Getting Personal: Bruce Knight
Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, Paul Wood chats with 58-year-old Champaign resident Bruce Knight. He has served as Champaign's planning and development director for the last 25 years.
So ... what's new with you?
At work, my department picked up responsibility for economic development in the city and that has involved me in some new activities with the Economic Development Corporation and making retention visits to businesses in Champaign. It's really amazing the interesting businesses we have operating here.
On the development side, we have been working through large complicated projects, some of which involved development agreements to overcome challenges and that has been interesting.
In my personal life, my son J.R. and daughter-in-law Leann have been fostering three kids who are 4-1/2, 2-1/2 and 1 and are now moving to adopt them. They are great kids and so much fun to be around, and that has made life exciting and interesting.
Finally, my wife, Mary, and I had our 35th wedding anniversary this year and celebrated with a trip to Maui. We really enjoyed that.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
I typically get up at 6:45, drink a cup of coffee, read The News-Gazette sports page and then get ready for my bicycle commute into work. That involves packing up my panniers with the clothes I'll change into at work, my lunch and any work I brought home. I ride pretty much year-round, so sometimes getting ready for the ride takes longer than others as I need to layer up when it's cold outside.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?
Hard to pick one, so I'll mention two
First, I'm very proud of the work we have done to bring back downtown Champaign and make it a showplace for the community. It gives me great pleasure to walk around during the warmer months in particular and see all the outdoor cafes and people on the streets.
Second, being elected president of the American Planning Association and representing its 40,000-plus members in the United States and in 88 countries. I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people, speak at significant events and showcase the city of Champaign to my peers.
What do you regard as your most treasured possession?
I'm not really hung up about my possessions, but when I started to regularly commute to work, I bought a nice Trek hybrid bike, and I really enjoy riding it.
Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?
Smoking the occasional cigar when I'm playing golf, tailgating or on vacation. We go up to Michigan for our family vacation every summer, and my wife likes to say that in 20 minutes, I can have the car unpacked and be down on the beach with an adult beverage and cigar starting to unwind.
What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?
"The Presidents Club" is what I am reading now. Very interesting historical look at how sitting presidents have worked with living past presidents. I don't know that I can pick a favorite book ever, as I've read so many books that I really enjoyed.
Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?
I've always wanted to visit China because the history fascinates me. However, that's a trip that my wife has no interest in, so next would be Italy because it looks beautiful and I'd like to sample the wine.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
I've had great pets my whole life, so it's hard to pick one, but I'll go back to Tipee, the dog I grew up with. That was back before leash laws, so she would roam the neighborhood and go wherever my two brothers and I would go. She loved to play catch and could chase a ball, jump into the air and catch it every time.
What's your favorite sports team?
That depends on the season. I'm definitely a sports fan and follow numerous teams. For years, I would have said whatever team my daughter Libby was playing on as she played basketball through high school and soccer through college. She's "retired," though, so now I would say Illini men's basketball.
What would you order for your last meal?
A nice steak, baked potato, wedge salad and a good bottle of red wine.
If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?
I've been pretty happy with my life as a planner, so I don't think I would change anything.
Who are your favorite musicians and why?
Again very hard to pick one as my music tastes are varied I have music by 85 different artists on my iPhone. I like everything from classic rock to jazz, blues, soul and classics like Frank Sinatra. It does appear that I have more songs by the Beatles on there than any other single artist, so I'll go with them.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
Very hard to pick one, so I'd say the day I got married, the days my two children were born and the day my son got married.
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?
High on that list would have been Nelson Mandela, but I'm just a little late on that one if I'm limited to living. First on my list if I was allowed to consider those not living would be my dad, who was also a planner and died when I was in eighth grade. Since I followed in his footsteps, I always wanted to have the chance to talk about planning issues with him.
For the living, I have an interest in people who are great leaders and what makes them tick, and I would want them to come from different sectors, so I would say Colin Powell, Bill Clinton and Lee Iacocca.
I would serve barbecue ribs, fries and beer because you can't stay too formal eating that kind of food.
Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?
Abraham Lincoln because he was a great leader who served with a sense of humor and humility — and was willing to do what was right even when it was very difficult. Unlike many of today's politicians, he was there to serve the people, not to serve himself.
What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?
I get very tired of people that spend their life complaining about and criticizing things they don't really understand. If you don't like something, get involved and try to change it. As far as myself, I can be impatient about some things. It's something I've worked on and gotten better about as I've gotten older.
What's your best piece of advice?
Don't worry about the things in life that you don't control. Focus on making a positive impact on the things you can.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
My first job was working on a survey crew for a small civil engineering firm. I don't remember what I got paid per hour but it wasn't very much. My first professional job was as a regional planner at a six-county council of governments in north central Iowa, and I do remember that my starting annual salary there was $9,084 a year.
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?
I was working as the city planner for the city of Liberty, Mo., and generally happy with my job. I got a call from Steve Carter, the city manager of Champaign, asking me if I might be interested in interviewing for the opening they had for a planning director. Apparently a friend of his who worked for Kansas City, Mo., had suggested I might be a good candidate. I came, interviewed, got the job and 25 years later I'm still here.
Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?
I can't really say I do. All in all I've had a pretty darn good life!
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I see stressful situations as a challenge to overcome and an opportunity to succeed. I take them in stride and work my way through them. I believe that one of my skills is to solve problems, and that is what I try to do when faced with such a situation.