Springfield Business Journal presents


To benefit the Historic Preservation Fund, Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln

The Legacy Awards is the most recent annual award program from the Springfield Business Journal. Awards are presented to businesses for longevity and community service along with a lifetime achievement award for Preservation Advocate of the Year. The Legacy Awards event is a fundraiser for the Historic Preservation Fund.


50 years or fewer in business

Eck, Schafer & Punke

By Gabe House

Eck, Schafer & Punke isn’t your typical accountancy firm. They work hard. But, explained tax partner Paul Schafer, they play hard as well.

“We’re a little different, and we’re a little laid-back,” Schafer said. “We like to have fun. But we also have to get down to business and get the job done.”

It’s a strategy that appears to be working for the firm. Its roughly 35 employees have been busy at work (and play) since 1994 when the company began its professional practice. And they have a lot to keep them busy.

“I’m trying to boil this down into a concise, one-paragraph summary,” Schafer said. “We’re a full-service accounting firm offering a broad range of services from audit and attest services, other attest services for both commercial and not-for-profit clients as well as consulting and income tax planning and compliance services for that same broad range of clients. We also have wealth management services for our clients as well.”

In other words, as Schafer said, nobody is sitting on their hands at the office.

Eck, Schafer & Punke’s clients are typically within a three-hour-drive’s radius from Springfield, Schafer said, but there is a smattering of clients throughout the Midwest, as well as on both coasts. The firm’s growth over the past 21 years even led to a merger with Perrino & Associates in January of 2014.

“So they’ve been here almost two years now,” Schafer said. “The attraction there (is that) Mario is a premier tax practitioner in that three-hour loop I just described. He’s one of the best there is, we’ve always respected him and we’re happy to have him on board.”

So what is Eck, Schafer & Punke’s key to success?

“Without doing too much patting ourselves on the back, I think it starts with the people,” Schafer said. “That’s the strength of our firm. We’ve always sought out and tried to keep good people. We have a great bunch and that translates into good service for clients. And that makes for happy clients. They tell their friends, and that’s where the business comes from.”

Find good employees. Make them happy. They make clients happy. It sounds simple. Of course, it really isn’t.
Schafer said they continue to attract good talent that fits within the firm’s philosophy in a couple of different ways. First, the firm works with local colleges, particularly with University of Illinois Springfield, to field interns. Often, Schafer said, those interns end up as employees. Promoting from within whenever possible is another method to retaining top talent.

That whole “playing hard” aspect probably helps too. And nothing epitomizes that more, Schafer said, than the firm’s direct involvement with Springfield’s very popular Fat Ass 5K. The annual race and street party has raised more than $860,000 over the course of eight years.

“That’s something we’re very proud of,” Schafer said. “If you talk about having fun and doing some good along the way, that event is a great example.”

The Fat Ass 5k isn’t the only way Eck, Schafer & Punke contribute to the community’s well-being, though. Many employees sit on boards and donate time and/or money to numerous charitable organizations in the area.

“We’ve always tried to instill that in our people,” Schafer said. “You need to get out there, get involved and meet people. We don’t mind people taking time to get involved in those causes.

“This is where we live, so we want to do what we can to make Springfield a better place. We’re just doing our little bit, but everybody has to do their little bit.”

Gabe House is a freelance writer in Springfield.



51-100 years in business

Springfield Electric

By Gabe House

In one form or another, the Springfield Electric Supply Company has been a fixture (no pun intended) in the capitol city for nearly a century.

Founder William Robert Schnirring began working at Meador Electric in 1919 at the age of 18. Schnirring became a full partner in 1922 and then bought the fixture, appliance and contracting business in 1929. But the true genesis of Springfield Electric occurred in 1932 when Schnirring converted his contracting business into the Springfield Electric Supply Company to focus on electrical distribution.

“We now have 17 branches,” said Springfield Electric executive chairman Randy Germeraad. “There are 14 in Illinois, two in Iowa and one in Missouri.”

The career path Schnirring embarked upon as a 19-year-old has resulted in the employment of more than 300 workers across those 17 branches. From inventory management to facility electrical solutions to energy audits, Springfield Electric offers a range of comprehensive electrical services.

