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Faces of Boone County

People who live in Boone County come from all walks of life – teacher, police officer, salesman, farmer, restaurant owner, to name a few. Meet seven individuals who make a difference in Boone County, and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Giving Back

From an early age, John Wolf learned the importance of giving back from family members who came before him. John is a member of the Wolf family, a well-known name in the auto business in Boone County for more than 90 years.

“I had good examples in both my grandparents and parents,” says John, sales manager at Jack Wolf GMC. “But I also choose to be active. Being part of a business like we are in for so many years also means getting involved in different activities throughout the community. People know the Wolf family gives back. You can write checks but you also need boots on the ground. Fundraisers need volunteers. They do not happen without people.”

John started lending a hand right out of college with the local Salvation Army; he has served on its board of directors for more than 35 years. He has also been a member of the IOU Club for 30 years, helping lead such efforts as the Halloween parade and taking less fortunate children holiday shopping. “That idea started with a few members sitting around my kitchen table,” he says. “My daughter volunteered her service club at school to help wrap the presents. It has been a neat program for many years.”

There is more. John has served on the Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors; worked the concession stands at Belvidere High School football games and even taught Sunday school with his wife, Candy. That is not even including the many roles he has served on boards and committees within the auto industry over the years.

It has meant many long days, but John would not trade the experiences for anything. “I have met so many wonderful people through my volunteer work,” he says. “You get what you give. I have been blessed in my life.”

On the Farm

Amy Hildebrandt’s day starts at 5:30 a.m. sharp. She has plenty to do on the 1,800-acre dairy farm, Hildebrandt Farms, she shares with her husband, Ken, and their four children, along with her brother-in-law, Don, and mother-in-law, Ann Hildebrandt-Stade, who live nearby in northern Boone County.

Each family member has certain responsibilities, whether it is feeding or milking the 400 cows, before coming in for breakfast. Then there are crops to plant, manure to haul before milking starts again. The work day ends around 7:30 p.m., just enough time for dinner and much-needed sleep before they do it all over again the next day.

Technology has drastically changed the way farming is performed in the last 10 years. Still, the days are long and the work is intense. The Hildebrandts milk twice a day, seven days a week. “Every day is an adventure,” Amy says. “Whether it is a new calf being born or planting crops, you never know what the day is going to bring.”

Amy and Ken’s oldest children, Michael and Kevin, returned home after college to work on the farm. Their daughter, Angela, is majoring in animal science in college, and youngest son, Ray, a high school student, helps out between school work and sports-related activities. “I enjoy getting up every morning and working with my kids,” Amy says. “We are very fortunate.”

When the family isn’t working, they are busy attending school events or volunteering for dairy breakfasts or 4-H events. They also spend plenty of time at the Boone County Fair.

“Boone County is a great place to live,” Amy says. “We live in the country, but we have plenty of access to the city. Belvidere is a growing community with good people. We have great neighbors and friends. I don’t think I could live any place else.”

A for Effort

The only place Troy Yunk ever wanted to teach and coach was in his hometown of Belvidere. After graduating from Rockford College, he got that opportunity in 1987, when he was hired to teach art at his alma mater, Belvidere High School.

Troy spent 20 years at BHS before moving across town eight years ago to teach at Belvidere North High School, and to coach cross country and track.

“It’s comforting living in my hometown, where I have people here to celebrate the victories and give me support when I need it,” he says.

In the classroom, Troy teaches the fundamentals of drawing, painting and composition. Some of his students have gone on to obtain positions with high-profile companies such as NBC and Disney World, while others have pursued their own teaching career. “Art is visual and you can’t hide it in a box,” he says. “You never know where it can lead.”

The same can be said for the sport of running. Under Troy’s leadership, North’s boys cross country team has won three straight Illinois state championship titles, and many of his athletes have earned college scholarships. In 2015, Troy was named to Illinois Track and Cross Country Association Hall of Fame.

“I tell my art students and runners both that the key to being good is putting in the work,” he says. “Natural ability won’t take you anywhere if you’re lazy about it.” A lesson well learned.

Representing the People

Michelle Courier has always been motivated to succeed at whatever she sets out to do. While at Belvidere High School, where she graduated magna cum laude, Michelle participated in several extracurricular activities including tennis, debate, and the German club. Following high school, she went on to graduate from the University of Illinois, before earning a law degree from Northern Illinois University.

She started her legal career as an assistant state’s attorney for Boone County, before moving into private practice in Boone, Winnebago, and McHenry counties. In 2004, Michelle was appointed McHenry County assistant state’s attorney and later promoted to the chief of the civil division. In 2008, Michelle became the first woman to serve as state’s attorney in Boone County.

