Day 2 – Joliet to Springfield

In the land of Lincoln, I am emboldened to say that I think Abe would like this undertaking very much. Route 66 roots the journey, but otherwise the experiences are genuine and free-flowing. An early breakfast in a delightful Joliet cafe this morning was followed by a short trip to a park dubbed "Route 66 Park" and the first interview of the day.

John and Lenore Weiss with Andy Benton

If this genuine American experience survives (in Illinois, at least), it will be owing to the effort of people like John and Lenore Weiss. For nearly 20 years they have worked tirelessly to assure the Route 66 experience. The museum in Joliet, the park in which our interview was conducted, the Red Carpet corridor they have developed, and the books they have written are evidence of their labors to preserve our heritage and to improve modern day experiences. I will comment on our interview a bit later.

Down the road is Funks Grove. I am a bit uncertain about the apostrophe (or lack thereof) and, I think, the community is too. Nevertheless, I met with Mike and Debbie Funk who are fifth generation Maple Sirup (this is not a typo) producers. They are also parents of three children who have experienced higher education in America.

Mike and Debbie Funk with Andy Benton

I feel I heard from Middle America today. When asked what they are most proud of about America, both couples used the word "freedom" almost immediately: the freedom to make choices, to choose a personal pathway, to succeed or fail depending upon how much effort we are willing to supply. When asked about those who have been influential in their lives, three pointed to a family member or a family friend. Another said simply "no one." It turns out that his formal education ended with the 8th grade and, with a difficult family situation, he actually grew up as a street kid. He learned the lessons of what not to do and today he is an author, a preservationist, and without significant roots of his own, he fights to conserve the story of Route 66. He is successful without the usual trappings of success.

John and Lenore Weiss with Andy Benton

I asked if there were any messages to Washington that I might be able to deliver from these four residents of Main Street. One said, "Don't forget the little guy." Another said, "Protect our troops and bring them home." My new friends from Funks Grove expressed concern for the environment. I observed their farm to be a model of sustainability and think we all would do well to do half as well. Their observations about how tough circumstances sometimes yield positive outcomes were based on their own real experiences.

Both interviews focused on the importance of instilling in our students a sense of responsibility and common sense along with an understanding of how our economy works and the need to learn solid personal financial practices.

Andy Benton at Odel gas station

It was a good day and an interesting day. The values discussed related to hard work, self-discipline, the impact of good mentors and models, and the oft-forgotten gift of freedom that is ours. I was inspired.

Tomorrow's travels will take us to Devil's Elbow and other places with intriguing names, and then into Missouri where we have a group interview in Rolla.

P.S. The Funks Grove Maple Sirup is remarkable. Makes me want to go find some pancakes.

Funks Grove Maple Sirup Farm

6 Responses to "Day 2 – Joliet to Springfield"

  1. Monika (Schulte) Morris Says:

    Hi President Benton!
    I am excited to see you are over here in this part of the country. My husband of now 19 days (Joseph Morris, also Class of 2005) and I moved out here to Kirksville, Missouri last year as he began medical school. I wish I could go down to Rolla tomorrow, but I have a job interview for a teaching position at the university in town.
    We've learned a great deal about the people and values found in this part of the country over the last year as well, and I hope your trip continues to yield such informative, interesting, and valuable findings. Best wishes for a safe and memorable trip!
    Monika Schulte (now Morris)
    Class of 2005

  2. terry giles Says:

    Hi Andy,

    When you are traveling through Missouri, you will go through a small town called Cuba (about 20 miles east of Rolla. About 200 yards past the turn off to Cuba (which borders 66) there will be two very tiny houses elevated up on a hill to your right while you are headed west. My Mom and I lived in the second of those homes.

    When things were really bad (I was 9 years old), I used to walk along Highway 66 picking up soda bottles that were tossed from cars. The 2 cent deposits would add up and pay for dinner that night. This was in 1957.

    Have fun on your trip. The Rolla School of Mines is an impressive institution you might enjoy visiting.

    Terry Giles

  3. Martha Groves Says:

    Maybe we all oughta take out the apostrophes and spelling rules … Ha! Sounds like an inspiring day of insight and revelation. Looking forward to your next entry!

  4. Deborah Waugh Says:

    Sounds like you're having a great time! I ran across a piece of Pepperdine literature today and thought of you — got on your website and wanted to say hello! Too bad Nashville isn't on Route 66–we'd love to see you. If you're ever out this way let us know! Take care and be careful!
    James & Deborah Waugh

  5. Scott Says:

    If you didn't get a chance to pass through Ottawa Illinois for one of the original sites of the historic Lincoln Douglas debates I hope you can pass through on your next trip to Illinois. Be sure to also stop at Bianchis world famous pizza, if you are a pizza lover. It is the best there is, and Ottawa is the only location!

  6. Andy Says:

    Everyone who responded to this day brings back a memory – and a pleasant one at that. Thanks for writing. I wish each of you could have come along for a portion of this terrific day.