By Susan Johnson
South West Ideas For Today and Tomorrow (SWIFTT) invites you to “Explore Rockford’s Roots” Sunday, May 11. Three southwest Rockford attractions will open their doors to the public and offer food coupons that may be redeemed at seven area eating establishments.
Once again, Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Tinker Swiss Cottage, and the Ethnic Heritage Museum will partner with seven eateries to enhance your enjoyment of this cultural tour. Admission is free to the three destinations, and patrons will receive coupons worth up to $8 each for lunch or dinner at participating restaurants.
Explore one, two or all three of the following locations at your leisure:
• Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 2715 S. Main St. Enjoy the beauty of spring on 155 acres as the flowers are blooming. A former tree nursery, Klehm has a century of horticultural development and features a combination of plants native to the Midwest and from around the world. Friendly dogs on leashes are welcome. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily. All buildings and paved garden paths and trails are accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Info: (815) 965-8146 or www.klehm.org.
• Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens, 411 Kent St., was built in 1865 by former Rockford Mayor Robert H. Tinker. It was modeled after a chalet-type architecture he saw on a trip to Switzerland. Tour this historic house museum and park. The house will be decorated for spring. Guided tours are given at 1 and 3 p.m. Info: (815) 964-2424 or www.tinkercottage.com.
• The Ethnic Heritage Museum, 1129 S. Main St., celebrates the cultures and heritage of southwest Rockford, the place where Rockford began. It houses six galleries: African-American, Hispanic, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian and Polish. Special exhibits are featured throughout the year. The museum is open Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Info: (815) 962-7402 or www.ethnicheritagemuseum.org.
Coupons offer choice of eateries
Special coupons available at the free destinations offer people a choice of southwest eateries to try, May 11 only. Value is $8. One coupon is redeemable per person. Participating eateries are: Zammuto’s, 725 Kent St.; La Chiquita, 1108 S. Main St.; Luichi’s Hot Dogs, 603 Montague St.; Chiquita Food Market, 1414 S. Main St.; Mi Ranchito Restaurant, 2019 S. Main St.; and Guanajuato, 519 Marchesano Drive.
Interview with Dr. Rudy Valdez
Last year, Dr. Rudy Valdez, vice president of SWIFTT, granted The Rock River Times an interview explaining the “Explore Rockford’s Roots” project. This year, he was pleased to give us an update on the event.
TRRT: This is the second year for “Explore Rockford’s Roots.” Have you had any comments from the public about the last one?
Rudy Valdez: They want more of the same. They want to have more communicated out, even more so. We went through The Rock River Times, and we also went to El Sol, the Spanish-language newspaper. It’s a weekly publication as well. … Especially the first time, it’s hard for people to recognize, but then when they hear, “You go see it, it’s great,” they say, “I never knew that restaurant was there.” One of the TV stations was outside of Tinker Swiss Cottage, interviewing people as they came out. … WREX asked a gentleman about 60 years old and his son. They asked, “What did you find out about [this event]?” He said: “I saw some fliers and here I am — not doing anything that I have to do, so I decided to come out, and I had no idea it was here.”
They asked him if he was new to the area. “No,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life.” This is exactly what we want. They can make it easier for people to see the different things that are out there so they can come back whenever they want. I want to make it easy by providing something free. Oct. 27  was a beautiful, sunny day. Feedback from the different restaurants and Klehm and Tinker and Ethnic Heritage Museum was that we needed to do it right away instead of waiting a full year. They asked if we could do it earlier. They selected Mother’s Day. It was actually much easier this time. They didn’t want any changes. All we did for the fliers was change the date from autumn to spring.
We are expecting a lot more people based on the feedback. Luichi’s Hot Dogs had about 100 people that day. He said he was going to be closed for Mother’s Day, but he will stay open from noon to 4 because he didn’t want to miss it. He might stay open later. It was very successful, and instead of doing it annually, it might end up being semi-annual. Last year was good. This year, I believe it will be better. One of the main advantages now — by doing it last year [in the fall], they were tearing up South Main as we spoke. People would see the roads all torn up. That’s why we did it before they tore up the roads. Now, people know this is a good thing to go to because they’ve already been there. The three destinations will bring them down initially, but the food will bring them back.
TRRT: What is different about the program this year?
RV: We might make it semi-annual. We are going to see how this works. If this is as successful as we think it’s going to be, we’re going to follow up in fall. We may do it in spring and fall in future years. We plan to do it in fall every year, and we’re trying it out to see how it works in spring.
TRRT: Has anyone made any suggestions about things they’d like to see added to this event?
RV: We would like to expand it if other restaurants would like to participate. A lot of the restaurants — Maria’s has closed, so it’s really open if any of the other eateries want to get hold of me or e-mail the SWIFTT office, that would be great. We want to expand it as much as possible. We went to the different places and asked, what other places should we do? I asked seven, and all seven said yes. We are not going north into the downtown area or east to the Broadway area or Seventh Street. We’re staying in the SWIFTT area, which is South Main and southwest Rockford.
From the May 7-13, 2014, issue