SPOTLIGHT ON BIG ROCK: Improving the Quality of Life in Rural Kane County
- Editor’s Note: This summer, Kane County Connects interns Annabel Sengstock and Lizzy Kramer are putting the spotlight on 26 Kane County communities, from burgeoning Aurora to serene Sleepy Hollow, looking at each community through the eyes of a civic leader. This article, the fourth of the series, is written by Sengstock and profiles the village of Big Rock and Village President Dean Hummell.
When Dean Hummell moved to Big Rock 30 years ago, the little village seemed to be on a separate planet from his hometown of Aurora.
“My first thought was, ‘There’s no way I’m driving this far!’” the village president joked. “It seemed like the end of the earth, even though it’s only 10 minutes from Aurora. It’s not really as far as it seems.”
Although Big Rock seemed to be located in the middle of nowhere, the small community soon proved to be a great atmosphere for Hummell to raise his two children. Crime was, and still is, practically nonexistent, and there was a special type of small-town camaraderie that couldn’t be found in a big city.
“People help each other and watch out for each other here. If something happened with our kids in town, news traveled so quickly that we usually knew about it before they got home. Everybody knows everybody,” Hummell said.
Although many other cities in Kane County have exploded in population in the past few decades, Big Rock’s has remained relatively the same, at least as far as the village president can remember. When asked how the village has changed over the years, Hummell replied simply, “It hasn’t.”
In fact, the only house built in the last 15 years belongs to the village president himself. Even in the last 30 years Hummell has lived in Big Rock, there have been almost zero new buildings, residential, commercial or otherwise, he said.
Preserving Small-Town Charm
Though Big Rock is a tiny rural community, its administration still has challenges.
The village doesn’t collect property taxes, so it relies on sales, fuel and utility taxes to raise a small budget of about $300,000 a year.
This money pays for the salary of three part-time village officials, as well as services for the entire community.
Big Rock has also encountered initiatives that had the potential to take away its small-town identity. Only seven years ago, part of its footprint was almost developed into a subdivision before it was bought by the Kane County Forest Preserve District and turned into the Big Rock Campground.
Hummell said one reason the village was incorporated in 2001 was to evade neighboring Sugar Grove’s efforts to annex its area.
According to Hummell, some Sugar Grove officials wanted to see construction of a four-lane highway through the space, with opportunities for residential and commercial growth. Although Big Rock’s formation managed to stop the plan indefinitely, the idea is still on the table.
Although village of Big Rock officials have worked hard to keep the village small and rural, they have taken steps to improve the lives of its citizens in the last few years.
One example is the Big Rock Community Park, which Hummell helped establish when he was serving on the Park Board. The park includes baseball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis courts and a playground.
The project, one of the biggest that Big Rock had seen in a long time, would have cost more than $1 million. But after the village set a up a nonprofit organization for citizens to donate to, a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and donations of land from landowners, the park ended up costing taxpayers about $200,000.
Although there are no ambitious development projects like this one on the horizon for Big Rock, Hummell said that the village uses its budget to make life better for citizens in simpler, but equally powerful, ways.
About four years ago, Big Rock paid for a sewer system in its downtown area neighborhoods, sparing its residents from using 100-year-old, sometimes unsanitary septic systems.
In the end, improving the lives of the people of Big Rock is worth the effort for Hummell.
“I don’t do this for the pay. I’m just happy to serve,” he said.
Big Rock 2017
- Population: About 2,000
- Year Founded: Incorporated in 2001
- Places to Visit: Big Rock Forest Preserve and Campground, Deer Valley Golf Course, Big Rock Historical Society Museum
- Events/Festivals: Halloween Fest, annual Plowing Match
- Size: 4.33 square miles
- Many People Don’t Know: The Big Rock Plow Match, held in September, dates back to 1894 and is one of the longest running farm shows in America.
About Village President Dean Hummell
- Family members: Son and daughter, both raised in Big Rock.
- Profession: Owns an Aurora-based printing company
- How Long Have You Been a Resident? 30 years
- How Long Have You Been Village President? Eight years
- Favorite Memory of Big Rock: Coaching youth basketball and baseball, and helping establish the Big Rock Boy Scout troop.