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Central City residence gutted by fire

CENTRAL CITY — Fire broke out in a Central City residence on Thursday morning, destroying the home and killing several pets inside.

Centralia Fire Protection District firefighters were dispatched to the single-story house, located in the 300 block of North High Street, at 10:37 a.m. Thursday. The Centralia Fire Department and Sandoval Fire Protection District provided mutual aid at the scene.

CFPD Chief Ross Boshera said the fire, which remained under investigation as of Thursday afternoon, started in the kitchen of the home. The occupant of the residence, George Jansen, was reportedly not present when the fire broke out.

“(Jansen) was down the block when the fire started,” said Boshera, who reported that the house “was pretty well gutted inside” as a result of the blaze.

There were eight dogs inside the home, all of which perished, according to Boshera.

Firefighters remained on scene for approximately two hours. As Centralia city and district personnel and Sandoval firefighters battled the blaze, members of the Salem and Kell fire protection districts stood by at the fire district’s station in the event of another call.

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire, and no other structures sustained damage.

Dennis Krupp, LEFT, of Centralia, shares a laugh with Karissa Young of the American Red Cross during the Community Blood Drive at American Legion Post 446 on Thursday afternoon, which saw a sizable turnout. According to Hugh Moran of Moran Queen-Boggs Funeral Home in Centralia, the drive’s sponsor, Krupp has attended the event for years, and on Thursday reached the 24-gallon mark for total donations. Moran said the drive saw 25 donors and a total of 27 donations, as two donors reportedly made double donations.

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BCMW highlights award-winning client during Community Action Month

CENTRALIA — In recognition of Community Action Month, BCMW Community Services is celebrating a local woman who recently received the Wellness Award from the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies (IACCAA).

Cortney Smith Paskavich of Centralia was announced as the recipient of the 2023 Wellness Award by the IACAA last month, and accepted the prize on March 30 at the organization’s annual conference in Springfield.

Currently four years sober, Paskavich was nominated for the award by BCMW caseworker Jenny Daily, who witnessed much of her client’s journey to recovery firsthand. The event includes more than 35 Illinois community action agencies.

Paskavich, who advised she had been a client with BCMW on and off since the age of 18, said her path was put into motion in 2019, after making the choice to attend a rehab clinic in Florida.

“I decided it was time to get help, and went to rehab in Florida. I got sober there, stayed there and then I thought I could come back here after 30 days and make it work, but it didn’t work,” said Paskavich, who then went to live at a women’s center in Carbondale for year, addressing both her addictions and history with domestic violence. “There were a lot of issues I came face to face with and had to deal with. Needless to say, it’s really helped. Facing the domestic violence and learning to be by myself was a big part of it. It wasn’t easy, but slowly and surely my life started to come back together.”

Paskavich said she decided to contact Daily while staying in Carbondale, putting into motion a yearslong communication which led to Daily observing her client’s many successes and eventual path to recovery.

“When I was at the women’s center I had called Jenny, and that’s how I met her,” she recalled. “I was looking to come back (to Centralia), but no doors were opening at the time. So I decided to get in touch with her.”

Daily said the steps she saw Paskavich take throughout her four-year sobriety quest more than solidified her as a candidate for the IACAA’s Wellness Award.

“(The recipient of the award) needs to be a client that we work with that we feel has made great strides towards self-sufficiency with themselves and their family, and Cortney certainly fits that criteria,” said Daily. “I just felt that out of all of the clients that I work with and we work with, she really fit the criteria and has made those strides in making a better life for herself and her family.”

Daily said Paskavich’s award and story coincide well with BCMW’s annual Community Action Month, which highlights the agency’s mission to gauge the needs of its community and take action to ensure a difference is made.

“We are a community action agency, along with several in the state. We use state and federal funds to provide resources to low-income families and help stabilize their lives,” Daily explained. “We want people to know you are not judged when you come here. We are here to help. We have housing programs and employee support programs, and we have developed relationships with others in the community. So if there’s something we can’t help with, we can make a referral.”

“We do a community needs assessment each year,” she continued, “and we ask the public what the needs are. We can write some of those things into our grants to provide for the community. We always try and pay attention to the needs within the community and respond to them.”

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City, chamber celebrate Rent One renovation

CENTRALIA — Greater Centralia Chamber of Commerce and City of Centralia officials helped Rent One celebrate its recent renovations this week.

