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2024 McLean County History Makers include business owners, community servants and a labor leader

Six people stand in front of a projector screen in an old courtroom.
Dave Bentlin
From left, Bob and Julie Dobski, Jan Lancaster, Barb and Bob Hathway, and John Penn — 2024's McLean County History Makers.

Six community servants join a growing roster of McLean County “History Makers,” chosen for their significant contributions to making Bloomington-Normal and McLean County a better place to live.

The class of 2024 was revealed in a media event Wednesday morning. Each History Maker is nominated by fellow community members and chosen by a volunteer committee.

“I’m totally blown away,” said Jan Lancaster, a Normal native who owns and operates The Bistro in downtown Bloomington. “I’m honored to be in such a worthy group.”

Lovingly known as “Momma,” Lancaster has cared for the LGBTQ+ community since the onset of the AIDS epidemic and was named one of WGLT’s 21 women shaping Bloomington-Normal. The Bistro opened in 1993, creating a haven for queer people in the Twin Cities.

“In her early years, many Bistro patrons would park blocks away, careful they were not outed by entering a gar bar,” writes Mike Matejka in Lancaster’s History Makers biography. Now, the Bistro hosts an huge annual Pride Fest, with rainbow hearts painted on city streets, pointing the way.

Chicagoans Bob and Julie Dobski moved to Bloomington-Normal in 1989 to manage the area’s McDonald’s franchise. Both have served as McLean County Chamber of Commerce president — one of a long list reflecting their community involvement. The couple traded McDonald’s for fine dining in 2019, selling the franchise to launch RobDob’s restaurant in Bloomington.

“I love the community that we’ve helped to enhance, I think,” said Julie Dobski. “There’s always somebody out there waiting for you to help them. Just do it.”

Volunteers and community activists Barb and Bob Hathway and local labor leader John Penn complete the list.

“They’re great people,” Lancaster said of her fellow History Makers. “I’ve known them for years and years.”

The History Makers honor has been awarded to community members since its creation in 2012.

“Each year, the History Makers Gala recognizes long-standing residents whose outstanding, life-long contributions of time and talents have helped to make McLean County a better place to live,” said the museum’s director of development, Norris Porter.

Each of the history makers will be celebrated at a gala dinner, scheduled for June 18 at Illinois State University’s Brown Ballroom.

Look for in-depth profiles of each on WGLT as the event approaches.

Erik Dedo contributed to this story.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.