JOLIET – Longtime Joliet resident Billie Limacher remembers in the 1960s watching in dismay as some of the city’s first buildings along Bluff Street were reduced to mere rubble.
Largely due to Limacher’s efforts, Bluff Street, the city’s first street, still exists, preserved through the creation of Bicentennial Park in the 1970s. The park was established along the waterway to memorialize the nation’s 200th birthday.
Limacher, now 92, has served as president of Will-Joliet Bicentennial Park, Inc., the nonprofit responsible for creating the park, since its inception in 1972.
“If we hadn’t done anything, no, I don’t think [Bluff Street] would still exist,” Limacher said Wednesday, reflecting on her and the organization’s efforts in acquiring land along Bluff Street between Jefferson Street and Western Avenue to preserve the historic street.
Limacher was honored Monday with the State of Illinois Office of Tourism’s Lincoln Award, given to “behind-the-scene stars” who go above and beyond the state’s tourism industry.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Why couldn’t they have told me sooner?’ I didn’t hear about it until last week, so I wrote a note saying I wouldn’t be able to attend,” Limacher said. “I said it would be too much. I don’t drive in Chicago anymore.”
However, a limo was waiting outside her home Monday to escort her to the ceremony, she said.
Sitting in her Douglas Street home this week, the 92-year-old noted her work is far from over – even as she searches for someone to take her place as board president.
“I can’t find anybody nuts enough to take the job,” she said. “No. 1, they have to be nuts, and No. 2, they have to love history.”
Her decades-long dedication to the park, now named Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park in her honor, has not gone unnoticed.
Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante – with whom Limacher has butted heads with from time to time as the city made budget cuts to several entities, including the park – had only good things to say of Limacher during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“She deserves it. She works hard over there,” Giarrante said.
Councilmen Mike Turk and Jim McFarland also congratulated Limacher as a recipient of the Lincoln Award.
“At 92 years old, Billie doesn’t miss a day over there. She just lives for that park,” Turk said. “If it wasn’t for her, that park would not be the asset to the city that it is.”
The park has seen its fair share of budget cuts over the years, forcing many of the organization’s events to be scrapped, she said.
However, some of Limacher’s favorites remain, including Concerts on the Hill, held each Thursday evening throughout the summer, and Festival of the Gnomes, held each December.
As for the future of the park, Limacher said she hopes more attention is given to the Historic Walk, constructed in 1987. It takes visitors on a historic tour through Bluff Street, with boulders and bronze plaques marking sites of earlier buildings and historic events.
“One thing that hasn’t really ever been publicized enough, as far as I’m concerned, is the Historic Walk,” she said. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of.”