Making a Better World

Jan Wright, Publisher, iBi

For six years, iBi has highlighted "Local Legends," individuals who’ve had a lifetime of impact on our community. These extraordinary men and women have served—and continue to serve—our community by giving of their time and treasure, serving on boards and committees, and working hard long after they could have slowed down. Indeed, their work is legendary.

You may recognize some of the images on the cover—just a few of the photos taken at George’s Shoeshine over the years. Many are celebrities or political figures, as a shine from George Manias has long been a rite of passage for out-of-town guests. But perhaps the greatest thing about George is his welcoming attitude. “I treat people the same no matter who they are,” he states. “That’s why people like me and like to come back. It’s the best tool I know. Just treat people right.”

I served on the Red Cross Advisory Board when Anne Fox was CEO of the Central Illinois Region. I saw firsthand how she led that organization to greater heights—as was evident in the renaming of their downtown office building after her. From teaching our children about safety issues to helping thousands of people whose lives were devastated by disaster, we are eternally grateful for her service.

After serving our country in the U.S. Marine Corps, Bruce Brown returned home and served eight years on the Peoria City Council. Thirty-five years ago this month, he and his wife, Lisa, fixed up a run-down photo lab and transformed it into Paparazzi. In a notoriously difficult industry, they’ve thrived ever since, helping many worthy causes along the way. “Great communities are not made by default,” Bruce suggests. “Always reach out for what could be, rather than what has been.”

Born in Elmwood, Gerry Shaheen learned the lessons of customer service as a teenager working in his parents’ grocery store. He would take this experience up the ranks at Caterpillar and around the world. Here in Peoria, his leadership helped establish the Illinois Neurological Institute, strengthened the MS Society, and made possible the Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance. Still active on a range of boards, his tough and fearless leadership continues to build on an enduring legacy.

At 86 years young, Dr. Donald Rager still interviews candidates for medical school. He remains a top fundraiser for the expansion of the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, and was integral in establishing the Peoria NEXT initiative. What would he like to be remembered for? “Coming up as a common man who saw opportunities and grasped them, and leaving behind a better world,” he declares. “That’s all anybody wants to do, I think.”

All five of these Legends have done exactly that—converting opportunities into success through passion, persistence and hard work. Most importantly, they’ve helped others along the way. Their stories stand as inspiration to the next generation, and we thank them for making our community better. iBi

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