Germeraad, though, said that anyone can do what Springfield Electric does and sell what Springfield Electric sells. The difference in this case, he explained, is the people Springfield Electric employs.

“I think it’s always about the people,” Germeraad said. “It’s how we encourage them, how we compensate them, I think we just do a really good job in our training.

“Each associate has an individual development plan. When you have those plans, you’re always trying to improve. And when you’re always trying to improve that translates to solid efforts for the customers and better business all around.”

It’s just one facet of the philosophy Schnirring began employing decades ago, Germeraad said. The goal “is to serve and foster effective relationships with four key constituents: the communities where we reside; the suppliers with whom we partner; the associates who live our vision; and the customers whose loyalty and support are the reason for our success.”

In fact, Germeraad said, the company is extremely proud of its involvement with community service. It is discussed at annual board meetings as an item on the agenda. There are reports on the levels of involvement. Springfield Electric even has a competition of sorts for who performs the most community service.

“Thirty-one percent of the company is owned by the employees and as part of Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) Month, we have a competition among locations to see who puts in the most hours October through December,” Germeraad said. “We also encourage our people to give, if not in money, then at least in time.”

United Way is a large part of Springfield Electric Supply Company’s charitable involvement. Germeraad said the company is a pacesetter for United Way and has been so as long as he can remember. Additionally, Germeraad said, Springfield Electric helped build a home with Habitat for Humanity in 2014.

This community involvement isn’t just limited to Springfield, though. Germeraad explained that every single branch of the Springfield Electric Supply Company aims to give back to the communities that surround them.

“It may become more difficult to do so outside of Springfield in the downstate locations,” Germeraad said. “But it’s something we encourage our employees to do.

“It’s part of our plan to be highly active and participative in our community. If you derive your income from a community, you need to give back. We strive to do that with all of our locations.”



100+ years in business

R.W. Troxell

By Roberta Codemo

“It’s an honor,” said R.W. Troxell marketing director Alysse Aiello Hewell of the company’s Legacy Award. “It’s pretty amazing how much Troxell does.”

The company’s commitment to community involvement dates back to its beginnings. “There’s a huge focus on giving back,” said Bridget Shea, property insurance producer. As a local business, the company believes in supporting local nonprofits and giving back to the community.

It’s difficult to find an organization that the company hasn’t touched in some way, and the list reads like a nonprofit Who’s Who for the Springfield area. Hewell said the company gives back to multiple nonprofits in the area. It is a big supporter of the United Way and in 2014 exceeded its donation goals by 121 percent, with a 78 percent participation rate.

“The United Way is a huge campaign,” said Lori Curry, individual life and health specialist. “It touches so many organizations.”

Community involvement extends from the top down. “The owners lead by example,” said Hewell, whether it be serving on various boards or volunteering in the community. Everyone in the company contributes in some way. Hewell tracks the volunteer hours each person donates.

“It’s impressive how much people are involved with,” said Hewell, adding the company attracts people with the same core values. One new hire said she liked Troxell because it was focused on community involvement.

Lori Ruppel, commercial lines account manager, said volunteering gives her the opportunity to meet new people and have fun. “It feels good,” she said. The company is growing so fast it’s sometimes hard to get to know everybody.

“It’s a great way to do something,” said Curry, if only for a couple of hours. “If others can give, why can’t I?”

Each Friday, all employees give back in some way to the community. Employees pay $3 and can wear jeans to work on Friday. The monies raised go to support a different charity each month. Requests are filtered through Hewell, who said the company would love to help everyone but can’t. The company is always willing to reach out where there’s a need.

There are opportunities to give for employees who want to donate items. The company recently collected 434 rolls of toilet paper for the St. Martin de Porres TP the Town campaign and donates items to multiple organizations in the community. Every year employees donate food for holiday gift baskets.

There is a core group who has volunteered for almost every event. Hewell, Shea, Curry and Ruppel formed “Better Troxell, Better You” to focus on community involvement, healthy living, morale and physical activity. At the holiday party, there is a “Mr. and Mrs. Troxell” award given out to those who attend the Troxell volunteer events and exemplify the values that Troxell has.

The group started to promote physical activity and healthy living by forming walking clubs but has evolved to offer a wide array of options to involve everyone. “It certainly helps morale,” said Hewell. “It’s something we can all do together.”

