Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Remembering Eric Ciucci

Remembering a Friend
By Jared Bell

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
In late October 2013, I sent a text message to every area golf coach asking for final season stats and player accomplishments.

Within an hour, Putnam County girls golf coach Eric Ciucci emailed all the information needed along with a case for Stephanie Wilson being the NewsTribune Girls Golfer of the Year.

Later that afternoon, he texted me to make certain we received the email and, a few days later, he checked in again to see if we had made our decision.

All I could do was laugh. Ciucci’s dedication and passion was evident — as was his persistence.

A few days later when NewsTribune Sports Editor Kevin Chlum finally did leave a voicemail with Ciucci asking for Wilson’s number to arrange Golfer of the Year stuff, Ciucci was so excited he immediately called back, so quickly and frantically that he completely forgot to write down Wilson’s number so he had to end the conversation and call back seconds later.

It just showed Ciucci’s love of the game, the pride in his student-athletes and how much he truly cared.

Little did he know how much everyone cared about him.

Ciucci died Friday at the age of 37, and his sudden death has rocked the Putnam County community and beyond.

His passing has shaken the area but has made us all remember how great of a guy he truly was.

Ciucci was the area’s most grateful and appreciative coach and always more than willing to assist the pesky NewsTribune sports staff in anyway he could.

Last fall, when searching for a Monday Spotlight story idea, I texted nearly 15 area golf coaches asking if they had anything they felt would make a good story. Many responded with a simply “No” or “Not really” and only a handful replied with multiple sentences. Some didn’t even reply at all.

However, Ciucci, in true form, replied with a novel that took four separate text messages to receive. It was so long I nearly tripped and fell off the treadmill in disbelief. He was not only trying to help me but trying to help his golfers.

Every year in mid-August when working on the boys and girls golf previews, I most looked forward to talking to the Putnam County girls golf coach.

I last saw Ciucci at the Class A Eastland Sectional at Lake Carroll Golf Club near Lanark, where I spent time with him, his family and his golfers waiting out an afternoon rain storm that forced the tournament’s postponement.

Little did I know it would be the last time I’d see his prideful smile and encounter his appreciative words in person.

Ciucci is on the short-list of my favorite coaches in the area and he took as much pride in his Putnam County girls golf program as any coach has in his or her program in the area.

He helped start the program five years ago with the backing of former PC athletic director Dave Garcia and built it into one of the area's top girls golf programs.

Ciucci was proud of what he and his golfers had built thus far — the program won its first regional in 2013 — and was looking forward to the challenge of sustaining future success, and I was rooting for him every step of the way.

Ciucci was also the only person I personally knew who shared my birthday — March 3 — and over the last few years, amidst the birthday texts and well-wishes that I received, I made a point to tell my birthday buddy that I hoped he had an incredi-Bell day. His replies were always a highlight of my birthday.

It’s one of the many things that has made his untimely death such a struggle.

I’ve written some difficult stories in my time at the NewsTribune, but this may be the hardest.

A few days ago, I had already written and submitted a column intended for this space, but as my sentiment and grief grew I finally found them too hard to ignore.

It took awhile and a sleepless night before I finally found the courage to write this story. I was never fully certain I wanted to do it — I’m still not — but deep down, I knew it was the best way to honor someone who I and many others considered a great guy and a true friend.

Eric, you are loved and adored by all and positively impacted the lives of many, including the life of a sports writer who you may never have expected.

You will be missed, my friend, in more ways than you will ever know. You were one of a kind and I always looked forward to seeing you.

You may be gone, but you will not soon be forgotten.

Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at sports@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.

Source: News Tribune


Friday, December 12, 2014

Dixon Waterfowl Refuge Expanding

Image courtesy of The Wetlands Iniative
The Wetlands Initiative is acquiring a new parcel along the southeastern border of its Dixon Waterfowl Refuge near Hennepin.

The new tract has a wooded ravine and intermittent stream and will increase the refuge to more than 3,000 acres. The tract will be restored to upland habitat including globally-rare sand oak savanna and sand prairie. It also will improve the health of the adjacent Dore Seep, a unique wetland habitat.

