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Pekin salutes its veterans, then celebrates its 200th birthday with a Bicentennial Street Faire

Military jeeps from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were part of the Pekin veterans parade.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
Military jeeps from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were part of the Pekin veterans parade.

An emotional parade and ceremony honoring Pekin's veterans kicked off a celebration Saturday of the city's bicentennial.

Keith McKeever, an Air Force veteran who served from 2006-11 and was deployed twice to Iraq during the Iraq War, headed an informal group that organized the veterans parade and ceremony that preceded the Pekin Bicentennial Street Faire.

"Everything went very well. There were about 25 veterans in the parade and I saw others in the crowd," said McKeever, executive director of the United Way of Pekin.

Kevin McKeever, who headed the informal group that planned the Pekin veterans parade and ceremony, reads the name of a veteran who won a wooden U.S. flag replica provided by the Ameren Military-Veteran Employees group in a raffle.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
Kevin McKeever, who headed the informal group that planned the Pekin veterans parade and ceremony, reads the name of a veteran who won a wooden U.S. flag replica provided by the Ameren Military-Veteran Employees group in a raffle.

McKeever said at least three World War II veterans from Pekin -- James Johnson, George Sipka and Louis Steger -- were in attendance on the warm morning.

A ceremony on the Street Faire Stage at Court and Capitol streets emceed by Steve Saal, superintendent of the Tazewell County Veterans Assistance Commission, followed the parade.

McKeever was recruited to plan the veterans parade and ceremony.

"The idea to honor veterans at the Street Faire came from the bicentennial committee," he said. "Amy McCoy (Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce executive director) knew I was a veteran and asked me at a chamber after-hours event if I would be interested in planning the events."

About a month later, McKeever said, the planning began.

Among the speakers at the ceremony were Jared Olar, local history program coordinator at the Pekin Public Library, and Pekin City Council member David Nutter.

Olar spoke about the history of Pekin's veterans, which dates back to the Revolutionary War. Nutter, whose was father was a World War II veteran, talked about the history of the U.S. flag and Flag Day.

Elisabeth Sandoval, Miss Marigold 2021 and a senior at the University of Illinois, sang the national anthem. Children entertained audience members by signing patriotic songs.

Elisabeth Sandoval sings the national anthem during the ceremony that followed the Pekin veterans parade.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
Elisabeth Sandoval sings the national anthem during the ceremony that followed the Pekin veterans parade.

In front of the stage were representatives of the Tazewell County Ceremonial Team and Pekin Marine Corps League, and six wooden replica U.S. flags provided by the Ameren Military-Veteran Employees group that were awarded to veterans in the audience in a raffle.

McKeever said Rich Dansizen and Bob Nichols from the Ceremonial Team; Bill Clark from the Marine Corps League; Amber Ortiz, commander of the Central Illinois Army Recruiting Company; Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman; Nathan Davis, owner of Nate's Dogs; and Saal also helped plan Saturday's veterans activities.

The Street Faire, held on the 300 and 400 blocks of Court, continued until well into the evening.

It included entertainment, old-time best handlebar moustache, longest beard and arm wrestling contests, kids games, a kids art show, a community picnic for anyone who volunteered anywhere in the city over the past year, a group photo, and a "freak show" and barker presented by the Artistic Community Theater of Pekin outside and inside its studio at 407 Court.

The veterans parade and ceremony and Street Faire were some of many events planned this year to celebrate Pekin's 200th birthday.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.