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A little bit of everything in DuPage

Naperville's North Central College opened the state-of-the-art $30 million Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center this fall. The best part: It was funded all by donations.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

The last remaining smokestack at the old Ovaltine plant in Villa Park came down in October. It stood for more than seven decades.


Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

Four people were killed, including an infant, when a medevac helicopter crashed in a field in Aurora en route to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Heavy rains in September caused substantial flooding in many parts of DuPage County, including along the DuPage River in Warrenville.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Tony Michelassi, left, was a 23-year-old grocery store photo desk clerk when he became one of three Democrats elected to the DuPage County Board in November.


Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/28/2008 12:04 AM

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The snowy, snowy December that's fresh in everyone's mind was proceeded, you may recall, by record-threatening rain and widespread flooding just a couple months earlier.

It was that type of year - a little bit of everything.

There was the tragic: A helicopter crash in Aurora killed four people - including an infant girl who was being rushed to a hospital.

There was the legislative: Towns rushing to install red-light cameras to catch would-be violators - while adding to their coffers.

There was celebrity news: A rebellious Benet Academy grad won an Oscar, and Johnny Depp came to Aurora to shoot a film about John Dillinger.

There were the oddities: For the first time since Jimmy Carter was president, three Democrats were elected to the DuPage County Board.

And there were stories that were just plain weird: Villa Park tried to ban dancing on tables. Parking meter readers started riding Segways. Public officials sending text messages like teenagers.

Here's a quick look back:

Torrential rain swamps county

A weekend of rain in mid-September dumped more than 12 inches in some parts of DuPage and flooded scores of properties. The region was declared a federal disaster area and property owners who were flooded out of their homes and businesses eventually were given aid when FEMA representatives arrived in early October.

Copter crash kills four

An Air Angels medevac helicopter was transporting a 17-month-old infant to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago when it crashed about midnight Oct. 15 after striking a 750-foot-tall radio antenna along Eola Road in Aurora. Killed was the girl, Kirstin Blockinger, along with pilot Del Waugh and crew members William Mann and Ron Battiato.

More Kerr-McGee fallout

Sandy and Rich Riess filed a lawsuit in August against the real estate agent and sellers of their West Chicago home, claiming they were never informed the house they bought in 2004 was contaminated with radioactive thorium from the now-shuttered Kerr-McGee Chemical Co. factory. EPA officials spent several weeks during the spring testing dozens of homes in the Riess' neighborhood for the presence of the chemical.

DuPage Dems make gains

For the first time since Jimmy Carter was president, more than one Democrat was elected to the DuPage County Board. In fact, three Democrats took seats this fall. Winfield resident Dirk Enger snared retiring member Pam Rion's seat in District 6, while 23-year-old former grocery store photo desk clerk Tony Michelassi of Aurora grabbed retiring board member Bob Schroeder's spot in District 5. Addison's Rita Gonzalez unseated District 1 incumbent Yolanda Campuzano.

Naperville voters OK tax hike

Voters in Naperville Unit District 203 approved a $43 million tax hike to help fund $114.9 million in facilities projects throughout the district, costing the average taxpayer $82 a year for 20 years. Projects include an $87.7 million renovation to Naperville Central High School, $7.3 million renovation and addition to Mill Street Elementary, building an $11 million early childhood center and improving the pool, football field and traffic flow at Naperville North.

School opens despite fire

After an accidental roof fire in July left a portion of the school in ruins, Briar Glen Elementary in Wheaton resumed classes on time in August for all students except kindergartners. Because many of their supplies were destroyed and reordered items were slow to arrive, the school's 48 kindergartners began Sept. 2. Ultimately, the school used the fire to its advantage, getting a head start on $24.8 million in renovations approved by voters in spring 2007, and having insurance pay for items damaged in the fire.

Turmoil in COD leadership

It was a tumultuous year for Glen Ellyn-based College of DuPage. Trustees in May ousted President Sunil Chand, then brought back long-retired former President Harold McAninch to serve in the interim. In November, the COD board picked Harper Community College President Robert Breuder as the school's new leader.

