Above: Mike Rucker assists with lighting as Jeffery Noble takes the cover photo on the Rock Island Greenway behind Trefzger’s Bakery, April 12, 2021.
The best part of my job is the variety of opportunities I have to meet so many unique and wonderful people in our community. As we were working on this issue, I had numerous conversations with a man who was quietly, behind the scenes, working to support some of his favorite local causes and nonprofit organizations.
A retired Caterpillar engineer, Mike Rucker is truly a remarkable individual. Although I’d heard his name before, and we had even exchanged emails, I didn’t know much about the man. So I turned to Google, as one does, and was astounded by the myriad of activities in which he is involved.
Not only is Mike a Civil War researcher and lecturer, he is the author of 20 children’s books and creator of Terry the Tractor, a popular children’s book series inspired by his experiences at Caterpillar. An avid runner and self-described “adventure-seeking grandpa,” he has run marathons on all seven continents!
Mike is also highly involved as a volunteer in the community, having served organizations such as Look. It's My Book! and Illinois Valley Wheel M’n. He is an advocate for the Central Illinois Monarch Butterfly Task Force and Peoria Academy of Science, and he currently serves as president of Trail Advocates of Central Illinois (formerly Friends of the Rock Island Trail).
An amateur naturalist, Mike also volunteers with Peoria Wilds as steward of the Illinois Natural Heritage Landmark area at Springdale Cemetery, consisting of 20 acres of tallgrass savanna and woodlands protected from development. He led volunteer efforts at Springdale clearing invasive plants to make home for Prairie Gardens, Peoria’s first designated scattering garden. In 2019, he was among the first to memorialize a loved one there, scattering the ashes of his late wife Harriet and her longtime caretaker at a ceremony in their honor.
Not only did Mike write this issue’s cover story, “Recreational Trails Make Good Neighbors,” he helped coordinate our photo shoot on the Rock Island Greenway.
I am truly privileged to meet extraordinary individuals like Mike Rucker, whose sincere humility belies his outsized importance to our community. Thanks, Mike, for all that you do! —Jonathan Wright, Editor in Chief