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Closing and accord, murders and merger among top Elgin stories of 2013

After 117 years providing services children adults alike need housing day treatment programming LarkCenter closed its doors for good October

After 117 years of providing services to children and adults alike in need of housing and day treatment programming, the Larkin Center closed its doors for good in October 2013, citing financial woes. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: February 3, 2014 11:49AM

ELGIN — As 2014 begins, here is a look back at Elgin’s top news stories of 2013, in no particular order. The stories were chosen by Courier-News staff members and contributors.

Larkin Center

After 117 years of providing services to children and adults in need of housing and day treatment, the Larkin Center closed its doors for good in October, citing financial woes.

Chicago-based Lawrence Hall took over four of the agency’s group homes for children with emotional and behavioral problems, as well as the therapeutic Rakow Center school that the Larkin Center had been operating. Elgin’s Ecker Center for Mental Health is now overseeing adult counseling and housing programs that were offered by the Larkin Center.

Elgin-based Auction Consultants recently held an auction at the old Larkin Center on Larkin Avenue, clearing out everything left behind to help pay down the center’s debt.

ESO and city

In September, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra agreed to pay back the city, with interest, $233,930.21 for rent owed on using the city’s Hemmens Cultural Center. The agreement came after more than a year of talks between the city and symphony leaders regarding back rent due the city.

If either the loan or ongoing rent payments are not made within 30 days of their first-of-the-month due dates, the city can then lock the ESO out of the Hemmens. If the ESO were to default on the terms for the funds owed to the city for Hemmens rent from May 2011 through November 2012, the city would get the symphony’s name, trademark, logos, copyrights, “goodwill, and books and records relating to or used in connection with the operation of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra,” according to the agreement.

The symphony also will play at least 75 percent of its performances at the Hemmens and continue to use the city-owned facility through the 15-year agreement. The symphony and all Hemmens renters that use the facility more than 50 times each year will see discounts — 50 percent off the base rent, 50 percent off labor rates, and 50 percent off equipment rental.

Neighbor murders

Matthew Stoecklein, 55, apparently hanged himself Dec. 12 while incarcerated in Cook County Jail awaiting trial for the November murder of 88-year-old World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient John Poyer. Stoecklein was accused of entering Poyer’s home, strangling him and burglarizing the apartment.

The two men lived in the same building at 590 Hiawatha Drive. Family had moved Poyer into his first-floor unit in September so the elderly man would no longer have to navigate the building’s stairs.

Poyer’s great-granddaughter, Lexie Zwerenz, noted after Stoecklein’s death that she made the decision to reach out to Stoecklein’s family as a way to heal. “Just to tell them that I get it, I guess,” Zwerenz said.

While Poyer’s family may not have gotten the public justice they wanted, “it is closure. Now I can start healing,” she said.

Zwerenz had started that process already by writing a letter to Stoecklein: “Monster or not, I can’t bring myself to hate you. Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

In another murder case, Paul A. Johnson, 34, a two-time ex-convict who has spent much of his adult life in prison, is awaiting trial in the March stabbing of artist Lisa Koziol-Ellis in her west-side home.

Johnson lived on the opposite end of the same four-unit townhome block on Garden Crescent Court as the victim and her husband, Dash Ellis. The couple had moved to Elgin from Chicago because they thought it would be safer.

According to reports, Johnson was confronted in the home by Koziol-Ellis, 33, during a break-in. Police said he used a screwdriver to stab her, then took a knife in the couple’s home to continue to stab her until she was dead.

Lingering lawsuits

Two lawsuits dragged along in 2013, one against Elgin School District U46 and the other against the city of Elgin.

In July, after eight years and more than $16 million in legal fees, U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Gettleman ruled in the racial discrimination trial against the district, rejecting claims U46 had discriminated against black and Hispanic students in its 2004 school boundary plan by placing them in overcrowded schools. He also disagreed with plaintiff claims that it did not offer appropriate help to English Language Learner students.

But Gettleman sided with plaintiffs on at one part of the claim, that the district did not offer equal access to gifted and academy programs to students who were black and Hispanic.

The lawsuit first was filed by nine Hispanic students and their parents in February 2005. Gettleman said he hopes the settlement phase of the case will end in August 2014.

The city of Elgin is still in court appealing a ruling by U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan in a case brought by The Life Center Inc., operating as TLC Pregnancy Services. It centered on a city council amendment to Elgin’s zoning regulations that was passed in June 2012. It classified TLC’s mobile facility and a number of other mobile operations as a “temporary land use” and limited such to only four uses per year at any one location, by permit.

