Award Winning Excellence

Left to Right: Citizen of the Year John Kopecky celebrates with fellow award winners Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School of Long Grove, Best New Business.

Left to Right: Citizen of the Year John Kopecky celebrates with fellow award winners Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School of Long Grove, Best New Business.

Don’t you just love it on those rare occasions when the stars align and good things happen to truly deserving people? Long Grove was shining bright last night at the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Evening of Excellence event. What a thrill it was to celebrate John Kopecky as he was presented with the Citizen of the Year Award, and to cheer the success of Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School as they were recognized as the Best New Business. In addition to awards, the night was filled with friends, good food, dancing, and pride in our community.

It is a generally held opinion in town that John Kopecky is an amazing volunteer who helps out anyone and anywhere he sees a need. It is impossible to list all the wonderful ways in which John has helped our village over the many years he has owned his downtown business, The Country House, and even prior to that growing up in the Long Grove area. Need a dozen or so creative mini golf holes for the Lions putt-putt fundraiser? John will design and build them. Clever marketing ideas and a giant teddy bear to promote the downtown festivals? Done. How about acquiring a historic tractor (or two) and wagon, then tirelessly driving loads upon loads of visitors throughout the historic downtown for Vintage Days, on your birthday? His pleasure. Emergency repairs to brewery equipment? Just call him MacGuyver. Another truck has hit and damaged the covered bridge? John is getting out the ladder and paint bucket as we speak. Need someone to portray “crazy” Jake Eisler or Mrs. Bigfoot in the annual Ghostwalk? Say no more. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture of just how indispensable John is to the fiber of our village. And beloved. Several of us from the community were moved to nominated John for this award and it is so richly deserved. Congratulations!

Jenny and Rich Wierzchon have parlayed their passion for early childhood education into the creation and establishment of the Primrose School of Long Grove. I was there for the ground breaking in October of 2015, and have been delighted to watch this new business grow into a real asset for our community. See my earlier post here about the Primrose Promise. Here’s to many more years of success!

While it is exciting to be recognized with an award, the real prize for our community is having John, Jenny and Rich giving every day in their own winning ways to make Long Grove such a great place to live. We salute you! Check out a short clip of the awards presentations below:

 

Attendees at the Evening of Excellence (L to R): Angie Underwood, John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood, Amy Gayton, and Vicki Kopecky.

Attendees at the Evening of Excellence (L to R): Angie Underwood, John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood, Amy Gayton, and Vicki Kopecky.

Celebrating Small Business

Award nominees at the Lake Zurich Chamber of Commerce "Evening of Excellence" (L to R): John Kopecky of Country House of Long Grove, Jenny Wierzchen, Sarah Simon, and Rich Wierzchen of Primrose School of Long Grove.

Award nominees at the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce “Evening of Excellence” (L to R): John Kopecky of Country House of Long Grove, Jenny Wierzchen, Sarah Simon, and Rich Wierzchen of Primrose School of Long Grove.

I feel it is important in my role as Village President, and also as a member of my community, to do what I can to recognize, promote, and shop at our locally owned small businesses. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to put those words into action in a couple of different ways.

The Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual “Evening of Excellence” awards dinner, in which individuals and businesses are honored for their successes and contributions to the community. I sponsored a table of Long Grove business owners to attend, especially to cheer for our home town nominees: Primrose School of Long Grove for the New Business of the Year award and owner John Kopecky of The Country House of Long Grove for Citizen of the Year. Even though our Long Grove honorees were not chosen as the overall winners this year, we all enjoyed celebrating many other excellent small businesses in the area. In fact, our group capped off the evening by sampling the food and beverages at Consume of Lake Zurich, the newly-minted best new business. When we mutually support one another, everyone wins!

This event also motivated me to do a little bit of last minute shopping in downtown Long Grove on Saturday afternoon. As I was mentally reviewing what I planned to wear that evening, I realized I did not have an appropriate evening purse to match my gown and shoes. Lynne Jankovec of Olivia’s Past was very helpful with stylish tips but did not have exactly what I needed on hand (however I did end up with a cute new blouse!) and suggested I check out fellow merchant Cleo Jewelry and Accessories. And there I found a beautiful cocktail purse that perfectly coordinated and was reasonably priced! That evening, I received several compliments on my new purse and I made sure to spread the word about the great local store where I found it.

