Volunteer organization proves to be lucky ‘charm’ for Durand

Lynne Conner for Chronicle Media

A historic building in downtown Durand, owned by Ken and Sue Gibler, displays the Durand Mural. The structure’s cornerstone holds a time capsule opened in 2013 after being sealed for 100 yrs. It is to be opened in 2063–50 years in the future by the Gibler’s descendants. (Photo by Lynne Conner / for Chronicle Media)

Nicknamed “Village of Volunteers”, the town of Durand in northwestern Winnebago County, truly lives up to its moniker thanks in part to its “lucky charm.”

Touted as a “community-wide, volunteer-driven effort to restore beauty, economic prosperity, teamwork and pride to our community,” the Durand Charm organization functions as the town’s biggest cheerleader and staunchest promoter.

Chris DeSchepper, executive director of Durand Charm, explains how this community organization got its name.

“Durand Charm originally started out as an acronym which nobody used and which was a little confusing,” she said. “So, I like to say that our name points to the fact that our town is charming. There is a lot of charm around our town square and we just want people to know how charming it is to live and play here in Durand.

Originally started in 2008 as an economic redevelopment and beautification committee, Durand Charm went through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) program and gained non-profit status in 2014.

Durand Charm relies on six committees, comprised entirely of volunteers, to carry out its mission, including business promotion, beautification, parks and recreation, attractions, education and economic development.

DeSchepper, an 11-year resident of Durand, took over as executive director in January and is the only paid staff member of the organization. Her salary comes from a grant through the Village of Durand.

Durand Charm is not a business association, but a civic effort to promote business development in Durand and sponsor various community-building activities.

Chris DeSchepper (left) and Katrina Gentzler discuss the placement of plants at the May 5th flower sale held in downtown Durand. (Photo by Lynne Conner / for Chronicle Media)

“There is a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district in Durand, which includes our town square and farther down Center Street which is our main business district,” DeSchepper said. “There is also a revolving loan program which is available through our local bank, but Durand Charm focuses on business promotion and the goals of the five other committees.”

DeSchepper said that the driving force behind Durand Charm is the preservation and beautification of Durand’s town square, the main business hub of the village.

Throughout the year, various activities and events highlight Durand Charm’s calendar.

“We have recently taken over the Candy Cane Lane Craft show which was formerly held in the Hononegah Dome,” she said. “This event is now held in the Durand High School gym and drew about 1,400 people last year. It was an incredibly successful event and we look forward to that same success this year. Last year’s vendors are ecstatic to come back for 2017 and we are getting inquiries from new vendors as well. This is an event that brings a lot of people to Durand and to our businesses.”

Some other events sponsored by Durand Charm include: a Harvest Hayride, a Meet the Candidates Night before the April election, a Career Day and summer reading program at the Durand schools and ongoing geo-caching program throughout the community.

“The summer is our busiest time,” DeSchepper said. “We start with an ‘adopt a pot’ program where we offer pots to all the businesses in town, for a nominal fee. The business owners are then responsible for filling the pots with flowers and taking care of them from May to October. We have a spring and fall flower sale, we do family friendly movies in the park from June to August.”

“Basically, Durand Charm tries to partner with people and businesses around our area and if they have an event that is really about the community; we promote and sponsor these events,” she said. “A community-wide Christmas lights contest was held last winter and there has been talk about having a beautiful lawn and garden contest during the summer.”

One of Durand Charm’s biggest events is the upcoming First Annual Spring Fling which will be held on Sat., May 13 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in Saelens Park.

“This is a brand-new event which will promote what Durand Charm does in the community and it is truly an event for all ages,” DeSchepper said.

The day’s events for children include: inflatables, face painting, the Durand Fire and Rescue Squad and performances by Once Upon a Dream Productions.

For teens and adults the Spring Fling features: the Otter Creek Historical Society selling replicas of the first Durand High School yearbook, performances by Durand High School students in the Saelens Park sound garden and an appearance by Mandy James from 97 WZOK. Additionally, each of the six Durand Charm committees will have tables at Spring Fling and concessions will be provided by the Durand High School cheerleading squad.

Featured speakers at Spring Fling include: Durand civic leaders, Frank Haney, Winnebago County Board Chairman and Mike Schablaske, Executive Director of Transform Rockford.

“We are so excited to have Frank Haney and Mike Schablaske speak at our Spring Fling because I think, in the past, Durand has been a somewhat forgotten area of Winnebago County,” DeSchepper said.

“I teased Mike a little when I said that the whole Transform Rockford idea came from what we are doing with Durand Charm, but Mike is really excited with what’s going on here in Durand. I think Frank, too, has some fresh ideas to bring to Durand and we really want to convey to people that good things are happening and great things are coming.”

One addition to the business landscape is the Durand Tele-pharmacy which opened in March.

“We had a goal of bring a pharmacy here to Durand…this was a service that people had asked for and wanted for a very long time. Since their opening, the Durand Tele-pharmacy has been very busy,” DeSchepper said. She explained that the tele-pharmacy operates like a traditional pharmacy, except that when a pharmacist is not present on-site; a patient can speak with the pharmacist through a video link.

“The tele-pharmacy offers live streaming contact with a pharmacist when he is off-site and the tele-pharmacy will provide home delivery of medications to the Durand community. This is proving to be a very successful business and it’s great that Durand Charm had a role in securing a pharmacy for our town,” DeSchepper said.

Future plans for Durand Charm include bringing Lifescape Community Services to Durand and a possible partnership with the YMCA of Rock River Valley.

“Durand Charm is not trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’; what we are doing is restoring beauty, economic prosperity, teamwork and pride to the Village of Durand and the surrounding area,” DeSchepper said. “We are not only trying to improve the quality of life for our current residents, but we are trying to attract new residents to Durand. We know that we have to grow to survive.”