Gary Allen, LEFT, and his mother Barb talk with State Rep. Charlie Allen during a celebration event at Murray Center commemorating the long battle to stay open amid state government pressure to close. Gary, a resident at the developmental center, knew the battle cry to save his home, and his mother said he would approach as many people as he could to help keep the doors open. “Now you get to say ‘thank you,’” Barb told her son after they walked up to greet Meier.

Celebrate Murray Center event draws large crowds

By LEAH WILLIAMS

SENTINEL NEWS STAFF

Published: 10/20/15

CENTRALIA — From the first step to the last, the Centralia community and other surrounding areas have been behind them the entire way. And now that the threat for closure has subsided, the rally and support for Murray Center is still going strong as ever.

The Celebrate Murray Center Parade began Sunday afternoon at the front of the Warren G. Murray Center campus and continued throughout the afternoon-long event. Nearly 1,000 people came out to join in the festivities, which represented the accumulation of nearly four years’ hard work and dedication.

The parade featured more than 30 entries, including floats, marching bands, community members and others who were instrumental in keeping Murray Center open.

Murray Parents Association President Rita Winkeler said the atmosphere surrounding the campus was joyous.

“We’re so excited,” Winkeler said. “We are so happy to get to celebrate this day.”

State Rep. Charles Meier served as the grand marshal for the Celebrate Murray Center Parade. Meier later told those in attendance that their Southern Illinois tenacity demonstrated a unified front that ultimately made the difference.

“We showed the state of Illinois what a town could do for a community and what a community could do for a town,” Meier said.

State Rep. John Cavaletto also addressed the crowd and commended the ongoing efforts to keep the center from closure.

“We have to keep the faith and we did that,” Cavaletto said. “And I think that is how we got to this point. It’s a happy day for the residents and it’s a happy day for everyone who works here.”

After former Gov. Pat Quinn announced plans to close Murray Center in early 2012, the Murray Parents Association worked to educate others about how the important the center is to its residents and to its community. In February 2013, a federal lawsuit was filed, and the fight for Murray Center continued in the courts.

With the election last year of Gov. Bruce Rauner and the continued support of his administration, many Murray advocates remain optimistic of the center’s future.

Judy Sherwin, the attorney for the federal lawsuit, said the road to Sunday’s celebration has been an uphill battle, but the hard-fought crusade is a testament to what the Centralia and its surrounding communities are willing to fight for.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” Sherwin said. “Everyone worked so hard. [Murray Center representatives] were told to be silent, and they refused.”

Garrett Blanchard, a senior at Centralia High School, was among several volunteer members of the school Student Council who came out to help with the celebration event. He said the opportunity to assist and be a part of the

“For the longest time, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Blanchard said. “It’s time to celebrate. We saved Murray Center.”

In addition to the parade, there were several activities for the public and the Murray residents to enjoy, including games and free concessions. Several organizations also performed at the event, and Woody’s Menagerie in Mulberry Grove brought two ligers and a baby kangaroo for display.

Winkeler said the excitement was just the beginning of what is sure to be a long collaborative history between Centralia and Murray Center.

“We are now going to be open for many years to come,” she said.

Barb Allen of Taylorville attended the event with family. Her son, Gary, has been a resident at Murray Center since 1993, and is currently on a home visit.

Barb Allen said she wanted to make sure to bring Gary and the rest of her family from Springfield to take part in the momentous occasion.

“Charlie [Meier] and the coalition did such a great job,” she said. “We are so grateful. I’m almost in tears; I’m so thankful. This is the best place for Gary.”

Gary Allen knew the battle cry to save his home, Barb Allen said, as he would often march up to voice his opinion to anyone who would listen.

“Now you get to say ‘thank you,’” Barb told her son after they walked up to greet Meier. Gary Allen then smiled and responded almost immediately: “Thank you.”