By Jennifer Gonzalez
SIUC Student and Chester Resident

As a student in the SIUC Photojournalism Program, I’ve participated in two of the previous Weekend Workshops (Cobden & Alto Pass, and the Tri-C area), and I’ve seen the joy they bring to the student participants as well as the communities.

The hands-on, intensive workshops have proven to be the most valuable and rewarding learning experience by far, and I knew from the start I wanted to bring my passion for photography home to Chester.

I’ve lived in Chester for nearly 12 years, and the people I’ve come to know are truly some of the most interesting and special I’ve ever met. I was excited to share the people and places that I find special about Chester with my fellow students, professors and visiting professionals.

I worked tirelessly with my mother, Carrie Myers, and Alderman Nancy Crossland to inform the community about the Weekend Workshop and pique their interest in bringing it here. We showed the books from the previous workshops and built the enthusiasm and support to bring it to Chester.

The biggest obstacle we faced while planning was the fact that Chester is a good distance from Carbondale, thus leaving the students to travel back and forth between the two. Cue Brenda Owen, principal of St. John School, who graciously donated the use of the school gym and cafeteria for the students to use throughout the weekend. Without this, the workshop wouldn’t have been possible.

After convincing my professor, Mark Dolan, that Chester was perfect for this project and explaining how much support there was from the community, I was ecstatic to find out the photojournalism department of SIUC had chosen Chester for its annual workshop.

The students and professionals began arriving in Chester Thursday evening and we were greeted by community members including Dan and Vickie Geisen, who donated customized t-shirts commemorating the weekend adventure, Nancy Crossland, Greg Snider and Beth Speer. Beth truly greeted us in style by hosting a kick-off party.

Bright and early Friday morning Chester was flooded with photographers looking to capture the simple, everyday life and natural beauty that the Chester area has to offer. There were students photographing down by the river, on local farms, in the schools, at local businesses, and in people’s houses – the photographers had invaded Chester.

We received a tremendous welcome from the community. People were so happy and intrigued that we wanted to document life in Chester. I photographed the grade school Friday with my classmates, Makenzie Qualls and Samantha Vaughan. The younger students continuously asked us “Why Chester?” or “Why us?” We replied with “Because Chester is special.”

Chester is a special place. Not only do we have the one and only Popeye in our corner, but Chester is rich with history and natural beauty.

It was wonderful to see my friends and classmates exploring ‘my world’ – whether they were amazed by the Spinach Can’s collection, spending the day with my favorite band teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Colonel, or helping me photograph the one and only D.J. Kennedy.

I’m so happy with the experience that I shared with the workshop participants and community, and proud to have been a part of this book, which is now a piece of Chester’s history.

Read more about Chester:

Sharing some Popeye magic

Living for art and music

Alone together

Farming across generations

St. John Lutheran Church and School

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