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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003 02:20 pm

Best of Springfield winners, part one

Best use for the Governor's Mansion

You readers must be dreamers, even visionaries. What else could explain your brilliant, top-notch idea for what we should do with the Governor's Mansion? We should use it, most of you proposed, as a place where the governor and his family can live. Why didn't Rod Blagojevich think of that?

For those of you who proposed other plans for the mansion--haunted house, children's museum, parking lot, house of ill-repute, to name a handful of notions--you may find some comfort in knowing that our governor didn't care too much for the residence thing either. As everyone knows by now, Blagojevich and his family decided to pass on the 50,000-square-foot Georgian colonial built between 1853 and 1855 for people just like him. Instead, the Blagojevich family chose to stay in the northwest Chicago neighborhood of Ravenswood Manor, opting for something a little less stately: a three-bedroom, Mediterranean-style brick bungalow they bought a few years back for $505,000. Ravenswood Manor, it seems, was a more likely setting for the "normal" childhood Blagojevich wants for his daughters.

The mansion does seem more like a museum than a living quarters. The Waterford chandelier in the dining room is more than 200 years old. The dining room table can seat up to 30. There's a black-walnut-paneled library, and a bedroom set designed by craftsman William J. Bartels that Queen Victoria was once interested in buying for her son, the Prince of Wales. A personal chef and staff are collecting dust. The first lady and governor have their own offices on the second floor, where they'd live if they ever got tired of Chicago traffic. Weekly tours give tens of thousands of visitors a peek inside the mansion every year. The first floor, by the way, can be rented for parties.

Blagojevich might be the first governor to never actually move into the mansion since it was built. But he's not the first to keep it at arm's length. Governor Jim Thompson lived there for his first term and for part of his second, but moved to Chicago for his remaining 10 years on the job after his daughter started school. Governor Jim Edgar lived there during his two terms but had a "retreat" home in the country.

Still, governors have found creative ways to call the mansion home. For years, Thompson hosted an antiques fair on its grounds during the fall. George Ryan went a step farther and floated the idea of putting a pool in the yard--in-ground, we hope. (PS)

2. Bed and Breakfast
3. Homeless shelter

Best alderman

No offense to any of our other fine council members, but Ward 1's Frank Edwards has an advantage that's hard to top. While everybody else on the City Council has some sort of day job, Edwards--retired chief of the Springfield Fire Department--has all the time in the world to devote to his aldermanic avocation. Some council members can't find time to plow through all the paperwork in their mailboxes. Edwards, on the other hand, spends at least a couple of hours each day at the council office, reading proposed ordinances and doing research. He spends another few hours each evening returning phone calls from his home.

"Maybe I take it too seriously, but I think that's the way it's supposed to be done," Edwards says.

Some have grumbled that he grandstands, suggesting he's angling to run for mayor--an idea Edwards neither confirms nor denies. "I'm just trying to get things done," he says. "If I do my four years and turn and walk away, that will be OK with me."

A self-described "moderate Republican" on the officially nonpartisan council, Edwards doesn't always vote with his party. Instead, he goes by his own motto: "Right is right and wrong is wrong." (DR)

Editor's choice
Frank Edwards

Readers' choice
1. Chuck Redpath
2. Frank Kunz
3. Judy Yeager

Best bartender

When it comes to bartenders, Springfield imbibers say Mike Parkes is the best. And they've said it many times before--the Brewhaus tapster has won the category seven times in the last nine years. What makes a bartender better than the rest? (That would be the best.) "You have to respect the job for what it is," says Parkes. "It's a profession." Anyone who has waited and waited and waited for a drink has experienced the unprofessional barkeep at work. But Parkes says a good bartender also has to be a student of human nature. "You need to be able to read people--some are ready to talk, others don't want to be spoken to at all," he says. "Mostly you need to be willing to be part of people's memories." While working a full shift five days a week and at least a few hours on his days off, the Brewhaus proprietor has an opportunity to be a part of many people's memories. Like any job, attitude is everything, and a love for your work creates good things. "I think it's the best job anyone could have," he says. Obviously, Illinois Times readers are glad he feels that way. (TI)

Mike Parkes
617 E. Washington

Best schoolteacher

1. Kathy Sexton, Christian Elementary
2. Steve Battles, Butler Elementary

Best piano teacher

With more than 100 students keeping him busy seven days a week, you gotta figure Bill Twedell must be doing something right. But he's a little unnerved to learn he will be featured in Illinois Times as our readers' choice for best piano teacher in 2003.

