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Pomona | Abbey Ridge Brewery and Tap Room
Abbey Ridge Brewery owners rebuilding, by hand, because 'that's the way we roll'

POMONA — When she heard about Saturday's disastrous fire at a longtime Pinckneyville restaurant, Cindy Royster said she remembered all over again the devastation she felt on Feb. 1, when her own brewery-restaurant burned to the ground.

Royster said that news, coupled with what she, her husband and business partner are still dealing with as they rebuild their own business, Abbey Ridge Brewery and Tap Room, made the holidays a bit harder to deal with.

On Christmases prior, their brewery would be filled with the smiles and friendship of friends, family and customers who were more likely family, she and co-owner Terri Addison said.

She and her crew are looking forward to re-opening Abbey Ridge, hopefully sometime in summer 2018.

Right now, owners, family members and friends are busily rebuilding the place, without benefit of a contractor — by hand.

It's more intimate that way, designed to have the feel for the place that they want, Cindy Royster said. They can change a detail at any time, without having to consult a contractor to make changes to plans.

It's the same way they built the first Abbey Ridge, she said.

"That's the way we roll," Cindy Royster said.

The first Abbey Ridge

Abbey Ridge Brewery and Tap Room was just three years old, having been completed in that painstakingly sweat-invested way, she said.

The Southern File Photo  

The interior of Abbey Ridge is seen in October 2014, before the building was destroyed by a fire this past February.

The idea was birthed with Addison, who was looking for something fun to do in retirement. Addison was working to get the placement properly done when she connected with the Roysters. She didn't know them beforehand, but wound up joining forces with them in the business venture.

They started as a brewery, along the way deciding to offer a hamburger or two. A menu developed, giving rise to the restaurant, they said.

People began to seek them out as their business grew.

The day before the fire, Jan. 31, the brewery-restaurant would have been closed, but the partners opened it that evening for a mustache event, a private affair hosted by the law-enforcement community.

After the event ended, the Roysters went home.

Addison was visiting her son in San Francisco. That's where a friend of Addison's telephoned her at 12:50 a.m. to say there was a fire at the brewery.

Addison, in turn, telephoned Phil and Cindy, who were in bed.

When the Roysters arrived at Abbey Ridge, the building was fully engulfed in fire.

Richard Sitler / Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Terri Addison holds a mobile device showing a photograph of the February fire that consumed the business Abbey Ridge Brewery and Taproom that she started and ran along with Phil and Cindy Royster. The photo was taken by one of the local firemen who was first on the scene.

On Thursday afternoon, the women sat at a table in the building built as their new office, sharing their experience from this year.

"These were the pictures I got …,"Addison began, tears forming in her eyes as she showed bright photos of fire outlining a skeletal outline on her cell phone.

The pictures came from a firefighter who snapped them at the scene, she said. Cindy said she still can't look at any of the pictures.

In the end, their 3-year-old building and business were a complete loss, as the fire destroyed the business and everything inside, while also severely undermining its concrete foundation.

Also destroyed were mementos like the dozen or so ceramic German beer steins that once belonged to Addison's grandfather and the 100-year-old table that once belonged to Cindy's grandmother, an object that had a 1900 penny embedded in one of its legs.

They said their insurance adjuster said the fire was electrical in nature.

They have their suspicions, though, noting that the restaurant-brewery was broken into the night before the fire. Someone had broken glass in the front door to enter the building.

In the fire's rubbish, they discovered the damaged replacement cash register and the unlocked dead bolt.

Lots of hard work

"We worked really hard," Cindy Royster said, "and I think that was the other thing, too … anybody who knew us knew how hard we worked, how hard our kids worked, how hard our parents worked …"

They're at the hard work again, Phil Royster using the same construction skills he gained as a 16-year-old to rebuild their dream. Professionals are completing the electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and plumbing work.

Richard Sitler / Richard Sitler, The Southern 

A sign pledges that the popular Abbey Ridge Brewery and Taproom will rise from the ashes after a devastating fire in February that burned the business to the ground.

Cindy Royster and Addison note that Phil traveled to Washington state to help bring back the fermenters and other brewing equipment that has since been installed in the new brewery they built across the road and up the hill from the old brewery-restaurant.

They expect the brewery to open about 45 to 60 days before the rebuilt restaurant. They point out the observation windows above the brewery floor, where guests can watch the production.

