The Watseka Kiwanis took the Monday meeting outside for a special cause.
Kiwanis members, along with some special guests and members of the public, gathered in the First Trust and Savings parking lot Monday afternoon to dedicate the Watchekee mural commissioned by the club.
The mural is painted on the side of The Zone building and depicts the woman for whom the city is named.
Her great-great-grandson, Dr. George Godfrey, was the guest speaker. He spoke about Watchekee and her life.
Godfrey said he is still learning about his great-great-grandmother, a Potawatomi native. She lived from approximately 1810-73. In 1830 she helped settlers in this area and the city of Watseka is named for her in 1863.
He said during her lifetime she probably walked about 6,000 miles. “This started as early as 1829,” he said. She would go back and forth between the Watseka area and other areas where her tribe were located. She would make her way to Iowa, Kansas and later to Oklahoma. She was married to pioneer Gurdon Hubbard, Noel Le Vasseuer and Francis Bergeron, who is Godfrey’s great-great-grandson.
“She moved back and forth and that she was removed from Illinois several times,” he said.
There were at least two times she came back to Watseka, he said. One of those is in 1863, but it is not clear if she came back as a visit or if she had come back as a guest when the city was named Watseka.
“Because of her kindness to people you now have the town of Watseka,” Godfrey said, “and also you have the county. I think that the thing she left that people should remember is that you should return the favor to someone else.”
Through the years, the term “princess” has been used to describe Watchekee, but Godfrey said it is important to note that isn’t a royal tile.
“Princess was a term that described someone who was nice to people. It was not a royal title,” he said.
While he said he does not want to take the term from her memory, he said, “just remember it is for acts of kindness.”
He said he is very pleased with the mural.
“I think it is a very good rendition of the original,” he said, noting that he has the original at home. “I told her to pretend that the blacks and grays and whites are browns, dark, dark browns.
“One thing to note, is that she does have a star that symbolizes her birth,” he said. “We do know that there was some kind of a natural phenomenon, where you had a bright star. But also, keep in mind that you had the big Madrid Earthquake during that time. Who knows what the actual phenomenon was. All I know is that the term is honorary.”
Godfrey said he and his wife, Pat, had stopped in Watseka about a week ago, which is the first time they had seen the mural.
The mural was completed by Lafayette, Indiana, artist Bekki Canine, who was also present at the dedication Monday. She is a member of the Tippecanoe Art Federation, who helped with the grant funding for the project.
The information about the mural, which is placed next to the mural itself, says that the mural “depicts Watchekee, for home Watseka was named in 1863. The Bright Star symbolizes the day of her birth. The intricate ribbon exhibits work created by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. The ribbon darkens, symbolizing Trails of Death. The Indiana Removal Act of 1830 forced Watchekee and others to leave their lands.”
Godfrey noted that the picture of Watchekee in the mural is of her when she is older.
Others also spoke Monday. Rep. Tom Bennett made a presentation to the Kiwanis.
“This is amazing,” Bennett said. “We applaud your efforts to keep our local history alive for future generations.”
Watseka Alderwoman Monna Ulfers was on hand. “I want to thank the Kiwanis for the beautiful program today and for the mural. As a city we are very proud of you and we are very proud to be a part of Watseka,” she said.
Watseka Community High School teacher Kay Devine, along with Principal Carolyn Short, and some of the students who helped with the mural, also were at the dedication. “I hope this means something in your heart for what you’ve done today. You should be very proud,” Lubben said.
Colleen Callahan, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, spoke. Callahan, a Milford native, also congratulated the Kiwanis and the city for the mural. IDNR is the overseer of state parks and recreate areas and the Illinois State Museum system. It also oversees the Illinois Historic Preservation Division.
Kiwanis President Janice Lubben said that they appreciate everyone who came to see the mural and take part in its dedication.
“Thank you for taking the time out today to be here and celebrate Watchekee. She was a kind lady,” Lubben said.