JA celebrates 50 years in 2006. Louis Neumiller would be proud. The man who founded what became Junior Achievement of Central Illinois, Inc. in 1956 personified what JA currently teaches to six million students worldwide: learning by doing. He carried his own typewriter to work as an entry level employee for a company called Caterpillar and retired some years later as its CEO.

Neumiller saw the need for a successful bridge between education and business. Today, those two sectors are embracing the Junior Achievement experience like ever before. Locally, 50 schools totaling 400 classrooms and 8,000 students have embraced JA, and the chapter has more than doubled in size since 2004. It’s currently the fourth-fastest-growing JA in America.

To celebrate, local business leaders will be learning about and honoring three local business icons at Junior Achievement’s Business Hall of Fame gala April 28 at the Peoria Civic Center. The third class of Laureates are the late Lewis Burger, the late Harry Feltenstein, and Diane Cullinan Oberhelman.

Lewis Burger was the CEO at WABCO for 15 years and a staunch supporter of Junior Achievement. He served as chair of the Civic Center Commission and is as responsible as anyone in the successful construction of the Civic Center. How fitting it is that our event is at the Civic Center as it expands to serve our community.

Diane Cullinan Oberhelman’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to found Cullinan Properties in 1988, and it’s grown into a juggernaut of more than 180 employees. She’s also an author. Her book, Cancer: Here’s How You Can Help Me Cope & Survive, is a practical handbook on the disease. Net proceeds from the sale are donated to a support group for children whose parents are diagnosed with cancer. Cullinan Oberhelman is a former member of the Junior Achievement Board of Directors and recipient of countless business and philanthropic awards.

Harry Feltenstein was president, CEO, and chairman of the board for an enterprise then called CILCO. He began his employment with CILCO in 1941. Like Burger, he has strong ties to Bradley University. In fact, Feltenstein mentioned Bradley in a letter he wrote to Junior Achievement not long before his death. That letter was a nomination of Burger to JA’s Business Hall of Fame.

In 1974, Feltenstein worked with community leaders like JA Hall of Fame Laureate David Connor to submit to the Peoria City Council a model of what the future of Peoria could be in 1985. This model included a newly created riverfront district with parks, apartment buildings, and restaurants. It also included a district comprising a new Civic Center complex with an arena for 9,000 spectators, exhibition halls, and meeting rooms.

These three iconic figures are interwoven not only with one another, but also with Junior Achievement and with the very location where they will be honored—the Peoria Civic Center. Please join us there April 28. IBI