Art Hornsby reflects on advocacy and who does it next at Grundy County Historical Society dinner

Arthur Hornsby speaks in front of members of the Grundy County Historical Society and Morris Rotary at the Historical Society's annual dinner Tuesday evening.

Arthur Hornsby’s held more positions around Grundy County than just the longtime owner of the Hornsby’s chain of retail stores.

He said at the Grundy County Historical Society’s annual dinner Tuesday evening at First Presbyterian Church in Morris that he’s been on many, many boards and he’s always tried to limit himself to four years per board. What he’s found in those years serving on boards is that more people need to be active in the community.

People being active in the community, Hornsby said, is what the Grundy County Historical Society to where it is today.

“At the time they were thinking about buying the Coleman Hardware building, they had all kinds of concerns,” Hornsby said. “How many dollars will be donated? Who will donate? What do we do with this big old empty building? We refurbished it, and it all worked out because everybody went to work and made it work.”

Hornsby said the next important step is to get 30-to-50 year olds involved on local boards, volunteering their time to improve the community as he did back in the day.

He shared a story about a time when Morris Elementary School District 54 held a public meeting about 10 years ago where the district discussed a tax increase that was necessary to avoid major layoffs at the school.

“How many people would come to a meeting like that?” Horsby asked. “50? No. It was one person and myself. The other person there had a teacher who was a wife. I thought he’d say ‘don’t fire my wife.’ Instead, he said ‘don’t raise my taxes.’”

Hornsby asked the superintendent after the meeting if he could take a look at the district’s books, and she allowed him in, answering all his questions while they came up with a plan to keep the district running without raising taxes.

This is just one success story, but Hornsby brought up many: He talked about Illinois Valley Industries, which now has a building of its own on 3rd Avenue in Morris and independent living homes for those with disabilities.

Then he recalled being a Morris alderman in the 1970s, at a time when Morris still had a land fill and needed a new sewer system. Morris received a $1 million grant from the state for the sewer system, but asked for something else while visiting Springfield.

“We went to the transportation department after that and said ‘can we get a four-lane highway through Morris?” Hornsby said. “They told us we were in luck because they had a surplus.”

Even with the need for an overpass over the railroad, Morris was able to get Illinois Route 47 expanded to four lanes. This eliminated a railroad crossing that regularly blocked Liberty, Division and Grant Streets while the rail workers went to eat lunch.

These are things that take work, Hornsby said, and they take advocacy.

“All I can ask is we find people to go to these meetings,” Hornsby said. “Look around the room here. We’re all in the same boat. Who’s gonna do it 10 years, 20 years from now?”

Places like Morris Hospital don’t get upgrades without people serving on their boards and asking questions, Hornsby said, and the old landfill outside of Morris would still be leaking into local wells if it weren’t for those willing to advocate for Morris.

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec covers Ottawa and Ottawa City Council for The Times