The nuts and bolts of community newspaper reporting consist of keeping an eye on government — village boards, advisory commission decisions, school boards, township, police.
But what makes community journalism fun, colorful are the stories of interesting people and out-of-the-ordinary events that happen, without fail, every year. Here is a roundup of some of the more unusual stories from this year.
“Dream ride runs through Riverside” (July 29)
Hanna Elshoff rode into Riverside on her ELF — an egg-shaped, solar-powered bicycle — on July 23. She was lost.
But she didn’t stay lost for long. The now 73-year-old Chatfield, Minnesota, resident who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1961 enjoyed her pit stop in Riverside, but within a couple hours was on her way to south suburban Lansing.
A member of Lions International, Elshoff had left Minnesota on May 1 and was in the midst of a journey she imagined would take two years. Her final destination was to be Plains, Georgia, to get President Jimmy Carter’s autograph.
Well, here’s what happened:
Elshoff spent much of August and September pedaling through Indiana and Michigan (she was all over the state of Michigan). In mid-September, she gave a speech at the Lions Fun Festival in Grand Rapids. Then she began to head south.
She pedaled through Indiana and into Kentucky. On her 73rd birthday on Nov. 10, Elshoff was in Tennessee, heading into Alabama.
By Nov. 25, she had made her way to just east of Columbus, Georgia, about 40 miles from Plains, when she decided to rent a car and drive back to Minnesota. She was home on Thanksgiving Day.
The trouble, you see, was that in order to schedule an appointment to actually see Jimmy Carter, it would take about six weeks. She could have gone to Plains and could have seen him, but she wouldn’t be able to get close.
So she improvised.
Leaving the ELF in Georgia, Elshoff went home. She’s scheduled to speak at a Lions event in Rochester, Minnesota, on Jan. 23. In the meantime, she’s attempting to schedule an appointment with the former president for early 2016.
“I’m totally fine with whatever happens,” Elshoff said in a phone interview with the Landmark in late November. “This whole journey has become surreal. I’m not at all disappointed. If I don’t get the signature now, it’s OK, too.”
If she’s able to get something set up with Carter, she’ll head back down to Georgia and clamber back into the ELF and finish the journey.
Whatever happens, Elshoff will have made a lot of new friends during her journey, which she chronicled on her Facebook page “Hanna’s Dream Ride.”
“The hardest part of the trip is whenever I have to say goodbye,” Elshoff said. “I’m really not sure what to call ‘home’ because everywhere I was felt like home.”
“All things great and (mostly) small,” Nov. 25
We may have never known about Brookfield’s only (so far as we know — and not counting that very obvious one at First Avenue and 31st Street) — licensed exotic wildlife sanctuary if not for a lost potbellied pig.
After police collected the pig, which was found wandering around in the 3900 block of Custer Avenue in early November, the department got a call from Elizabeth Kleist, a local resident.
Kleist and her husband operate the Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary NFP out of their Arthur Avenue home. Officially licensed in May, the Kleists are now able to accept exotic animals as rescues. Cheech (short for chicharron) the pig was the second animal they’d rescued.
The sanctuary is also home to about a dozen venomous snakes, a monitor lizard, a capuchin monkey, a porcupine, a white-phase red fox and other reptiles and mammals.
Elizabeth runs the sanctuary full time and the couple gives educational talks using animals from the sanctuary at schools, libraries and Big Run Wolf Ranch in Lemont.
“Brookfield board votes to allow fire pits,” July 1
All Greg Gates wanted to do was enjoy the fire pit in his backyard. Fire pits are common in Brookfield, they’re everywhere.
But they were illegal and in April someone called the cops on Greg and his fire pit.
So Gates appeared before the village board and pleaded to set the fire pits free. And just in time for the Fourth of July, the village board decreed that it would be so.
By unanimous vote, trustees allowed the use of backyard fire pits over the objections of some village residents who claimed the campfires aggravated respiratory conditions, making them prisoners in their own homes.
“Pitch to name Riverside Town Hall for Topinka,” April 1
In March, Joseph Topinka, the son of the late Judy Baar Topinka — the longtime Riverside resident who served as a state legislator, state treasurer, state comptroller and was a Republican candidate for Illinois governor — had a proposal for the Riverside Township Board of Trustees: How about naming the township hall in honor of Judy?
It turns out that it wasn’t a particularly popular idea on the township board, which formed a committee to study the issue. Instead of renaming the township hall in honor of Topinka, the township board in July agreed to dedicate the second-floor auditorium in her name.
Disappointed but determined, Joseph Topinka had another proposal for the board. Instead of a simple plaque, which he felt would be ignored, how about an educational display telling the life of Judy Baar Topinka, including a permanent display of artifacts from her life.
In August, the township board declined the offer, saying they were going with a plaque. Joseph Topinka responded by penning a narrative for the plaque — a lengthy one, which township trustees rejected at their December meeting.
As the year drew to a close, no decision had been made about the plaque. The board was seeking cost estimates.
“Brookfield HAZMAT call shuts down trains, traffic for hours,” Oct. 14
It was really something to see a full HAZMAT mobilization. Dozens of vehicles, including a semi-tractor trailer decontamination unit and firefighters descended on Brookfield on Oct. 12 after plastic bags containing an unknown, clear substance fell off a truck while crossing the BNSF tracks on Maple Avenue.
Initial tests on the substance indicated that it might be harmful, which triggered a response that shut down rail traffic for about six hours and closed the street to vehicle traffic in the area for about 11 hours.
Firefighters donned bulky neon orange HAZMAT suit to collect samples and a National Guard team from Peoria finally arrived to test the substance and make a determination.
It was a harmless industrial lubricant.
“Tattoo helps ID Brookfield graffiti tagger,” Sept. 9
In August, Brookfield police began to receive complaints about graffiti scrawled in pink magic marker near the Congress Park train station. For lack of a more descriptive term, police dubbed the cartoon drawings of a dinosaur with large, bare breasts the “booby dino,” and set about finding the culprit.
It took a few weeks, but video surveillance images led police to stop a 25-year-old man near the train station on Sept. 2. He was carrying a pink marker. And on his forearm was a tattoo — of a booby dino.
He was charged with six counts of criminal damage to property.
“Mold-A-Rama to mark 50th year at Brookfield Zoo,” Sept. 9
Sometimes you’d be surprised how much a two-buck piece of molded plastic can resonate.
But when Mold-A-Rama, the Brookfield company responsible for the machines that make the colorful molded plastic animal souvenirs at Brookfield Zoo, announced it was soliciting suggestions for an animal to help mark their 50th anniversary at the zoo, the response was stunning. In fact, it was the most viewed story on the Landmark’s website in 2015.
In October, the folks at Mold-A-Rama opened the voting, and people could select one of five choices — a bison, a peacock, the carousel, the zoo entrance arches or a red panda.
More than 5,000 votes were cast during the month-long online polling period.
On Dec. 16, we called Paul Jones over at Mold-A-Rama for the results of this very important vote.
And the winner is … the bison (3,307 votes), over the peacock by about a 3-to-1 margin.
Buy yours at Brookfield Zoo in 2016.