© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Barb Adkins, Community Leader Who Brought Understanding, Dies

Former Bloomington Deputy City Manager Barb Adkins, left, worked 32 years for the City of Bloomington.

A longtime public servant who fought against intolerance in Bloomington-Normal has died.

Barb Adkins was deputy city manager for Bloomington before she retired in 2016, and community relations director before that, during her three-decade career with the city.

Former council member and activist Mike Matejka said Adkins was ahead of her time in police and race relations.

"She used the Not In Our Town video with the police department. And this was 25 years ago that she did training on diversity issues with the police," said Matejka.

Matejka said Adkins had a low-key, welcoming manner that made her very effective even with opponents. She also spearheaded the Not In Our Town movement in the Twin Cities, and integrated it with city hall.

"She pushed for extra police patrols at African American churches at a time when church burnings were going on. Barb was critical to all that and she did it in a way that was not confrontational because she had a very accepting manner and could make them feel welcome. Even if they frustrated her she went out of her way to be inclusive," said Matejka.

He said Adkins was a constant counselor for the Not In Our Town organization even after she retired.

Credit Facebook
Barb Adkins, right, in 2018 with Christina Rogers.

Matejka said Adkins had a great attitude and did work of the highest quality in her city position.

"People often disparage public employees. And Barb Adkins was so dedicated to the city of Bloomington, not just as an institution, but to its people," said Matejka.

Another former city council member also remembers Adkins fondly, both professionally and personally. Karen Schmidt said Adkins was the go-to person who acted as an ombudsman between the city and residents, resolving disputes, and helping people to see others as they are.

"As an example, you might get a call from somebody saying there's an awful lot of people congregating on a front porch and it looks like a party that's out of control. She would go and do a drive by and come back and say, 'That might look like a party that's out of control to you, but that's an extended family and they're enjoying themselves. Tell me what you see, and I'll tell you what I see, because I see something different.’ And sometimes it would just be cultural differences or racial differences. She helped people see all those things," said Schmidt.

Schmidt said Adkins also was instrumental in resolving the many challenges to moving the historic Oscar Kohn house several blocks to preserve the mansion.

After her retirement, Adkins managed the Route 66 Visitors Center at the McLean County Museum of History.

Schmidt said Adkins had great personal kindness, was deeply religious, and continued her involvement in community and area events until her death.

There's no subscription fee to listen or read our stories. Everyone can access this essential public service thanks to community support. Donate now, and help fund your public media.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.