We all have the ability to help our home town economies rebuild and thrive. Think outside of the (big) box and endless online options available. Sometimes, what you really need is right in your own backyard.

Congratulating my friend Lisa Warren of Kildeer (on the left), winner of the Citizen of the Year award.  Lisa and I go way back--volunteering together on the board of the Neighbors and Newcomers Club of Long Grove & Kildeer, almost 20 years ago!

Congratulating my friend Lisa Warren of Kildeer (on the left), winner of the Citizen of the Year award. Lisa and I go way back–volunteering together on the board of the Neighbors and Newcomers Club of Long Grove & Kildeer, almost 20 years ago. Way to go Lisa!

Woodlawn Blue Ribbon Celebration

Celebrating Woodlawn Middle School's recent Blue Ribbon Recognition with Principal Greg Grana.

Celebrating Woodlawn Middle School’s recent Blue Ribbon Recognition with Principal Greg Grana.

I had so much fun today visiting Woodlawn Middle School–nothing beats the energy of a gym full of 6th, 7th and 8th Graders on the verge of a holiday vacation! I was asked to participate in an assembly celebrating their recent recognition of a prestigious national award. Below is the text of my speech:

Speaking today at the Woodlawn assembly.

Speaking today at the Woodlawn assembly.

“Good afternoon! One of the best parts of my job as Village President is getting to recognize others for their successes; by giving out awards, congratulations, or praise. Today I couldn’t be more pleased and proud to be a part of the Woodlawn Middle School community, here to celebrate the distinction of earning the 2016 National Blue Ribbon Recognition from the U.S. Secretary of Education. Congratulations!

Having top-notch schools is an attribute that is highly valued by the residents of Long Grove. I know this for a fact. One year ago, in a village-wide survey we asked our residents to rate various aspects of our quality of life. Being “a place for high quality education” was ranked number one, with 93% responding that our schools are excellent or good. Clearly, having high-performing schools is important to our community.

I also know through first-hand experience that excellent schools matter, and that Woodlawn is terrific, because I am the parent of three Woodlawn graduates. I remember being here the first day Woodlawn opened to welcome students back in 1999, as my daughter was in the very first class of 6th Graders. I’ve logged in many hours over the years volunteering for special lunch, dessert day, lighted schoolhouse, school store…you name it…in addition to attending countless parent-teacher conferences. What I have seen, over and over, is the diligent, committed, and caring way the administration, faculty, and staff dedicate themselves to making sure all of our children are given the tools to succeed, not only here at Woodlawn, but later, in life.

As a representative of the citizens of the Village of Long Grove, it is with great honor that I celebrate with you today as you receive this award. Thank you for making your community proud!”

District #96 School Board President Marc Tepper joined me outside Woodlawn before the celebration.

District #96 School Board President Marc Tepper joined me outside Woodlawn before the celebration.

Meeting the Challenge

Getting our backyard prairie certified with Mary Fortmann of Conserve Lake County (on the right). Shown here is a "very happy" Rattlesnake Master plant!

Getting our backyard prairie certified with Mary Fortmann of Conserve Lake County (on the right). Shown here is a “very happy” Rattlesnake Master plant!

Recently, my husband Aaron and I made good on a promise. In April of this year, I made a public pledge to work towards getting our 9 acres of property in Long Grove certified for eco-friendly practices and land stewardship (see my prior post, Accepting the Conservation Challenge). Last week, I am happy to say, we passed the inspection and are now the proud owners of a “Conserve@Home” yard sign!

