Waves of growth came to Pekin’s health care network in 2017. Police and hundreds of people searched for a missing 13-year-old boy, and thousands mourned him when his remains were finally found.
Those are among the city’s top five news stories this year, as selected by the Daily Times’ editors and staff.
1. Health care in Pekin
The year brought unprecedented change and growth to Pekin’s health care landscape.
Pekin Hospital’s parent company, Progressive Health Systems, affiliated in January with UnityPoint, which also operates the formerly named Methodist Medical Center and Proctor Hospital in Peoria. The merger, which changed the local hospital’s name to UnityPoint Health-Pekin, strengthened the local facility’s resources as it joined in competition with OSF HealthCare, regionally based in Peoria.
Physical evidence of that strength is emerging at Veterans Drive and Griffin Avenue, where in January UnityPoint Health-Pekin East will open as a new three-story physicians center. It will offer care from specialists “that before our affiliation with UnityPoint we could not attract,” said Bob Haley, director of the Pekin hospital.
In October, Haley announced his retirement at the year’s end. Debbie Simon, regional CEO of UnityPoint Health, will fill his role at least temporarily.
OSF HealthCare, meanwhile, expanded its Pekin presence in April when it opened an outpatient, non-emergency care center in the former Big Lots building at East Court Village 1. The facility provides primary, pediatric, obstetrics and other care services.
October also saw the opening of Advance Medical Transport’s modern ambulance facility just south of UnityPoint Health Pekin. The $1 million facility replaced a downtown storage building which it had outgrown as the city’s sole ambulance service provider.
2. City seeks Robert Bee Jr., mourns his death
For eight months and a week, the people of Pekin and surrounding communities wondered what happened to a 13-year-old boy and feared the worst.
That was confirmed, and part of the mystery was revealed, on July 24, when the skeletal remains of Robert Bee Jr. were found in brushy woods off Illinois Route 29 two miles south of his south Pekin home. He had skipped school on Nov. 17, as he had before, and ran from his home that day when a truant officer came to take him to class.
After his mother officially declared Bee missing the next day, police began what became an intense investigation, while citizens formed search groups that spent weekends combing area woods and rural areas. More than 100 people took part in the last search, two days before Bee’s remains were found.
“You have to assume there was foul play” in Bee’s death, a police official said. How Bee came to the secluded site where his bones were found and how he died, however, remain a mystery.
3. Daily Times ceases Monday print edition
The internet age and its digital speeds have brought changes that require businesses to adapt in how they offer their products. The Pekin Daily Times is no exception.
Its change came Aug. 28 when, for the first time since the newspaper became a daily publication in 1881, it did not publish a Monday print edition.
Like many other papers across the nation, the Daily Times began transitioning resources required for print copy to its social media platforms, where readers increasingly seek their news, sports and entertainment reports. It continues to publish fresh Monday stories on its web and Facebook sites, available on home computers, smartphones and tablets.
In that context, the Daily Times rightfully retains the name that’s defined it for 136 years.
4. Court Street improvements, Derby Street plans
Court Street in downtown Pekin got a facelift of sorts this year. Derby Street is in line for the same.
With funding approved by the City Council in June, work began to make Court more user-friendly and potentially attract more traffic to its storefront businesses. Brick-facade crosswalks were installed at six intersections, bike racks, benches and picnic tables were emplaced and directional signs were erected to point visitors to the street’s business, government and entertainment sites.
By mid-summer, visitors and people doing business along Court also found they could park on the street with no more two-hour limit.
In the fall, the city turned its attention to Derby Street. Consulting firms hired with funds from a grant produced tentative plans to renovate and mondernize the aging six-mile corridor on the city’s south side. Planning, and development of a funding strategy for the work, will continue into next spring.
5. Pet cemetery controversy, owner’s suicide
When several owners of deceased pets raised suspicions, Tazewell County sheriff’s investigators spent a week last summer probing whether purportedly cremated remains of the animals were actually those of the pets.
The investigation of Katy’s Pet Cemetery and Crematory and its owner, Joseph Abst, 45, ended when Abst committed suicide on July 26.
A total of 28 deceased animals were found in freezers at the cemetery west of South Pekin and at Abst Mortuary in Pekin. Seven of their owners were identified through microchips in the late pets. All but one had received ashes from the pet cemetery.
Abts, the cemetery’s sole owner, died shortly after investigators interviewed him but before any charges were filed.