Smile Politely

A fitting tribute for Billee and Art Spomer

If you grew up in Urbana, specifically in the southeast part of it, during the 80s and 90s, you remember the transformation of Windsor Road. What was once a two lane tar road — with almost no lighting at all — was turned into a four-lane fully lit corridor connecting Highcross Road and Prospect Avenue with an eye towards expanding out to Staley Road in the future. The growth of the southwest part of Champaign, coupled with U of I’s intention to develop the South Farms into a “Research Park” was imminent, and as such, our cities grew to the south.

On the corner of Race and Windsor, just beyond Clark-Lindsey Village, a retirement home that hundreds of kids can point to as their first “real job” lies Meadowbrook Park. You can read more about it here, and look at SP Photo Editor Sam Logan’s astonishing pictures of it, but needless to say, it could be argued that of all the fine parks that we have here in our cities, this one is the crown jewel. It’s a massive 130 acre plot of land, with two creeks, three miles of biking paths, a sculpture walk, unpaved walking trails, an ornamental tree garden, and a beautifully and naturally restored Illinois prairie.

Tomorrow morning, a part of that prairie will have a new name, and it’s one worthy of reverence: Spomer Prairie.

The new name is to honor the memory of both Billee and Arthur Spomer. Together, they left an indelible impact on the lives of many throughout this community, and their children have banded together with close friends to donate a gift of $50,000 to the Urbana Park District to allow their legacy to live on, for all to enjoy.

I grew up with the Spomer family. All three boys were some of our best pals in the Fein household. At various times throughout our childhoods, we played, studied, discovered, argued — all of it. As kids, before Meadowbrook was ever developed, we explored the space, undeveloped and filled our imaginations with adventure and wonderment of where those creeks would take us.

It’s only fitting to me that twenty some years later, it will partially be dedicated to their honor.

I had a chance to ask some questions to both Mark and Ryan Spomer, both sons of the honorees, about how this all came to pass.

Smile Politely: Obviously, committing $50,000 to rename a prairie at Meadowbrook Park is a big deal for the Urbana Park District, and for the honor of your parents. Who decided on doing this exactly, and when?

Mark Spomer: I believe the original idea came from Ceal Allen and Roger Blakely who were good friends of Dad. My older brother took the initiative organizing people to help out and especially getting additional funding for it to happen.

Ryan Spomer: I thought it was an awesome idea; what was really amazing was that the money was fully raised through friends and family and people that they have touched along the way. It’s a good example of the type of people they were.

SP: Who are you expecting at the dedication on Saturday outside of the two of you, and your brother?

MS: We have a lot of family coming from Colorado and California, most of whom I haven’t personally seen since Dad passed away in 2013, and some I haven’t seen for even longer. There will also be a good amount of people from the Park District and University, who not only knew mom and/or dad, but also helped put the dedication together. I also assume there will be a lot of people I have and haven’t met before, seeing as how they seemed to have a very positive effect on anyone that knew them.

SP: Was working with the Park District on a project like this an easy process? It’s not every day something like this sorts through, so take me through the steps a bit.

MS: It wasn’t particularly a difficult process. Everyone from the Urbana Park District and University that knew Dad took a lot of the initiative in figuring out how to make the dedication work, what we wanted to do in general and how to make everything happen. They worked with Ryan and I here in town all along the way and really helped make the project a remembrance of our parents. Not just my brothers and I but for everyone.  Our oldest brother connected everyone and kept everyone up to date all along the way, even though he hasn’t been able to be here in town anywhere near as much as I know he wanted to be.

SP: Do you have any plans for annual gatherings there, or further dedications or fundraising?

RS: I plan on visiting there often.

MS: We haven’t discussed future plans as of yet, but it is the perfect place for any kind of family gathering or event here in town. Hopefully it will help us initiate more family gathering in the future. Mom and dad were both big proponents of community service and giving their time to help others. I know for the last decade or so Dad did a lot of work for charities like Artists Against AIDS and Boneyard Art Festival. I would like to see the park be a part of future local events like those, especially considering all of Dad’s work towards perpetuating art; his dedication towards helping people in the art community in the area touched many.


In addition to the prairie itself, artist Todd Frahm is working on a sculpted stone bench that will overlook the land, and long time friends Ceal Allen and Roger Blakeley have created customized park signs, indicating the Art and Billee Spomer Tall Grass Prairie, as well.

You can join the Spomer family and the Urbana Park District tomorrow, on Saturday, May 16th, 2015 at 11 a.m. at the Windsor Road entrance at the corner of Vine Street.

Photos courtesy of Urbana Park District

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