Roadway designated to honor Ray LaHood

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For Ray LaHood, public service has always meant giving back to the community, doing whatever it takes to make the community better. That's what he tried to do during his 34 year-plus as a public servant.

But, he said Monday, he never expected the community to ever give back to him the way it is doing now.

"I am very humbled by this, to say the least," LaHood said during a ceremony in front of the Federal Building at Main and Monroe streets in downtown Peoria. "The last thing I ever wanted was to have something named for me."

The ceremony was to officially designate that corner as the Honorary Ray LaHood Roadway and the unveil the sign proclaiming it as such. The sign is attached to a traffic light pole on the corner in front of the Federal Building, where LaHood's office was when he was the 18th District Congressman.

The choice of that corner, LaHood said, seemed appropriate. "This is Main Street. This is where we tried to make things happen for the region," he said.

LaHood had much of his family at the ceremony, including several of his grandsons who were sitting on the steps of the building during the event. He pointed to the boys and said, "This is why we care so much about what we do, the next generation."

He thanked those in attendance, numbering close to 100, for their support during his time in public service, including the past nearly five years as U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the President Obama administration and the 14 years before that as a member of Congress.

When you include his time as chief aide to former U.S. Reps. Bob Michel and Tom Railsback, LaHood has spent most of his adult life in public service.

"I have been delighted to have to many people allow us to do what we've been able to do," he said.

LaHood retired recently from the Department of Transportation but said he doesn't plan to retire altogether just yet. He said he has kept busy, co-writing a book, teaching at Bradley University and "going to a lot of soccer games" to watch his grandchildren play.

Mayor Jim Ardis hosted the event and spoke about "how much we appreciate how somebody was able to serve for so long with such distinction."

A common theme for Ardis and other speakers was LaHood's gift for making things happen in a bipartisan manner. As if to illustrate that point, two speakers were State Sen. Dave Koehler and State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, both Peoria Democrats.

"We are proud to have Ray as our favorite son," said Koehler.

Gordon-Booth recalled a time when she was young that she asked her mother, a lifelong Democrat, why she voted for LaHood for Congress. "She said it was 'because he's a good man who is doing the right things for Peoria.' Now, when I think of the bipartisanship this community requires, I realize Ray LaHood embodies that."

Gordon-Booth has sponsored legislation in the state General Assembly to have a portion of I-74 named after LaHood, as well.

Doug Oberhelman, chairman of Caterpillar Inc. spoke about LaHood work for the community and for its employers, including Caterpillar. "Ray has always been very loyal to Peoria; to his city, his state and to his country. Transportation was one of the top performing cabinet posts during his tenure and we all will miss his bipartisanship," Oberhelman said.

In a brief chat with reporters after the ceremony, LaHood railed against Congress because of the recent government shutdown, calling the inaction on Capitol Hill to avoid the crisis "an embarrassment" and "a disgrace."

"We need to get back to having a Congress that solves the problems of the country. People are getting elected to Congress to do nothing and the stop everything. America is tired of it. Let's move the country forward," he said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).