Piano man David Kellen back at the keyboard in Geneva
For most of his life, David Kellen could count on his time at the piano keyboard as a stabilizing force, and surely his purpose in life.
It was his ultimate go-to happy place -- until it wasn't for many years. Now he wants it back.
Many piano players of all ages in the Tri-Cities are likely to know Kellen. Through most of the 1990s, he operated Studio K in Geneva, a popular place to learn how to play the piano.
"At one point, I had about 200 students, so the business really grew and the studio was huge," Kellen said.
He and his wife had lost a son at birth in 1992, but another, Jake, was born in 1994. Jake was born with kidney failure and underwent a transplant at 17 months.
"That was a big thing for the family, as my wife had given the kidney," Kellen said.
Jake did well for many years, but needed a second transplant in 2009. Kellen and his family were overwhelmed with the support they received from people in Geneva to get through that.
Then life took its toughest turns for Kellen, as he went through a divorce in 2013, and years later Jake finally succumbed to kidney disease and diabetes at age 23.
"Jake lived with me for the last two and a half years of his life, and he died in November of 2017," Kellen added. "We lost him."
It sent Kellen into a period of despair. "I was suffering for a long time, when losing your family and then your son, that is a lot to go through."
He turned to what he knew best -- his strong faith and a passion for teaching piano.
He had kept in touch with John and Diane Cordogan, owners of Cordogan's Pianoland on the far east side of Geneva, because he worked there a few years after closing his own studio operations.
"They came forward about two months ago and talked about me coming back to do some teaching and some piano sales," Kellen said. "I had been waiting to find what kind of opportunity would come forward and where I was supposed to go."
It's been six years since Kellen has been teaching young people how to play the piano.
"This is a whole new generation of kids for me, and when you are gone six years, that's a lifetime to many of them," Kellen said. "So I want to get back involved in Geneva, because I have had my best memories here."
He intends to stick to the formula that made Studio K so popular in the past.
"I did a lot of fun music with the kids," he said. "That was my key, because a lot of kids learned how to play the piano who wouldn't normally have gone to piano lessons."
It's definitely a new start for the 53-year-old Kellen, who lives in Aurora. His 27-year-old son Matt is a professional drummer and his 14-year-old son Ethan is a freshman in high school.
In the mix now is a born-again father who is back behind the keyboards in the same happy place he has counted on through all of his highs and lows.
Hot for chili:
The concept of staging a Chili Cook-Off outdoors in the heat of summer is something I've never fully understood.
But it sure is popular for those who are proud of the chili they create -- and for those who sample it as these events.
The Batavia Riverwalk will be the host site for the 27th annual Illinois State Championship Chili Cook-Off from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27. Admission to the event is free, but tasting spoons are available for visitors for a suggested $5 donation.
The Batavia Park District and chamber of commerce put on this show, and they make the pitch to potential visitors that "Cool-Off" activities are planned as well.
Cool for milk:
When farm owners Andy and Sarah Lenkaitis opened their new milking barn at their farm west of St. Charles, they did it as part of a Dairy Open House that helped the Kane County Farm Bureau make a significant donation to local food pantries.
More than 1,000 people attended the event in late June to conclude national dairy month and see how the robotic milkers operated in the new barn.
It's one of the last few dairies operating in Kane County, an operation that the Lenkaitis family bought in 1983 with just five cows on site. Today, it has a herd of 150, with 80 of those being milk cows.
As it was, the farm bureau's 10,000 Gallon Challenge was created in late 2018 as a goal to contribute that much milk to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Visitors to the Lenkaitis open house raised enough funds to conclude that challenge and help the foundation donate all of that milk.
Good for teen drivers:
Using 23 key metrics, research firm WalletHub has declared Illinois to be the ninth best state for teen drivers.
Citing the summer as the season in which most teens obtain their driver's license, WalletHub rated states from data that included the number of teen driver fatalities, average cost of car repairs and the presence of impaired-driving laws.
Not having any idea of what other states offer or don't offer for teen drivers (Maryland, by the way, was declared the best), I was at least slightly surprised Illinois ranked so high.
I've thought for a long time that the crowded streets, at least in the Chicago area and its suburbs, are tough for teen drivers.
That wasn't the case so many years ago now, when I learned on a gravel road without any other drivers around me in Naperville -- an area that is now 75th Street. Today, it's the ultra busy street that runs along the south end of Fox Valley Mall and intersects with Route 59.
So what's the equivalent for those who have lived in the Tri-Cities for many decades? They probably learned to drive on Randall Road -- a gravel road with hardly anyone else around.