May 09, 2007

Paul Powell symposium set for May 15 in Vienna

by Pete Rosenbery


CARBONDALE — He is widely remembered for the $800,000 cash found in a Springfield hotel room closet following his death more than 36 years ago.

But the legacy of former Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell — who began his career as a small-town mayor and grew into a statewide power broker — also includes his work on behalf of Southern Illinois.

A symposium that examines Powell’s life and looks at his impact on the local community, the region and the state, is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday, May 15, at Vienna High School. Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute is sponsoring the event. Admission is free, but registration is required due to limited seating.

The conference is divided into three sessions, and features former U.S. Sen. Alan J. Dixon — who served in the Illinois General Assembly with Powell and when Powell was secretary of state — former Southern Illinoisan publisher John Gardner, who broke the story of Powell’s hidden cache three months after Powell’s October 1970 death from a heart attack while in Rochester, Minn., and Robert E. Hartley, author of the 1999 book, “Paul Powell of Illinois: A Lifelong Democrat.”

“Paul Powell was one of the most fascinating Illinois politicians of his era,” Institute Director Mike Lawrence said. “As the consummate wheeler-dealer, he helped Delyte Morris’ ambitious vision for SIU become a reality while engaging in other activity that became fodder for investigative journalists. We are delighted to bring together gifted storytellers to capture the life and legend of this extraordinarily powerful and colorful southern Illinoisan."

Hartley said a serious analysis at Powell’s 40 years of public service is “long overdue.” And while the money still is the overarching memory of Powell and should be a part of the picture, the conference “is an opportunity to look at the whole picture,” he said.

Powell spent 30 years in the state legislature, including three terms as speaker of the House, before his election as Illinois secretary of state in November 1964.

Hartley, an editor for the Lindsay-Schaub newspapers from 1962 to 1979, said it was after writing a paper in 1995 about Powell for an Illinois State Historical Society symposium that the late public policy institute founder and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon urged him to write the book. While he felt compelled to write the book because of Simon’s urging, Hartley said he never regretted the decision. In the process, Hartley said he learned a great deal about Illinois state politics from the 1930s to 1960s.

Hartley, who lives near Denver, Colo., anticipates symposium panelists will provide the audience with a complete picture of Powell and his times from their individual views.

“It’s important to acknowledge what he did for Southern Illinois and I think that will come out clearly in this symposium,” Hartley said. “It has to be mixed together with the broader picture and attempt to balance the look at him.”

The conference schedule is:

8 a.m. — Registration.

9 a.m. — Welcoming remarks – Mike Lawrence, director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

9:10 a.m. — Morning keynote speaker – Robert E. Hartley.

10 a.m. — Paul Powell’s impact on Government, Politics, and Public Policy in Illinois.

  • John Gardner, former publisher, The Southern Illinoisan
  • Taylor Pensoneau, former Illinois political correspondent, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • Gene Callahan, former political columnist for the Springfield State Journal-Register and top aide to Senator Alan J. Dixon.

11:10 a.m. — Paul Powell’s Impact on Southern Illinois

  • J. Phil Gilbert, U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Illinois and son of former Illinois state Sen. John Gilbert.
  • David Kenney, SIUC professor emeritus of political science, author and historian.
  • John Gardner, former publisher, The Southern Illinoisan.

12:15 p.m. — Lunch

1 p.m. — Afternoon keynote speaker, former U.S. Sen. Alan J. Dixon, D-Ill.

2 p.m. — Local Remembrances and Reflections

  • Mike McCormick, son of former Illinois state Rep. C.L. McCormick, R-Vienna.
  • Marion Mayor Robert Butler.
  • Former Illinois state Sen. Jim Rea, D-Christopher.

Included in the audience will be about 400 Vienna High School students. Superintendent Marleis Trover noted Powell at one time served on the school board. She wants to stress to students the importance of community service through government work “and I want them to see what can be accomplished when people work together.”

A Democrat, Powell was repeatedly elected to office in spite of coming from a predominately Republican county. Students need to see the importance of collaboration, and “stepping above the partisan fight to get things accomplished for people,” Trover said.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute donated 35 of Hartley’s books to the high school’s history class for studying local history.

In addition, the Powell Museum, at 404 Vine St. (Illinois 146), will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 15. There is no admission. The museum will be open Saturday, May 12, and Sunday, May 13, from 1-4 p.m. Museum exhibits include photographs of Powell as a youth, when he was elected state representative and secretary of state, and his help in securing Illinois for Harry S. Truman in the 1948 presidential election. Other artifacts and Powell’s political memorabilia are also on display.

WSIU-TV plans to record the symposium for a future broadcast. In addition, during the event, previous interviews on Powell from people including James “Stud” Walker, a former Johnson County clerk and close friend of Powell’s, and the late syndicated columnist and political commentator Molly Ivins, will be shown during the panel discussions.

For more information or to register, contact Christina Rich at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at 618/453-4078 or at