CCCC Fall Festival offers close­up look at prehistoric beasts

Visitors to this year's Coal Country Chamber of Commerce's annual Fall Festival ­­scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 24, at Benld City Park­­ will have a rare opportunity to view models of dinosaur species that have been extinct for millions of years.

The display will feature dinosaur models produced by CM Studio, a local studio known for creating scientifically accurate, life­sized sculptures of dinosaurs for museums and other venues. Local residents rarely get to glimpse the studio's work­­the studio itself doesn't offer tours and one of the nearest examples of its work is a life­ sized pteranodon that soars over an exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

The display will include a life­sized Tyrannosaurus Rex head, complete with a mouth filled with sharp, flesh­tearing teeth; a life­sized Utahraptor, a species similar to the velociraptors made famous by the Jurassic Park movies; and a life­sized Triceratops skull. Brian Page, one of the principal artists for CM Studio said the display also will include other specimens, depending upon what the studio has available at the time of the festival.

"What's great about the display is that it lets us expose kids to some of our models that they would have to go to a museum to see otherwise," Page said. "

Sponsored by the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce, the Fall Festival will feature for than 60 arts and crafts vendors, a variety of food and beverages and free entertainment. Steve Davis, whose' "Memories of Elvis" show also will feature entertainers who channel Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline, tops the entertainment schedule, along with Nashville recording artist Amy Hailstone, who grew up in Gillespie, and the Dixie Dudes and Dance traditional Dixieland music act. Other festival features include a petting zoo, a live reptile display where visitors can actually handle the animals and the CCCC Choo­Choo train offering free rides around the park. The annual Tour de Coal bike ride also is scheduled in conjunction with the festival.

This will be the second year for the CM Studio dinosaurs to make an appearance at the festival. In addition to the display, Page said the studio plans to have inexpensive souvenir items for sale, such as printed t­shirts, available for sale this year. The studio was founded 35 years ago by Charlie McGrady, a local artist who found a niche sculpting high­end, scientifically accurate dinosaur sculptures for museums.

"Charlie was into natural history and natural history sculpting, including dinosaurs," Page said. "He started to get a name for himself for the small models he was making and he decided to move into making life­sized models." Over the years, the studio's reputation has grown to the point that it now produces life­sized sculptures of 75 different dinosaur species ranging from 120 feet in length to the chicken­ sized Comsognathus–the so­called "compy" that figured in the "Lost World" movie in the Jurassic Park franchise.

"People think of dinosaurs as being large, lumbering beasts, but that's not necessarily the case," Page said.

Now housed in a former lumber yard warehouse, CM Studio is littered with dinosaurs in various states of completion. The process of developing a new sculpture is aborious and detailed. The studio artists work with a specialist in dinosaur anatomy who is skilled at rendering drawings that essentially add flesh and skin to the skeletons of known species. Using those drawings as a reference, the artists create a miniature sculpture that is later recreated as a full­sized model. Building the full­sized sculpture, particularly for the larger species, involves building a metal armature­­essentially a metal skeleton to hold hundreds of pounds of clay that artists use to create the creature's body.Finally, the artists use stamps and other tools to add skin texture and other details.

Once the clay model is complete, casts are made with silicone rubber that are then used to cast pieces of the beast in plastic resin. Those sections are then assembled into the finished sculpture and painted.

For the most part, Page said he and McGrady do the bulk of the work.

"When we have a really large project, we may bring in other people to help with the sculpting and painting," Page said.

Among the challenges of the work, according to Page, is keeping up with new scientific discoveries about various dinosaur species. For example, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a number of species had rudimentary feathers similar to modern day birds­­one reason many paleontologists now believe birds are directly descended from dinosaur ancestors. Evidence of the feathers is embedded in the rock surrounding fossil bones that previously was being removed to get to the bones themselves.

"They were digging through the evidence of feathers and skin impressions in the rock matrix," Page said. "Now they are finding a lot of feathers because they know to be looking for them."

One project­­a sculpture of a Postosuchus­­had to be put on hold temporarily as the artists awaited the release of a scientific paper addressing whether the creature walked on all fours or stood upright on two legs. The length of the front legs had led to speculation that the creature walked on four legs, but the new research revealed it wasmore likely to have walked upright­­a fact that was reflected in the final sculpture.

