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Watseka’s Helen Todd coming home to perform

           Saturday performance at Harold & Jean Miner Auditorium

WATSEKA — Former local resident Helen Todd is back home this weekend. The Sugar Creek Opera makes another Iroquois County presentation Saturday. And the former Watsekan, Helen Todd, has a lead role again.

Sugar Creek's production of "Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss II is Saturday at the Harold and Jean Miner Auditorium at Central High School in Clifton.

Todd, a co-founder and general and artistic director of Sugar Creek Opera, describes "Die Fledermaus" as a light, fluffy comedy. And though she's coming off heavier dramatic roles — she recently sang the title role in Giacomo Puccini's "Turandot" in Hong Kong — she's picking up Rosalinde fast.

That's partly because she and the rest of the cast are singing the German operetta in English.
"The comedy part of operetta is one of its most important elements," Todd said. "You want American audiences to get all the jokes. You don't want them to have to read subtitles.

"The operetta also lends itself easier to translation. It's easier singing and then speaking dialogue. It's not just straight opera all the way."

Todd has been singing the role of Norma Desmond in the musical "Sunset Boulevard" in Cleveland, soprano Helen Todd will switch gears.

She's driving eight hours from her now-hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to her girlhood hometown of Watseka to sing the role of Rosalinde in the Sugar Creek Opera production of "Die Fledermaus."

This is the 12th annual season for Sugar Creek Opera, formerly called Sugar Creek Symphony and Song. This year there is no singer apprentice program; it's on hiatus. Sugar Creek also dropped other programs it had offered. There will be no Cherry Street Art Fair, church tours or other concerts; just the one performance of "Die Fledermaus."

"We talked about our mission, about going forward into the next stage of life for the company, from Sugar Creek Symphony and Song to Sugar Creek Opera," Todd said. "That was purposeful because we want to concentrate on what we do best, which is professional opera.

"We rewrote our mission statement to be specific about that, to bring it back to our roots of showcasing classic and American opera. We're trying not to tire our workforce by doing extraneous events not related directly to opera."

Sugar Creek also hopes to extend its operatic reach to other communities like Peoria, Cleveland and Indianapolis — all cities where opera companies have struggled or disbanded in recent years due to the economy.

"We want to raise funds to perform opera in these other communities as well, and still have our summer festival and apprentice program," said Todd, who also serves on Sugar Creek's board of directors.

Todd, who lives in Cleveland, said she will return each year to Watseka to sing if donors and the community raise the money to produce an opera, though she no longer has family living in Watseka, in Iroquois County.

She feels Iroquois County and other areas of the state are underserved culturally, particularly in the area of live opera.

To survive, opera companies need to rethink the financial strategies they followed during boom times, Todd said.
"They have to think more community-based, more community-oriented so they're invested in the community a little deeper so they can get those donor dollars. It's taking a long time because they contract out three or four years. It's taking a long time for the business model to change."

Tickets are available for the Sugar Creek Opera. For reservations sugarcreekopera.ticketleap.com or call 815-432-3830

94.1 WGFA

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State Tourism Stop in Kankakee

The Illinois Bureau of Tourism "Illinois Road Show" made a stop in Kankakee Monday afternoon.

Deputy Director Jen Hoelsle (Hole-zl) said the stop was part of a five-day, 17-stop road show to thank the local Convention and Visitor's Bureaus that helped the state bring in a record breaking number of visitors last year. Hoelsle says Kankakee County is doing well.

Hoelsle, who's Bureau is responsible for the "Little Abe" commercials, says the state will continue to work to bring more tourism to the area.

Find out more about Illinois tourism at enjoyillinois.com

94.1 WGFA

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50th year for Kankakee County Fair

The five-day run of the Kankakee County Fair gets underway tomorrow (Wed). And it's the 50th birthday for the event. The fairgrounds, just off Route 45 south of Kankakee, is bustling with activity.

The fair includes the expected displays of tractors along with the popular attractions of figure 8 school bus racing and demolition derby cars.

The gates open at 7 o'clock Wednesday morning. The daily agenda includes the predictable sheep and swine competition, as well as a carnival midway. Then, new this year, the Wambold Amazing Animal Show is set for 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday night's grandstand show features the oddity of cars and trucks pulling trailers, instead of the standard stock car racing. Thursday's main event is the bus racing.
Friday night's grandstand show gets back to the fair's roots, with a rodeo and calf scramble. Saturday offers a new event for children, a treasure hunt, also staged at the grandstand area. The activity will send various age groups out in a search for special "stars." These tokens can be redeemed for major prizes, including video game systems, as well as cash prizes, and coupons that can be redeemed for midway food or at area McDonald's restaurants.

Sunday wraps things up with a demolition derby. A complete list of fair activities can be found at www.kankakeefair.org.

94.1 WGFA

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Third Flood Zone Coalition meeting held, approach to regional floodplain management continues to develop

OTTAWA, IL – State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said a third Flood Zone Coalition meeting was held July 24 in Ottawa following two previously successful meetings in which local officials have agreed to take a more regional and comprehensive approach to flood preparation and management.

Discussion on how to best prepare the region for future flooding continued and plans have begun to develop.

Sen. Rezin said the ongoing commitment of local officials to participate in a regional plan is encouraging.

"What we're doing with these meetings ultimately benefits this entire area and the people who live in our communities," she said. "We will continue these discussions about how to best plan and implement measures that will help us better prepare and respond to floods that occur. I couldn't be more pleased at the ongoing interest and involvement that these meetings have produced and we will keep having them as long as they are needed."

94.1 WGFA

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Illinois State Police Announce Roadside Safety Check to be conducted

Ashkum, IL – The Illinois State Police (ISP), District 21, will be conducting Roadside Safety Checks (RSC) in Kankakee County on August 16th and 30th, according to Lieutenant Randy Ness. The ISP has zero tolerance for impaired driving in Illinois. Officers working this detail will be watchful for drivers who are operating vehicles in an unsafe manner, driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license, transporting open alcoholic beverages, or Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

Alcohol and drug impairment is a significant factor in nearly 40 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes in Illinois. RSCs are designed to keep our roads safe by taking dangerous DUI offenders off the road. This project is funded through the Illinois Department of Transportation, Division of Traffic Safety.