This article originally appeared in the Rockford Register Star.
BELVIDERE — Belvidere native Jay Allen is trying to get used to the honor he’ll accept Saturday night during one of the city’s Hometown Christmas gatherings, but the Rockford resident would rather pass recognition on to the volunteers, friends and area residents who have helped him express his passion for design.
“Hopefully other people are equally awkwardly embarrassed by receiving awards because of all those people out in the trenches that are doing the hard work,” he said.
Allen, president of ShawCraft Sign Co. in Machesney Park, will receive the 2009 Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award at the Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce’s Hometown Christmas cocktail party. His nomination for the award was submitted by Mayor Fred Brereton, who felt Allen should be among the fewer than 50 recipients throughout Illinois.
“This is a very distinguished award,” Brereton said. “This is well-deserved.”
While the city has roughly 28 murals, including multiple ones on the Boone County Historical Museum, Allen said he hasn’t done work on all of them. He estimates he’s collaborated on 15 murals since June 1997. In 2010, Allen is hoping to assist with restoration work on a mural and anticipates launching another new painting in downtown before the end of 2010.
“I’m a pretty simple guy, I just get myself into complicated situations by virtue of having a desire to do my work the best I can. For me the benefit is, I can show my advocacy for the arts and show that it has an effect on a community and it is appreciated. So awkward to receive it, but a few moments of awkwardness for you to be an advocate for what you believe in is OK.”
Allen said the award won’t change him.
“It’s going to get stuck next to pictures of my kid, it won’t define me,” he said. “I won’t be any different before it or after it. … Between a sign company, arts advocacy and all these murals we have and have planned, I have the ability to make a town feel good and to have someone else say that affirms it for me. I just do what I do every day and the people I work with do, too. The neat thing is it shows that the community appreciates what we’re doing. The arts in Belvidere are alive and well.”
Area officials say the annual celebration gives the city a chance to show outsiders and Rock River Valley residents its warm side with a plethora of events happening in historic downtown and the nod to the local artist. From the lighting of the city’s Christmas tree in Hub Plaza today to the Belvidere Park District’s annual parade Saturday morning, there’s something for everyone to feel engaged in the spirits of the season, chamber Executive Director Tom Lassandro said.
“It’s been going on for 20 to 30 years,” he said. “It started when downtown Belvidere was the centralized business district. This is really the purpose of Hometown Christmas, to maintain that warm and fuzzy community feeling with free events.”
Also nestled into Hometown Christmas is a train show at the Keen Age Center beginning at 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday, free hot chocolate at Alpine Bank, free admission into the Boone County Historical Museum.
Immanuel Lutheran’s Youth Group also will line South State Street with hundreds of luminarias Friday.
Reach staff writer Betsy López Fritscher at email@example.com or 815-544-3452.
If you go
Belvidere’s tree lighting ceremony begins at 5:50 p.m. Friday at Hub Plaza in front of the Boone County Historical Museum on State Street.
Belvidere Central and South middle schools will sing Christmas carols, and Mayor Fred Brereton will light the tree with the help of this year’s Boone County Fair queen. There also will be free carriage rides.
Other Friday events include:
St. James Choir, Rockford Horn Club and Zion Lutheran Choir will perform from 6 to 9 p.m. at Belvidere’s Community Building Complex. The County Line Grange will sell entrees from the lower level kitchen while Poplar Grove United Methodist Church sells baked potatoes on the upper level. Also in the building will be a marketplace featuring more than 25 vendors.
Children can meet with Santa Claus and get free photos at the Apollo Theatre throughout the night and across from the theater families can enjoy a petting zoo.
Saturday: The Belvidere Park District’s Hometown Christmas Parade with Santa begins at 10 a.m. at Madison and North State Street through downtown. The parade route ends at the Community Building with a children’s Christmas party.
Call 815-544-4357 for more information.