It's hard to talk to a Hollywood star when you don't realize he was one of your heroes
Throughout my career, I've interviewed or at least spoken to several people who have been in the national spotlight. Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire; former Bulls standouts Michael Jordan, Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier and Artis Gilmore; actress Michael Learned of "The Waltons"; presidential candidate Bob Dole; comedian Jim Belushi; rock star and Steppenwolf frontman John Kay; Sun Records owner Sam Phillips (he, of Elvis Presley fame); Cubs stars Randy Hundley and Billy Williams; and White Sox star Tim "Rock" Raines. There are probably others, but the point is, you meet interesting people when you are a journalist.
But imagine talking to a Hollywood star and not realizing he was actually your childhood hero. It's frustrating to figure that out years later.
And I've been frustrated before. After all, I had the opportunity to visit another hero, Larry Fine of The Three Stooges, in 1974 when he was in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center near Hollywood. My friend's grandmother worked at the hospital and arranged for us to visit.
We got to the hospital parking lot and chickened out, under the excuse of not wanting to see one of our beloved Stooges in bad shape. Larry died in January of 1975 and the Stooges' Moe Howard wrote in his book that Larry was disappointed fans never came to visit. I regret it to this day.
So, who was the childhood hero I actually spoke to and didn't make the connection? That would be James MacArthur, who played Fritz Robinson in the Disney adventure yarn "Swiss Family Robinson" in 1960. As a 7-year-old kid, it was easy for me to believe it was the greatest movie ever made.
It turns out MacArthur, whose mother was theater legend Helen Hayes, was a distant relation of the late Skott Zimmerman, a St. Charles golf store operator who sponsored and organized the Midwest Golf Pro-Am event each summer at the Royal Fox Country Club to benefit Special Olympics.
MacArthur came to St. Charles a few times for this event that I was fortunate enough to play in. I never played with MacArthur, but I talked to him in 1998 at the post-event dinner.
I knew him only as a famous actor in "Hawaii Five-O" in the role of Danny "Danno" Williams, with the famous line of "Book 'em, Danno" closing many of the shows after a criminal was caught.
He was a nice fellow. We shook hands and talked about golf, because I didn't know what else to talk about. I didn't watch "Hawaii Five-O."
In just the past month, I came across an old VHS tape of "Swiss Family Robinson" in a box at home -- and there it was. James MacArthur had a huge role, along with other Disney child stars -- Tommy Kirk, who passed away late last year, and Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran, who died in 2015. And it all came back to me that MacArthur was my favorite character, kind of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler type, fighting giant snakes and pirates and eventually winning the love interest in the film.
I dug out the printed program for that 1998 golf event (yes, journalists don't throw things out) and read the entry about MacArthur, and it did not mention the movie.
It's hard to believe I missed the chance to talk to him about what it was like to make that cool movie. It would be similar to someone talking to actor Tom Hanks when he was in downtown Geneva in 2001 filming "Road to Perdition," but not realizing he was the star of "Big," one of your favorite movies when you were a kid in 1988.
I didn't make that mistake when I met Jerry "The Beaver" Mathers and Tony "Wally" Dow at an autograph signing event at DuPage County Fairgrounds two years ago. I knew what I wanted to ask them beforehand, being familiar with most every episode of "Leave it to Beaver."
As it turned out, I never saw James MacArthur again -- and he passed away at age 72 in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2010.
Getting a chance to talk to a famous person isn't a rarity in the Tri-Cities area. We've had our fair share of Hollywood, music or sports royalty turn up; Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys lived in St. Charles for several years, and Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy call St. Charles their home now.
The Arcada Theater has so many music icons perform here, you could run into one at any time -- like seeing Graham Nash at a nearby car show before his gig or, prior to his passing, seeing Davey Jones of The Monkees walking around town.
I'm not certain what the moral of this story is. But don't pass up the opportunity to talk to a movie, sports or music star if you ever get the chance. At the very least, make sure you remember if that big star was one of your heroes.
Let's 'Gather' at bakery
Like most teachers, Sandra Ranney of St. Charles enjoys seeing her former students do well. In the case of one of her former third-grade students at Fox Ridge Elementary, Deanna (Pieniazek) Keilty, it also carries the benefit of trying delicious bakery goods Deanna and her husband, Eric, prepare for various marketplaces.
Eric and Deanna lived in Chandler, Arizona, where they began an in-home bakery called "GingerBrick," selling goodies at various markets throughout Phoenix.
Because her family is still in this area and her mother, Donna, a former substitute teacher in St. Charles, was quite ill, Deanna and Eric moved back and ended up in Rockford.
After Donna's passing, they changed the name of the bakery to "Gather" in reference to gathering again with family and friends -- and they started selling in local markets.
Gather Bakery has a booth on Fridays at the Baker Community Church indoor market in St. Charles, and on Saturdays at the Batavia downtown indoor farmers market.
When visiting friends in Arizona, Ranney said she would sample some of the couple's bakery goods -- Jalapeño cheddar bread, Danish, bagels, focaccia, scones, croissants and fudge.
"My friends here would beg Ken and Donna to bring up some treats when they would return for visits," Ranney said.
As a lifelong resident of St. Charles, Ranney has it in her blood to support local businesses. After all, her father was George Worthley of the Klick and Worthley Drug Store, which is now the site of the ZaZa Trattoria restaurant.
Her grandfather was Carl Soderquist, whose construction company built the original Illinois Street Bridge, among other area sites.
"It's a reason why I like to support local business and give a shout out when someone like Deanna and Eric have brought their future to our area," Ranney said.
A tile takeover
In case anyone is wondering what is going on when they see work crews at the former Binny's Beverage Depot site in St. Charles, you may soon see builders and handymen alike visiting the place.
The city doesn't have a lot to share on it yet, but preliminary information indicates the former Binny's at 1950 Lincoln Hwy. is being cleared to make way for a tile store.
Binny's moved to the Geneva Commons nearly a year ago.
The city didn't have a name to share yet on who is potentially taking over the St. Charles location, but Floor & Décor comes to mind as a guess, because it's a rather large tile store.
It's almost movie time
I'm not really in a moviegoing mindset yet, but it has been difficult to see the Randall 15 complex in Batavia empty since last March.
Michigan-based Emagine Entertainment is about to take over the complex and include Emax, a 94-foot-wide screen. Anyone itching to go to the show at this Randall Road site has a reason to be hopeful about doing so sometime in 2022.
Emagine also is seeking a liquor license for the theater complex.
Oh boy, another place for me to imbibe a bit and fall asleep while watching a movie.