On June 21, 1853, the town known as Kankakee Depot was voted the official county seat for the newly founded Kankakee County. Shortly thereafter, such time-revered city landmarks as the courthouse were established, creating its downtown.

One-hundred years later, much fanfare was held by local citizens, businesses and organizations throughout the streets of that same downtown in honor of the first Kankakee Centennial Celebration.

Today, Kankakee turns 169, and the community again will honor the anniversary.

Spearheading the celebration is Willeum Boykin, who moved to Kankakee in 2009 and quickly became involved in the community. He has developed KankakeeDay.com, which features history and trivia of the city, Kankakee-branded merchandise and deals from local businesses honoring that historical day in 1853 — now known as Kankakee Day.

Boykin said every community he had lived in before celebrated a founder’s day, and he wanted to help bring that to Kankakee.

“I started the Happy Kankakee Party, a community improvement idea sharing get-together, open to the community, to which I specifically invited people of varying classes, races, religions and agendas,” he said during last year’s celebration.

“One of the ideas that was frequently mentioned and discussed was that of a Kankakee founder’s day. Over the years, I investigated and learned that such a thing probably was celebrated, once upon a time.”

His motivation behind celebrating Kankakee Day annually is to increase morale in the community, and he enjoys seeing more people every year acknowledging the date.

“The quality of life in a small town may be measured in terms of how likely the children of that town are to want to stay and raise children of their own in the town,” Boykin said. “The year I am really looking forward to is 2028, the 175th anniversary. That’s when I expect that more attention will be given to it.

“If there are to be festivals, contests, parades and the works, anything close to what was done back in 1953 on the centennial, we may see some of it happen that year. Until then, the hometown pride momentum is steadily growing,” he said.

The Kankakee Day website encourages community members to enjoy the river and other natural spaces, discover local history, wear local-themed apparel, and shop and patronize locally. In 2018, Boykin and the members of the Happy Kankakee Party asked former Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong to make an official proclamation to designate June 21 as Kankakee Day.

Proclamation 2018-02 states: “Proclamation designating June 21, 2018, as Kankakee Day; Whereas the unincorporated town of Kankakee Depot was chosen as the official government seat for Kankakee County on June 21 of 1853; and Whereas the first Kankakee Centennial Celebration was held here in 1953 to commemorate the historical significance of this date; and Whereas the profound moral value of a citizenry committed to hometown pride is here acknowledged; and Whereas the Bicentennial of our state of Illinois is being observed this year, 2018.”

The proclamation declares it a day “in which citizens are encouraged to learn local history, explore the rich culture of Kankakee, and celebrate a love for local life.”

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