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Medallions honor famous Illinoisans
Treasurer's office has coins for sale

Five Illinoisans who once dominated the political landscape of the state and nation grace the face of commemorative medallions available through the Illinois treasurer's office.

The five-coin set features Abraham Lincoln and fellow presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Ronald Reagan, along with the late Gov. Adlai Stevenson and Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor.

"This does advance the cause of Illinois history," Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka said. "These people have resumes which are huge, and they do change the course, literally, of world history."

The medallions come in gold, silver and brass finishes, with prices ranging from $10 to $55 each. Packaged sets also are available. Additional information can be found at www.state.il.us/treas.

The state borrowed the medallion idea from Minnesota, which issued coins in honor of its state park program and to commemorate hosting the Super Bowl and NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments. Topinka said Illinois decided to use the medallions to honor its finest public figures.

Lincoln's enduring presidential leadership during the Civil War made him an obvious choice.

Before becoming president, Grant served as a Union general from Illinois, earning a decisive victory at the Battle of Vicksburg.

Reagan, a native of the northwestern Illinois village of Tampico, was president when the Cold War with the former Soviet Union came to an end.

"We have three presidents from the state of Illinois who are very well thought of and who really changed the course of history," Topinka said.

Once a presidential hopeful, Stevenson also served as both a delegate and an ambassador to the United Nations.

Washington served 11 years in the Illinois General Assembly and three years in Congress before becoming Chicago's first African-American mayor in 1983.

The late Richard J. Daley, Chicago's longest-serving mayor and father of current Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, was considered for a sixth medallion, but Topinka said the Daley family was not interested.

Along with Washington and Stevenson, a Daley medallion would have given the set three Democrats to go along with the three Republicans.

The Illinois General Assembly approved the first five coins in 2001 and would have to sign off on any new medallions.

Topinka said she would like to see other Illinoisans honored, such as Nobel Prize-winning activist Jane Addams, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who created Tarzan.

Proceeds from sales of the coins will be used for special causes. Topinka suggested using the revenue to erect statues of Reagan and Grant on the Capitol lawn, along with the possibility of building a Lincoln statue at the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania.

Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for the National Park Service in the region that includes Gettysburg National Military Park, said a moratorium prohibits new monuments at the park.

A monument containing the words of Lincoln's famed Gettysburg Address and a bust of the president stand in Gettysburg National Cemetery, she said.

Pat Guinane can be reached at 782-6883 or patrick.guinane@sj-r.com.

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