Once they leave their small hometown, many people never think twice about going back, especially to live. After graduating from high school in 1993, I certainly fell into this category of strong-willed, determined individuals who wanted to put my life in Danville, Ill. behind me and fully embrace the idea of unknown territories in the grand metropolis of Champaign-Urbana. Fast-forward thirteen years, and by proxy of embracing some major life changes — a skateboarding boyfriend returning from Iraq, an ill grandmother who needed extra care, and cheap real estate — I was back in my hometown, yet still commuting to reality at my do-good not-for-profit job on campus.
The transition for me was difficult. I missed my quaint apartment in the old Howard School building near downtown Urbana. Everything that I became accustomed to and wanted, and grew to rely on, was within short biking or walking distance. I knew I was going to miss those certain things I’d had at my disposal for so long: my favorite coffee in C-U at Caffé Paradiso, Thai food at Siam Terrace, the best Farmers’ Market in the area, the fine, fine pastries at Mirabelle, and great live music at The Iron Post. Even though I was born and raised thirty-five miles east, I considered Urbana my home for roughly ten years.
So, do it in…Danville? The local mantra for many years, dating back to the late 1950s, was “if you can do it in Danville, it can be done anywhere.” For a traditional blue-collar factory town that now struggles with the reputation of having a depressed economy, high unemployment rates, and an unbelievable methamphetamine problem, why would anyone want to do anything here? When I told my family in August 2006 that I was moving back to Danville, I could feel the collective sadness. A few weeks before my announcement, I had just returned from three months in Geneva, Switzerland as a fellow with a non-governmental organizationdoing human rights work at the United Nations. My parents were sure I was moving to another country when I said I had big news for them. Quite the contrary, I was going back to my hometown, a place my friends and I used to joke about, saying Danville hit the year 1985 and forgot to look forward.
This blog is going to show you a different perspective of Danville, one that is more positive than the often-negative local media coverage. During my eighteen months back, I have grown to appreciate certain aspects that I didn’t when I was eighteen. There are historic structures, geographic landscapes, notable people, and hidden treasures that all deserve some attention. It is my hope to show you, the reader, a fresh take on some of the things old, new, and undiscovered just 35 East.