Home sweet home.

Janine's Journal: Hooray for Stubborn Optimism

Why write only about ourselves in this 10th anniversary edition? Janine Pumilia explores the many other sources of inspiration we have to thank for Northwest Quarterly’s first decade.

Home sweet home.
Home sweet home.

Tt’s tempting to write about us in this 10th anniversary edition of Northwest Quarterly Magazine. I could brag about our fantastic staff and the brilliant freelance writers – and dear friends – who’ve been with us from the very start, like Jon McGinty, Toni Rocha, Peggy Werner, Gail Ravitts and Paul Anthony Arco. (Paul joined our full-time staff a few years ago, and Karla Nagy a few years before that.)
I could tell you about owners Bill & Lisa Hughes and how they’re the hardest-working, most stubbornly optimistic and persistent people I’ve ever met. It’s why I have a job and you have a regional magazine.
I could talk about Christopher (Chris) Linden, my “right hand man,” who is gradually assuming my role, most deservedly, as I narrow my focus and reclaim a bit of the personal life I’ve neglected for a decade. (I have a colony of dust bunnies in my home that also turned 10 years old recently. Coincidence? I think not.)
I could thank all of you who’ve helped us to succeed, but the list would be far too long. One person I have to mention is wildlife photographer David C. Olson, whose passion for wild creatures and wild places has made our pages so much richer and reflective of all life in our region. People aren’t the only critters who live around here, ya know.
Ten years ago I married my best-ever sweetheart, Gary Pumilia. I was moving my son and daughter into a new family, neighborhood and high school district, when Bill called to offer this opportunity. I shared his belief that our region needed a positive publication about itself. He allowed me to work my schedule around family obligations, and still does.
Gary and I recently celebrated our 10th anniversary with a wonderful trip to Hawaii (which is almost as pretty as the Rock River Valley.) Our four kids are graduated from college now (two from law school) and all work in Rockford. I’m grateful they’re using their talent in our region, as are Bill & Lisa’s four terrific kids. We need our young professionals to stay in Rockford and help re-invent it. And we need to remind them often about the reasons this is a great place to build a life. After all, they’ve grown up bombarded by mostly negative talk about their hometown.
I could tell you many other personal things that have happened along the way, as we grew this magazine from four small issues per year to 11 phonebook-sized ones here and in Chicagoland. (Just to stave off boredom, we also started Smart Living Weekly, 50 issues per year.) But I won’t. Like every issue, this 10th anniversary edition is not about us, but about you and your home. Northwest Quarterly Magazine exists to shine a light on the strengths of our region – past, present and future. We believe in the absolute importance of knowing our identity as a region and taking pride in it. This community is much, much more than the sum of its problems.
While going through 10 years’ worth of NWQ issues to compile the 10th Anniversary feature on page 108, I was impressed, all over again, by the sheer number of one-of-a-kind strengths we all can brag about in our region. We produced remarkable people; invented remarkable things; watched remarkable chapters of history unfold … and then forgot about all the good stuff, when the flight of manufacturing set off a chain reaction of problems in the late 1900s. Generations who knew the greater Rockford area at its best have mostly passed from the earth. We who remain have too little awareness about all of the good things that led people to settle here in the first place.
When the first cabins were built around here, it wasn’t because we had a thriving manufacturing base or even a single furniture factory. It was because we had a terrific location between other strategically important places, and natural resources like rich soil, great fresh water aquifers, a diversity of wildlife and multiple rivers. Guess what? We still do. And so much more.
Fine airports with some of the longest runways anyplace; an excellent medical school; colleges and universities, including one that graduated the first American female Nobel prize winner; award-winning park districts, forest preserves and state parks; excellent art collections, historic theaters, nationally recognized museums, fine orchestras and performance groups of every kind; a very strong medical community; all kinds of locally owned businesses; and the most interesting legacy of historic events imaginable.
This was the first Wild West. Illinois and Wisconsin made the difference in the outcome of the Civil War. Rockford was the Dream City of job-seekers in 1900. Lincoln’s debate with Douglas changed American history and happened in Freeport. The last war with Native Americans east of the Mississippi happened here (a tragic chapter of history, but a chapter nonetheless.) We produced a huge number of heroes in both world wars. Wisconsin welcomed more kinds of immigrant groups than any other state.
And don’t even get me started on the number of important inventions and patents, celebrities and leaders who emerged from our region. We’re brilliant! And that’s just the past 200-some years! All kinds of adventures played out here among native peoples, and, later, European and Canadian explorers, well before the U.S. existed.
What a shame that we teach our young so little about all of this in our schools and families! Do children in Texas learn about The Alamo? You bet they do. We should have every bit as much pride in the social reforms Jane Addams championed or the birth of astrophysics that took place at our Yerkes Observatory or the way John Deere revolutionized farming …
People often ask us how we keep finding things to write about. That’s not difficult! There are always more “firsts,” “bests” and “fascinatings!” than we have time to explore.
We like to think that Northwest Quarterly Magazine plays a role in helping all of us to remember who we are, where we came from, and what we’ve built together, in a very short time period, as a region. Right this minute, very interesting people are doing very interesting things all around us. We also like to remind folks to look up, look down and look around at the most basic elements we hold in common: our trees, animals, insects, aquifers, wetlands, prairies, rivers, stars, soil, limestone cliffs … One of our first articles was titled “The Ground We Walk On,” and we meant that quite literally.
I chuckled when I re-read something former airport director Bob O’Brien told me during an interview in 2005:
“I’ve done absolutely nothing except change attitudes … I could see that Rockford was sitting on top of a goldmine that no one seemed to know about.”
Yep. That’s not only the story of the airport, but the story of Rockford. When bad times came, we forgot to notice we were still sitting on a goldmine. We only noticed that the sky was falling. It’s the people from outside who keep reminding us of our potential. To be honest, our city could learn a thing or two from my bosses about the value of being stubbornly optimistic.
I sense that Rockford is a sleeping giant that’s just starting to wake up and stretch its limbs again. Exciting times are ahead! But along with optimism, transformation will take LOTS of hard work, as most things worth having do.
Will Northwest Quarterly Magazine celebrate a 15th anniversary and a 20th? That all depends on how well we do our jobs and whether advertisers continue to support us.
I hope so. Because we’ve only just begun to discover the stories our region has to tell.
Thank you, from the sincerest (dust bunny-filled) corner of my heart, for making us a part of your lives. Here’s to the next 10 years!