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 Active.com. 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 mrer@madisontelco.com.

BANANAS, BOTTLED WATER, AND OATMEAL COOKIES WILL BE AVAILABLE AT THE REGISTRATION DESK THE DAY OF THE RIDE. PREREGISTRATION BY SEPTEMBER 18
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 thechildren 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 mrer@madisontelco.com.

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. 

Ribbon Cutting - HeadBangerz Hair & Tanning


The Coal Country Chamber of Commerce celebrated the new location of HeadBangerz Hair & Tanning at 225 S. Macoupin in downtown Gillespie.  In picture from left to right:  Dione Rabida, Assistant Vice President/Branch Manager/Appraisal Review at FNB/Benld Banking Center; Judy Melchert of Hebenstreit Apts and CCCC Board Member; Dana Angle, Macoupin County Journal representative; Sarah Schweppe, Stylist and Massage Therapist at HeadBangerz; Stephanie Willis, Owner and Stylist at HeadBangerz; Andrew Hopper, Triple H Automotive of Benld; Lindsay Westhoff, Vice President/Lender at UCB Gillespie; and Annetta Veres, Mayor of Wilsonville and Secretary of CCCC Board.

Holiday Sparkle Dates Set For December 4th & 5th



The Coal Country Chamber of Commerce has activities planned for Friday, December 4, and Saturday, December 5.    Holiday Sparkle Open House will run from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Friday, December 4, and from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday. All during this time, downtown eateries will have special discounts and participating businesses will have special offers.

During the Holiday Sparkle Open House hours, downtown businesses will be conducting sales and in-store promotions on both days.  Downtown Gillespie businesses are going to showcase Holiday Sparkle with colorful displays of Christmas themes and enticing specials of the season while the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce Choo Choo chugs up and down the area.  Holiday shoppers and visitors can ride the Choo Choo FREE and stop in the retail shops to enjoy the warmth and the bargains.

The Coal Country Chamber of Commerce will host the Seventeenth Annual Snack with Santa at the Illinois Valley Center at 217 E. Walnut (next to the Gillespie Police station) from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 5.  Santa will arrive at 8:30 at the Illinois Valley Center for Snack with Santa.  He will stay until 11:30 to visit with each of the children attending and hear their special requests for Christmas.  During the Snack with Santa, a digital picture of the child with Santa will be taken in front of a Christmas background.  Clients and staff of the Illinois Valley Center will do their usual beautiful decorating of the background.  Each child will receive a snack of Prairie Farms milk or juice and a treat served by the VFW Ladies Auxiliary 4547 of Gillespie. 

Each child will be given a ticket for a free ride on the CCCC Choo Choo. There is a donation of $5 for Snack with Santa which includes the digital photo, the snack, a ticket to ride the Choo Choo, a goodie bag, and a letter mailed to him or her from Santa.
 
Across the street from Snack with Santa is the Illinois Valley Barn in the Garden Gift Shop where delightful crafts which are handmade by clients of Illinois Valley are displayed and offered at special prices for this event.  The shop will be open for business on December 5 from 9 a.m. until Noon. 

Ride the Coal Country Chamber Choo-Choo from one end of town to the other, and take the children to the Exotic Petting Zoo.  Besides the Alaskan Reindeer, full grown hump-backed camels, zebu, and water buffalo can be petted and fed by the children from 9 a.m. until noon in downtown Gillespie, next to UCB Bank, on Saturday, December 6.

Coal Country Chamber businesses who have sponsored this Snack with Santa and the Petting Zoo are 1st BancFinancial, Greg Craine, Agent; Amore’ Restaurant; Carlinville Area Hospital; Country Financial/Tina Olroyd, Agent; Dairy Queen of Gillespie; Drew Ford; Farmers Insurance, Adam Tallman, Agent; FNB/Benld Banking Center; Louann Brown, Friends of the Gillespie Library; Gina Gucciardo, CPA; Hampton Inn; Hebenstreit Apartments; Hick’s Maytag Appliance Center; Michelle’s Pharmacy of Gillespie; Quality Flooring, Inc.; Reid’s Service; State Farm/Jessica Ely, Agent; Sullivan Drug, Inc., The Village Toy Chest; UCB/Gillespie Banking Center.  Prairie Farms is donating the beverage for Snack with Santa and VFW Auxiliary ladies as well as Illinois Valley and Chamber volunteers make the opportunities for children possible. 

