Tom's mailbag April 25, 2014

Tom's mailbag April 25, 2014

First, a shout-out to the Walker Opera House: it was 100 years ago today that Champaign-Urbana’s original legitimate theater, located at the northwest corner of Neil and Park streets in downtown Champaign, closed its door.

The Walker’s last show was four vaudeville acts: the acrobatic absurdities of Schreck & Percival, blackface comedian Harry Van Fossen, comedy sketch artists George Harcourt and Company and the singing and piano-playing of Wells & Knowland.


The Walker, according to a story in the old Urbana Courier-Herald, had begun life in 1861 as a United States arsenal. Sometime in the 1890s it was converted to a theater.

“As the home of legitimate drama it flourished until two years ago when vaudeville and movies intruded,” the Courier-Herald wrote. “In its day many of the foremost stars of America acted on its stage. Four or five big shows held the boards every week.”

The Walker had a seating capacity of 800, the newspaper said, and it always drew large crowds. Consider that in 1910 the combined population of Champaign-Urbana was about 21,500.

The New Orpheum, still standing a few blocks north of the site of the Walker, was erected that summer to replace it.

“Sam Harris, manager of the Walker for the past six years, will have charge of the New Orpheum,” according to the Courier-Herald. “Five vaudeville acts instead of four will be presented. The new theater will cost $90,000.”

Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman has a terrific local history blog with exterior photos of the Walker Opera House. 

They’re at


Now, on to this week’s correspondence ...


Taste of Champaign-Urbana

“I noticed Taste of Champaign was moved to August, and is only two days now. Can you find out the reasoning behind the move and shortening one of our signature events?”


You are correct. Last year it was three days in June; this year it’s two days in August: Aug. 15 (5 p.m. to 11 p.m.) and 16 (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.). That, incidentally, is just a week before the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival.

“We decided to shorten the festival based on vendor and community feedback,” said Chelsea Norton, marketing manager for the Champaign Park District. “Visitors to the festival really enjoy the atmosphere on Friday and Saturday. Also, it is easier for food vendors to manage time away from the restaurant (or managing both their Taste booth and restaurant) if the festival were shortened.”

The festival will remain at West Side Park, Norton said, and probably will have about the same number of food booths, as well as arts and crafts booths.

“New to the festival will be wine sales and the presence of craft beers from local breweries,” she said, “An event coordinated with Taste is the Pie Run, our 3.14 mile fun run that features pie stops along the course and the potential to end the race ‘Flying Pie’ (dodging flying whipped cream pies!) or ‘Pie Free’ (a clean finish to the race).”

I checked this out at the park district web site ( and it looks intriguing. The run will be at 5 p.m. on Saturday and will be entirely within West Side Park. The pies will be provided by local bakeries and restaurants.  


Run or dye

“What is the route for Run or Dye May 10?  No one seems to know.  I don’t wish to participate, I need to avoid it. I need to set up a meeting place with someone passing through on that morning and hoping for downtown Champaign.  Many people are asking on Facebook so your answer will be appreciated.”   


In case you’ve missed the coverage in The News-Gazette this week, you know that there will not be a Run or Dye in downtown Champaign this year. It’s now set for Oct. 11 at the Rantoul Airport.

The organizers of the event apparently didn’t know that they’d need permission from both the city of Champaign and the University of Illinois, since the route of the run — this is definitely a fun run (or walk) and not a competitive race — included a campus parking lot and streets and Champaign streets.

“When the University learned of the race course, we reached out to organizers and alerted them that they’d need permission to use those areas and that any proposal would need to adhere to university policies,” said Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler. “By the time the group connected with the university, it was too late to create a contract for an event of this magnitude on the proposed date.”

The Champaign Police Department also issued a statement, saying that while it had been talking with organizers of the event since last August, the city didn’t learn until early March that they had not been granted permission to use UI property.

“Race officials were informed that due to the time required to plan a new route, the proposed date of May 10th would not be feasible,” the statement said.


Champaign city elections

“The N-G reported this week about the four Champaign mayoral contenders’ fundraising. It also reported about how other Illinois mayors were pushing the state to pass pension reform for police and firefighters. Made me think, where do the four potential mayoral candidates stand on that issue for Champaign?”


And this ...

“There seems to be a lot of people running or interested in running for mayor in Champaign, which has me curious. What is the threshold for number of candidates that forces a primary for mayor and for the at-large council seats?”


I’m imposing my own moratorium on municipal election coverage, at least as it comes to issues. Let’s concentrate on this year’s election — coming in November — before we start talking about issues relative to the municipal elections about a year from now. Besides, while city governments have to fund the police and fire pensions, they have little control over benefits; you’d be better off asking state legislators what they think about the proposed police and fire pension reforms.

