DeKalb County residents discuss hopes for new year

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 5:30 a.m.CDT
(Rob Winner –
Owners Debbie Witmer (left) and her husband, Mel Witmer, decorate O'Leary's Restaurant and Pub ahead of Tuesday night's New Year's party in DeKalb.

Why, hello, 2014.

You are just a baby, awakening today to snow and chilly temperatures. But you should know, we here in DeKalb County have been waiting for you.

A band called Menagerie performed in your honor Tuesday night at O’Leary’s Restaurant and Pub in downtown DeKalb, and snowplows hit the streets to make sure local residents celebrating you made it home OK.

We have some great expectations for you, kid. Not that we have anything against your older sister, 2013, but let me tell you what we have in store for you in DeKalb, Sycamore and beyond.

DeKalb resident Alexis Simmons, 24, plans to graduate from Northern Illinois University’s law school this year. After studying linguistics in Missouri, she tackled law school because she didn’t know what else to do and ended up spending her first year digging through piles of work. In May, she’ll start studying for the bar exams.

“I’m pretty committed to school,” Simmons said Tuesday. “I spend all my time studying. Either I’m eating, working out, or studying.”

Like many others, she plans to be healthier this year, too.

“Like everyone else, I want to lose weight,” Simmons said. “I’m starting this low-sugar diet, where I only have 15 grams of sugar per day. This counts fruit sugar, but berries are pretty low in sugar.”

She expects 2014 to be rather stressful, while DeKalb resident Dan Kenney expects 2014 will outshine 2013. The 60-year-old retired last year as a fourth-grade teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School in DeKalb.

“I think 2014 is going to be a better year all around for people,” said Kenney, who also is director of the DeKalb County Community Gardens. “I think the economy is getting a little better, and I’m always inspired to see how people support each other through hard times. I’ve been seeing a lot of that, and I think it’s going to start paying off.”

DeKalb County Community Gardens, which grows produce for food pantries and similar programs, expanded from 16 to 36 locations and donated more than 8 tons of food in 2013, Kenney said. He hopes they double the amount of food they grow this year.

They plan to plant fruit and nut trees for a community orchard near the DeKalb County Health Department building at 2550 N. Annie Glidden Road.

“It’s a large area; eventually we’re going to have it filled up,” Kenney said.

In downtown DeKalb, Mel Witmer figures 2013 was the best year he’s had since he and his wife, Debbie, opened O’Leary’s Restaurant and Pub about 9 years ago. They sold Upper Deck Sports Bar & Grill, now Hometown Sports Bar & Grill, in February 2011 and Tapa La Luna in February 2012, so they have really been able to focus on O’Leary’s, he said.

Witmer said Corn Fest, despite its stormy start, was a huge boon for business. The annual festival returned to downtown DeKalb this year after taking place for five years at the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport.

“A lot of people who visited us that day have become more regular because they came out to Corn Fest,” Witmer said.

This year, he hopes DeKalb leaders seriously discuss adding public transportation downtown, as well as a parking garage. Maybe the parking garage could go at the corner of Lincoln Highway and Fourth Street, Witmer said.

Meanwhile, Chris Fellows, 41, of Genoa, plans to take his mountain bike racing to the next level, adding weight and core training to his workout regimen.

“I will race a 62-mile race in Michigan called the Barry-Roubaix,” Fellows said. “It will be very rough. All the guys I’m racing against are just as serious about it as I am, if not more.”

Patti Towers wants to travel, too. The 72-year-old Sycamore resident has seen England, Greece, Italy, France and more.

“Italy was my ultimate favorite,” Towers said. “I was in Tuscany. Even though people talk about traveling there so much, I like visiting the untraveled areas. There are certain areas in small towns and rural areas where I like getting to know people and how they live.”

So, what do you think, 2014? Will you take Towers someplace she’s never been? Will you bring us a parking garage in downtown DeKalb?

Will you help the Huskies football team make it to another great bowl game?

We can hope you will. We’re counting on you, kid.

• Daily Chronicle reporter Andrea Azzo contributed to this report.

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