A Publication of WTVP

Over the years, Lynnette Demanes has thrown herself into a wide range of careers. She received her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Bradley University and went on to teach at Academy of Our Lady/Spalding. After receiving her master’s degree from Illinois State University and completing a stint in the medical field, the sudden passing of her father propelled Demanes into managing a number of family businesses, including an 18-year career in radio at WTAZ. Now the owner of Ravina on the Lakes and Scrapadoodle—the Peoria area’s largest scrapbook and paper crafting store—the 17-year Rotary member looks forward to returning to education and volunteering her time to District 150. The mother of three daughters lives with her husband, Mike Fleming, in Peoria.

Tell us about your background and your education.

I was born in Kewanee and came to Peoria when I was three. My parents moved here for a job opportunity with a company that owned Swan Lake Cemetery. My father eventually purchased this company and 17 other cemeteries in Illinois and Minnesota. My mother Helen and stepfather Marlin Kreighbaum still live in the house in Lake Park Subdivision where I grew up. My neighborhood was in the far north end of Peoria and was bordered by two dirt roads, Glen and University. My mom was a stay-at-home mother who didn’t have a car until I was about nine. We walked just about everywhere: to the A & P grocery store (now the Salvation Army store), Sipp School (now Chili’s), Lakeview Ice Rink (now the Water Park) and Sheridan Village. I have fond memories of picnics with my neighborhood friends under an apple tree in the orchard that was located just south of Glen on Nelson Drive. A big day for us was dressing up and taking the bus downtown.

I was the oldest of four children and graduated from Richwoods Community High School. I attended Northern Illinois University for one year pursuing a child psychology degree. After one semester, I wanted to come home, so at the end of the year I transferred to Bradley. Since Bradley did not have a child psychology degree, my hours transferred into education and I pursued a degree in secondary education in psychology. I did my student teaching at Academy of Our Lady/Spalding under a wonderful veteran teacher by the name of Sister Pauline. It was very clear that she was not happy to have her first student teacher, but over time we became very close.

Once I graduated, and with no prospects of teaching psychology in Peoria, I took a job at the National College of Education in Evanston. A year and a half later, Sister Pauline became very ill. She called and asked if I would come back to AOL/Spalding to take over her classes, which I did. I was glad to be back in Peoria. During my teaching years I completed my master’s degree at Illinois State University. I loved teaching, but the income was very low. My plan was to get my doctorate in child psychology, but again, I was faced with leaving Peoria since there was not a doctoral program any closer than the Chicago area. Before I could settle on a school, I was wooed away by a medical company that more than tripled my salary.

How did your career evolve with your family’s businesses over the years?

The early ’80s were a difficult time for my family and me. My father, Roy Demanes, died suddenly at the age of 54, leaving my mother with several businesses to run and manage. In addition to being heartbroken over our loss, we really knew nothing about operating these businesses, which included the Ramada Inn, 17 cemeteries, a medical building, a gas station, a radio station (WTAZ) and numerous parcels of land. To make matters worse, those were difficult economic times for Peoria. I left my medical sales career, and, along with my brother Steve and sister Kim, helped my mother with the family businesses.

I have had so many people tell me how many fond memories they have from the Ramada Inn. My two brothers, sister, cousins and I grew up enjoying the amenities of the hotel. Most of us had our first jobs there bussing tables, answering switchboards and cleaning guest rooms. The building was certainly no stranger to us, but faced with the daunting task of running the property, we knew we would have to sell it. We felt very blessed to have Methodist Medical Center purchase the property and eventually transform it into the Methodist College of Nursing. We are very proud to see the building being used for such a wonderful purpose.

How did you become involved with the radio station WTAZ?

Once the Ramada was sold, I volunteered to oversee the radio station. My first challenge was to just find the station, which was located on farmland out on Lakeland Road in Morton. With a little luck, I made it, and my 18-year career in radio began. I was devastated to learn that following the few short years my father had been gone, the business was in financial ruins. Not having had a single business course in college, let alone radio experience, I was miserably under-qualified for the task ahead.

