It has only been several years since the state initiated the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition Project, bringing into the project about a dozen Illinois communities having some Abraham Lincoln history.
And as project director Nicky Stratton met with representatives of each community, she told them that the work to better promote Lincoln’s time in Illinois would be a learning process for everyone involved.
“The communities would ask, ‘What can you do to help us?’” Stratton told a large group of local residents during a ceremony on Sunday at Vandalia City Hall.
“We’d tell them, ‘We’re here to help, but we’re not here to do the work, and if there is no impetus coming from the community, there’s nothing we can do,” she said.
Vandalia was a community that took Stratton at her word, and Sunday’s ceremony was proof of that, she said.
Stratton, who has since retired from the coalition director post, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony held for the unveiling of Vandalia’s 10 Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits.
Those exhibits tell 20 stories about the time that Abraham Lincoln spent in Vandalia as a state representative from Sangamon County.
Several of the storyboards have already been erected, on walls at Lincoln Park, Thirsty’s and Wiseguys, and the remaining exhibits will be put up as weather permits.
In addition to the three already up, five will be installed on the Vandalia Statehouse grounds, one will be put in the Old State Burial Ground at Second and Edwards street and one will be put in Rogier Park on Fillmore Street.
Speakers during Sunday’s program included Bill Donaldson, chairman of Vandalia’s Looking for Lincoln Committee; Jim Staff, a committee member who served as master of ceremonies; Jean Stombaugh, another member of the committee; Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman; and Hal Smith, who succeeded Stratton as the state coalition director.
Committee member and local historian Dale Timmermann, who researched and wrote the stories appearing on the exhibits – and obtained all artwork that accompanies them – told about each of the exhibits.
Local musician Ed Taylor sang a song that he wrote about Abraham Lincoln.
But one of the highlights was Stratton’s address, in which she noted the dedication of local committee members.
“I’ve never met people who are so determined,” Stratton said.
At her first meeting with the group, Stratton heard Vandalia’s representatives lay out their plans. “I’m not sure that I believed them at the time,” she said.
“But they did everything right – they had a mission statement, they had goals, they had committees,” Stratton said.
“They went to work, and they made this thing happen,” she said.
“I’ve never seen anything like the organization in Vandalia, and I’m just so proud of what you’ve accomplished.
“Every time these people faced an obstacle, they’d find a way to get through it,” Stratton said.
Stratton and others at the state level learned by watching the progress of the Vandalia group.
“We were learning from you,” she said.
“These people did it all on their own. It is the determination of this community that made this happen,” Stratton said.
“You got help from us, but you didn’t get nearly the help that we now know we should be giving (to communities) on a project like this,” she said.
“This is just an amazing community.”