The suit was filed on behalf of TLC by the firm Mauck & Baker in federal court in early March. It claimed that zoning restrictions put in place by Elgin in 2012 restricted women from getting TLC’s services from its mobile unit parked at two locations near Larkin High School. Der-Yeghiayan ruled in August that Elgin was permanently enjoined from enforcing the temporary use provision of its zoning regulations, a move that allows The Life Center to continue to offer its mobile pregnancy services for now.

On Dec. 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Elgin’s motion to halt the lawsuit.

In a press release for that ruling, TLC attorney John Mauck stated, “We have also told Elgin it could settle this lawsuit simply by paying our legal expenses.”

Spring flooding

Heavy April showers brought big flooding woes to the Fox Valley and a much of northern Illinois. Elgin was not immune.

As a result of the rains, Raymond Street — the most direct connection between South Elgin and Elgin’s east side — was closed at Purify Drive because of flooding from Poplar Creek. Tyler Creek also poured out of its banks in the Eagle Heights subdivision, forced closure of the Royal Boulevard bridge, and flooded the Judson University campus. Poplar Creek spilled into the Unity Park area near Hammond Avenue and Illinois Avenue, and into a mobile home park north of Villa Street.

The Elgin Fire Department evacuated two homes on Mark Avenue for a time, and for several days Walton Islands were almost entirely submerged by the fast-running Fox River, with only the U.S. flag sculpture visible above the roaring waters below the Kimball Street Dam.

Council grows

Because its population has grown to about 110,000, Elgin was required by state law to expand its city council in 2013 from seven to nine members, including the mayor.

In April, voters re-elected Rich Dunne and John Prigge; elected Carol Rauschenberger and former member Terry Gavin; and voted into office new member Toby Shaw, who is serving a two-year term. Turnout was only about 11 percent.

The election also saw the defeat of Robert Gilliam, who had served on the council for 40 years. Gilliam had been ill and hospitalized during much of the election cycle, and now is spending time at a house he and his wife have in Arizona.

Since the new members took their seats in May, council meetings have become longer, more numerous, and on occasion a bit more contentious. Top vote-getter Prigge also has frequently posted on his Facebook page since then that he will support candidates who will emerge to unseat Anna Moeller, Tish Powell, John Steffen, and Mayor David Kaptain in 2015.

Sherman merger

In June, Sherman Hospital — which has served Elgin for 125 years — officially became Advocate Sherman Hospital; and its urgent care centers, nursing home/rehab center and other facilities also became part of the 10-hospital, Oak Brook-based Advocate Health Care chain.

Advocate’s other hospitals include Advocate Lutheran General in Park Ridge, Advocate Condell in Libertyville, Advocate Good Shepherd in Barrington and Advocate Good Samaritan in Downers Grove.

Advocate reportedly will devote $200 million to Sherman and install a new data system. Sherman moved from the city’s east side to open its 255-bed main hospital on the west side along Randall Road in late 2009.

Advocate Sherman Hospital President and CEO Rick Floyd is leaving Sherman this month to become president of the flagship of its parent health system, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

Rt. 20 and McLean

The four-year, $45 million state of Illinois project reconfiguring the exchange at McLean Boulevard and Route 20 is supposed to be finished by the end of this coming summer.

Between now and then, there will be major changes to the lane setups along McLean Boulevard and the western-most block of Lillian Street, as well as work to finish replacing the other half of the bridge carrying Route 20 over McLean.

To make way for the project, two strip malls, a doughnut shop, the Shell service station at Lillian and McLean, and two Sunset Park homes were demolished or condemned.

Wall exhibit

In September, The Wall That Heals — a half-scale replica of the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — was set up in downtown Elgin and drew crowds of viewers.

The visit from the traveling wall was part of Gail Borden Public Library’s Big Read in the Northern Fox Valley, in which locals read the novel “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. Activities also included a candlelight vigil and a photo exhibit.

Riverside Drive

Major construction on the $10.5 million Riverside Drive Promenade project ended quietly in December, and it finally opened to cars, bikes and pedestrians. A grand opening likely will be held in late spring or early summer.

The project has been in the works since 2003 and makes use of what was a two-level parking deck built in the 1960s that had become unsafe and crumbling. The work redevelops a significant portion of the downtown riverfront, with the hopes that it will bring businesses and consumers to the banks of the Fox.

Elgin had been awarded $8 million in River’s Edge Redevelopment Zone funding from the state and $1 million in Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity funding. The city contributed another $1.5 million to the effort.

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