Carolyn Moore and Ruth Ann Theis, cochairs of the Sesquicentennial Committee, have spent hours – indeed several years – sitting at Moore’s dining room table with a multitude of people, planning for the celebration and events in 2017, 2018 and this year leading up to the big weekend.
The committee’s mission is to celebrate the heritage of Rochester, build a legacy, create a link for the future, and expose children and adults to the history, settlement and growth of a community. Starting in 2016, they planned, organized and hosted events prior to the actual sesquicentennial year.
The committee’s efforts
Two coin contests were held – a silver coin in 2018, which tied in with the Illinois Bicentennial, and a gold coin in 2019, which was designed by fourth-grader Ellie Tweryon, chosen out of 800 entries submitted by students and adults. Sophomore Adam Gribbins is assembling a time capsule for his Eagle Scout project.
The committee published three history-themed pictorial calendars – for 2017, 2018 and 2019 – filled with information and pictures about historic homes, businesses and people that have formed Rochester’s rich history.
Last year the committee brought in a folksinger/writer who performed Illinois bicentennial songs. He made the evening special by incorporating Rochester history into the songs.
House tours in 2018 and 2019 drew many people. The one this past June included the site where young Abraham Lincoln, according to tradition, gave a speech in 1832 under a tree. When the tree had to be cut down, a box was made from the wood. It was recently donated to the Rochester Historical Society.
There have been unusual and interesting events. An afternoon tea and bed turning (quilts and coverlets are placed atop each other and one by one revealed) included a coverlet from 1850 that had belonged to a Rochester family. A reenactment of the 1869 Rochester Village Board meeting included actors who were descendants of the people living in Rochester during that time. In 1869 the population of Rochester was around 250. Today, over 3,500.
On Sept. 8 a plaque dedication will be held at the Rochester Cemetery to honor James McCoy, Rochester’s first settler, who came to the area in 1818-1819. He will be portrayed by David Ramsey.
Friday night, Sept. 13, will begin with a Tot-Rod contest for children ages 3-12. This requires pedaling a mini-tractor with a weighted sled. The weight makes it harder to pedal as speed increases, and if one stops, so will the car. Twelve-year-olds have been known to pull up to 420 pounds. A dance revue by the Above and Beyond Dance Company will perform later in the evening.
Various concession stands will operate throughout the weekend. A carnival will run from 5-9 Friday and Saturday, and 1-4 Sunday. The 114th Infantry and fur traders will hold a reactivated encampment on Saturday.
Saturday morning, Sept. 14, people can start their day by enjoying a free pancake breakfast 7-9 a.m. at the Christian Church, participating in a 5K/10K walk/run (7:30 in the park), shopping at the farmers market (starting at 8 a.m.) and entering the fishing derby (9 a.m.).
At 10 a.m. the opening ceremony at the Stone House will include a flag-raising by the Boy Scouts, VFW and American Legion and will honor dignitaries, oldest and youngest residents, the Rochester Citizen of the Year, the police and fire departments, and farming family history. Farming families numbered 239 in 1959. Today only 25 families still farm in the Rochester area.
Throughout the day, vendors and artisans will be set up. Musical entertainment will occur throughout the afternoon. The Miss Rochester pageant will be held at 4 p.m. A local vintage car cruise-in will be held on the elementary school parking lot
That evening a free concert, “Dual Pianos,” with Mark Gifford and Damien Kaplan will be held in the Fine Arts Auditorium at the Rochester High School, a gift to the community by the major sponsor, the Rochester Lions Club, and Jim Rowley of Edward Jones. Over at the park a local student band, “Unchained,” will perform.
The night will be capped off with fireworks at 9 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 15, will start at 1 p.m. with a drum line performing for Rochester’s 150th birthday party (free cake and ice cream to the first 150 people) with musical entertainment and a monarch butterfly release.
As part of its mission to reach out to students, the committee invited students to write their view on “What Will Rochester be Like in 50 Years.” These essays will be on display.
The work has been intense, but Moore says, “We are doing this for the people who live here to give all a taste of our heritage. Whether our young people stay here or spread their wings and fly away, this was their hometown, and we want all to be proud of what we have.”
Theis: “This has been a wonderful town for my children and others to grow up in. This work is a way to give back to the community.”
For more information and a list of events for the Sept. 13-15 celebration, visit www.Rochester150.com. A booklet of things to see, do and enjoy at Rochester’s restaurants, shops, historic sites, park and schools has been produced and will be available online.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna is a freelance writer and a resident of Rochester.