Such changes in interpretation is not unusual. The Iguanodon, previously thought to have walked on four legs, is now known to have walked upright. One of the more unusual projects done by the studio was a recreation on a quadruped Iguanodon sculpture that was displayed near the Crystal Palace during the 1851 World's Fair in London. Though now known to be inaccurate, a wealthy client wanted the sculpture recreated for his estate on the Isle of Mann. He even directed the artists to create an open space in the animal's back for a sitting area where he and his guests could sip cocktails and enjoy the evening sunsets.

Page said the studio is proud of a life­sized model of a Brachylophosaurus, based on fossil remains discovered in 2000 that were mummified before fossilization. Studies of the fossil, dubbed "Leonardo," enabled the artists to not only duplicate the body mass of the dinosaur, but also authentically duplicate its skin texture. A photo of a the sculpture accompanied a Newsweek article about the dinosaur the significance of the mummified remains.

"It's probably the most accurate reconstruction of a dinosaur ever made," Page said.

Page said the studio looks forward to bringing its display to the Fall Festival in part because of the opportunity it provides for children.

"There is such a thing as 'extreme inherent interests' among children, and dinosaurs is one of the things they're interested in," he said. Participating in the Fall Festival allows CM Studio to tap into that "inherent interest," according to Page, "and add some stealth education."

2016 sponsors of the Fall Festival are: Carlinville Area Hospital; COUNTRY® Financial of Gillespie ­ Tina Olroyd, Financial Representative; FNB ­ Benld Banking Center; Goodman Real Estate and Insurance Agency; Hicks Maytag Home Appliance Center of Gillespie; Madison Communications; Michelle’s Pharmacy of Gillespie; Quality Flooring of Gillespie; State Farm of Benld/Gillespie ­ Jessica Ely Agent; Sullivan Drugs, Inc.; and United Community Bank of Gillespie. Other Chamber and community members whose services help to provide the Fall Festival are: 1st BancFinancial ­ Greg Craine, Agent; Brian Bequette Cabinetry Inc. of Benld; the City of Benld; Drew Ford; Gina Gucciardo, CPA of Gillespie; Hebenstreit Apartments Benld; Macoupin County Journal Publications; Madison Communications; Papa JoDanni’s Catering; Jodanni’s Amore’ Restaurant of Benld; Reid’s Service ­ Heating and Cooling; Roma’s Pizza of Gillespie; Wilsonville Community Outreach; WSMI AM/FM &WAOX Radio.

18th Annual Fall Festival

Courtesy of THE BUZZ

Be sure to pick up a copy of THE BUZZ for even more information on the 18th Annual Fall Festival and the 11th Annual Tour de Coal Bike Ride.

11th Annual Tour de Coal - Saturday, September 24th

Join the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce on its 11th annual Tour de Coal bicycle ride on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at the Benld City Hall-Civic Center, 201 E. Central Ave. in downtown Benld, Ill. (62009).

The Tour de Coal is for riders of all ages and abilities who have an interest in cycling in the Macoupin County, Ill.  The ride will be held in conjunction with the 17th Annual Fall Festival held at the Benld City Park, where the bike ride ends.

In the Tour de Coal Bike Ride, cyclists choose from a 13.6-mile family ride, a mid-length 35-mile ride or a metric century (64.8 miles).  The terrain is flat to rolling with some hills.

Registration is from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Benld City Hall-Civic Center on the day of the event. You can save money by registering in advance either by mail or through Advance registration is $20 per person and $45 for a family of three or more people living in the same household.  On the day of the ride, the cost is $25 per person and $50 for family of three or more people living in the same household.

The Tour de Coal did their first mass start in 2014. There will be a mass start beginning at 7:00
AM for those riding the metric century. If you want to find someone with similar riding skills, this is a good way to find them.  It will start at the registration area on Central Avenue (Rt. 138). All other riders will start their ride heading north on Second Street as in the past. The mass start is NOT mandatory for Metric century riders. If you plan to ride the metric century and do not want to start at 7:00 AM that is alright too. Again, it is not mandatory. All riders other than the mass start riders can begin their ride any time prior to the closing of registration.

Out-of-town visitors to the Tour de Coal can camp Friday night (Sept. 23) at Benld City Park,  which is just 1 block north of the Benld Civic Center. For information about camping, contact Mickey
Robinson at (217) 710-5218 or

GUARANTEES A T-SHIRT.  Late registration will be honored with T-shirts while supplies last.