And now she is thrilled to be working in her hometown. The state’s attorney represents the people of the state and is responsible for prosecuting violations of criminal statutes. “I enjoy making a difference and leaving a print on my community,” she says. “It can be trying at times, but it’s rewarding.”

Michelle is a member of the Boone County Historical Society, Rotary International, St. James Church, Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce, Boone County Veterans Club and the Republican Club of Boone County and Prairie Grange. “I love Boone County,” she says. “There’s a great sense of community here. We need to continue to invest in our children and give them opportunities to grow and learn.”

To Serve and Protect

Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest knew he wanted to be a public servant after watching his mother work as an emergency room nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Instead of a medical career, Dave chose to pursue a career in law enforcement, working for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. He trained at the Illinois State Police Academy and started working as a corrections officer before he was reassigned to patrolling the streets as a deputy.

“I have loved it since day one,” he says. “Not every day is a good day, but I can’t wait to get to work. All of us are put here to make a difference. Law enforcement is the perfect way to make a difference in your community. You touch lives in ways you don’t even realize.”

Dave then spent more than 20 years working for the Belvidere Police Department, first as an officer and then as deputy chief of operations. He was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the patrol section, drug unit, investigations, tactical unit, gang unit, school resource officer, and K-9 units. He was elected sheriff in December, 2014.

“We have taken a hard stance on crime in Boone County,” says Dave. “We are more than just handing out tickets. We work closely with the citizens, and the state’s attorney to have the quality of life we do here.”

Dave shares his passion for community with his family. His wife and two oldest daughters are teachers and his youngest daughter is studying education in college. “We are all about serving our community,’ he says. “Boone County is a wonderful place to live.”

Preserving our History

Growing up near Kirkland, Anna Gill dreamed of becoming an archeologist. “I was fascinated by the world of science,” says Anna, the new executive director of the Boone County Historical Museum. “I lived in the country, and I would go with my dad and find arrowheads in the field. For me, that is when it started.”

In 2010, Anna graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in anthropology and an emphasis in museum studies. Her first job out of college was at the Burpee Museum of National History in Rockford where she served as a fossil preparator, cleaning and gluing fossils for exhibits and collections. She also traveled to Montana in search of dinosaur fossils, on paleontological digs that the museum sponsored. She worked in management for a year at Midway Village Museum before joining the Boone County Historical Museum in January 2015.

Gill is one of two full-time employees, along with a part-timer and more than 20 volunteers that help out around the museum. “This is my dream job,” says Anna, whose husband teaches in the Belvidere School District. “I love being part of a small museum staff where everyone wears different hats and bands together to get the job done. Every day, I learn something new.”

As executive director, Anna has big plans for the museum, which underwent a $1.4 million renovation in 2013 that increased the property by 6,000 square feet. Among her many ideas, Anna is working on creating more community partnerships and introducing new museum-hosted special events in the near future. “There’s so much potential here,” she says.

Anna already feels at home here in Boone County. “I’ve met so many people who truly care about the museum and the history of Boone County,” she says. “It’s important to them that we take care of this community and remember its history. Without question, it’s the people who make Boone County special.”

Here to Stay

For most of his working career, all Ned Dalipi has known is the restaurant business.

And he would not have it any other way.

In the 1990s Ned and a business partner opened Sophia’s, a family-style restaurant they operated in Beloit and Roscoe for seven years.

But the commute became too much for Ned, a Belvidere resident, so he started looking for other opportunities closer to home. He found it nine years ago, when he opened Ned’s, located on Business 20 between Belvidere and Rockford.

“I jumped at the chance,” Ned says. “It takes many hours to be successful in the restaurant business. Sometimes it is a 12- to 15-hour day. It is nice that my business is now close to home.”

Ned’s is a family restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch until 3 p.m. daily and 9 p.m. on Fridays. Popular with families and seniors alike from across Boone County, the restaurant is known for the Ned’s omelet, pulled pork daily special and Friday night fish fry. Recently, Ned’s expanded its bar area for customers who enjoy a cold beverage.

A native of Chicago, Ned and his wife, Esma, moved to Belvidere 15 years ago to raise their three children. While his two oldest are now grown and working professionals, his youngest, Artim, is still home and has joined Dad in the family business.

Away from work, Ned enjoys bike riding and spending time in local parks. “Belvidere is a nice, little town,” he says. “It has been a great place to raise a family and run a successful restaurant business. We are here to stay.”

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