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Guest Column: Cleaning up our image essential to transforming Rockford
By Allen Penticoff
Thanks to editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, Frank Schier, for once again pointing out what Rockford really needs to transform itself into a desirable place to live rather than one to avoid (“Editorial: Rockford Transformers and thankfulness,” Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2013, issue). In support of his recommendation that the area promote itself on tourism, waterfront and being friendly — I have a suggestion I believe would help with tourism in particular, and in the end, self-image, which, when very positive, results in the “friendly” part being quite natural.
As much as I know citizens of Rockford and Winnebago County loathe change, I am going to not only think “outside the box,” but outside the county and propose a radical change — changing the name of the county.
I hope the Transform Rockford members carefully consider this proposal, and if they feel it would promote their goals, they should present it to those who have the power to make this change.
The name “Winnebago” does not mean anything outside of our local area. It supposedly honors the people we evicted from this land. Wisconsin has a Winnebago County, too — let them do the honoring of the people they evicted.
We are in competition in a global marketplace. Names are everything. Giant companies have changed names — and survived. Cities have changed names and prospered (Paducah, Ky., was once Pekin). There is no fundamental reason we cannot change the name of our county if it will promote business, tourism and the desire to live here.
Winnebago County is blessed with 41 forest preserves, a grand state park, numerous large and small city parks, as well as many great and inexpensive golf courses. Four wonderful rivers — full of islands, discovery, beauty and fish. We’ve restored prairie that was native when the Winnebago were here. We have recreational activities of all sorts. But we often rank near the bottom of places to live. I think a change of name will not only promote our assets to the fullest, but bring about a change in attitude about ourselves as well. We will think of our region as a first-class place to live, rather than “just-another-place.”
When a restaurant fades in popularity, it is often little more than a change in name and management that brings in new customers. We need both. We need a change in name, and we need a change in the managers. Elections will give us the opportunity to do the latter — and with those fresh new faces may come the chance to make a bigger change in our direction.
OK, you’ve stuck with me and wondered what name I am proposing. Here it is: Park County. We have the parks; we don’t need to spend a dime on developing them (for the purposes of calling ourselves by this name), and they are parks to be proud of. Heck, we have way more parks than Madison, Wis., and Dane County — and better ones to boot. Although I have to admit they have better lakes. Nonetheless, the word “park” is translatable in every language — not so with “Winnebago.”
As we invite foreigners to visit us, they have some idea of what to expect in a “Park” county. Indeed, the name creates a vision — an expectation that it will be a green and peaceful place. We could have that.
Since we have so many great golf courses that are under-utilized, we should be coordinating charter flights to our international airport with cheap or free golf packages under some “Get to know Park County, Illinois” package deal. Golf is the root of all business deals — this asset needs worldwide promotion, too.
We have a number of issues that need cleaning up in the region, but cleaning up our image to the world and to ourselves is a great first step in making this a desirable place to live and gaining the perks that come with it.
Allen Penticoff is a resident of New Milford, Ill. His “Mr. Green Car” columns appear regularly in this newspaper.
From the Jan. 8-14, 2014, issue