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History and nostalgia are on display as the public get its first look at Pekin time capsule's contents

IN THE TIME CAPSULE: Posters welcoming President Richard Nixon and President Gerald Ford to Pekin, and 1977 vehicle brochures.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
IN THE TIME CAPSULE: Posters welcoming President Richard Nixon and President Gerald Ford to Pekin, and 1977 vehicle brochures.

A slice of Pekin's 200-year history was brought to life Thursday morning during the celebration of the most important day in United States history.

The contents of a concrete time capsule that was originally buried Jan. 1, 1977 on the grounds of the former City Hall at 400 Margaret St., unearthed and buried again in 2002 in a 7 1/2-foot-deep hole in front of the current City Hall at 111 S. Capitol St., were on display in the lobby July 4 at City Hall.

A 40-minute program in the adjoining City Council meeting room, attended by a standing-room-only crowd approaching 100, celebrated the capsule's opening, part of Pekin's celebration of its bicentennial.

City Manager John Dossey, who has been the point person on the unearthing of the capsule and display of its contents with help from city employees, emceed the program, which featured six speakers.

Pekin Mayor Mary Burress read a letter written to the city's mayor in 2024 by William Waldmeier, the city's mayor in 1976.

IN THE TIME CAPSULE: A Pekin Times story that informed residents about the deadline to submit items for the capsule.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
IN THE TIME CAPSULE: A Pekin Times story that informed residents about the deadline to submit items for the capsule.

Burress described Waldmeier as a "very well-liked mayor."

Amy McCoy, executive director of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce, read a letter written to the 2024 chamber head by Chuck Wolfe, president of the Pekin Chamber of Commerce in 1976.

Danielle Owens, superintendent of Pekin Community High School, read letters written by 16-year-old Pekin high school student Jane Marie Baker in 1976 and Pekin high school teachers Lloyd and Pam Stephens, representing the Pekin Teachers Alliance union.

PCHS Athletic Director Cole Stoner and Gary Gillis, co-chair of the Pekin bicentennial committee, also spoke.

Waldmeier made several predictions in his letter.

While he was off on his prediction that Pekin would have 100,000 residents in 2024 -- it actually has about 31,000 and it had about 35,000 in 1976 -- Waldmeier was mostly correct in his prediction that there would be four or five "economic adjustments" in the country in the 48 years between 1976 and 2024.

Pekin had a $10 million budget and about 250 employees in 1976, Waldmeier wrote. Now it has 376 employees, a bus department it didn't have in 1976, and a $117 million budget, Burress said.

Lloyd and Pam Stephens wrote that 129 of the high school's 183 teachers were members of the teachers union, and a lack of enough energy was the biggest problem facing schools in those days.

The high school's enrollment in 1976 was about 2,000 on two campuses. It's now about 1,600 on one campus, Owens said.

Stoner, whose grandfather Marshall Stoner was the coach of the Pekin high school boys basketball team in 1976, read a poignant letter written Jan. 1, 1977 by Bud Von Boeckmann to Pekin high school athletes.

Von Boeckmann enclosed a ticket to the 1964 IHSA boys basketball state championship game at Assembly Hall in Champaign. Pekin beat the Cobden Appleknockers 50-45.

"I can't imagine what the year 2024 will be like, but I know that you will sometime go down memory lane and look back at your life, and you will also wonder what 2076 will be like," Von Boeckmann wrote at the beginning of his letter.

Pekin residents check out items from a time capsule buried in 1977 that were displayed on tables in the Pekin City Hall lobby.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
Pekin residents check out items from a time capsule buried in 1977 that were displayed on tables in the Pekin City Hall lobby.

"I am 61 years of age. I've had many ups and downs in my life, but thank God I was an American and a Pekinite.

"I learned many things from my coaches, but the biggest was that I'd get out of my work and playing (sports) just what I put into them. No more, no less."

Von Boeckmann then took a trip down his own memory lane.

"I've seen the horse and wagon, airplanes, cars, radio, television, atomic energy, and a man on moon in my lifetime," he wrote. "These were all wonderful. I hope you will see many wonderful things in your lives."

Von Boeckman then writes about standing alongside his 10-year-old grandson John F. Kennedy with tears in his eyes as Pekin boys basketball players Jim Sommer, Jim Couch, Amel Massa, Dave Golden, Ron Rhodes, other players and Coach Dawdy Hawkins were being honored for their 1964 state championship with a parade on Court Street.

"We were so proud of them," he wrote.

Von Boeckmann wrote that he knows Pekin will be great in 2024 because its residents "were made of very good stock in 1976. So carry on for us."

"Always remember that we too had ancestors we loved very much so when you walk down memory lane, we hope that we will be a part of your memory," he wrote.

"Life is so short, so enjoy very minute of it.

"Hurrah for Pekin high school and its students and athletes.

"From the people of Pekin in 1976 to the people of 2024, we wish you all the happiness and the wonders of your life."

Von Boeckmann's letter, typed on F. Von Boeckmann & Son painting services stationary, was co-signed by Evelyn Von Boeckmann.

The display of the time capsule's contents and program were originally scheduled to be held in the former Davison-Fulton-Woolsey Funeral Home just south of City Hall at 301 Broadway St., that has been purchased by the city.

Dossey moved the festivities to City Hall on Tuesday when he learned of a prediction of rain Thursday morning.

The prediction came true. The couple hundred people who viewed the time capsule's contents didn't have to examine them in the rain.

IN THE TIME CAPSULE: Information for Pekin Community High School students on the locations of pay phones in the East and West campuses that they can use. This is a page from the Cues student handbook.
Steve Stein
/
WCBU
IN THE TIME CAPSULE: Information for Pekin Community High School students on the locations of pay phones in the East and West campuses that they can use. This is a page from the Cues student handbook.

"Best decision I've made all week," Dossey said during the program.

The time capsule was unearthed by city employees May 31 and moved to the former funeral home.

On the advice of Jared Olar, the Pekin Public Library's local history coordinator, the time capsule's contents were removed shortly afterwards "so they could breathe again," Dossey said, and dry out.

That was an especially important action because the time capsule contained dozens of personal letters written by Pekin residents to their descendants.

The contents of two other Pekin time capsules from 1884 and 1952 will be put on display in the City Hall lobby along with the contents from the 1976 capsule.

Dossey said the city will collect items for a 2024 time capsule. Plans will be announced in August.

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.