The Pekin Community High School District No. 303 Board of Education has established the Distinguished Alumni Award to recognize individuals who were educated and inspired by our school system. Those selected for this honor have distinguished themselves by virtue of their outstanding contributions to the school, community, or society in general. They serve as role models to inspire current and future generations of students.
This year we are honored to recognize five different individuals who make up the Class of 2023 Distinguished Alumni. These individuals will be recognized prior to the start of the varsity football game at 7 p.m. on September 8, 2023 at Veterans’ Memorial Stadium.
2023 Distinguished Alumni
George Beres, Class of 1945
A PCHS graduate of the class of 1945, George Beres has led a fulfilling life full of service to the Pekin community. After graduating from PCHS, he attended the University of Illinois before transferring to and graduating from Bradley University with a major in music. He sang through his years at Pekin Schools, the Glee Club at the University of Illinois, and also at Bradley where he was student conductor of both Glee Club and a capella choir his senior year.
During his youth, George also developed a gift for salesmanship at his father’s business – a favorite high school hangout called The Princess Candy Kitchen! Located downtown Pekin, George worked the cash register at the Candy Kitchen for many years.
George married Barbara J. Baxter on August 28, 1949. They had two daughters; Linda (John) Black and Donna (Michael) Monn who graced them with two grandchildren – Andrea Young and Dr. Kristopher (Wendy) Monn and 4 great-grandchildren.
Mr. Beres served in the Illinois National Guard for four years. In 1953, George became a partner as an auto dealer selling Packard automobiles. He continued as sole owner after the death of his partner and later added Mercedes-Benz, American Motors, Peugeot, and Renault autos. He sold his business – Beres Motor Company, in 1984 but continued in the car business selling cars for Velde Oldsmobile-Cadillac until he retired in 1995.
In addition to his successful professional career, Mr. Beres was just as committed to the Pekin community. Along with several other prominent community leaders, George helped to establish the Pekin Civic Chorus in 1953, serving on its Board for 70 years. In addition to this, he also served on the Herget Bank Board for 25 years and volunteered with the United Way of Pekin for 30 years as a board member and past president. He is a life member of the Pekin Elks Club and was also on the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce and co-chaired the Marigold Golf Tournament for over 25 years in addition to serving on other community boards and organizations.
Jake Bland, Class of 2002
Leadership is in this alumni’s blood. After being the drum major for the marching band, the Student Council President, and a Valedictorian of his PCHS graduating class of 2002, Jake Bland has continued to excel in his personal and professional work. As a student who excelled in academics and took part in countless musical ventures both at PCHS and with his church, Mr. Bland also worked in the Technology Department of District 108 helping with web design, technology troubleshooting and serving as a mentor to ICC students. He also volunteered as a Ministry Leader and Intern for the Youth for Christ, Peoria Area, an organization which continues to play an important role in his life today.
He went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Bradley University with a degree in Interactive Media after being a part of their Honors and Fellows Programs, the Symphonic Band, and serving as a campus worship leader. During his time as an undergraduate, Jake also co-founded ClearElement, a technology and web application consulting company as well as worked as an Educational Technology Consultant.
Jake returned to Bradley as an adjunct professor while also co-founding Bland Productions, LLC with his brother; a film production company based in Los Angeles while working on his Master’s Degree in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2015.
In 2021, Mr. Bland became the 10th President and CEO of Youth For Christ USA, a pillar of missional youth ministry since 1944 when the Rev. Billy Graham served as YFC’s first full-time staff member. Today, Youth For Christ engages young people everywhere in over 100 nations and through over 1,300 local ministry sites across America. With approximately 1,600 employees, 7,500 volunteers and a $90 million budget, the ministry impacts over one hundred thousand 11- to 19-year-olds each year in the U.S.
Jake and his wife, Alison, live in the Denver area with their two children, Silas and Ivy. As a volunteer, Jake serves as an elder in their church and as the board chairman for Presence Point—a global non-profit organization that helps leaders live into their calling. Their family loves traveling, music, investing time with friends, and enjoying God’s creation in Colorado. Upon learning of this award, Mr. Bland stated, "Receiving the PCHS 'Distinguished Alumni Award' is a humbling recognition. At the end of the day, this award is not really a reflection of my achievements but a testament to the incredible support and nurturing environment that PCHS provides. It is a tribute to the collective efforts of the faculty and staff who work tirelessly to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed."
Everett McKinley Dirksen, Class of 1913
Everett McKinley Dirksen was born in Pekin on Jan. 4, 1896, to a family that fell on hard times when his father died when the future senator was just 9. At Pekin High School, he was involved in football, track and field, debate, and the student newspaper, among other activities. Known even then for his oratory, a senior tribute in the Pekinian yearbook diagnosed him with “bigworditis.”
After graduating from Pekin High School in 1913, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study law. He enlisted in the Army, seeing combat in World War I, often from a tethered balloon 3,500 feet above the front lines. Returning to Pekin after the war, he acted in community theater productions, where he met Louella Carver, who would later become his wife. After being active in multiple business ventures including a family bakery, Dirksen was elected to the Pekin City Council in 1926.
