Governor Bruce Rauner joined by Representative Tim Butler and representatives of Route 66 organizations and LaHood's office cutting ribbon at the Mill on 66

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[May 01, 2017]  LINCOLN - Saturday dawned wet and windy, and while the stormy weather may have dampened the day it certainly did not dampen the spirits of those who had come out to witness the ribbon cutting and grand opening of the Mill on 66 – Route 66 Museum in Lincoln.

Guests began arriving before noon, anxious to see inside, and appreciate all the hard work that has been done by the Route 66 Heritage Foundation to turn a dilapidated eyesore into an attractive and important Route 66 attraction.

Just after noon, Governor Bruce Rauner arrived. He was there to participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Rauner was also intent on attending the Bike Blessing to be held at Zero Tolerance in Lincoln at 2 p.m. With that in mind, the ribbon cutting ceremony got underway quickly with opening remarks from Chamber Director and President Cathy Wilhite.

“What a great, and long anticipated day this is. We are so proud to be here today for the grand opening of the Mill!” Wilhite acknowledged Illinois Representative Tim Butler, Hal Smith – representing U.S. Congressman Darin LaHood, Mayor Marty Neitzel, Mayor-elect Seth Goodman, city officials Jonie Tibbs, Rick Hoefle, Steve Parrott, Chuck Conzo, alderman-elect Ron Keller, Logan County Board member Robert Farmer, Logan County Economic Development Partnership Director Bill Thomas, and several others in attendance.

Wilhite called for the posed pictures for local media, then the ribbon was quickly snipped by Geoff Ladd and Foundation Board President Bob Wilmert with Gov. Rauner helping to hold the ribbon.

The first one to speak was Rauner. He spoke excitedly; “Illinois is a wonderful place, because we’ve got such wonderful communities who come together to celebrate our heritage and tradition. Route 66 is one of the most iconic and special places anywhere in America. It is about the freedom of the road and coming and exploring our communities.”

Gov. Rauner went on to say that tourism is a major funding source for the state, and the Mill on 66 is a great addition for our tourists.

Representative Butler spoke next, first thanking the governor for being there and saying, “I know the governor loves route 66, he rides it on his motorcycle.” Butler went on to say many thanks to the Route 66 Foundation and the community for coming together to celebrate the opening of the Mill. Butler noted Frank Butterflield with Landmarks Illinois was in the crowd. He said that Landmarks Illinois named Route 66 as endangered in Illinois. Butler said he appreciated Butterfield’s organization bringing Route 66 into the spotlight. Butler also acknowledged Bill Thomas of Logan County who is heavily involved in the promotion of Route 66 on a National level. Butler closed speaking about the centennial of Route 66 in 2026, and noted “Illinois is leading the way when it comes to Route 66.” He went on to say that Illinois is the “beginning of Route 66,” it is a tremendous road and tremendous tourist attraction for the entire state.

Hal Smith spoke on behalf of Darin LaHood, opening by thanking Butler on his work on the state level to preserve and promote Route 66. He recalled visiting Logan County just a little over a week ago with LaHood and Rodney Davis, each promoting bills that will help solidify the future of Route 66 as a National Trail and a national tourist attraction.


Mayor Marty Neitzel was the next speaker on the agenda. She noted that it was her last official appearance as Mayor, and that she was proud to be there, and proud to say that the Mill re-opened while she was in office. She noted that “We have got to work together. It appears this has happened, all the offices of Lincoln, the city, county, tourism, we all have to work together.” She said that she was looking forward to having a new mayor in Lincoln, and offered him a word of welcome as she turned the microphone over to Mayor-elect Seth Goodman.

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Goodman began by asking that everyone give Neitzel a round of applause for her service to the city. He then thanked the community for coming out for the opening of the Mill and congratulated the foundation for their work.

Jonie Tibbs spoke recalling that this day had been a long time coming. She recounted the story of finding the braille menu for the Mill. She noted that with the Mill being located next door to the State School, there were patrons with special needs that the Huffman’s did their best to accommodate. She noted that George Dahmm had kept the menu in safe keeping. After George passed away, members of his family continued to preserve the artifact, and this week returned it to the Mill.

Bill Kelly with the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway commented, “This is a great day! The Mill is a great example of the road coming back to life.” He went on to thank Ladd for all his efforts. He acknowledged the local elected officials as well as Rauner, Butler, and Smith.

John Weiss of the Route 66 Association of Illinois was called upon to speak. Ladd noted that Weiss had been a great mentor to him on the journey to rebuild the Mill. Weiss commented, “We call them the grassroots of America, the volunteers, the dreamers. Look what we can do!”

Weiss went on to say, “What you’re enjoying today is the history of yesterday, but what you are doing today is the history of tomorrow.”

The last person to speak was Foundation President Bob Wilmert. Wilmert had a long list of people he said he wanted to thank beginning with Ladd who had worked long, hard hours doing labor as well as paperwork and seeking funding to make a dream come true. There were several others that Wilmert thanked including the many, many volunteers who worked hours to rebuilt much of the building and make it into a usable facility for the Route 66 Museum.

Wilmert said that it was a team effort and all the people he named had worked hard, pitching in “to get it done.”

Ladd acknowledged the foundation members in the room, which there were many.

As Ladd prepared to leave with Gov. Rauner, he said that the two were headed to Zero Tolerance where the governor would take part in the Bike Blessing. Ladd invited everyone to stay, and said there would be door prize drawings held at 1 p.m. and a second drawing later in the day.

[Nila Smith]

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