By The Daily Leader Staff
A new year will begin after this weekend, when “Auld Lang Syne” will be sung around the world Monday night and on into New Year's Day. The traditional Scottish folk tune is meant to signify change and transition.
And there was plenty of change that occurred within the Livingston County community, including the demolition of the Camp-Humiston Memorial Swimming Pool (and the protest that followed), as well as the approval of a new garbage contract for Pontiac.
The staff at The Daily Leader has voted for the stories of 2018 that most stuck with us, highlighting the major events that took place over the course of the prior calendar year:
    
No. 1: Demolition of beloved Humiston pool; subsequent protest
This story began last December, and was presumably meant to be as quiet as possible when the Daily Leader received a legal notice from the City of Pontiac requesting sealed proposals for the “Demolition of Camp-Humiston Pool.” But the public's reaction to the proposal to destroy an iconic piece of Pontiac history was as swift as it was angry, with a great number of local residents chiming into the Leader's Facebook post to express displeasure with the decision.
The Camp-Humiston Memorial Swimming Pool first opened in the summer of 1925, and by the date of its closure in 2002, was one of only a handful of its kind still standing.
The city did not open the Humiston Pool in 2002 due in part to the sudden collapse of a concrete bench, which sparked fears amongst then-Mayor Mike Ingles and the city’s aldermen over the pool’s overall structural integrity.
In April of 2003,  a company that specialized in pool mechanics was hired by the city to do a technical study on Pontiac’s favorite swimming hole. The results did not bode well for its reopening; the study found the deteriorating concrete pool was “structurally compromised” and unsafe to swim in at that point.
By 2015, preliminary plans were underway to demolish the pool, which did not become concrete until December 2017. The decision to demolish was already controversial — and the demolisher whose bid was accepted by the city, John Rupe, also became subject to scrutiny.
    The acceptance of Rupe’s bid was not without controversy. Rupe's bid for demolition was the lowest at $32,240 — more than $25,000 less than the second lowest bidders, Opperman Construction and Robert Shay Land Improvement. But with the eye-catching bid, the city also received insights from third parties into allegations against Rupe, including breached labor agreements.
    Though the city voted to accept Rupe's bid, the claims against Rupe were nevertheless deemed “credible” by City Attorney Alan Schrock; the bid approval meant that demolition was to be undertaken once the winter was over.
    After some foul-weather-related delays, Rupe was to begin work on July 30 — that was the plan, anyway, until a large gathering of city residents held a two-day sit-in protest of the demolition.
    “No one can understand why the city councilmen and mayor want to tear it down,” said protestor Mark Smith. “We believe it should be preserved as it is, not a functioning pool, but left as something that we can proudly show people as our community is built on tourism, built on history.”
    But city officials, including Mayor Bob Russell, came out to talk with the organizers of the protest, and an understanding was reached that the pool, however beautiful it still looked, was an accident waiting to happen and needed to be demolished for public safety reasons. Some of the organizers then struck up efforts to have some parts of the pool saved, and a pool memorial is now in the works.
    
    No. 2: County's home healthcare debate, general election vote
    Like No.1 on the list, the second most important story of 2018 also had its roots in the year prior. In July 2017, the Livingston County Board approved funding for its home healthcare program for another year, but only for that next year, effectively sunsetting. Like the demolition of the pool, this decision, too, was met with fierce criticism from the public.
    A number of residents began showing up at County Board meetings to speak out against the program's cancelation. The program was meant to keep the elderly or those otherwise facing disabilities in their homes, and not forced to move into a retirement community or nursing home.
    It wasn't just complaints — these residents even organized a petition of support for the program, and arranged for the voting public to be asked whether or not they supported a home healthcare program come the November general election.
    In response, the county agreed to seek clarification by putting a followup referendum of its own on the ballot — one that asked if voters would be in favor of a tax increase to support the program.
    The county received its answer after all the Nov. 6 ballots were counted; a significant majority of voters punched “yes” on both referendums.
    The county board is now preceding with how to implement a revival of the home healthcare program; however, due to tax laws within the state, another referendum is believed to be needed to increase the tax levy to support it.