The acquisition was funded by Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation, The Conservation Fund and Oberweiler Foundation.

Source: News Tribune


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Helping Hand for a Helping Hand

Image courtesy of the Putnam County Record
The Sacred Heart Holy Name Society made a donation to the Putnam County Food Pantry. Members Doug Ossola (left), John Shimkus and Jim Carboni are presenting two checks totaling $1,500 to the food pantry to help with the holiday season. The baskets of candy to the right are just one item the food pantry is bagging for the needy children for the upcoming holidays.

Source: Putnam County Record


Putnam County Food Pantry Receives Donation

Image courtesy of the Putnam County Record
In the spirit of the holidays, Scott Ganassin (right) of Schweickert and Ganassin makes a $2,000 donation to the Putnam County Food Pantry. Staff on hand to receive the donation included manager John Shimkus (from left), president Gayle Reno, treasurer Sherrie Carlson and vice president Judy Hopkins. Ganassin stated his firm has been “blessed” and felt it was good to give back to the community.

Source: Putnam County Record


Open Water Extends Fishing Season on Illinois River

This is a shoulder season for hunters and fishermen as the season for hunting deer by firearm came to an end Sunday and there’s no ice for ice fishing.

However, no ice is good news for the sauger enthusiasts.

Tournament angler and Illinois Walleye Trail director Adam Sandor said the fishing action was steady and enjoyable this past weekend on the Illinois River. He said he and a partner caught about a dozen keeper-sized sauger, but an uncounted number of small sauger, near the Spring Valley bridge, Mertel’s and the “snag hole” near Shippingsport. He said he heard fish were biting at Ottawa, too.

“Pretty much any deep hole had fish in it,” he said.

Ryan Vecchia of Spring Valley is running a small tournament this weekend the Hennepin boat ramp. He said the tournament hours are 7 a.m.-2 p.m., weather depending.

A Nov. 16 Walleye Trail tournament at Dubuque was postponed to spring due to cold and ice, and the fishing was terrible Nov. 29-30 due to high water and poor conditions for the Spring Valley Walleye Club members tournament and one of Vecchia’s events. He said only one boat out of about 28 entries weighed a five-fish limit at those events.

He anticipates good conditions this weekend, as the fishing was good and water clarity was too last weekend.

At Shabbona, the bait shop is closed until there’s safe ice — and, frankly, looking at the Accuweather forecast (available atop http://www.newstrib.com), the deep freeze doesn’t look likely to appear until mid-January.

Of course, archers and muzzleloader shooters still have time to harvest some venison.

Archery season ends Jan. 18. The muzzleloader season is Dec. 12-14, and area counties other than Bureau have some late-winter and CWD seasons available.

Source: News Tribune


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Natural Lands Area: Putnam County's Hidden Gem

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
Home to campgrounds, sleeping cabins, horse and hiking trails, and various other outdoor activities, the Putnam County Conservation District Natural Lands Area is a conservation gem, hidden away in middle-of-nowhere-Illinois.

Located approximately 3 miles west of McNabb, off the McNabb blacktop, the Natural Lands Area is set on a 270 acre tract of land. The conservation district was incorporated in 1966 and the sight was established in 1971.

According to Kristin Pattenburg of the conservation department, approximately 300 campers visit the Natural Lands Area each year. Campers can set up tents or come in RV’s for $8 a family, or rent the private cabin located at the site for a per-night fee of $25 for in-county residents or $50 for out-of-county residents. Pattenburg said most of the visitors to the site are from out of the area, coming from Ottawa, Cherry and Taylorville recently.

“We have very few local people that camp,” she said.

Each year the Conservation District hosts day camps for local children. It also is popular for mushroom hunting, and a dedicated horse camp area is used by the Marshall-Putnam Trail Riders.

