CENTRAL ILLINOIS — As the year 2019 comes to end and 2020 quickly approaches, it’s a time to reflect on some of the local figures who passed away this year.
In January, Peoria lost 74-year-old Willie York. York served in the Vietnam War before relocating to Peoria in the 1970’s. He later became a pillar in the homeless community and Lamar Anderson, York’s nephew, said his colorful face paint, self-made wardrobe, and a unique outlook on life made him well known to many.
“He shined a light on a lot of the people who we just overlook on a regular basis and now because of who he is I think we look a little bit closer at those people who don’t have,” Anderson said.
The next month in February, Peoria’s community said goodbye to Notre Dame High School principal Randy Simmons. Simmons spent decades serving students as a principal or a coach with his philosophy being to treat every student as if he or she were his own child.
“He dedicated his whole life to serving other people,” said Brad Zevnik, a Social Studies teacher at Peoria High School.
Leading into the summer, the community also lost three prominent sports figures.
In May, Peoria Notre Dame Football coach Sean Gillen passed away unexpectedly from a heart arrhythmia.
The next month, Washington basketball coach Kevin Brown died after a battle with brain cancer. Brown now has a basketball tournament in his honor, The Tournament of Champions, held annually at Washington High School.
In July, Peoria lost its first “Mr. Basektball” Howard Nathan.
In June, Peoria County also lost three leaders in the same week. County Board Member Greg Adamson passed away on June 11th. Adamson was a hand surgeon who represented District 11 since 2016.
State’s Attorney Jerry Brady, 70, died on June 13th. Brady Held the position for nearly eight years and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis called him a dedicated public servant.
“He did an outstanding job, impeccable character, the man had the whole community’s respect,” Ardis said.
The very next day, County Clerk Steve Sonnemaker passed away on June 14th. Sonnemaker was involved in the county for nearly four decades and Michael Deluherty, County Clerk Deputy Chief, called him one of the most dedicated men he’s ever met.
“He always strived to help out as much as he could,” Deluherty said. “That was kind of how Steve was, there wasn’t an organization that he would turn down. He was always up for helping a good cause.