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August 17, 2007

Former Heavyweight Champion Makes First Trip To Illinois State Fair
Jacksonville native Ken Norton returns to Central Illinois

 SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Former world heavyweight champion boxer Ken Norton, a Jacksonville native, took advantage of his time back home in Illinois and made a trip to the Illinois State Fair Friday where he signed autographs and took pictures with fairgoers.

When Norton was asked about his first impressions of the fair, he responded: “It’s hot. I live in California, and I live five minutes from the ocean, so I like it about 75 or 80 (degrees).

 Norton said that coming home has always been an enjoyable time for him, one that gives him the chance to see his mother, old friends and some former teachers. On Friday, he took the time to enjoy the horse races, but said he hadn’t planned to bet on them. 

 The former champion reflected on his career, which included a win over Muhammad Ali, against whom Norton said he was simply happy to have the chance to fight.

“It made me feel good to fight them, that they thought I was good enough to compete,” he said.

As for the fair? “I’m just looking forward to enjoying the whole fair,” Norton said.


Workshop features 2007 Illinois State Fair teddy bears

 Parked, ironically, next to a live bear show, the Build-A-Bear traveling workshop began a four-day stop at the Illinois State Fair on Thursday. The truck, making its second consecutive appearance at the fair, has a series of stations that allow bear-lovers young and old to play an active role in the creation of their very own teddy bear. The truck is a smaller version of Build-A-Bear stores, which are located across the country and in the United Kingdom and Australia. The company has come a long way since its inception ten years ago in St. Louis.

 “It’s very exciting to grow as a company,” said Leslie White, chief workshop manager for the tour.  The Build-A-Bear workshop tour stops at various state fairs, as well as major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, Final Four and NASCAR events

 Build-A-Bear capitalized on an idea that allows customers to be more involved with their stuffed animal than just picking it off of a shelf. The customer begins at the “Choose Me” area, where they have a variety of animals – from bears, to ponies, to chimpanzees, to cows – to choose from. The customer then moves to the “Stuff Me” area, where the creator, along with a staff member, stuff their animal and place a heart inside of it before it is stitched closed and sent off to the bath area, where it is scrubbed and cleaned.

Afterwards, patrons can choose from a variety of clothes and accessories, including purses, sports equipment and glasses. Each state fair has a special t-shirt patrons can purchase for their bear. The Illinois State Fair shirt is white with blue trim around the collar and sleeves, and has the “Celebrate and Educate” state fair logo. Finally, customers name their bear and print out a birth certificate for it before purchasing it and taking it home.

 The Build-A-Bear traveling workshop is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Sunday, August 19 and is located in the Happy Hollow/Welcome to the Jungle area of the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Quilts donated to Project Linus

 On the day where quilts were judged and donated to Project Linus, a program that provides blankets to seriously ill children, it was appropriate that the winning quilt contained a large image of the Peanuts character Linus, for whom the project is named.

 Project Linus has 406 chapters nationwide, including the Central Illinois chapter, which delivers quilts to hospitals and other children’s centers in Champaign, Decatur, Taylorville,

Lincoln, Springfield, Mattoon and surrounding areas. The group, which has delivered over 2 million blankets as of June 30, sponsored the quilt contest for the second straight year.

 Cheryl Hughes, the Chapter co-coordinator for Central Illinois, said that many people underestimate the comfort a blanket can bring to a child.

“People think, ‘Oh, it’s just a blanket,’ but they don’t realize the impact a blanket can have,” Hughes said. “The child is in a sterile environment, and a blanket brings comfort to them. It also brings comfort to the parents.”

 According to Hughes, the Central Illinois chapter brings in on average 500 blankets each month, and they are dispersed across one of the larger chapters in the nation. She said the state fair gives them a chance to get their message out to people who may have never heard of Project Linus, among other things.

 “Volunteers donate these blankets, and they’re beautifully made,” Hughes said. “They usually get no recognition. It’s good to get our volunteers recognized by getting judged and winning ribbons and things.”

1st: Mary Lash, Macon
2nd: Sam Trujillo, Springfield
3rd: Tracy Trujillo, Springfield


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