Richard Sitler / Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Business partners, who some mistake for sisters, Terri Addison (left) and Cindy Royster stand on a platform in front of the new Brewhaus in the new facility for their Abbey Ridge Brewery in Pomona on Thursday. They are in the process of completing the new brewing facility where brewmaster Tommy Shanahan will brew Abbey Ridge's offerings.

They are still awestruck by the response of friends, businessowners and customers who might have dined, drunk or celebrated at the first Abbey Ridge. Some businesses and groups hosted fundraisers to help raise money for the employees who were suddenly out of a job.

"The community support and the business support was unbelievable," Phil Royster said. "It was overwhelming."

"As bad as that (fire) was, it was eye-opening and warming to know that that many people" cared, Cindy Royster said.

Coming up on a year, where will they be?

"Probably in the parking lot, crying," Cindy Royster said.

"They'll both be crying," Phil Royster said of his partners.

But the situation has shown them that there is still something that evokes smiles.

"We found the good in something that was really bad," Cindy Royster said. "We understand that even through tragedy there is something good."

Carbondale congenital heart disease survivor advocates for adult sufferers

CARBONDALE — Carbondale resident Lena Mörsch likes to say she has a “punk-rock heart.”

“Everything’s over on one side, there’s big old holes in it, there’s patches on it … I’m sure there’s stitches all over it, I’m sure it’s lopsided,” she joked in a recent phone interview.

Mörsch, 45, was diagnosed with congenital heart disease when she was 4 months old and now works to educate people about adult congenital heart defects. Earlier this month, she organized a national conference in St. Louis for teenage and adult heart-disease patients.

Mörsch’s advocacy work stems from her own struggle with the disease. Growing up in Elizabethtown, Illinois, she was weak and frequently sick. Poor circulation made her lips and fingertips turn blue, and her peers bullied her.

“I got made fun of for having (surgery) scars, and people called me ‘purple lips’ and ‘Smurfette’ in school. … I was sick all the time, and (the teachers) would accuse me of trying to fake it, or being lazy,” Mörsch said.

When she was 14, she suffered heart failure and underwent major surgery to repair her right ventricular outflow tract, which carries oxygenated blood out of the heart.

“I woke up pink. That was one of the fondest memories of my childhood, was waking up in the ICU, being on life support and everything, but my dad was holding my fingertips up to my eyes so I could see my fingertips were pink and not blue. For the first time in my life, I looked normal and people treated me normal, and so I kind of rebelled against it, and I didn’t want anybody to know that I had a heart defect,” she said.

Mörsch felt healthy for several years and tried to put her condition behind her. But in 2010, while she was in graduate school at Southern Illinois University, she started having fainting spells. Her cardiologist told her that her heart needed repairs.

“The thing about congenital heart defects is you’re never fixed or cured,” Mörsch said. “It’s kind of like when you get a hole in the roof and you put a patch on it, there’s still a chance that there’s going to be leaking or some sort of damage, and what had happened to me was that my heart had all these patches and things in it, but it acquired a bunch of scar tissue … and I had to have a really big surgery and go back into the hospital.”

A year later, Mörsch was scheduled for surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, but the facility had filled up with emergencies. Her surgeon opted to perform the procedure in St. Louis Children’s Hospital instead.

“After my surgery, when I was walking around the ICU, parents were looking at me like, ‘What is she doing over here?’” Mörsch said.

Ultimately, the experience helped Mörsch make peace with her defect.

“I was really embarrassed about my scar and didn’t want people to treat me different, so when I was walking around I was looking in all the rooms and seeing the little kids, and I was like, ‘You know, that’s something I should be proud of. That’s me. Those little kids are so brave and awesome, and I’ve come a long way and I’ve had my third open-heart surgery, so once I get out of here I’m going to do something really big,’” she said.

That was the beginning of her advocacy work. Now she serves as a senior ambassador for the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA). Mörsch organizes an annual Congenital Heart Day in St. Louis at Busch Stadium to help raise awareness, and she has visited Capitol Hill five times to support the Congenital Heart Futures Act, which approves research and data collection related to congenital heart disease.

There’s a common misconception, Mörsch said, that congenital heart disease only affects babies and children. Now people with heart defects are living well into adulthood, but it’s difficult to find cardiologists who specialize in what was once a childhood condition.