Holiday Sparkle, Snack with Santa, the CCCC Choo Choo, and the Exotic Petting Zoo will provide an opportunity for consumers to “Shop Local, Buy Local”, and for celebration in enjoying the holiday season in downtown Gillespie.

More information on Snack with Santa, the Choo Choo and other activities of the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce can be found on the Coal Country Facebook page.  

17th Annual Fall Festival Set For Saturday, September 26th


Free entertainment, fall crafts and merchandise, food vendors, a free petting zoo, children’s games, and Chamber member participation will be highlights of the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce 17th annual Fall Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 26, at the Benld City Park. The Tenth Anniversary Tour de Coal bike ride will also be held in conjunction with the festival starting with a 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. registration at the Benld City Hall/Civic Center. 

While the festival officially opens at 10 a.m. the free entertainment starts at 7:00 with Joe Powell serenading the many crafters, food vendors, and local business people who are setting up their booths.  Powell’s performance is available to anyone who wants to sit in the entertainment pavilion and enjoy the peaceful early morning.  Mr. Powell sings ballads and country songs and has a great whistling program.  At this early morning time he can be heard throughout the park.



At 10:00 until 11:30 a.m., the Festival is happy and proud to be able to present, “live from Nashville,” a young lady who grew up in Gillespie and comes from a family of six generations of musicians:  Amy Hailstone.  Amy is a “singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist, and multiinstrumentalist.  Blessed with a big vocal range, this powerhouse rock singer is also clearly influenced by pop, soul, and blues.  Amy’s music is a culmination of a lifelong love affair with rock and pop music, guitars, and a driving backbeat.” (from amyhailstone.com)  She can be followed on Twitter, @AmyHailstone, on Facebook, iTunes, and on her website amyhailstone.com.


Dixie Dudes and Dance, a favorite of area audiences, will play from 11:30 until 1 p.m. The Dixie Dudes evolved from the Dixie Dudes Dixieland Band which formed at Lewis and Clark Community College in 1985. Today their repertoire includes not only Dixieland, but also rock n roll and dance tunes.  According to band leader Chuck Herzog, “The music will lift the spirit, lighten the heart, and start the foot tapping.”


Steve Davis in “Memories of Elvis” with his friends Anna Blair as Patsy Cline and Thomas Hickey as Buddy Holly will be the afternoon’s entertainment from 1 to 4 p.m. These three artists bring us the sounds of the 50’s and the 60’s when these classic entertainers brought rock and roll to millions.  Davis, who is well known to the audiences in the CCCC area, does a performance that is the result of exhaustive research to give the Elvis fan an authentic experience.  Anna Blair brings enthusiasm to her role as Patsy Cline, and Thomas Hickey brings the songs and sound of the beloved Buddy Holly to our stage. Steve Davis can now be followed on Facebook and on his web site www.memoriesfelvis.com.

Dancing is encouraged at all times at the pavilion where the stage is!  “That is 8 hours of first class entertainment that is free for all who choose to take part,” said Mickey Robinson, CCCC Executive Director.  “We are trying to fulfill the Chamber goal of bringing people from outside the local Community District 7 area to our event that is family oriented and designed to be inexpensive fun for all ages.”  Robinson said visitors who attend the Fall Festival should bring lawn chairs with them in order to sit and enjoy the live, free music. 

The Fall Festival and Tour de Coal are sponsored by the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce.  Specific businesses that have donated generous amounts of financial support and/or volunteer help throughout the year leading up to this events are:  1st BancFinancial, Greg Craine, Agent; Carlinville Area Hospital; Country Financial, Tina Olroyd, Agent; Drew Ford, Inc.; FNB, Benld Banking Center; Furniture Rescue of Gillespie; Gina Guicciardo, CPA;  Hampton Inn of Litchfield; Hebenstreit Apartments of Benld; JoDanni’s Amore; Macoupin County Journal; Madison Communications; Michelle’s Pharmacy; Quality Flooring; Reid’s Electric Service and Heating & Air Conditioning; Roma’s Pizza; State Farm Insurance, Jessica Ely, Agent; Sullivan Drug; UCB, Gillespie Banking Center; WSMI and WAOX Radio.

If anyone still wants to have vendor or exhibitor space or to ride in the Tour de Coal, they can register by printing and mailing this form, Active.com, emailing mrer@madisontelco.com or calling 217-710-5218.