    No. 3: Ongoing garbage contract debate in local municipalities
    For several months over the latter half of this year, several local communities had considered what to do about the future of waste disposal. While several municipalities had existing contracts that were not set to immediately expire, all those served by Republic Services were approached to sign a new contract by regional representative Jim Pozzi.
    The reason for this was that Republic was having difficulty with recycling due to China's decision to virtually ban recyclable imports as of Jan. 1. Pozzi had told communities that since China had once took in approximately 45 percent of the world’s plastic wastes, American recyclers (such as Republic) would have to bear a much larger burden in the recyclables trade, and that the company needed a new contract in which communities bore a larger part of the recycling burden than before.
     The proposed 10-year contract for Pontiac, for instance, had a homeowner or tenant's monthly garbage bill go up nearly $7 over the life of the contract: for the first new year of service, 2018-19, the waste disposal company suggested a 49-cent increase on combined garbage and recycling bills for a new total of $17.63 bill per home, up from the present bill of $17.14. By 2027-2028, the bill per household was to be $24.03.
    On top of that new fee schedule, there was to be an annually determined recycling processing charge, which was presently set at 46 cents per bill.
    Additionally, the contracts called for new 95-gallon bins for both garbage and recycling waste  to be given to residents that made work for the trucks in the waste company's fleet much more efficient.
    At first, the main issues the municipal bodies had appeared to be on the legal end, as Steve Mann and Alan Schrock, respective city attorneys for Chenoa and Pontiac, complained of language in the contract that they felt left the door open for Republic to assess additional surcharges.
    But even as these issues were ironed out, some had concerns with what Republic was offering. A notable criticism of the contract was the lack of curbside service for residents who might have a disability preventing them from getting the new, cumbersome bins to the curb. It was decided that a $10 monthly surcharge should be added to bills for persons needing such services.
    Pontiac approved its contract in December, while Chenoa plans to take a vote in January.

    No. 4: Streator woman slain in botched robbery
    On the evening of May 22, Streator woman Maria De la Torre was killed in a robbery attempt involving three suspects. Though two evaded immediate apprehension by police, all three were eventually taken into custody: Hashim Waite, 24, and Ashanti Roberts, 21, both of Chicago, and Tamil Adams, 16, Dolton, were charged with murdering De la Torre, 33, outside of her home.
    According to the Illinois State Police, the Streator Police Department sent out an alert that a 33-year-old woman died after being shot Wednesday night a little before 9 p.m. The shooting occurred in the 200 block of West 9th Street, Streator. De la Torre was taken to the OSF Center for Health-Streator emergency room where she later died from her injuries.
    After fleeing from the scene, the suspects' vehicle crashed at the intersection of routes 17 and 66 in Dwight while being pursued by the Livingston County Sheriff's Police; one was apprehended immediately after the crash but a male and a female fled on foot. They were eventually taken into custody in Dwight without incident. A pistol, magazine and bullets were found near the vehicle.
    According to other area media, the La Salle County State's Attorneys office had alleged that Adams moved to La Salle County and started associating earlier this year with other juveniles at De la Torre's home, the juveniles in the victim's household having an association with drugs. Before De la Torre's murder, Adams used a gun to rob the juveniles of marijuana and other drugs at the home; however, the incident was not reported.
    Adams returned to the house May 22 with Waite and Roberts to commit another robbery, according to other media reports. De la Torre was just arriving when a male juvenile fled the house to escape the robbers. Shots were fired and De la Torre was hit twice in her chest while she was standing in her driveway. The trio all face Class M felony murder charges and have pending trials.
 
