Peru Citizens Service Organization members released two bits of news Friday:
First, women will be allowed at the traditional men’s club’s 80th annual CSO Picnic on Thursday, Aug. 8 on the St. Bede grounds, said club president Mike Smith. The event also is likely to change further and move from the St. Bede grounds next year.
Second, members of the group on Thursday searched for and unearthed a 50-year-old plaque that was paid for by the CSO, installed at the dedication of the then-U.S. 51 bridge over the Illinois River and which was later mostly forgotten.
Why is the CSO allowing women, ages 21 and older, at its picnic and fundraiser after all these years?
Year after year recently, the CSO members have observed, “Our turnout is always less,” said CSO president Mike Smith.
“I think it’s great,” CSO member Mark Ptak said of allowing women to come to the event that includes bocce ball, euchre, dining on mulligan stew, $8 tickets, dime beers, free soda, and sandwiches and beverages. The picnic is 3-10 p.m. Thursday.
Smith said the cost of admission also covers “sparkling conversation.”
Not only has the turnout for the picnic been dwindling, the group is trying to become a bit more inclusive.
Ptak said the goal is to make the event “more open to everyone.” The picnic always has been the domain of Peru men, “but it’s time for a change,” Ptak said.
“Some guys want to change it. Some guys don’t. But it we don’t change it, it’s going to disappear,” Smith said.
Lost and found
One thing that had disappeared, at least from the view of most people, was that plaque the CSO purchased and unveiled near the U.S. 6 sidewalk on Nov. 15, 1963, the day of Gov. Otto Kerner dedicated of the river bridge.
“This plaque has been missing and we didn’t even know about it until a person brought a picture of it,” Smith said.
Richard “Fuzzy” Fuerholzer had gone through photos from the old Bob Johns Photography studio and found an early photo of the plaque. Fuerholzer sand Jim Currie searched much of Thursday for the plaque. Then CSO members were chatting and saying they figured the plaque was stolen and scrapped, but Ptak told them he remembered approximately where the plaque was from when he was growing up not far from the bridge and Route 251-U.S. 6 cloverleaf.
Fuerholzer and Jim Currie walked near where Ptak sent them, scuffed some brush, weeds and mud away and unearthed the plaque. Smith said it would be nice if the plaque could be raised above street level, set in concrete and somewhat made visible to passers-by. It sits on state property. Fuerholzer said CSO members searched much of Thursday for the plaque from that old Bob Johns photo.
Longtime CSO member Bob Ankiewicz said the date on the plaque, Nov. 15, 1963, caught his attention. That was just seven days before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a date and moment that remains ingrained in his memory.
The plaque sponsored by the CSO specifically was “in honor of those who devoted their time and effort to secure this crossing of the Illinois River.”
Smith said the commemorative plaque shows the CSO traditionally has made contributions to the community. The CSO purchases, replaces, repairs, puts up and takes down Christmas lights along the main streets, and the group takes care of U.S. flags that fly along the streets, as well as extra ones for patriotic holidays.
The CSO also puts on the fireworks program, provides a beer garden, pays for the band and stage and provides the portable toilets, for that annual event on the riverfront. The small profit from the evening goes back into the aforementioned CSO causes, Smith noted.