When you make the Illinois Valley your home the scope of arts and entertainment is near endless. You can participate either as a performer or as a listener to the Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra and the Illinois Valley Choral Association, or choose to become a member of the Illinois Valley Art League. The Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra was organized in 1950 and has about 50 members. The orchestra presents four concerts annually at various sites throughout the area. In addition, it presents two special children's concerts.
The Suzuki Music School was established in 1981 and involves about 200 persons between the ages of 18 and 80-plus years. The instruments employed are the violin, viola, cello, piano, organ, and guitar. The group performs for various community functions, at recitals, and major performances throughout the area.
The Illinois Valley Choral Association offers concerts on request by either of two children's choral groups. These groups perform annual Christmas and Spring concerts at Matthiessen Auditorium at L-P Township High School and appear frequently before business organizations and social and service clubs in Illinois Valley communities.
The Illinois Valley Art League is devoted to promoting art. It offers art classes for children between 10 and 12 years of age and provides judges for children's art shows and also arranges bus trips to Chicago art museums.
The Cultural Center at Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC), a $1.58 million facility, is the setting for a continuing Arts and Letters Series that includes concerts, plays, and lectures featuring major artists and speakers. The Center's 600 seats present an unobstructed view of the stage. For lectures and meetings, the auditorium can be divided into three 200-seat facilities. A December favorite at IVCC is the popular Madrigal dinner featuring Old English lyrics, court jesters, and humorous antics.
Community Concert Association involves people from several Illinois Valley communities and presents a variety of performances by professional artists, including ballet, vocal, and instrumental concerts.
Stage 212 is an amateur theatrical group that features local talent and has delighted audiences with musical and dramatic productions for 17 consecutive seasons. Through area cooperation, funds were raised enabling 212 to purchase a vacant theater for productions.
Theatrical and musical productions by students of LaSalle-Peru High School attract large audiences, as do those at Hall High School, St. Bede, and Fieldcrest High. The cultural activities of nearby Northern Illinois University, Illinois State, Illinois Wesleyan, and Bradley Universities also draw residents from the Illinois Valley.
A variety of special events entertain area residents. Oglesby Best Fest is an annual June attraction which features five days of free entertainment with more than 75,000 people attending the festivities.
In June, Spring Valley hosts its annual Summer Fest. The event features golf, woman's volleyball, softball, 3 on 3 basketball tournaments, citywide garage sales, carnival, beer garden, live entertainment, Spaghetti feast, pork chop tent, etc. Summer Fest attracts some 10,000 people from throughout the Illinois Valley. The Burgoo Festival, sponsored by the LaSalle County Historical Society, is held each October at Utica and adds its own distinctive flavor to the area's entertainment. Named for a tasty pioneer dish, Burgoo is generously ladled from large iron kettles to as many as 35,000 visitors. In addition to this robust dish, barbecued pork chops and homemade pies are favorites. The festival features live music, a large flea market, a craft show, and demonstrations of period handiwork.
Taste of the Illinois Valley is another popular summertime event. Held in the end of May and beginning of June, the festival features food from area restaurants, music, rides games, and other entertaining happenings.
Wenona Days is a celebration of the community's heritage and features events and activities pleasing to the whole family.
Lovers of old time country music, bluegrass, and folk are attracted to "Music in the Wild," held in mid-July at the Putnam County Conservation District in Hennepin. The two-day event has storytelling, old-time craft demonstration, an old-time fiddle contest, and lots of good food. There's even a Buckskinners encampment with Mountain Men events.
Each spring and fall, the Peru Mall sponsors big craft shows attracting crafters from throughout the nation. The event draws big crowds to the popular shopping mall.
Illinois Valley readers have access to excellent library facilities. The LaSalle Public Library occupies a classic structure close to downtown and offers 44,000 volumes, along with audio cassettes, and microfilmed copies of the local newspaper and periodicals. For children, the Library has story hours and special holiday programs.
The Peru Public Library is a modern, 17,000-square-foot structure that has approximately 50,000 volumes, 140 periodicals subscriptions, and access to the collections of other libraries. It provides audio and video cassettes, compact discs and access to the Internet and other electronic databases. The library frequently offers free programs of interest to the public. Illinois Valley residents also have access to materials in the 28 libraries of the Starved Rock Library System and the IVCC library with its extensive selection of periodicals, reference volumes, magazines, books, and newspapers.
The LaSalle County Historical Museum in Utica is the home of the 85-year-old LaSalle County Historical Society. Housed in a fully restored pre-Civil War stone warehouse near the historic
Illinois Michigan Canal, the museum contains such artifacts as Indian relics, early pioneer home furnishings and pioneer garments, and early farm tools, and a carriage which conveyed Abraham Lincoln to the scene of a Lincoln-Douglas debate.
Located nearby is Starved Rock Lock and Dam and Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. The Center provides exhibits, an observation deck, and an informative audiovisual display of lock operations.
Yet another historical site is Lock 14 on the Illinois-Michigan Canal, at LaSalle. The lock has undergone extensive restoration in recent years. The canal has become a National Historic Corridor, giving it the status of a National Park.
Effigy Tumuli Sculpture at nearby Buffalo Rock State Park presents a unique art form. The open scar of an abandoned surface mine has been transformed into a place of pleasure for art lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Giant sculptures reminiscent of the work of ancient mound builders who once inhabited the area have been created of a water spider, frog, catfish, turtle, and a snake.