Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
The mayors of DeKalb, Illinois and Livermore, California,
have never met, but they have quite a bit in common.
Both have the first name John, both are Democrats, and
their cities both have large government institutions that dominate
their communities. While DeKalb has Northern Illinois University
and its 4,600 full-time employees, plus another 20,000 students,
Livermore has two U.S. Department of Energy research and development
laboratories employing about 9,000 people. Neither of these major
employers pay taxes, but their workforce and business purchases
have a major economic and social impact on the surrounding areas.
Last year when we visited the California community that
was our home for 35 years, I saw some innovations that I thought
might be useful for DeKalb to consider.
One of them, a motor home converted into a Historymobile
that toured local schools each year, was not one of my success
stories. It went over big in Livermore, but my attempt to introduce
a similar venture in DeKalb County failed miserably.
Livermore artist and teacher Deb Bailey stands beside
her artwork that decorates this utility box in downtown Livermore,
California. Some 20 boxes are being beautified over a two year
period. (Photo by Barry Schrader)
But I also took photos of some artistic murals created by Livermore
artists that adorn the downtown areas utility boxes. That
caught DeKalb Mayor John Reys attention and he is collecting
more information on how that can be accomplished here. Livermore
also has large murals painted on the sides of old buildings that
feature local scenes and promote their Wine Country. DeKalb has
large murals painted on downtown buildings promoting Lincoln
Highway, featuring local historical figures such as Annie Glidden
and Cindy Crawford.
Talking with Livermore Mayor John Marchand recently, I
learned that his wife painted the first utility box mural and
is one of the artists doing a second series of 10 more this summer.
He said they also involved two middle-school classes in the art
project. Local sponsorships of $150 to $250 help defray the artists
expenses, which include graffiti-proofing the decorative designs,
something the mayor said is a big help in keeping the city beautified
and discourages tagging.
Another Livermore innovation that could be good for DeKalb
is creating nonpaid positions of a Poet Laureate and a City Historian.
The jury is still out on those ideas, but with a new city manager
now in place, the mayor may look into these as well, he said.
There is one big difference in the two communities 2,100
miles apart. DeKalb had 10 inches of rain in June alone, while
Livermore just ended the seventh-worst drought year in its history,
collecting only 6.91 inches in the past 12 months. Maybe DeKalb
and Livermore could become sister cities and exchange
weather patterns, but DeKalb still needs plenty of moisture for
corn and soybeans growing in the rich, black soil. Livermores
agricultural area is surviving the drought because it has 5,000
acres of vineyards in its sphere of influence, some irrigated,
but wine grapes seem to thrive on gravelly soil and hot, dry
It would be nice to see the two mayors possibly meeting
at some point in the future and maybe more exchanges of ideas
could benefit both towns, economically and culturally. By the
way, both towns are on the original route of the Lincoln Highway