Do-it-yourself approach yields successful businesses

DANVILLE – On a hot day in 1950s Detroit, a young Jim Darby had just finished digging a grave by hand in Gethsemane Cemetery when he sat down on the cool clay at the bottom of the massive hole and contemplated his future.

"I wonder if this is what I'm going to do my whole life?" he thought.

Turns out, the answer was "yes" and "no."

"I've never been out of the cemetery since," says "Big Jim" Darby, now 70.

While he hasn't spent much time digging graves in the last 50 years or so, Darby has built, along with family and dedicated employees, a successful cemetery and funeral-home business that's branched out over the years in some high-tech ways.

Eat, sleep and gas up at unique sites along U.S. highways

With no fish boil in sight, Greg Martell opts for The Fish Wagon.

"I'm originally from Wisconsin and I live in Indiana now. Nobody has fish boils or fish fries there," Martell says. "That's hard when you love fish."

So when he's in Illinois twice a year for work at the Stone Ridge Dairy in rural Mansfield, he stops regularly at The Fish Wagon in Farmer City.

"I come to Stone Ridge once in the spring and once in the fall. And every Friday and Saturday night – this is where I eat," Martell adds as he places an order at The Fish Wagon window.

The Fish Wagon is owned and operated by Kevin and Hope Castle. It's a mobile example of roadside architecture – a restaurant on wheels. More precisely, it's a takeout diner in what used to be a motor home.

"This is something that came about on its own and it has taken on a life of its own," Hope Castle says. "This is our 10th year here."

The Fish Wagon is a modern-day twist on the horse-drawn lunch wagons that are the forerunner of the diner. The wagons would park in front of factories and offer reasonably priced lunches to workers. Before long, the wagons were parked in permanent locations and by the 1930s had evolved into the streamlined diner.

Roadside architecture is also sometimes called roadside Americana or even roadside archaeology. It is a wide and varied category, from stainless steel-sheathed diners to tile-roofed, mission-style gas stations to log-cabin motel cottages – all tied to America's love of the automobile and travel. A summary in three words: eat, sleep, gas.

Learning to stick with it

Though tempted to quit by visit home, cadet makes choice to finish his studies

EDITOR'S NOTE – This is the third of an occasional series by News-Gazette staff writer Tim Mitchell about the young men and women who attend Lincoln's Challenge Academy in Rantoul. Lincoln's Challenge is a program for high school dropouts operated by the Illinois National Guard. Students live in a military environment for 22 weeks on the former Chanute Air Force Base while completing an education program geared to finishing high school. More than 10,000 have graduated from the program since 1993.

Friends of late Po' Boys owner to host 'Arnie Tailgate'

CHAMPAIGN – Old times at Po' Boys are not forgotten. To prove the point, some of the late proprietor's friends are resurrecting the barbecue house for homecoming weekend at the University of Illinois.

"A group of us who were regulars thought it might be a nice idea to have something in Arnie Yarber's honor to coincide with UI homecoming," said Dan Hamelberg, a Champaign real estate investor who was a close friend of Mr. Yarber.

Disparities for black males to be addressed

CHAMPAIGN – Education, criminal, health and economic disparities among black males and other racial groups have prompted a series of town hall meetings statewide, including a stop next week in Urbana.

The state's Department of Human Services' Task Force on the Condition of African American Men in Illinois will have a town hall meeting in Urbana on Tuesday.

Rantoul spruce-up effort set for Saturday

RANTOUL – Volunteers for the second Clean-Up Rantoul effort want a litter-free community heading into the cold weather months.

The spruce-up effort is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Selflessness, attitude driving forces for Garden Hills mentor

CHAMPAIGN – Margaret Neil uses a wheelchair to get from place to place, but she uses her mind, her heart and her positive thinking to accomplish many things.

Neil is a resident leader at Joann Dorsey Homes public housing in Champaign and chairman of the Resident Advisory Council for the Housing Authority of Champaign County. This summer, the agency dedicated the Margaret Neil Community Resource Center in her honor and awarded her the first "embracing resident empowerment" plaque.

Ford County state's attorney moving on after 20 years

PAXTON – It practically defies logic. A Republican incumbent in a staunchly Republican county who could run for office without competition. So why isn't Tony Lee going for a sixth term as state's attorney?

"Twenty years is enough. I'm ready to try something else. I'd like to see if I can succeed at something that has nothing to do with the practice of law," said Lee, adding he would like to write, but the creative writing course he signed up for at Parkland College this semester was canceled.

Van Zuidam thrilled to be active after recovery from meningitis

URBANA – Erica Van Zuidam loves the feeling of a good workout that gets her heart pumping.

"It feels like how it used to be. My old life, in sports and everything," she said. "I think that's why it's so fun. It brings back good times."

On Saturday, Van Zuidam ran a 5-kilometer race – 3.1 miles in two laps around the University of Illinois campus, from the Illini Union to the Stock Pavilion. It was her first race on her carbon fiber legs with the zebra-striped cloth covering the top. Her first race since her feet and hands were amputated, the casualties of a nearly fatal case of bacterial meningitis she contracted at the end of her freshman year at the UI.

Soldier's home leave cut short by tragedy; family mourns

CHAMPAIGN – Drew McDaniel was having a really good vacation from his Army life in Iraq.