Atkinson wins 2008 Home Town Award

Claudia Loucks

The volunteer efforts from Atkinson residents earned them a 2008 Governor’s Home Town Award.

The village of about 1,000 residents received the award for State Street Park, located at the north end of downtown Atkinson, and built in memory and in honor of the late Keith Noard, who was serving as Mayor of Atkinson when he was killed in an automobile accident in November of 2006. 

Village trustee Sue Mochel spearheaded the effort to submit information about the park to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.  She said Atkinson is being recognized as the winner in the cleanup/beautification category, which is one of eight areas in which the Home Town Awards are given in Illinois.

Mochel, along with Atkinson Mayor Guy Pauley, and other village officials, will be guests at the awards banquet to be held in Springfield on Oct. 20 for representatives of the towns receiving the 2008 Governor’s Home Town Awards.  The plaques and road signs will be presented to the recipients at the event, and one of the eight winners will be chosen to receive the Governor’s Cup which is a traveling award given each year for the project most symbolic of the spirit of volunteerism in Illinois.

Most of the work in building Atkinson’s State Street Park was completed by the 60 volunteers whom  Mochel said “considered it a labor of love in memory Keith (Noard).”

“The value of the work of the volunteers is estimated at $9,600 if you figure it at $8 per hour,” she said.  “The materials donated for the park are estimated to be $41,000 and our community raised $36,000 to build the park.

“We estimate a savings of $55,600 to the community from the volunteer efforts and contributions."

The State Street Park includes a large lighted fountain which shoots water 15 feet in the air.

Mochel credited all the volunteers who helped make the project a reality, and cited Beth and Tom VanVooren, who organized the community effort.

“Our village was a thriving railroad center back in the 1800’s,” Mochel said.  “Over the past years, businesses moved elsewhere leaving a void in the downtown area.  One area in particular was the old railroad station and surrounding grounds. That had become an eyesore which was difficult for members of a community who have always prided themselves on beautification.”

She said it was Noard’s vision during his tenure as mayor, to clean up the village. “He wanted to make it a beautiful place visually.  He believed that a beautiful village would draw new residents as well as tourists, which is a crucial step in the survival of small villages.”

At the time of Noard’s death, work was underway to clean up the grounds where the train station once stood at the north edge of downtown.

As a tribute to their deceased mayor, the people rallied together to finish the work he had started.

The initial project involved clearing the area of garbage, broken down equipment, dilapidated buildings and dead foliage.  The soil was tilled and new sod, as well as flower beds were put in place and new trees planted.

A local electrician donated his labor to install wiring for lighting the park and the restrooms located there. 

“Our local plumbing/hardware store employees installed the plumbing for the restrooms as well as the plumbing for the fountain,” Mochel said. “Volunteers built the restroom and pump house building, and helped with putting in benches and installing light fixtures.”

“On any given night, the locals can be found playing rolle bolle on the courts next to the fountain, and the benches are filled with young and old alike,” she said. “Our park is not only a tribute to our late mayor, but it is something for the entire community and visitors to enjoy.”