VP landmark comes down

Villa Park's most noticeable landmark, the last remaining Ovaltine smokestack, came crumbling down in a matter of moments one late October afternoon. After standing for more than seven decades near Villa and Kenilworth avenues, the 217-foot-high chimney was imploded while hundreds watched.

Bensenville demolitions

The first Bensenville house standing in the path of O'Hare International Airport was demolished in February, bringing the airport one step closer to its $8 billion expansion project aimed at reducing delays while increasing air traffic. But unlike more than 500 other homes and businesses Chicago has acquired so far for the expansion, Bensenville officials said they agreed the house at 135 Garden Ave. had to go because it was damaged during a December 2007 fire.

Naperville film festival opens

The inaugural Naperville Independent Film Festival was held in September and featured 107 flicks from around the world, including features, documentaries and shorts. The festival also included workshops and panel discussions with filmmakers as well as celebrity appearances.

Wood Dale legal dispute

A legal battle between Wood Dale Fire Protection District and Lt. Robert Cortese ended in November when a federal arbitrator ruled he was fired without sufficient cause in winter 2007. The decision marked the final verdict in a year of legal disputes that began in November 2007 with Cortese's demotion and his firing in February. In May, state labor officials ruled to restore his rank and, after an appeal from the district, ruled again in July that Cortese could remain a lieutenant. The district was forced to pay back wages and benefits Cortese lost since February.

Carol Stream man accused

A Carol Stream man was charged in March with first-degree murder for the stabbing death of his mother. Robert R. Lyons is accused of killing 61-year-old Linda Bolek in her condominium March 14. Authorities said Lyons made a videotaped statement regarding his mother's death. Officials said the woman was stabbed nine times and had household chemicals poured over her.

Central adviser gets boot

The Naperville Central High School newspaper, Central Times, caused a stir in February when it printed a package of stories about drug use that also used profanity. What began as a battle over First Amendment rights soon became an issue of how veteran adviser Linda Kane handled the school's subsequent investigation. She was later fired from her post at the newspaper after making negative comments to the Daily Herald about Principal Jim Caudill. Kane was allowed to continue to teach for the remaining two years until her scheduled retirement.

Central principal soon follows

Naperville Central High School Principal Jim Caudill landed in hot water in the spring after plagiarizing part of a speech he gave to graduating seniors. The speech was taken in part from a talk given by a former student who now teaches at the school. Caudill said he meant to ask permission before giving the speech but had a busy day and never did. He was reassigned to the district's central office to oversee new programs to help struggling junior high and high school students and assist with Central's renovation project.

Addison opens library

The village of Addison opened its $15 million library at 4 Friendship Plaza in late July. The building boasts environmentally-friendly technology, such as a green roof covered with plants to help with stormwater management, a cafe and an expanded computer lab. The old library is slated to become the administrative offices for DuPage High School District 88.

Table dancing ban fails

Villa Park officials drew criticism when they briefly considered barring patrons at taverns from dancing on bars, tables and chairs. The board ultimately rejected the restriction and a companion measure prohibiting bar employees from working while intoxicated.

Metra underpass saga

Metra closed a street-level train crossing at its depot and stop near the Winfield village hall this summer after the village board voted against a plan to build an underground pedestrian crossing. The village, which has more than $1 million in state and federal grant money for the $4 million project, has been debating the merits of building the crossing for at least the last five years. But in mid-December, the village did another reversal and resurrected the plan - pending the project coming in on budget. Stay tuned.

College student accused

An Elmhurst College student was arrested in November for lying about an alleged assault that took place hours after she spoke at a diversity rally. Safia Z. Jilani, 19, of Oak Brook was charged with a felony for filing a false police report. She told campus officials she was beaten with a pistol in October after she had entered a washroom where a masked man had also scribbled racial slurs on the walls.

