By Jeff Smyth
Interviewing George Culley is like riding as a passenger in a car on the German Autobahn. There are no speed limits and few opportunities to exit so all you can do is just hold on and enjoy the ride.
“Interview” is a mischaracterization when it comes to talking to George. George speaks at a pedal –to-the-metal rate on whatever topic is at hand, but always with the good intentions of doing the Lord’s work. So, when he cornered me at the grocery store recently he was already revved up and fully charged.
George is the founder of the Least of the Brethren food pantry and estimates that in the 17 years it has been in Pinckneyville he has fed more than 500,000 southern Illinois families. A self-proclaimed prophet, he is on a new mission to open both a soup kitchen and homeless shelter in the old Pinckneyville Community Hospital building. He recently appealed to hospital board to sell the building to him on the cheap.
ONLY IN P'TOWN: Someone named Joe was arrested for allegedly etching his name encircled by a heart (what a romantic) into a newly-poured sidewalk by the Moose Lodge. (NOTE: I have not confirmed this as I am too lazy to do so).
What I do know is that at least nine others also set about and scrawled their initials into the freshly-laid mush. The talk is that all the scofflaws were associated with the lodge, although no one is fessin’ up to anything, see, and I am too lazy to confirm it.
One person did put a cogent perspective on the troubling situation by saying: “They poured new concrete around the grade school (about a block away) and none of the kids messed with it.”
The good news is that someone came by with a broom and swept the heart and initials away. Phew.
BY JEFF SMYTH
Tomorrow evening Bill Thimming will dim the lights at Thomas Home Improvement and another Pinckneyville storefront will go dark for the last time. Bill has worked there since 1977 and wanted to keep the doors open for a couple of more years until he retired, but the owners (children of the late Jim Thomas) couldn’t find a buyer after their dad died suddenly in 2011 and decided it was time to quit.
The closing will add to the slow hemorrhaging of businesses Pinckneyville has seen lost over the years. Few independent retailers remain in town and the numbers continue to dwindle.
Charlie Curt locked the doors of Western Auto appliance and auto parts store recently. Toni Englehardt has been trying to sell the flower shop she has owned for 35 years to no avail. The fatigue in her eyes and frustration in her voice makes me wonder how much longer she will wait before walking away.
“We have been profitable since we opened. I don’t understand why a bank won’t loan someone money to buy it. My partner has retired. I don’t know,” she says, her voice trailing off.
By Jeff Smyth
I have empathy for Pinckneyville Mayor Robert Spencer on a personal level. Roughly three months after he was elected to his first seat in public office, he faced a scandal when it was discovered that an employee had allegedly been embezzling city funds for about four years.
Tonya D. Morgan, who worked at the city clerk’s office, was arraigned August 6 on a Class 1 felony charge of theft of between $10,000 and $100,000. Bail was set at $50,000 and she posted $5,000 bond.
Suspicion of impropriety was raised about a month prior and the Illinois State Police were called in to investigate. The city hired CPA Pat Kattenbraker to conduct an internal audit. Spencer promised during those early stages that he would hold a press conference to discuss matters once the investigation and audit were completed. It was an encouraging message to a wary public which believes such things are often swept under the rug.
The Perry County States Attorney David Stanton filed charges August 7 against former city of Pinckneyville employee Tonya D. Morgan for allegedly embezzling between $10,000 and $100,000 in city funds. Morgan voluntarily turned herself in. Bail for the Class One felony was set at $50,000 with Morgan posting a $5,000 bond.
Pinckneyville Mayor Robert Spencer promised to hold a press conference to address the theft, but remains non-committal as to when it will occur. As of August 7, he said he was awaiting a move by the state’s attorney’s office. Even with formal charges now filed, he continues to remain silent. Spencer would not confirm that an exact amount of what was taken had been determined, nor would he release a copy of the investigation report issued by the Illinois State Police. (story developing).
By Jeff Smyth
Another fire, another cry from those who believe a town “landmark” was lost and another reminder that the old buildings that remain on what is left of the Pinckneyville square either need to be razed or refurbished.
It is fortunate that the fire that gutted what was called “The Cunningham Building” in the wee hours of June 16 didn’t injure or kill anyone. It has been reported that at least six people were in the building at the time it started. We are also thankful that the brave firemen who fought the blaze were unscathed unlike the time when the Opera House burned down and we lost one.
The Friends of Pyramid State Park unveiled its new logo and committed to working on several projects to help promote and improve the park including raising money for the construction of an all-purpose building, providing water to north campground and creating a website.
Chrissy Hagene, a Pinckneyville Community High School graduate and current graphic design student at Rend Lake College, created the artwork for the non-profit organization. It features three trees configured in the form of a pyramid.
A 40-foot by 40-foot all-purpose building will be located in the Denmark section of the park and available for groups representing the many organization that utilize the park, as well as the general public, to use for outings.