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Duchnowski: What impressed America in Bloom judges about DeKalb

Jack Clasen choked up when talking about the Ellwood House Museum.

A judge for a national municipal landscaping and preservation competition, Clasen toured the Ellwood House Museum on Tuesday with city leaders and fellow judge, Barbara Vincentsen, of Westfield, N.J. He was impressed with the level of care and community involvement in the Ellwood House Museum, as well as the art show and ice cream social Sunday that illustrated how well the home and its grounds were used.

Vincentsen and Clasen, of Raleigh, N.C., got a two-day whirlwind tour of DeKalb while evaluating the city for the America in Bloom program. DeKalb is among 28 cities in its size category to be evaluated by American in Bloom this year. Judges look at floral displays, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental efforts, heritage preservation and overall impression.

Each city will receive a score and a corresponding “bloom rating” between 1 and 5. These results will be released Sept. 19 and 21 at an awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., and the evaluations, complete with suggestions, will be sent Sept. 23. DeKalb won’t be judged against other communities of its size, though; it will be judged based upon its ultimate potential.

If you think about it, that’s a staggering yardstick: What is the best DeKalb can be?

Before Vincentsen and Clasen started tabulating their scores, they sat down with local media to discuss their impressions. They were glowing: Clasen mentioned the trail system, the Ellwood House and the library, as well as emerging efforts for more collaboration between city and Northern Illinois University leaders.

Vincentsen loved the renovated parking lots downtown.

She suggested area residents make a point to visit the local gems the judges got to see – if they haven’t already.

“It’s an amazing experience, and the city should be justifiably proud,” she said.

Between the landmarks, they also met community leaders such as Dan Kenney of DeKalb County Community Gardens, Library Executive Director Dee Coover, and Brian Reis and Steve Bigolin at the Ellwood House. They were touched by all the great, vibrant things they saw and heard.

“It feels like this is a town where people reach out a hand to those who need one – to an extraordinary level,” Vincentsen said.

With such glowing praise, I can’t wait to read their formal evaluations.

Speaking of extending a hand: A new Neighborhood Watch group, coordinated by DeKalb resident police officer Jared Burke, is going to clear overgrown foliage Saturday morning from a home at 509 N. Seventh St., DeKalb.

The resident has experienced some medical problems that left him unable to maintain the property, but the foliage inhibits drivers’ views as they try to turn from Fisk Avenue onto Seventh Street. So, his neighbors on Fifth and Sixth streets are going to see how much they can remove in four hours.

Waste Management is donating a large trash container, and Burke is reaching out to local landscaping and tree services to see if they’ll donate equipment and trained operators.

Burke, who lives in a city-renovated home on Eleventh Street, helped form this Neighborhood Watch group this spring as part of a special police initiative in which Burke concentrates his efforts in the neighborhood where he lives. Burke is focused on the Pleasant Street area, which is bound by the train tracks to the south, Sycamore Road to the north, Fourth Street to the west and 14th Street to the east.

Almost 40 people came to the first Neighborhood Watch meeting for the Fifth and Sixth streets group, and the cleanup plan grew out of an idea the members discussed.

“There’s been a nice little group of people who have come together,” Burke said.

If you’d like to help out, just show up between 8 a.m. and noon Saturday. If you’d like to participate in a Neighborhood Watch group in Burke’s area, call him at 815-764-9813.

• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, or email

What the America in Bloom judges saw

• Community garden behind DeKalb City Hall

• DeKalb Public Library

• Frank Van Buer Plaza, plus patios at downtown businesses

• Ellwood House Museum

• Past Yards of Distinction winners

• Northern Illinois University

• Annie’s Woods, 401 Lucinda Ave.

• Egyptian Theatre

• Hopkins Park, several other local parks

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