ROCHELLE — On Tuesday, a ceremony was held dedicating the Illinois Route 251 overpass in the heart of Rochelle to the memory of the late State Sen. John B. "Jack" Roe.
In 1976, Sen. Roe was approached by local civic and business leaders to obtain assistance and funding to place an overpass on then-U.S. Route 51 through Rochelle. At that time, U.S. Route 51 was the major north-south thoroughfare through Illinois. The City of Rochelle had two sets of railroad tracks, the Chicago Northwestern and Burlington Northern, with as many as 80 trains a day going through the city, creating delays of 15 to 20 minutes for each train. Consequently, Rochelle became known as “Jamtown” and “Delaysville” by truck drivers. Sen. Roe secured the necessary funding to construct the Rochelle overpass to remedy the logjam and facilitate the flow of commerce.
Family and friends of Roe attended the ceremony Tuesday at the Flagg-Rochelle Public Library. Mayor John Bearrows spoke at the event along with State Rep. Tom Demmer and State Sen. Brian Stewart, who co-sponsored House Joint Resolution 57 in Springfield to designate the Illinois Route 251 overpass in Rochelle in honor of Sen. Roe. The resolution was passed unanimously earlier this year.
Signs in Roe’s honor were placed at both ends of the overpass on Tuesday. Bearrows called the work on the dedication “a long process” and thanked Demmer, Stewart and local attorneys Dave Tess and Russell Crull for their work on it.
“We always talk about projects that will last into the future,” Bearrows said. “The overpass idea was originally not popular with everybody. There were people that didn't like the thought of it. Try to take it away today, and see how much havoc you're going to raise. It was an amazing project that truly looked into the future for this community. Jack had the future of his community, territory as state senator and the entire state in mind.”
Bearrows thanked Roe’s family for allowing him to be so involved in the community. Sen. Roe passed away in November 2020 at the age of 78.
“I knew Jack as a friend,” Bearrows said. “He had the uncanny ability to seem to always be able to settle things down. He'd always give you a little piece of advice. We're blessed to have had the time we had with Jack. Each and every one of us here today benefitted from Jack's presence.”
Roe was a lawyer and public defender in Ogle County and was elected the youngest state's attorney in Illinois in 1968. He was elected state senator of the 35th district of Illinois in 1972 and was the first freshman senator to be appointed to the committee of committees. He also served on the legislative investigative commission.
He was appointed chief justice of the Illinois court of claims in 1979. He was a member of the Rochelle Grade School Board of Directors of District 230 from 1982-1984. He practiced law in Rochelle from 1973-1995. He was appointed circuit judge in 1995 by the Illinois Supreme Court and was elected as a circuit judge in 1996. He retired as a judge in 2000.
“It's not just an overpass,” Demmer said. “It's an overpass we're dedicating to a person who served his community in a variety of capacities over many years. The overpass is not the only legacy that he left.”
Following speeches by Bearrows, Demmer and Stewart, the Roe family was presented with House Joint Resolution 57. Demmer called it “a privilege” to offer the resolution and said he’s glad to know Roe’s contributions over this many years of service will forever be a part of the state’s official record.
Stewart remarked at how the resolution was introduced, passed and carried out within a year. He believes he knows why that happened so fast.
“I think it was Jack's legacy that caused this resolution to be passed so quickly,” Stewart said. “Springfield doesn't often do things this fast. There are resolutions that have been pending in Springfield for years on overpasses and roads and bridges. I'd like to think it was his legacy and what Jack did for the city, county and state that moved it along. I think it's our role in life to carry on his legacy in what we do for our communities and in what’s important to each one of us.”