Laurie Barra

Mayor, City of Pekin

I am a 1967 graduate of Pekin Community High School, a 1971 graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University with a B.A. in French, and a 1995 graduate of Illinois State University with an M.S. in educational administration. After graduating from college, I was a stay-at-home mom until a part-time position teaching French at Pekin High opened in 1983. From 1985 to 1996, I was a full-time French teacher and student council advisor. In 1996, I was an administrative assistant at Pekin High’s West Campus, and then named assistant principal/curriculum in 1998. I retired from that position in 2009. I now have a part-time position as district liaison for Pekin High.

My husband, Bob, and I have been married since 1971. We have two sons, Quinn (Tonya) Barra, and Cody Barra. We also have three grandchildren, Maddison, 15; Cameron, 12; and Brayden, 10. My husband has been instrumental in supporting me in all of my endeavors, encouraging me, whether in furthering my education or running for office. Without his help, I could not have achieved what I have. I am lucky to have him at my side.

Local issues were always discussed while growing up. I learned so much from my dad, Jack Lowman, who served on the PCHS Board of Education for 18 years. That interest led me to run for the Pekin Park Board in 1979. I served on that board until 1995, serving as its president twice. In 1995, I made the decision to run for the city council and served two terms until being defeated for re-election in 2003. Again in 2009, I was elected to serve on the city council, deciding to run for mayor in 2010.

Major Accomplishments of 2011
I would have to say that my major accomplishment of 2011 would be successfully running for mayor of Pekin. That campaign taught me to rely upon others for help and guidance. In past campaigns, I just did things my way and luckily, won, for the most part. However, this was a campaign on a much larger scale, and I was fortunate to have a wonderful committee to work with, mostly female in makeup. A lot of political savvy was in evidence with my committee and campaign manager, a veteran of local politics and an office holder. That campaign was truly a group effort, and I would not have been successful without the help and political knowledge of everyone involved. Those committee members spent countless hours on my behalf—because they believed.

 

Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career? How did this person help you along the way? In my career as a teacher and school administrator, I was extremely fortunate to be under the direct supervision of Mr. Tim Ruwe. In his position as principal, he mentored me and helped me formulate my ideas on leadership, how to deal with difficult situations, how to look at problems and work toward a solution, and mainly, how to deal with people. By nature, I have always tried to solve issues and make decisions quickly, relying upon myself for guidance. He showed me the wisdom of thinking problems through and seeking other opinions before deciding upon a course of action. Successful solutions to problems need to be well thought-out before implementation.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female professionals?
Young, up-and-coming female professionals need to have a sense of direction on planning their future. Thinking ahead and plotting a course of action is most important. You need to be able to put yourself in the best position to be noticed. Hard work and long hours are always noticed. Come in early, stay late, work harder than anyone around you. Seek advice from more experienced individuals; pick their brains for information. Look at situations in your workplace that you may be able to improve with your ideas. Make sure that you always act professionally and shine each day! Do not buy into negative situations that others have created and champion their cause. You must separate yourself from the group and be your own advocate. Make yourself as indispensable as possible to the organization. Only then will you succeed.

Is there still a glass ceiling for women in 2011? I absolutely believe there is still a glass ceiling for women in 2011. Women have made huge strides since the Womens’ Lib movement started in the late ‘60s, my college years. But until women fill 50 percent of leadership roles in organizations, schools, industry and politics, there will always be a glass ceiling. Women need to take charge of their lives and take ownership in their career planning. Women also need to help and nourish each other, mentor and guide each other, and foster networks to advance each other. A lot of work by older women during the past 40 years has paved the way for younger females to be successful. These young females need not take that work for granted, but rather, build upon it for success.

This historical anecdote from my sixth-grade field trip to Springfield sums it all up. I looked down at the legislators in the assembly and said to my teacher, “I would really like to be down there someday.” She answered, “Oh my, you can’t do that. There are only men down there. Do you see any women? They don’t run for office.” And sadly, I did not. But slowly, women are changing the landscape of leadership in all areas. Sometimes just not fast enough for an impatient me! iBi

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