Monday, September 10, 2012
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Foundation strives to keep courthouse thriving

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[September 10, 2012]  MOUNT PULASKI -- Thursday evening the American Legion in Mount Pulaski was the setting for a reception and dinner honoring Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar and Darrell Knauer. The event was also a fundraiser for the Mount Pulaski Courthouse Foundation.

Though this was the first of its kind in the Logan County community, it was actually the second reception honoring Mount Pulaski residents and natives.

The first such event was last year as a prelude to the 175th anniversary of the town and its annual fall festival, and it took place at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

Though the venue may have changed, the significance of the event was just as important as it was one year ago.

Mount Pulaski is the proud home of the Mount Pulaski Courthouse. It stands in the center of the city and has endured the test of time, though it has not always been the centerpiece it is now. When the state of Illinois hit financial hard times in the 1980s and '90s, the state historic site in Mount Pulaski suffered neglect as a result.

In 1992 the city purchased the property from the state for $1 and assumed the responsibility of keeping its doors open for visitors. Through an all-volunteer staff, the courthouse has been made available to the public with little help from the state since then.

In the second round of financial woes for the state, once again many historic sites are not getting what they need financially.

Because the people of Mount Pulaski have a genuine love for their site, they took it upon themselves to form a foundation and raise money that would help keep the building in good repair.

Tom Martin, chairman of the foundation, served as emcee for the reception and dinner Thursday evening. He spoke about the foundation and the projects that have been undertaken already.

He said that as he and the foundation saw it, they could not look to Springfield for the assistance they needed, so they had to look to the people of Mount Pulaski instead, and the people of Mount Pulaski were there for them, just as they always have been.

Some of the work that has been done this spring included some serious cleaning and scraping of peeling paint from interior walls.

Martin said the group has the state's blessing in the work they do. For the most part, with the small projects they have been involved in, they have been able to do without permission from the state. The larger projects that may come down the road will need state approval.

Martin said so far the state has been terrific to work with, and the foundation feels blessed to have that relationship

Martin said the purpose of the foundation was threefold. He emphasized it was not just about raising money. Other purposes, he said, included increasing the number of visitors and raising community awareness of the site.

Martin said the foundation wanted to be a good community partner, working with local businesses and schools to raise that awareness.

The foundation treasurer, Doug Johnson, offered a brief report. He said the foundation had a goal of accumulating $10,000 in their coffers for future projects. He said the current bank balance is just over $8,000.

He also noted two sizable donations that had been given Thursday evening. Jackie West had offered a donation of $500, and Shawn and Kimberly Tyson of Beck's Hybrids had also donated $500.

Following Johnson's report, Martin spoke again, saying that the foundation needs volunteers to help with work projects.

The foundation will also continue trying to organize events that bring the community together. Martin noted the street fest the foundation had hosted this summer. He said about 400 to 500 people had showed up to enjoy an evening of food and music. The foundation hopes to have two to three such events each summer.

The annual recognition is another event the foundation intends to continue. This year the event was a prelude to the fall festival, but Martin said if anyone had a better suggestion of when to have the event, the foundation would be open to suggestions.

After a buffet-style dinner catered by Mike Richner Catering, Guy Fraker took the podium as the guest speaker for the night. Fraker was introduced by his good friend Gordon Bidner, who is the Rotary governor of District 6490, Bloomington.

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When Fraker began to speak, he said he had originally planned on taking the podium and shaking his finger at everyone and saying, "You have got to save this building."

However, he said he had already learned that such a demand was not needed, as it was apparent the town loved its courthouse and intended to take care of it.

Fraker is the author of a book about Lincoln's days in the 8th Judicial Circuit. He told the group that this was important because the circuit was Lincoln's first step in his journey to the White House. He mentioned the support Lincoln had in David Davis and Samuel Parks, who both have strong connections to the Mount Pulaski Courthouse.

In 1860, Lincoln turned to his friends of the circuit, Davis and many others who practiced in the local courthouse. They went to Chicago and represented Lincoln for the presidential nomination and brought it home for Lincoln.

Fraker referred to the DVD he was involved in, "Prelude to the Presidency," which was produced by WILL television. He said the Mount Pulaski Courthouse had been chosen because it is authentic. He said other courthouses have been turned into museums, but here the building is as it would have been in the 1860s.

He also reminded the group that the courthouse for the county seat was Postville, but the county seat was moved to Mount Pulaski, primarily because of the beautiful Mount Pulaski Courthouse.

"The building cost $3,000, the county threw in $300 and the people of Mount Pulaski provided the $2,700; so things don't change. It is still up to you to save that building, and I'm glad you're going to do it," he said.

Afterward, Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar was recognized with the Casmir Pulaski Distinguished Alumni Award. Read Blasiar's biography by clicking here.

Tanner-Blasiar's career is also her calling and her cause. She spoke passionately about the work she does and drew from her experiences as a child in Mount Pulaski to drive home some of her points.

She spoke about how as a child, she went out to play. In the community, children were always outside doing something. She said the lack of exercise among young people today is a concern that needs to be addressed.

She also explained that one of the biggest challenges she faces in trying to teach good nutrition is that people today don't know how to cook good meals. She recalled again her youth and being a part of home economics and organizations such as 4-H, and she said there is a need for a revival of home economics programs in the schools.

Darrell Knauer was named the Casimir Pulaski Distinguished Citizen for this year. Read Knauer's biography by clicking here.

Knauer drew a laugh from the audience when he told them he had prepared a five-page acceptance speech for the evening, but the dog had eaten it.

He said it was a real pleasure and honor to live in Mount Pulaski and work with all those who volunteer their talents and time. He spoke proudly about his children's involvement in the community and elsewhere and praised them for their heartfelt desire to serve.

He thanked the award committee and the audience, saying it was an honor he would cherish for the rest of his life.

Martin ended the evening with a few brief comments about the dedication of the people of the community to keep the small town alive and thriving.

"I truly believe this is truly one of the most special small towns there is in America," Martin said.


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