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Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006 02:32 pm

2006 Best of Springfield

People & Places

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By Mike Manning
BEST LINCOLN ATTRACTION
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
212 S. Sixth St., 217-558-8844

Best Lincoln attraction? Hello? The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum has helped make Springfield a destination city. Attendance figures — more than 600,000 visitors in the first year — are testimony to its outsized popularity, and there are signs that private-sector support is increasing to meet original expectations. For example, says Tom Schwartz, interim director of the museum since March, Exelon Corp. doubled its support with a recent gift of $1 million to the private foundation that supports education efforts at the state-owned facility. The museum is constantly planning new exhibits, so it’s always worth a return visit. “We’re starting to change out the exhibit cases in the Treasures Gallery, and we plan the same with the Journeys [area],” Schwartz says. “By the end of this year we hope to have completely new original documents, photographs, and fabric items. The copy [in Lincoln’s handwriting] of the Gettysburg Address will probably always be on display”. In the year ahead, look for a major new display on Mary Todd Lincoln. Also planned are new shows, including an actor in the Ford’s Theater Gallery who will deliver an eyewitness account of the assassination. These and other improvements will be introduced next spring.
Runner-up: Lincoln Home

BEST BARBER
David Beggs
Beggs Barber Shop, 2625 S. Sixth St., 217-525-1244

When a barbershop moves, it runs the risk of losing some of its loyal following. Dave Beggs didn’t have that problem — he only traveled 70 feet south earlier this year, into a building he was tired of renting out. Though the Beggs Barber Shop is still a two-chair shop, the new location means more space for a growing clientele. When Beggs was nearing graduation from high school, his father, who opened the shop in 1950, suggested the tonsorial arts as a way of earning his way through higher academe. The rest is, as they say, history. “I enjoyed barbering so much,” Beggs says, “I didn’t go on to college.” Over the years Beggs has seen changes in styles: Flattops are still popular, but more men seem to be letting their hair grow longer. Beggs blames increasing gas prices and a sinking economy. For many of the regulars, the cut is only part of the reason Beggs does a lively trade. “Forty percent of our business comes in just to hear me and my partner rap with each other and the customers. That’s one reason I’ve been so successful over the past 16 years. We’ve always had a lot of fun here.”
Runner-up: Gene Pankey, Reflection Hair Design

BEST PICNIC SPOT
Washington Park
Hey, what’s the point of having a picnic if the kids don’t have any fun? It’s no surprise readers chose Washington Park as the best place for a picnic, especially on the heels of a major renovation of the adjacent playground. Springfield Park District director Mike Stratton is particularly proud that most of the renovation was accomplished at no cost to taxpayers. “That was a project taken on by the Springfield Parks Foundation, which raised about 90 percent of the funds spent,” he says. The roofed shelter with restrooms is a focal point for picnickers. “People like to reserve the shelter because it’s such a great family setting.” (The al fresco-inclined may put down blankets and baskets anywhere in a Springfield park, but Stratton notes that permits from the district are required to erect tents and to build a fire outside the steel grates near the picnic shelter.) As a plus, for those who are able to enjoy the great outdoors in a state of sobriety, alcohol is not permitted anywhere in the park district, and park police enforce the ordinance. To combine a picnic with the many activities planned for Washington and other city parks, visit www.springfieldparks.org. Not far behind Washington Park, were Lake Springfield’s Tom Madonia Parks East and West, which offer handicapped fishing areas. Center Park, also at the lake, has playground equipment. For the lowdown, visit www.cwlp.com/Lake_Springfield_Parks/parks.htm
Runner-up: Tom Madonia East and West, Lake Springfield

BEST GARDENING CENTER
Green View Nursery
3000 W. Jefferson St., 217-787-4700

Credit top-notch customer service and up-to-date selections for Green View Nursery’s continuing popularity with the green-thumb crowd. Harry Lewis, gardening-center manager, says Green View keeps up with the latest trends. “This year, anything with color has been hot, including the Knock Out low-maintenance shrub-rose introductions, Endless Summer hydrangeas, and tropicals,” he says. Green View also has capitalized on the blossoming interest in “outdoor rooms” and anything related, such as seating, trellises, fountains, and other water features. Green View employs four designers who visit homes to help create these little private paradises. Container gardens are also growing in popularity. The end of summer means a slowdown in the gardening business, but things pick up with the first hint of fall, Lewis says: “As September comes in, there’s a resurgence of interest in the fall palette of plants — the grasses, mums, and asters. [Customers are] thinking about fall color, replacing summer color, and of course people plant bulbs for spring.”
Runner-up: Lowe’s

