Editorial: Jon Lundin, a good man

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Anyone who aspires to good works in our area only has to look to the efforts of Jon Lundin. Jon passed away last Thursday, May 3, but the fruits of his mind and spirit will continue to nurture many for years to come.

Jon impressed anyone who met him as an intelligent man. He studied at Yale and Cambridge universities, yet he did not wear his scholarship on his sleeve. Through his humility, he impressed us all as a good man­. Jon was just plain friendly. He emanated a sincerity and gentleness—embodied in his daily tasks—many times performed with a grin.

In a relaxed yet intense manner, Jon knew the values of the lessons of heritage and history, as reflected in his authorship of Rockford: An Illustrated History (1996), Swedetown (2002) and Master Inventor: How Howard Colman Created a Multi-National Corporation (2006).

Doc Slafkosky, co-owner of J.R. Kortman’s, said of Jon’s departure: “It’s sad. Besides him being a good friend, he probably took a lot of information about Rockford with him. He was such a positive influence for growth and change in Rockford. He knew so much because he talked to so many people. He’s a wealth of knowledge that is sad to lose. I wish he had written more.”

As a great fan of people and places, Jon not only researched to write history, he lived history. Jon was a supporter of Midway Village in consultation and action. He was known to hunt for treasures at Toad Hall, the home of so many things unusual and old in Rockford—one of those great finds for that hidden bit of research. Jon hunted Rockford everywhere, and found us.

“I can’t imagine Rockford, Illinois, without Jon Lundin,” Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) said on the city council floor, Monday, May 7, “but I can see what’s great about Rockford, and I can tell you it’s because Jon Lundin was a part of this city.”

Mark said he was “blessed” to sing three songs at Jon’s memorial service Tuesday, May 8: “Children of the Heavenly Father,” “On Eagle’s Wings” and “Downtown.” “Everyone joined in on ‘Downtown,’” Mark said.

Estimates of the crowd in the service were 400, with a total of 1,000 paying respects at the memorial in Bethesda Convenant Church. So many people were in line, some did not get in before the service began.

Yes, Jon found Rockford and wanted it to grow; decline was not for Jon.

“Rockford is very much the canary in the cage for manufacturing. The lay of the land changed,” said Jon to the Chicago Tribune in 2005 of the ’80s and ’90s in Rockford. He was already at work on the problem.

Robert Frost said your vocation should be your advocation, and such was the case with Jon.

As an advocate for rebirth in Rockford’s industry, Jon helped found Eigerlab, a new technology center; EDGE, a business incubator; and the Manufacturers Alliance of Rock River Valley, where several businesses could come together to work on one project.

He was the champion of Kishwaukee Street and 15th Avenue, as the president of The Abilities Center at 1907 Kishwaukee. He recovered the old U.S. Naval Reserve armory at 185 15th Ave.

He bought houses on the Kishwaukee for workers at the center who could not afford housing. He lamented that the new road plan could destroy these homes he acquired and built up—restored—like the people who learn in those facilities.

“Strengthening individuals, families and the community through education, employment and enterprise development,” reads the center’s web site.

“The Abilities Center provides strategic solutions to the problems of workforce development. We help businesses recruit, assess, and train employees, while serving as brokers for job seekers who are interested in establishing new career directions. Our experience in computer-based training and workplace apprenticeship enables us to address a variety of employment needs,” stands as the center’s mission statement.

The programs contained in Multitrex, Techworks, Hireyourself, Goodwill Industries, Contract Services, Data Works, Metal Works, Job Starter, EDGE, Rent-a-factory and Enterprise Rockford tower as outstanding achievements.

Jon taught and provided jobs in new technologies in old neighborhoods, taking a non-profit to turning a profit, instead of solely depending on government funding. He filled in, instead of sprawling out. He helped us. Help his dream, and go to www.abilitiescenter.org. Donate whatever you can, recognize what he saw in people.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, Rockford recognized Jon’s foresight and passed an ordinance providing $2,500 per position for up to 10 permanent jobs expected to be created. Per the agreement, a majority of the positions are to be filled by moderate-to-low-income applicants.

“Visionary” is overused in corporate speak today, and the word doesn’t do Jon justice. Jon was a “seer” into the past and future, who acted on those lessons for everyone. He had a good time doing it, too.

Webbs Norman, now volunteer historian (his book on the history of the Rockford Park District is due out in 2009) and co-chairman of fund-raising for the Nicholas Conservatory in Sinnissippi Park, said of Jon: “I think Jon had an affection for life in general much beyond most of us. Because he was such a talented person and understood life in general from such a broad sense, he had an affinity for helping people who needed a helping hand. Jon and I spent a lot of time speaking about needs and opportunity and so on. His approach to life was that life itself is a miracle every day, just as the universe itself is a miracle.

“He had so many talents. He wanted to share those talents with those that had greater needs than he had. Jon helped out so much everywhere. I first met Jon in 1972. We came to town at the same time. I always invited Jon to come speak to our employees about the history and culture in our city. He was always willing to share his knowledge,” said Norman.

Sharing was a way of life with Gloria Lundin, his wife and president of the community Foundation of Northern Illinois. They stood as the most graceful, low-key, power couple in all the fine senses of those words.

To his wife, Gloria, and children, Claire and Thomas, and to all of his friends and associates, our great sympathy and best wishes.

One of Jon’s most recent achievements was getting Sunil Puri to donate the Elks Club for restoration. He noted largely through the efforts of Pam Hein, the Elks Club is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for federal tax credits. Jon was also instrumental in making those attractive signs in the windows appear.

Mayor Larry Morrissey and the restoration committee will soon announce new plans for the historical and elegant facility, with its wonderful architecture, ballroom and staircase. I think it only appropriate that the Elks Club be renamed to honor Jon Lundin, and I hope others see to remember him as he always learned, remembered so much and so many.

Another personal note: Yes, Jon, I’m still working on those books on Stephen Mack and the Rock River. Thanks for your help on them, more please. I really like your new book. You and Mr. Colman have much in common.

from the May 2-8, 2007, issue

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