The News-Gazette (Illinois, USA), July 11, 2003
By NOELLE MCGEE
HOOPESTON When Hoopeston resident Faye Troxel went to Bible study Wednesday morning, the conversation drifted to a topic that has captured people’s attention the last few weeks: whether a Wiccan school is coming to town.
”It’s my understanding that it’s still coming,” Troxel said. “I feel that they just said they’re not coming to calm the storms, and they intend to come anyway. … We’re just praying for God to intervene. I don’t want it to come to Hoopeston. I don’t know of any Christian churches that want it to come.”
The director of the Wiccan school said he and other leaders are searching for a site in East Central Illinois. But he said they plan to make good on their promise to stay out of the old Grant Township Building or any other building in Hoopeston.
”There are no plans to move forward in Hoopeston,” said the Rev. Ed Hubbard, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Telepathic Media, the school’s parent company. He and his partner, the Rev. Don Lewis, on Wednesday were released from their contract to buy the building.
”Do I still want the building? Yes,” Hubbard continued. “Would I have liked to have moved to Hoopeston? I still do. But when the mayor of the town opposes you and the tabloid paper there is raising hysteria and people are still doing prayer circles, … I feel it would be a waste of my time.”
In mid-June, Hubbard and Lewis, both members of the Correllian Nativist Church, a Wiccan sect, announced they would open a school teaching the alternative religion in the old township building at 200 E. Penn St. They had put down $1,000 in earnest money, and were set to close on the building on Monday.
But the project immediately drew vehement opposition from some residents of the small, predominantly Christian town, as well as those in nearby East Lynn, Rossville and Milford. At a July 1 Hoopeston City Council meeting, many of them expressed their disapproval of Wicca and presented the Wiccan school leaders, who were there to field questions about their project, with a petition saying they opposed the sale of any property where witchcraft would be taught.
Fearing for their safety, Hubbard and Lewis announced they would abandon their plans to open the school in town.
Since then, Hubbard said he has received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from both opponents and supporters.
”Some say, ‘Don’t come here,’ and some say, ‘Do come here,'” the school director said. “Some people say they feel bad about how we were treated. … Some of the people who’ve been the biggest supporters are Catholics. They say, ‘We’re not endorsing what you believe, but we’re endorsing your right to be there.'”
”But there’s still a lot of hysteria,” he continued. “We’ve gotten a few calls from the 217 area (code) saying we’ve cursed the town. They’ve had ugly weather since we’ve come, so it must be us. It has nothing to do with us.”
Hubbard said the climate of hysteria has reinforced his decision to walk away from the building. “I just let it expire,” he said of his purchase agreement with sellers Larry Tobeck and Arlen Alwardt. While he was released from the contract, he lost his earnest money.
He added that the residents, who at the city council meeting offered to repay the earnest money in exchange for him walking away, now deny ever making the offer. “We kept our promise of leaving, but they didn’t keep theirs,” he said.
Hoopeston Police Chief Mark Drollinger agreed that residents still seem to be upset about the Wiccan school. That’s why he arranged to have one of the Wiccan school leaders, the Rev. Ruth Ann Amarteifio, speak at the next Hoopeston Neighborhood Watch meeting.
”I think everyone’s biggest fear is the unknown,” Drollinger said. “If more information is given out, maybe people will take a different point of view. We’re not going to debate religion. It’s just a chance to learn more about another culture.”
The meeting will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Country Terrace facility at the Hoopeston Community Memorial Hospital. Seating is limited, and seats will be reserved for regular attendees.