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‘An unparalleled dedication to public service’

by Lisa Coon | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Linda Daley
Linda Daley is the Chief of Staff for State Rep. Ryan Spain.

Linda Daley has gone above and beyond to make central Illinois a better place.

A life in public service wasn’t what Linda Daley had envisioned for herself.

“I was a math and science person,” said Daley, whose career began as a high school science and biology teacher after graduating from the University of Illinois.

As she looks back today on a career of more than 35 years in public service—on the Peoria Public Schools Board, the Peoria County Board, the Peoria Public Library Board and in her professional capacity as chief of staff for Illinois Rep. Ryan Spain and as legislative aide for former Illinois Rep. David Leitch—Daley wouldn’t change a thing.

Daley’s community involvement, of course, extends well beyond her elected positions and includes her long-time involvement in the Junior League of Peoria, the Springdale Cemetery Authority Board, Peoria Riverfront Museum Board, Illinois Central College Foundation Board, YMCA Board of Directors, Peoria County Republican Central Committee, Peoria Charter School Board Officer, Dean’s Community Council for the University of Illinois School of Medicine… and that does not exhaust the list.

“If you view the totality of her career, it really is an unparalleled dedication to public service,” Spain said. “She has excelled in literally every type of public service throughout her career.”

‘She has excelled in literally every type of public service throughout her career.’—Illinois Rep. Ryan Spain

As a result, Daley has been honored with the Peoria Historical Society Henri DeTonti Award, with her induction to the Peoria Lincoln Carnegie Library Hall of Fame, with the 25 Women in Leadership Award from WEEK-TV and the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, and with the Jaycees’ Charles C. Schlink Memorial Good Government Award. Meanwhile, the Children’s Reading Room at the Peoria North Branch Library bears her name.

A Peoria Magazine Woman of Influence?

You bet.

“It’s really about the enjoyment of helping people with their problems and helping the community as a whole,” said Daley.

The early years

Daley grew up on a dairy farm in Boone County in northern Illinois about five miles from the Wisconsin state line. The 600-acre farm had been in her family since the 1840s, when her ancestors walked from Chicago to buy the land at 2 cents an acre.

A job at the nearby Green Giant plant in the lab testing vegetables sparked her interest in biology, which in turn led her to major in the subject at the U of I. After graduating, she married and began teaching high school—five years total between Homewood-Flossmoor in Chicago’s south suburbs, Champaign-Urbana and then Oklahoma City.

The Daleys ultimately moved to Peoria, where her husband had landed a job practicing law. Linda quit teaching to raise her three children—two sons, Aaron and Adam, and daughter, Alison.

In 1977, she joined the Junior League of Peoria.

“I was president of the Junior League and she was relatively new and young in the League,” said Sally Snyder. “I asked her to be in charge of our monthly publication. She was absolutely wonderful.”

Daley went on to work on Snyder’s campaign for Peoria Public Schools Board, then decided to run herself when another election rolled around. Both women were elected to citywide seats.

“She is phenomenal—so thorough. Don’t give her a project you don’t want her to delve into because she’ll understand it all,” Snyder said. “If someone presents a situation or concern to her, she’ll work diligently to resolve it.

“I’d trust her with my money in 10 seconds because she researches everything and understands every line item and every expenditure in a budget.”

Making a career of constituent service

For 33 years starting with legislators David Leitch (1989-2017) and now with Ryan Spain, Daley focused on the needs of the constituents of the 73rd District covering west-central Illinois, which includes Peoria, Bureau, Marshall, Stark and Woodford counties.

Whether it’s an issue regarding roadway conditions, Medicaid benefits, taxes, unemployment, professional licensure, driving licenses, FOID cards, or accessing health care, Daley tackles each full-throttle, starting with doing her homework on state statutes and regulations.

“My job is to collect all the information and then break it down. You sometimes have to unwind every decision the person made to understand how they’re at the point they are when they turn to us for help,” she said. “It’s like a complicated science problem.

“I would have never known, honestly, that this was going to be so fulfilling for me,” Daley said. “There’s never a day that I can’t wait to get to work. I think that’s a gift when you find the right niche.”

Daley’s former boss, Leitch, describes her as a force of nature.

“She is the hardest working person I’ve ever known,” he said. “She’s obsessed with detail and is unsatisfied with anything less than total perfection. She doesn’t settle for mediocre. And that was important in my office. The No. 1 philosophy was taking care of issues for the constituents you represent. We solved many of those situations, which led to my success of 14 terms, largely due to Linda.”