The North Poplar Street establishment hosted a chamber Business After Hours event on Wednesday, featuring a ribbon cutting to commemorate the improvements made at the store.

Rent One Regional Manager Joe O’Neill said extensive changes were made to both the interior and the exterior of the building.

“(There was a) complete interior remodel. We did everything in here — we built a couple offices, moved our front counter to where it’s more attractive and in a better area, all new flooring,” he said. “(There’s an) all new brick facade. We kind of updated it, made it a little more modern.”

Mayor Bryan Kuder commended Rent One for making an investment to improve its Centralia location.

“This is a prime example of reinvesting in the city,” he said. “You reinvest, make it bigger, make it nicer and you can’t get any better than this, so from the City of Centralia, we thank you.”

“The reinvestment shows us that you guys believe in our community and you want to stay here ... and we appreciate that,” added Chamber Executive Director Marcus Holland.

Beyond its presence as a local merchant, O’Neill said Rent One, through the Great Expectations Foundation created by company owners Larry and Sharon Carrico, strives to make a positive impact in the communities it serves.

“We just want people in the community to realize we’re not just rent-to-own. We’re a little bit of everything, we’re good people and we’re here to stay,” he said.

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Johnston Jewelers celebrates 20 years of business

CENTRALIA — According to Jeremy Johnston, owner of Johnston Jewelers, the jewelry business is just in his blood.

“I know I’m not doing anything else,” Johnston said with a smile. “Even if I wasn’t doing this for a living, it’s my passion.”

Celebrating 20 years in business this year, Johnston Jewelers has carved out a legacy almost as profound as its pieces, maintaining its status as one of the community’s mainstays.

Growing up in Centralia and attending Sandoval schools, Johnston explained that he discovered his interest for the craft at an early age through his uncle, a knife maker.

“I grew up on a farm, and when I was about 13 years old I kind of had an artistic knack with things, and my uncle got me into doing scrimshaw work on ivory knife handles,” he recalled. “I would go to the knife shows with him and eventually started making ivory jewelry.”

Johnston said his love of jewelry only grew upon entering high school, as did his interest in mechanics. Though he would go on to attend Kaskaskia College’s engineering program after graduation, Johnston said he ultimately sided with his first passion.

“I was going to KC to be an engineer, but something was really pulling me this way,” he said. “I was more into the creative and making things with my hands. So I found a school in Quincy, called Gem City College, and got to learn the trade.”

After studying horology at Gem City, Johnston returned to the Centralia community, a decision he said was a no-brainer.

“My family is from around here, and it seemed like it was a good location,” he said. “Just like the name suggests, it’s pretty central to a lot of things. It’s not a huge city, but there’s a lot of good-sized towns around it. Plus, I’ve always liked the small town life.”

Having first owned a trade shop in town, where he serviced watches for jewelers throughout the region, Johnston eventually purchased Watkins Jewelers in 2003 from owner Mike Watkins.

Johnston said he is proud of his business’s two-decade-long tenure in Centralia, but noted that it hasn’t always been easy.

Yet it was the challenges, Johnston insisted, that helped prepare him for the throes of owning a local business, something he’s seemingly mastered.

“When I started, we weren’t necessarily in a boom. Recession hit right after I bought the store,” Johnston said. “I learned right off the bat how to make it through tough times.”

“A lot changed with COVID, too, of course,” he continued, advising that in addition to challenges, he’s also seen his fair share of change over the span of 20 years. “The prices of everything have gone up. Back then, gold was around $300 an ounce, and now it’s something like $2,000 an ounce. That’s a big change. The whole industry has changed, just like everything else. You have to stay up with everything, including technology. I do a lot of old world stuff, but I’ve got to keep up with the new world stuff, too.”

Despite it all, Johnston said the ride has been well worth it.

“The most rewarding part of this job is making that piece and seeing the look on the customer’s face when you’ve made it exactly how they want it, and they are fully satisfied and happy,” he said. “Or taking a 200-year-old piece and restoring it so it’s like new again. That’s a great feeling.”

Another aspect of the job Johnston enjoys greatly is his staff, comprised mostly of close friends and family.

“It’s great because trust is a big part of my business, and it is for any business. Not only trusting your staff with the merchandise, but with the customers,” he explained. “That’s the most important part of my business. I always want my customers treated right.”

When asked what he sees on the horizon, Johnston confirmed his intentions to continue to do as he’s always done: create quality items, please his customers and continue channeling his lifelong passion into the 20-year community staple that is Johnston Jewelers.