By BRANDON LACHANCE
EARLVILLE – Every community searches for town event ideas to bring the community together, bring outsiders into town, and to develop economy.
New to Earlville, Ken Zink offered an idea.
It was put into action in 2003 and it hasn’t stopped as the 19th Annual Earlville Cruise Night will start at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14.
“We moved to Earlville 21-years ago. When I first got there, not knowing anyone, I met Wilma Stillwell. She worked at a local grocery store,” Zink said. “I walked in and told her I was new and that I was a photographer. She told me that I needed to be a member of the Earlville Business Association. She said, ‘With you being new, you may have some new ideas. We’re not doing very well in terms of coming up with activities and we need new activities to pick up our town a couple notches.’ She asked me if I had ideas.
“This was when I was very into car shows. I told her I had an idea and said, ‘Let’s do a Cruise Night.’ She looked at me and asked what it was. I explained that you bring out your car, take it downtown, park it, walk around the town square, meet new friends, and spend money downtown.
“I told her, ‘If we do this right, we’ll pack the town.’ She then told me, ‘You don’t know this yet, but you’re coming in to tell everyone in the EBA about it. She then added that part of the process of getting everyone involved is being the president.”
After hesitation and wondering why he should be president, he eventually did become the EBA president.
His now friend, Kevin Zollars, didn’t know Zink at all when Zink proposed the Cruise Night idea. They agreed to work together during their first meeting and have been a partnership ever since.
“The idea for the Cruise Night was originally brought up by Ken Zink and we adopted it because we were searching for things we could do as fundraisers for the town,” said Zollars, who owns Tri-County Veterinary Services. “This was almost 20 years ago. I thought, ‘Woah, I would totally love to do that with you,’ and Ken and I have been partners ever since then.
“When I was in high school, we would cruise around in our cars and you’d end up in some parking lot. Pretty soon, a couple of your buddies would be there. Then a few more friends would come. Then a carload of girls showed up. It was a big thing that gradually grew throughout the night. There weren’t cell phones. It became a meeting thing and something we did for fun.”
Although there are cell phones and social media in 2022, the Cruise Night is still based around the same principals it began with…fun, food, and music.
On May 14, 3D Sound will be DJing, there is a playground for kids, food will be served, a 50/50 will be won, visitors will receive participant door prizes, event T-shirts and hats will be offered, and dash plaques will be given to the first 200 vehicles.
Also, goody bags will be given to the first 200 vehicles and 25 vehicles will be randomly selected for a free professional photograph.
The entry fee per vehicle remains the same as it was in 2003 – $5.
The entry fee automatically goes toward two vocational scholarships for Earlville High School students as the Earlville Cruise Night awards them to a boy and a girl every year.
“I’m a veterinarian in the area and it’s amazing how many of my clients have old cars. Seeing them outside of the office and talk about cars instead of animals sometimes is really fun,” Zollars said. “I’ve made a lot of friends in the veterinarian community that have become friends of mine in the car community.
“I have clients who are mechanics. I told one client, Bruce Kain, about a problem with my 1954 Cadillac. He went to school to work on cars that are now the types you see at car shows and he literally diagnosed my car in my exam room. I’m talking to him about his dog and he’s diagnosing my car. He literally, on the spot, told me how to fix the problem.”
Lendal Clark, who moved back to Somonauk in 2013 after a stint in Rochelle, has been going to car shows since he was a kid but decided to start showing his 2006 HHR (Heritage High Roof).
Now, he loves detailing his vehicle for the showroom floor or better yet, the downtown showcase.
“I just grew up liking cars. My hobby has always been building model cars,” said Clark, who went to shows with his wife Glenda before she passed in December of 2020. “I have over 1,400 model cars that I’ve built. I honesty just like cars. I started building them when I was 8- or 9-years old. I built a lot of them when I was a kid and when I got out of the Marines in 1968, I got back into the hobby.
“I have people tell me, ‘I use to build model cars when I was a kid.’ I tell them, ‘Yeah, I did too, but I never quit.”
Clark’s HHR isn’t a vintage car but he displays it. On the flip side, Clark owned a 1963 Ford Falcon Convertible, a 1965 Chevy Impala, a 1967 Firebird, a Greenbrier Wagon, 1973 Chevelle, 1980 Camaro, and a 1985 Monte Carlo.
Zink has a 1949 Dodge Business Coop that has a special place in his heart.
But his role as a photographer for 25 car shows each year throughout the Midwest doesn’t allow him to show it, except for the Earlville Cruise Night
“There is something special about that car. The car was my brother’s (Bill) car. He sold it to me; he did not leave it to me,” Zink said. “Approximately six or seven months after selling it to me, he passed away from Stage 4 lung cancer and we didn’t know he had cancer. I had already bought the car not knowing anything about it. I still have the car and I have no intention of ever selling the car.
“I’ve always enjoyed cars but having my brother’s car really sparked my interest in being a photographer and taking photos of car shows.”
Zink and his wife Karen load up a mobile home and take off during car show season (May-October) to offer photo packages of everyone’s favorite vehicles.
He’s seen multiple rides he could call his favorite, but one that will be seen this year in Earlville has him excited.
“This year on our T-shirt will be an Oldsmobile and it’s either a 1950, a 1951, or maybe a year newer,” Zink said. “This particular Oldsmobile has a bubble hood. It’s the original hood and the same design as the car. What makes it so unique is that there is a glass panel on each side of the hood that’s an opening, which allows you to look in and see the motor. There were only seven of these produced.”