Champaign council to vote on making street honors permanent for fallen

Champaign council to vote on making street honors permanent for fallen

CHAMPAIGN — A city council member is proposing a slight change in the rules for naming honorary streets, prompted by last year's 50th anniversary of the death of police Officer Robert Tatman.

Council member Greg Stock said he would like to see any street named in honor of a city employee who dies on the job to be made a permanent honorary street. Currently, those designations expire after 10 years.

The council is expected to vote on it tonight.

If Bob Tatman's family members could vote, they'd be in favor of Stock's proposal.

"I have friends who say, 'It's been 50 years. Aren't you over it yet?'" said Mary Tatman Middleton, the younger sister of the late Champaign officer.

She was 23 when her brother was fatally shot with his own service revolver in 1967 on what was then the west edge of the city. His murder has never been solved.

"No," Middleton said emphatically. "I've got his picture here and even one from the cemetery where the policemen are carrying the casket to the hearse. You never get over it."

"I did call Bob's oldest daughter, Debbie (Larson), and asked her feelings. She said, 'His sacrifice lasts longer than 10 years,'" Middleton recounted.

Tatman left a wife, four children, three sisters and his parents.

Last November, a section of West Church Street between Mattis and Country Fair Drive — believed to be the murder scene — was renamed Officer Robert L. Tatman Drive by action of state legislators.

That honor got Stock and others thinking about the city's policy that calls for honorary street designations to expire after 10 years.

"A couple retired officers were asking, 'Why do we have to go to the state for this?'" Stock said.

So Stock is proposing that the honorary streets have no expiration if they commemorate a city employee who dies on the job.

"It could even be a snow-plow driver," he said.

The only other Champaign police officer to die on duty was Thomas Dodsworth, killed in a 1913 bootlegging raid.

Stock would like to see University Avenue between Chestnut and First designated as Honorary Robert Tatman Avenue and First Street between University and Park Avenue as Honorary Thomas Dodsworth Avenue. That's where both officers were honored until three years ago, when the 10-year rule — added by the council in 2014 — took effect.

Each of those block-long stretches run along the south and east sides of the current Champaign police department building.

Stock added that the rules could be modified again to include other groups like military members.

Middleton came back to town last fall for the service honoring her brother.

"It was great to experience, and I felt so happy and proud, but it was also extremely painful because you're reliving it again," she said.

Middleton said the family didn't know then about the temporary honorary designations for the street names, which made them "kind of angry."

"Why would you have a time limit on somebody who gave the ultimate sacrifice? It's like saying, 'We'll remember you for 10 years, then go remember somebody else.'"

Name that street

Five fun facts about Champaign's honorary streets program:

— The only street with three honorary blocks? PARK AVENUE, home for now to stretches named after Pulitzer-winning film critic Roger Ebert, longtime county board member Catherine Hogue and history-making police officer Allen Rivers).

— Come April 2019, Park is due to go back to two honorary blocks, when the signs honoring Champaign's first black officer (Rivers) and the county's first black elected official (Joe Somers) reach their 10-year anniversaries.

— Twenty-nine of 34 honorary streets are named after individuals. Twenty-two are men; seven are women — Hogue, Erma Bridgewater, Jean Driscoll, Alison Krauss, Vicki Stewart, Mable Thomas and Vera Wesley.

— Four of the last nine designations have gone to clergy members — The Rev. Arthur Burks, Rabbi Ben Frankel and bishops Edward McGhee and Robert Perry.

— Since the city put a 10-year expiration date on honorary streets, 14 have timed out: Burnham Boulevard (re-pitched and replaced in 2016 by Burnham Nurses Way), June Mank Way, Lou Henson Court, Thomas Dodsworth Avenue, Robert L. Tatman Avenue, Cpl. Nathaniel K. Moore Road, John Lee Johnson Way, Billy Morrow Jackson Way, Jack McDuff Way, Loren Tate Way, Tim Nugent Way, Keith Page Drive, Ken Kesler Way and Austin Cloyd Way.

— Jeff D'Alessio