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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 13:01

Stateline News 2015 year in review

Written by  CSI Media news staff
Beloit’s biggest story of 2015 was one that took nearly the whole year. In February, the Beloit City Council voted to hire a consultant to look into growing concern over the management of the police department. Then two weeks ago, Chief Norm Jacobs and Deputy Chief Tom Dunkin, who have been on paid administrative leave, agreed to a buyout that will end their employment with the city. Beloit’s biggest story of 2015 was one that took nearly the whole year. In February, the Beloit City Council voted to hire a consultant to look into growing concern over the management of the police department. Then two weeks ago, Chief Norm Jacobs and Deputy Chief Tom Dunkin, who have been on paid administrative leave, agreed to a buyout that will end their employment with the city. file

Sometimes it seems like the days take forever, but the months fly by.   

In a year that seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, some of the most notable stories of 2015 clearly illustrated how quickly things can change in our communities.

And some of those stories showed how, even as time moves on, we still cling tightly to our familiar and cherished ways.

As we begin a new year, we look back on these five stories that stood out in a year that showed us how much life can change, whether we’re ready or not:

1. Beloit police chief, deputy chief agree to step down

As the year began, concern was growing in Beloit City Hall over the management of the police department. It’s a story that the Stateline News has covered all year.

By year’s end, Chief Norm Jacobs and Deputy Chief Tom Dunkin were out, and interim Chief David Zibolski had the inside track to become the next chief.

Jacobs and Dunkin agreed Dec. 21 to part ways with the city after the two sides hammered out a separation agreement that avoids what could have been a lengthy termination hearing that could have gone well into 2016.

The two will remain on paid leave until Jan. 31, when they will retire.

Jacobs’ buyout will be $108,594.24 and Dunkin’s  will be $96,312.72.

The selection of a new police chief is up to the police and fire commission.

By a vote of 6-0, the city council on Feb. 24 approved hiring Hillard Heintze to do an assessment of the police department.

Incoming City Manager Lori Curtis Luther’s first day on the job was June 1, and by June 16 she had placed Jacobs and Dunkin on administrative leave after reading a draft of the consultant’s report on the management of the department.

Jacobs and Dunkin were notified Oct. 8 that Curtis Luther was forwarding a recommendation to the police and fire commission seeking dismissal of the two men.

Zibolski was hired as interim police chief and swiftly moved to implement changes in the management structure and culture.

In a news conference in October, Zibolski said he’d be interested in the Beloit job if it became open.

2. Unique homes of the ’40s ‘steel’ standing

Nov. 1 -- As our neighborhoods change around us, sometimes the grand ideas of the past begin to fade from memories. That may be the case with the few remaining Lustron homes in the Stateline area.

As we reported on Nov. 1, these unique, all-metal homes were built for the growing number of young families setting down roots during the post-World War II housing boom.

The homes dot the Stateline area and can be found in Beloit, Janesville and Lake Geneva, to name a few of the cities where these homes have been preserved.

Square enameled steel panels -- known as Lustron for its "luster on steel" -- had been used in the 1940s to build businesses, but a residential version was the brainchild of Illinois inventor Carl Strandlund. He thought Lustrons could be built quickly during a post-World War II housing boom that saw scores of veterans returning to the states, marrying and starting families in their own new homes. 

His Ohio-based manufacturing company could churn out, assembly-line style, 100 prefabricated steel houses a day, according to some estimates. A grand total of 2,553 Lustrons were built between 1948 and 1950, before the company, tied up in financial and political difficulties, filed for bankruptcy.

While the designs primarily were simple rectangles and the colors were limited to tan, blue, green or gray, the ranch-style homes proved immensely popular with buyers. The modern-looking houses offered such features as pocket doors, built-ins and even an optional futuristic combination dishwasher/clothes washer. The

homes’ steel exteriors and interiors were touted as maintenance free. Their cost averaged between $8,000 and $15,000.

3. Work continues on the Confluence

Sept. 6 -- Work continued in 2015 on the Confluence, a reclaimed natural area located where the Rock River and Turtle Creek meet in South Beloit. The project includes prairie areas, nature trails and education center. Organizers purchased the former Dahlman Muffler Shop, 306 Dickop St., in 2013 to convert the building into a nature learning center. The nature center is set to be open in June.

Other projects planned for the Confluence include outdoor pavilions, walking trails, prairie areas and urban gardens.

"You need some indoor learning space and then you need an outdoor learning space," Jeff Adams of Beloit 2020 said in September. "There are a lot of interests and potential users."

Beloit 2020 hosted a Meet Me at the Confluence event in June, which included native plant restoration, kayaking and tours of the area. A fur traders’ river run was held in September, which included a kayak run that followed the old fur traders’ route between Beloit and Rockton.

The confluence area was a Ho-Chunk village in the early 1800s called Ke-Chunk, which means "turtle village." Several industrial companies were established in the area during the mid-1900s.

"We don’t know the exact area of the village," said Therese Oldenburg, program coordinator. "In the early 1800s, it was the original Turtle Village located at the confluence. It’s been used so much by industry and there’s a lot of industrial fill. It was one of the larger villages in the Illinois and Wisconsin area at the time. About 600 people lived there."

4. Coyotes encroaching on urban areas

Dec. 6 -- Local wildlife experts reported that coyotes are becoming more common in urban areas. Michael Foy, wildlife specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, advised residents to watch their pets when they let them outside because there was a chance they could be attacked by a coyote.

A Roscoe couple’s pet was snatched from its front yard  by a coyote in August. The pet suffered serious injuries.

"The days when people can let their pets out without supervision are over, because coyotes will prey on them," Foy said in December.

Foy said more coyotes have been spotted in urban areas during the past 20 years because they are becoming more comfortable around humans. He said there is less farmland and not as many people are hunting coyotes to protect their livestock.

Foy said more coyotes are migrating to southern Wisconsin because of the growing wolf population in northern Wisconsin. He said wolves will often attack coyotes, whereas there are smaller animals in southern Wisconsin upon which coyotes often prey.

5. Drive-in to the past for burgers, shakes and a bit of nostalgia

June 7 – Then again, some things never change.

Entrepreneurs have been offering roadside food like burgers and shakes for drivers as far back as the 1920s, but drive-ins were golden in the 1950s.

The explosion of fast-food chains saw them fade, but a few area drive-ins still operate, even thrive.

Bing’s Drive-in, a 60-year-old landmar in Rockford, Illinois, boasts outdoor menus with built-in speakers.

Former head coach of the Chicago Bears, Lovie Smith once dropped in at the Dog n Suds in Richmond, Illinois, where the sign proclaims it was established in 1963. Owner Matt Maciejewski says people are surprised to see car hops bringing orders up to their vehicles.

Ken Kline purchased the A&W Restaurant in Janesville in 1976. Now his son, Bob, is the owner.  

"Back in the early ’50s and ’60s, there were four drive-ins in a half-mile strip here," Ken Kline said. "Now we’re the only one left."

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