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The Wright Stuff

Over the years, there have been some historic occurrences that have taken place in Belvidere and Boone County. Meet two local authors who have detailed some of those happenings in recently published books.

The 1967 Belvidere Tornado – Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle has called Belvidere home for most of his life. As a former newspaper reporter, he’s seen it all, including the devastation one tornado left on this town of 25,000.

That’s why Doyle wrote “The 1967 Belvidere Tornado,” a revision of a book self-published by the museum in 2007. It is written using existing documentation and first-person accounts with additional information on this tornado and three more tornadoes that have struck the area since the last book was published: Jan. 7, 2008, in Poplar Grove; Nov. 22, 2010, in Caledonia; and, most recently, April 9, 2015, in Rochelle, Fairdale and southern Boone County.

No event in the history of Belvidere and Boone County has had as much impact as the killer tornado that ripped through the city on April 21, 1967. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Schools had just been dismissed. In the aftermath, 24 people died, including 17 children, and more than 500 were injured. More than 100 homes and 12 businesses were destroyed.

“I did this because these tornadoes are important and have impacted the history of Boone County and the surrounding area,” Doyle said. “I talked to many people who witnessed those tragic events, but it was obvious there were more people out there with intriguing tales to share.”

This is the fifth book Doyle has written and second for The History Press. His first book was “April 21, 1967: The Belvidere Tornado.” Doyle, a retired high school journalism teacher, is a member of the Boone County Historical Society.

In March, Doyle held a book signing before a packed crowd at the museum. The book was also celebrated as part of several special activities that were held during the 50th anniversary of the tornado, April 21, 2017.

“I could not have accomplished this without the selfless cooperation of survivors and others in the community affected by the tornado, in 1967 and 50 years later,” Doyle said. “I am humbled and privileged to be able to tell their stories.”

The Walldogs – Jay Allen
For anyone who’s been around Belvidere for any length of time, they’ve probably seen the artistic work of the Walldogs, a group of public art muralists who spend summers beautifying communities across the country.

One of those Walldogs is local sign maker Jay Robert Allen, who has written a book, “The Walldogs,” detailing the journeys these talented artists have traveled since they painted their first project in 1993 – when 100 muralists gathered in Allerton, Iowa, the group’s first project.

“Everyone involved with the Walldogs would look at me and say, ‘Someone needs to write a book about us,’” said Allen, who owns ShawCraft Sign Co. in Machesney Park. “I finally gave in.”
Allen was the co-chair behind the “Walldog Rendezvous” held in Belvidere in 1997. It was the third Walldog meet ever held. The event attracted 350 artists from all over the world who painted 6,000 square feet of murals on 10 walls in Belvidere’s downtown business district in just 72 hours. The festival won many awards, including the 1997 Governor’s Art Award for Community from the Illinois Arts Council.

“We sat in a curious state on the scaffolding right from the very first meet trying to understand why total strangers treated us like rock stars. We weren’t used to such generosity. It was a study in human dynamics that needed to be promoted at a time when separation was more common than collaboration.”

In addition to Belvidere, the Walldogs have also created murals in Canada and across Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

“Nothing gets done without partnership,” Allen said. “Belvidere was the first partnership with the Walldog movement. We took our light out from under in a bucket and we could shine. We were a marketable asset within a community. It was a collaboration of artists and a collaboration of community. It felt like a story that finally needed to be told.

“Public art is designed to create a space for people to gather, where bonds form,” he added. “That’s not the secret of art; that’s the secret of life.”

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