BEST BED & BREAKFAST
BEST PLACE FOR A WEEKEND ROMANTIC GETAWAY

The Inn at 835
835 S. Second St., 217-523-4466

If you’re looking for a private, cozy destination for romance, you can’t go wrong with a classy bed & breakfast, so it’s no coincidence, we think, that readers’ top pick for best B&B also clinched the title for their favorite place to get their cuddle on. The Inn at 835 is a special treat. Each room is different. Some have old-fashioned clawfoot tubs; others feature two-person Jacuzzis. If you’re thinking about shelling out the big bucks for something really extravagant, don’t bother. The Inn’s Wisteria Suite costs less than $200 and features a roaring fireplace in the bedroom and a Jacuzzi and separate shower in the large bathroom. The little touches, though, are the real charm of this historic turn-of-the-century inn: hand-milled French soaps in the bathroom and exquisite libations available for purchase from the Inn’s wine cellar each evening. To really make your starry-eyed mate feel like royalty, purchase a romance package. The Inn presents such amenities as a Champagne Breakfast in Bed package and Tastes ’n Toasts for Two, featuring an array of aged cheeses and a bottle of wine. The Inn provides yummy morning fare such as egg strata with sausage and roasted potatoes on the house. If you can’t strike up a flame here, we can’t help you.
Runner-up (Best Bed & Breakfast): The Oaks in Petersburg
Runner-up (Best Place for a Romantic Weekend Getaway): Hilton Springfield

BEST TEACHER, K-8
Mary Ann Rupcich
Ball Charter School

Because literacy is the focus of the school’s curriculum, it only makes sense that Ms. R would be an expert in one of the three R’s. Mary Ann Rupcich made the leap from the Springfield public schools to the Ball Charter School because of her commitment and expertise in the subjects of reading and literacy. She’s also one of just two teachers who’ve been at the school since its inception in 1998. According to principal Nicole Gales, Rupcich makes sure newer staff members are always carrying out the school’s original mission and vision. “She puts her whole being and essence into [teaching] and is always looking for different ways to help students read,” says Gales.
Runners-up: (two-way tie) Dena Bartolomucci (Vachel Lindsay) and Shelly Kelly (Fairview)

BEST THRIFT STORE
Goodwill Industries
1333 W. Wabash Ave., 815 N. 11th St., 2531 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 2305 W. Monroe St., 217-789-0400

Goodwill Industries is all about deals. Treasure hunters scour the capital city’s four locations weekly, separating the diamonds from the rough and taking home brand-name duds for spare change. (We’re talking $2.50 a pop, in most cases.) The thrift-store game is like a rat race, but when you find that nearly new blouse from this season for a fraction of what you would pay in the department store, the adrenaline rush is well worth the digging. We have it on good authority that no one store is superior to the rest. The X factor in deciding which Goodwill to hit up is all about the crowds and how willing shoppers are to throw elbows for a brand-new pair of pants with price tags intact. Happy hunting.
Runner-up: Salvation Army

BEST ELECTED OFFICIAL
Mayor Timothy J. Davlin
Springfield’s first-term mayor manages to stumble without ever falling, something we figure owes a little to his boyish charm, good-natured demeanor, and willingness to eventually reverse course when he figures out that he’s wrong. Ever since being elected mayor in 2003, Davlin has been the top vote-getter in the “Best of Springfield” poll. A couple of years ago, Davlin scooped up Best City or County Politician honors despite getting dinged for the way he handled the demotion of Letitia Dewith-Anderson, a respected top aide. In 2005, more unpopular moves didn’t keep Springfield from voting him the Best Local Elected Official. This time around, we lumped all the politicians together in one category — and let ’em duke it out. Even then, it was no contest: Davlin KO’d the lot of Springfield aldermen and members of the Illinois Legislature and U.S. Congress. He even eclipsed the state’s resident political rock star, Barack Obama. But ’06 has seen its share of feather-ruffling in the form of electric-rate increases, making the sales-tax hike permanent, and a controversial deal between City Water, Light & Power, and the Sierra Club — all of which happened on Davlin’s watch. We’d call him Teflon Tim, but the votes that matter will be cast next April, when he faces reelection.
Runner-up: U.S. Sen. Barack Obama

