Jimmie Lansford would leave me with three words after every interview with him: Keep the faith.
There wasn’t any explanation why he said it after each meeting with me, but the Streator mayor of 11 years knew I knew what it meant, or would figure it out over time.
Given my job as a reporter and his as the mayor, I’d often request interviews on various issues dealing with the city. Lansford was not a big telephone guy, and he certainly didn’t do email. He preferred in-person interviews, and so did I.
The interviews were usually lengthy, because the former mayor was thorough.
Some of these interviews were about city issues, such as police and fire pensions or ambulance response times, and he wanted me to see either his or the City Council’s point-of-view, and at the very least, he wanted me to leave his office knowing where the city stood on that particular topic.
There was mutual respect in this exchange.
After awhile, the work portion of the interview would simmer down and we’d start talking about other items in the city. He was proud of the Soderstrom Memorial, the Plumb Pavilion, the downtown restoration and the improvements made across Streator in the past decade.
When he first left me with those three words: Keep the faith. I misunderstood. I thought maybe he was trying to get me to be on the city’s side of a certain issue.
The more I heard them, and the more I thought about them, and listened to the mayor’s message, I figured out exactly what they meant.
This was a personal message to me.
A reoccurring message the mayor had spoken about was maintaining young professionals in the community. He knew a generation of the community was aging, and it irked him the slightest bit when he’d learn of a professional who worked in Streator, but lived elsewhere. He wanted to improve the community to a point where these professionals not only worked here, but also lived here. He knew it was critical to the city’s long-term success.
The mayor also understood the value of a personal connection. This was apparent in the visits he’d make to Streator manufacturers with Streator Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Dzuris to ask them about their needs and concerns.
I was born in Streator, graduated from Streator High School, and moved back to the city after graduating from the University of Illinois and working in Albany, Georgia, and Sterling-Dixon, and he was aware of these details from previous conversations.
Keep the faith meant to keep my faith in Streator. Not as a journalist, as I initially misunderstood, but as a resident.
He saw the bigger picture was keeping young professionals, like myself, in the community, buying a home, investing roots and taking ownership as the next generation.
Though I’ll miss interviewing him and predictably hearing those three words. I won’t forget them and their impact.
- Derek Barichello is the regional news editor for The Times and NewsTribune. He can be contacted at 815-431-4073 or firstname.lastname@example.org