As for the question about a primary election next year in Champaign, there must be more the four candidates for mayor to cause a primary for that office. Right now there appear to be four candidates: incumbent Don Gerard, council members Deb Feinen and Karen Foster, and Joe Petry, president of the Champaign park board.

There also need to be more then 12 candidates for the three at-large council seats (now held by Feinen, Foster and Tom Bruno) for there to be a primary for those offices.


More on James Kilgore


There’s a lot of talk in Champaign-Urbana about restorative justice and how it could be used to lower the population at the Champaign County jails and to repair the personal damages brought on by crime. Based on the reaction to 1970’s Symbionese Liberation Army member (also convicted for his part in a murder during a bank robbery) James Kilgore teaching at the University of Illinois, I don’t see the public groundswell that such a philosophy would require.


“It figures that the liberals on campus praise Kilgore. It doesn’t matter to them that someone was murdered at the time this person robbed a bank. Maybe he didn’t pull the trigger but he is just as guilty as the one who did because 1) he was a part of the robbery and therefore guilty of any crime that was involved with said robbery and 2) he fled to another country to avoid the consequences for the actions of the group. Meanwhile, the person who was killed is still dead, the family who are left behind still suffer the loss of a family member and all this person got was six years.

“And don’t try feeding me a lot of garbage about Kilgore paying his debt to society because you can never make up for someone who was killed.”


Kilgore has acknowledged his crime, apologized and expressed remorse and served his time in prison, but that’s not enough for some people. 


“There are so many people in this world who are capable of performing well in some capacity or another who have nonetheless burned their credibility or injured their integrity beyond repair with past acts. I think this guy is one of them, and I do not think he should be rewarded with the kind of trust that his position infers.  UNDER THE BUS HE GOES.”


Anyone who dares defend Kilgore should be fired from the university, too, says this writer who ironically mentions freedom of speech.


“I am relieved to know that Kilgore will no longer exert an influence over the young minds of this generation and I think that Professor (William) Sullivan should also be removed.  Of course he is probably tenured making his position too secure, so I hope he is closely monitored for questionable teachings. It frightens me to hear terms like yellow journalism and to see that Sullivan doesn’t believe in free press or basic morality. Should he be teaching? I won’t even get started on the AAUP for fighting wrong causes.”




“As a resident of this community, parent and taxpayer, I feel I have the right to say that I do not want this terrorist — and he is a terrorist — teaching students and brainwashing them into his way of thinking.  I lived through his reign of terror and remember the terror many people had about going out and afraid this would happen to them.  It did impact the United States and not for the best. He made the decisions and now he has to live with the consequences of his action. Sometimes those consequences last a lifetime. So I have no pity for him and his choices. God bless America and he will have to answer to God for what he has done.”


And more:


“Below is an email I sent to AAUP’s Dr. (Anita) Levy on April 22.

I am a former National Education Association/Illinois Education Association elected union steward. My fellow teachers elected me to this position.

Dear Dr. Levy:

This letter is to inform you of the facts:

FACT:  Kidnap and rape victim 19-year-old Patty Hearst alleges she was drugged and locked in a closet by SLA-affiliated terrorists of Kilgore.

FACT:  Kilgore entered the United States illegally in the 1990s; his THREE convictions are based, in part, on this truth.

FACT:  Kilgore obtained a doctorate by mail under a false name. The doctorate  was granted in 18 months.

FACT:  Kilgore put me in the most undesired position of all: pointing out that someone who owned a pipe bomb should not be teaching at a state university. As a journalist who suffered censorship under U.S. Hazelwood law, I am the first to always support First Amendment rights, especially in the classroom, regardless of the speech’s content.

Perhaps your organization is uneducated and easily impressed by Kilgore and his never-ending distortions of history. Perhaps your organization does not care to know the truth or values its union/association dues more than the safety of college students.

I wish someone wrote a letter to college sophomore 19-year-old Patty Hearst before three people broke into her apartment and proceeded to rape and torture her.”



Finally, welcome and good luck to all the participants in this weekend’s Illinois Marathon-related runs around Champaign-Urbana.

As Champaign County Board member Chris Alix noted at Thursday night’s county board meeting, the marathon can be “an absolute pain in the butt” for some C-U residents because of what it does to traffic “but I love it and you should too,” he added.

The races bring a lot of attention, enthusiasm, drama and money to the community.

And, Alix joked, it’s one of the few times when “our lack of terrain is an asset.”

If you can, head out to a spot along the marathon course Saturday morning and spend a couple hours cheering the runners and serving as an ambassador to Champaign-Urbana. You won’t regret it.

See you next week.

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