A Publication of WTVP

My children are still young enough for the holiday season to bring much anticipation and excitement, while at the same time, they are establishing lifelong behaviors. I think my wife Rosy and I are doing a good job (mostly Rosy), but with two teenage boys and a ten-year-old girl, I spend a lot of time asking how I can do better.

Recent holiday travel plans led us along nearly 1,500 miles of highways, arriving at many doorsteps for Christmas cheer. Like any family, our time together had some “ups and downs” (which is code for meltdowns and Dad coming unglued)—but at each step of the trip, I was increasingly encouraged to see our children reconnect with family traditions and most importantly… their history.

One stop, which caused tears of joy and sadness, was with my 94-years-young Great-Aunt Violet. Along with my Nana and a brother, she arrived on Ellis Island from Italy on December 9, 1920. The family settled in Canton, Ohio, added two more sons, and today, Aunt Vi is the only surviving member of this immigrant family. They were bricklayers, factory workers and police officers—and even one U.S. Army colonel. They were so poor that when my Uncle Art was 12, his parents rented out half of his room to a drunken steelworker. By the way, Uncle Art survived that “parental neglect” to serve in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, earning three Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart, among other recognition.

I cherished the opportunity for my children to hear their family history and stories delivered to them firsthand, courtesy of a proud Aunt Vi. I saw their eyes light up and absorb priceless life lessons. You see, I genuinely believe the family stories we all cherish individually also tell the story of our nation in an intimate manner beyond measure. This history is all of ours, and the lessons we learn will certainly determine our future.

Every year when I turn the calendar, I try to take time to reflect on successes, failures and ambitions for the next 12 months. Our visit with Aunt Vi served as an important catalyst for my reflections this year. 2016 marks my third year as president of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, and I’m reminded why I love my job: because we have the chance to live and create our history every day.

Versions of a chamber of commerce have existed since before the Revolutionary War, long before our Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce was established in 1911. It is an oversimplification to say chambers exist because like-minded people want to pool their resources for the community. While this is a major priority for any business community, we are actually bigger than this. In fact, the true challenge is to bring people with differing opinions to the table and use their vast talent to reach the best conclusion. My mom used to tell me, “Let’s not worry about who’s right, let’s worry about what’s right.”

The history behind chambers of commerce tells this story time and time again. The building of our nation’s cities, bridges, infrastructure, parks and industries have all been led by community groups working in connection with governmental entities. History has proven this is a messy process, but history has also determined it is an essential duty for us all. Today, the flow of information is so rapid and the risk of misspeaking electronically is too great for us not to focus on the lessons history teaches us. We need to put down the phones, meet with one another face to face, and unite our talents while respecting our differences. Peoria remains lined up for decades of excellence, and your Chamber of Commerce, along with our partners, will serve as an integral leader toward our success—just as we have since 1911. iBi