Deaf Side Story: Deaf Sharks,
Hearing Jets, and a Classic American Musical
Morton Avenue is another story entirely. The street is a mecca for shopping and eating. Every inch is lined with chain restaurants, mostly fast food: Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s. None of the stores pushing against Morton’s curbs cater to the wealthy. Jacksonville has a JC Penney, four competing grocery stores, a Kmart, several car dealerships and of course, a Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart lot is always twice as crowded as Kmart’s. Corporate executives declared the local Hardee’s to be the busiest in the franchise. It did so well that the company recently built an entire new building, just ten feet from the old one. When the new restaurant opened, the old facility was summarily demolished.
When Jacksonville residents want to eat out, they have few options besides fast food, pizza, a diner or two, and the buffet at Ponderosa. The classy option is Lonzerotti’s, a popular Italian restaurant that occupies the old railway station. The tracks remain active and enormous freight trains rumble past at irregular intervals. The louder ones drown conversation and ripple the merlot in the wine glasses. El Rancherito, a growing Midwest chain, provides the other ethnic alternative, and their menu features all manner of muddy-looking Mexican and Tex-Mex fare. The prices are good, the margaritas both large and weak; the atmosphere, however, pales before the sometimes quiet, sometimes train-ridden ambience of Lonzerotti’s. If an after-dinner movie appeals, tickets cost five dollars.
Industry provides jobs for those who do not farm. Wareco, a chain of gasoline stations and convenience shops, is based here. Tenneco (now Pactiv) makes plastic bags, notably Hefty OneZip bags. EMI presses compact discs on the northwest side of town. They remain infamous for asking employees to use clear plastic sacks rather than purses or bags prior to releasing the Beatles compact disc sets in 1995 and 1996. Not far away, Nestlé does a good business making Coffeemate. As alternative industries, Jacksonville boasts an area hospital, Passavant, and a prison. Some local realtors blame the prison for swelling the numbers of run-down homes and cheap trailers. Others claim that the prison has brought a bad element into the area, but nobody seems comfortable defining or identifying what or who exactly this element might be. Jacksonville, despite its official status as a city (population 20,284), remains essentially a small town, and nobody wants to risk insulting someone who may have a relative––or themselves spent time––behind the prison’s walls.
Then there are the colleges. MacMurray College and Illinois College are both small, private, liberal arts institutions; their coexistence in such a small community has prompted a popular rumor, possibly true, that Jacksonville boasts more Ph.D.s per capita than any other locale in North America. IC once enrolled only men, whereas Mac began its life as a women’s college. Both are now co-ed, or to use the original term, coordinate. Each would like to have about eight hundred students, but Mac, the poor sister, is chronically underenrolled. During the late seventies and early eighties, Mac nearly went bankrupt thanks to half a century of deficit spending. A cycle of heavy borrowing resulted, both from banks and from the school’s own endowment.
Meanwhile, IC became among the best-endowed small schools in the country, and its alumni revenues have helped construct a new library, a proscenium theater space, an arts center, and in March 2003, a new athletic facility. IC is thought to be the more conservative of the two institutions, something former graduate and trustee William Jennings Bryan would likely be proud of, but neither institution has a particularly liberal student body as colleges go. Both schools draw heavily from the surrounding community and both rely on church affiliation, Mac with the Methodists and IC with the Congregationalists. At times, and despite their differences, it is difficult to see why the two schools have not simply merged. Indeed, in the 1950s, when Mac was flush and IC was not, Mac’s board did float such a proposal. The idea was to make IC the men’s campus and keep Mac as the women’s campus. Curricula, staff, and administration would have been combined. The schools’ presidents held tentative meetings, but when IC’s board and alumni heard what was going on, they were, so the story goes, positively apoplectic. The merger quickly fell through.