September 2013 marks the retirement of Laborers Local 362 member and the United Way of McLean County’s Labor Liaison Gary Leake’s retirement. Gary was also named 2013 "Laborer of the Year" by WJBC-AM and rode in the radio station's convertible in the Bloomington, Illinois Labor Day Parade.
A Laborer since 1965, starting at age 16, Gary applied for the first ever opening of a Labor Liaison with United Way of McLean County.
Many United Ways recognize labor’s unique contributions and have a full-time labor person on their staff to outreach to local unions.
Besides helping with United Way’s fund drives, Gary’s coordinated union volunteers to aid local projects.
Local agencies have saved thousands of dollars, thanks to Gary’s outreach. It might be as simple as laying new carpet, painting a wall or adding a handrail, or as complicated as the almost $400,000 in work done when the Baby Fold opened their center at the old Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home. Other outstanding projects included Poetry Place at Sheridan School, which won a 1997 Presidential Points of Light Award, or the Compassion Center, serving the homeless at Second Presbyterian Church.
Gary, in his humility, gives the credit to all the locals. "I don’t think I was hardly ever turned down" on a volunteer project, he said. "It’s amazing what these guys will do. It all falls back to the members who do the work -- if you’ve got good people behind you, you are going to look good.
"Workers are part of the community, this is their community."
Gary notes numerous volunteers from multiple locals who supported these efforts, whether doing worker-to-worker outreach for United Way funding or using their trade skills to aid agencies.
Nancy McCormick, the Midwest Region AFL-CIO coordinator for United Way labor liaisons, had high praise for Gary, saying: "Gary is one of the kindest men I have ever met. He not only recruited volunteers to do a job, he worked right beside them as they did it.
"Even thought I said Gary was kind, that doesn’t mean he was a push over. Gary was a passionate Union man and always defended the rights of people.
"Gary’s reports of activities done in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois put you all on the map for Community Services. From working with the Boy Scouts, bi-annual blood drives, landscaping and cleaning up areas in your Central Labor Council jurisdiction, to making quilts doing safety training, Union Community Activist Network training and did I mention United Way campaign fund raising and recruiting of volunteers....Gary made sure that everyone knew how important the work that Union members did was to the community. He also put a dollar value on that work that was done so everyone would understand the contribution that workers made to their community, ‘in-kind’."
Midwest Regional Manager and Laborers Vice-President John Penn commented, "Gary Leake and I joined Laborers’ Local 362 in 1965 and served as Executive Board members of
the Local Union. Gary is a fine Leader who leads by example and the members of Local 362 and their families have benefitted from his commitment and dedication of providing for a better way of life. I am very proud to have worked with Gary who I hold in the highest respect."
Ronn Morehead, Bloomington & Normal Trades & Labor Assembly President, commented that with his talents, Gary could have aspired to numerous positions. Instead, he took a position to aid the community.
"As he championed those who were less fortunate, struggling in life to survive and move forward, his dedication and leadership helped change to lives of many people."
Gary comes from a proud Laborers family -- his late father Bernie and his brothers Tom, Dave Mark and Jeff have all carried a Laborers’ card.
Now Gary will enjoy time with his wife Connie, their grandchildren and the chance to ride his horses. "I won’t have to wait for the weekend to do it." At the same time, he plans to be an active union retiree -- "I’m not leaving here, (the union hall) is my house."