Elected to Congress on his second attempt, Dirksen took his seat in the House of Representatives in 1933 as the Great Depression raged. He remained in Congress for over 36 years, except for two years of voluntary retirement, and moved to the Senate in 1951. He served under six presidents, four of whom were of the opposite party.
He learned to work productively with men of every shade of political faith without surrendering his principles. In doing so, he became a leader of his party in the Senate. His legacy includes helping pass the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Though unsuccessful at seeing the marigold designated the national flower, his efforts are remembered in his hometown to this day through the annual Pekin Marigold Festival.
He died in Washington, D.C., on September 7, 1969, following surgical complications from a tumor removal. President Nixon gave the following tribute in eulogy: “While he never became President, his impact and influence on the nation was greater than that of most presidents in our history.”
Jay Goldberg, Class of 1968
A graduate of the PCHS class of 1968, Jay Goldberg continued his education at Northern Illinois University where he became interested in helping in the campus music scene. He found his calling in his skills of working behind the scenes at concerts, specifically folk music events which were an important form of musical expression at the time.
Jay, along with his wife Peggy, began in Pekin with the opening of Ian’s Music Parlor, the area's first rock music record store. Soon after he opened a store in Peoria called Budget Tapes & Records. It wasn’t long before he opened another store and then another growing the chain to over 30 stores throughout the Midwest United States. These stores later changed their name to become Co-oP Tapes and Records. With so many record stores in all the Midwest markets, Jay was able to develop concert tours of bands who were releasing new albums and wanted to promote them – and thus Jay Goldberg Events and Entertainment was created.
Beginning with the early days of rock n’ roll, Jay has had the pleasure of working with many of the top names in the live music industry”. While rock n’ roll has been a strong focus of his company, Jay had diversified and went on to present entertainment in many genres.
Jay promoted his first concert in 1971. The act was Uriah Heep Live at “The Barn” in Peoria, Illinois, and as of today, he has presented in concert over 4,500 acts during this career. Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment has grown nationally to include a concert promotions division, a festival development division, a restaurant, and night-club. He has been proud to have concentrated a major part of his career bringing major national and international concerts right here in Central Illinois thus enhancing the quality of the Arts & Entertainment in Pekin and Central Illinois.
Jay is married to Peggy Goldberg and has two sons, Ian and Arlan Goldberg.
Ian and Arlan are now the principal owners and have continued the legacy of Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment. Jay still maintains a home in Pekin, SW Florida and South America. He served on the Marigold Festival Committee for almost 20 years bringing some amazing Marigold Fest Saturday Night Concerts to the Memorial Stadium.
Ron Whitton Jr., Class of 1976
A 1976 graduate, Mr. Ron Whitton has gone on to a successful business career, which reaches far beyond Pekin, Illinois. Ron graduated from Illinois State University in 1980 with a degree in Business Administration and minors in Economics and Accounting. That same year, he married his lovely wife, Cathy, also a PCHS graduate and longtime PCHS employee. They have two children, Derek and Andrea, both graduates of Pekin High.
After graduation, Ron started working as a sales rep for Standard Brands Food Manufacturer. A year later, he went to work for PMI, a food broker headquartered in Chicago. In 1988, he purchased Spring Green Lawn Care in Peoria and completed the Account Executive College Program at Northwestern University. In 1991, he purchased Jimbos Jumbo, an Italian takeout and delivery restaurant located here in Pekin, which resulted in him winning the Peoria Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award in 1998.
In 2001, he purchased a commercial building in Peoria and, with Dave Haxton, started Dentsmart, a paintless dent removal business started with one technician and developing partnerships with body shops and insurance companies. Selling both the Jimbos Jumbo restaurant and Spring Green Lawn Care in 2005, Mr. Whiton focused his attention on the growth of Dentsmart. This resulted in the eventual licensing of the brand and franchising in fifteen states with over 100 employees before the selling of this company in 2023.
Recognized for his entrepreneurial accomplishments, Mr. Whitton has received the 2019 Illinois State University Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was inducted into the Illinois State University College of Business Hall of Fame in 2017. In turn, he founded the ISU Pay it Forward Student Fund, an initiative created to get students in the habit of helping students and giving back to the University where he committed to matching contributions dollar for dollar.
In 2010, Ron and Cathy continued to give back by establishing the Ron and Cathy Whitton endowed scholarship program to provide financial support for the educational expenses of an ISU incoming freshman from Pekin Community High School or an incoming graduate from Illinois Central College (I.C.C.). He additionally established a marketing scholarship and entrepreneur scholarship and is also a member of the ISU Alumni Board, ISU College of Business Advisory Council, the ISU MQM and Means Center advisory councils and participates in the ISU Alumni Scholarship program. Ron also enjoys supporting The Pekin First Church of God as well as other charities and participates as a trustee for the Mid-American Christian University and a Development Committee member for the Baby Fold.