This spring, The Rockford Squire reported that five historic people in the Rockford area were honored at Recognition Plaza at Peppler Park. The event is a newer tradition in its second year and organized by the Rockford Area Community Endowment (RACE). Each year, RACE will honor people from the City of Rockford and the townships of Algoma, Cannon, Courtland and Plainfield.
The Endowment was initially formed in the 1960s to finance a school pool and the Towers downtown. It fell dormant after those goals were accomplished and was revived just a few years ago.
Among activities of the Endowment is honoring community heroes and leaders. Its purpose is to provide funding for projects in the greater Rockford area. This year the Endowment gave a $1,000 grant for National Night Out, $1,000 to the City of Rockford Police Department for a purchase, and each community in the Endowment received $1,000 for landscaping projects.
The Endowment is funded by brick sales at Peppler Park, where the public is invited to purchase a brick either in their own name or business or in honor of a person. The Rockford Squire has a brick there and editor Beth Altena purchased one for Publisher Roger Allen for his 80th birthday last year. It is a wonderful, lasting gift and is appropriate for the person who “has everything.” As of this spring, 269 bricks had been sold. Bricks are just $125 each. To purchase bricks, call the City of Rockford at (616) 866-4465.
Also contributing to the Endowment’s assets of $87,5000 (up from $65,000 a year ago) was a December 2008 gift from the Don Berg estate in the amount of $10,000.
In addition to the gift of grants, recognizing the people who have contributed significantly to the history of the area is among the Endowment’s goals. When visiting the beautiful Peppler Park Recognition Plaza (on the west side of the dam), take the time to read the names on the bricks under your feet and in plaques on the columns in the park. The following are some of the stories of this year’s honorees, with others to follow in future issues of the Squire.
Gerald Leon Kitson was the son of Leon and Jenny Kitson, a pioneer farming family in Cannon Township. Gerald and his brother, Chuck, became tired of hand-feeding the chickens on the family farm, and together invented an automatic chicken-feeding system for which they held a USA Patent for 17 years, from 1947 to 1969.
They began the Kitson Poultry Equipment Company, a poultry equipment factory, and Gerald traveled much in the Midwest. In the 1970s, he began a new business called Kitson Farms on Belding Road, which was known as an experimental egg production farm. The farm was a well-known landmark in Cannon Township as fresh eggs were sold retail and employed many young people.
He owned Cycle Systems on Belding Road, which sold equipment to automatically process eggs from inception to packaging.
Gerald and his wife, Una, were lifelong members of Bostwick Lake Congregational Church, where he served on many church and community committees and was at one time lay pastor to the congregation.
He was the founding member of the Cannon and Grattan township historical societies, and was instrumental in leading all local historical societies to qualify for 501C tax exempt status as a nonprofit agency.
He photographed all the historic homesteads in Cannon Township and they are included in the township book he co-wrote called Cannon Township History 1837-1983.
Gerald was appointed supervisor of Cannon Township from 1990 to 1991, during a time of political contention, as he was well-known as a man of integrity, wisdom and peace.
He was so beloved by the community that at his funeral, his coffin was hoisted by firemen on top of a Cannon Township engine truck and carried to his final resting place at Bostwick Lake Cemetery.