I was born at Proctor Hospital. Exactly how many years ago isn’t important (ha, ha). What is, though, is that despite a sense of wanderlust, I have always lived within a 45-mile radius of Peoria.
Opportunities to move to bigger – some might say better — cities presented themselves, but I passed every time.
Why didn’t I bust out of central Illinois?
Many reasons, including family, friends, memories, affordability and the proverbial “roots.” But mostly, the experiences we have available to us in our little slice of the world solidified my decision to stay put.
Despite being on a tight budget, my family was always on an adventure, especially in the summer months. I can still smell the Glen Oak Zoo’s entrance/primate house. And the buffalo — or are they bison? I can’t keep that straight — at Wildlife Prairie Park were just magical.
Today, the Peoria Zoo is better than ever with the Africa! Exhibit and an entrance that doesn’t smell like, well, the zoo. Just north of Peoria on 1,800 acres, Wildlife Prairie Park is thriving with glamping, triathlons, photography classes, you name it. And the buffalo/bison keep on roaming.
Meanwhile, there are so many recreational options – the Rock Island Trail, Grandview Drive, Forest Park Nature Center, etc. – and you can top it all off with a pub crawl on Prospect in Peoria Heights. There’s something for everyone on every budget.
I love nature, but prefer to sleep indoors. I spent two nights at Sankoty Lakes resort last summer on a girls’ Zen weekend, and let me tell you, they know how to glamp! On that first night, the Way Down Wanderers also were playing on Peoria’s Riverfront. I got the best of both worlds within 15 minutes of each other. In a larger market, the price would have been jacked beyond my budget.
As I got older, my love of live music and other performances grew. My first concert at the Peoria Civic Center was a John Denver show in the 1980s. “Take me home, country road …” You sang that last part right along with him (and now you know about when I was born). The Civic Center still books so many major acts.
A highlight of my 20s was witnessing the Smashing Pumpkins in a last-minute show at the Madison Theater. Tickets were $13, you had to go to the box office, and the limit was four.
I went on to tend bar at the Madison. Now I’m thrilled by the renewed interest in the theater and the upcoming renovations. We have so many more live music options, including the Scottish Rite and the CEFCU Center Stage on Peoria’s Riverfront, where there are multiple festivals throughout the summer and early fall.
Meanwhile, we are ripe in vineyards and breweries – many a night in my mid-20s was spent at Rhodell’s — and we even have a cannabis consumption lounge in High Harbor, formerly the legendary Sky Harbor restaurant. Why not lean into what our city was known for prior to Prohibition?
As a kid, I frequented the Peoria Speedway on Farmington Road with my dad, as well as the Spoon River Valley Speedway near Canton. Fuel exhaust and motor oil are among my comfort smells. Meanwhile, for more than 20 years, my spouse dude and I have parked our buns on the same bleachers for the Heart of Illinois Fair truck and tractor pulls. Romantic, I know!
It led to my involvement with the fair years later. It’s a natural fit, since I spent nearly every summer “vacation” as a kid at that central Illinois summer tradition. Mom entered her beautiful, hand-made clothing into the Home Arts competitions, while my siblings and I “modeled” her work on stage in the Opera House. She was so good that my brother’s chambray three-piece suit with a handmade bow tie won Grand Champion and got us a photo on the front page of the daily newspaper.
All of those memories of summer in central Illinois…
So, why didn’t this country girl strike out on her own and plant roots elsewhere? I could have moved anywhere in the world. What I discovered instead was that the world came to me right here in the Peoria metro area when I wasn’t expecting it, and on my budget!
When people ask where I’m from, I proudly say, “Peoria!”
Roxy Baker is a local radio personality at Peoria radio station
WWCT, 99.9 on the FM dial, half of the Rik & Roxy in the
Morning broadcast from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday