Illinois Turns 200 kicks off in Alton and features Dr. Charlie Blake on the capture of a bull shark in the Mississippi in 1937; Brad Winn on one of the earliest civilizations in North America, which just happened to be right outside Alton; Sara McGibany and Alex St. Cin on Lighthouse Sounds and the revitalization of downtown; Liz Burns and Greg Cash on the very first soybean planted in Illinois; and Eric Robinson and Charlotte Johnson on how greater knowledge of the history of the Underground Railroad and the Rocky Fork settlement can shape the region’s future.
Chris Vallillo, Dennis Stroughmattare, and Brenda Lancaster going to perform music that captures the character and culture of Alton while a special guest (hint: he has a beard and a preference for stovepipe hats) to share his thoughts on the place.
Refreshments are provided after the program.
More about the Participants
Dr. Charlie Blake is an ecologist with a passion for bringing science to the community and bringing the community into science. In her current role at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, she coordinates the RiverWatch program, a statewide network of citizen scientists who monitor the health of Illinois’ streams. She earned her doctorate in Aquatic Resources from Texas State University, where she studied the ecology and behavior of fish. As a Midwestern native who spent many years wandering far and wide, she is glad to finally be back in the Heartland.
Brad Winn has an MA in History from Georgia Southern University and regularly teaches classes on Illinois history and culture at Lewis and Clark Community College. He is the supervisor of the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, IL
Sara McGibany is the Executive Director of Alton Main Street. Alton Main Street’s mission is to engage the Alton community in the continued renewal of the historic downtown district and Mississippi River heritage by cultivating an attractive center of economic and social activity. The organization enhances the business environment by promoting the importance of shopping local and offering opportunities that sharpen the competitiveness of downtown merchants.
Alex St. Cin
Alex St. Cin is an audio engineer at Lighthouse Sounds, an audio recording studio in downtown Alton that is featured in the upcoming season of Hulu’s Small Business Revolution.
J. Eric Robinson
J. Eric Robinson serves as an assistant professor of history at the Saint Louis College of Pharmacy. In 1995, he originated the Underground Railroad tour of Alton, which incorporates his research gleaned from a lifelong interests in genealogy and in Alton’s history. He has had guests from around the world participate in these tours; the tours have been covered by BusinessWeek, by the New York Times, and by the BBC World Service, among others. He was graduated from Howard University and from the University of Missouri. He resides in the Salu neighborhood of Upper Alton.
Curiosity, simple curiosity has brought Charlotte Johnson incredible amounts of information that when coupled with her solid research and patient puzzling have yielded historical treasures. Particularly for the people of Alton, Madison County and the state of Illinois, her efforts the last 30 years have been invaluable. She has pieced together the people, the stories, the pictures, the documents and the hunches to create a mosaic that confirms and celebrates who we have been, who we are, and who we might become.
Liz Burns has been an Assistant Director at Reid Memorial Library at Lewis & Clark Community College for over 20 years assisting faculty, staff, and students with research projects, building the library’s print and electronic resources, and in general helping students navigate the transition to and from college. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education (English/History) from Eastern Illinois University and a Master’s in Library Science from Dominican University. Prior to her tenure at Lewis & Clark Community College, Ms. Burns was the Head of Youth Services at the Belleville Public Library and a Youth Services Associate at the Winnetka Public Library District. Growing up, Liz wanted to be Nancy Drew. As a librarian she’s been able to realize that dream, tracking down elusive pieces of information to solve research mysteries involving forgotten local artists, significant local legal cases, and determining where the first soybeans in Illinois were planted. She and Greg Cash are always happy to speak about and share their interest in local and campus history.
Greg Cash has been the Assistant Director for Reference Services at Lewis and Clark Community College’s Reid Memorial Library for 10+ years where he works with students on assignments and projects, assists in the development of the library’s print and electronic collections and conducts research for faculty and administration. He received a B.A. in Speech Communication from Eastern Illinois University, and his M.S. in Library and Information Science was obtained at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Prior to coming to LCCC, he was the librarian for the Biomedical Library at the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine. He has also held positions in Microforms, Circulation and Interlibrary Loan, both at SIUE’s Lovejoy Library and the Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University. He finds Lewis and Clark Community College and local history research projects such as the story of the Japanese peas, to be challenging, often entertaining, and always rewarding. He and Ms. Burns invite interested community members to tour the historic Lewis & Clark campus where they will be happy to share its rich history.
Chris Vallillo is a singer/songwriter and folk musician with a natural affinity for American roots music. A master of bottleneck slide guitar, he weaves original, contemporary, and traditional songs into a compelling and entertaining portrait of the history and lifestyle of the Midwest. In the 1980’s he conducted the Schuyler Arts Folk Music Project, documenting the last of the pre radio generation of musicians along the Illinois River. From 1990 through 1998 he served as the performing host and co-producer of the nationally distributed, award-winning public radio performance series Rural Route 3. His one-man show, Abraham Lincoln in Song, received the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the accompanying CD charted at #10 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album Chart in March of 2008. Chris has twice served as the Illinois Scholar for the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit on roots music, New Harmonies and his 2016 project, Oh Freedom!, Songs of the Civil Rights Movement was released on Martin Luther King Day of 2017 and charted at # 6 of the National Folk charts. Find more about Chris Vallillo.
Fingers and bow flying, Dennis Stroughmatt takes listeners on a musical odyssey not so different form his own musical journeys into Upper Louisianan Creole Culture. Taught to play fiddle by local Creole fiddlers in the tradition of their fathers, Dennis gradually became an adopted son of the French Midwest Creoles living along the Mississippi River near St. Louis.
A vibrant blend of Celtic, Canadian, and Old Time sounds, this music bridges the gap between contemporary Canadian and Louisiana Cajun styles. A medley of music, language, stories, and culture secreted away in southern Illinois and southeast Missouri now has a voice through Dennis, a voice that makes your soul jump, your head spin, and your heart glad to know that, as they say in the hills, On est tojours icitte! (We are still here!)
Brenda Lancaster leads the Lewis & Clark Community College Gospel Choir and is also the director and vocal coach for the Riverbend Community Gospel Choir. For the past 14 years she has served as the Minister of Music at the Greater St. James Baptist Church in Alton.