"I didn't do anything to bring this on--make sure you put that in there!" Twedell says. "Some teachers in this town are absolutely going to have a fit."

That's because Twedell, who teaches at the Samuel Music store in the White Oaks Mall, is a bit unorthodox. He has an entire system of mnemonics that goes way beyond every good boy deserves fudge. He doesn't make his students sit up straight, spit out their gum, or play any piece they don't want to play. And while he certainly hopes they practice piano at home, he doesn't worry if they don't.

"It's really not my business what's going on at their house because I don't live there," Twedell says.

But perhaps the most radical thing Twedell does is teach his piano students the old-fashioned art of playing by chords. Using Twedell's methods, students can either stick to the notes as they are arrayed on the page, or analyze the chords outlined by those notes and improvise the accompaniment. Tired of that whiney "Fur Elise"? Twedell can teach you to turn it into a sexy cha cha. (DR)

Bill Twedell
Samuels Music
White Oaks Mall

Best coach

You think it's hard to get a kid to do his homework, eat his veggies, or clean his room? Try convincing him to launch into the air, spin around a time or two, and land on one foot. Backwards. On ice skates. Wearing little more than spandex and a grimace.

Welcome to Susan Liss's life. She has made a career out of coaxing precious little kids into slamming their bodies into the ice however many times it takes to learn the Axel--the most notoriously difficult jump in figure skating. The first step involves training the child to overcome survival instinct and not save himself with his "free" leg. Falling, and falling hard, is an unavoidable part of learning this one-and-a-half rotation jump. It's a process that can take anywhere from a day to a year, depending on the skater.

But Liss says all of her students get it sooner or later. "I've never ever had anybody that hasn't been able to get an Axel," she says.

Of course, Liss teaches much more than the Axel. She teaches everything from beginning swizzles to sit-spins to spread eagles, plus sportsmanship, showmanship, and self-discipline. Having coached more than a hundred kids in her 27-year-career, she has learned to modify her methods for each skater. Some you have to coddle, some you have to cajole, others you have to command.

"It's different with every kid and every day," she says. "To be a good coach, you have to recognize and value the differences in each individual child." (DR)

Susan Liss
Nelson Center figure skating coach

Best Boss

Jan Mier, a tire inspector for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in Springfield, recalls a recent annual review performed by her boss, Dave Jansen.

"It was a great review," says Mier, "but I asked if there was one thing I could do better."

"Nothing," Jansen told her. "You're doing great."

"He never loses his temper," she says. "He's very fair and equitable. He treats everyone the same. If he criticizes you, it's done in a way that makes you want to learn. I'd do anything for him. He's wonderful to work for."

Jansen has been with IEPA since 1980. When listening to his other subordinates, phrases are often repeated: "He knows how to do my job better that I do. . . . Anybody can come talk to him. . . . I've never seen him yell at anybody. . . . No matter how big or small a problem, he always makes time for you. . . . He always figures out the answers. . . . He's always right."

A quiet man, Jansen sums up his leadership style simply: "I try to show people the respect they show me. I let them act like the mature adults they are. I just try to treat them like they'd like to be treated." Following the Golden Rule seems to keep his staff of seven happy.

"Nobody wants to leave him," Mier says. "The newest employee has been here for eight years." (PS)

Dave Jansen
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency

2. Ken Liss, Andrews Engineering

Best artist

"As long as I can remember, I've been drawing pictures," say Mike Manning, our reader's pick for best artist. "My mother--who was the queen of women's handiwork, like crocheting, knitting, and sewing--was a very talented painter and sketcher. She would sit at the kitchen table and help me draw pretty ladies' heads and chimpanzees with big whiskers like cartoon characters. That's what my mom wanted to teach me--how to draw pretty women and monkeys."

