Bob Michel was a hero
Bob Michel is gone. At the age of 93, the Peoria native slipped from this world to the next leaving a history of accomplishments and service unmatched by anyone from this city or this state. Abraham Lincoln was the greatest, but he wasn’t from Peoria and he didn’t graduate from Peoria High and Bradley University. Abe served in the Illinois militia for three months, while Michel was a foot soldier for three years and later elected to Congress for 38 years, 14 of those named Minority leader and another six years as Minority Whip. Further, as far as I know, Abe could not sing like Bob Michel could and would given the opportunity. I still remember with fondness sitting with my wife in his Glenwood house listening to Bob belt out holiday songs with his wife Corrine at the piano. Others were gathered around the piano in awe of his voice, hesitating to join in the singing. Appearing on our morning show, Ray LaHood, who followed Bob into the House of Representatives, said Bob loved to sing and would often do so in his Washington office throughout the day.
Bob Michel was a hero. He would be the last to agree because he was also a humble man. A World War II foot soldier wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, Bob would only talk about dodging German bullets with prodding on our morning radio show. But, it only took a couple of questions from me to hear him talk about the love he had for his country.
And talk he would about the need for greater civility between political parties, a theme that Ray LaHood carried during his Congressional tenure.
On a personal level, Bob could not have treated me with more kindness. I remember after serving as emcee for a political banquet, I picked up a print photo of Lincoln and asked Bob to sign it. He wouldn’t sign it over Lincoln’s face and finally found a small area of the print at the bottom. Each time I called to request a phone interview, he always was most accommodating. Our last radio interview was June 5, 2015, about D-Day. I managed to get him to share details of almost hand-to-hand fighting with the Germans including when machine gun bullets put an end to his combat days. Sharing Christmas cards and personal letters were more than annual events. His letters always included wishes and prayers for my wife and her health challenges. I never forgot to thank him for the radio interviews and especially for his service to our country as a soldier in combat and in the halls of Congress. He’s gone, but not my memories of a true hero. Thank you, Bob Michel.
We have statues of Lincoln, Pete Vonachen, Laura Bradley, A.J. Robertson, and Robert Ingersoll. It would be appropriate to have one of Robert H. Michel, statesman and foot soldier at the World War I and II Memorial.
The dust is still settling over the surprising announcement that Caterpillar would be moving its Peoria global headquarters to somewhere in the Chicago area. People can argue about the business wisdom of that decision, but the ultimate right rests with the company and its board of directors. One wonders whether the decision to leave Peoria would’ve happened if Ed Rapp was CEO instead of James Umpleby III. I don’t think so. Indeed, I think the main reason Doug Oberhelman retired as CEO was because he didn’t agree with the Cat directors. A former Caterpillar executive suggested the move from Peoria came from the directors, not from the CEO. The Umpleby family reportedly lives in San Diego and they were not eager to pick up and live in Peoria. Too bad. Peoria was good enough for other CEO families. Chief Information Officer Julie Lagacy is from Glasford, Illinois, so she knows the benefits of life in “our town.”
My complaint with Mr. Umpleby is that he was the architect of a plan of deception for city leaders and central Illinois residents. How long did he and others know that Caterpillar was dumping plans for a new headquarters complex in Peoria? How long did they know of plans to move their headquarters out of our city? What did they know and when did they know it and why did they keep it from us for so long? These are questions needing answers. Obviously, the man with engineering experience failed to pass a class in public relations and interpersonal skills even though he touts going to Switzerland for a leadership course. But then, what do the Swiss know about such subjects? That country trails everyone except in production of cowbells. CEO Umpleby made a major mistake by slipping up to the editorial offices with one or two people at the Peoria Journal to announce the cancellation of new headquarter offices in downtown Peoria coupled with the move of its global headquarters to the Windy City. That’s a major public relations goof. You don’t favor a newspaper over radio and TV or vice versa. You call a news conference, make a prepared statement and then stand and be a leader by answering questions from the media. The next error was sending someone from public affairs, representing the lower level of management, to be available for the media. That’s “chicken little” leadership. If that’s his style, Caterpillar is in trouble. And it is.
Quote of the month
“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”