Wayne Eichelkraut honored by Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce

Longtime commissioner receives Leo Parkerson lifetime achievement award

Longtime Ottawa Commissioner Wayne Eichelkraut (left) accepts the Leo Parkerson Award for lifetime achievement from Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce interim executive director Jay McCracken on Thursday at Starved Rock Lodge.

At the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner, the winner of the Leo Parkerson Award issued for a lifetime of dedication and achievement is kept secret until the very end, and only after all of the person’s accolades have been read.

On Thursday night, no one was more surprised at the winner than Wayne Eichelkraut.

Eichelkraut, who for the last 25 years has been a commissioner on the Ottawa City Council and a champion of causes ranging from economic development to tourism to help for senior citizens and the disabled, received the award from two of the three mayors he’s worked with, Mayor Robb Hasty and former Mayor Bob Eschbach.

It wasn’t until a trip to Seattle and a conversation there that Eichelkraut, seated just to the right of the dais, realized that he was the one being talked about at the Starved Rock Lodge annual chamber dinner.

“I was very, very surprised,” said Eichelkraut, who has been elected to seven terms on the council, going back to his first in 1999 with Mayor Forrest Buck. “Receiving this award is just unbelievable. You never feel you deserve something like this. You do what you can for the city, but you don’t look for glory or for awards.

“You do it for the city that you love and enjoy, not for anything but the city and I enjoy doing it all. That’s why I keep running for commissioner, because I enjoy every minute of it.”

Also recognized at the dinner were Linda Johnson, recipient of the Ethyl Strong Ambassador of the Year Award, while receiving the Chair Award was Gentry Nordstrom, and the Past Director’s Award, Katheryn Corcoran and Kevin Bressendorf.

Those honors came shortly after the evening’s keynote speak, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, lavished praises on the chambers, its members and city of Ottawa for their dedication, teamwork and bi-partisan view in making it “magnificent” and “an oasis, not only in La Salle County, but in Illinois.”

“Every person in this room has contributed to this city. I’ve been all over the world, been in 250 cities, all 50 states … but Ottawa is a unique city. In all the towns I’ve been to, including my hometown of Peoria, they were once vibrant but now have a lot of vacant buildings. What we need to do in Peoria and in other communities around the state is take a chapter from the Ottawa book, that is take great leadership having nothing to do with politics and everything to do with public service.

“You all came together around the idea that you were not going to let your community fall prey to vacant buildings, vacant businesses, people moving out, hoping children will come back after college. You’ve made that happen. It’s happening … Congratulations to you all.”

LaHood also spoke of the Rails to Trails Conservancy and its effort to develop parks, hiking trails and properties throughout the state, including the plan to connect the Illinois and Michigan Canal towpath with the Hennepin Canal trail.

He added that connecting his Peoria home with Chicago by train is a priority, noting it could have a stop very near Starved Rock State Park, that would be a great economic benefit to communities through which it passes. Stops also would include Ottawa, La Salle-Peru and Morris.

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