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.
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.
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.
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.
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.