Roy Williams was a walking history book filled with the knowledge of the town he loved with all of his heart.
Williams would walk down the streets of Pekin in his senior years and from memory recite back to his childhood the list of owners and activities for each building he passed.
But Williams loved more than just the town — he loved the people.
Williams married his wife, Jackie Soldwedel, in 1942. Tim Soldwedel, the couple’s son, said Roy came from an area of Pekin known as Beantown. Jackie came from a well-to-do-family and served on many boards and gave back to the community.
“My dad felt he needed to do this, too,” said Tim. “My mother was a very good woman, and she loved my father and I think changed my father’s world. She was always very appreciative of that. He had a good job. He made his own, but I think — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — he always felt he had to prove himself to my mother. And I know he did.”
Tim said his father always said, “I just love this town. I want to make this a better place.”
Roy Williams, 98, was pronounced dead at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in his home.
Roy told the Pekin Times in September that his parents asked him to never become involved in politics, so he performed community service throughout his life. He was the founder of Spruce Up Pekin, for which he formed a committee and ran it for more than 20 years. In 2004, he led a campaign to raise the money for a downtown clock on Capitol Street. He also called bingo at the Miller Center for several years, to name a few of his activities there and throughout the community.
Miller Center Administrator Alisha Dault said Williams was affiliated with Miller Center for 18 to 19 years as a volunteer and a member.
“He was very involved in the bingo group,” said Dault. “He secured sponsors to help with providing the bingo participants donuts every week.
“That was very important to him to really cater to the group. We used to have 50 to 60 people come to play bingo. He just really enjoyed socializing and going back there and doing the Roy thing — kind of work the room — get up and talk to people maybe about what’s going on or coming up at the Miller Center, announcements and different things. Very, very much involved.”
Williams didn’t like to sit idle, said Dault. He helped with newsletters, came up with ideas for things to do and ways to generate funds for programs.
“He was very Mr. Pekin,” said Dault. “He knew everything in Pekin, everyone.” Dault said when she picked him up he would talk about the history of the town as they drove.
Former Pekin Superintendent of Parks Terri Gambetti said she met Williams many years ago as neighbors after their dogs became friends. She said she looked forward to conversations about current Pekin events and “all kinds of good gossip stuff.”
“That’s the way he was,” said Gambetti. “He was such a character — always joking around, and he really loved interacting with people.
“He really cared about Pekin. Roy knew how to get things done. In a very gentlemanly way, he was always extremely convincing to get what he wanted. Roy knew his Pekin history well. He loved to share his remembrances of when he was young in Pekin growing up — the different businesses in town, different people that he knew from people. He was fun to listen to.”
Gambetti said Williams was a big supporter of the city and Pekin Park District.
“I really enjoyed that part, because he would tell me exactly what he thought, not pulling any punches,” she said. “And he really did have wonderful ideas on park improvements.”
Former Superintendent of Solid Waste Greg Ranney said he and Williams established Spruce Up Pekin.
“Keeping the city cleaned up was one of Roy’s big projects,” said Ranney. “He continued the entire time in the leadership roll and helping people out.
“He was on a couple of other things with me at the city, and it was really enjoyable to work with him. He was always a leader, and (it was) fun to hear from him about the history of the city, about how things have changed. He sat on the Pekin Main Street Committee as well and we had a lot of knowledge of history when he came to the meetings.”