BEST TEACHER, HIGH SCHOOL
Deann Reavis
Ursuline Academy

It came as no surprise to Ursuline Academy principal John Stimler that Deann Reavis was a contender in the Best Teacher category. Stimler describes Reavis, who heads up the history department and until this year coached the cheerleading squad, as one of the school’s most dedicated and popular teachers. Nine-tenths of students, he estimates, ask Reavis, to write college recommendations. “Her dedication outside of the classroom is what a lot alums remember,” Stimler says. “She’s energetic to the core.” Reavis has taught at Ursuline for nine years.
Runners-up: (six-way tie) Robert Telger (Springfield High School), Joe Bunch (Springfield High), Mark Butcher (Rochester High School), Theresa Holton (Southeast High School), Nancy Pence (Springfield High), Dave Shaw (Rochester High)

BEST PERSONAL FITNESS TRAINER
Wayne Carrels
Shudo-Kan Karate and Fitness Center

When this Navy veteran of the Gulf War heard love calling, he left a promising fitness-training career in the Windy City for the capital city. “I met Becky at the county fair and decided, rather than endure the Chicago hustle and bustle, I’d move here to raise a family,” says Wayne Carrels, who worked at several area fitness centers before joining Shudo-Kan. The former professional water skier credits physical training for getting him through college: “After the Navy, I enrolled in college and found that my dyslexia really was a problem. What got me through was physical fitness. My message to clients is that you can deal with your stresses in healthier ways than drinking, smoking, and shooting them.” Carrels says he teaches people to strengthen the center of their bodies: “If we don’t do that to our bodies prepare them for movement, we’re just building muscles to make our T-shirts tighter. It teaches the body how to move and lessens the wear and tear. The concept is called functional training. It’s all over California, Chicago, and Florida.” In addition to teaching kickboxing at Shudo-Kan, Carrels provides one-on-one fitness training there. “Kickboxing is mostly for physical conditioning,” he says, “not defense.”
Runner-up: Darwin Gilmer, Fitness Together

BEST PLACE FOR A WEDDING RECEPTION
Crowne Plaza Springfield
3000 S. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-585-8295

Kathryn Burcham, director of catering for the Crowne Plaza Springfield, says she’s seeing new interest in the hotel for wedding receptions, a spike she attributes to an array of wedding pages that streamline planning for the postnuptial confluence of families and friends. “They’re like cruise packages,” she says. “Everything is inclusive, and you know exactly what you’re getting. If the bride and groom want a Caribbean or Cajun feel, we arrange a menu and decorations to match. They include a hosted bar, hors d’oeuvres, entrée, Champagne toast, and chocolate-covered strawberries served with your wedding cake for desert. The bride and groom receive a complimentary overnight suite with the wedding package.” Plans are under way to include the hotel’s rooftop in package offerings. “The breeze and view of the city are terrific,” Burcham says. “The only concern is the music, which must be moderated so it doesn’t disturb lodgers in the rooms directly below.” She says that “destination and multicultural weddings,” in which the ceremony is conducted in the bride’s hometown and the large reception is held at the hotel, “have become popular in the past three years.”
Runner-up: The Inn at 835

BEST NON-LINCOLN ATTRACTION
Dana-Thomas House
301 E. Lawrence Ave., 217-782-6776

If you live in Springfield and you’ve never visited the Dana-Thomas House, we’ve just gotta ask: What the heck is your excuse? OK, maybe that’s a little harsh. Seriously, though, we know people like that. In fact, we used to see a couple of those knuckleheads in the mirror every morning. We finally dragged them to Frank Lloyd Wright’s 72nd architectural creation last winter, during the kind of snowfall you see on A Charlie Brown Christmas, with flakes the size of pingpong balls. Not surprisingly, there were very few visitors that day. We asked the tour guide if we could just move in (she said no). This beautiful house was Wright’s first “blank check” commission, and it shows. What started in 1902 as a spiff-up of Susan Lawrence Dana’s dad’s old Italianate mansion got out of control and became instead an almost totally new house (save one jarringly Victorian parlor) and a prime example of Prairie style. The house’s loving caretakers, the members of the Dana-Thomas House Foundation, see to it that the home’s feel changes with the seasons, so, even if you’ve seen it before, go see it again.
Runner-up: Illinois State Fair

