By Dean Whittaker

If we live long enough, we learn things. More and more I have come to appreciate how my relationships with my friends propel me through life. Whether they be personal, professional or passing, all of these humans are important to me. Among other things, they shape my thinking, influence my behavior and replenish me when my cup is empty. 

It is through these friendships that I was asked to speak at the Illinois Economic Development Conference this June. My keynote talk was on the Future of Work. While I am continually reminded that my fascination with the future is not everyone’s cup of tea, I did my best to provide the audience with a framework by which to think about the future.

What made this event particularly special was that it took place in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, home to Illinois State University.  Illinois State is where I finished college, fifty years also. During my college years, I was introduced to economic development while serving as an intern at the Bloomington-Normal McLean County Chamber of Commerce. After graduation my first job was as a Chamber of Commerce Vice President Membership Relations and Economic Development. The rolling farm land north of Bloomington is where I was born and raised.

While attending the conference, I learned of the passing of a friend and mentor, H. Rich Funderburk. He was 86 and his life was full of accomplishments. His accomplishments were of the altruistic, giving sort. He was there for people. He was a good friend to many. Rich mentored many of the attendees at the conference. Looking into the eyes of the audience when I spoke of him, I witnessed Rich’s influence and legacy. The experience was humbling and inspiring. Rich’s investment in people lives on. Here’s a link to the story of his life as told in his obituary.  

As I left Bloomington-Normal to drive home, I passed through the rolling flat farm land of central Illinois and reflected on the gift of friendships, acquaintances, internships and mentorships, full of gratitude for all they meant—and mean—to me.