"Talk of the Town" has finished yet another year in hoping to bring to readers one of the simple joys of life -- being informed of interesting people, places and events right in your own community. Or, put another way, reading about regular people doing the things that make a town click.
In this age of Facebook and Twitter, both of which I enjoy, this column still operates, for the most part, on more basic human communication tools. I go out and visit places, talk to people, call them or exchange emails as best I can.
I never know for sure what is going to resonate with readers, even to the point where a simple comment like wondering if anyone still plays the accordion got all sorts of responses, including reader Joe Garbarski telling me his friend Chuck Salvo is a prolific accordion player. If nothing else came of that item in my column, Joe got to give his pal a shout out.
Over the course of a year, there are hundreds of more examples like that, but mostly it was fun once again to provide readers with information that helps them learn about neighbors, decide about places to visit, or places to eat or buy treats. That seems like a favorite pastime of all of us.
So we take a look back at what we were all talking about in 2017.
Search for the best:
I started the year with my own personal search for a great deli sandwich, deciding to share such a search with readers. The responses were through the roof and, in the end, Smitty's on the Corner, on Main Street in St. Charles, received the most accolades.
To this day, one of my readers mentions that upon reading those articles, he has since become a regular and eaten quite a few Turkey Berry sandwiches, one of the most popular at Smitty's.
In that spirit, I did the same thing in a search for the best chicken wings in the area, and after tons of responses, Old Towne Pub in Geneva received the most rave reviews for that delicacy.
A historic makeover:
The Baker Community Center had one of its first renovations in decades, converting various rooms to new looks. In addition, the center's board christened one room the "Melvin Peterson Lounge" with a nice plaque in honor of the fellow who continues to work on the center's board and has put in more than 70 years of his heart and soul into that building.
Fixing those pipes:
Along the lines of St. Charles history -- at least water pipelines -- Wagner Plumbing celebrated its 100th year of service to the area. This company has put in, or fixed, plumbing in just about every significant building in the region.
The grand entertainer:
Let me be the first to declare Arcada Theatre frontman Ron Onesti the St. Charles version of a modern-day P.T. Barnum. This guy has brought more enjoyment to the area with a parade of entertainment, dining and dancing than most anyone in the history of the city, at least since the Arcada's glorious heydays in the late 1920s.
Onesti opened the Club Arcada, reviving the dinner nightclub concept that was once a favorite above the theater as much as 80 years ago.
In addition, he took over the vacant theater location at Pheasant Run and turned it into an extension of the Arcada Theatre entertainment with family-oriented plays, small concerts or one-on-one events with big stars.
Give us bread:
One of my first laments of last year was sharing the disappointment that folks in St. Charles had over the closing of the Breadsmith bakery shop on North Second Street.
The shop opened again in April, closed again a few months later, and then reopened in the fall.
It was plain to see that if Breadsmith could eliminate that sort of drama at that location, area residents would be pleased.
Coming and going:
Some of the most popular items in this column remain those about new restaurant openings and closings. This sort of news still spreads the quickest through word-of-mouth, or maybe some Facebook postings. But it is very clear that readers of this column have an interest in what I have to say about new places.
As I have said before, I can't possibly visit every new place, though I do get to a good number of them, but I can share what other readers are telling me or what I see when making my way around the Tri-Cities.
So, soon, I will tell everyone a little more about the Craft Urban Kitchen that has opened in Geneva at the spot formerly housing Nosh. And the new Nosh should be opening soon along N. Third Street.
Taco Madre, which has a location in North Aurora, is opening along State Street in Geneva in what had been the original El Molcajete spot in town (the owners also operate one on Third Street).
One of the bigger disappointments of the year was seeing Rob Mondi have to close his Abby's Breakfast and Lunch spot in downtown St. Charles. I wasn't a consistent regular there, but enjoyed it much each time I went. More so, this is one of the really nice guys in town, and it would have been nice to see him succeed big time.
Serving those in need:
If ever St. Charles wanted to do some chest thumping about something to be extremely proud of, it could do so with the 20th anniversary of the Lazarus House shelter.
Director Liz Eakins and her staff continue to provide small miracles on a daily basis for families looking to re-establish their footing in life.
It was a great idea 20 years ago, and remains a great one today in downtown St. Charles.
To market, to market:
In something that reminds us that a significant amount of the area west of Randall Road remains open farmland and country living, the Kane County Country Market opened along Route 47, just north of Elburn.
When owners described the place as "it has a little bit of everything," they were certainly correct. This is an interesting place with a diner setting and all sorts of country-themed items and goods.
Still the greatest:
It's been 40 years since the Fox Valley Lassies won the national women's softball title and brought the trophy home to Langum Park in St. Charles.
Team members had a reunion last summer to reminisce about their great run as the nation's elite team and honor some of their teammates who have since passed.
Covering the Lassies was one of the first tasks I had when working in this area. To this day, when I think of women's slowpitch softball, the names and faces of these wonderful athletes pop into my head and bring a smile every time.
The biggest stink:
So, which story caused the biggest stink of the year, and thus the most responses of anything I wrote about?
It was a stench that covered great portions of the Tri-Cities -- an overpopulation of skunks. When I talked to county animal control folks about this and provided some explanations, the number of readers chiming in about their (or their pets') encounters with skunks -- and I assume holding their noses at the same time -- was at least somewhat surprising.
Tells it all:
And, quite possibly, saving the best for last this year was a story about Richmond Intermediate School students Wyatt and Porter Snopko collecting socks and underwear for the area homeless shelters to deliver prior to Christmas.
I was told last week they collected more than 700 pairs to deliver this year.
And why would this qualify as one of the best? Because it tells us a whole lot about the people who live in this area, and that the young ones are heading in the right direction.
Despite notions to the contrary, the people with goodness in their hearts and caring for others far, far outnumber those who prefer to complain, spew hatred and try to drag others into their misery.