BEST BIKE TRAIL
Lost Bridge Trail
The Lost Bridge Trail stretches six miles — and it’ll stretch some more, beginning next year. In Springfield, start at the Illinois Department of Transportation’s large Hanley Building site, off Dirksen Parkway north of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and follow the signs directing bikers to the south side of the property, where the trail begins. Originally the trail ended at the Depot in Rochester, but now it extends east to the Village Hall and library. There are plans to further extend the trail west along Ash Street and south along an abandoned railroad right-of-way just off Taylor Avenue in Springfield to the area near Abundant Faith Christian Center.
Runner-up: Interurban Trail

BEST MUSEUM GIFT SHOP
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum Store
212 S. Sixth St., 217-525-1660

When the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum opened, in April 2005, you probably didn’t realize that its 3,200-square-foot gift shop is run by a corporation that manages similar shops at cultural attractions across the nation. Event Network has stocked one of the most eclectic and thorough selections of Lincoln-related items in Springfield, appealing to kids, scholars, and even collectors of kitsch. Prices range from $5 for a ventriloquist’s Lincoln head on a stick to an $8,000 reproduction of the Lincoln bed. Items sold exclusively at the store include the $1,200 “Uncommon Man” bust, by Decatur sculptor John McLarey; a $20 two-CD compendium of music played at the museum; and hundreds of key chains, lapel pins, apparel items, and mugs. Visitors may shop the store without buying a ticket to the museum, and, because most visitors tour first and shop later, the store is open for two hours after the museum closes. Manager Amy Miller is surprised by what generates the greatest sales. “Most attractions report apparel as their top seller, but for us it’s books. That’s an incredible thing for this kind of arena. Almost every transaction includes a book.”
Runner-up: Illinois State Museum

BEST VETERINARIAN
Dr. Frank Coble
Coble Animal Hospital, 2828 S. MacArthur Blvd., 217-789-4200

Dr. Frank Coble has seen many changes in his practice in the 36 years he’s tended to animals. These days, it’s not uncommon to perform ultrasounds and laser surgery, unheard of 20 years ago. And preventative inoculations have increased in effectiveness so much that they must be renewed every three years instead of annually. This makes for a three-year rotation, benefiting pet and owner, that consists of distemper and parvo (infectious parvovirus) shots one year, rabies the next, and general checkup the third. Coble says many similarities exist between health care for animals and that for their human counterparts: “Pets are just like we are — early detection saves the day. In the later years, this is especially true.” Not surprisingly, in this time of bulging waistlines, Coble finds that chubby pets are a big problem. “Pets tend to imitate their owners,” he says. “Most of this is simply due to overfeeding.” What’s a typical day for the doctor? There isn’t one: “Some days I’ll see 18 animals. When I have surgeries scheduled half a day, I’ll see only six.”
Runners-up: (three-way tie) Dr. Clyde Dunphy (Capitol Illini Veterinary Services), Dr. Janet Hill (West Lake Animal Hospital), Dr. Evan Kirk (Brewer Animal Hospital)

BEST-KEPT SECRET ABOUT SPRINGFIELD
Lincoln Memorial Garden
A secret is something kept from public knowledge, something hidden. For example, we expected to hear of illicit goings-on, the whereabouts of a guy named Blagojevich and maybe, just maybe, word that Elvis is living in Lincoln Tower and Jimmy Hoffa is buried at the fairgrounds. So when Lincoln Memorial Garden received the most votes in this category, we were confused. Who’s been hiding the garden? Who hasn’t walked its trails, enjoyed its nature center, or been to a festival there? At first we thought readers were suggesting that the garden is an undervalued jewel, taken for granted by residents and overlooked by tourists, but that hardly seems the case, given the fact that on any nice day there’s almost always somebody enjoying the creation of famed landscape architect Jens Jensen. So we went back to the garden to discover what we had missed. The answer, alas, is too amazing to share. You’ll just have to find out on your own. Just wear appropriate clothing. Some other answers in this category, in no particular order: “great bars,” “We aren’t all hicks,” “the 1908 race riot,” “that it’s the capital,” “No one cares what you wear,” “cost of living,” “Everyone’s on the coke,” “It’s a nice place to live,” “Its seamy underbelly,” and “Joe Bartolomucci.”