Spain agrees.

“Something I admire so much about Linda, she has such a proactive dedication to providing help and assistance to others,” said Spain. In many legislative districts, constituents call for help, they’re told where they can find the information they need, “and the scope of intervention stops there,” he said. “That’s not the Linda Daley philosophy.

“With Linda, the problem of the constituent now becomes internalized as her problem… In a state government that has a large and sometimes slow bureaucracy, it’s easy for constituent services to get lost. They don’t get lost by Linda because she is constantly monitoring and reaching out until a solution is developed.”

Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t slow Daley.

“Imagine being a legislative chief of staff managing the day-to-day crisis of constituents and businesses navigating issues related to the pandemic,” said Spain. “All legislative offices were inundated with constituents seeking unemployment assistance. …Not only did Linda navigate all of it for our district, she led the way for other offices.”

Schools, libraries, county services

Daley first distinguished herself in the public arena after being elected to the Peoria Public Schools Board in 1986. She served for 10 years, with four terms as president. She is most proud of the construction of the Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Center on Peoria’s South Side during her tenure. In addition, both Snyder and Leitch say the district was left with more than a $40 million rainy day surplus when Daley left office, an example of her commitment to responsible fiscal stewardship.

“I didn’t have a privileged upbringing. I worked very hard when I got to the U of I,” she said. “I encountered these other students who had taken AP (Advanced Placement) classes. The high school I went to wasn’t particularly academically advanced.”

As a result of that personal experience, Daley worked to get accelerated classes offered in District 150.

She then turned her attention to the Peoria Public Library Board, on which she served from 2004 to 2013. She helped to shepherd a $28 million building expansion referendum to passage and then, as chairwoman of its building committee, to steer the construction to completion. That work included improvements at the downtown location, at the Lincoln and McClure branches, and the construction of the north branch.

Daley paid attention to every detail, from furnishings to faucets, all of which came in on budget, she proudly says. “They hadn’t done anything to the libraries for 40 years. They weren’t particularly welcoming.”

The payoff was immediate, with the libraries enjoying more than 700,000 visits.

In 2019, Daley was appointed to the Peoria County Board following the death of the previous officeholder, Dr. Greg Adamson, and was elected to a full term on Nov. 8.

Spain marvels at her drive.

“Imagine having the level of proactive discipline in your ‘real’ job and then, at the same time throughout the entirety of your career, you’ve had this additional commitment to public service,” he said. “It’s Linda Daley who decides she’s going to step up and serve the School Board or the Library Board and deliver long-overdue improvements… or now serve the County Board because there was a need for someone to step up to fill a vacancy.”

Her pride and joy

Daley would rather talk about her children—Aaron, who lives in Virginia, and Adam and Alison, who call Houston home—than her accomplishments.

“They are my greatest friends. There’s no one I’d rather spend time with than my children, their spouses and my four grandchildren,” she said. “I’m most proud about what fun, nice and generous people my children are.”

But they do enjoy teasing their mother. About two years before Leitch left office in 2017, Daley decided to retire. “My children gave me this elaborate party,” she recalled. “But I didn’t retire well. Two weeks later, I was back working.

“What can I say, I’m a failed retiree,” said Daley, now 75. “I don’t have a lot of hobbies other than gardening and reading. You can’t garden in the winter and you can only read so much. My children never let me forget they had a party for me.”

She’ll walk off into the sunset eventually—“I mean, I can’t work ‘til I’m 100”—and when she does, traveling with her children will top her to-do list.

‘A gift to be part of her life’

Being recognized as a Women of Influence is not something Daley takes lightly.

“I’m glad I’ve been able to make a contribution to this community and for other people and that I could do it with a sense of humor,” she said.

Spain calls Daley’s unequaled dedication to public service “a superhero power, really. It’s a sense of going above and beyond with a self-motivation to build a better state and community that I think is unprecedented.”

Margaret Cousins served on the Library Board with Daley, whom she called “the very best of human beings. She is extremely modest, by nature, and yet if you are privileged enough to become part of her inner circle, then you recognize day in and day out what a gift it is to be part of her life.”

Lisa Coon

is a Peoria native who had a long career in the newspaper industry before moving into marketing and communications

‘She has excelled in literally every type of public service throughout her career.’ —Illinois Rep. Ryan Spain