The mayors of DeKalb and Livermore, California, have never met, but they have quite a bit in common.
Both have the first name John and their cities both have large government institutions that dominate their communities. While DeKalb has Northern Illinois University and its 4,600 full-time employees, plus another 20,000 students, Livermore has two U.S. Department of Energy research and development laboratories employing about 9,000 people. Neither of these major employers pay taxes, but their workforce and business purchases have a major economic and social impact on the surrounding areas.
Last year when we visited the California community that was our home for 35 years, I saw some innovations that I thought might be useful for DeKalb to consider.
One of them, a motor home converted into a Historymobile that toured local schools each year, was not one of my success stories. It went over big in Livermore, but my attempt to introduce a similar venture in DeKalb County failed miserably.
But I also took photos of some artistic murals created by Livermore artists that adorn the downtown area’s utility boxes. That caught DeKalb Mayor John Rey’s attention and he is collecting more information on how that can be accomplished here. Livermore also has large murals painted on the sides of old buildings that feature local scenes and promote their Wine Country. DeKalb has large murals painted on downtown buildings promoting Lincoln Highway, featuring local historical figures such as Annie Glidden and Cindy Crawford.
Talking with Livermore Mayor John Marchand recently, I learned that his wife painted the first utility box mural and is one of the artists doing a second series of 10 more this summer. He said they also involved two middle-school classes in the art project. Local sponsorships of $150 to $250 help defray the artists’ expenses, which include graffiti-proofing the decorative designs, something the mayor said is a big help in keeping the city beautified and discourages “tagging.”
Another Livermore innovation that could be good for DeKalb is creating nonpaid positions of a Poet Laureate and a City Historian. The jury is still out on those ideas, but with a new city manager now in place, the mayor may look into these as well, he said.
There is one big difference in the two communities 2,100 miles apart. DeKalb had 10 inches of rain in June alone, while Livermore just ended the seventh-worst drought year in its history, collecting only 6.91 inches in the past 12 months. Maybe DeKalb and Livermore could become “sister cities” and exchange weather patterns, but DeKalb still needs plenty of moisture for corn and soybeans growing in the rich, black soil. Livermore’s agricultural area is surviving the drought because it has 5,000 acres of vineyards in its sphere of influence, some irrigated, but wine grapes seem to thrive on gravelly soil and hot, dry summers.
It would be nice to see the two mayors possibly meeting at some point in the future and maybe more exchanges of ideas could benefit both towns, economically and culturally. By the way, both towns are on the original route of the Lincoln Highway as well.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday.