Our most-read stories in 2020

With working from home, learning from home and pretty much doing everything at home in 2020, it's hard to remember what happened yesterday, let alone a month ago. That's where this roundup of our most-read stories on comes in. Here's a month-by-month look at the suburban stories that got our collective attention in 2020. You'll notice a stark shift in focus around, say, March. And while what we know about the coronavirus has changed immensely since then, it's worthwhile to look back at how this pandemic has unfolded.


A homeless Elgin man built himself an intricate abode in the woods. Now he's being evicted from it.


A homeless man who painstakingly built a dwelling in the woods in Elgin early had an unwelcome surprise - he was trespassing on Fox River Water Reclamation District land and needed to move by the weekend. Doug Henke said he believed he was on city property when he chose the spot, determined to leave “Tent City,” Elgin's outdoor homeless encampment, to find peace and quiet on his own. Read the story from Jan. 3. Henke died this spring of heart disease. He would have turned 58 on June 12, the day after his body was found by police officers during a welfare check at his dwelling in the woods. He was given a final, heartfelt send-off Aug. 21 in a service with military honors at Bluff City Cemetery, followed by a private scattering of his ashes at his campsite in Elgin.

'He is ours': Hundreds show up to pay respects to 'unclaimed veteran' in Elgin

  An active duty military member salutes at the funeral for Vietnam veteran John James Murphy, who died last month after living since 2017 at River View Rehab Center in Elgin. Hundreds of people attended his service after no one was able to find any family members to claim him. Rick West/


When John James Murphy died in Elgin, he was an “unclaimed veteran” whose relatives couldn't be found or contacted to take care of his burial. On Jan. 29 he was unclaimed no more when hundreds of people from Elgin and beyond attended his visitation and service at an Elgin funeral home. Read our coverage from Jan. 27 and Jan. 29.

Donnie Wahlberg leaves $2,020 tip at St. Charles IHOP

A server at the IHOP in St. Charles got quite the surprise when actor and New Kids on the Block performer Donnie Wahlberg rang in the new year by leaving a $2,020 tip. Wahlberg's wife, “Masked Singer” judge Jenny McCarthy, posted a picture of their $78 lunch bill Wednesday on Twitter with $2,020 written on the tip line. Read the story from Jan. 1.

Nearly $3.2 million spent on marijuana on first day of recreational sales

  Jessica Valdespino Patient Care Representitive hands out tickets that will allow a client to enter the building and help complete their order. On New Years day Valdespino estimated that they saw approximately 1100 clients. A long line wraps throughout the parking lot Thursday at Verilife Illinois Marijuana Dispensarie in North Aurora. Brian Hill/


Illegally parked cars and traffic were the biggest issues police departments reported as more than 77,000 people spent nearly $3.2 million on newly legal cannabis products on Jan. 1, packing dispensaries in Mundelein, North Aurora, Addison and 31 other sites across the state. Read our coverage from Jan. 2.


  Boxed groceries await customer pickup at the "Peapod Pickup" location in Schaumburg Friday. JOE LEWNARD/

Peapod service to end in Illinois; Lake Zurich, Palatine facilities to close

Just weeks before the pandemic forced many shoppers online, the grocery delivery service Peapod announced it was leaving the Midwest, closing facilities in Lake Zurich, Palatine, Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, and laying off workers. Parent company Ahold Delhaize USA said the move would allow the company to focus on its East Coast operations. Read our story from Feb. 11.

Costco plan would force out Ogden 6 theater in Naperville


When news came in early February that Costco planned to buy the Ogden Mall shopping center to build a 159,000-square-foot store, it was the beginning of the end for the beloved Ogden 6 movie theater. Naperville residents were excited about the prospect of a second Costco, but sad to see the Classic Cinemas theater go. Just a few days later, two employees started an online petition to save the movie house, which had been a Naperville mainstay since the mid-1970s. The petition gathered more than 21,000 signatures. Then in March the pandemic shut down movie theaters until June. And with their lease expiring July 31, Ogden 6 management decided to just stay closed. “It wasn't the way we wanted to go out,” said owner Chris Johnson. “After 23 years, you'd like to have a better closure.”

But don't roll the credits just yet. In July, the company behind the Ogden 6 bought the Goodrich Kendall 11 theater in Oswego with plans to revive it as Classic Cinemas Kendall 11.

Des Plaines Kmart, the last in Illinois, will close at end of April


In early February, Des Plaines got news that the city's Kmart - the last one in Illinois - would be closing. Des Plaines records show the Kmart opened in 1975. While blue-light specials on discounted items accompanied by the “Attention, Kmart shoppers!” announcement was a draw until fading in the 1990s, perhaps the store's biggest moment came when it was used as a wedding venue. Kathy Gilbert and Gus Ladas, who met while working at the Kmart at Oakton and Lee streets, were married by a judge in the store on May 7, 1999. There were about 130 guests along with Kmart employees and assorted onlookers around them. Read the Feb. 7 story.


All state casinos ordered to close for two weeks starting Monday

The state ordered all casinos closed at the start of the pandemic. rivers casino


On Friday, March 13, the state announced that all of the state's 10 casinos would be forced to close their doors for a two-week period under order by the Illinois Gaming Board. This announcement - made back in the day when we thought two weeks was all it would take to contain COVID-19 - really got our attention. Read our story.

9 reasons doctors say you should stay calm as coronavirus spreads


On March 10, just as Americans were starting to ask ourselves if we should be staying home and disinfecting our groceries, we talked to suburban infectious disease experts to get some straight talk - and some reassurances. Looking back, some of these words proved overly optimistic. The dramatic rise in cases we hoped was not inevitable did come. But this story gives us a clear picture of what we were thinking in the very first days of the pandemic.

On this West Chicago street, neighbors come out every day to exercise together, and apart

  Bailey Zydek, front left, leads her West Chicago neighborhood in daily workouts on their street while being careful to maintain a safe social distance. Rick West/


Coming together and staying apart might seem to be at odds, but that's exactly what a West Chicago neighborhood was trying to do every day at 2 p.m. in the early days of the shutdown. Stories and photos of social-distanced fitness classes, birthday parades and drive-by baby showers captured our imaginations and helped us all to think of new ways to connect with our loved ones. Read our story from March 26.

COVID-19 cases top 100 in Illinois; it's now in 15 counties


Remember when we thought 100 cases was a lot? Maybe if more people had heeded the warnings in this story from March 16 and stayed home on St. Patrick's Day ...


Prosecutors: Arlington Heights intruders hoped to find $200,000 cash

  Two armed men broke into an Arlington Heights home in April looking for $200,000. Joe Lewnard/


Our most-read articles for April all involved the evolving story of a home invasion in Arlington Heights that left one would-be robber dead and another charged with murder. The incident started just before 2 p.m. Saturday, April 4, when police responded to a 911 call from the home on the 2400 block of North Evergreen Avenue. Prosecutors say Bradley J. Finnan, 39, of Chattanooga and the deceased Larry D. Brodacz, 58, of Buffalo Grove pushed their way into the home Saturday and threatened the family living there at gunpoint, in what police are calling a robbery attempt. After his capture Sunday, Finnan told investigators Brodacz claimed to have seen $200,000 cash in boxes in the home 20 years ago and believed it was still there, according to Cook County prosecutors. The family did not know either man, police said. Arlington Heights police later released a 66-second doorbell video of the harrowing early moments of the home invasion that left one would-be robber dead and another charged with murder.

Watch the tribute video Vernon Hills High School principal made to seniors

Vernon Hills High School principal Jon Guillaume made a video tribute to the senior class. YouTube


By early April, educators across the suburbs were coming to the realization that members of the Class of 2020 may have attended their last days of in-person school without knowing it back in March. Vernon Hills High School Principal Jon Guillaume captured the sadness felt by students, parents and educators alike in a moving video tribute to his seniors. Guillaume filmed himself writing the name of each senior student on a wall. Once the names were all up, Guillaume painted the word “seniors” over the wall before posing where the “I” in “seniors” would be. The rest of the video features pictures and video clips of seniors. Read our story from April 6 and watch the video.


