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Ray LaHood to receive de Tonti Award

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Ray LaHood, the former congressman from Peoria who spent more than five years on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, is the recipient of the third Henri de Tonti Award for outstanding principled community leadership.

The award is conferred annually by the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University and the Peoria Historical Society. It will be presented Saturday, Sept. 27 during a dinner at the Peoria Civic Center.

In his 36-year public service career, including as U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President Obama, LaHood made a difference in our region as well as at his alma mater, Bradley University. He helped secure federal funding for the renovation of Westlake Hall, he donated his remaining campaign funds to endow scholarships for Bradley seniors studying American government and he is the first Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley. 

“When you think of the reason we established this award to begin with, it is easy to see why Ray was chosen. You can look all around central Illinois and see Ray LaHood’s fingerprints on so many things important to this region,” said Brad McMillan, director of the Institute for Principled Leadership who formerly was Congressman Ray LaHood’s chief of staff.

Mark Johnson, president of the Peoria Historical Society, agreed the choice of LaHood, who was not allowed to accept such awards while a member of the Cabinet, was an easy one. “Ray LaHood has devoted his career in public service to exemplifying principled leadership. He has been an inspiration to many in the region and has demonstrated the effectiveness of maintaining a positive attitude and working with other to achieve many accomplishment,” Johnson said.

The award is named after the French explorer and entrepreneur who was among the founders of Peoria more than 300 years ago. The Henri de Tonti Award will be presented annually, not only as an effort to increase name recognition for the Peoria founder who played a pivotal role in the history of North American exploration, but to honor an individual, company or organization for their leadership to the region.

Before this the only recognition of de Tonti in Peoria is that a small street bears his name.

According to the Peoria Historical Society, Henri de Tonti accompanied Rene-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de LaSalle on his first voyage to the Mississippi River in 1679 when the explorers first reached the Lake Pimiteoui area along the Illinois River and constructed Fort Creve Coeur. The King of France granted Tonti and his trading partners’ exclusive trading rights for the Illinois territory. In the fall of 1679, Tonti directed that the trading outpost should be relocated from Starved Rock to the Lake Pimiteoui area.

“It is estimated that Tonti traveled over 85,000 miles by canoe and foot negotiating with Indian tribes, discovering new sources of supply for the fur trade and hiring and supervising voyageurs. He was a talented leader and accomplished negotiator,” the PHS said.

Founded in 1934, the Peoria Historical Society is a not-for-profit organization committed to the preservation of our local history. The mission is to preserve and celebrate the Peoria area story. PHS offers historical trolley tours, holiday and special events and the archival of significant historical artifacts.

The Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University seeks to become nationally recognized for developing ethical, bipartisan, collaborative and civil leaders for careers in public service.

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).