We were lucky to enjoy a particularly beautiful October day for our visit from Conserve Lake County consultant, Mary Fortmann. While showing her around our yard, gardens, prairie and woodlands, we chatted about all the things we have done so far to help preserve the many native treasures. Mary had a wealth of knowledge about things growing in our yard that we weren’t sure of, in particular a prairie plant that we had never seen before and hadn’t identified yet. Turns out it is a huge rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) plant–the tallest one Mary had ever seen! Aaron and I learned so much from our consultation, particularly about species that we didn’t know we had (like Japanese barberry) and didn’t know were invasive (like burning bush). We received lots of tips and suggestions on lawn care and mulching that we will use now and next season. Mary identified many baby oak and hickory trees growing in the native woodland area of our property. I love her suggestion to transplant some of these seedlings to our more “suburban” area of the yard–why hadn’t that thought ever occurred to me? Brilliant! We now have several goals for next year including continuing our efforts at controlling the many invasive species starting to creep in such as teasel and reed canary grass. It will be an ongoing battle, but one worth fighting.

I would like to encourage all residents of Long Grove to schedule a consultation and learn more about how you can enhance your landscape in a sustainable way. The amount of personalized information we received was well worth the $50. charge. In addition, if you schedule a visit for 2017 before the end of this year, the Village of Long Grove will refund half the cost of your consultation ($25) as a way of encouragement. I was so delighted to get my own property certified, that I posted the picture above on Facebook, bragging about the giant specimen. My neighbor Claire threw down a challenge for next year–she is going to grow the biggest rattlesnake master in the neighborhood. Game on!

Proudly displaying our new yard sign showing that our property is certified!

Proudly displaying our new yard sign showing that our property is certified!

The Cutest Town

Enjoying downtown Long Grove during Irish Days on September 4, 2016.

Enjoying downtown Long Grove during Irish Days on September 4, 2016.

Those of us who live in the village already know this, but this past week we received verification that indeed, Long Grove is the cutest town in Illinois.  PureWow.com, a popular lifestyle website, just dropped their list of “The Cutest Town in Every U.S. State” and…wait for it…Long Grove took top honors for Illinois! There are many reasons that we might rank high on the charm factor–historic buildings, beautiful open spaces, a century old church and village tavern in continuous operation, and of course, the covered bridge. According to the website, one of the attributes that set us apart from the rest is our tradition of festivals celebrating our agricultural roots, such as the upcoming Apple Festival to be held on September 23, 24 and 25. The vintage tractors (pictured above) currently displayed along Old McHenry Road remind us of our farming heritage, and help set the tone for the Octoberfest celebrations kicking off this month as harvest season approaches.

My personal love affair with Long Grove began in 1985 when as newlyweds, my husband Aaron and I decided to take a drive outside of Chicago and discovered the village on a Strawberry Fest weekend. It reminded us of the small Central Illinois farming community where we both grew up, and when we had children of our own this is where we chose to raise them, amid the nature, top-notch schools, and yes…cuteness. This Labor Day weekend featured Irish Days celebrations including such diverse pleasures as: bagpipes, Irish dancing, outdoor Mass in Fountain Square, Irish bands, Guinness, “Best Men’s Legs in a Kilt” contest, and an Irish dog competition. Serving as Village President these past several years has brought a whole new level of appreciation to me about what makes our village unique and special, and through it all I still have an affection for our town and our residents that will endure. In the past week I have attended two Grand Openings of new businesses–How Impressive (personalized stationary and gifts) and Primrose School (early childhood education). There is a positive momentum going on right now in this cute little town, so make it part of your fall season to delight in the character and ambiance that only Long Grove has to offer.

Hayrake Trail

Grovetrotter walking group member Jane Primack at the entrance to the Hayrake Trail.

Grovetrotter walking group member Jane Primack at the entrance to the Hayrake Trail.

Thanks to the hard work of a Long Grove Eagle Scout, one of our neighborhood pathway trails was recently extended and restored. Known as the Hayrake Trail, this path along Indian Creek starts on Port Clinton Road and runs north, just to the east of the Com Ed right of way. This path is attractive for a variety of reasons:  it contains woodland wildflowers, winds alongside a lovely creek, features benches on which to rest, and a vintage artifact (old hayrake salvaged from the creek) as a point of interest. But my personal favorite feature of this trail is that it is entirely in the shade. And on the hot and humid August day that I recently hiked it along with my fellow Grovetrotters, that shade was most welcome!