The 56-year-old artist now paints houses (pictures of them), portraits of men and women, and animals of all kinds--just about anything he can imagine. It took a while to get to this point. As a child he spent a lot of time in Donahue's Tavern, a popular Irish pub owned by his grandmother in North Dupo, outside of Cahokia. "How could you not grow up with an imagination hanging around a bunch of Irishmen?" Manning asks. "I always wanted to take art classes in school, but my dad--who would lock himself in his bedroom and do velvet paintings in his Jockey shorts while smoking a cigarette--was against it. It wasn't a 'man' thing to do." He followed his father into the Marine Corps and did two tours of duty in Vietnam. He returned to the States in 1968. He attended Springfield College, earned a degree in journalism, and went to work as a public relations officer for the state. When the big layoffs of 1992 left him jobless, he finally turned to art. "I went to the library every day for six months and read all the coffee-table art books, picked out my favorite five or six artists, and immersed myself in images." Aside from taking a couple of college art classes, he is self-taught. "I call my work 'Cartoonorealism.' That's my style--it's a fancy cartoon or folky realism." He spends most afternoons in his studio above Prairie Archives bookstore. "The purpose behind my art is to draw pictures to represent my customers' dreams and hopes. I embellish people's homes with brighter flowers and bigger trees. I add animals and their pets. I also try to put an American flag in every picture. And a wheelbarrow, a shovel, and a rake. And a garden hose too. Something has to be there to take care of the place." He also hangs out on the Old State Capitol Plaza with two of his best friends, Mr. Coffee and Bobby, the blind men who frequent the south side of the square. Soon after he started to paint for a living, Manning set up a canvas and easel to work on the plaza. A young girl stood a few feet away, watching him draw. "I said, 'Can I help you?' And she said, 'No sir, I was just looking for your cup.'" He laughs heartily. "I'll always remember that day as a turning point and a special spot in my life." (TI)

Mike Manning

Best reason to pick up the State Journal-Register

It's been said many times that Springfield is a company town, and the company is politics. Luckily, we have an expert accountant keeping the company books. Bernard Schoenburg--known to all as Bernie--has mastered the art of developing connections, following tips, and sorting out what's news and what isn't. Some of what is news ends up on the front page under his byline, but a lot of the good stuff is stuffed under his mug in his column, which appears on the State Journal-Register's op-ed page every Thursday and Sunday.

Full of bold-faced names and dollar signs, Schoenburg's column embodies the good government reporter's credo, "Follow the money." By his own estimate, fully a quarter of his column is devoted to who just got what government job, and why.

"Very often, people who are involved in politics end up working in government, and doing items like that can reflect that situation," Schoenburg says. "It also tells something about the administrations in place. Dollar amounts are public money, and I think it's something that people have a right to know."

Key to Schoenburg's success might be his personal reticence. The fact that he's a guy who does more listening than talking makes him trustworthy--an invaluable commodity in his line of work. Personal conversation with Schoenburg doesn't have quite the sparkle that his printed prose has. "I do have a sense of humor," he says. "I use it to write with."

Asked to describe the peculiar animal that is Illinois politics, Schoenburg gives a cautious, read-between-the-lines answer: "I went to a very good high school and a very good college. When I was later sent to cover the legislature, there was a tremendous amount I saw that I had never learned about."

As usual, Schoenburg, very well said. (DR)

Editor's choice
Bernard Schoenburg, political columnist

Readers' choice
1. Police beat
2. News
3. Cartoonist Chris Britt

Best reason to put down the State Journal-Register

1. Sports section
2. Ann Coulter

Best local morning
radio personality

Morning radio has become a busy place these days. Talk shows, news, NPR, and hosts of various programs all vie for the precious ear of the a.m. listener. Ray Lytle and his "Morning Disaster" on WQLZ collected the most votes from Illinois Times readers. Gruff-voiced veteran sportsmeister Sam Madonia cruised into second, and Barstool Bob (real name Robert Vessini), the third wheel on WYMG's morning show, ended up in a respectable third place. "It's a real honor," says the Chicago born and raised DJ. His official duties include reading the latest sports news and bantering with his comrades, John and Liz, but he spices up the proceedings with commentary, offering views of the everyday Joe (or Bob) and stories of a loving wife who wishes her husband didn't like sports so much. He's even started to open up about his anxieties over fatherhood. How, then, did a dedicated family man come to be known as Barstool Bob? "I guess Bob wasn't exciting enough as a name and we were tossing around ideas when I first started with 'YMG about nine years ago," he says. "At that time I was hanging out in the bars a lot, especially with Gary Collard at Second Street Pub. Someone said, 'How about Barstool Bob?' and it stuck." What sounds funny on the air isn't so hilarious to his family. "My dad was an old-time radio guy and he didn't care for the name at first, and neither did I, but I like it now. I spent more time being Barstool Bob in my earlier years." Vessini graduated from Western Illinois University in Macomb, worked on a small campus radio station for a while, and did a few spots on Amy and Ken's morning show on COOL 101 before landing the gig at 'YMG. Billboards around town advertise the show as "Liz and her two boobs." What's it like being known as one boob, Bob? "It's great--I enjoy working with John and Liz. It's not really like work. I get to hang out and talk with people I like everyday. I'm really lucky." And Illinois Times readers thought they were the lucky ones. (TI)