Cascade Drive-In theater trying to make a comeback

The Cascade Drive-In closed in 2019, but the owner started talking about reopening in May. Daily Herald file photo


After closing in 2019, the owner of West Chicago's Cascade Drive-In saw potential to bring the theater back amid the increased interest in outdoor movie viewing brought on by the pandemic. In May, owner Jeff Kohlberg said he was talking about the possibility with the new owners of the property along North Avenue. But reviving a drive-in movie theater isn't as simple as flipping on the projector. Read our continuing coverage.

'I am not going to be anybody's boogeyman': DuPage sheriff says county is ready to reopen


DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick joined a chorus of suburban law enforcement officials in mid-May who said they wouldn't enforce Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order as a criminal offense. Mendrick said he believes DuPage is ready to reopen responsibly and he won't “victimize” lawful residents “trying to put food on their children's table.” “We are dealing with a serious rise in crime, new challenges in our correctional facility and a massive upsurge in our courthouse when everything opens back up,” Mendrick wrote on social media. “We will rise to the challenge. This is not the time to introduce fear into our society by threatening class A misdemeanors.” Read our May 18 story.

Woodfield Mall to reopen Friday with limited hours, capacity


When Illinois moved to Phase 3 at the end of May, suburban retailers were ready with COVID-19 safety protocols, including required facial coverings, social distancing and reduced capacity limits. “From a practical standpoint, we're excited the mall is going to reopen under safety protocols,” said Matt Frank, Schaumburg's economic development director. “We're optimistic that our shoppers will come back.” Read our story from May 29.

Suburban malls, stores shut down amid widespread fears of looting


Businesses across the suburbs, including at least four shopping malls, closed abruptly May 31 amid threats of looting and vandalism after protests erupted across the country in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. Some of those fears came to fruition later Sunday night in Aurora, and Metra suspended all service for the safety of the public and employees. Ready the May 31 story.


Vandals, looters damage downtown Naperville businesses

  Devaughan Welch of Bolingbrook holds a sign as people put up "peaceful paper hearts" at businesses in downtown Naperville two days after roughly 30 storefronts were damaged when a protest turned destructive. Joe Lewnard/


A protest in Naperville that started peacefully took an ugly turn late June 1 as authorities said a different group of protesters arrived and began breaking windows and looting downtown businesses. The vandalism and looting began around 9:35 p.m. - despite a 9 p.m. curfew - when one protester set off a firework that caused an explosion. Vandals then broke windows at more than a dozen downtown establishments, including Barnes & Noble, Talbots, Sullivan's Steakhouse, Walgreens, Smoothie King, Bangkok Village, Pandora, Starbucks and the Gap. Looters also entered some businesses, police said, and tried unsuccessfully to break into the Apple store. Hours earlier, the protest started with a march through downtown by hundreds of protesters upset about the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protesters chanted phrases like, “I can't breathe.” Read the June 1 story.

Elgin cop retires after questions about Twitter posts

Watch: Elgin police officer busts a move, and the protest audience loves it

Elgin Police Officer Hector Gutierrez break dances at the Elgin In Solidarity With Black Lives Matter rally Friday night in front of Elgin City Hall. Photo courtesy of Picasso Cerrado


Two very different stories about Elgin police in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter protests got our attention in early June. On June 4, an Elgin police officer announced his immediate retirement after being asked about statements he made on Twitter, including laughing about a protester who reportedly lost an eye after he was struck by a police tear gas canister in Indiana. Detective Brian Lawrence, 52, a 25-year veteran of the department, retired June 3, the day the Daily Herald contacted him and police administration for comment about his Twitter posts.

Then on June 6, Elgin police officer Hector Gutierrez joined protesters in a dance-off, which was caught on videos shared on social media. The videos show Gutierrez and Cmdr. Eric Echevarria in a circle with demonstrators watching a young man dance. The dancer walks up to the officers and mimics marking a line in front of them with his foot as if to dare them to cross it. Gutierrez turns to Echevarria and hands him his equipment vest and holster, keeping his mask on as the crowd cheers. He holds up a finger and says, “One city,” then walks to the center of the circle and starts dancing. Watch the video here.


IHSA prepared to delay 2020-21 high school sports season


The story of high school sports has been an ongoing saga in 2020, with Illinois High School Association Executive Director Craig Anderson at its center. In midsummer, news that the IHSA was prepared to delay the start of the 2020-21 high school sports season, possibly until January, was a blow to athletes, coaches and parents. Read the July 22 story.

'It's a piece of history': Volo museum won't remove General Lee display

  Volo Auto Museum owner and director Brian Grams says they will continue to display a General Lee made for "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show despite growing criticism of the Confederate battle flag. Paul Valade/


While statues, memorials and other symbols of the Confederacy were being taken down across the country this summer, director Brian Grams said there are no plans for the Volo Auto Museum to stop displaying its General Lee, the last surviving 1969 Dodge Charger from the first season of the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show. The iconic orange automobile is a symbol of television history, according to Grams. To others, though, the Confederate battle flag painted atop the vehicle is a painful symbol of a racist ideology. “We feel the car is part of history, and people love it,” Grams said. “We've got people of all races and nationalities that remember the TV show and aren't offended by it whatsoever. It's a piece of history and it's in a museum.” Read the July 2 story.

District 211 fires Palatine High School teacher over controversial Facebook post


Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board members voted 5-2 July 16 to fire tenured Palatine High School social studies teacher Jeanne Hedgepeth, who had been investigated for a controversial Facebook post just after the end of the school year about Black Lives Matter protests. In early June District 211 officials started investigating the since-deleted Facebook post about the protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The investigation began after screenshots of what purported to be the teacher's remarks were shared on social media. “The statements in the post do not reflect the values or principles of District 211,” the district said in a statement at the time, without further describing the post. “We are truly sorry for any harm or disrespect that this may have caused.” A week later, the teacher said she would retire. Another week later, she rescinded her retirement request before the board could vote on it. Read the July 16 story.


What a sad ending for Arlington Park

'The long-term solution is not Arlington Park': CEO says land could be sold

In August, Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said Arlington Park could be sold and the land developed for something other than horse racing. Daily Herald file photo


A week after live racing returned without spectators to Arlington International Racecourse, the CEO of the track's parent company cast an even darker shadow over the already precarious future of the storied Arlington Heights oval. “The long-term solution is not Arlington Park. That land will have a higher and better purpose for something else at some point,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said during a quarterly earnings call with investors. For Barry Rozner, the news was hardly a surprise. But it was no less devastating. Read his column from July 31.

Antioch teen charged with murder in overnight shooting during Kenosha protests

Kyle Rittenhouse carries a weapon as he walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha during a night of unrest following the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake. Associated Press file photo


Kyle Riitenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, was charged Aug. 26 in the shooting deaths of two people during a night of protests in Kenosha stemming from the police shooting of a Black man. Rittenhouse was taken into custody after a cellphone video showed a young white man opening fire in the middle of the street with a military-style rifle. After the shooting, the man is allowed to walk away by police. Rittenhouse's case was taken on by lawyers who have handled numerous high-profile, controversial and political clients. They unsuccessfully fought Rittenhouse's extradition to Wisconsin. His family is now selling “Free Kyle” merchandise to support his defense fund.

'Oh, no, it couldn't be': Long Grove's covered bridge damaged a day after reopening

By Orrin Schwarz

Less than 24 hours after its grand reopening, the Long Grove covered bridge was damaged again. A rented school bus traveling west to east across the bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road left the bridge damaged at both ends. It happened about 12:20 p.m. on a Saturday. The bridge, constructed in 1906, reopened with a ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Friday after 26 months of rebuilding. June Neumann, who owns Viking Treasures near the bridge, ran outside her store when she heard the crash. “This afternoon I was at the shop and heard a noise I hadn't heard for 26 months,” she said, “and said, 'Oh, no, it couldn't be.' And I ran outside my door. Grabbed my phone and ran outside my door, and there was a yellow bus coming through the bridge.” Read the Aug. 15 story.


Palatine restaurant's license suspended after workers found living in basement


A Palatine restaurant was fined $2,000 and had its business license suspended for at least 14 days after three male workers were found using its basement as their living and sleeping quarters. The Dream Place, a Chinese eatery at 1280 E. Dundee Road, had risked having its license revoked for the violation of village code. The living arrangements were discovered after the fire department responded to a call about 1:45 a.m. Sept. 6, entered the restaurant and found smoke and a 10-gallon pot of food on a burner. A worker was awakened by the burglar alarm when firefighters came in, but the basement did not have smoke or carbon monoxide alarms, firefighter Brian Stennett said. “Had there been an actual fire, they wouldn't have been alerted to the fire until they were in greater danger,” Stennett said. The restaurant was allowed to reopen after paying its fine and addressing all outstanding code violations. Read the Sept. 15 story.

Crowds at St. Charles marijuana dispensary 'creating nightmares' for neighbor


As the clock ticks closer to 4 p.m., Aamir Bandukda knows it's time to shut down for the day. It's not that he's trying to get home early. He's just hoping to avoid the growing crowds near his unit at the St. Charles Commons office complex, also home to Zen Leaf marijuana dispensary, when it begins its daily window for recreational sales. “The amount of foot traffic that's coming in, it's not suitable for an industrial warehouse office building,” said Bandukda, whose entrance shares a walkway with Zen Leaf. “It's creating nightmares.” Read the story.

Group asked to return 15 French bulldogs rescued from O'Hare warehouse


A Chicago-based animal rescue group was told to give up 15 French bulldogs it saved from an O'Hare International Airport warehouse where they had been housed in crowded crates for four days without food and water. After arriving in Chicago on Aug. 28 en route to Jordan, the puppies had been sitting in their own urine and feces in a corner of the warehouse until they were discovered by a truck driver, according to Chicago French bulldog Rescue, which was called in Aug. 31. The group refused to give up the puppies, and later reached an agreement allowing the puppies to stay in the United States. Read the Sept. 25 story.


Indoor dining ban starts in DuPage, Kane, and so does defiance. How about enforcement?


  Ki's Steak & Seafood Restaurant owner Spiro Roumpas is keeping the indoor dining areas open at his Glendale Heights restaurant despite the governor's order to close indoor dining starting Friday in DuPage County. Paul Valade/

On Oct. 23, Ki's Steak and Seafood in Glendale Heights, Ray's Family Restaurant in Elgin, Italian Pizza Kitchen in Roselle and Brauer House in Lombard all indicated on Facebook that they would stay open for dine-in business in defiance of Gov. JB Pritzker's order ending indoor table service. But DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin said there is no criminal statute that covers the matter, leaving the matter of enforcement in question. Read the Oct. 23 story.

Gene & Georgetti closing Rosemont restaurant


Gene & Georgetti announced in October it was shutting down its Rosemont location at 9421 W. Higgins Road after being notified it had to vacate the building because of $120,000 in unpaid property taxes. The Rosemont location had struggled amid the pandemic, though its event space had taken the biggest hit. The 5,000-square-foot grand ballroom has remained vacant since the state began regulating gatherings, according to one of the restaurant's third-generation family owners, Michelle Durpetti. “We have a large event facility that accounts for about 50 percent of our revenue on a normal basis,” Durpetti said. “With the state mandates in place. ... we have not been able to have any business in the space.” Read the Oct. 21 story.

