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CARTERVILLE — Talk to Jennifer Spence about the building she renovated for a business owned by her sister Crystal Lukens, and it’s easy to see how proud she is of their accomplishments.

Last week, on Aug. 28, Spence received another reason to be proud of her work.

Rise Above It Bakery and Café, at 137 S. Division St. in Carterville, is a recipient of a Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Rehabilitation.

The bakery was one of nine important and historic places in Illinois recognized this year, the 26th year for the award. The annual award calls attention to people who preserve historic places in their communities. Awards this year were given in the categories of advocacy, adaptive use, stewardship, rehabilitation and restoration.

Spence likes what she calls “projects.” After renovating her home, a 1921 bungalow in Carterville, she was working on the building that houses the Carterville Heritage Museum on Division Street.

“I bought the building to compliment the Heritage Museum. I used this as a workshop space while renovating the museum,” Spence said Tuesday morning at the bakery.

Spence always wanted a café and bakery business in town to serve as a place for people to just come and visit with each other. After the museum project was completed, Spence began working on the former workshop space and suggested that her sister open a bakery.

“I love this little town,” Lukens said.

Lukens, a popular caterer and owner of Crystal’s Catering & More in Herrin, decided a bakery and café was good idea.

“Catering is physically hard. At some point I have face reality — I’m getting older. The bakery gives me a spot to be more creative and be more involved in the community,” Lukens said. “I have so much fun while I’m here.”

She loves getting to know the people who come in. Some come in just to see the Carterville memorabilia and historic photos that line the wall of the bakery. The wall is, in part, an ode to the former owner of the building, Russell Talley, who owned Talley’s Cleaners.

Spence co-authored “Carterville, Cambria and Crainville: A Look Back At Our Towns” with her high school English teacher, Sheri Hunter.

“I’m very nostalgic that way,” Spence said.

Because she co-wrote the book, Spence had access to many historic photos of Carterville and the Tri-C area. Some of them grace the walls of the bakery, along with family photos and memorabilia like old Carterville High School sports and cheerleading uniforms.

Spence tried to recycle items from other old buildings in town. A picture of a barn hangs on the wall. Spence said Charles Lindbergh once landed at the barn, and the St. Louis Cardinals were going to play at the barn. Recycled wood from that barn was used in the bench seating that runs below the photos.

Display cases came from the town’s drug store. The blinds were fashioned out of maps from a classroom in the old St. Mary’s/Our Lady of Mount Carmel School building in Herrin.

The menu at the café also gives a nod to history with items named after family members, such as Opal’s Wilted Lettuce Salad, a recipe from the women’s grandma. They offer a full breakfast menu and soup, salad and sandwiches for lunch, with a full selection of baked goods, including donuts using Tang and Opal’s recipe.

Crystal’s Original Salad, probably the most talked about item on her catering menu, is served every day, and the bakery is one of a few places that sell bottles of Crystal’s Original Salad Dressing to take home.

Other honorees include: Eris Brewery and Cider House, Chicago; Denkmann-Hauberg Estate, Rock Island; Turner Hall, Galena; Stellwagen Farm, Orland Park; Sidney Robinson, owner of Ford House, Aurora. Award winners will be honored at a ceremony Oct. 18 in Chicago.

Spence is not resting on her laurels. She bought a building a couple doors down and is renovating it. She would like to see a gift shop of some sort open in that building.

“I work hard, but it’s fun because I am around people who care about me,” Lukens said. “Sometimes I look at the ugly, stripped down building (up the street) to remember how hard she worked.”

“People who have not tried it are missing a great local food offering,” Spence said.

For more information and photos of the building and food, visit Rise Above It Bakery & Café on Facebook.

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