When I look back on 2011 in New Lenox, the stories I'll remember most are the ones that captured the conversation of the community. They're stories that started at one point and, in many cases, are still developing.
They're stories of great importance to residents—what governing bodies are doing—but also stories of the exciting, unique or tragic things that our community experienced this year.
I've picked 11 stories that I believe tell the story of New Lenox in 2011, and believe that story is largely "the start of something bigger." We're in a growing village, and many of the stories below show that to be true. Others simply captured our attention and will remain in our memories long after this year.
Despite an outpouring of parent concerns and questions, the New Lenox School District 122 approved schedule changes for student transportation that resulted in dropping off grades 4-6 first at 7:30 a.m. The move saved the district $372,000, indicative of ongoing measures by Illinois schools to cut costs without state payments.
The village announced, and later approved, a development that will bring lots of business and jobs to New Lenox. The Spring Creek Outlet Mall will be the main component of a mixed-used development that will also include hotels, restaurants and possibly senior housing.
New Lenox, trendsetter? After 60 percent of voters approved this, New Lenox became one of just two municipalities in the county to get lower electricity rates for residents. Now, more than 100 throughout northern Illinois are trying to do the same. The move saved residents an estimated 25 percent on their bills.
After decades of waiting for something to happen, construction for the Route 30 widening finally began. It moved slowly throughout 2011, as did traffic, and the bulk of the project will come next year.
What better place to host the traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial than in the Home of Proud Americans? Veterans and interested residents from all over traveled to New Lenox, some to pay tribute and others to find a specific name on the wall.
The biggest police-related news came with the shocking and tragic homicide of Dwight Jones, a township resident. Jones was found dead in his home, which had been ransacked. Later in the month, one man was charged with his murder and two friends were charged with assisting the burglary.
Tragedy struck twice in June when Lincoln-Way West band director Steve Nedzel died at 32. The beloved teacher's loss was mourned by the entire community, with a dedication built outside the school and a memorial held inside. In September, the Lincoln-Way community was rocked again when after he was hit by a car during cross country practice.
Dwyane Wade made a return visit to New Lenox for a basketball camp, but this year it was bigger than ever. Devin Hester of the Bears also ran a football camp, and Grammy winner Jim Peterik ran a music camp. That was a lot of star power for this town!
The Village Board approved a $27 million capital improvements plan that includes increases to sales and utility taxes to fund a new police station and public works facility, the extension of Nelson Road between Illinois Highway and Haven Avenue and completing a 20-year plan for side street repairs.
A year of criminal activity in New Lenox's Metra lot hit a boiling point in November when a car was stolen, by far the largest item stolen there this year. Shortly after, the village announced plans to purchase a security system for the lot, something it had been considering for some time.
Illinois Democrats drew new congressional boundaries, and in December a federal court upheld the changes against a GOP lawsuit. What that means for the largely conservative New Lenox? A possible Chicago Democrat as the congressional representative. State boundaries were also redrawn, bringing in a three new Democrats to represent us in Springfield.