Welcome to Peoria Magazine’s Local Legends issue, dedicated to the people who have long made things go — and continue to
— in our respective communities in ways large and small, up front and behind the scenes.
This year’s honorees may not be household names, each and every one, but such is the extent of their achievements and contributions across a wide array of disciplines that they should be pretty well known to many central Illinoisans.
“Legend” is a weighty title, of course, and inevitably readers want to know what the process is for such elevation. I’d like to write that there’s a large committee of esteemed Nobel-like laureates, wearing their monocles and medallions, who sit down for countless hours of debate over a voluminous list of potential candidates from which five or so are ultimately plucked. Or that we here at Peoria Magazine have developed an intricate algorithm into which we feed endless amounts of data before it analyzes all of it and spits out the winners. Were it so.
Of course, we start with a list of names based on our collective experience of decades and decades living and working and mingling with countless people in central Illinois, and of course we discuss them before arriving at a consensus.
But the truth is that our Legends sort of choose themselves, in the sense that their contributions to the community — in the time they spend, the talents they share, the results they get — speak for themselves, ultimately making our job pretty darn easy. Indeed, Peoria Magazine has put together an annual Legends issue for many years now. If this year’s finalists raised any eyebrows, it was only because some of them hadn’t been profiled before.
That is certainly the case for Doug and Vicky Stewart, Dr. Rick Pearl, Steve Thompson, Chris Reynolds and Monica Hendrickson. Collectively they have made their marks in education and public service, medicine and public health, athletics and the military. They range in age from 39 to 77. Their motivations are wide and varied, some coming from a place of religious conviction and social justice, others from concerns for family and their futures. They tend to be givers, intent on paying their good fortunes forward. Often, they share a pervasive optimism.
The late actress Lauren Bacall was quoted as saying that “legends are all to do with the past and nothing to do with the present.” We would beg to differ, as none of our Legends consider themselves done. To a person they are still working to make ours a better place.
We actually prefer a comment from Tecumseh, the legendary-in-his-own right Shawnee warrior and chief. “When the legends die,” he is reported to have said, “the dreams end. There is no more greatness.”
Indeed, our Legends give us something to aspire to – we profile a few others in this issue, from Dr. Tom Wyman at Illinois Eye Center to the late Sen. Everett Dirksen – and they give us confidence as to what is possible. That has value in any community.
It may seem like something of a departure, but much of the talk around town as we were going to press with the July issue of Peoria Magazine was the news that Caterpillar Inc. is moving its headquarters from Deerfield, Illinois to the Dallas, Texas area. Once upon a time, for a long time, Cat was headquartered in Peoria, of course, so naturally the announcement pushed some discussion buttons.
We’d just say that often it is healthier to focus on what you have rather than dwelling on what you don’t. Where Caterpillar is concerned, the Peoria area still has quite a lot. “We have more than 17,000 employees in Illinois (12,000 employees in the Peoria area),” company spokeswoman Kate Kenny said in response to questions. “This announcement impacts 230 positions based in Deerfield. Illinois remains the largest concentration of Caterpillar employees anywhere in the world.”
Meanwhile, it is instructive to remember that Caterpillar built a global earthmoving empire from a central Illinois base. You might even call that a legendary feat. Empires can emerge from the unlikeliest of places. The likes of Caterpillar in Peoria, and State Farm in Bloomington, and John Deere in Moline, to name a few, long ago proved that it is possible.
Things change, of course – the only constant – but may that knowledge give some other local legend in the making, lurking somewhere out there, the confidence to grow where he or she is planted, right here in central Illinois.
Enjoy this month’s Peoria Magazine, everybody.