A Publication of WTVP

Keeping Peoria beautiful is something Sue Dewey knows a thing or two about. As the executive director of Keep Peoria Beautiful, the local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, Dewey has helped enhance the look and feel of our community for 23 years, and she’s helped to coordinate the Great American Cleanup here for the last 12 years.

The annual event brings local citizens and community groups together for the common cause of improving Peoria. “Anything we can do to help make our community look more attractive is a good thing,” said Dewey of the spring cleanup. After a long winter of debris blowing about our neighborhoods, she noted, this event presents a good opportunity to spruce up where we live, work and play, and anyone can participate.

This year’s event will take place on Saturday, April 17th. Groups from all over Peoria will work in their own neighborhoods to keep the city clean. Neighborhood associations, schools, church groups, businesses, scout troops and civic organizations make up the majority of participants, and individuals and families are also welcome to take part. Anyone who would like to participate should call the Keep Peoria Beautiful office at 672-6288 or log on to to fill out a registration form. Groups who register in advance will be provided with free trash and yard waste bags, gloves and caps on the morning of the cleanup. Supplies will be handed out between 8 and 10am in the Olde Towne South neighborhood at the corner of Greenlawn and Ann streets.

In past years, some groups have collected so much trash during the cleanup that they now request a dumpster from the City of Peoria, which provides them free of charge for the day on a first-come, first-served basis. Interested groups should contact Steve Fairbanks at 494-8603 for an application form.

Those who participate in the Great American Cleanup are asked to keep track of how much garbage they pick up and report totals back to Dewey. She then sends regional information to the national organization to be recorded in a report they publish each year. Last year, Keep Peoria Beautiful had over 1,300 volunteers who collected 155,000 pounds of litter and landscape waste, and 500 old tires.

The Great American Cleanup is one of Keep Peoria Beautiful’s major events, but it’s not their only program. The organization, which for many years was known as Peoria City Beautiful, was founded in 1955 by a group of civic and community leaders who wanted to help beautify the city and formed the organization to do just that. While at first just a local organization, in 1981 they joined the national effort and became an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.

“We are probably most known for our Orchid and Onion awards,” Dewey said. The Orchid Awards are given each year to local businesses that exhibit exemplary landscaping or make great strides in beautifying their property. The Onion Award, on the other hand, is not one that companies wish to receive, as it reflects a lack of effort to maintain their grounds. Keep Peoria Beautiful also gives out Iris Awards each year to homeowners with outstanding landscaping.

Keep Peoria Beautiful played a major role in the design of both the hardscape and softscape of the Upgrade 74 project several years ago. Working with IDOT, the organization helped select concrete colors and textures, bridge designs, ornamental lighting, and landscaping suitable to the climate and tolerant to our use of salt in the winter.

In an effort to increase personal responsibility in the community, Dewey works with second graders in Peoria schools, teaching them the importance of recycling and litter awareness by picking up after themselves. By starting with young children, Dewey hopes to establish good habits early on.

As they move ahead, Dewey said Keep Peoria Beautiful’s biggest challenge is funding. Supported primarily by private donors, the decline in the economy has significantly impacted the organization’s resources. If you’d like to help, contact Sue Dewey at 672-6288 or visit iBi