1. Ray Lytle
2. Sam Madonia
3. Barstool Bob

Best afternoon radio show

If Jim Leach's radio show was a pizza--which would be appropriate--it would be thin crust, lots of sausage, and minimal cheese. Once just as famous for being fat as for having a fat mouth, Leach has trimmed down over the past year, losing more than 100 pounds. His afternoon talk show, though, remains as meaty as ever. Leach doesn't sit in the studio and wait for news to come to him; he's frequently found out and about, microphone in hand, covering press conferences, community meetings, and other events. On the air, he manages to inform without insulting, entertain without pandering, and be opinionated without being rude. (DR)

Jim Leach

Best public radio show

This category is narrowed down to "public" radio programs, which in the capital city means they're heard on WUIS 91.9 FM and its twin WIPA 89.3. Readers--and, in this case, listeners--chose Car Talk and All Things Considered as the best shows, respectively, putting these voters on the same wavelength as several million other Americans. The Magliozzi brothers began broadcasting their car-repair diatribes in 1977 from a small Boston station, and they went national in 1987. The popular early evening "newsmagazine," All Things Considered, started in 1971. Coming in right under these big-time public-radio institutions is the locally produced Bluegrass Breakdown, which airs every Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. and is another institution in these parts. "I think it's the longest-running continuous airing of any program on WUIS," says co-host Mark Mathewson. "It's been there since the beginning of the station [in 1975], when it was WSSR." Mathewson, a guitaritst and singer with The Threshers and McGee Creek, alternates the hosting duties with Jennifer Ramm, a fiddler for the River Ramblers. "It gives a different perspective to have alternating hosts," he says. "I'll check Jennifer's songlist and think, that's some great stuff I wouldn't have thought of playing. It helps with the real challenge of bluegrass radio--balancing the songlist between the traditionalists and the progressive players." Mathewson, an attorney, and Ramm, a chemistry teacher, draw on their personal interest in acoustic music, instead of radio experience, to bring "the best in bluegrass and related music" to the local airwaves. "I like to think we bring an interesting show for people to listen to and like--music that sounds good over the radio," says Mathewson. Springfield listeners, and Illinois Times readers, seem to think so too. (TI)

1. "Car Talk"
2. "All Things Considered"
3. "Bluegrass Breakdown"

Best TV journalist

In the world of TV news, moving a reporter to the anchor desk is considered a promotion. But in the case of 29-year-old Glenn McEntyre, his gain is our loss. McEntyre, who has co-anchored Channel 20's Sunrise Today show with Jessica English for a year now, also likes to dig for a story. Despite his limited availability for reporting--he spends half his shift on morning show duties, then goes home by 2:30, and is asleep before sunset--he still manages to turn in some of the most interesting stories seen on the local news. He also has a bit of that bulldog mentality so rare among TV reporters: At one recent press conference, where Mayor Tim Davlin was rationalizing the demotion of a top-ranking African-American staff member, it was pretty boy McEntyre who kept pounding away, pitching a dozen variations of the question, "Don't you see that this looks like racism?"

"He wasn't gonna give it to us no matter how we asked it," McEntyre says. "That was perplexing to me because it seemed fairly obvious. I mean, I'm a white guy, but it was obvious to me."

McEntyre mentions the police department scandal as "one of the more interesting stories I've had the opportunity to cover." Covering the mayoral election--from candidate filings to Davlin's victory party--was another highlight of his year. "I love covering politics," he says.