    No. 5: Kevin Lipke charged with sex crime in South Carolina
    In January of this year, Kevin Lipke, former superintendent of District 429, was reported to have been picked up by police in Horry County, S.C. in relation to an investigation into his inappropriate touching of a 12-year-old boy over a six-month period.
    A Patch Media story published April 2012 noted his plans to depart in June from Long Beach Elementary District 308 in Boulder Hill of Kendall County after a tenure as principal for five years, mentioning as well a three-year stint as principal of Jamaica School District.
    The story noted he was leaving the job in Boulder Hill for the superintendent’s spot in Pontiac.
Lipke was not at 429 for long; in November 2013, the Daily Leader had reported that the erstwhile superintendent was on paid administrative leave following an October announcement from the Pontiac Police Department that it had received a complaint against Lipke for “improper conduct.” The PPD turned the investigation over to state police.
    Lipke was charged with one count of criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
    A public report of the minutes of an April 2015 meeting of the Illinois State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board notes that the decision was made to suspend Lipke’s professional educator license for five years. Once he had relocated to South Carolina, Lipke apparently sought to regain a teaching license in that state, but was thwarted by a review of the matter by the South Carolina State Board of Education.
    In a summary decision to similarly suspend Lipke’s license in the state, it was noted that Lipke “entered into the Illinois Consent Order of Suspension in which he agreed to the suspension of his Illinois professional educator license for a period of five years ... (and) also agreed, as a prerequisite to reinstatement of his Illinois professional educator license, to complete 30 hours of counseling and 30 hours of professional development specifically concerning (a) proper workplace boundaries and/or (b) impulse control and/or (c) overall mental health, separate and apart from any family counseling.”
    The question of why Lipke was never previously charged for his conduct in Pontiac and elsewhere remains unanswered.

    No. 6: Childress reelected sheriff after contentious race
    Jack Wiser, former Fairbury Police Chief, announced he was running for sheriff in January as a Republican against incumbent Tony Childress, setting up a months long campaign ahead of the March Republican primary election.
    While a factional dispute, it was healthy in terms of civility for the most part — that is, up until tempers flared at the candidates forum at the end of February.
    At the gatheing, where local office-holders and candidates introduced themselves and talked about where they stood on various issues, the two were similar on many matters of policy. A notable exception was the high rate of turnover at the Livingston County Jail — Childress had said he would seek higher quality candidates, while Wiser believed that a review of the federal inmate program, which he thought was bringing in dollars at the expense of the psychology health of jail staff, was needed.
    Near the end of the forum, each were offered time for closing remarks. Wiser launched the first salvo, saying that, unlike Childress, he would not “use county equipment for a part-time job” and he would not “use a subordinate to go to a County Board meeting to ask for something for me.”
    Childress responded that his record spoke for itself, and that Wiser “has not made one honest, legitimate criticism about the operation of the sheriff’s office.” He even accused Wiser of being “recruited by a small minority of County Board members that campaigned against me four years ago when I soundly defeated my opponent the first time,” referencing the previous sheriff's election when he had defeated Wiser.
    The result was no different once all ballots were counted after the March 20 primary — the incumbent won by a landslide, 62.35 percent to Wiser’s 37.65 percent, 3,075 votes to 1,857.

    No. 7: Impact of trade war on Livingston County agriculture
    One of the top 10 exports of the United States are soybeans, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, with an export value of $22.3 billion. The same data visualization program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that a top 10 import of China is soybeans. When the Trump administration signaled a trade war with China, local farmers were understandably nervous.
    “A lot of people don’t realize that soy is one of the largest exports of our country,” said Illinois Soybean Association district director Jim Martin in April. “Farmers are concerned. You have the two largest economies in the world bantering back and forth and, while nothing too serious has taken effect yet, it’s still a concern.”
    Martin's concerns proved correct. The agriculture market was a rosier place when, in 2016, the price of soybeans per bushel was more than $11 in July 2016. The trading price for beans on July 31was $8.49 per bushel — a modest recovery from the nadir of $8.01 that shook agriculturalists on July 13.
    Once Trump had lashed out at Beijing for alleged unfair trade practices, the economic enmity between the two counties has begun boiling over, with agriculture being among the first victims.
    The impact on the agricultural community had not gone unnoticed by the Trump administration, however, as an announcement was made that it would spread out $12 billion in either direct payments to farmers or commodity buys in order to offset the trading price dip.
    At present, the price for soybeans is $8.22 per bushel, which is far below the inclusive three-year price average of $9.08.

