KASKASKIA - With the ringing of church bells, a military salute and a re-enactment of the signing of the Illinois 1818 Constitution, the countdown to the state’s 200th birthday has begun.
Speaking to a large crowd at the Liberty Bell of the West shrine on Kaskaskia Island as part of the Aug. 26 kickoff event, Gov. Bruce Rauner plugged the governor’s mansion renovations in Springfield, thanked members of the Daughters of the American Revolution for “keeping the flame burning for America’s values” and generally highlighted the plans for the bicentennial celebration.
“We wanted to start this celebration right here in Kaskaskia, our state’s first capital where Illinois began,” said Rauner, who was joined by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, SIU President Randy Dunn and state, county and local officials in commemorating what’s been proclaimed as Constitution Day. “It’s only fitting that we’re all here together.”
Kaskaskia, which briefly served as the state capital until the capital was moved to Vandalia in 1819, was the launching point of the 100-day countdown to the Dec. 3 start of the year-long celebration.
Illinois was recognized as a state on Dec. 3, 1818 and the official Illinois Bicentennial will be celebrated in 2018 with events planned across the state.
“We’ve got events from Metropolis to Rockford and from Quincy to Danville, all over the great state of Illinois, we’re going to be having celebrations, parties, events, research and celebrations of our history,” said Rauner, who had a backdrop of 18th century reenactors from Les Amis du Fort de Chartres behind him. “We’re out to honor and remember all the great things about Illinois and celebrate our future, how we can learn from our past 200 years and make the next 200 years even better.”
As part of his remarks, Dunn - who served as Chester District 139’s superintendent from 1991 to 1994 and is co-chair of the state’s Bicentennial Commission - said the bicentennial year would celebrate everything that is Illinois.
“Not just the history we are taking note of today,” he said. “But also our culture, food, sports teams, business and industry, everything that makes Illinois what it is.
“And as all of you know, Illinois is a dynamic place.”
In a news release distributed the day of the event, Rauner’s administration announced that Chester High School senior Melissa Crosby had submitted the first video to the state’s bicentennial contest, which can be found at www.illinois200.com.
Gilster-Mary Lee President and CEO Don Welge said the roots of Illinois history “run deep in the soul of Kaskaskia.”
“As we stand here today, we cannot help but feel the great sense of history,” he said.