County jobs saved

More than 200 DuPage County public safety jobs were saved when the state legislature agreed to increase suburban collar counties' sales taxes by an extra quarter percentage point as part of the bailout in January that spared a shutdown of mass transit in the Chicago area. The extra money meant up to $48 million extra sales tax revenue a year for DuPage, more than enough to cover the costs of the jeopardized jobs.

Two directors, one district

Naperville Park District hired two executive directors in 2008. The first, Daniel Betts, resigned in August after less than five months on the job, citing "philosophical and operational differences." He had moved from Colorado to take the position. The park board then quickly hired Bolingbrook police chief and former Naperville police officer Ray McGury to replace him. McGury had been a finalist for the position in December 2007.

Pet Rescue comes under fire

The two elderly operators of a Bloomingdale no-kill animal shelter were charged with several misdemeanors in relation to the alleged lack of care for dogs and cats they were keeping. Dale Armon and Penny Horak were both charged with a variety of animal cruelty related crimes. The state's department of agriculture also intervened, requiring weekly visits to the oft-maligned shelter.

Anniversary bashes

Wheaton began a yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary in July. Oak Brook and Oakbrook Terrace each celebrated their 50th anniversaries.

Red-light cameras

Red-light cameras, designed to improve safety and catch traffic scofflaws, were all the rage this year. The cameras went up in numerous towns, including Roselle, Carol Stream, Naperville, Warrenville, Lombard and Villa Park.

Dueling treatment centers

The Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board voted against the recommendation of its staff and allowed Central DuPage Hospital and Procure Treatments to build the state's second proton therapy cancer treatment facility in Warrenville. The decision was made over the objections of Northern Illinois University representatives who are building the first proton therapy center in nearby West Chicago. Proton therapy is more expensive than traditional radiation therapy, but the side effects are lessened because the treatments are localized to the stricken area.

Metea Valley takes shape

Construction began on Indian Prairie Unit District 204's new Metea Valley High School along Eola Road in Aurora. The 3,000-student school, scheduled to open next fall, was the subject of lengthy boundary battles, a lawsuit by parents who didn't like the site, and numerous other disputes.

Crackdown on fireworks

In an effort to stamp out Independence Day revelers using illegal fireworks, Carol Stream trustees passed an ordinance allowing police to write a $250 ticket to anyone caught with fireworks. While fireworks are prohibited in Illinois, police in many communities say they have a hard time enforcing the law because of the sheer number of complaints they receive over the July 4 holiday.

Benet grad wins Oscar

Lemont native and 1996 Benet Academy graduate Diablo Cody won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in February for her hit film "Juno."

Drug tests at Driscoll

Students at Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison became subject to mandatory drug tests when they returned to school in September. Principal Fred Muehleman said, with the exception of a few parents concerned with privacy, most parents shared "tremendously positive" feedback with Driscoll. He said the tests are a tool to help parents keep track of their children's behavior and keep students safe.

Lisle revamps downtown

Lisle launched some long-awaited improvements aimed at revitalizing its struggling downtown, including a massive project to narrow Main Street. Most of the work was completed by year's end - but whether the project is successful will take considerably longer to determine.

New arts center opens at NCC

North Central College dedicated its $30 million Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center in October. The 57,000-square-foot venue at the corner of Ellsworth Street and Chicago Avenue includes the 605-seat Wentz Concert Hall, 150-seat Bartley and Maricela Madden Theatre and the Schoenherr Art Gallery, as well as rehearsal and teaching space. The project was funded entirely through donations.

New park in Carol Stream

Carol Stream Park District opened Slepicka Homestead Park in October. The 4.5-acre area features walking and bike trails, workout stations, two bocce courts, a beanbags area and picnic pavilion. The multigenerational park aims to replicate the feel of an arboretum and features attractions that are accessible to - or were designed specifically for - people with disabilities.

Aurora launches projects

Aurora began construction in May of a 150,000-square-foot police headquarters on the city's north side. Much of the external work has been completed and officials project the station to open in January 2010. In June, the city unveiled plans for its multimillion-dollar RiverEdge Park that is expected to unfold along the Fox River in downtown during the next 10 years.

