In another day, we say goodbye to 2017 with mixed feelings and look ahead to 2018 with hope and anticipation.
As detailed on page 1 today, the Top 10 stories of the year chosen by the JG-TC staff are a mixed bag of bad news, good news, progress and regression.
The top story of the year is the shooting at Mattoon High School -- a "bad news" story, yet also a "good news" story. One student was injured when another student brought a gun to school and started firing in the cafeteria, but a teacher's heroic actions kept this incident from being the horrible tragedy into which it might have turned.
The incident had a wider effect. Many of Mattoon's East Central Illinois neighbors reached out with support. Other school students wore MHS green and performed the MHS school song in tribute and solidarity with Mattoon's stricken population.
Out of something bad came many good things.
Crime throughout 2017 is part of the roster of top stories for the year. A youth basketball program coach is accused of sexually abusing multiple former players. A Charleston mother allegedly left her 2-year-old son to starve to death in his crib over a weekend this month. The shooting death of an Eastern Illinois University student off campus in late April remains unsolved.
A long-dormant criminal case locally dubbed the "Airtight Bridge murder" was solved, laying to rest a decades-old mystery.
Conflict made the headlines locally for the year, too. The group Concerned Taxpayers of Coles County continued a fight that began in fall 2016 against a process by officials to reassess commercial property values in stages across the county. Firefighters made informal and formal objections to the City of Mattoon's decision to end its ambulance service, to be effective May 1, 2018.
Milestones, bad and good, were reached. The GE Mattoon Lamp Plant officially closed in August after decades as a major employer in the area. Locally based Rural King purchased the Cross County Mall late in the year, with plans to move its corporate offices to the former Sears space in the mall in the coming year.
And among the best news of the year was when state funding came through for Eastern Illinois University, putting the institution back on more stable footing. Even local Republican state representatives voted for the budget that brought funding for higher education, despite intense criticism for their decisions.
Although not on the Top 10 story list, Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System made major progress on its expanded heart center. Mattoon officially opened its Heritage Park downtown.
Now, we look ahead to 2018. And some things are already assumed about this coming year.
Mattoon Area P.A.D.S. is on track to finish its new facility. We expect to see the fruits of Rural King officials' labors at the Cross County Mall. The schedule of construction has Sarah Bush Lincoln's new heart center well on its way to opening.
Crime takes no break, despite our wishes. The student accused in the MHS shooting will make further court appearances, as will the mother accused in the death of her 2-year-old boy. Other high-profile criminal cases will make their way through the courts.
Unfortunately, we expect more struggles for Eastern Illinois University. One state budget can't fix the damage that years of funding shortfalls have caused. Yet optimism is growing at the institution.
Despite it all, we have high hopes for 2018.
We wish for a continued increase in the success of businesses large and small, and a rise in the number of jobs available in Mattoon, Charleston and the surrounding area. We would like to see more business incubators, such as Class E, which encourages Coles County high school students to be entrepreneurial.
We'd also be pleased to find Coles Together continuing its work, and some of our local foundations and trusts pooling resources and helping grow businesses. Perhaps local leaders can specifically court a business such as a distribution center for major companies in light of the worldwide boom in online shopping.
We hope for more cooperation between Mattoon and Charleston leaders and residents. Working together benefits everyone.
We'd like to see small businesses continue to populate both Mattoon's downtown and the square in Charleston, and for the word to get out to even more people about the great shopping and dining opportunities in these parts of town.
Eastern deserves continued level or increased funding from the state. And if the State of Illinois could get its act together in 2018, we might do a whole set of cartwheels.
Despite the cause of the great spirit of cooperation and empathy related to the shooting at MHS, we'd like to see more of that kind of support for each other from person to person, town to town, in day-to-day interactions.
We expect to see the continued development of the bike/hike/jogging trail from Lake Charleston to Fox Ridge State Park, and the trail between Charleston and Mattoon. Recreation can be a great draw for visitors to our communities, not to mention playing a role in the good health and enjoyment of local residents.
We feel positive as we go into the new year. This area has all the ingredients for success for all citizens, and, together, we can truly foster a recipe for positive change.
Let's all do our part to make it happen.
-- JG-TC Editorial Board