The actual organization of the Peoria Junior Chamber of Commerce took place on July 23, 1940, by 20 men. The first official meeting was held July 25, 1940 at the Creve Coeur Club. The Peoria Chapter was granted its state charter on August 27, and on September 19, 1940, received its national charter.
In the 40’s the chapter began their longest running project, Peoria Jaycees Distinguished Service Awards, which recognized young leaders in the community. During World War II many members were called to service and over the next few years may project were directed toward helping the war effort including a “Military Health” program and scrap drives. In 1947, they also began the first “Home Show” in Peoria at the Armory. 1948 through 1949 the chapter was awarded the Harold A. Marks trophy, signifying first place chapter standing among 1,800 local Jaycee groups nationwide. By 1949, membership of the Jaycees reached 500 men. One of the men that joined that year was Peoria’s “Mr. Baseball” Pete Vonachen.
In the 50’s & 60’s, the Peoria Jaycees were involved in many activities in the local community. They were also active in the local elections by holding a forum for political candidates and giving voters rides to the polls. In 1950 they sponsored the National Distinguished Service Awards, which honored 10 young men from across the country for their contributions to their communities. One of those men that was recognized at the banquet was future president Gerald Ford. They also held a seat belt clinic to install 600 seat belts in cars after a bill passed that stated that cars must have 2 front seat belts. In 1958, wives of the Peoria Jaycees formed the Jayceettes, later changed to Jaycee Women and helped come up with ideas for projects as well as manpower. The chapter was recognized as the number one chapter in the State during 1956-57 and again in 1958-59.
In 1971 the Jaycees started a haunted house which ran until 2007. The first haunted house almost didn’t happen. They found an old house and got permission from a couple they thought owned the house to “redecorate” it. After the Peoria Journal Star featured an article on the haunted house, they got a call from the actual owners, Commercial National Bank, who eventually let the Jaycees use it. In the 70’s, an emergency meeting of the Peoria Jaycees was called to help save the oldest Santa Claus parade in the nation. Vandals damaged and destroyed the floats. The chapter dismantled and rebuilt the floats, raised funds, and manned the parade to ensure it was another successful parade.
In 1980, “Riverfront Fireworks” began and ran for 8 years. The Peoria Jaycees won a national award for this event. In 1982, the Firecracker 5000 race started which is still one of our biggest events. The Peoria Chapter won top chapter in the state in 1981 and again in 1982. In the years of 1984-1985 the chapter grew to 102 new members mainly due to a US Supreme Court ruling saying that women could join the Jaycees. Lynn Demanes was the first female Peoria Jaycee. Karen Muskopf became the first president in 1989.
In 1993 a new project was formed, which turned into our biggest event for many years, the International Beer Festival. Also in the 90’s the Jaycees Easter Egg Hunt became the largest egg hunt in the area. In 2005, the Jaycees again got into politics and hosted a mayoral debate on WEEK TV. In 2015 the chapter celebrated its 75th Anniversary and was declared a proclamation from the city of Peoria. We won chapter of the year in 2017 and continue to be one of the top chapters in Illinois.
These are just a few highlights of the hundreds of events from the Peoria Jaycees and our contributions to the community.