‘Talk of the Town’ featured some interesting people and places in 2022

Glancing through a folder of a year’s worth of “Talk of the Town” columns to piece together a year-end review of the faces and places you visited during 2022 delivers a key message about local newspapers: They remain an interesting “town square” without a bunch of the white noise and aggressive, often inaccurate, rhetoric common in far too many social media threads.

It makes it even more of a pleasure to continue writing this column and introducing readers to so many interesting people and places.

I hope you enjoy this look back at those that stuck out along our 2022 journey.

A global presence

We started 2022 by reminding readers about the industrial parks on the east sides of the Tri-Cities, introducing many of the companies and what they mean for the local, state, national and even international economy.

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke summed it up well when noting that more than 100 industries operate on the east side of Batavia, providing between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs.

A few weeks later, it was time to get a sense of the global cuisine that is offered at various restaurants throughout the area. Considering all of the excitement this year with Argentina winning the World Cup, it should be noted we have a slice of that country right here with the Bocaditos Caf in Batavia.

Restaurant owner Juliana Cancelo was born in Batavia in the late 1980s, when her father brought the family here from Argentina for his job at Fermilab. The family went back to Argentina a few years later, but returned to Batavia and Fermilab in 1996.



Bocaditos and its Argentina cuisine has had three moves within the city of Batavia, the most recent occurring in November 2021 when Cancelo set up shop in the Newton House on Batavia Avenue.

Mozart must be smiling

The prestigious St. Charles Singers, under the direction of Jeffrey Hunt at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, completed a decadelong project of performing rare Mozart concerts — overcoming a two-year stumbling block from the COVID-19 virus in the process.

The Singers took on 73 compositions, 56 sacred music concerts and 17 instrumental works in what Hunt called, “No small feat for the choir and its accompanying orchestras.”

It was all about the planning, effort and attention to detail for the sacred music to be shared over the course of several years — and it was extraordinary for those who listened in.



Internment at Manzanar

At a time when Americans find themselves still struggling with the societal cancer known as hatred, Batavia’s Ellen Huxtable reminded us of how bad it got in this country during World War II.

Huxtable shared the story of her family’s experience in relocation camps for American citizens of Japanese descent. Her family stayed in the Manzanar camp in a California desert until the end of the war.

“Most people lost everything they had,” Huxtable said of the Japanese families that were moved to Manzanar from 1942 to 1945.

“If they had a farm, they lost it; some fishermen who had boats and radios were considered big threats and they lost it all.”

Near the end of this year, Huxtable, who is known throughout the area for teaching business classes at Waubonsee Community College and hosting free networking meetings for small-business owners at Congregational Church of Batavia for nearly 20 years, announced she would be retiring from her role as an adviser and supporter of the meetings.

In her teaching and consulting roles, she has surely helped thousands of students and entrepreneurs.

Sport of kings

Last summer I stopped at the polo fields of Barb and George Alexander of Batavia, while marveling at how long these two have promoted, supported and played the game.

The Alexanders still stage weekly polo matches and practices at the complex on Bliss Road when the weather cooperates during the summer months.

It’s been a 50-year love affair with polo for the Alexanders, starting with their entry as players in the Naperville Polo Club before eventually creating their own club, the Blackberry Polo Club.

Candy Bengson serves customers at the family's new ice cream shop, Candy's Creamery, in the Mill Creek subdivision last August. The shop, featuring homemade ice cream, is now closed for the season and will reopen in February.

Candy Bengson serves customers at the family’s new ice cream shop, Candy’s Creamery, in the Mill Creek subdivision last August. The shop, featuring homemade ice cream, is now closed for the season and will reopen in February.
– Courtesy of Dave Heun

We scream for ice cream

One of my favorite “finds” of the year took place when visiting the new Candy’s Creamery ice cream shop in the Mill Creek subdivision in Geneva.

The homemade ice cream — especially my favorites of sea-salt vanilla caramel, chocolate caramel and cookies galore — quickly became a must-have. I have visited several times since my interview.

