City of Champaign set to celebrate 150th anniversary

By Avani Chhaya

The city of Champaign will celebrate its 150th Anniversary in a Unity Celebration on Thursday, revolving around the theme of “our best yesterday, today and the future.”

Dena Schumacher, the city’s education and public information officer, said the sesquicentennial, or 150th celebration, has been a commemorative event beginning with a look at Champaign’s history in March 2010, continuing with the “birthday salute” to the community in July 2010 and will conclude with Thursday’s event.

The three events follow the motto of “honor yesterday, celebrate today and build tomorrow,” she added.

“We’re focusing on launching into the future,” Schumacher said. “We are just absolutely inviting everybody.”

She said the community will also display letters that will be put in a time capsule to be opened for the benefit of future generations written by community members, seniors, children and business owners.

LaEisha Meaderds, project manager of the celebration, said the Letters to the Future project received 300 letters that will be bound in a book to be put into the time capsule and will be opened for the bicentennial celebration.

The project began in January with classrooms across the city participating in the event, Schumacher said.

“I think the thing that holds us together is the people,” she said. “It’s the people that makes the community so very special.”

Community residents can expect food, carnival games and musical entertainment free of charge, Meaderds said. She added there will be a photo opportunity for everyone in attendance shortly after 6 p.m. to “leave (a) legacy and stand together with the community.”

With the unveiling of a commemorative mural at the event, Meaderds said this project was started a few weeks ago and the end product will be housed in the city building in the atrium on the south end. She added the mural will represent the city’s agricultural background, the influence of the Illinois Central Railroad, components of Boneyard, downtown businesses, the Assembly Hall and Champaign’s diverse population.

Glen Davies, a Midwestern muralist creating the commemorative mural for the city, said the motto of the event combined with historical photographs inspired him to construct the mural.

“I think it will certainly speak for this event,” he said.

Davies said he incorporated the reference to the past by including the streetcar system, the city’s pioneer heritage and a touch of the University with a drawing of the Assembly Hall “where the entire community comes together with the University” as a unifying element.

“It’s a great honor for being considered worthy to do it,” he said. “I was grateful for the opportunity.”

Meaderds said that despite the transient nature of Champaign with people moving in and out because of the University, the city still retains a welcoming, community-centered atmosphere.

“It’s very much an open community — it’s very friendly,” she said. “It still has a hometown feel where people are willing to come together for a greater cause. You just feel at home.”