Inspiring a Better Future

After 26 years, more than 1,000 individuals have been honored as 40 Leaders Under Forty—and many are still leading our community today.

by Jan Wright, Publisher

Each year since 1994, Peoria Magazines has recognized 40 of central Illinois’ up-and-coming young leaders in our November issue and at a community reception. It’s one of the highlights of our year, and a significant honor for young professionals seeking to grow, develop and better their community. 

“I recognized 40 Leaders Under Forty as a great way to acknowledge and encourage aspiring young leaders while inspiring others,” recalls Steve Thompson, president and CEO of Easterseals Central Illinois, a member of the 1994 class and our 2019 40 Leaders Alumnus of the Year. “Frankly, I also remember wondering if the program would be sustainable in the long term. At this point, I think that question is more than settled.”

And here we are, over two-and-a-half decades later. More than 1,000 individuals have been honored as 40 Leaders Under Forty, and many are still leading our community today—with an impact that has only grown more impressive with time.

While the buzzwords have changed over the years, the foundation of leadership involves hard work, dedication and vision. No one is born or entitled to the role of leader. To quote Steve again: “Leadership always includes a passionate sense of purpose... sustained by the belief that there is so much more we can do to create better outcomes, better opportunities and a better future.” 

This year’s recipients are entrepreneurs and innovators, doctors and lawyers, bankers and engineers, nonprofit leaders, creative marketers, community organizers and more. They are the ones working to create our better future. 

Last month, you could find many of them at The Big Table: Greater Peoria—a day of conversations about workforce development and education, quality of life and place, innovation and entrepreneurship, and diversity and inclusion. More than 700 people from all walks of life convened at the Peoria Civic Center to discuss community challenges, ideas and opportunities to enhance our region. The data collected will be published soon with the intention of continuing the day’s positive momentum. Check out for recap videos and more information.

The Big Table was a great way to kickstart a regional conversation—one that each of the 40 young leaders in this issue will surely be taking part. Learn more about them in this issue and feel inspired about the future of our community! PM