A Publication of WTVP

“History” is the theme of this month’s iBi, bringing to mind once again Peoria’s colorful and exciting history. It also helps us focus on where we are today as a community—and what we want to accomplish in the future.

It is my privilege to serve as Peoria’s 46th mayor. And while I’m into my fourth four-year term, the “record” for longest-serving mayor goes to Edward Nelson Woodruff, who served for 24 years in a number of two- and four-year terms. And for those who are history buffs, Peoria had six village presidents prior to City of Peoria incorporation on April 21, 1845. I offer this modest history lesson only as a backdrop to a larger question: what history are we currently making?

From my perspective as mayor, I believe our dominant focus is on our love for the kids and for our community. Let me explain.

Just last month, the entire Peoria area was energized by the annual St. Jude Run. This was the 37th year of the granddaddy of them all, the Memphis to Peoria Run. Think about that for a minute. It is 465 miles from Memphis to Peoria. Mike McCoy, who started the event in 1982, is the only person who has participated in every single run—covering more than 17,200 miles in those 37 years. I’ve been fortunate to have participated in the past 24 years. We do this to raise critical funds for the treatment and care of leukemia-stricken kids at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Along with the wonderful satellite runs and post-run telethon, over $56 million has been raised since 1982.

September and October are truly busy months for demonstrating our love of the kids and community. On September 26th, we will host the third annual Mayor’s Roast. This year’s “roastee” is community leader Rex Linder. All of the funds generated will go toward supporting OSF Children’s Hospital and the Mark Linder Walk for the Mind, which helps fund brain cancer research. In past years, proceeds have gone to Dream Center Peoria and Easterseals.

Peoria Promise is all about kids and their educational growth and development, providing tuition reimbursement for high school students in Peoria to complete coursework at Illinois Central College. October 13th will be our 10-year anniversary gala, Denim and Diamonds. Thus far in our history, we’ve raised $4.2 million to provide educational support for over 2,400 students.

And speaking of love for the community, the Build Peoria program started by Nick Yates last year continues to garner visibility and support. Build Peoria is all about “uniting the community through their love of the Peoria area to physically Build Peoria into a better place and leave a legacy for future generations.” Nick and his board initially raised funds to build a dog park in Peoria Heights; their current effort is to raise funds for the Peoria Police Department’s Resident Officer Program. A guiding principle of their fundraising is to secure many small and modest-sized donations, as opposed to mega-donations from a few.

Peoria is blessed with a generous and compassionate citizenry. Just a few weeks ago I was able to attend Peoria Magazines’ Local Legends reception. And while each of the five honorees had their own unique way of contributing to our community, they were united in their common love of Peoria and making it the best it can be. Each did their part in continuing to “Build Peoria.” And in that regard, Nick Yates and other younger Peoria-area citizens like him, are carrying on a grand historical tradition.

Since I opened my article with a bit of history, I will conclude in the same fashion. Ken Gerber is a native Peorian, Caterpillar’s former manager of Visitor Services, and a tireless community volunteer. He recently stopped by our mutual friend George’s Shoeshine on the occasion of George’s birthday. Ken reminded us of a song written in the late 1930s or early 1940s by Paul LaRocca. I’m told Paul was a barber, tailor and musician; his office was in a building on Fulton Street, next to City Hall. His song “Peoria” captures a bit of the love for this community that I’ve described in this article:

“I’ve traveled all around, I’ve seen most every town
But I’m right here to state, we live in one town great;
Although New York has its Broadway, our Main Street’s
mighty gay
Our industries and scenery are the best in the U.S.A;
Peoria, Peoria, my home sweet home,
No matter where we go, they always seem to know,
Peoria, Illinois;
Peoria, Peoria, I’m glad it’s my hometown,
We’ll always beat our drum,
be proud that we are from Peoria, Illinois.”

Let’s all keep building our hometown. It’s our historical responsibility. iBi