Heart of Rockford Awards honor local leaders

The River District Association staged its 17th Annual Heart of Rockford Awards Celebration Oct. 29 at Paragon On State. About 120 guests gathered for the event, which honored outstanding contributions to the heart of the City of Rockford during 2002. Dan Voll provided the ideal setting of musical entertainment during the cocktail hour.

Keynote speaker, Cory Jobe, programs director for Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, spoke about the Experience Illinois Loan Program.

Since 1987, the Heart of Rockford Awards program has recognized more than 132 outstanding contributions to the heart of the city in various business and personal categories.

“Millions of dollars have been put into renovating and expanding buildings, new and expanding businesses, beautification projects, façade enhancements, historical preservation, special events, and individual commitment,” said Kim Wheeler, executive Director or the River District Association. “All of these projects have increased activity in the area and helped sustain the economy. The commitment by both businesses and individuals is remarkable.”

2003 Heart of Rockford winners include the following:

New Business: CAMCO

CAMCO’s (Capital Acquisition and Management Company) most obvious impact on the quality of life of Rockford is in its employee growth. CAMCO has added almost 200 new jobs, bringing its total Rockford workforce to approximately 350 people since arriving Oct. 5, 2002.

With a payroll that generates more than $7 million annually, and the $2 million spent to move into the former Conseco office building, CAMCO has made a tremendous impact on the economic vitality of Rockford and its downtown River District neighborhood.

CAMCO employees help boost business at many businesses in the downtown area, they rent parking spaces that help generate revenue for the city, and many have chosen to move into the area as well as other parts of Rockford. They have helped strengthen the economy by working, eating, living and shopping in the area.

CAMCO has been an active contributor to the community through sponsorships such as the Fire & Sculpture at First Night Rockford, the River District banner beautification program, the Memorial Hall Centennial Celebration, and by giving a significant donation to the Angela Rushford Children’s Organ Donation Fund and hosting a blood drive for Angela.

The “New Business” award is sponsored by Rockford Business College.

Commitment by an Individual:

Joseph A. Morrissey

“Morrissey? Are you Larry’s dad?” This is often the response that Joe Morrissey hears when he tells someone his name. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Joe Morrissey has been practicing law for more than 40 years in downtown Rockford, first at the Talcott Building, and now at 127 N. Wyman St., in the building now known as the Morrissey Building.

Morrissey’s commitment to downtown is evident through his many activities and associations, as well as his development of a historic downtown building.

After Joe and his family purchased the former Pioneer Life Insurance building, they advocated to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Morrisseys renovated the building to include offices and the first market-rate loft apartments project in downtown in years. Joe makes himself available to the downtown community on a daily basis. He is often seen in Parthenios, Octane, or anywhere else that serves a good cup of “joe,” meeting with members of the community, giving advice or offering assistance to those in need.

Joe is a member of River District Association and is known for being a generous contributor to events as well as attending nearly every downtown function. Not only is he a powerhouse figure in the revitalization of downtown Rockford, but he is also a man who has touched the lives of many Rockford residents through his generosity.

The “Commitment by an Individual” award is sponsored by MedicineMan, Inc.

Commitment by a Business:

River District Café & Catering

Nothing shows commitment to a neighborhood like naming your business after it.

When Chris and Judy Johnson purchased the former Mystic Café at Stewart Square, they wanted to change the name to River District Café & Catering. During the two years they have been downtown, they have made significant changes to the look of the restaurant, adding services, and aggressively increasing their catering business. They have especially been eager to work with downtown businesses and cultural organizations.

River District Café & Catering has worked closely with River District Association, Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, the Arts Council, On the Waterfront, Burpee Museum, and many others. They are the official caterer for Rockford Ice Hogs, providing the hospitality for the Hog Heaven and Arena Club areas.

Judy has been a part of the redevelopment of other downtowns and is a real advocate for the continued development of the River District neighborhood and the riverfront. She and Chris have a vision of what this area can be and are actively working to make it happen.

Historic Preservation:

Lincoln Middle School

The Lincoln Project has encompassed more than historic preservation. Probably the most significant factor of this project is the way it has engaged the young people in our community to give them an appreciation for the value of historic preservation.

Additionally, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Lincoln Middle School, this 76-year-old gem has emerged from years of neglect to reclaim its rightful spot among the community’s most distinctive landmarks and stand as a majestic gateway to downtown Rockford.

