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The Spirit of Community is Alive and Well

Rich Egger
Gil Belles

Several recent lectures, newspaper columns, and radio interviews have proposed a hypothesis that we in Macomb are suffering from a decline in the spirit of community. Really?

I gave that some thought and offer a differing view based on the following observations using the definition that the spirit of community can be measured by our residents contributing time, talent, and treasure. Individually or in clubs, organizations, and groups advocating improving the quality of life in our community.

When I moved to Macomb in 1968, the local YMCA operated out of a second floor office space and served several hundred people. Today, the Y in our community serves over 3000 people from pre-school through senior citizens operating out of three buildings in Macomb and several programs in Bushnell. Five days a week the Macomb Y delivers over 100 lunch meals throughout the county.

In just the last several months, three major fundraisers brought together our residents to support community projects. In five years VIBE, an all-volunteer organization, has raised and returned back over $550,000 to local organizations. The Performing Arts Society raised money for its Youth Performing Arts Series, which provides free bus transportation and concert performances for over 8000 school kids every year. The Purple and Gold auction raised money to support the WIU athletic teams, which entertain the sports fans in our community.

Each year our community turns out in vast numbers to watch the WIU Homecoming parade, the Macomb High Homecoming parade, and the Heritage Days parade. Heritage Days is an opportunity for hundreds of former residents to return to their home roots and bind with their former classmates and community friends. Parades in Macomb embody the spirit of community.

Every Thanksgiving hundreds of volunteers purchase food and prepare it for free dinners for local folks. The Eagles and Salvation Army invite anyone to attend. Soup and More does this once a month all year long. The Salvation Army depends on scores of volunteers to ring the holiday bells and collect donations for community programs.

A statue honoring the social service of Macomb women was recently dedicated. The project succeeded because of the dedicated effort of volunteers soliciting donations throughout our community.

Every year the Quality of Life Committee pays tribute to community members who have contributed to an improved quality of life in Macomb.

Every semester, a corps of volunteers offers a wide variety of  “classes” in the Learning is ForEver (LIFE) programs spanning a vast spectrum of interests open to all in our community.

The Friends of the Macomb Public Library, another group of community volunteers, has been holding popular book sales to add resources for the library. Each book sale requires an army of volunteers to sort, setup, sell, and clean up. Travelers using the train station can find a free book to read, from the Friends of the Macomb Public Library.

Another group of community members raised the money to purchase the former Woolworth building on the Square and turn it into the West Central Illinois Arts Center where one can see exhibitions, plays, or visit special events like the Festival of Trees.

The Western Illinois Museum mounts three or four major exhibits each year featuring artifacts that reflect the history and community of our region. Volunteers from the community do almost all of that exhibition work.

In that same building one can find the McDonough County Genealogical Research Center. Community volunteers answer family history questions that come from all over the world as well as walk-in inquiries.

The McDonough County Historical Society often meets in the same building where volunteers promote the history of our community.

The Macomb CVB facilitates and promotes many special events in Macomb, like the Balloon Rally every fall. The balloonists return annually for a sense of community they find in Macomb.

The Western Illinois Regional Council depends on scores of community volunteers who donate time and money to make Project Santa a success.

The City of Macomb has six boards and commissions that utilize the volunteer service of 40 citizens.

Let me add the 800 flags of honor that are set up and taken down in Chandler Park by a community of patriotic volunteers every Federal holiday. And the July 4th Fireworks display celebrates Independence Day as a community gathering.

And in the spirit of community, the Y, the Macomb Park District, the Macomb School District, and McDonough District Hospital are investigating ways to provide even more community-based activities and programs in a new central location.

Let me close with a rapid thank you to a vast array of other volunteer groups which help glue us together as a community: Macomb Beautiful, Loaves and Fishes, Habitat for Humanity, Prairie Land Conservancy, Environmental Concerned Citizens, MDH Auxiliary, Friends of Argyle, Friends of Vishnu, Project HOPE, four Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scouts, Macomb Community Theater, Rotary clubs, Kiwanis, Lions, Altrusa, Elks, Emmet Chalmers volunteer fire department, McDonough Choral Society, State University Annuitants Association, WTND Macomb radio, free Go West bus and on demand transportation, supporters of WIUM our NPR radio station, several veterans groups, and an endless list of school activities supported by our community facilitated by volunteers.

I am sure that I have missed some other examples of what I consider community spirit that seems to me to be alive and well in Macomb. I suggest that the glass of community spirit is not half empty but is overflowing.

Gil Belles is a retired professor from Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.