Horseback trail riding is one of the main activities at the Natural Lands Area. The horse camp area was recently dedicated to Joseph Conrad Smith of Granville and Clarence James “Mac” Smith of rural McNabb. The campground is now named Smith Hollow Equestrian Camp Ground. The Smith brothers, along with Steve Cenkar started the trails.

“Marshall-Putnam Trail Riders are a big group that uses the site,” Pattenburg said. Debbie Doyle, a member of the Marshall-Putnam Trail Riders from Hennepin, said their group uses the trails often. “We go out as often as we can.”

Conservation District board member Ron Bluemer said the board is working hard to get the trails cleared after recent storms. Doyle added that the trail riders have a yearly cleanup that the members are involved in to clean away brush, itch weed, and any other things that may affect the riders or horses. Doyle said they use the Natural Lands all year round. The Conservation District accommodates the horses and riders, bringing water for the horses to the camp sight, even though no running water is available. They also have made accommodations for tying up horses and have given the horses specific paths.

The Natural Lands area also holds two annual hunter’s safety classes, in April and September or October, with a field day and a full hunter’s safety course. The Natural Lands Area is also home to the Putnam County cross country Team. Putnam County FFA hosts the FFA Section 5 State Forestry competition at the Natural Lands Area.

The Area used to hold the Big Foot Band Camp in summer and well as a deer check-in station during hunting season. Neither occurs at the district anymore. “When we were checking in the deer that was always fun. We would get to see everyone coming through,” Pattenburg said.

Bluemer said the Natural Lands Area stays open all winter long. “They get cross country skiers and people like that that go in there for winter activities.”

Pattenburg and worker Steve Phillips plows that road when needed to allow winter visitors.

Source: News Tribune


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

PCES Students Go Back in Time

Image courtesy of the Putnam County Record
The third-grade class of Putnam County Elementary School took a field trip to the LaSalle County Historical Museum and the Starved Rock Lock and Dam. The trip was funded by the Putnam County Educational Foundation.

At the museum, students were transported to the early days of the Illinois Valley. At the one-room schoolhouse, students got a taste of how pioneer children learned in class. The rules and consequences were discussed. Some of the third-graders experienced what happened if work was not completed or if they acted up in class. They even said the “Pledge of Allegiance” in the way pioneer children would have. At the end of the demonstration, third-graders put on a little play about the exploration of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. Some students were the Native Americans, fur traders, and one person got to portray Robert Cavelier de LaSalle.

After the school house, third-graders had to search out specific historical items by clues which were given. The last stop at the museum was to see a real blacksmith shop. Third-grade students got to see how metal is turned into different objects which were needed during pioneer times.

The afternoon was spent at the Starved Rock Lock and Dam. Here third-graders learned about the history and importance of the Illinois River. Students saw a video about the locking system and why it is needed on the Illinois River.


Putnam County Welcomes First New Judge in 24 Years

“It’s an historic event, in an historic building,” Chief Judge Stephen Kouri began Monday at the Putnam County Courthouse.

For the first time in 24 years a newly elected judge was welcomed to the 10th Circuit Court in Putnam County. Many of the other circuit court judges were on hand to see the swearing in.

Kouri then turned the floor over to retiring Judge Scott Shore, who thanked the crowd and swore in James Mack as a judge in the 10th Judicial District.

Mack, after thanking family, friends and colleagues, said: “Truth, justice and humanity shall in no way suffer at my hand.”

After the ceremony Circuit Clerk Cathy Oliveri, a 22-year veteran in the position, said of Mack: “I hope he does well. He has a lot to learn. He may surprise us.”

Mack then spoke on the job of public office and began swearing in newly elected and re-elected officials.

Mack began with re-elected Sheriff Kevin Doyle, County Clerk Dan Kuhn, County Treasurer Kevin Kunkel, and county board member Duane Calbow. Newly elected county board members Luke Holly and Steve Malavolti rounded out the officials sworn in.

Newly appointed state’s attorney Christina (Judd) Mennie will be sworn in at a later date. Mennie has to close her private practice before she can be sworn in to public office.

Source: News Tribune