syl keller

Syl Keller, general manager for Monticello Railway Museum, is all smiles at the place he loves to promote.

With Visit Champaign County’s annual Toast to Tourism celebration set for Wednesday, we’ll ask each of the five recipients of Tourism Impact Awards for their favorite things about doing business here. Today, in Chapter 4:

Syl Keller, general manager of the nonprofit Monticello Railway Museum.

Favorite part about running a nonprofit here: “Just having seen it come from nothing, to see the fulfillment of a vision. To have an idea and have it come to fruition. I’ve been down here since 1970; the way the museum’s developed has been very rewarding.”

Favorite businesses that I don’t run: “The places I go most often involve the museum, so I think of hardware stores and lumber yards. I use the lumber yard in Monticello, we get steel from Hagerty Steel and Aluminum in Peoria, we get pipes and fittings from Schimberg Co. in Decatur. We get spikes from Chicago. We go all over.”

Favorite time of year in Monticello: “The Polar Express, if you want to call that a season. We run it for four weekends, three in November and at the beginning of December. It’s hectic, but it’s a lot of fun, that’s the big event of the year.”

Favorite place to grab a bite: “The way I was brought up, whatever’s on my plate, I eat. But my friends who are down here and retired, we try to go to a different restaurant every day of the week. That’s how we keep track of what day it is.

“Monday it’s Hardee’s, Tuesday it’s the Red Wheel in Rantoul, Wednesday it’s Subway, Thursday it’s The Brown Bag in Monticello, Friday it’s Dairy Queen. I wouldn’t want to leave out any one of them.”


Ethan Simmons is a reporter at The News-Gazette covering the University of Illinois. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@ethancsimmons).

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