Waukegan police say shooting that killed Black teen was in self-defense; protesters question it

Watch Waukegan police video: Only moments before, after Black couple were shot are captured


The fatal police shooting of Marcellis Stinnette, a 19-year-old Black Waukegan resident, provoked questions, outrage and protests. Authorities said the officer who fired feared for his life, but family members called for answers. The situation unfolded shortly before midnight Oct. 20 when a Waukegan officer fired into a vehicle after the driver started reversing as the officer walked toward it. Stinnette was a passenger in the car driven by his girlfriend, 20-year-old Tafara Williams, who was hospitalized after the crash. Williams later described the events, and Waukegan police released dashcam and bodycam videos showing the moments before and after the shooting. The officer was fired.


DuPage, Kane and Will counties moving to Tier 2 restrictions


DuPage, Kane, Kankakee and Will were the first suburban counties to go back under heightened restrictions in November as the region saw a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Cook County followed with a 30-day stay-at-home advisory as new COVID-19 cases spiked to a record and the region fell below desired levels for available hospital beds. Many suburban school districts paused in-person and hybrid instruction models.

Bartlett High School teacher fired after accusations of inappropriate relationships with 3 students


Tenured Bartlett High School teacher Gary Lorber was fired after accusations of inappropriate relationships with three students who graduated during the 2000s, according to documents released by the school district. The reasons for Lorber's dismissal were not publicly disclosed at the time of the Elgin Area School District U-46 board of education's unanimous termination vote. But a Freedom of Information request filed by the Daily Herald led to the release Friday of a Notice of Charges and Bill of Particulars which detailed 20 professional charges against Lorber relating to his conduct with the three students. The document details a gradual progression from notes and attention, to gifts, and eventually in two cases paid trips to New York. Lorber, 51, of Wheaton has not been charged with any crime. Read the Nov. 21 story.

Underwood moves ahead of Oberweis as Lake County updates results


The race for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 14th Congressional District between Democratic incumbent Lauren Underwood and Republican challenger Jim Oberweis took a trajectory similar to that of the presidential race. On election night, the race was close with Oberweis appearing to be in the lead. The next day when he led by 895 votes, Oberweis, a state senator from Sugar Grove, declared victory in a video. But in the days that followed as more mail-in and provisional ballots were counted, Underwood closed the gap and eventually took the lead for good. On Nov. 12, The Associated Press called the race for Underwood. The official vote counts had Underwood winning by 5,374 votes. Oberweis' campaign has filed for a discovery recount in DuPage County.


10 outdoor and drive-through holiday light shows in suburbs, Chicago


With so many of our traditional holiday activities off-limits this year, everyone is looking for things they can do to celebrate the season outside or in cars. That means holiday light shows - and stories about them - have been more popular than ever. Here's our list.

'A visionary': DuPage District 88 mourning beloved Superintendent Scott Helton


The DuPage High School District 88 community was stunned and saddened when Superintendent Scott Helton died Dec. 10. Helton had a stroke in late October, two weeks after contracting COVID-19. A father to three sons, Helton spent much of his education career in the district, first as a principal for 11 years at Addison Trail and then as the superintendent for the past eight. “He was willing to do whatever was necessary to help students to be engaged in learning and help them to become the best people they could be,” said school board President Donna Craft Cain. Read our Dec. 11 tribute.

Which suburban hospitals are getting COVID-19 vaccines first


News of COVID-19 vaccines dominated the headlines as 2020 came to a close. On Dec. 4, we learned who would get the first doses in Illinois - health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. On Dec. 17, initial batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began arriving with police escorts to hospitals across the suburbs. Within hours, health care workers who have cared for COVID-19 patients daily since March lined up for the shots. “I'm still going to take all the precautions, but it's a peace of mind to have the vaccine now,” said Aminderjit Dhanoa, a respiratory therapist who received the first vaccine at Edward Hospital in Naperville.

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