When I transferred from Rock Valley College to UW-Madison, there were a lot of events at my university to help transfer-students meet new people. I found that the first question asked at most of these events was ‘Where are you from?’. My response defaults to Rockford Illinois, though, that’s not necessarily the case. I’m from Winnebago, about 15 minutes west of Rockford. I began naming Rockford as my home town after classmates asked if I lived in an RV. However, the more I thought about where I grew up, the more I identified as a proud member of the Rockford community.
I definitely had not always identified as a Rockfordian. When I was younger, Rockford seemed to be this far away place, full of exciting things just out of my reach (mainly due to my lack of a driver's license). When I was little, it was a treat to go into town with my family because it meant we were going to do something fun! (Shout out to the Discovery Center for being epic to this day!)
My first chance to explore Rockford (license in hand) came in high school when I had a wonderful opportunity to get involved with the Rockford Visitors Bureau. I helped plan a non-profit event for local students to learn about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This event, the Rock River Off-Season Competition, was one of my first interactions with some amazing community leaders, as well as some of the hidden treasures the city had to offer. It was my involvement in this event that helped me see that I could really participate in the 815 community in a positive way.
A major life event that really sort of defined my role here was my decision to attend Rock Valley College. I went from spending weekends in Rockford to spending almost every day in Rockford. Spending my days at Rock Valley allowed me to meet a diverse group of students and professors all working to make the community a better place. My coursework at RVC inspired me to pursue genetics, prepared me for a smooth transfer to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and allowed me to meet some amazing Rockfordians.
I see Rockford as an innovative city with much to offer. However, the thing that keeps me coming back for seconds (literally) is the amazing local food scene. A city after my heart, Rockford is full of so many delicious options to satisfy every possible craving I could ever have. My gateway into the local food scene was, of course, Beefaroo. This Rockford classic holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons. My fondest memories are from the period of time my boyfriend worked there because he would bring home all the cheese fries a girl could ever dream of. I also passed Beefaroo daily on my commute to RVC and was very good at generating reasons to stop.
I have to give RVC a lot of credit for many of my exciting culinary discoveries. I took a summer class at Stewart Square and I’ll admit that all I remember about that class was Bella Luna Bakery a floor below me. Discovering Italian chocolates changed me. The incredible women running the bakery are proud Rockford natives who brew a mean cup of coffee. I celebrated graduation at GreenFire, birthdays at Prairie Street Brewhouse, and anniversaries at Lung Fung. I spent fall atEdward’s and Curran’s Apple Orchard. I spent summer at Bing’s Drive-In and ate my way through Rockford City Market.
When my friends and I are home for spring break, we always meet up at The Stockholm Inn. This winter, I attended a house party where I got the amazing pleasure of meeting Emily Hurd, a chef/musician who is hoping to open a restaurant soon in Rockford! I think I can speak for most Rockfordians when I say we love food!
This article was not supposed to be about food, but I got carried away. I am very passionate about supporting local businesses because I love Rockford, and local businesses are such an amazing way to immerse ourselves in the culture and the community.
I don’t live in Rockford, but I identify with Rockford. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have so many opportunities to really learn about the city and fall in love with it. It’s a strange place to be in because living outside of Rockford has allowed me to really enjoy the city without always understanding what it’s like to actually live there. I feel that through volunteering, supporting local businesses, and meeting proud Rockfordians, I’ve been able to immerse myself in Rockford and really enjoy all of the amazing things it has to offer.
I sometimes think that maybe I’m the only outsider looking in, but I do know many citizens in the surrounding area identify with Rockford. We go to school in Rockford, we work in Rockford and many of us love exploring everything that the city has to offer.
If you live close to Rockford and haven’t had the chance, go explore this incredible city. If you’re like me and you have an unconditional love for the city, take a second to give back to this amazing community! I encourage everyone to check out the businesses I’ve mentioned if you haven’t had a chance to yet. I also want to know what everyone else loves about Rockford. I know I’ve only scratched the surface!