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Local repairmen, skilled laborers say there is a big shift in the trades — and it's not all young people's fault

ELKVILLE — The art of fixing things isn’t dying, but it is changing.

And there’s no easy answer why.

“Nobody fixes anything at home anymore,” Doug Leggans said as he assembled a new lawnmower Thursday at Ralph’s Small Engine in Elkville. Leggans said when he grew up — and even today — he was tinkering with things as much as he could. He often found himself under the hood of a car. While some of it is generational, Leggans said said some of it is on the manufacturer's, too.

“It’s a lot cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one,” he said of some products that in days gone by were easy to work on.

Sue Estes said this isn’t only true in electronics and small engines — the same can be said for clothes. Years ago, she said, it was reasonable that someone could save money making clothes of their own. This isn't so much the case anymore. 

Estes said blue jeans are a good example. The cost of the fabric and then the time involed in making a pair of jeans just isn't as economical as it used to be. 

Estes said she has been working with fabric and thread since before she was even in school. She would do seamstress work for her grandmother and eventually saved enough to buy a sewing machine of her own. She now owns the one only sewing business — Sew-A-Lot at 215 W. Walnut St. — in Carbondale that takes regular work. She said some dry cleaners will occasionally do it, but she’s the only storefront.

Estes said even clothes can be harder to work on now. Factories build garments in a way now that Estes said can be hard to take apart and put back together.

That said, she said not everyone, at least in her line of work, is of the opinion that when something gets a hole, it gets tossed. And the divide has nothing to do with age.

“I’ve got just as many younger people as I do older people,” she said of her customer base.

She said some people do throw out a pair of pants at the sign of the first hole, but not everyone.

“Some come in with their favorite jeans and ask, ‘What can you do,’” she said.

Even still, she said she is often shocked at how many people anymore lack simple fix-it skills.

“I can’t believe people don’t know how to sew on buttons,” she said.

Brett Barton has been working at Marion’s Appliance Wizard for about five days as a repair technician. He served about five years in the Air Force and is trained in HVAC systems, so he said he at least understands the basics of how to fix appliances.

Barton, 29, said people love to blame his generation for not wanting to get their hands dirty and just tossing out things when they get old.

But, he said it’s not that simple, though. He said some things, like appliances and small electronics, come with more features — and with that comes a more complex construction.

“The more complicated you make something, the more chances you have of something breaking,” he said.

Barton said that complicated doesn’t mean something isn’t possible to fix.

“It’s not that being hard to fix means it’s unfixable,” he said.

Like Leggans, he said sometimes it’s a matter of money and added that sometimes it’s no bad thing to buy something off the rack.

“New is nice, too.”

Carol Conley-Leeman is the Appliance Wizard store manager and said she’s also not one to dump on younger generations. She said it’s great that some have found ways to capitalize on new trends, but she said that it’s still not easy to find workers for their repair shop. She said some of that comes from how younger people are raised.

“These kids … they have been told you be anything,” she said, adding that the answer to this is very often pitched as a four-year degree. Conley-Leeman said this just isn’t always the right fit for some kids.

This point was illustrated about four years ago, Conley-Leeman said, after Appliance Wizard owners Carl and Patti Orlovich advertised a scholarship for a high school graduate to come and learn the appliance repair trade — they would have sent the applicant to Fred's Appliance Academy in Ohio.

She said they didn’t get the turnout they wanted. They couldn’t figure out if the word just hadn’t gotten out or if there really was no interest. Either way it was discouraging, she said.

Leggans said he sees the lack of young blood coming into the trades as an emergency.

Longtime Rend Lake College dean to retire after 25 years

INA — After 25 years with the school, Chris Nielsen, Rend Lake College’s dean of applied science and technology, will be passing the torch of his department off to what he said are “great people” who will treat his program with care.

Before leaving Rend Lake College as dean of applied sciences and technology, Chris Nielsen spoke in an interview with The Southern on the continued importance of trade programs and skilled laborers — he said there will always be a need and training in these skills should be considered as an equally good opportunity as a four-year degree for some.

“Everybody’s different. There’s some people that belong at the University of Illinois or Northwestern,” Nielsen said. “We also have to have the people who keep things running.”

Hundreds protest gun violence in Carbondale March For Our Lives rally

CARBONDALE — Chants of “Never again!” and “Enough is enough!” rang out on the streets of downtown Carbondale on Saturday afternoon as hundreds of students, parents and community members marched to protest gun violence and honor the 17 victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The March For Our Lives rally was one of over 800 worldwide “sibling marches” held in solidarity with the survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting, which has sparked a teen-led movement for stricter gun laws.

Co-organizers Maria Maring and Alexis Jones, both seniors at Carbondale Community High School, led the march from the Downtown Pavilion.

“Only in America is the phrase ‘yet another mass shooting’ part of our vocabulary,” Jones told the crowd. “ … Our nation’s students and educators should go to school to learn and teach, not run and hide from gunfire. We don’t have to live like this. Enough is enough.”