At registration, riders are also given a redeemable ticket for a choice of sandwich and soft drink at the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce food booth at the Fall Festival in the Benld City Park.

This year a portion of each person’s registration fee will go to The Partnership for Excellence, which helps the children of the Gillespie Community School District...

Other proceeds from Tour de Coal will be used by the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce to improve the communities of Benld, Dorchester, Eagarville, East Gillespie, Gillespie, Mount Clare, Sawyerville and Wilsonville. The Chamber sponsors events such as a free Summer Concert Series, the Fall Festival, and Breakfast with Santa.

The Benld/Gillespie area has a rich heritage because of its ties to the coal industry.  The Region has sizable numbers of people of German, Irish, Italian, Slavic, Scotch and Russian descent drawn to the region by mining.  The region is dotted with more than 27 old coal mines; and the Tour de Coal
routes pass several of them.  Some of these mines have been highlighted on the Tour de Coal Face book page which can be found at  on the internet.

Benld is also home to The Holy Dormition of the Theotokos Russian Orthodox Church, originally built in 1895, the only church in Illinois under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Both Benld and Gillespie are on the original alignment (1926-1930) of Route 66 through Illinois, which is now part of the Blue Carpet Corridor of Route 66.

 The 64-mile route uses alignments of Route 66 in the Staunton-Mount Olive area and passes by the grave site of Mary "Mother Jones" Harris, a prominent labor activist in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

The 64-mile route also goes through the community of Bunker Hill, home to one of the ride's rest stops.  There are 5 other rest stops throughout the ride. 

For more information about the Tour de Coal, contact Coal Country Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mickey Robinson at (217) 710-5218 or

Bands Announced for the 2016 Summer Concert Series

The Coal Country Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce the 12th Annual Free Summer Concert Series, held in Benld City Park.

June 7th The Fundementals
June 14th Dixie Dudes
June 21st The SteamRollers
June 28th Scrap Iron & Gold
July 5th    River Ramblers
July 12th B&B Strings
July 19th Fireproof Band
July 26th Steve Davis Memories of Elvis

The park will open at 6pm with the concerts beginning at 7pm.

Ribbon Cutting - That Crazy Fish Store & More

The Coal Country Chamber of Commerce held a Ribbon Cutting for That Crazy Fish Store & More at 114 S. Macoupin in downtown Gillespie.  Pictured from left to right are:  Dione Rabida, Assistant Vice President/Branch Manager/Appraisal Review  of FNB/Benld Banking Center; Jennifer Niehaus and Kristian Hegel of Macoupin Co. Public Transportation; Tammy Beechler holding Jase Ronald of Hicks Maytag Appliance Center; Rose Marie Salovich of Sullivan Drug, Inc.; Mick Harrison, contractor with Homefront Development; Co-owner of That Crazy Fish Store & More, Schatzi Grossglauser holding 3 year-old grandson, Jaxsyn Raynor; Randi Wells, artist who did store front windows of Wells of Color; Co-owner of That Crazy Fish Store & More, Gary Lumley; family members of Grossglauser, Candi Katchmar holding 3 year-old Alex Katchmar, Mike Katchmar, and Carol Grossglauser; Margie Brill and Judy Melchert of Hebenstreit Apartments; Mike Brill, CCCC Treasurer; and Dana Angle, Advertising/Marketing of Journal Publications.

2015 Coal Country Chamber Business of the Year - JoDanni's Amore

Text below is excerpted from News Herald, Litchfield, IL. Feb. 3, 2016 article by Michelle Houlihan:

Business of Year--John Baggio was surprised when he was called from the kitchen at JoDanni's Amore to accept the Business of the Year award.  Mike Brill, Chamber treasurer, made the presentation.  Baggio and his wife Dana have lived in the community for many years and have been a member of the Chamber since it  inception in 1999. 

The name, JoDanni, was derived from the names of his family:  himself, Dana, and daughters, Natalie and Nicole.  He formed JoDanni's Enterprises in the early years and cooked on the side for his family and friends.  In 1985 with their encouragement, he opened a small carry-out pizza business next to the grocery on Route 4.  Six years later found him with a dining room and a catering business.

In 2009, he purchased the long closed Prairie Tug on Route 4.  Two years ago, he remodeled the building and consolidate his businesses in the one location, naming the new restaurant JoDanni's Amore'.
Celebrating communities and the role played in keeping them alive and well was emphasized on January 30 at the 16th annual awards banquet of the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce.