We have Stevenson High School Senior William Jacob to thank for this, as he was the most recent local Boy Scout to choose the Hayrake Trail as his Eagle Scout project. William and his crew of volunteers spent several workdays this summer hauling mulch and clearing brush to restore the front section of the trail, and then extended the trail further north towards an eventual connection to Oakwood Road. In addition, William added a wooden entrance sign to the trail (pictured above) which is visible from Port Clinton Road so that residents can more easily access this community path. William was thanked for his service to the Village and the Park District at the August 9th Village Board Meeting, pictured below.

Long Grove is a community that depends on volunteers to step forward when needed to maintain and improve our many beautiful open spaces. Congratulations to William for gaining some valuable leadership skills, and at the same time giving all of us one more shady spot to appreciate the wonders of nature.

Honoring students at our August 9th Village Board Meeting: (L to R) Ted Tapas, Stevenson High School State  Championship Men's Bowling Team Captain, Dave Lothspeich, Village Manager, Angie Underwood, Eagle Scout William Jacob.

Honoring students at our August 9th Village Board Meeting: (L to R) Ted Tapas, Stevenson High School State Championship Men’s Bowling Team Captain; Dave Lothspeich, Village Manager; Angie Underwood, Village President; Eagle Scout William Jacob.

Changing of the Guard

(L to R) New Village Clerk Amy Gayton, Village President Angie Underwood, retiring Village Clerk Heidi Locker-Scheer.

(L to R) New Village Clerk Amy Gayton, Village President Angie Underwood, retiring Village Clerk Heidi Locker-Scheer.

At the Village Board meeting on July 12th we celebrated the retirement of Village Clerk Heidi Locker-Scheer, and welcomed the newest member of our team with the swearing in of Amy Gayton as our incoming Village Clerk. The transition went smoothly and while it was bittersweet to say farewell to such a valued member of the Board, Heidi is moving on to a new position at work and we are happy for her career success. The Village is lucky to have Amy step forward to volunteer at this time; she has previously coordinated the Archer School program for the Historical Society and donates many hours assisting with the festivals and activities of the Historic Downtown Business Association. Amy will serve as clerk for the remainder of the current term, which expires in April of 2017. Welcome, Amy!

When I took office as Village President one of my first duties was to appoint a Village Clerk as no one had run for the open seat in the election. Let’s face it, the clerk job is not terribly glamorous as it can be time consuming and precise, is a non-voting role, and of course lacks a paycheck. I hesitated to ask Heidi to volunteer as she works full-time in downtown Chicago, but knew her civic interest and leadership skills would be a perfect fit. Heidi has done an excellent job over the past three years keeping track of the meeting minutes and carrying out her election duties, leaving behind the legacy of a valuable contribution to our Village. Her faithful support and calm professionalism will be greatly missed by staff and board members alike, and we are thankful for her service over the years to the residents of Long Grove. Best wishes, Heidi!

The Thin Blue Line

Caught at Village Hall by our Lake County Sheriff Officer, Kevin McHugh.

Caught at Village Hall by our Lake County Sheriff Deputy, Kevin McHugh.

Most residents of Long Grove are familiar with the fact that we do not have a municipal police department, but instead contract for police services through the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. This has been a long-standing and beneficial arrangement for the Village, and we have been fortunate to have many deputies over the years providing excellent service to our community. One current familiar face to all of us in Long Grove is Deputy Sheriff Kevin McHugh.

From time to time, I have heard Long Grove warmly referred to as “Mayberry,” in a comparison to the fictional hometown that was the setting for T.V.’s The Andy Griffith Show. In that same spirit then, Deputy Sheriff McHugh is our Sheriff Andy Taylor. Officer McHugh has been serving our Village since May of 2005, and is by now so familiar with our community that he knows many of our citizens by name. I’m not the only resident who takes comfort in being greeted by Kevin’s friendly smile in the downtown, out on patrol of our streets, or at my doorstep when the security system is accidentally triggered (again!) When the Food Network needed an amicable and outgoing public figure to emcee the cooking competition during the Long Grove filming of their show Eating America during Strawberry Fest, Kevin was the man.

