State Farm donates $250,000 to Western Avenue Community Center to honor Willie Brown’s legacy
A strong dedication to community service and leadership are characteristics Willie Brown has demonstrated throughout his life at Bloomington-Normal, including working with the Western Avenue Community Center, NAACP, Urban League and other groups. .
Brown, a longtime State Farm executive, died March 5 at age 74. To honor its commitment to the Bloomington-Normal community and continue Brown’s legacy, State Farm on Wednesday donated $250,000 to the Western Avenue Community Center (WACC) in Bloomington.
“It was about honoring Willie Brown who was iconic in both organizations as a leader, as a person (and) as a humanitarian,” said Rasheed Merritt, State Farm vice president responsible for corporate responsibility and public affairs.
Brown began his career at State Farm in Bloomington in 1971 in data processing and retired in 2009 as executive vice president.
Since his death, Brown has been remembered by former colleagues, peers, friends and family for the impact he had in their lives.
Merritt said Brown has always focused on ways to help others and persists in encouraging his peers to also focus on how they can better serve their communities.
“It’s just a way of honoring him for what he’s done. When you can honor someone who’s 100% authentic, it feels good. He’s a hero of mine. One of my heroes of State Farm,” Merritt said.
State Farm CEO Michael Tipsord said the donation would extend Brown’s impact to the next generation.
“When I think about what’s really important, and really that personalizes it for me, it’s the impact a person has on others. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters. I don’t know nobody in this community who has had a bigger impact than Willie Brown,” said Tipsord.
Retired State Farm vice president Michael Jones, who serves on the WACC board, said the donation will allow the center to expand its youth program. Short-term goals include creating a summer program for middle schoolers called Discovering Blo-No. The program will allow approximately 45-50 middle-aged children to explore Bloomington-Normal.
“We will work hard to find a signature program to honor him and his name that will focus on some of the key pillars that Willie embodied: leadership, academic achievement and good citizenship,” Jones said. “These are things he believed in and tried to instill in everyone he worked with or met. He is smiling right now, knowing that we are receiving this gift.
Jones said it’s important that children have the opportunity to venture beyond their neighborhood during the summer and be exposed to learning opportunities within the community.
Long-term goals with the gift include creating a signature event to honor Brown and his family, though details are still being discussed by State Farm and the Brown family.
Jones said he and Brown had a friendship dating back almost 60 years and the loss for the community and for him personally was difficult to deal with. Jones said this donation will allow Brown’s impact to continually reach area children and families.
“Willie Brown was special. I think of everyone in this room, if you didn’t know him you missed something,” Jones said.
Jones continued, “For him, being a good citizen meant that you grew up in a community, and that you helped and supported the community in which you grew up. We’re going to find some sort of way to develop a program that embodies all of these pillars that I know Willie will support.
As Brown’s legacy lives on, Jones hopes people will understand and embrace the commitment to academics, to being a good citizen, and to being a leader that Brown exemplified.
“If they recognize or see someone who needs a helping hand, they’ll reach out and move that person forward. To me, that’s the epitome of a good citizen,” Jones said. .