I knew nothing about the radio business or music formats, and I was desperate to find a revenue source. My father’s college roommate was the general business manager for the Chicago White Sox, and I grew up at Comiskey Park. Since baseball was something I knew, I contacted the Sox organization about carrying the games. However, a young guy by the name of Charlie Early (many of you now know him as Chuck Collins), who was working at WTAZ long before I got there, came into my office one day and asked me if I would consider carrying the Cardinals instead, since WMBD was dropping them. That sounded good to me, and we picked them up in 1982—the year they went all the way to become the World Series champions!

Also about this time, talk radio was starting to become more popular. Not realizing that the talk format was almost exclusively on the AM band, we decided to adopt that format, and became the second FM talk radio station in the country. Ignorance is bliss! It was a wonderful move for us! The combination of the talk format and the Cardinal games through two more World Series put TalkRadio 102 on the map.

How has your family business Ravina on the Lakes evolved?

In the early ’70s, my father had purchased about 130 acres of farmland out on Charter Oak Road. Some of the original occupants of Peoria’s northwest side might remember the Kingsley and Beckett farms. With encouragement from Caterpillar, my father had two lakes and a screenedin banquet facility constructed. In 1975 the Ramada Inn and the “Ramada Ravina” were the locations for the Caterpillar Worldwide Dealer Meeting. Morrie Fearis, manager of shows and exhibits for Caterpillar, was actually the person that came up with the name ravina. After the sale of the Ramada in 1981, and at the same time that I was starting my career in radio, Ravina on the Lakes was incorporated and opened to the public. In June we celebrated 25 years of service to the greater Peoria area.

A lot has changed at Ravina over the years. From a hog farm to a privately-owned park, the land has seen much diversity. Just creating the park with its two beautiful lakes, kitchen and screened-in banquet facility was a major undertaking and mostly took place during my time in Evanston. The center of the kitchen houses a large cooker that was hand-picked by my father, with the help of “Big John” Robinson from Big John’s BBQ. During the early years, we would roast whole hogs and thousands of BBQ chicken and ribs. Our other specialty then (and now) was our 14 oz. charcoal-grilled New York strip, arguably the best steak in town. Don Fites, along with several other Caterpillar executives, were some the biggest fans of our steaks. We had a “countrywestern” theme with the décor, right down to the staff ’s uniforms. Caterpillar functions were the majority of our business.

Then the economy of the early ’80s hit us, and we began to see a decline in our Caterpillar business. In 1985, we made the decision to diversify, adding a year-round banquet facility to the existing kitchen to accommodate more traditional banquet business, particularly business meetings, class reunions and weddings. We also added several new recreational activities such as a children’s playground, sand volleyball and a softball and soccer field. Our company picnics and wedding business soon began to equal and even surpass our Caterpillar business. That same year I married my husband, Mike Fleming, in a beautiful lakeside wedding at Ravina. I arrived at the wedding in a carriage that sat in the lobby of the Ramada. As hundreds of brides can attest, Ravina is a spectacular setting for a wedding and reception.

The following year, WTAZ brought a new syndicated talk show host to town for a live show. Worried that no one would come, we held it at Ravina—selling tickets on the air. Within two hours the show was sold out, and we had to add a second show which sold out in roughly the same amount of time. After orchestrating the two shows, I told Rush Limbaugh, our talk show host, that my mother and stepdad would have to take him to dinner because I had to get to the hospital to deliver our second daughter.

What’s been the biggest change for the Ravina?

The biggest change for Ravina in recent years has been the location. We didn’t move—but Peoria did! Once thought of as “way out there,” Ravina now sits in the heart of Peoria’s northwest growth cell. It is fun for our sales staff to say, “Just minutes from the new and exciting Shoppes at Grand Prairie.” As many familiar with our location might guess, we are often contacted about the development of the property. Although this was always in the long-term plans, our current plans are to remain a family-owned private location for individuals and businesses to celebrate those special moments in their lives.

Ravina offers Peoria a unique banquet facility found nowhere else in Illinois. We will continue to work with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce to help market Peoria’s uniqueness and to bring new business into the Peoria area. We entered our 25th season with a celebration on June 14th, in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours.

