Lunch with Marjorie: Second grade playfulness revealed serious ambitions

I was curious about Colene Vivian’s two years as executive director of the Roscoe Chamber, since I held that position in the late 1990s. Besides, I live in Roscoe. I wanted to know more about the person directing important things here. I started with one of my favorite prompts:

“I’ve read what you play at in second grade is what you should be doing for work as an adult,” I said.

“I never would have connected that,” Colene said, “but what I can remember back in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade, is my friends and I taking old cardboard boxes and turning them into desks and playing secretary, business person. I can remember turning them into stoves and playing restaurants.”

I was surprised to be so on the mark.

“I got into business early,” she explained. “My folks started buying businesses back when I was in high school. I was serving on boards and managing some of the businesses back then. I wasn’t involved in the day to day, more sitting on the executive boards.”

“Playing store was natural?” I said.

“It was drilled into us at an early age,” she laughed.

Lunching at DiGiovanni’s in Roscoe, Colene ordered toasted ravioli appetizer and eggplant Parmesan. I went for the bruschetta. The ravioli arrived. I decided we should share the crisp pillows of perfectly boiled pasta filled with herbed ground meat, served with marinara dipping sauce. Excellent.

After high school, “everyone” told Colene she should study psychology. She did that for a year.

“I got back into the business area, got offered a position with a bank holding company in the management program. It was 1982, and I was 19. At 21, I wound up coming over to Illinois, wound up getting married, and had my first daughter. My parents had relocated over here.”

Then she started her own businesses—that’s plural.

“I had a TV and appliance store, and also owned some apartments, and was part owner of a bowling center, restaurant and lounge.”

Summer of 2002 brought big changes: The Chamber position, re-marriage, and a move from Rochelle to Roscoe.

“Have a ravioli,” I advised, wondering if we would divide them equally.

“Eat,” she said.

She was busy describing the major challenge of her Roscoe job.

“Businesses are seeing rapid growth, and they’re seeing a lot of positive, but they’re also seeing some negative. They’re wanting growth to be an equal growth, an economic development growth.

“We send out three to seven information packets weekly to as far away as Florida and California, to Indiana and Wisconsin. They’re coming into this region for a job, and seeing Roscoe as the good schools, low property taxes, and the growth. People are attracted to growth.”

She is happy about how the business communities work together.

“It’s at the government level that we now need to get that same meshing, working together,” she said. “Working as a region instead of doing the ‘this is my corner, you can’t touch it,’ fighting over who gets the corner, working together to bring the industry into the corner, because it benefits everybody.”

Her Rochelle experience has given her insights about the region.

“You’ve got these hubs—the UP (Union Pacific) hub down in Rochelle. This was a multi-million dollar thing. (Trucks) were going to Chicago, and had to sit in traffic.

“So they built one of these hubs. With that, you’ve got businesses looking to put distribution centers in—warehouses—Lowe’s, Menard’s, Target. A lot of companies looking within an hour, an hour and a half drive of that hub to put their distribution centers in. We’re right up the Interstate. From this location, you can get to a majority of the U.S. within a day’s drive. We’ve got this opportunity. It’s going to be coming. It’s going to be coming rapidly.

“Everybody has accepted that the growth is here. People are upset with how fast it’s still growing. Everybody wants to see controlled growth, making sure things are going in properly, that is not just a developer coming in and slamming in 1,000 homes in as little space as possible without giving parkland, without putting in sidewalks, without giving anything back to the schools, and so by doing that, it’s causing all this burden on the community.”

Colene is ready and willing to take on these challenges. She loves helping businesses. She started thinking about challenges like this in the second grade.

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

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