Thumbs up to the Poshard Foundation, civic organizations, police groups and churches that provided toys for children this holiday season. While Christmas can be the happiest time of year for most children, it can be a sad, depressing time for children living in poverty. Fortunately, the world is full of large-hearted people who give their time, money and talent to efforts that help make the holidays brighter for the least among us. The work of these groups is truly aligned with the message of the season.

Thumbs down to the State of Illinois’ inability to keep a state fair manager on the job. Current Illinois State Fair manager Kevin Gordon recently announced his retirement at the end of the month. He is closing a 29-year career with the State of Illinois. Unfortunately, Gordon was the third manager of the Illinois State Fair, as well as the Du Quoin State Fair, in the past three years. Like all Illinois-run entities, the Illinois State Fair is on shaky financial ground. A little stability would go a long way toward reviving the fairs and a return to financial help. The Du Quoin State Fair is a strong economic driver for the region. It would be nice to see a long-term manager committed to keeping the fair viable.

Thumbs up to Murphysboro High School teachers Stacie Teftt and Rachel Bottje Chamness for their research and curriculum work on the Trail of Tears. The project developed from the master’s degree work they were pursuing. They are keeping the story of the Cherokees’ ill-fated march across Illinois alive in their classrooms. “For a lot of kids, we give them a history book, and they’re like ‘Whatever’,” Teffte said. “This .. it’s a lot of our kids’ backyard.” The duo was recently honored and presented stipend checks by the Trail of Tears Association.

Thumbs up to the inmates of Shawnee Correctional Center in Vienna for their fundraising efforts that benefitted Saline County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). Residents of the correctional center were solicited for donations in October, Domestic Violence Protection Month. Donors were entered into a drawing. Most of the donations were small, in the $1-3 range, but the group raised $235. Residents of the Shawnee Correctional Center have also donated to food drives in the region.

Thumbs up to John Shaw, a Peoria native, on his appointment as director of Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. He began his career as an executive fellow for Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson in Springfield. Like all his predecessors at the institute, Shaw is an esteemed journalist: He covered congressional politics for the global news service Market News International for 26 years and served as a contributing writer for the monthly magazine The Washington Diplomat for the past 20 years. “I think the one thing that a journalist brings is just a curiosity, an ability to ask questions to try to understand how things work, and as I look at the first couple weeks, I especially want to spend time talking to people who built this institute and trying to understand why programs were created, and what their initial mission was and how maybe they’ve evolved over time and how they can be strengthened and sharpened,” Shaw said.

Thumbs of to the nearly 2,000 SIU students who received diplomas during commencement exercises at the SIU Arena on Dec. 16. For the undergraduate students, receiving the diploma is either the first step on their quest for a higher degree, or a foot in the door for an entry-level position in the career of their choice. For those receiving graduate degrees, it is the culmination of years of study and dedication. For all, it is a joyous occasion to be celebrated.

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