Indian Lakes work

Bloomingdale leaders agreed to further develop a 35-acre area near Indian Lakes Resort. The open land was acquired in 2007 when Indian Lakes Resort's plan to redevelop a business district was approved by the village. As part of the plan, the village acquired the southernmost 35 acres and pledged to keep the portion as permanent, passive open space. Now officials are looking to develop the area with parking, bicycle and pedestrian pathways, landscaping and stormwater storage facilities.

Voters OK Dist. 89 tax hike

Glen Ellyn Elementary School District 89 residents supported a $24.8 million tax increase to update the technology infrastructure, improve security, replace windows, add air-conditioning, repair roofs and upgrade mechanical, electrical and plumbing.

Families fight District 88

Four Addison families went to court in the fall to fight DuPage High School District 88's efforts to condemn their homes. The district said it needed the land owned by six families to build a retention pond as part of its $104.7 million Building the Future program. Voters gave the district permission to borrow the funds for the project in spring 2007, and the families said they felt betrayed after supporting the initiative. Two other families agreed to sell their land to the district for $700,000 and $400,000.

Itasca Riverwalk flows ahead

Itasca's Riverwalk is making its way through DuPage County's permitting process and is expected to be completed in 2009. The $1.8 million project includes a concrete path surrounded by lighting, decorative features and signs. The roughly half-mile path will start at the intersection of Irving Park Road and Walnut Avenue, meander south and west alongside Spring Creek and continue behind the fire station, library and park district water park.

Prairie Path wins honors

The 62-mile Illinois Prairie Path that runs through much of DuPage County was named to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail Trail Hall of Fame in August. The Prairie Path joins five other trails in the nation that were once railroad lines in the group's hall of fame, though the Prairie Path was the nation's first such conversion.

Segways in Aurora

Aurora parking meter attendants began using Segways in May in an attempt to save gas and increase production.

Downtown study in Glen Ellyn

Glen Ellyn leaders hired Town Builder Studios to conduct a downtown study. The study is in its final stages and highlights areas the village needs to focus on, including historic preservation, parking, retail and economic analysis.

New church celebrates Mass

Divine Mercy Polish Mission celebrated its first Mass in its own church in March. The congregation, which began more than 30 years ago to provide a spiritual outlet for Poles migrating to the suburbs, calls home its own sanctuary on Sunset Avenue near Lombard. Church leaders struggled for more than five years to get DuPage County to approve the 700-seat building, tucked away in a quiet tree-topped subdivision just off I-355 and North Avenue.

Cab driver's body recovered

The body of Artur Shehu, the Villa Park cabbie suspected of shooting his parents to death in January, was pulled from Lake Michigan three months after the murders. A jogger spotted the corpse floating near Montrose Harbor. An autopsy showed the man suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Shehu, 33, had been missing since his parents were found slain early Jan. 7 in their Villa Park home. The FBI joined the nationwide search while suspecting he may have faked his suicide to throw off the police probe and avoid prosecution. DuPage County authorities had charged Shehu with murdering his father, Syrja, 66, and his 67-year-old mother, Safo, both shot in the head.

Jail food service contract

After four rounds of bidding, a Minnesota-based food service company was awarded a one-year contract in September to serve food at the DuPage County jail in Wheaton. The lengthy squabble between longtime provider Aramark and new vendor A'viands cost the county while the disagreement was being settled. In the end, A'viands was paid $1.5 million for 15 months of work before the agreement and then granted a $790,000 contract for another year.

Pace cutbacks cause concern

Dozens of Pace bus riders from throughout DuPage County felt stranded for roughly two months in late summer after Yorktown Center barred Pace buses from the mall property at Butterfield Road and Highland Avenue. The DuPage Center for Independent Living in Glen Ellyn, which advocates for people with disabilities, fielded numerous calls from upset clients, some of whom wanted to shop at the mall and others who work there.