Landscaping, lighting and restoration work all combined to make this a project worth recognizing.

The centerpiece of Friends of Lincoln’s work remains the reopening of a 10-foot by 20-foot skylight in the library, which was boarded over long ago. A new exterior gable was custom manufactured and lifted to the roof by crane, an elaborate oak frame was refinished, and Frank Houtkamp designed a stained glass masterpiece that mimics elements of the neoclassic architecture. The stunning results were unveiled Sept. 20, 2002, 75 years to the day from when Lincoln Middle School opened its doors to students. It is a project that best symbolizes the Friends of Lincoln’s mission.

The “Historic Preservation” award is sponsored by Bradley & Bradley Architects, Engineers.

Residential Renovation:

William Brown Lofts

William Charles investments purchased the William Brown building in 1997 and in 2000 began a complete restoration of the upper five floors, which are now 30 modern soft-loft luxury apartments in this beautiful historic building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The apartments have 11-foot ceilings, complete Internet access and most come with old, engraved security vaults.

Williams Charles and partner First Rockford Group have invested more than $5.5 million in this residential project. Not only does this have a significant economic impact on the area, but also the people living in the building will spend money in the local shops, restaurants, service businesses, financial institutions, arts, entertainment, and cultural venues. This project is the biggest market-rate housing development completed in the heart of the city in years.

The “Residential Renovation” award is sponsored by the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois.

Commercial Renovation:

St. James Catholic School

St. James Catholic Church just celebrated its 150th anniversary this year, at the same location, in the heart of the city. It was the first Catholic church in Rockford and has, to this day, been committed to staying downtown.

Last year, the church completed a new addition to its school with 24,000 square feet to promote education.

Located in this new environment are a science lab, a computer lab, an art room, a music room and a youth room. There is a chapel for both the school and the parish, offices for the director of religious education and the parish nurse. There is a room
for the school’s extended school program, which provides before and after school care. Meeting rooms can accommodate groups as small as 35 or as large as 250.

There is a state-of-the-art kitchen. Integrated into the terrazzo floor and the main parish hall and lobby are shells, which are the symbol of St. James.

Bringing families into the downtown area, St. James provides a positive atmosphere for its students and their families. Schools are a large part of families’ lives and with St. James, this commitment to downtown will extend to those who attend.

The “Commercial Renovation” award is sponsored by Rockford Associates Planners+Architects.

Festival/Special Events:

OTW/Bright Stars

In 2002, On the Waterfront Festival unveiled the very first celebration honoring Rockford future leaders at the Verizon Wireless Left Bank Stage. This new tradition of academic recognition through a salute to Rockford’s Bright Stars was also in conjunciton with the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Rockford.

More than 800 Rockford-area eighth grade students achieving the honor role during both semesters of the 2001-2002 school year were recognized for their hard work and academic excellence at this very special ceremony sponsored by The WV and The Rockford Adams Plant, a division of Pfizer.

On the Waterfront collaborated with the Rockford Public School District for this family-focused community event. Students were given several goodies, including two admissions to the festival, and recognized by Mayor Doug Scott as well as other officials.

The “Festival/Special Event” award is sponsored by Lamar Outdoor Advertising.

Best of the Heart of Rockford:

SwedishAmerican Health System

SwedishAmerican Health System has made a tremendous commitment to working with the neighborhood investing millions of dollars in its expansion project and committing to working with the neighborhood around it. Not only is their investment seen in the money used to purchase materials, but they also contributed to the jobs of those who worked on the project.

Permanent jobs were created as a result of the additional facilities that have been built. The enhanced beauty of the area is seen in the new entrance on East State Street, the new parking lots and landscaping. Because of this expansion, Charles Street was re-routed, and a landscaped boulevard was created that opens up a beautiful traffic path from one part of the city to another.

The boulevard gives a sense of openness and flow in addition to showcasing the beauty of the historic Lincoln Middle School. SwedishAmerican has worked with Habitat for Humanity to create new homes and opportunities for individuals who are interested in owning a home for the first time.

The awards celebration was made possible by the generous contributions of the following sponsors: Associated Bank, presenting sponsor; Lorden Distributing Company, supporting sponsor; Adams Letter Services, invitation and program sponsor; and award sponsors.

The River District Association is a private, membership-based organization working to sustain a thriving business and residential community in the District. With more than 350 members, the organization works to plan and preserve the District’s assets and heritage.

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