Rockford’s best mayor speaks to RUM

Rockford has been blessed with a succession of great mayors (in my humble opinion). From the present mayor, Doug Scott, way back to Robert McGaw (1973-1981), our city could have done worse. When economic times threaten, crime rates rise, and people are losing their jobs, this city has been administered fairly well. The mayors have been open, frank and honest, and have worked hard for the citizens of Illinois’ second city.

And Rockford Urban Ministries (whom I work for) has always encouraged the mayors to work for redevelopment of the inner city and against addictive and harmful tendencies. RUM, as it’s affectionately called, is made up of 25 area congregations who direct their meager church resources to where we can do the most good. RUM‘s been around since 1962, and we will be celebrating our 42nd anniversary with a dinner, Friday, June 18, 6 p.m., at Second Congregational Church (one of our newer members). The dinner will be fancy compared to most church meals but will cost only $20, and you can reserve your spot by sending a check to “RUM Dinner” c/o Leigh Lakey, 301 Dawn Ave., Rockford, IL 61107-5008.

The after-dinner speech, which is free and open to the public, starts at 7 p.m. The speaker is my favorite Rockford mayor, John McNamara. John was mayor when I was hired as the director of Rockford Urban Ministries. He is a Vietnam veteran, as am I, and was the assistant public defender, which brought him to Rockford in 1966. McNamara served as mayor during the most economically troubling time, in the midst of the 1980s Reagan recession. Rockford had just made the front page of The New York Times: “Highest Unemployment in the Country.” John had bumper stickers that said, “Keep the lights on” in response to the newspaper’s cheerless comments: “Will the last person to leave Rockford please turn out the lights?”

I had just been hired by Rockford Urban Ministries to fill some mighty big shoes. Previous executive directors had gone on to become bishops (one in Detroit and the other in Iowa). I was the first non-clergy director hired by then exclusively United Methodist congregations. But I found the city administration helpful in supporting community development and assisting the poorest of the poor in finding jobs. I enjoyed John’s humor, dedication and compassion for the poor. I also appreciated that he hated war as much as I did.

John comes from a Catholic background, and I’ve asked him to talk about how his faith has directed his work. I want him to get personal and share some of his views on issues of the day and then explain where they came from. I also asked if he could spur our member churches to work harder for the city. During these times of economic doldrums, non-profits are often forgotten in the scramble to survive. I must say that many of the churches have stepped out during these difficult times to start new missions. I think that’s what makes Rockford such a great place to live. When the going gets tough, the churches get going.

Former Mayor John McNamara is a friend to Rockford Urban Ministries. He and his wife Barbara have supported RUM throughout the years, both through personal donations and contributions of their time and energy. Their extensive family played a part in many of our projects.

From his bio: John was born and raised in Whiting, Ind. While serving in the U.S. Army, he married his wife Barbara in 1965 they have six children and seven grandchildren. The couple is active in their neighborhood association (Signal Hill) and St. Peter Cathedral. John McNamara has a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and an L.L.B. from the University of Michigan. He is a Vietnam veteran, served as assistant public defender, a city alderman, and was mayor of Rockford from 1981 to 1989.

In his law practice he specialized in criminal defense. He presently works at Rockford College as assistant to the president, and since 1989 has been employed at William Charles Investments, Inc. He serves on several boards and committees: Signal Hill, Rockford Local Development Corporation, Growth Dimensions, and has been affiliated with New American Theater, Rockford Area Arts Council, Rockford Park District Foundation, Rosecrance, and others.

John’s speech, which should begin around 7 p.m., is free and open to the public. If you can afford to join us for the dinner, please feel welcome. But I definitely encourage you to come to church that Friday evening for the free and open speech of former Mayor John McNamara. The soul of the city might depend on it.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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