Stabbing in Lisle

Ryne D. McGovern was arrested Aug. 10 for stabbing a 19-year-old Lisle man as he slept following a party. The victim is recovering from the wounds suffered in the attack. McGovern, 17, was found at his grandmother's Lisle home shortly after the stabbing and told prosecutors he "wanted to kill someone" but may not have specifically targeted his victim.

Crash landing

A 45-year-old Woodridge man was accused of being drunk when he crashed a single-engine plane near Downers Grove in November. Authorities said Sean Oskvarek was piloting the Cessna 182 near the Brookeridge Air Park when he clipped the roof of a house and crashed into a grassy field upside down near the runway of the airfield. He is charged with operating an aircraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Glen Ellyn's history park

After three years of court proceedings, Glen Ellyn acquired a 9,000-square-foot lot and a two-story brick building at 820 N. Main St. in February through condemnation to make way for a history park near Stacy's Tavern. The village has been trying to acquire the land for a decade.

Lombard pool plans advance

Lombard Park District officials moved forward with plans for a new community pool after a majority of voters in February supported the district's request to increase property taxes so it could borrow $5.9 million to replace Moran Water Park. Demolition of the existing facility began over the summer.

Villa Park voters say no

Villa Park voters rejected the library's request for a tax increase to fund a new $24.9 million facility. A second ballot question, seeking an operating tax increase, also failed to get voter support.

Ardmore Avenue roadblock

Oakbrook Terrace officials caused a stir as they continued efforts to extend Ardmore Avenue a quarter-mile south to connect Butterfield and Roosevelt roads. Continued consideration of the project drew standing-room-only crowds in opposition and appeals from a number of state, county and other local elected officials to halt the plan.

Lombard man charged

A Lombard man was charged for the Sept. 28 knife attack on his wife and daughter at their home. Initially, Christopher S. Rood, 45, was charged with home invasion and aggravated domestic battery, but later had attempted murder charges added as well. Rood's wife had been granted a restraining order against her husband months earlier. Rood's wife and daughter are recovering from their wounds.

Naperville garden plots

Naperville school and park officials sparked a debate in the fall over how to address Naperville Central High School's shortage of athletic fields. The two entities came up with four initial options and held three community engagement meetings to gather input. The most widely discussed is a plan that would move some of the West Street garden plots to the south side of the city to make room for the fields.

An investigator's tenacity

The tenacity of a DuPage County state's attorney's investigator led to the re-arrest of a 51-year-old man in Oklahoma who was charged in 1981 with the reckless homicide deaths of three people in Villa Park. Roger Walburg was nabbed in Oklahoma after state's attorney investigator and former Villa Park detective Norman Hall ran a random check on his whereabouts. Walburg is accused of ignoring railroad crossing gates and colliding with a train that killed three people in his car in 1980. He skipped bond shortly after his first court appearance and Hall routinely ran checks on Walburg's until tracking him down in October. He pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in December.

Glen Ellyn leaders texting

It appeared for a while that Glen Ellyn police Chief Phil Norton and Community Development Director Staci Hulseberg might both lose their jobs over charges of "excessive workplace interaction." Between January and August, Norton and Hulseberg communicated via text message 9,637 times. On some occasions, the texting began as early as 6:30 a.m., sometimes it ended at midnight. On one day, more than 200 messages were sent. But the pair had vigorous support from the community, and in December the village board voted not to demote the employees, either.

Reckless homicide charge

A 29-year-old Bellwood man was arrested for running over a motorcyclist he had gotten into a traffic altercation with in Addison. Fredrick V. Griffin is charged with reckless homicide, failure to report an accident and driving with a revoked license. Authorities say Griffin was driving a sport utility vehicle on July 24 when he was involved in a minor crash with 37-year-old Frank MacNaught of Lombard. Griffin reportedly fled the scene of the crash, but MacNaught followed on his motorcycle and Griffin is accused of running him down when the other man tried to confront him.

Depp comes to Aurora

Johnny Depp caused a stir in February when he came to Aurora to film scenes for his latest movie "Public Enemies." Depp will portray notorious bank robber John Dillinger.