But make no mistake, Officer McHugh is a highly skilled professional and takes law enforcement in our Village very seriously. He graduated from University of Louisville, KY as a Crime Prevention Specialist and began his career with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in 1987, being elected Deputy Sheriff of the Year in both 1999 and 2000. In August of 2013, just a few months after taking office, I was honored to present Officer McHugh with a special outstanding service award from the Village of Long Grove.

Yesterday, on June 30, 2016, Kevin retired after serving 29 years with the Lake County Sheriff. A cookout was held at the fire station so that we could offer our deep appreciation for the many contributions he has made to make our Village a safer place to live. Everyone in Long Grove wishes Kevin well in his new endeavors, and we hope to see him back in town from time to time.

Celebrating Girl Scout Week

Junior and Cadette Girl Scouts helping me proclaim National Girl Scout Week in Long Grove on March 8th, 2016.

Junior and Cadette Girl Scouts helping me proclaim National Girl Scout Week in Long Grove on March 8th, 2016.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than by inviting some of our female leaders of tomorrow to help lead the Pledge of Allegiance at our Village Board meeting. Thanks to the girls of Junior Girl Scout Troop #40465 from Country Meadows Elementary and Cadette Girl Scout Troop #41041 from Woodlawn Middle School who joined me in honoring Girl Scout Week with an official proclamation. And of course, being a former Girl Scout myself and a Girl Scout leader for many years, I had the perfect chance to dig out my old scouting sweatshirt and remember the great times spent with my daughter’s troop, symbolized by all the patches. Did you know this week marks Girl Scouts 104th anniversary of Girl Scouting in the United States? A few more tidbits from the proclamation include:

WHEREAS, Girl Scouts is a global movement that thinks big and acts locally. Programs and experiences are designed to help every girl discover her sparkle. In addition to singing, dancing, hiking, and canoeing, our local Girl Scouts use problem-solving skills to make an impact in our community and around the world; and

WHEREAS, the mission of Girl Scouts is to change lives by building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place; and

WHEREAS, more than 55,440 girls and 21,381 adults are involved locally in Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that I, Angela Underwood, past Girl Scout and Girl Scout Leader and now Village President of Long Grove do hereby recognize National Girl Scout Week, March 6th-12th, 2016, and declare the same as official Girl Scout Week in Long Grove.

FURTHER, I urge all citizens of Long Grove to join me in recognizing the achievements and leadership of our local Girl Scouts and volunteers; thank them for their valuable community service and encourage the future success of this organization.

An Excellent Evening

Britteny and Barb Gesheidle, owners of Smokin' T's BBQ and nominees for Business of the Year.

Brittney and Barb Gescheidle, owners of Smokin’ T’s BBQ and nominees for Business of the Year.

The Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce recently held their annual dinner and awards gala, an “Evening of Excellence.” Last year I attended this event for the first time, and made a promise to myself that I would nominate some Long Grove residents for awards in 2015. Smokin’ T’s is a favorite local restaurant not only for the BBQ, but because of the service they do to our local veterans in providing free meals for needy families at Thanksgiving and Christmas. So this was an obvious choice for my nominee as “Business of the Year.” I was also motivated to nominate one of our recently retired Village Trustees, Joseph Barry, for his three decades of service to Long Grove in many different volunteer capacities. And I am happy to announce that Joe was presented with the “Citizen of the Year” award! As luck would have it, Joe was in Hawaii last week so I had the honor of going on stage and accepting the award for him, and we will have a repeat awards presentation with Lake Zurich Chamber officials at our next Village Board meeting on February 9th. And even though Joe was having a much better time in paradise, our Long Grove table whooped it up for him in celebration of his big win. The event was attended by many local business owners, community volunteers, and government officials on the national, state, and local level. It certainly was an excellent evening of fellowship, great food, dancing, and recognition of some of the best individuals our community has to offer.

L to R Outgoing Chamber President Ken Grooms, me (doing my best Joe Barry impersonation), and State Representative Ed Sullivan. Photo credit: ANICHOLEPORTRAIT