And while he is happy to have his comfy anchor chair next to English every morning, it doesn't provide quite the same thrill that chasing a story does. "There is nothing I enjoy more than a great day of reporting," McEntyre says. "It gets my juices going. There's nothing like that rush for me." (DR)

Editor's choice
Glenn McEntyre, WICS Channel 20

Readers' choice
Anita Roman, Elizabeth Wooley (tie), WICS Channel 20

Best actor/Best TV hair

How many times has Gus Gordon won Best Actor? Too many to count. But never before has he won Best TV hair!

OK, so it's a new category, coincidentally introduced in a year when Gordon, the beloved meteorologist on WICS-TV Channel 20, grew a mustache for a starring role in New Salem's Theater in the Park production of 110 in the Shade. A musical version of the classic play The Rainmaker, the show is a Western set during the Great Depression. Readers voted for Gordon's whiskers in many categories, including "Best reason to change the channel," where it claimed third place.

"The response at the station ran about 50-50," Gordon says. "Some really liked it, some didn't and were not worried about being vocal in their opinions. For the first time, I knew what it was like for the women at the station who always get criticized for changing their hair color or hairstyle. I've become more sympathetic to my co-workers."

Once the play closed, Gordon kept the whiskers a few weeks longer, hoping to surprise his friends in Cincinnati at his high school reunion.

"Nobody cared," he says. "They didn't remember I didn't have one in high school."

So what's next? Pierced ears? A tattoo? A nose ring, perhaps?

"No!" Gordon says. "I do want to keep this job!" (DR)

Gus Gordon

Best reason to change channels

1. Commercials
2. WICS Channel 20 News
3. Gus Gordon (with mustache)

Best actress

It's easy to see why Mary Jo Curry topped our reader's poll, even though we haven't seen her onstage since Gordon Productions' Sinatra musical revue, My Way, last October. She is a performer people remember. A year ago last summer she wowed audiences as Reno Sweeney singing all those great Cole Porter tunes in Muni's Anything Goes. She showed her versatility that same summer, playing Titania in Leigh Steiner's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at New Salem. She's also played Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, and she won audiences over in Muni's Children of Eden in 2000. From that outing, she got some professional gigs in an upstate dinner theater and at Sullivan's Little Theatre on the Square. She's that rare performer who instinctively knows how to "act" a song, which is why the Sinatra show was such a good vehicle for her. This October My Way will be remounted at the Springfield Theatre Centre, and Curry will once again share the stage with Cynda Wrightsman, another actress who knows how to get inside a song (and who gave one of this year's best performances in 110 in the Shade). (PF)

Mary Jo Curry

Best local Internet site

We can't write about our site--ahem, the number-one choice--so we're going with second place, justshoo.com. Think of it as a cross between an Internet blog and the TV show Jackass.

Blog is short for Weblog, a sort of online diary. Blogs are the current next big thing--journalists have them, celebrities have them, and average, ordinary people have them. Now Chris Scheufele, a 22-year-old computer science student, has one.

Scheufele--pronounced "shy-flea" and often mispronounced as "shoo-fly," which has resulted in his nickname, "shoo"--created his first blog, iamshoo.com, a year ago. He changed it to justshoo.com when the business that hosted the first address went bust.

"I don't even like calling it a blog," Scheufele says. "I like to brag, 'Ohh, ya, I have my own dot com.' Sounds much better when talking to the ladies. But if I had to classify it. . . it is my brag page to brag about my awesome friends."

Here's a typical Scheufule entry. On August 26, he describes his latest goal: ". . . before the year is over, visit all the Universities in Illinois that have a direction in their name. So far, I have been to Southern (Carbondale), Western. . . . that leaves Northern and Eastern. . . . We will see what we can do." For starters, he should add Northeastern Illinois and Northwestern universities in Chicago, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and North Central College in Naperville.

Scheufule, a bartender and waiter at the Springfield Motor Boat Club, says his site gets about 20 to 40 "hits" a day, including regular visits from a friend in the armed forces serving in Africa.

"I have pictures that I have taken of parties, odd things, and I can't really remember what else is up there," Scheufule says. "I have also made some videos. Some funny, some I still don't know what I was doing." A good example is a video clip showing his friend Steve standing directly in front of a water cannon as it nearly blasts his head off at Knight's Action Park. (PS)

1. illinoistimes.com
2. justshoo.com
3. sj-r.com

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