PEORIA — The crowd of about 200 people in the lobby of the Peoria Riverfront Museum talked among themselves Thursday afternoon until the large clock in the lobby started to chime.
People stopped talking. The sounds from the old courthouse clock kept going and then stopped. An awkward silence hung for a few seconds, and then Peoria County Board Chairman Andrew Rand started speaking at a memorial service for three officials who died within days of each other last week.
Last week was a brutal week for the county as board member Greg Adamson, State’s Attorney Jerry Brady and County Clerk Steve Sonnemaker all died. The normally loud hallways at the courthouse have been quiet, noted Pat Risen, who is the chief deputy in the Circuit Clerk’s Office.
"People that usually have smiles on their face this week didn't," he said.
The county closed its offices early so employees could come to the service, which was preceded by a walk from the courthouse grounds to the museum.
The mood was somber but it also embraced the three men for who they were and their legacies. Stories were shared, people laughed at old stories and they remembered their friends. For years, Rand has used the term "Team Peoria County" to spotlight the unity of its employees. Peoria County Board member Jimmy Dillon said that was on display Thursday as employees supported each other.
"What it shows when you see all these people down here is that, politics aside, Peoria is all about community. Everyone down here at Peoria County is trying to make things be better place for the citizens," he said.
And that was the mantra repeated, albeit in different ways, by the three speakers who were chosen to remember Adamson, Brady and Sonnemaker. Brian Elsasser, a County Board member who recruited Adamson to run for office, said his friend was the person who stuck up for the little guy, the taxpayer.
"He didn't want people to pay anything more than what they needed to," he said. Adamson, he said, was a family man who cherished his time with his wife and children.
Judge Jodi Hoos, a former prosecutor with Brady, invoked laughs when she recounted how Brady, sunburned from a vacation in the Lake of the Ozarks, had to use makeup to cover up the splotches on his face for a videotaped interview with "Dateline NBC" in the aftermath of the Nathan Leuthold murder trial. But the underlying message was service.
Brady, she said, was the person who probably represented "half of the county" while in private practice and wanted to help others when they needed it.
Gabe McLeod, one of his top deputies in the County Clerk's Office, was in tears as he recounted stories about Sonnemaker, who was known as the "nicest guy in the courthouse." His boss, he said, was a man who wanted the best for his employees and who cared deeply about making sure the county appreciated its veterans.
"He was the voice of reason, generosity and kindness," he said.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.