BEST COMMUNITY ACTIVIST
Diane Lopez Hughes
The response to the recent news that Diane Lopez Hughes had beaten the rap on trespassing charges for protesting the Iraq War at a military base near Chicago was overwhelming. “I bless the day we met and thank God for you and for all who are standing up to say this war is wrong,” one supporter wrote. “Thank you, Diane, for standing up for peace and justice in these challenging times — you are an inspiration for us all,” wrote another. Hughes, who is active with Pax Christi Springfield and other social-justice organizations, is a fixture at downtown peace vigils. A registered nurse by trade, she retired this year to devote her time to peace work. Now, without the threat of prison looming over her, she isn’t likely to miss a single stride.
Runner-up: Carolyn Oxtoby

BEST WAITER/WAITRESS
Laura Trader
Parkway Café, 2715 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-544-2233

On a busy Monday lunch hour, we drove all the way out to the Parkway Café (across from the Wal-Mart Supercenter) to see just what the heck is so great about Laura Trader. Luckily for us, she was not only on duty but also assigned to the nonsmoking room, right where we like to sit. It took us a while to realize what makes her such a good waitress. She didn’t pitch us the all-you-can-eat ham-and-bean lunch special or the selection of yummy desserts (she probably figured we could read), and she didn’t start any chitchat about the weather (even though it had rained like a cow peeing on a flat rock). She simply brought us great food, then a doggy bag and our check — all with perfect timing and a little ray of sunshine. But Trader’s got more going for her than great waitress ESP. Having worked at Parkway a solid decade, she has memorized not just the menu but also the usual orders of her regulars, who are legion. Every day, before dawn, she ties on her apron and a smile and wears both through closing time. “She’s fast, friendly, and furiously efficient,” says her boss.
Runner-up: Melinda “Min” Costa, George Ranks

BEST PLACE FOR A FIRST DATE
Route 66 Drive In Theater
1700 Recreation Drive, 217-698-0066

The vote in this category proves what we already knew: Our readers are simply brilliant. You guys didn’t choose some fancy restaurant — oh no, that would’ve been too cliché (and expensive). You didn’t choose some skanky bar where you can’t tell whether it’s your date or the alcohol talking. Instead, you chose the Route 66 Drive In, where dinner can be as gourmet or as junky as you want, where conversation can ebb or flow (you can watch the movie or not watch the movie), and where you can be as gentlemanly or as frisky as your companion for the evening allows. Now that it’s autumn, you’ll have to hurry to enjoy this singular cinematic sensation before it closes for the winter, but you’re in luck! The season’s grand finale features two classics — Grease and the Rocky Horror Picture Show — Sept. 29 and 30. Not only will you get to find out whether your date knows how to kiss, you’ll also get to discover whether he or she is willing to do the Time Warp again.
Runner-up: Washington Park

BEST HAIRDRESSER
Phil Kralik
Celebrity Salon, 1208 S. Sixth St., 217-753-0453

Winning this award could put Phil Kralik in a pickle. Most businesses choose to display awards prominently. We see our little IT certificates hanging behind counters all over town — but we’re having trouble picturing our black-and-white-and-red logo hanging on the pale-celery-and-cream walls of Kralik’s cuttery. After all, the first thing a customer mentions when describing a Celebrity Salon experience is how exquisitely tasteful Kralik’s new shop is. Located in a beautifully restored 100-year-old duplex, Celebrity Salon apparently gets its name from the way Kralik makes his clients feel. “He gives you personalized attention,” says one loyal customer. “Everybody’s a celebrity when they leave his salon.” Kralik does it all, from shampoo to cut to color, and he even has a pedicure station for those who want to get glamorous from head to toe. You can use your time in his shop to share info only your hairdresser should know, or, if you prefer, Kralik will just stick to snipping while you peruse a magazine.
Runner-up: Jeff Engel, Engel’s on Edwards

