Illinois observes its 195th birthday today. It was officially admitted to the union on Dec. 3, 1818.
How will Illinois celebrate the big 2-0-0? It’s certainly time to start thinking about it.
We encourage state government, historical groups, and county governments to consider ideas and pursue plans now to ensure a successful Illinois Bicentennial in 2018.
In 1968, the 24-member Illinois Sesquicentennial Commission, established by the Illinois General Assembly, rode herd on the state’s various observances of its 150th birthday.
An official logo was created, as was a sesquicentennial flag. A commemorative medallion was designed, struck, and sold, with profits designated toward paying for sesquicentennial expenses.
Books and pamphlets about the state’s history were written. Counties were encouraged to write and publish their own histories, and many did.
Various special events were planned in honor of Illinois’ 150 years as a state.
Since 1968, Ronald Reagan, who was born in Tampico, and Barack Obama, a Chicagoan, were elected president. The state’s industrial and agricultural economies have changed dramatically.
Chicago has exerted greater economic and political influence, even as population has shifted to the suburbs. Rural growth has stalled. State government’s finances, unfortunately, are anything but strong.
With former Governors Otto Kerner (1961-68), Dan Walker (1977-81), George Ryan (1999-2003), and Rod Blagojevich (2003-09) sentenced to prison for various misdeeds, Illinois is saddled with a legacy of political corruption that will take years to live down.
But if we can learn from our history, perhaps we won’t be doomed to repeat it.
And perhaps, the state’s 200th birthday could be the impetus to create a statewide blueprint for growth.
A leader from the Sauk Valley, Gov. Frank Lowden of Oregon, was in office when Illinois observed its centennial in 1918.
The governor whom Illinoisans elect next year will be in office during bicentennial year.
The powers that be should not drag their feet on bicentennial planning. We encourage them to come up with a dependable funding formula. We recall that in 2009, Illinois’ celebration of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial was partially muted because of budget cuts by Gov. Blagojevich.
We encourage area county officials to start thinking about their roles.
Done well, a bicentennial celebration could be a welcome shot in the arm as Illinois enters its third century.