Morale is important because happy employees make better employees. The company plans activities that bring everyone together. “It’s nice that employees are appreciated,” said Curry. The company has hosted art night at the Springfield Art Association, held after work networking parties and provided free ice cream to employees.

Everyone remarked on how generous local businesses are. “We need to lean on each other and support each other,” said Ruppel. Everyone needs help at some point.

“It’s remarkable how many local businesses give back,” added Shea, who is always surprised at the number of businesses she sees at local events.



Preservation Advocate of the Year

Paul O’Shea

By Roberta Codemo

“It’s humbling to say the least,” said Springfield native Paul O’Shea when learning he was receiving a lifetime achievement award as Preservation Advocate of the Year. “It’s hard to imagine anything higher than lifetime achievement.

“It’s amazing what can be done when you’re always doing,” he continued, quoting Thomas Jefferson, while reflecting back on his decades-long contributions to the community. He has focused on organizations that he felt he could contribute to and derives satisfaction from achieving goals.

O’Shea is redefining his new role since recently retiring as planning and design coordinator for the city of Springfield and remains willing to give of himself and lend his experience when needed.

He has had a long and illustrious career. He worked in Bloomington as a young man, before moving back to Springfield, at which point he became an associate with Ferry and Henderson Architects and was involved in several major projects including the restoration of the Old State Capitol and designing the Municipal Plaza. He was the principal and founder of Graham, O’Shea and Wisnosky Architects in 1968.

After nine years with the city, he is transitioning into a new role. He’s not ready to slow down. “The Lord has blessed me with good health to do what I do for as long as I can do it,” he said. “Death is nature’s way of slowing down.”

What is important to him is family, friends, fellow workers and faith. He believes in living life to the fullest.

He was raised to treat others the way he expected to be treated. “This relates to historic preservation,” he said. You have to respect people, the environment and physical structures.

While he is proud of the awards that he’s received, he remains unpretentious and doesn’t like to talk about himself. He lives his life guided by author Stephen Covey’s four principles: live, love, learn and leave a legacy.

He has left his mark on this city. When he was first approached by former mayor Tim Davlin about the city planning position, he told him, “I’m not a city planner; I’m an architect.’ It worked out to be a very cooperative relationship.”

His career accomplishments include serving on the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team steering committee in 2001 and bringing a sustainable design assessment team from the American Institute of Architects here in 2012 to study the downtown area and the connected neighborhoods.

SDAT met with the public works department and discussed traffic calming – reducing the speed limit through downtown – and creating public art at crosswalks. Their recommendations included utilizing existing infrastructure at the inner city core for residential development and creating a pedestrian friendly urban center.

O’Shea believes it is essential to bring people and jobs downtown. “Young millennials want to live downtown,” he said. “There are a lot of positive features about this community that people don’t stop and take a look at.”

He wants to create downtown neighborhoods with easy walkability and livability design features where people can meet their neighbors.
There has been a lot of progress but a lot remains to be done. He points to recent upper-story renovation projects throughout downtown, the medical district and the Jackson Street Corridor project.

“You have to get people engaged and to follow through,” he said, citing the failure of the $10 million Bluffstone project at Fourth and Madison, which would have provided downtown housing for University students.

Developers say that it’s too difficult to develop downtown. “It’s frustrating,” he said, adding that people need to realize the extra effort that it takes is worth it. He said some people have too much negativity. “It’s hard to get projects done.”

He points to the work that Court and Karen Conn have accomplished, including rebuilding the Vachel Lindsay home to recapture its original flavor and renovating the Maisenbacher House.

“They are a success story,” he said, pointing out that the Conns are willing to invest the time and talent in hidden treasures to make things happen. “We need more people like that.”

He wants more focus on smart growth – eliminating urban sprawl and providing disincentives to build new buildings. “We need to utilize existing buildings rather than building new ones in the green fields.”

He supports a design assistance program, where architects would work with developers. “It takes creative imagination.”

History is important; it shapes the way that architects approach design. “It’s important to know where we came from and to appreciate the people who came before,” he said.

“When you look at a building, you start to see the detail that was put into it,” he continued. “It’s a work of art.”

