by Jeff McSweeney
A collection of people, places, things and events for a novel about Central Illinois.
Identifying characters is an interesting challenge. Some I know as close friends, others I know through their public presence. The goal of presenting these characters is to create a foundation for the whole story to build. Some of these observations witness the whole person, others present idealized or otherwise distinctive personality traits that will result in the characters being heroes, villains or somewhere in between.
Lea Anne believes in people and her talents to maximize their potential. She is a proud native of East Peoria and was the first Festival of Lights Queen in 1986. Her interest in politics led her to Illinois State University where she earned an undergraduate degree in political science and art history and a masters degree in public policy. Following many internships in the political arena, she found her passion in lobbying. While her career reflects few lobbying-specific roles she has utilized her talents for many worthy causes in Central Illinois, including the American Cancer Society, Eureka College, and Habitat for Humanity.
She dedicates herself to these groups through her fearless optimism and faith in the power of events to engage the public and inspire them to action. Lea Anne’s greatest accomplishments include the numerous Relays for Life that still occur throughout the region and a very special Reagan Ranch event she led during her service at Eureka College. She is currently Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity – Peoria where she works with over 200 people on a monthly basis from those looking for their first home to those who support the organization with their time, talents and financial support. She also works politically to promote housing issues and secure property and public support for the interests of Habitat.
Like Paul from the September edition, Lea Anne is connected to a wide variety of people. She connects people from a diverse background and makes things happen – she is a catalyst and a touch point for action in Central Illinois.
Central Illinois farming is one of the reasons we returned to Central Illinois following a 10-year absence. My wife and I missed the optimism of planting season, witnessing the turning of rich topsoil and the smell of optimism. On the flipside, harvest is our sign all is right with the world in the creation and storing of food for the winter ahead. Spring planting is our time to jump for joy for the warmer weather while harvest has us prepping for winter. While researching this topic I was amazed to see annual per acre production of corn to have improved from just over 50 bushels in the 50’s to over 180 bushels in the 2010’s. Wow, what our farmers accomplish!
A farmer could easily be one of Grand Prairie View’s primary characters. He is the modern day cowboy who creates with his hands, who provides food and energy for so many people beyond his family and contributes mightily to the regional economy thus holding great political sway. I see the farmer being a quiet leader behind the scenes influencing a broad will that reflects the needs of the more average citizen.
Founded in 1855, Springdale Cemetery is a grande dame of cemeteries in Peoria, if not the country. I first started visiting Springdale as a teenager and was drawn to the respect and grandeur of the eternal home for so many Peorians, some famous, some just like us. As I have walked and photographed the rows of tombstones, prairie, the mausoleum and fields yet to be used I am in awe of what these folks have done for all of Central Illinois and our country. The 225 acre cemetery is the final resting place for nearly 70,000 folks, has over 6 miles of roads for biking, hiking and jogging and features such notables as Lydia Moss Bradley – founder of current day Bradley University; William Hale – Peoria’s first mayor; and John Cleveland Proctor – builder of current-day Proctor Hospital.
Cemeteries hold a unique position in a community’s psyche. It provides a sense of what is possible when one reflects on the accomplishments of those who lie here, while also presenting the sense of the inevitable. What is our purpose, what can we achieve, what should be done before our precious days on earth are done for good? I see this site as central to the characters as they walk the roads, imagine the role of each who have passed and to gain determination in what that character wants, and more importantly, needs to do.