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Nation bids goodbye to George H.W. Bush

WASHINGTON — The nation bid goodbye to George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad as "the brightest of a thousand points of light."

After three days of remembrance in the capital city, the Air Force plane with Bush's casket left for a final service in Houston and burial today at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.

His plane, which often serves as Air Force One, arrived at Ellington Field outside Houston in late afternoon. As a motorcade subsequently carried Bush's remains to the family church, St. Martin's Episcopal, along a closed interstate, hundreds of people in stopped cars on the other side of the road, took pictures and shot cell phone video. One driver of a tanker truck climbed atop the hulking vehicle for a better view, and at least 15 firefighters scaled a pair of stopped firetrucks to salute.

Upon its arrival at the church, Bush's casket was met by a military band and Houston Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. It was laced with indirect comparisons to President Donald Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush's public life and character.

"He was a man of such great humility," said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Those who travel "the high road of humility in Washington, D.C.," he added pointedly, "are not bothered by heavy traffic."

Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others.

George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing "Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again."

The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two. Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries.

The elder Bush was "the last great-soldier statesman," historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, "our shield" in dangerous times.

But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, "Never know. Gotta ask."

The congregation at the cathedral, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush's life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world. In their row together, Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.

Simpson regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Bush's friend in Washington. More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. "You would have wanted him on your side," he said.

Meacham praised Bush's call to volunteerism, placing his "1,000 points of light" alongside Abraham Lincoln's call to honor "the better angels of our nature" in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines "companion verses in America's national hymn."

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Clinton.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked "a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life."

Bush's death makes Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.

Following the cathedral service, the hearse and its long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president's service as a World War II Navy pilot, then transferred his remains at Joint Base Andrews for the flight home to Texas with members of his family.

Bush is set to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before boarding a special funeral train to be carried to his burial today.

Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

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Brighten the holidays with a trip to Holiday Lights Fair in Du Quoin

DU QUOIN — One of the season's brightest holiday tickets is a ticket to the Holiday Lights Fair at Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, which features a 3-mile route of lighted displays.

The Holiday Lights Fair, presented by Du Quoin Tourism Commission, is open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. nightly through Dec. 30. Admission is $10 per family vehicle or $1 per person on commercial carriers or tour buses.

Chelsea Davis, president of Du Quoin Tourism Commission, said this is the 19th year of the display. Since 2000, the display has grown in size and the number of days. 

“It provides a tradition and something festive for families from Du Quoin and the surrounding area,” Davis said.

Among the lighted displays, guests will see elves, skaters, a train, Santa in a firetruck, a friendly sea monster and much more. 

During the first few weekends of the Holiday Lights Fair, the Expo Hall at the fairgrounds is open for guests. The Expo Hall will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7 through 9 and 14 through 16. There is no charge to enter the Expo Hall; it is included in the overall admission fee.

Inside the hall, guests will find food and craft vendors, live music, free train rides, a kids corner with crafts and activities for children, visits with Santa, Christmas tree display and decorations, a model train display and more.

Entertainment is scheduled as follows: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Southern Illinois Concert Band; 7 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, John A. Logan Community Band and Orchestra; 6:30-7:30 Sunday, Kateena LeForge, followed by Damon Waller from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.; 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Kateena LeForge; 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 15, Kali Lynn; 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 16, The Great Romance.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Visitors drive through the colorful displays at the 19th Annual Holiday Lights Fair on Tuesday evening at the Du Quoin State Fair Grounds.

This year, according to Davis, the tourism commission put up boards for visitors to sign telling where they are from. The board shows visitors have come from as far away as Arizona, Kentucky, northern Illinois and all over Southern Illinois.

“It is really amazing that people from so far away are able to come to little Du Quoin,” Davis said.

She added that having so many extra people coming to town provides a boost for local business. Alongi’s Italian Restaurant suggested people stop in for dinner while visiting the Holiday Lights Fair on their Facebook page.

Davis likes to sit back and watch families have fun around a holiday that has become so hectic.

“I think it’s pretty amazing. You don’t get too many of those moments these days,” Davis said.

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Call center in renovated West Frankfort outlet mall to bring 100 more jobs to town

WEST FRANKFORT — Mayor Tom Jordan is enjoying proving people wrong.

He and the West Frankfort City Council caught a lot of grief when they decided to buy the languishing outlet mall on the city’s outskirts in 2015.

Jordan said Wednesday that it was a bold move, but one that is panning out — he had just finished touring the new WPS Health Solutions call center, which is expected to open in March in a renovated portion of the mall, and is projected to employ a total of 225 people.

The main issue now is infrastructure changes to accommodate the large influx of traffic to the mall and new business district.

“These are good problems to have,” Jordan told a group of elected officials and representatives from WPS. He said they are working with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity as well as the Illinois Department of Transportation to find funding to build new roads and reconfigure intersections.

Jordan said the city has made steady progress with the mall, making upgrades and repairs to the roof and other parts of the structure, and when the call came in from WPS, everything seemed to come into alignment.

“It was almost like everything we did was getting it ready for them,” Jordan said.

It almost didn’t happen, though.

Andrew McCready, manager of space planning and construction for WPS, said the company did a general land search for places to expand their operation — they have a heavy presence in Marion and wanted to expand to draw from different employee pools. In August, when he saw the number for the West Frankfort Mall Manager Don Gass he called — twice.

“He ignored my call twice,” McCready joked during Wednesday’s meeting. Gass admitted that he was skeptical of the out-of-state call because of a flood of telemarketers. They connected, though, and made quick movement getting a stall up and ready for WPS — they even opened four days early, on Sept. 13.

WPS is an insurance claims processing company that handles contracts for the U.S. government — a Veterans Affairs contract is part of what drew them to Marion.

