Controversial monument unveiled in Kankakee

A controversial monument was unveiled Thursday in Kankakee.

The Kankakee women's club raised more than $30,000 to build the wall and they continue to raise money by selling bricks that sit in front.

"We just wanted something no one else had, and the thing we could come up with was we had three governors from the city of Kankakee," said Dondi Maricle, the project chairperson.

The terms of two of the three governors, however, were tarnished by scandal.

Lennington Small, who served from 1920-1929, was accused of embezzlement but later acquitted. His relatives still own the newspaper in town. Great-grandson Tom Small still lives in Kankakee.

"He felt an affection for Illinois is practically not known anymore, and for the town," said Small.

Former Governor George Ryan served more than five years in federal prison after being convicted on federal corruption charges.

Women's club leaders brush off criticism that the plaques are inappropriate.

"It's done. We need to move on. We need to celebrate the good in everybody's life because none of us are perfect," said Helen Defour, former women's club president.

Ryan also achieved international acclaim and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize after initiating a moratorium on executions in the state. The plaque below his picture makes no mention of that, or of his felony conviction.

"You can look back and find something somebody doesn't like, but I like to look at the positive things," said Mary Archie, current women's club president.

Ryan is rarely seen in public these days since his release from prison in 2013.

Ryan came out to help his hometown dedicate a wall honoring him and the two other Illinois governors from Kankakee.

"I'm humbled by it," he said. "The people of Kankakee have been good to me over the years, every time I ran. My family was here."
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