What is one of your most rewarding successes that you’d like to share?

Throughout my efforts with WTAZ and Ravina, my most rewarding endeavor has been raising our three wonderful daughters! They are truly the loves of my life! Lauren is now a sophomore at Miami University in Ohio, majoring in French and international relations, and was in the first graduating class of Richwoods’ International Baccalaureate Program; Eryn is a senior at Richwoods and is an IB diploma candidate; and Morgan is a “Pre-IB” sophomore there.

How did your scrapbooking hobby lead to your owning Scrapadoodle?

I have had a photography hobby since I was out of college, and I got interested in scrapbooking in 1997 as a great way to preserve our family’s memories. I patronized Scrapadoodle for several years, and on a visit in November of 2002, I found out that the original owners had sold the business. When I stopped in again in December, it was apparent that the business was in trouble. I hated to see my favorite scrapbook store go under, so I told the woman at the counter that if the new owner wanted some help, she could call me. To my surprise, she did! I’d been a small business owner for 20 years and was beginning to think about retirement. My intentions were merely to help her with her business; but when the owner and I met, it became very clear that she was not going to make it. What happened next is a blur, but by early January, I owned the store. Talk about supporting your local businesses! I have really enjoyed watching Scrapadoodle grow. We moved the store to a larger location three years ago, and we are about to relocate and grow again in the new Peoria Community Bank building across from Fazoli’s. Our newest location will almost double our size.

Scrapadoodle has been a very challenging but fun adventure. We’re definitely a work in progress, but we’ve come a long way. I am very proud of the store and the awesome staff that makes it so special. And our customers, they’re the greatest! They come to Scrapadoodle from all over central Illinois and are very supportive. We are located in the middle of four large discount “box” stores that sell many of the same products that we do, and the online market for scrapbook products is huge. I believe our customers know that there is a balance between a well-trained, friendly staff, excellent product selection and price. They know that without their loyal support we could not exist. I love working with such friendly, happy, supportive customers. In addition, my daughters all scrapbook and have worked at the store. This warm, friendly setting has given me a perfect opportunity to provide them with a hands-on education in small business.

What does the future hold for you?

Peoria has been a wonderful place to grow up, establish a career and raise our three daughters. Family has always been what is most important to me, and I feel blessed to be able to be as close to my extended family as I have been. I hope to spend the next two to three years wrapping up my working career and spending more time with my family and friends and getting back to some of my volunteer work. Prior to having children, I worked on Mayor Jim Maloof ’s Forward Peoria Committee, and I sat on the Convention and Visitors Bureau Board and the Peoria City Beautiful Board, to name a few. I have also been a member of the Peoria Downtown Rotary for 17 years. This is an amazing organization that gives me endless opportunities to give back to my community, my country and even the world. Working full time and raising my family, I have found it difficult to volunteer as much as I would like, and I’m looking forward to future opportunities.

In addition to Rotary, I would like to give back to education in some way. It is no secret that District 150 has many challenges which create problems for our community on many fronts. What I believe we do not hear enough about is the fact that Peoria has the No. 1 middle school in the state of Illinois, Washington Gifted, and one of the most outstanding high school programs in the world—the International Baccalaureate program. Our children were fortunate to be able to benefit from both of these programs, but many children in the Peoria area are not as fortunate. I hope our major community leaders will come together and get involved in making education a No. 1 priority. I applaud Jim Ardis (my former student) for his focus on education and for his commitment to “Peoria Promise.” We must look at reforming our education system to make families, teachers, administrators and school boards more accountable. Our legislators need to reform the tenure program so that we have a way to eliminate poor, complacent teachers and reward good ones. If we can do that and solve the problems we are facing, I truly believe everything else will fall into place. Through my association with Rotary, I began mentoring children in Tyng and Blaine Sumner (now Trewyn). The challenges I have observed are staggering! Every school board member should be required to mentor a child from one of our troubled schools. It would help them better understand first-hand just what these children and their families are facing. TPW