BEST REASON TO READ ILLINOIS TIMES
It will rock your face off!
Many of the readers who voted in this category say the No. 1 reason they pick us up is for our arts-and-entertainment coverage, including the Pub Crawl listings of local live music and Calendar. Just as many cite our articles — in-depth stories, columnists, and commentaries. “You get the whole story,” writes one voter. Many applaud us for our independence, our unpredictability, and our hard-to-disguise liberal tendencies. Says one reader: “Great Bush-bashing!” Here are some answers that show why people such as yourselves pick up Illinois Times each week: “for a good laugh,” “altered opinions,” “It’s thin,” “It’s the only free paper that’s worth it,” “It’s the coolest paper in town,” “Crazy people write letters to the editor,” “locally researched and written — not cut-and-paste from AP or Reuters,” “to kill time,” “pretty pictures,” “It’s better reading than the State Journal-Register,” “to laugh at the liberals,” and “to see demented writing.” But our favorite answer, for no particular reason: “It rocks my face off!”

BEST HAIR ON A PUBLIC OFFICIAL
Mayor Timothy J. Davlin
If rapid graying of the hair is any indicator, Tim Davlin may be the hardest-working man in Illinois politics. “I’ll tell you what, three-and-a-half years ago I had not a one gray hair,” says Davlin, who’ll likely seek another four years’ worth of graying next year. Although Hizzoner doesn’t care much for fancy conditioners or gels, he is cautious about who does his ’do. Over the course of his life, Davlin says, he’s let only five individuals chop his locks, including Davlin’s ex-wife, who continued cutting his hair for months after the two separated.
Runner-up: Gov. Rod Blagojevich

BEST PLACE TO MEET SINGLES
The churches of Springfield
Finding someone you can take home is easy, but finding that special somebody to take home to meet the folks can be tricky. Meeting a nice guy or girl at a Sunday-morning church service, reveals several things about their character, as well as your compatibility. For example, right off the bat you know that you share the same values — and that’s important. These days, churches are facilitating much of the courtship; just call up the church on the corner, which is almost certain to host a weekly singles functions. However, dating in a house of worship also has its drawbacks. Pick wisely, because if it doesn’t work out, the rest of the congregation is pretty much off-limits. But hey — quality over quantity, right?
Runner-up: Downtown bars

BEST WAY TO MILK A BUTTER COW
“Very carefully”
If anybody ever tells you “There are no dumb questions, just dumb answers,” remind him about this category. Obviously you can’t milk a butter cow. Nope, the featured attraction at the Illinois State Fair, since before the invention of deep-fried-food-on-a-stick, would likely take off running. Fairgoers would be udderly amazed, and the crime against dairy would be viewed by millions on the Butter Cow Webcam. Maybe that’s why most of our readers advised us to proceed “very carefully.” Among more creative answers: “Don’t know a butter way,” “Churn in reverse,” “Microwave it,” “with English-muffin gloves,” “Take it for a walk outside in August,” “with butter fingers,” and by a “buttermilk maid” (or was that a “butter milkmaid”?). But the answer that seemed to make the most sense to us was simple and direct: “Huh?”

BEST BOOKSTORE
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
3111 S. Veterans Pkwy., 217-546-9440

We’re guessing Godiva chocolates, biscotti, and espressos are among the reasons Barnes & Noble has a lock on the bookstore category. It makes perfect sense: For most folks, reading and eating go together like biscuits and gravy. Our link in the big-box bookstore chain invites customers to hang around; on any day of the week, at any hour, you can find students doing homework, youngsters flirting, and old-timers plowing through the out-of-town newspapers. The store hosts special literary events; local clubs devoted to mysteries, sci-fi, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other subjects and topics meet there each month. Special activities tied to popular titles — such as the Oct. 13 release of The End, the final installment in the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series — are always in the works. One day, we expect, our readers will give Prairie Archives, our local downtown treasure and second-place finisher, its just deserts. But first, we guess, Prairie Archives will have to start selling desserts.
Runner-up: Prairie Archives

