Peoria lost another leader with the death of Ray Becker, the city’s greatest builder of buildings. One of the few advantages of being old is I don’t have to dig through newspaper files or view news videos to talk about Ray. I knew him as a student at Woodruff High School as did my brother, Zack. He reminded me that Ray was a lineman for the Warrior football team in the 1948 season. Ray graduated in 1949, but he was already pouring concrete for basement floors. Last year, Ray told me as a young man he did basement floors for 500-600 houses throughout Peoria. We were having a conversation in his office and Ray was recalling his life in great detail, to my pleasure. His office could very well be a museum with photos, plaques and other articles outlining his amazing career that included saving Eureka College from closing. As John Bearce said on our morning radio show on FM 90.7, “The college was nine months behind paying CILCO. Ray stepped in and paid the bill and recruited some other business men to keep the college open.”
President Ronald Reagan and Ray became close friends for many reasons. According to Bearce, Ray and his Eureka “partners” learned that Reagan didn’t have the money to buy a college ring when he graduated from Eureka in 1932. They purchased a class ring and attended a black tie event in Washington, D.C. where Reagan delivered a speech. John was there when Ray presented the ring to the President after the event.
“Reagan had tears in his eyes when he was handed the ring,” said Bearce.
Among those paying tribute to Ray was Mayor Jim Ardis. Ardis said on our program he couldn’t remember when they first met, but their friendship grew over the years.
“Ray was a generous man who loved Peoria. He did so much and didn’t want any credit. Fortunately, I had the chance to visit with him in hospice to thank him for all the things he did for the community,” Ardis said.
My meeting with Ray was to ask if he had any space for our radio studio. He took me over to a beautiful office across from his in the Twin Towers.
I said, “This is great. A little large for my needs, but wonderful. What’s the cost?”
Ray replied, “How much can you spend?”
“Not much,” I said with a smile.
I told him a figure and he said, “Let’s see what else I might have.”
Later, I met with Ray and his wife at Landmark where he said I could broadcast daily without charge, as in “free.” Turned out nothing appropriate could be found, but I never forgot his generosity and kindness. I remember his final words to me were, “I wanted to help you Roger.”
Royce Elliott is another Woodruff High School graduate and Peoria icon. We knew each other in the 1950’s and started broadcasting on WOAM 1350, “Breakfast with Royce and Roger” in 2002. The nationally known clean comedian died in 2013. He was like a brother to me. As a tribute to Royce, I gathered a committee together and with the help of Mayor Ardis and Peoria Park Board trustee chairman, Tim Cassidy, we dedicated the last remaining baseball diamond at Glen Oak Park as Royce Elliott Field.
Well, the diamond is gone and so is just about everything at the park that characterized our lives more than 50 years ago. The large stone with a Royce Elliott plaque sits alone like a prairie dog in the wilds of Wyoming. That’s why Royce’s family decided to move the stone to Richwoods High School where his son, Brett, recently completed a successful tenure as principal.
“Everybody in Peoria knew my Dad and those who don’t will learn about him in a very public place,” said Brett. Great idea.
Hard to believe
After the city spent thousands, perhaps millions, to expand Forest Hill from two lanes to five from University to Sterling, they changed it to two lanes almost overnight. Peoria’s public works department painted new lanes under a reduced lane program called Road Diet. The change came because some people complained of speeding on Forest Hill. Hey, have you driven on University, Sterling or Knoxville lately? In a word, this is stupid.
News bits and pieces
Everybody has an opinion or two about what’s going on during this virus tragedy. One of mine is the executive order that led to the removal of basketball rims by the Peoria Park District and the enforcement of no basketball playing by anyone at anytime. Think about that. Young men and women, 17, 18, 19 and 20 are told, for their safety and the safety of others, they can’t play basketball. However, we allow them to put on uniforms, wear heavy military equipment, and carry weapons to kill or be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Peoria these young people can’t play basketball. They can ride in an Army vehicle and run the risk of hitting an IED and be blown to bits, but they’re forbidden to rent a golf cart at Newman.
Here’s another thought. The government tells hospitals to quit treating people during the epidemic, close its doors to those needing surgery except in an emergency, because doctors, nurses and others are not capable of handling bacteria and a virus outbreak, but they are at Walmart.
Quote of the Month
“No good deed goes unpunished.”