The spirit of Reuben G. Soderstrom was alive Sunday in Streator.
Hundreds of state and local dignitaries and visitors from around the state were on hand as the Reuben G. Soderstrom Foundation unveiled the plaza in honor of the former state representative, Illinois AFL-CIO president and Streator native in Streator's City Park. Soderstrom's great-grandson, Steve Soderstrom, was master of ceremonies.
Soderstrom was named honorary grand marshal of the Labor Day parade, which was led by his descendants.
Mayor Jimmie Lansford said there have been many people born and raised in Streator who have gone on to do great things.
"But none has had a greater impact on improving the working man's quality of life than Reuben G. Soderstrom," he told the crowd. "At an early age, Reuben was exposed to the inequities between laborers and owners. For 40 years, he worked tirelessly to make his dream become a reality. He was a man of integrity who never lost sight of his objective to improve the (worker's) quality of life."
Carl Soderstrom, Reuben's grandson, spearheaded the effort to memorialize his grandfather in his hometown for his efforts on behalf of the laborer. He recognized those who worked with him to make the plaza a reality and told several stories he remembered about Reuben. In one story, he told how Reuben began working at 9 years old and still was working as AFL-CIOpresident when he was 82. Carl had asked him when he was going to take advantage of the retirement he had earned.
"He said, 'Carl, the men and women who worked in the mines -- they deserve the pension more than Iever do.' He never took a pension,"Carl said.
Carl's brother, Bill, reflected on Reuben's younger days in Streator and how much the city meant to him. He noted that, as a young newlywed, Reuben would have walked home along the same path where the memorial now stands. He read from a poem Reuben wrote, called, "Streator on a Saturday Night."
"That was a love poem from my grandfather to the town that made him what he became,"Bill said.
David Raikes, the business manager for Local 393 Laborer's Union, which built the plaza, noted how "proud and honored" the group was to contribute to the project.
"We wanted to give back to a man who worked his entire life to help others achieve a high quality of life,"Raikes said. "He was a leader for labor rights, human rights and civil rights."
In an afternoon remembering the contributions of one man to the labor force, Reuben's great-grandson, John Reuben Soderstrom, spoke of several qualities Reuben bore.
"We must celebrate our successful past leaders. We must always look to the future, but look to the past to celebrate where we've come from," he concluded.