What’s to Like About Rockford: The Kindness of Strangers


My monthly series on Rockford, originally created to help persuade my husband that Rockford isn’t so bad after all, has focused on places to go, things to do. When it comes to the “do and see” in Rockford, I haven’t even scratched the surface.

But this particular post is long overdue. It’s the one where I tell you about Rockford’s people. And not the ones who are close to my heart, they travel with me wherever I go, whether I’m in Rockford or not. No, it’s about the people who’s names I don’t know, who’ve reached out to me during the thirteen years I’ve lived here.

Rescue Angel #1. In the spring of 2012, I locked my keys in my van while buying gardening supplies at a nursery. I was due to pick up my kids from school in 10 MINUTES! Panic doesn’t even begin to describe my state of mind. A woman, a stranger, also shopping at the nursery, observed my distress in the parking lot. She offered to drive me to pick up my kids from school and bring me back to my van. She offered for me to use her cell phone to call my husband so he could meet me with the spare keys. I took her up on her offer. We only exchanged first names. She wouldn’t take any gas money from me, only my heartfelt thank you.

Rescue Angel #2. In the summer of 2001, I locked my keys in my van at the post office (oh shush, there’s an eleven year interval, it’s not like I do it ALL THE TIME). The lady at the post office let me borrow her car, drive to my husband’s work to get his house key, so I could drive home and get the spare van key, then drive back to the post office. Wow, right? I didn’t ask if I could. She offered. She would’t take any gas money either. Although I wrote her a thank you card later ’cause I knew where this lady worked. PS, she doesn’t work there any more, so I’ve kept her privacy.

But wait, there’s more. The woman who got out of her car in high heels and helped push my car up the icy hill. The man who cheered my daughter when she was inconsolable after falling in the parking lot. The man who held my hand when we both pulled over on the side of the road after I ran over the raccoon and I cried. Whoever keeps paying for my coffee in the McDonald’s drive through (I just go ahead and pay for the next car’s). This post could go on and on.

The point is . . .

I expect this behavior from my friends, my family, the neighbors who know me, the people at my church, my colleagues at work, current and former students . . . not from strangers who’ve never seen me before and will never see me again. Aren’t they supposed to be, oblivious? Jaded by high unemployment, runaway property taxes and miserable weather? But, no. Spirit is something the statisticians don’t measure.

So thank you Rockfordians, for your kindness over the years. I think I’ll stay a while longer.

Photo © Irina Brinza

What’s to Like About Rockford: Lockwood Park

Lockwood Park, Rockford, IL, Photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Lockwood Park, Rockford, IL, Photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

From its entrance, Lockwood Park appears deceptively small. The park actually takes up a sprawling 146 acres of woods, prairie, and parkland featuring winding trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Park your car, bring your picnic, and be prepared to spend the day.

Children's Farm, Lockwood Park, Rockford, IL, photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Children’s Farm, Lockwood Park, Rockford, IL, photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

A covered bridge beckons you over a bubbling stream. On the other side you’ll find playground, picnic shelters, and the Children’s Farm complete with Rockford’s only resident mountain goats. My kids especially like to see the pigs who come running from their pens whenever visitors arrive. In and around the barns are swans, ducks, lambs, bunnies, donkeys, a retired race horse, chickens . . . well, you get the idea.

Why yes, that is a giant cow. Lockwood Park, photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Why yes, that is a giant cow. Lockwood Park, photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Bet you didn’t know that Gertrude, the Giant Guernsey Cow who stands just inside Lockwood Park, is one of America’s largest fiberglass bovines. She’s 19 feet tall and 21 feet long. Her hefty rump points toward the BMX race track across Safford road; her horned head overlooks the playground. So, if you are one of those folks who likes roadside attractions . . . you gotta come see the cow.

There’s also a night sky observatory on the premises and garden plots that you can rent. But what Lockwood Park is best known for is its Equestrian Center. Riding lessons, hay rides, rodeo shows, and horse camps are favorite activities. All my children have participated in the annual summer week long Saddle Up summer camps where the kids are matched to a horse for a week. They groom, ride, and learn about “their” horse all week long, then show off their skills to friends and family on Friday. My daughters finished their camp last week and will be imagining and discussing their lives as future rodeo queens and/or veterinarians for months.

Willie, Lockwood Park, Rockford, IL, Photo by Karin Blaski, July 26, 2013

Willie, Lockwood Park, Rockford, IL, Photo by Karin Blaski, July 26, 2013

In the summer, Lockwood Park provides volunteer opportunities for kids 12+ who can do tasks from groundskeeping (if they’re volunteering for the first time) to caring for the horses (if they’ve gone through the volunteer certification program). Contact Lockwood Park for more information regarding their volunteer opportunities at 815-987-8809, or learn more through their website.

What’s to Like About Rockford: Magic Waters Water Park

Magic Waters, Rockford, IL, Photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Magic Waters, Rockford, IL, Photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Okay, so it’s the hottest day of the year. Heat index 101, heat advisory in effect. What’s the family of four to do?

Go to the water park of course. It’s half price Wednesday, why not? $12 to get in. A few thousand of us lunatics lined up at 10am, July 17 to spend the day alternating between baking in the sun, dashing for our scraps of shade, and diving into heavily chlorinated water.

If you live any where near Rockford, you really need to take advantage of Magic Waters. Crammed onto 48 acres are attractions for daredevils to toddlers. I’m a lazy river fan, but my girls love Typhoon Terror (daddy takes them) a partially enclosed slide you ride with 2, 3, or 4, that spins you nearly upside down. On a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 being “Relax” and 5 being “Makes You Scream,” Typhoon Terror is rated 5.

Managed by the Rockford Park District, the Magic Waters park rates are inexpensive. The park even allows you to bring in one cooler per family, so you can save by not having to purchase the park food. Additional coolers can be brought in at $10 each. We usually splurge and rent a cabana which includes a refrigerator stocked with bottled water, a ceiling fan, eight free tubes (normally you have to rent these if you want unlimited laps in the lazy river), a private entrance into the lazy river, a satellite T.V., patio furniture with table, and a locker with key. It’s $100, but if you split the cost with another family, it’s well worth it.

My only, only caveat, is you must time your restroom breaks. Especially us girls, ’cause as is the case with most public venues, there are not enough ladies restrooms. Right after lunch, there were lines a block long. IMHO, another restroom at Magic Waters would be money well spent = fewer people peeing in the pools = less money spent on chlorine. It’s the business woman in me; always thinking of the “bottom” line.

Tiki Island at Magic Waters, Rockford, IL, photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Tiki Island at Magic Waters, Where more adults stand under the dumping bucket than kids, Rockford, IL, photo by Karin Blaski, July 17, 2013

Restroom issue aside, we love Magic Waters. Even before we lived in Rockford, we made a summer weekend day trip to enjoy this award winning Water Park. The park is smoke and alcohol free. The season is June 8 through August 25 (closed August 19 – August 23). Hours 10am-6pm, except Mondays and Fridays when they stay open until 9pm.