Serving as Peoria’s mayor is a privilege, offering many opportunities to demonstrate my commitment to supporting sustainable economic growth and fostering an enviable quality of life. The theme of this month’s iBi is, of course, “water,” which has been central to our very founding as a settlement, growth as a city over the centuries, and our good quality of life. I will leave it to other contributors to go into the many dimensions of this topic, but it set me to thinking about what, in fact, makes up the so-called “quality of life.”
In my February State of the City Address, I characterized the state of our city as “strong.” And while recognizing that we indeed have challenges, I focused on our achievements and some of the people who make those achievements happen. I’m basically a “glass half-full” guy, and proud of it. From my experiences as mayor, and in visiting with my peers in similar-sized communities, it’s obvious the most important components of quality of life include an adequate water supply, high-quality public schools, substantial healthcare facilities, a low crime rate, housing costs and availability, recreational opportunities, cultural assets, colleges in the area and spiritual leadership. Peoria measures very well in the majority of these categories, and we continue to work on those that need improvement.
It will be no surprise to regular readers of this column that I place the “education” component near the top of the list of some of our greatest assets, as well as challenges. With this in mind, I was delighted to learn that in just a few weeks, the community will have an opportunity to recognize two people who are providing outstanding leadership to strengthening our public education resources, and who have done so much to improve our cultural and recreational assets, area colleges and healthcare facilities. We are indebted to Glen and Polly Barton for their courage, leadership and commitment—and for serving as role models for others seeking a stronger community.
Glen Barton served as Caterpillar’s chairman and CEO for five years, from 1999 to 2004. He continued the tradition of Caterpillar’s leadership in demonstrating their belief that a critical foundation of corporate success and stability is a quality and vibrant headquarters community. In fact, he and his wife took this tradition to a new level. The Bartons were instrumental in the 2010 creation of the Quest Charter Academy, which is establishing a new standard in public elementary education performance. On April 21st, the community will host a tribute dinner to Glen and Polly Barton and their ongoing “quest” to grow our community and make it a better place to live, learn, work and play. It’s not too late to make plans to attend the dinner, which will be held at the Peoria Civic Center. The proceeds will directly benefit the Quest Charter Academy, and I encourage readers to support this deserving tribute.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that “Team Barton” was not only the light that made Quest happen, but played a huge supporting role in the move by WTVP into its current headquarters on Water Street. The naming of Barton Plaza at WTVP is a most fitting recognition of their dedication to public television in the Peoria area. And speaking of our community’s cultural and recreational assets, Glen and Polly were long-term proponents and sponsors of the new Peoria Zoo and the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum. And while Glen was a graduate of the University of Missouri, he has never hesitated to support our local colleges with his time, talent and treasure.
For whatever reason—and I don’t have time to try to figure it out—there are those who enjoy taking swipes at Peoria, especially our economic development strategies and plans. This comes with the territory, and I understand that. But as I cited in my State of the City Address, we are indeed blessed with individuals and organizations willing to invest in Peoria, place their personal and corporate reputations on the line, and sustain their words and dollars with honest dedication and real sweat and effort. Andrew Rand, CEO at Advanced Medical Transport, and Mark Petersen of the Petersen Companies are great examples of what I’m talking about. In the final analysis, the real quality of life in a community comes down to the human element, and in that, we are indeed blessed.
Thank you, Glen and Polly Barton, Andrew Rand, Mark Petersen and the many others who make economic development happen in the broadest sense of the term… by creating opportunity, sustainable achievement and tangible hope for a better community. iBi