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Where is Chris Haddad at now?

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Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is an interesting fellow with a very bright future full of loads of potential. The BenGil Post was able to catch up with Chris at the airport before he departed to the Caribbean, wow.. we can now claim we have interviewed one of the most successful entrepreneurs to come from the BenGil area.

After Chris graduated a semester early from Gillespie High School in 1994, he started life as a soldier. He did miss out on his final Prom and “a few other things” by graduating early, but he joined the Army National Guard after being influenced by Mr. Jack Burns, history teacher at Gillespie High School. Mr. Burns was Chris’s favorite teacher throughout high school as well as his football coach during his star football days and then later became his sergeant in the Army.

After basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, Chris went away to start his college life at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. College was a fun time, but there was more on the horizon for Chris and he was edging to figure out what it was. He later graduated in December of 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in Science. A half of a year rolled by and Chris decided to pack of life and move to Florida. In Florida, Chris first lived in Orlando temporarily until he settled down in the Tampa Bay area. With income being a high priority at the time, he decided to start supporting himself like many other college graduates.. working in beach bars. The beach bar work was great, but after 6 months passed – he knew it was time for a change.

During his stay in Tampa Bay, he met a new friend from Australia who had always influenced him to expand my travels. Before the final goodbye, Chris packed up the Florida life and drove back to Gillespie to work for relatives at Broom’s Orchard in Carlinville. Broom’s Orchard lasted 2 months and once again, he was on the move – this time to Austria! Chris jumped on a plane and was off to Sydney, Australia  to celebrate the millinieum.

In Australia, Chris had to make a living so he acquired a one year working visa and supported himself once again in the hospitality business working in pubs and restaurants. After traveling all over Australia, Chris landed a job bartending at an outdoor 18 day party venue at Sussex Lane for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. According to Chris, “This one of the best experiences in my life at the time and I definitely starting to hear my calling.” Shortly after the Sussez Lane gig, one of his Aussie working peers asked him if he would like to set stake in Australia and open up their very own bar/restaurant. Chris said they both had very similar ideas and of course they were also filled with the same passion – so the first restaurant was in the works.

Chris's first import.

After finishing his travels in Australia, it was time for a change of pace. Chris headed to Southeast Asia (Thailand & Indonesia) for a short amount of time before his visa expired and then he was then back in the United States. Chris decided to set up fort in the States for about one year. During that year, Chris worked at many different styles of restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, hotels, and lounge bars – just trying to educate himself with a variety of different styles of hospitality establishment. After being in the United States for 14 months, he received a call from his new business partner saying it was time to come back to Oz. Chris and his business partner had set up their companies and registered their business name via emails, fax and phone since Chris was no longer an Australian resident. Chris’s partner requested his presence was needed within 2 weeks back in Austria for their business.

A little shy of 3 weeks, Chris was back. In February of 2002, Chris arrived in Cairns, Australia and then drove south six hours to a little place called Airlie Beach. Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and is up close to the Great Barrier Reef in North Queensland, Australia. In May of 2002, Chris and his partner had opened a small trendy lounge bar in this area called Armada. For five “amazing years”, they built up the business and operated the day-to-day operation. After those five years, they sold the establishment and became the “richest poor guys in town.”

Chris and his friend then headed 3 hours north to a city called Townsville and opened up another restaurant/bar in 2007 called Jamaica Joe’s. By that time, Chris had acquired permanent Australian residency at this stage. But later in 2008, Chris felt the need to become a true blue Aussie and he applied and later received his citizenship. Presently, his passport wallet included an American passport accompanied by an Australian passport.

Chris at the Carribbean participating in the Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago.

Jamaica Joe’s has been extremely successful after 4 years of hard work and dedication. In the time being, Chris opened up two other new restaurants for friends, but his main focus was always concentrating on his work in Townsville. Jamaica Joe’s has allowed him to still travel, since that is his number one passion. After feeling the need to have a good time, Chris just went to the Caribbean to participate in Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago.

Well, now we are in the year 2011 and Chris made his first visit to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam for a 4 day business trip. Chris later came back to Australia in April and started the construction of a new bar/restaurant concept called  Hog’s Head Tavern & Wine Bar which is situated in the infamous Bitexco Financial Tower in Saigon. Presently, Chris is one week from the opening day of Hog’s Head and is involved in some intense staff training. This has been his biggest business challenge yet, he told us. However, Chris spoke highly of the citizens, “The people and the country are amazing.” As of now, Chris is between Australia and Vietnam at the moment balancing his businesses, but still visiting them to make sure operation is running smoothly.

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Gillespie will always be home to Chris, but Australia has taken him “in like an adopted son. I do feel a bit more Aussie these days, but I will always have a bit of of the red, white and blue still running through the veins.” Chris expects to return to Gillespie within 2 years for a visit, he misses his family and close friends the most. His motivation to travel and see the world has led him to where he is now and he would not trade it for the world. In 5 years, Chris sees himself possibly still is Austria, but the Caribbean is in his eye for the future. His next stop: the little beach bar in the Caribbean with the dive shack and the beach volleyball net set up at the front.

We, The BenGil Post, give Chris a huge thank-you for being halfway around the world and responding to our questions in 6 hours!

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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