To honor the 150th anniversary of the American Institute for Architects in 2007, he invited Robert Selby and a group of his architecture students from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana to come and redesign five downtown historic buildings, creating a blueprint for Springfield.

“There’s a lot of focus on the historic buildings downtown,” he said. The greenest buildings are those that make use of existing structures rather than taking resources and building new ones. The downtown buildings are well-built, don’t require as much maintenance and are part of the existing infrastructure.

He has been involved with a number of projects to raise awareness about historic preservation, including the Governor’s Mansion remodel. In 2008, he was part of the core group that formed to recognize the contributions of the individuals who restored the Old State Capitol in 1968. At that time, people felt it was important to bring the building back to life.

The organization held a gala and the monies that were left over were used to start the Historic Preservation Fund, which is managed through the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln. To date, the fund has given four grants to community organizations. Last year, Edwards Place received a grant for reproduced wallpaper as part of their historic refurbishing project.

“I want to leave the world a little better than when I came into it,” he said. “I want to make my mark in a small way.”



Growing a fund to support preservation

From a $399 acorn, the CFLL Historic Preservation Fund has grown enough to make substantial annual grants

By Fletcher Farrar

The CFLL Historic Preservation Fund has announced that its 2015 grant of $6,000 goes to the Elijah Iles House Foundation to build a porch that will complete the restoration of the Strawbridge-Shepherd House on the University of Illinois Springfield campus. Now in its fourth year of awarding an annual grant for local historic preservation projects, the fund has awarded a cumulative $18,000.

The CFLL Historic Preservation Fund has grown steadily since its humble but hopeful beginning in 2008. With its current balance of $75,000, the permanent fund at the Community Foundation of the Land of Lincoln was able to grant $6,000 this year. As the fund balance continues to grow, larger annual grants will be available to advance the cause of historic preservation in the Springfield area.

Though not yet a mighty oak, the story of the acorn from which the fund began its life has become almost legendary. In 2008 a group formed in Springfield to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Old State Capitol Renovation and to honor the visionary architects, engineers and contractors who designed the project to dismantle the Old Capitol, build an underground parking garage on the site, then reassemble the building to look like the Statehouse of Abraham Lincoln’s day. The Old Capitol Community Tribute on March 25, 2008, was a success both in drawing a crowd and paying the event’s bills. The $25 per person ticket price brought in $3,500, to cover expenses of $3,100.

The leaders of the steering committee – Bob Gray of the Citizens Club, Paul O’Shea, architect and Springfield planning coordinator, and Justin Blandford of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency – puzzled over what to do with the almost $400 left over from the event. Paul O’Shea had the idea of starting a fund. On May 29, 2008, the group hand-delivered a check for $399.21 to what was then the Sangamon County Community Foundation, and the idea was launched. Two years later, after a gift from Paul O’Shea and donations from others interested in historic preservation, the Historic Preservation Fund was officially announced at the Old State Capitol. An annual mail solicitation to Springfield-area preservation supporters, plus an annual gala for the past several years, have helped to bring the fund to $75,000 where it stands today.

Here are the grant recipients and the projects aided by the fund:

Downtown Springfield, Inc. – $4,000 for a pilot program to develop a way-finding system to better link historic sites and properties in the downtown area of Springfield.

The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Foundation – $4,000 for the purpose of developing planning concepts and documents, including artistic renderings of a pedestrian trail linking historic sites and properties from the Illinois State Capitol Complex to the Abraham Lincoln National Historic Site along Jackson Street in Springfield. The project shall be known as the Jackson Street Corridor.
Springfield Art Association – $4,000 for the reproduction of 1850s wallpaper discovered during the interior restoration of Edwards Place, the Lincoln-era historic house museum owned and operated by the Springfield Art Association.

Elijah Iles House Foundation – $6,000 to restore the Strawbridge-Shepherd House on the UIS campus. The House recently was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. To complete the historic restoration, a porch on the north side of the east west extension is yet to be constructed. The porch will not only complete historic restoration, but will allow for inclusion of handicapped accessible access to the House. The House is presently leased to Illinois State Historical Society.

Fletcher Farrar is a member of the advisory board of the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln’s Historic Preservation Fund and is publisher of Springfield Business Journal.