Martha Crothers, of Carbondale, marched alongside students. When she was 17, she worked to get the Gun Control Act of 1968 passed after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.

“I went door-to-door with petitions. And it’s really sad — 50 years later, we’re still working on it, only now we have children dying,” Crothers said.

She said it’s heartening to see young people confronting politicians and the National Rifle Association.

“This generation of kids is taking their power back,” she said.

Sky Bartnik, an eighth-grader at Unity Point, carried a sign that read, “GOP, You Have Blood on Your Hands.”

“It makes me sick every single day that I have to think about this, and that I have to be afraid, when I go to my own school, for my life,” she said.

Bartnik said she had attended the Women’s March and that she felt inspired to help create change.

“I don’t want to be scared anymore, and I just want to try and see if that can happen — if we can change the mind of our government,” she said.

Sofia Murillo, a freshman at CCHS, said every day she lives with the feeling that gun violence could occur at her school.

“It’s gone way too far. There are too many lives taken … and I don’t understand why the government hasn’t done anything,” Murillo said.

Ryan Steele, a second-year student at Southern Illinois University and a graduate of CCHS, called the event an “uplifting” sight.

“I’m fresh out of high school, basically, and so I have a bunch of people who are even more directly affected by this than I am, so I am wanting to not only support their movement but also support them,” Steele said.

CCHS sophomore Elise Jones said she wasn’t calling for banning all guns, but that she opposes the availability of military-grade weapons.

“It’s great that we’re all here together, no matter our social standing and no matter how old or young we are — we’re all (marching) for the same change,” she said.

Danielle Schultz, of Carbondale, said her daughters have grown up doing active shooter drills at school.

“They’ve lived like this their whole school experience. And I never really thought about it, I just accepted it. But now thanks to the Parkland students’ leadership, I feel like we’re all listening, and so I’m really thankful that they are the ones who are getting everybody riled up,” Schultz said.

Marshals at designated street corners shepherded protesters along the route, and the march remained peaceful.

Organizers had warned participants about the possibility of counter-protests. Maring said she had seen a few NRA members earlier in the afternoon.

“They were all decked out with their pins and whatnot. But they were really nice … I gave them some fliers for the event and they accepted them and said thank you,” Maring said.

The march concluded with a moment of silence for the Parkland victims.

'Vote them out!': Hundreds of thousands demand gun control

WASHINGTON — In a historic groundswell of youth activism, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters rallied across the U.S. against gun violence Saturday, vowing to transform fear and grief into a "vote-them-out" movement and tougher laws against weapons and ammo.

They took to the streets of the nation's capital and such cities as Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, in the kind of numbers seen during the Vietnam era, sweeping up activists long frustrated by stalemate in the gun debate and bringing in lots of new, young voices.

They were called to action by a brand-new corps of leaders: student survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead Feb. 14.

"If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking," Parkland survivor David Hogg said to roars from the protesters packing Pennsylvania Avenue from the stage near the Capitol many blocks back toward the White House. "We're going to take this to every election, to every state and every city. We're going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run, not as politicians but as Americans.

"Because this," he said, pointing behind him to the Capitol dome, "this is not cutting it."

Some of the young voices were very young. Yolanda Renee King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 9-year-old granddaughter, drew from the civil rights leader's most famous words in declaring from the stage: "I have a dream that enough is enough. That this should be a gun-free world. Period."

By all appearances — there were no official numbers — Washington's March for Our Lives rally rivaled the women's march last year that drew far more than the predicted 300,000.

The National Rifle Association went silent on Twitter as the protests unfolded, in contrast to its reaction to the nationwide school walkouts against gun violence March 14, when it tweeted a photo of an assault rifle and the message "I'll control my own guns, thank you."

President Donald Trump was in Florida for the weekend and did not weigh in on Twitter either.

White House spokesman Zach Parkinson said: "We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today." He pointed to Trump's efforts to ban bump stocks and his support for school-safety measures and extended background checks for gun purchases.

Since the bloodshed in Florida, students have tapped into a current of gun control sentiment that has been building for years — yet still faces a powerful foe in the NRA, its millions of supporters and lawmakers who have resisted any encroachment on gun rights.

Organizers are hoping the electricity of the crowds, their sheer numbers and the under-18 roster of speakers will create a tipping point, starting with the midterm congressional elections this fall. To that end, chants of "Vote them out!" rang through the Washington crowd.

Emma Gonzalez, one of the first students from Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to speak out after the tragedy there, implored those of voting age to vote.

In her speech, she recited the names of the Parkland dead, then held the crowd in rapt, tearful silence for more than six minutes, the time it took the gunman to kill them.

"We will continue to fight for our dead friends," Delaney Tarr, another Parkland survivor, declared from the stage. The crowd roared with approval as she laid down the students' central demand: a ban on "weapons of war" for all but warriors.

Student protesters called for a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault-type weapons like the one used by the killer in Parkland, comprehensive background checks, and a higher minimum age to buy guns.

