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Kankakee Statues Saga Takes Mayberryesque Turn

Approximately 60 miles south of Chicago is Kankakee, Illinois. Close enough to the big city some may think of it as the most southern tip of the Chicago megapolis. Closer to Central Illinois with all the visual characteristics of America's heartland, others will think of it as rural America. Kankakee's population of 27,000 is 1/100 of Chicago's population and only slightly larger than the average American small town of 15,000. In 1991 Reader's Digest called it the best town to raise a family.

Like Chicago, Kankakee has a history of political corruption. During the Prohibition Era, Chicago politics were often dictated by Al Capone, the boss of Chicago's mob. Len Small, Kankakee's Prohibition Era political leader and former Illinois governor, is likewise remembered for his connection to Capone, and the consequences of his actions still impact Kankakee today.

There is hope for this conflicted hamlet. If one looks deep into the hearts and minds of Kankakee, a person will see America's favorite small town, Mayberry, where villainous attempts are defeated by Andy, Aunt Bee and little Opie, the local heroes. In the eight seasons of The Andy Griffith Show, Aunt Bee was known to take up a cause now and then. One these episodes is titled "Aunt Bee the Crusader." In it she takes up a movement to stop plans for the construction of a highway that will force the family's egg man from his property. In another episode, "Politics Begins at Home," she runs for Mayberry's city council only to altruistically step aside for a more qualified candidate. Shirley St. Germaine is Kankakee's Aunt Bee.

Like Aunt Bee, St. Germaine is a responsible citizen and activist. A member of the GFWC Woman's Club of Kankakee, her most current cause is to stop her club from raising funds to erect life-size bronze statues honoring three Illinois governors who came from the town: Len Small, George Ryan and Sam Shapiro. St. Germaine believes raising money to honor the nefarious Small and Ryan is amiss.

"I keep thinking of the Willis children," St. Germaine told me.

Aunt Bee had a best friend who sometimes was her nemesis. If you recall, her name was Clara Edwards. Dondi Maricle is St. Germaine's Clara. Aunt Bee competed with Clara In cooking and garden contests and one time over a part in a local theater production. Their friendship was severely tested.

St. Germaine told me Maricle and she have been lifetime friends and now are divided over the governors statues.

Maricle is the Kankakee woman's club president. The statues were her idea.

"I want people to remember the good, not the bad, and Kankakee is the only city in Illinois that has contributed three governors," she told me.

Corruption is expensive. Illinois has paid deeply for two of those governors. According to Reboot Illinois, an April 2014 study estimates Illinois corruption costs $1,308 per citizen. The money wasted in one year's corruption could cover 37% of Illinois' total deficit. When you add up the manpower and hours of the 10 years of the licenses-for-bribes scandal investigation, with its 79 separate indictments and convictions, and the seven-month George Ryan trial, the cost of one man's malfeasance is mind-boggling.

On Saturday, the Kankakee woman's club held a St. Patrick's Day fundraising dinner for the statues. Tickets were $50 per person and included a catered corned beef and cabbage dinner, a silent auction of a decorated basket full of bounty from local merchants, entertainment from a bagpipe band, and George Ryan as guest speaker. Yes, the ex-con, ex-governor, spoke at a fundraiser dedicated in part to a statue of him.

Aunt Bee would have been outraged, and so was Shirley St. Germaine. Since the fundraiser was announced several weeks ago, she has publicly stood up against it and believes the club's money should be used for more worthy causes.

About 100 people attended the event, according to Maricle.

Said St. Germaine: "It was more like 60 people. and 10 of them were George Ryan's family."

A couple of club ladies who did not want to attend sat outside in a car and counted the number of people entering the banquet hall, she said. It looks to me like Aunt Bee has a couple of covert operatives. Good for them!

When asked what Ryan talked about, Maricle said, "He spoke about raising money for the water park."

Central Illinois' Mayberry has a water park that bears George Ryan and his late wife's name. According to the Kankakee Daily Journal, "When he was governor, he engineered the state's $12 billion dollar infrastructure program, Illinois First, which included a multimillion dollar investment that led to the construction of the Splash Valley Aquatic Park."

The park is now in need of serious repairs before it can re-open this summer.

"One million is a lot of money, but we should be able to get that," Ryan said, according to the Journal.

Yes, the governor whose idea of fundraising is shaking down contractors and truck drivers for campaign contributions is back at fundraising.

If some local flim flam had tried that in Mayberry, not only would Aunt Bee speak out, so would have Floyd and Goober. Kankakee has it concerned citizens too who spoke out on the Outrage of Kankakee County Facebook page.

"Who in [their] right mind would offer to help bail out the park district when their executive director is under criminal investigation?" wondered commenter Donald Mitchell.

"It was a dumb idea anyway!" posted Kristin Hoagland.

"[I]t sounds like the Park District has some serious issues and why pump money in when they can't get their act together," wrote Steven Dale Elliott.

Mayor Nina Epstein has said that problems at the water park are just "the tip of a very deep iceberg."

This stuff would have been way over the head of Barney Fife. Andy would have had to reach out to Mount Pilot for someone specializing in forensic accounting.

According Maricle, the woman's club raised $5,000 from the St. Patrick's Day event.

Ooh wee! That's a long way from the $117,000 needed for the life-size bronze statues. Central Illinois' Mayberry has more serious fiscal problems than Andy Griffith's sublime little hamlet. Of course, in "Don't Miss a Good Bet," a con man named George dupes several people, including Aunt Bee and Andy, out of $100 each to use for a treasure hunt. Sound kind a familiar, y'all?


* The Statues Of Kankakee.
* Now Even Statues Of Dirty Illinois Governors Want Your Money.
* Ex-Con George Ryan To Personally Appeal For Statue.


Ed Hammer is a retired police captain and author of the book One Hundred Percent Guilty. He can be reached through his website.


Also by Ed Hammer:
* George Ryan's Park Bench
* George Ryan's Dogs and Ponies
* George Ryan's Other Jailhouse Interview
* Bugging The Chicago School Board
* Cop vs. Teacher
* Signs of Change
* Pols vs. Teachers
* The Terre Haute Redemption
* Rahm's War On Teachers
* About Those Indicted Nurses
* Body Language Bingo: A Guide To Watching The Presidential Debates
* George Ryan's Day Of Independence
* The Ironic George Ryan.
* George Ryan Is Unrepentant.
* Must Like Puppies.
* ILGov2014: The George Ryan Connection.
* Exclusive: Trump Puts Lion Killer On VP Short List.


See also: Honoring A True Illinois Hero.


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 24, 2016

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