Tomorrow is the annual “Town and Gown Celebration that takes place each year between Macomb and Western Illinois University. It is a great event that highlights the importance of how much each of our successes are intertwined with one another as a city and university. The last several years have been challenging to say the least. The failure to get a state budget for Higher Education has starved institutions across the state, of which WIU and Macomb were not spared. Amidst all the financial craziness, it has given me pause to reflect on all the good things that have taken place through these challenging times for our community.
Until one really sits down and looks back on things, it is easy to forget all the great happenings taking place all around us every day, as well as all the ways we have come together as a community. Like any family we have our quarrels and do our share of bickering. In fact, we just came out of a very tough local election cycle where there was tremendous passion on both sides, but that it is over and we are already moving forward. Stronger and ready to do whatever it takes to makes this an outstanding place to call home.
Macomb and Western Illinois are special because we are people-rich here. I have born witness to more Random Acts of Kindness that I can write on this page while living here. Maybe it was someone paying for breakfast at the drive-through, or someone else plowing the snow off the drive for someone not able to do so themselves. I have watched young people carry groceries for elderly at the Hy-Vee and witnessed numerous Eagle Scout projects that make the community just a little bit better than they found it. Lord forbid you come up to a four way stop at the same time. It turns into a contest to much sure the other three get to go first.
I have observed too many times over the years the community rally around and throw their support behind very young kids saddled with cancer or conditions we may have never heard of, much less know how to pronounce. I have watched them give their time, their money, and their tears to those families affected.
I have seen impoverished kids receiving much needed clothing and coats to get them through long cold winters. I view our local Law Enforcement interacting with community by assisting in innumerable ways, including finding an old lost dog that got away from very worried elderly owners or playing basketball with kids on the playground during the down time. I have watched the “Shop with a Cop” program, that gives underprivileged kids a little something extra when they wouldn’t have otherwise put a giant smile on those kids faces.
I see our local churches come together to provide food banks in a time when “food insecurity” is real everywhere---even in a place like Macomb. The local Humane Society continues to do God’s work saving dogs and cats that find themselves without a home who wouldn’t have a chance. Macomb service groups are constantly donating their resources and efforts to cause after cause so the next generation has a better chance.
Was there any better way of showing our “Town and Gown” than when a couple of our local Art professors put together the “Rocky’s” on parade around town for local business. Whether you are on campus or the square, or just about anywhere you can see this homage to the best live mascot in the country---Col. Rock (Rocky).
I also remember a WIU Women’s Basketball team going to the National Tournament two years ago, putting us on the national stage and bringing this community together in a way that hasn’t happen in a long time. Our student athletes are out in community classrooms and our WIU students regularly volunteer with their time and talents right here in the (309) area code. We tailgate together while celebrating wins and breaking down losses. We have nationally recognized academic programs, faculty, and staff that can compete with anyone in the world.
We have married the off our young while saying goodbye to local icons and legends. Celebrating bright futures, as well as lives well lived. We have also buried young people that left us all too soon. We circled the wagons and came together—like only families do. People have stepped up and helped out in some our communities darkest hours and toughest times.
Through it all we are still here. Grinding and fighting to show the world what we already know. That this is a special place. A place that has, and continues to, change lives as well as the world. For some it has been generations of family on this ground that helps to feed people across the globe. For others, their experience is more recent but no less impact. In challenging times you get to see the very best and worst in people. I have witnessed a whole lot of good and I am very optimistic to see a great deal more in the years to come. I see a lot of passion burning bright in people’s hearts now more than ever.
So when we come together tomorrow night for the annual “Town and Gown Celebration” let’s take a couple of hours to celebrate all of our wins and accomplishments as a community before we wake up and get back to the grind of making this place better than we found it. Let’s think about what we can do on our part. An “Act of Kindness” or a smile. Let’s keep this place great. Macomb and Western Illinois University truly are special, and I am proud to call them home.