Gun violence was fresh for some who watched the speakers in Washington: Ayanne Johnson of Great Mills High School in Maryland held a sign declaring, "I March for Jaelynn," honoring Jaelynn Willey, who died Thursday two days after being shot by a classmate at the school. The gunman also died.

About 30 gun-rights supporters staged a counter-demonstration in front of FBI headquarters, standing quietly with signs such as "Armed Victims Live Longer" and "Stop Violating Civil Rights." Other gun-control protests around the country were also met with small counter-demonstrations.

The president's call to arm certain teachers fell flat at the protest, and from critics as young as Zoe Tate, 11, from Gaithersburg, Maryland.

"I think guns are dumb. It's scary enough with the security guards we have in school," she said. "We don't need teachers carrying guns now. I find it amazing that I have to explain that idea to adults."

Parkland itself was home to a rally as more than 20,000 people filled a park near the Florida school, chanting slogans such as "Enough is enough" and carrying signs that read "Why do your guns matter more than our lives?" and "Our ballots will stop bullets."

Around the country, protesters complained that they are scared of getting shot in school and tired of inaction by grown-ups after one mass shooting after another.

"People have been dying since 1999 in Columbine and nothing has changed. People are still dying," said Ben Stewart, a 17-year-old senior at Shiloh Hills Christian School in Kennesaw, Georgia, who took part in a march in Atlanta.

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More questions than answers: Republicans split in Southern Illinois on who to support for governor in November

CARBONDALE — If Southern Illinois was any indicator, Jeanne Ives would have beaten Gov. Bruce Rauner in Tuesday’s primary and local Republicans are not sure what this means for the general election in November.

“It’s going to be harder to bring everyone back together,” said Patti Howard, president of the Williamson County Republican Women of Southern Illinois.

She pointed out that margin of victory was slim for Rauner, about 2.76 percent according to the Associated Press. Among the Southern counties that went to Ives were Williamson, Franklin, Saline and Johnson.

In his acceptance speech, Rauner addressed Ives voters saying he "heard" them. Though it might be too little, too late.

Howard said this close of a race with candidates that are so different will leave a divide in the party that could lead to a win for Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker.

“I think it’ll be a tough road for him to win,” she said.

To Howard, the big split came down to social issues — she said Republicans in Southern Illinois are traditionally more conservative in their views. This caused a problem for Rauner.

“We fall in line with the party platform and he doesn’t,” Howard said. “I think Gov. Rauner has shown that you can’t be fiscally conservative and say you are not socially conservative.”

This was at the core of Ives’ campaign — Rauner isn’t a Republican, we are. She said as much during a campaign stop in February during the Williamson County Republican Women’s Lincoln Day Luncheon.

“He’s not part of the ‘we,’” she said in an interview after her speech, referring to the Republican party.

During her address in February, Ives thrashed Rauner’s dealings with Democrats, particularly on a controversial piece of legislation last year that loosened regulations allowing state medical dollars to be used for abortions. She said reaching across the aisle on party issues this way was a sign of weakness — she said “capitulating” to the opposition showed vulnerability and this was not quality in a leader.

Like Howard, Republican organizer and Saline County precinct committeeman Sandra Smith sees the Illinois GOP as divided going into November. She said she also sees the Ives candidacy as important for Illinois Republicans.

“I see this movement with Jeanne Ives as a grassroots movement,” she said, likening it to the early days of the Tea Party.

Smith said she is not in favor of the government dictating social issues to the people. However, she said progressives have backed conservatives into the corner, forcing them to legislate this way. She said there is no bargaining with the liberal element, and it takes resolve to stand up to them.

Thinking about the current conservative platform in the state, both Smith and Howard recalled the Illinois GOP convention last year where the party’s stance on core conservative values was upheld.

Howard said there was a move for the committee to look at changing the platform to alter, for example, the definition of marriage — the proposals, to her, were an effort to change the platform to align more with the governor. She said the vote was sent to the delegates on the floor who, Howard said, voted strongly to reject the proposals.

This split goes beyond state politics, Smith said: it’s local, too. She said saw so little enthusiasm at the local level before Tuesday’s primary.

“I look at our local situation, too, and I find it difficult to see anyway within our local (party) that we can reconcile our differences,” she said. “It goes beyond Rauner and Ives.”

Given that, Smith said she doesn’t rule a new party coming about as a result of the split and she said people should have seen this coming.

“If people had listened to the Tea Party when it started we wouldn’t be where are today,” she said about getting back to core conservative values.

For Smith, this fall will almost be a moment of protest.

“I choose to stand up for those conservative values,” she said, adding that she may have to find alternatives for her vote — however, she said she would never go so far as to vote Pritzker.

“I don’t see reconciliation in any form or fashion (for the party) because this is the breaking point ... I personally don’t know that I will vote for Rauner,” Smith said.

This is what the Rauner campaign will be dealing with until the election.

Howard said Republicans this fall will be faced with a series of questions.

“Am I going to go with the party even if I don’t agree with the man, or am I going to sit out and not vote or am I going to go with a third party?” she said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect Patti Howard's proper title.