Straight Talk | Losing two community leaders



First it was news Peoria County State’s Attorney Jerry Brady had died. Then we learned that Peoria County Clerk Steve Sonnemaker had also passed away. Losing two outstanding elected officials and community leaders is almost too much to endure. I can say with pride, Jerry and Steve were good friends beyond appearing many times on our morning show. They seemed to have as much fun chatting with us as we did with them on and off the air.

Jerry had a great sense of humor whether it was Royce, Steve Young, or Roger pulling his leg. I remember when Jerry brought the bearded David Kennedy, who wrote the “Don’t Shoot” book and program, into the WOAM studio looking like Jesus. Royce asked Kennedy where he parked his donkey. I thought Jerry was going to fall out of his chair. One of the highlights of Jerry’s frequent appearances was discussion of the Nathan Leuthold murder trial. The insights he provided along with his Assistant State’s Attorney, Jodie Hoos, were dramatically fascinating. The two of them had us sitting on the edge of our studio chairs. Jerry later arranged an exclusive interview with the producer of the NBC television program that featured the Leuthold trial.

A native Peorian, Jerry was humble; did not want recognition or adulation. He did everything to avoid it even up to the hours before his death. His battle with cancer and later a stroke were not to be public. He fought the great fight for life with his wife Sue, their three children and other family members, while we prayed with those who knew, for his recovery. That’s why I wrote about his greatness in a previous column. When my wife died, I had an issue develop. In almost a blink of an eye, he resolved it.

For years, at Christmas he personally delivered a raisin cream pie, one of my dietary sins. There was no limit to his kindness for people.

Jerry was known as well for his charitable leadership, especially for taking over the Paul Reatherford Christmas Basket Program after Paul died. The program continued to grow serving more needy families than ever before. Perhaps it should be known this coming holiday season as Jerry and Paul’s Christmas Basket Program.

Then came the death of Steve Sonnemaker. I’m old enough to remember when he ran a successful restaurant on Western near Jumer’s and before that he was the head of food service at the Pere Marquette Hotel. We served on the County Board together in 1980. He was a joy to be around. Voters recognized his leadership, electing him Peoria County Auditor and then County Clerk. “Re-election” was his middle name because he always made positive changes and improvements regardless the office he headed.

I think he’ll be best remembered for chairing the World War I and II War Memorial Committee for Peoria County. Steve was the “Captain of the Ship” that steered the committee through some “choppy waters” that included paying an architect whose design we did not accept. Credit Steve for the outstanding memorial monuments that make the county’s display one of the best in the Midwest for its inclusiveness and originality. I was privileged to serve on the first committee and take great pride in having participated. Some knew, I didn’t, that Steve had been fighting leukemia for some time. I wish I had known. Friends want to participate with prayers, encouragement, and support.

Whether it’s Jerry Brady, Joe and Rick Olson, Steve Sonnemaker, Dr. Greg Adamson, Coach Kevin Brown, my best friend Chuck Blye, or my wife, Nancy, as the song says, “Gone too Soon.”

On a positive note

My close friend Hedy Elliott and former police officer Dr. Lisa Snow appeared on “Breakfast with Roger and Friends” on FM 90.7 to talk about another wonderful project for the youth of Peoria’s Southside. Hedy, who’s never at a loss for finding ways to help people, came up with the idea of a handball court for boys and girls.

Using an outside wall of Lee School, a court was created and the kids are already using it and I’m told the champion player, a girl, lives in Bartonville. Isn’t that great?

To top it off, Hedy and Dr. Snow have scheduled evening movies for the entire family using that same wall as a screen. Shades of the Park District’s summer recreational programs all over the city years ago. They even make available athletic equipment from basketballs to softballs.

Random thoughts

Republicans and Democrats are busy trying to find replacements on the County Board for Allen Mayer in the 6th District and the late Dr. Greg Adamson in the 11th. Rumors are, unlike past openings on the city council, no one is screaming, “Ask me.” Tell me this rumor is untrue … please.

Aaron Shock is planning to run in the 2020 Republican 18th District primary against Darin LaHood. It’s only a rumor, but is floating around smoke filled and unfilled rooms.

Tip of the hat to the people who work in Peoria’s Public Works Department. They’re working fast and furious to fill the many potholes across the city. It’s a big, big job, but they’re accomplishing a lot. Too often we’re quick to complain and too slow to say thank you. So I will. Thank you.


“There is no way around the pain that you naturally feel when someone you love dies. You can’t go over it, under it, or around it … . Going through it is what will help you heal.”

-Therese Rando

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