McCready said the new facilities will be finished and furnished before Christmas with the first training class of new recruits in January. He said it is hoped that the facility will be fully operational by the first of March.

The starting wages, according to Tom Enwright, manager of media communications, will be $14.45 an hour — the job listing was posted a month ago, McCready said.

The WPS announcement comes just a week after Centene announced it would be opening a call center in Carbondale that could bring hundreds of jobs to the region.

Jordan commented on the big commitment to nonretail businesses in a traditionally retail-driven space. His explanation was simple: jobs.

Retail is great, but Jordan said the tax revenue generated from retail operations could be dwarfed by the multifaceted impact of 200 new jobs. It could mean new residents to the town, or at the very least more gas purchased and meals eaten at local establishments.

Report: Shuttered Tamms supermax prison infested with mold

TAMMS — What little hope remained of reopening or repurposing the shuttered Tamms Correctional Center continues to grow dimmer.

The prison and its adjacent work camp are “rampant” with mold, Lindsey Hess, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, confirmed on Wednesday, and would require millions of dollars of treatment.

A 2015 inspection by ExecuClean Restoration found high levels of Aspergillus and Penicillium molds, which are “responsible for more human health issues worldwide than any other group of fungi,” including many respiratory illnesses, the company stated.

Tamms served a role, no plans to reopen

SPRINGFIELD -- Despite overcrowding within the state's sprawling prison system, there appears to be little support for reopening the now-empty, super-maximum security prison in Tamms.

At the time of that report, the Tamms prison had been closed about three years. It remains vacant to this day.

“The future of Tamms is uncertain at this time, but there are currently no plans to sell or renovate the facility,” Hess said, nor to reopen it.

See the document: ExecuClean Mold Report for Tamms prison

Just addressing the mold issue would cost some $2.5 million, Hess said, and would require the removal of all “drywall, carpet, counters, counter tops and cabinets,” per ExecuClean’s recommendations.

Tamms was shuttered in 2013 by then-Gov. Pat Quinn, who consolidated corrections facilities across the state and region to cut costs.

Quinn was also facing pressure from politicians, activists and prisoners’ families who argued that conditions at Tamms — 23 hours a day of solitary confinement in a 7-by-12-foot concrete cell with an hour of recreation on condition of good behavior — were inhumane.

As the state’s only supermax prison, Tamms was designed to house gang leaders, destructive and violent prisoners, and other inmates who were dangerous to the general prison population.

Tamms: Forgotten

TAMMS -- The residents of Tamms have a hard time agreeing these days on the village's population count. The U.S. Census in 2010 pegged it at 632. But that number included several hundred prisoners held within the sprawling, 220-acre, concrete and concertina wire of Tamms Correctional Center. No one seems to know how many people are left, since the "supermax" prison and work camp closed in January 2013.

But investigations by watchdog groups alleged Tamms became a cruel home for mentally ill prisoners, whose condition worsened as they were deprived of social interaction, human contact and sensory stimulation.

“Tamms never should’ve been closed, But from the beginning it should’ve been run according to the original rules established for it,” said State Rep. Terri Bryant, who worked for IDOC before entering politics.

The Southern File Photo  

The Tamms Correctional Center was composed of two sections, a 200-bed minimum security facility and a 500-bed maximum security facility known as the Closed Maximum Security Unit (CMAX). 

Tamms was not intended for the kind of long-term imprisonment that occurred there, with some inmates spending more than 10 years in continuous solitary confinement, Bryant explained.


“Originally, no one was supposed to go there for more than a year,” Bryant said. “That was not the place for mental health inmates to be.”

Now many state politicians reject the practices of supermax confinement, Bryant said. But repurposing Tamms as anything else will be a challenge, because much of the prison is built underground, and to the specifications of a supermax facility.

The prison yard, for instance, is a “concrete tube,” within the prison that provides inmates a glimpse of sky, but no access to the outdoors, Bryant said, conditions unacceptable for a lower security facility.

Shortly after its closure, Tamms was gutted as the state transferred usable items like bed units, administrative chairs and binoculars to other correctional facilities.

How Gov. Ryan ended death penalty at Tamms

TAMMS — The tiny community in deep Southern Illinois that waged a full-press fundraising campaign and courtship with the state to earn its first "supermax" prison, was to become Illinois’s Death Row capital – the final destination for inmates sentenced to die and whose appeals had run out.

“They have basically cannibalized the facility,” Bryant said, making finding a new use for the $73 million complex even tougher.

More recently, the state made another cost-saving move, hiring a private security firm to keep an eye on the facilities, which were previously supervised round-the-clock by two state-employed guards from the Vienna Correctional Center.

Meanwhile, the communities that donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money to bring the supermax project to Tamms are struggling without it.

Lawmakers push to reopen Tamms, IYC

Southern Illinois Reps. Terri Bryant and Brandon Phelps said they plan to jointly introduce a resolution this session asking House members to endorse reopening and repurposing Tamms Correctional Center and Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro.

“It’s been devastating. We lost a lot of jobs when Tamms closed,” said State Sen. Dale Fowler. “We have to find other ways of job creation.”

Fowler, whose 59th District includes the town of Tamms, said visiting the facilities, especially the work camp, was high on his list of priorities, as the state prepares its 2020 budget.


“We need a work camp in Southern Illinois,” Fowler said after the Hardin County Work Camp was closed in early 2016. “It’s important to the offenders, to gain work experience and do some community service, and it’s important to the municipalities as well.”

But no such projects will be possible in Tamms without a lot of investment.

“This is going to get worse before it gets better if we don’t do something soon,” Fowler said. “Mold remediation is expensive and the worse it gets, the more it’s going to cost the state. We need to find a use for these facilities.”