The banquet was held at JoDanni's Amore', centrally located among the eight communities that have come to be known as Coal Country -- Benld, Dorchester, Eagarville, East Gillespie, Gillespie, Mount Clare, Sawyerville, and Wilsonville.

Left to right in the picture are:  Mike Brill, John and Dana Baggio, Natalie Wright, Nicole , and Brian Bequette, CCCC President.

Spirit Award- A new award presented on this evening was the Spirit of CCCC. Named to receive the award for his service and creative leadership was Gregory H. Craine.  Craine is with 1st BancFinancial, which is also associated with First National Bank of Staunton.  He has taken an active role in the Chamber, including spending several years on the board.

During his membership, Craine spearheaded a spring event that lasted for serveral years, organized a spring home show and pet parade in 2008, and Paws in the Park in 2009 that lasted about 5 years.  He has also been involved in helping organize or running events in conjunction with a Black Diamond Days hamburger booth, concessions at the summer concert series, and setting up booths and running the concessions at the Fall Festival.  He invented the "Big Smokie" which is served at Chamber events. 

In make the presnetation, new president Brian Bequette, of Brian Bequette Cabinetry, said, "  Gregory H. Craine has been appreciated for his long time commitment of active membership and his creativity in adding features that are effective and helpful to the community events." 

CCCC praises spirit of merchants in its eight communities:

Mike Mathis, a former business man, former Gillespie mayor, recently resigned after 19 years as Macoupin County Circuit Clerk, and now candidate for the 95th District seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, was the keynote speaker.  But his speech was not focused on his political campaign.  Instead he focused on life of a small town and in particular, on what it takes to be a business person in a small town.

"I read a sign recently.  It was about business and communities," he said.  "When you buy from family-owned businesses or a business locally staffed, you're not help the CEO of some corporation buy a third vacation home.  you are helping a little girl get a new dress or a young boy get a jersey from his favorite team.  You are helping a mother or father put food on the table.  You are helping someone pay off a mortgage.  You are helping a student pay for college."

"Our customers are our shareholdres and those are the ones we strive to make happy.  When I look around this room, I see business owners, and I think that is exactly what you do.  You should be happy with what you do.

He went on to talk about competition small businesses face, both today and years ago when he was a salesman to a wholesale company.  He asked, "How do we compete?"

He answered:  " We do it by not just staying in the community but by being part of that community.  That is the way it was when I was there and that is the way it is today."

Looking down the road, he said:  "I do believe the best way for us to prepare for the future of all our businesses is to continue on the path the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce has laid out for us."

He praised the chamber, saying, " And the do that in a very gracious way.  They do that by welcoming new businesses and by standing by old businesses.  They do that by shopping locally, by supporting our school programs , by committing to the whole area."

He talked about the advantages of owning a business.  " You control your own destiny.  You may not take control, bugt you make decisions for yourself and your own future. when you work in a business of your own, you work a lot more that that (40 hours) but you have the flexibility to do things.  You choose the people you want to work with."

Mathis ended on a note of praise.  " I want to recognize every business owner, every employee and their families for make the commitment to the community.  We could do it withou you.  Your staying and investing in our area is probably a risk you didn't have to take but did so willingly.  It's a risk of time and money that affects the entire area.  You do this with employment opportunities, sales tax dollars, and a votality that stretches from downtown out of town.  Thank you for that courage and commitment."

Preceding Mathis' address, Joe Tieman talked about volunteering and about the annual Tour de Coal which is a Chamber event.  He asked for help with the ride next fall. 

Tieman then shifted gears into his role as superintendent of the Unit 7 school district and talked about the proposed sales tax to help school facilities in Macoupin county. 

One of the benefits is that no matter where Unit 7 taxpapyers spend their money in Macoupin county, the school district will realize a percentage of what they spend on taxable goods, he explained. 

The Unit 7 school district with an enrollment of approximately 1,400 students has 18 percent of all the students in the county.  The district stands to realize approximately $397,000 a year if voters agree to the tax in March.  To help make the tax less onus, the school board has pledged to use at least 20 percento of the money realized from the tax to help pay off debt the district incurred in rebuilding after mine subsidence destroyecd a new elementary school and repairing tornado damage a the high school - middle school complex.