If you haven’t treated yourself to this ice cream haven, don’t plan to run out to the Herrington Road location in January. Candy’s is closed for the season and will reopen Feb. 3.

Scary, but uplifting

Geneva’s Grace Hinchman was at the center of one of the scarier, yet most uplifting, pieces in “Talk of the Town” the past year.

The Loyola University junior volleyball player was preparing for a new season in late May when she suddenly lost grasp of everything. She suffered through a series of horrific epileptic seizures that came out of nowhere.

It turned out to be a rare case of febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome, or FIRES.

After several scary weeks for family and friends, doctors at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago diagnosed and prescribed medication — with no assurance as to what sort of recovery Hinchman could expect.

By July, doctors were calling her case a “one-in-a-million” because of the rarity of the affliction, the availability of the right medicine and the even rarer ability for Hinchman to fight her way to a complete recovery and return to volleyball and school studies.

It left the 2020 Geneva High School graduate with plenty of gratitude. “I want to thank all of the doctors, nurses, my family and friends and all of the people of Geneva reaching out and praying for me.”

Grand marshals Bob and Sue McDowell wave from atop a float during the 2022 St. Charles St. Patrick's Parade on March 12. In the fall, the St. Charles couple were honored with the TriCity Family Services' annual Barth Award for volunteers of the year.

Grand marshals Bob and Sue McDowell wave from atop a float during the 2022 St. Charles St. Patrick’s Parade on March 12. In the fall, the St. Charles couple were honored with the TriCity Family Services’ annual Barth Award for volunteers of the year.
– Shaw Media

For good of community

The headline of the column in late October stated “When Bob met Sue,” and the story was about how Bob and Sue McDowell of St. Charles met as high-schoolers, stayed in this area, started a successful business and made it their life’s work to help others.

That sort of history helped them earn the TriCity Family Services’ annual Barth Award for volunteers of the year.

This was a worthy couple that, even before they retired from a successful home remodeling career, has always been engaged in important community efforts to help business, health and the arts stand out.

When Lazarus House homeless shelter or the TriCity Health Partnership needed construction work, Bob McDowell was quick to donate his expertise and services.

When any number of arts programs in St. Charles needed a voice or a leader, Sue McDowell has answered that bell several times.

A bit of Southern charm

Like any holder of a secret family recipe, Catherine Sheehan of St. Charles was quite protective of the ingredients in creating the popular biscuits at her Southern-themed Bloom + Bread store in the Berry House in Geneva.

After much success with pop-up stores in various locations and a growing awareness that she was developing loyal customers for her biscuits, pudding and other fare from her bakery, Sheehan decided a storefront in Geneva for bakery and floral arrangements was her next step.

Previously a lawyer, Sheehan was derailed a bit with mental health issues, but she was positive, optimistic and open about her previous struggles and how much Bloom + Bread meant to her and her team.

“I wanted to have a small-town feel for the store, and Third Street in Geneva fits that bill,” said Sheehan, who envisions her brand growing in the future, maybe to the point where it would morph into a sit-down restaurant, marketplace and center for weddings and other events.

These guys can talk

It was great to see former St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina and Geneva lawyer Pat Crimmins team up for a weekly podcast called “Just a Coupla Guys.”

Essentially, they took on the task of interviewing people and sharing stories. Rogina, who also landed St. Charles’ prestigious Charlemagne Award in May, calls the podcast arrangement through Nexxus Publishing and Fox Valley Magazine “the perfect retirement gig.”

They seem to really enjoy it, and what’s not to enjoy?

I can say from 45 years of experience, nearly 20 of them with the Daily Herald, in writing a column focusing on local people and places, interactions of this type are quite enjoyable.

None of it can happen without the people who make these sorts of things possible by continuing to listen, read and show an interest in the communities they live in.

With that, we’ll simply say Happy New Year to you all, and wishes for the best in 2023.

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