have risen to the challenge to businesses and nonprofits trying to meet the surge of needs in the community, this is who has helped you get through.

Dr. Nicole Florence, Memorial Medical Center
Runners Up: Dr. Kenneth Schmidt, HSHS Medical Group, Dr. Michael Comerford, Memorial Physician Services

Andrea Stribling, Koke Mill Medical Associates
Runners Up: Erin Parris, Koke Mill Medical Associates, Kathryn Brown, Memorial Medical Center

Encouraging artwork
"Everything will be OK" by Dave Heinzel
Runners Up: Outdoor art gallery by Felicia Olin, IT "Essentials" cover by Felicia Olin, Springfield Art Association yard art

For-profit company giving back to the community
Papo's Cafe
Runners Up: Staff Meals, Two Men and a Truck

Local public servant
Scott McFarland
Runners Up: Governor JB Pritzker, Kristin DiCenso

Nonprofit organization
Community Child Care Connection
Runners Up: Central Illinois Food Bank, Compass for Kids, Downtown Springfield Inc.

Teacher who adapted to online learning
Betsy Martin (Sandburg Elementary School)
Runners Up: Meghan Noll (McClernand Elementary School), Liz House (Butler Elementary School)

An individual who went above and beyond during this time to help others
Lynn Ehman
Runners Up: Lisa Clemmons Stott, Damon and Aidan McParland

Springfield Families Helping Families Facebook page
Runners Up: Helping Paws, COVID-19 Response Fund for the Greater Capital Region of Illinois

Everything will be OK signs

Springfield resident Dave Heinzel wanted to put his creative talents to use during the early days of the stay-at-home order, both to keep himself busy and to provide encouragement to others during a stressful time. He built wooden signs with the phrase, "Everything Will Be OK" and decorated them with red wooden hearts. Heinzel started with one sign in his own front yard and then created a Facebook page on March 25, offering to install a sign in the yard of anyone who requested one. The handmade signs proved to be so popular that he was soon overwhelmed with requests, and he set up a donation page for people who were willing to contribute toward the cost of materials. He also partnered with Miles T-Shirts to sell T-shirts with the same slogan, with proceeds going to the COVID-19 Response Fund created by the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and United Way of Central Illinois. Heinzel said he received hundreds of requests for signs, but for the sake of his sanity and his family, he decided to stop once he had produced 200 signs. In a statement on the Facebook page, he said, "Thank you to everyone who has reached out, offered support and encouragement, and donated to help cover the cost of materials. Hang in there – we are all in this together!"

Community Child Care Connection

For 30 years, the Community Child Care Connection (CCCC) has administered child care programs through contracts with the Department of Human Services, as well as educated and trained child care providers. When tasked with administering the Prioritized Essential Worker Program, available to priority workers who cannot work from home, CCCC stepped up, helping to find and fund available child care in centers and homes. On top of that, CCCC used technology to successfully transition to zero-contact child care assistance.

Executive director Erica Romines remarked, "I would like to thank our early childhood educators and our child care providers. They've really stuck up for our children and families during this time."

Betsy Martin (Sandburg Elementary School)

Multiple parents told us that Betsy Martin went above and beyond in adjusting to online learning for her kindergarten class. She made a "Flat Betsy" and mailed a laminated one in a letter to every student, suggesting the kids take "Flat Betsy" on adventures and write journals about what they did with her. One parent said, "She tried to make lessons fun and encouraged the kids to practice their skills in unique ways. She truly cares about her students and ending the year without getting to say goodbye was truly heartbreaking for her. She deserves recognition for the hard work and extreme hours put in to make online learning work for her students."

Staff pick: Black Lives Matter Processional

Take a bow, Springfield. If anything shows that there's love in the capital city, it came in the form of a Black Lives Matter automobile parade around the Sangamon County courthouse and environs on May 31. Organizers were expecting 300 vehicles. The cops estimated that 3,000 showed up, so many that the route had to be lengthened on the fly. It was sunny. Police and organizers stood together in intersections, working together to direct traffic. Horns honked while James Brown and Public Enemy wafted through open windows. Although the subject was serious, smiles were everywhere: At least for one day, it seemed, the town was together in a way that it hasn't been together in a very long time. "Crown Vic's matter!" someone shouted at an officer whose ride parked in mid-street began billowing steam while antifreeze poured onto the pavement. The cop laughed. There were no bullhorns, no tear gas clouds, no spray paint artists, just a mass of people – more than a lot of folks thought possible – who showed that they cared, not just about racism, but about public health: You could be here without worry of getting sick. It was good to see so many people of all ages, and their presence delivered a powerful message: We need change.