“There’s 30,000 to 40,000 kids transitioning from pediatric cardiology to this new specialty, adult congenital heart disease, and there are only 190 specialists nationwide. So there’s a shortage, and people scramble to go to these doctors or they fall out of care and wait until they get really sick again. So that’s kind of where ACHA steps in, because they have been phenomenal in getting the certification and the accreditation for the centers to make sure that we get the proper care,” she said.

The Washington University Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospitals received accreditation from ACHA last summer.

Living as an adult with congenital heart disease comes with its own set of challenges, she said.

“Some of us do really well, and I’ve certainly not had a horrible life — I do very well considering. You grow up, you become an adult, you have bills, you have jobs, and when a big surgery happens, you don’t have everybody rallying around you — you don’t have Mom and Dad with you at the hospital to sign you in and all that. So it’s a whole new ball game when you’re an adult,” Mörsch said.

Mörsch said she admires programs like Camp Rhythm, a summer camp in St. Louis that allows children with heart disease to connect and feel normal.

“I think the biggest thing is to reach out and to try to find others like you. I didn’t meet anybody with CHD until I was in my 20s. … When I finally started meeting people like me, it was so inspiring, it made me feel normal, it was great to talk to people who knew what I would go through,” she said.

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Illinois judge dismisses public-pay abortion challenge, appeal next

SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois judge dealt a blow to anti-abortion groups Thursday, dismissing a lawsuit aimed at stopping a law that's about to take effect that would expand Medicaid and state-employee group health insurance to cover abortions.

Associate Circuit Judge Jennifer Ascher ruled that the judiciary should not intervene in "political questions" in the General Assembly, such as a law's effective date or whether there's an appropriation to fund it.

Those are the pillars of the lawsuit seeking to stop the law from taking effect Monday. It was filed by the Catholic Thomas More Society on behalf of 11 conservative and Christian groups and a dozen legislators.

State Rep. Peter Breen, a Republican from Lombard and special counsel to the Thomas More Society, said he will appeal the ruling on Friday in Springfield's 4th District Appellate Court and seek the same injunction he sought from Ascher.


In this July 12, 2011 file photo, attorney Peter Breen leaves the Sangamon County Courthouse in Springfield, Ill.

Breen argued that lawmakers passed the measure too late in the year for it to take effect Jan. 1 and that they didn't appropriate funding to cover the cost of the abortions through the publicly funded insurance plans. Despite the ruling, he remained upbeat after the hearing.

"After today's argument, I'm more confident than ever in the truth and the correctness of our position," Breen said. "I heard nothing today ... that caused me to think that somehow, the General Assembly has done its job any more than it had a few days ago."

John Wolfsmith, an assistant attorney general representing the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and other defendants, claimed Breen's clients are simply trying to buy time by delaying the law's implementation to June 1.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in September, expands Medicaid and state group health insurance plans to cover abortions.

Illinois governor agrees to allow Medicaid for abortions

CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner ended months of speculation Thursday and signed legislation allowing state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions, a reversal of the first-term Republican's stance on the proposal last spring.

Breen contends that taxpayers will be billed for 30,000 elective abortions annually in Illinois. They will cost $1.8 million, according to the state health care agency.

Democrats in the General Assembly initially sold the measure as a way to keep abortion legal in Illinois if a U.S. Supreme Court, bolstered by anti-abortion justices President Donald Trump has promised to appoint, reverses the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

After Roe, Illinois restricted public funding for abortions under the 1977 Hyde Amendment — named for Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde — to women who were victims of rape or incest or in cases where pregnancy endangers a mother's life.

More than two dozen states follow the Hyde Amendment, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group supporting abortion rights. But a state can use the state portion of Medicaid state-federal program funding for women seeking abortions for other reasons. Seventeen states do that, 13 because of a court order.

The issue generated a subplot when Rauner signed the plan in September. The private equity investor ran for governor in 2014 supporting abortion rights and maintaining that he had no social agenda. But after signaling last spring that he would veto it, his signature so infuriated conservatives that he invited a primary challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton who is a plaintiff in the abortion-funding case.

Illinois' GOP governor faces challenge from right in 2018

CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has so infuriated some far-right members of his Republican party with his actions on abortion, immigration and other issues that he's now facing a primary challenge as he seeks a second term.