BEST RADIO TALK SHOW HOST
Jim Leach
WMAY (970 AM)

It’s a repeat for Jim Leach, the veteran WMAY news director. Always a contender and usually a winner, Leach easily eclipsed every other broadcast talker, including his conservative-tilting colleague Pamela Furr, who came in second. What’s the secret of Leach’s popularity? He keeps the discussion lively and on point, doesn’t waste time on stupid callers, and stays informed. Leach not only discusses the news, he actually reports it — and his journalistic chops are on display, day after day. Springfield got a sense of just how good he is during the March tornadoes, when he was the main source of information for thousands of residents during a long, dark night. By the way, Leach came in third in the Best Journalist category. No other broadcast personality even came close.
Runner-up: Pamela Furr (WMAY, 970 AM)

BEST PLACE TO HIKE
Lincoln Memorial Garden
2301 E. Lake Shore Dr., 217-529-1111

Stuck all morning in a cubicle, answering phone calls and e-mails and spinning in circles, it was clear that there was only one thing to do: Play hooky. Some working stiffs head to the neighborhood tavern, where the boss doesn’t drink; others go home, slip beneath the covers, and turn off the cell. But there’s a quiet place in Springfield where you can unwind and get recharged at the same time. Few spots are as pleasant as the Lincoln Memorial Garden, especially on a quiet fall afternoon. We walked its trails, sat on a bench, listened to the birds, watched a spider weave a web, and counted the little waves lapping the shore. On the way back, a deer came up, looked us over, and strolled away. All was right with the world.
Runner-up: Carpenter Park

BEST BARTENDER
Chris Krofchick
George Ranks, 1800 S. Sixth St., 217-523-4811

What makes a great bartender? It’s someone who listens and says the right thing at the right time, someone who not only makes a great drink and remembers your name and your troubles but also knows what you want even when you don’t. George Ranks’ Chris Krofchick is Springfield’s choice for the finest behind-the-bar person for 2006. According to anonymous drinkers who frequent the round bar at the corner of Laurel and Sixth, Krofchick “has a great personality” and “makes things happen.” Specialty drinks aren’t her specialty; making folks feel comfortable is. Cheers and billygoats and bottoms up to Krofchick, who has been the only bartender able to dislodge Mike Parkes of the Brewhaus from his seemingly perpetual plucking of the prize. Parkes, who has won this category nearly every year since the discovery of glorious fermentation, came in a close second.
Runner-up: Mike Parkes, Brewhaus

BEST JOURNALIST
Dusty Rhodes
Illinois Times
Yeah, yeah, we’ll admit that in the four years she’s been here (it seems longer, doesn’t it?), she has written a shake-’em-up story or two. She’s won awards from groups as liberal as the ACLU and as conservative as the Black Tigers (special forces Vietnam vets). In short, she’s proved to have a way with words and a nose for trouble. But trust us — you don’t know Dusty like we know Dusty. She’s constantly probing the outer limits of deadlines, word counts, and sleep deprivation. She grumbles about pull quotes and grouses about headlines. She obsesses over adjectives, frets about art, and she honestly doesn’t give a hoot about who she ticks off. She’s never been satisfied with anything she has ever written, either here or in her home state of Texas, which, according to Dusty, is not nearly as corrupt as Illinois. We keep her around mainly because she makes a decent pot of coffee. Thanks for voting for her. Again.
Runner-up: Bernie Schoenburg, State Journal-Register

BEST HIGH-SCHOOL COACH
Ken Leonard
Sacred Heart-Griffin

He boasts perhaps the most impressive résumé of any area coach on any level. Leonard’s Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones have been on a tear over the past few seasons, winning 40 consecutive regular-season games. Last year, the Cyclones became the first local prep school to bring home a state championship to Springfield (Mayor Tim Davlin even declared Dec. 6, 2005, “SHG Cyclone Football Team Day”). This spring Leonard, a three-year coaching veteran, was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and the Cyclones were ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press in Class 5A coming into this season. Clearly this wasn’t just a popularity contest.
Runner-up: Jamie Stash, Southeast

BEST PHOTOGRAPHER
Terry Farmer
Terry Farmer Photography, 2711 W. Washington St., 217-698-6000

