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Courthouse open house honors veterans, showcases expansion

Judge Tom Dougherty (left) honors Judge Kurt Klein, an Army veteran, with an American flag during Veterans Day and DeKalb County Courthouse expansion ceremonies Sunday in Sycamore.
Judge Tom Dougherty (left) honors Judge Kurt Klein, an Army veteran, with an American flag during Veterans Day and DeKalb County Courthouse expansion ceremonies Sunday in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – Lori Emmer said she did not realize the profound importance of Veterans Day until 1983, when she saw American soldiers who had just arrived from Grenada.

Emmer said she knew about Veterans Day from her father, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

“However, the Vietnam War was such a prevalent part of my childhood. I don’t remember Veterans Day ceremonies,” she said.

That changed in 1983. The first plane of soldiers coming home from the operation set down Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. – a reference to when the armistice was signed between the nations of World War I in 1918. Emmer said she was moved by the whole ceremony.

Emmer explained how moved she was to see the crowd of DeKalb County residents and officials who gathered in the new atrium of the DeKalb County Courthouse. Emmer was the guest speaker in a ceremony Sunday that not only honored veterans, but also the new courthouse expansion.

DeKalb County officials cut the ceremonial ribbon on a finished expansion project that added 42,000 square feet to the existing courthouse at the cost of $15 million. Included in the expansion is a larger public defender’s office, state’s attorney’s office, a sally port with improved security, a high-volume courtroom and an atrium.

For three hours, members of the public were able to tour the various rooms of the courthouse. Some areas were blocked off, such as the new state’s attorney’s office. Passers by were greeted with a sign that said closed by the order of State’s Attorney Clay Campbell.

“I haven’t been in there, but I’ve been told the facilities are excellent, from what I’ve heard,” said Richard Schmack, the state’s attorney-elect. Schmack defeated Campbell in Tuesday’s election.

Schmack said there should be greater efficiency in the judicial process now that the state’s attorney’s office is in the same building as the public defender’s office. Because of a lack of space, the state’s attorney’s office was located across the street in the DeKalb County Legislative Center.

“You can’t operate a courthouse with a state’s attorney not in the same building as a public defender’s,” Schmack said.

Waterman Village Trustee Joan Stanley said she likes the fact that the courthouse expansion occurred with minimum changes to the exterior of the building.

“We need to keep that history so that our younger generation knows how it started and where it’s going,” Stanley said, adding that the architecture of old buildings is a part of “our history.”

Stanley added that she also came out for the Veterans Day ceremony as well. Her late husband served in the Army while her cousin served in the Marines.

“It’s really humble to know the ones who served and those who didn’t make it back,” Stanley said.

During the ceremony, the various officials who spoke noted connections between veterans and the courthouse.

“Veterans have been part of our community,” Emmer said. “The courthouse is the center of our community.”

Tim Timmar, a member of the Sycamore post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, agreed with Stanley that the courthouse expansion was nice, calling it “overdue for the county.”

Timmar, who served in the Army from 1986 to 1992 before discharging as a captain, said he participates in the VFW to serve as a reminder of those who are serving to the public. Timmar participated in the ceremony’s color guard ritual.

“The most important we try to do is help the public remember the people who died fighting for their freedom,” Timmar said.

Schmack expressed similar sentiments.

“This country can never forget the contribution of those who served in our military for securing our liberties from a foreign threat,” Schmack said. “It’s vitally important to take at least two days of the year – Veterans Day and Memorial Day – to remind ourselves of their sacrifice.”

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