NORMAL — The lights dimmed and five actors portraying historical figures from McLean County’s past took the stages at the McLean County Museum of History’s second annual History Makers Gala.
But the actors weren’t playing the roles of the evening’s honorees, Stevie and Roger Joslin, Judy Markowitz, Woody Shadid and Ruth Waddell.
Instead, they told the stories of other community leaders from earlier eras and, in doing so, they showed how the evening’s honorees are part of a long line of people who have left a legacy of hard work and good deeds.
And they showed how the evening’s honored “history makers” created a path for others to follow because, as one of the actors said, “You never really know when you may be called on to make history.”
The characters of Carl and Julia Vrooman — perhaps best known for their Vrooman Mansion but also involved in philanthropy and politics — discussed their parallels with the Joslins.
Roger Joslin, retired vice chairman and chief financial officer of State Farm Mutual and chairman of State Farm Fire and Casualty, and his wife. Stevie, each have been involved in supporting and volunteering for a number of cultural, health care and educational institutions, including Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Second Presbyterian Church.
And while Carl Vrooman was involved in the Democratic Party and Roger Joslin was a leader in the McLean County Republican Party, Vrooman noted, “We both believe in civil discourse and working together to get things done.”
Then there was the character of Florence Fifer Bohrer, elected in 1925 as the state’s first female senator. She pointed to Markowitz, Bloomington’s first female mayor, and noted the work Markowitz had done involving the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, the U.S. Cellular Coliseum and the Sister Cities program with Asahikawa, Japan.
“We see a thing that needs doing and we get it done,” Bohrer said.
The character of Ulysses Doubleday, who retired to Bloomington after a career in newspaper publishing and the military made comparisons to Shadid, who rose from newspaper carrier to director of advertising at The Pantagraph and has been a community volunteer and fundraiser.
He drew laughter from the crowd of about 500 at Illinois State university’s Brown Ballroom when he said, “This man found it difficult to be retired and just kept working.”
The character of Alverta Duff talked about her siblings going to college in Bloomington-Normal when black students couldn’t live in the same place as white students. She talked about having choices — and not having choices — for the jobs one could do.
She then saluted Waddell, who in 1953 became the first black woman hired by General Electric Co. in Bloomington. After being repeatedly passed over for employment, Waddell sat in an executive’s office, saying she would continue to sit there until she got answers.
“Your patience and persistence helped others,” Duff said. “You opened up the work force. You made history.”
In their own words
“We don’t need to be recognized. … It’s part of paying back to the community, seeing what we can contribute to the community.”
— Roger Joslin
“I’ve been a volunteer all my life. It was a way of life for me. I never dreamed it would end up like this. … Everybody is gifted at something. We all can volunteer.”
— Stevie Joslin
“I love my hometown. … We have deep roots. … It’s nice when you can make an impact on the community you love.”
— Judy Markowitz
“It’s overwhelming. … Apparently the people I know think I am (a history maker), so I guess I fooled someone.”
— Woody Shadid
“I don’t feel like I did all that much. Discrimination was going on. You did what you had to do. … By me getting in, that made room for others to be hired.”
— Ruth Waddell