BLOOMINGTON — Nancy Froelich, Paul Penn and Caribel Washington are the first three recipients of a “History Makers” designation from the McLean County Museum of History.
“We thought it was important to recognize these folks because they’ve done so much for such a long period of time. It’s based on a lifetime of service … it was multi-generational,” said Greg Koos, executive director of the history museum, 200 N. Main St.
Each winner made considerable contributions to the quality of life in McLean County through their leadership, humanity and sound set of principles, he said.
“I was so surprised and very honored,” said Froelich, who was chairman of the McLean County Board in the 1980s.
The three will be honored at a History Makers Gala on June 14 at IWU’s Memorial Center. Performances by Illinois Voices Theatre will depict the honorees’ life stories and the effect they had on others.
The museum hopes to seek future honoree nominations from the community and make the gala an annual event.
During her tenure on the board, Koos said, Froelich was instrumental in getting government to “understand that working together makes good government.” She spearheaded several agreements among the county, Bloomington and Normal on such issues as a regional water system and waste management.
“The more cooperation, the better off we are,” said Froelich. “It works to everybody’s advantage.”
Froelich also developed the McLean County Mayors Association and led the effort to save the former McLean County Courthouse and convert it into the museum.
“It’s the center of the community,” Froelich said of the museum building.
Penn, a 50-year member of Laborers Local 362, was responsible for securing health, welfare and pension benefits for thousands of laborers, Koos said.
“These guys were doing back-breaking work and he wanted them to get a fair deal,” Koos said. “He was a fair person; he thought workers should get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”
Penn, a World War II U.S. Army veteran, also organized labor unions for a variety of community volunteer projects, including the World War II monument, the expansion of The Baby Fold and the creation of O’Neal Park.
“The park was the best thing,” said Penn, speaking from Florida. “I get all the glory, but they (the laborers) did all the work. What really helped me were the contractors in the area and the two universities.”
He said Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan univsersity students helped on the projects while getting on-the-job training.
Caribel Washington, one of the earliest black employees at State Farm Insurance Cos., not only mentored other black employees but led the Bloomington Normal Black History Project that documented 175 years of black history in McLean County.
Her work in the humanities earned her the Studs Terkel Award from the Illinois Humanities Council.