    No. 8: Fairbury farmers band together to aid one of their own
    Approximately 60 farmers from around the Fairbury area got together to harvest approximately 185 acres of corn on Sept. 19 to help Fairbury native Lincoln Roth, who suffered a stroke earlier in June. Although Roth was no longer in the hospital, he was still taking speech, physical and occupational therapy at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal.
    Recognizing Roth’s harvest dilemma, friend Tom Ambrose began to make some preliminary phone calls during the middle of the summer to find a date that worked best. To his surprise, everyone was available to help.
    “I never told anybody what to bring in terms of equipment, I let them decide on their own what they were going to do,” Ambrose said. “No one I talked to said that the date would be inconvenient for them. As a matter of fact, people that I had not gotten around to contacting started contacting me and letting me know that they were interested in coming. So, word spread and everybody was very cooperative.”
    To Ambrose’s surprise, in addition to his local friends, Roth had friends come for this harvest from as far away as the Colfax and Saybrook areas with combines, trucks and drain carts. Ambrose, who has been farming for 41 years, said this was only the third time that he can remember a large group of farmers coming together to help someone with crops.
    While the men were working in the fields, Donna Brucker, who is a neighbor of Roth’s, organized the food and ladies who worked on lunch preparation that day. Roth’s sisters got involved and some of the other neighbor ladies got together to help out, too.
    “They bought the food and drinks, packaged it up and got it ready for everybody. So, it was definitely a community endeavor and it worked out extremely well,” Ambrose said. “Linc was able to be there, too. We brought our little John Deere gator over and one of the guys got Linc into that and drove him around to see the fields.
    “He was able to watch the operation and talk to people. They wanted to see Linc and wish him the best, so it was very good to have him there.”
    After the harvest, Ambrose said he heard from several farmers who said it was a very emotional event.
    “They were amazed to see the number of people who showed up,” Ambrose said. “One person told me, ‘when you see a group like this come together, it brings a smile to your face and a tear to your eye at the same time.’ That pretty much sums it up, it was a great feeling to do this and if we have an opportunity to help out somebody else, I am sure we’ll be there.”

    No. 9: Pontiac to get Checkers, Jimmy John's
    September was a big month for Pontiac in terms of business news: at the Sept. 5 meeting of the Pontiac City Council, attorney Ronald Fellheimer said his client William Paul “intends to build a mini-mall and that one of the two tenants is to be Jimmy John’s” and the second was to be a hair salon in a subdivision plat in the 6.61 acres in 1000 block of West Reynolds Street, more commonly known as the Rittenhouse property.
    Later that month, an assistant account executive with an ad agency reached out to the Daily Leader to confirm that the fast-food chain Checkers would open a franchise in Pontiac, possibly in the Rittenhouse area or in Vermillion Plaza, which is currently undergoing a large redevelopment effort.
    But the former announcement was not without some controversy: about 40 concerned residents of the Elks Club condominiums adjacent to the Rittenhouse property showed up the city's Planning and Zoning Committee meeting on Sept. 1 and voiced concerns with the traffic and additional congestion that would be created by the opening of more businesses in the area, particularly ones with the potential for a high volume of traffic.
    Some of the main complaints residents had were regarding the traffic light at the intersection of Routes 116 and 66 and the “turn on red” that keeps cars continually moving towards the west, a situation that makes exiting the Elks Clubs Road onto Reynolds Street extremely difficult, particularly for elderly drivers. These residents also desired a stoplight at that intersection of Elks Club Road and Route 116.
    Despite the worries of congestion, the council nevertheless approved the plat at the September meeting.

    No. 10: “Gathering of the Orange” at Threshermen's Reunion
    The 70th edition of the Central States Threshermen's Reunion coincided with a special  event called “Gathering of the Orange,” which brought in hundreds of enthusiasts and models of Allis-Chalmers’ distinctive orange tractors.
The event featured several special collections of Allis-Chalmers tractors, including the bookend collection belonging to Darryl Krause of Lunden, Wash. Krause brought with him the first and last D21 Allis-Chalmers tractors, the company’s initial foray into 100 horsepower tractors, ever made.
“Bookends (collections containing first and last of a thing) are basically unheard of,” Krause had said. “Especially of something like the Allis-Chalmers D21, which was their first 100-horsepower tractor, and their first tractor that cost over $10,000. It’s incredibly surreal, still.”
The Threshermen’s also featured some mostly favorable weather this year, which in times past had been less than ideal. It was indeed an improvement over the 2016 Threshermen’s Reunion, which was cancelled due to inclement weather.