Terry Farmer likes to do things differently — and that difference shows in the quality of his work. He’s also making a difference in Springfield. Some of Farmer’s work, now on display at White Oaks Mall, features children participating in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. Farmer approached the organization about the project and rented the space himself. A few years ago, he photographed local leaders and their pets for the Animal Protective League of Springfield, and he’s planning a similar project for next spring. “We try to give back to community through photography,” says Farmer, who’s been in business for 15 years.
Runner-up: Ed Clark, Ed Clark Photography

BEST NAIL TECHNICIAN (tie)
Yvonne Luong
Nails Plus, 2755 Chatham Rd., 217-698-1150
Annie Le
TC Nail Salon, 2451 S. MacArthur Blvd., 217-698-5051

It apparently takes three attributes to conquer this category: skill, tenure, and personality. The two winners — our only first-place tie in this year’s “Best of Springfield” — obviously have a deft touch with the tiny paintbrush; Annie La’s boss, who is also her older sister, says Annie’s skills are better than her own. Both winners have been with their respective salons long enough to build up a roster of faithful phalanges. But their bosses say the secret to their success is something beyond perfecting the French manicure: The two nail techs have winning personalities. “Yvonne has a lot of clients because she’s very good with people,” says the manager at Nails Plus. The manager at TC Nail Salon says the same thing about La. “She never gives me the proper respect, because I’m her sister,” she says with a laugh, “but Annie is funny and fun.”

BEST FLORIST
Fifth Street Flower Shop
739 S. Fifth St., 217-522-3334

Business is blooming for what’s one of the oldest florists in the Springfield area. Known for its wide and tasteful selection, Fifth Street Flower Shop buys its stock from in-state wholesalers and a Wisconsin grower, says Pat O’Connor, who has owned the longtime downtown institution since 1982. “I get fresh flowers in every day. Seventy-five percent of my business is fresh flowers,” he says. “The other is blooming plants, silk flowers, and a few gift items. Most of the time, it’s all indoor items.” O’Connor says that new hybrids have longer “home life” than ever. “Foliage plants for the home can be kept alive indefinitely if you have a green thumb. Roses will go three to five days.” Although the shop is closed on Sundays, O’Connor says it’s still usually a seven-day-a-week job, thanks to funeral-home visitations, which require the delivery of fresh arrangements.
Runner-up: Florascape

BEST MECHANIC
Eric and Dave Floyd
Floyd Imports, 1025 Stevenson Dr., 217-585-1214

When they opened their business in August 1994, Eric and Dave Floyd worked mainly on Volkswagens and Audis, but they’ve since expanded to other makes, including BMWs. Though they’ll look at an American vehicle as a favor to a regular customer, they prefer to focus on the imports. “The business is so specialized, you really need to do what you’re good at,” Dave says. “You’re not only more efficient that way, but you serve your niche better.” That reputation for efficient high-quality service has led to steady growth. Five years ago, they doubled their original two-bay shop, and, in addition to owners Dave and Eric, Ron Hopper and Eric’s son Andrew are full-time technicians. Like all mechanics, the Floyd brothers have had to adjust to the increasing complexity of modern vehicles, which can tax a mechanic’s brain more than they do the muscles. Fortunately, technology does much of the thinking. “Without computers, we’d be lost,” Dave says. “You plug ’em in, and they tell you what happened.”
Runner-up: Rob Leach, AAA Automotive Service

BEST SPRINGFIELD BLOG
Rich Miller’s thecapitolfaxblog.com
For those in the Land of Lincoln with a political sweet tooth, Miller’s blog is like a candy store, chockfull of tasty morsels of news from every corner of the state — with a few nuts sprinkled in. Arguably the most important site for Illinois political observers, the Capitol Fax blog is more of a news portal than traditional Web logs in which you mainly “hear” the site’s author. On “your Illinois news radar,” the voice of Capitol Fax publisher and Illinois Times columnist Rich Miller is but a faint blip. Miller is humble — during this spring’s gubernatorial primaries he turned down an invitation to predict the outcomes, saying that prognosticators set themselves up to look like fools — and for that reason we think Capitol Fax is a shoo-in for next year’s award, as well.
Runner-up: Dan Naumovich’s blogfreespringfield.blogspot.com

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