Wine and hors d’oeuvres may seem surprising in a classroom.
But Wednesday evening it was very much an appropriate place, Illinois Valley Community College President Jerry Corcoran said at the college’s Ottawa Center on Main Street.
His comments came during a pause in the socializing during the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s monthly Business After Hours, a traveling gathering for chamber members.
Corcoran’s focus was Ottawa Mayor Bob Eschbach, who is retiring after 20 years in office.
“This Ottawa center would not be here were it not for the vision of Bob Eschbach,” he said.
The center — which offers classes and services such as admission, registration, counseling and financial aid — has “been extraordinarily successful,” Corcoran said. “We’ve been able to touch the lives of thousands and thousands of students on the east side of the IVCC district. And not just from Ottawa, but from across the entire east side.”
Eschbach, said Corcoran, “is an alumnus, a good friend and a huge ambassador for IVCC.”
The Ottawa Center, as all those present were aware, is just one of many city improvements Eschbach gets credit for. Others include a resurgence of the downtown business community and setting a welcome climate for new businesses and residents as well as beautification of the city with trees and new green areas.
There also are enough growth plans and development blueprints to keep the city busy for decades to come.
“People ask me what I’m most proud of,” said Eschbach, a lifelong Ottawa resident. “Really, it’s the attitude of the people of Ottawa, because when I was growing up everybody was so negative. Even my dad, every time somebody would open a new business, would say, ‘That’s not going to last too long.’
“There was just that kind of attitude,” he said. “But now I have so many people telling me they’re proud of their town, and they love showing it off to other people. Of course we’re trying to make it more attractive to our people, to keep our young people here and to attract visitors.
“It all works together,” Eschbach said. “I’ve had a lot of support from people in this room and I really appreciate that. I think Ottawa’s best days are ahead. I think we’re going in the right direction. I have no regrets. It’s been fun.
“Thank you all for your support,” he concluded to heavy applause.
Eschbach also was presented with a check for $1,000 from Illinois Valley Labor Management, the host for Wednesday’s “after hours” gathering. The funds were earmarked for plantings in tribute to Anna Mattes, a founder of the Ottawa Garden Club who died last January at age 87.
The check was presented by Commissioner Dan Aussem, a candidate for mayor. Also present was mayoral candidate Julie Johnson and several other election hopefuls.
Instead of his own campaign button, Aussem had one from Eschbach’s 2007 re-election pinned to his lapel. The green on yellow button just read “BOB.”
“I thought this would be an appropriate time to wear it,” Aussem told The Times.
Another time, he suggested for others who may still have one, will be Eschbach’s last State of the City Address on Thursday, March 21. The chamber-sponsored event begins at 4 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Details are at ottawachamberillinois.com or by phoning 815-433-0084.