By Bob Balgemann


Partnerships and regionalism were two of the hallmarks of Bob Walberg’s eight years as a member – and chairman – of the Boone County Board.

Overall, there were more peaks than valleys and more good days than not-so-good days, in a time when the Great Recession of 2008 continued to linger.

Those were difficult times financially when tough decisions had to be made and attempts at joining hands with other governmental bodies for the good of the region first had to overcome the mindset that this was a kingdom ruled by Rockford.

Still, there was progress during those eight years thanks to a majority of the 12-member county board pulling together with one goal in mind: the betterment of the people they were serving.

Now, it’s time for someone new to step in as chairman. “Mr. Walberg,” as he is known in many quarters, did not run for re-election to the board.

He was born and raised in Boone County, and his many years of public service have yielded a lengthy list of varied positions with a boatload of responsibilities.

Before the county board, there was the Belvidere Community Unit School District 100 Board of Education. That tenure also lasted eight years, four as president.

Inherited problems included a $1.5 million deficit and aging buildings. The shortfall was eliminated in two years, the budget was balanced, and there were additions to the junior high school, high school, and Caledonia Elementary School. The new Belvidere North High School opened in the fall of 2007.

Graduation requirements were increased from 18 credits to 22 credits.

The time of service also included four years on the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District board, being president for two years; two years on the United Way board; and two years on the Youth Council, also presiding over that organization.

Working with youth has always been a keen interest as evidenced by the 41 years he spent as superintendent of the 4-H Sheep Show at the Boone County Fair.

“I enjoy working with kids and especially enjoy the fair,” he said.

The political side

“A lot has taken place,” Chairman Walberg said in a one-sentence summation of the most recent eight years.

Attempts to make things better began right away when, at his first meeting as chairman, it was announced that information packets for county board meetings would be going paperless. Today’s Board Docs evolved from that, easily found on the county’s website, part of an overall effort to make operations more transparent to the public.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” he said of Board Docs. “There’s so much in there.”

One goal that he termed “overwhelming” was finishing the Irene Road interchange at Interstate 90. But, it happened. The three entrance-exits now are in operation, costing far less than the projected $50 to $60 million.

The strategy that was developed in 2011, he said, was “one piece at a time,” and it couldn’t have been done without partnering with the City of Belvidere, the Illinois Tollway Authority, Better Roads, and others.

Now that big piece of the economic development puzzle is in place, providing a major opportunity for future growth of the county.

Two referendums were passed not long ago to help two positive proposals become reality. They were the Veterans Assistance Commission and the new county animal services building.

Walberg stressed that both measures passed with support from more than 60 percent of those who voted.

“That was validation for the decisions” to move ahead with those proposals during difficult economic times, he said.

The commission continues to be busy helping veterans in need, and a ribbon cutting ceremony was held on Wednesday, Nov. 30 for the animal services building on county property, on Squaw Prairie Road. He called that “a historic moment.”

Variety of work

The chairman is the face of the county, yet some responsibilities are behind the scenes.

One of them is dealing with natural or man-made disasters. There were a few during the Walberg administration including three tornadoes, the mulch fire off Illinois 76 and the NDK building explosion along I-90, near the Belvidere Oasis.

Another part of the job many residents don’t realize is being expected to attend a variety of meetings, even though they’re held at the same time in different communities.

One of his goals and something he stuck with all eight years was trying to be more regional.

As a result, “I think we are working more closely with neighboring counties,” he said.

He was a member of several regional committees and commissions. For two years, he served as chairman of the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning (RMAP), which is the metropolitan planning organization for this area of northern Illinois.

“I advocated a bigger region, not a bigger Rockford,” he said. Yet, Rockford is a big piece of the economic development puzzle.

“Rockford has the airport, which is the economic engine for the area,” he said.

Bottom line is the emphasis on regionalism often took the chairman out of the county, sometimes traveling to Springfield, to ensure Boone County had a seat at the planning table.

Rail line, wind farm

Regionalism came into play not long ago when a proposal surfaced to put in a rail line from southern Wisconsin, through the east side of Boone County and on to northern Indiana.

There was immediate opposition in Boone and, ultimately, Great Lakes Basin Transportation pulled the Capron, Garden Prairie area as part of the requested route.

Chairman Walberg said it may be three years before the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) takes action on the proposed route.

He originally liked the idea of rail coming to the county, serving as a bypass around busy Chicago, because of the potential for access by different local companies.

“I thought it would be well received,” he said. “I didn’t realize people had such a concern about rail and trains. My position was to support the county, so I set my thinking aside.”

The county board ultimately sent a letter of opposition to the STB.

There will be an immediate delay in discussions because members of the STB are appointed by the president of the United States. The inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump won’t happen until January. Then, it may not be known for a while what he intends to do with the board.

Another controversy that divided residents had to do with Mainstream Renewable Power wanting to develop an 8,000-acre wind farm, with up to 100 wind turbines, on the northeastern side of the county.

“We never had an application” from Mainstream, which earlier this year decided not to pursue the project, the chairman said. He added that he was non-committal on that possibility.

Wrapping it up

Government at various levels is people-intensive and within those offices are many officials, elected and appointed, who rely on each other, and those they serve, to get things done.

When Walberg took over as chairman, there soon would be a new administration building at 1212 Logan Ave. Some of the key, longtime employees working with him were County Administrator Ken Terrinoni and his administrative secretary, Bev Koppen.

“Mr. Terrinoni is a wonderful man,” the chairman said. “The job would have been overwhelming without him.”

Koppen retired several years ago, after serving with Terrinoni the previous 19 years. Now, Julaine Drake has assumed that position. Walberg commended both women for their worth as people and their value to the county.

Working with 11 other elected men and women in a political arena can be testing on occasion, and such was the case over the past eight years in Boone County.

Chairman Walberg served with 31 different board members, and while there were attempts to replace him as the CEO, he was re-elected four times.

With retirement from the board having arrived, he said his goal is to be more dependable.

“When someone asks me to do something, I won’t have the excuse that I have a meeting. Family, friends, golf groups. I plan to continue living in Boone County and keeping on with my current activities,” Walberg said.

Today, he sees the county being on the verge of having many great opportunities for positive growth. He said he hopes the county will be able to take advantage so that in five years it’s a better place than it is now.















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