The Future of Forgottonia

Neal Gamm, "Governor" of Forgottonia, at the entrance to the bridge over the Spoon River at Bernadotte.

Neal Gamm at Forgottonia bridge

What do generations of West-Central Illinoisans envision for the future of “Forgottonia?” 

How might the region harness its rich history and community to attract opportunity and support future generations who will call the region home?

In this screening and community conversation, students, families, community leaders, and recently-returned and life-long residents will come together to share ideas for growth and evolution in their region.

Students and young families serve as an essential voice to help understand the future of the area once known as Forgottonia. Now 50 years since its inception, the Forgottonia movement grabbed national attention for its bold response to a familiar problem: disinvestment from rural communities, infrastructure, and industry. But while its history may feel familiar, civic leaders and scholars like Bill Edley and John Hallwas have much to share about what we may not know about Forgottonia’s origins and its striking relevance to contemporary issues facing rural communities. In conversation with area students and community leaders, we’ll consider what it all means for young people making a life for themselves in rural Illinois. 


  • Short screening
  • Presentation by Bill Edley
  • Community Conversation with Kaylann Beekman, Claire Happel Ashe, and Whitney Ashe
  • Remarks by John Hallwas

Learn more about...

Community Conversation Participants

Kaylann Beekman (moderator) is an On-Air Talent for WSIU-FM radio, known as "88.3 The Dog." The Dog is Western Illinois University's award-winning student radio station. She is an alumna of the Forgottonia Project at Cuba High School and appears in "People, Places, and Power: Fulton County Edition.”

Claire Happel Ashe, a resident of Macomb, Illinois, is a musician and performer.

Whitney Ashe, a resident of Macomb, Illinois, is an assistant professor at Western Illinois University. He is a musician and composer.


Bill Edley was the Illinois State Representative from the 95th District (1989-1995) and co-leader of the rural Democratic caucus in the state legislature. He is a regional civic leader having served as the president of the Macomb Chamber of Commerce, trustee for Western Illinois University, and more. He serves as a columnist for various newspapers and has written an essay on the Forgottonia movement.

John Hallwas, an accomplished literary and cultural historian of the Midwest with a specialty in western Illinois, is a Western Illinois University distinguished professor of English emeritus. He is president of the Illinois State Historical Society. He is a prolific author and a long-time participant in Illinois Humanities programs, including our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau.

Screening: "People, Places, and Power: Fulton County Edition"

The screening will feature excerpts from The Country and The City's People, Places, and Power series about Fulton County, focusing on Forgottonia's history and contemporary relevance as told by Joe Brewer. The series examined the relationship between population distribution and the allocation of political power and public resources from the vantage points of places in Illinois where that relationship is especially significant.

Western Illinois Museum

Founded in 1974, the Western Illinois Museum’s mission is to “nurture our history and culture.” The Museum grew from a one-floor space, campus museum created and run by dedicated students to a full-fledged Museum in its own space, housing well over 6,000 historic artifacts from the region. The Museum has become a hub of community activity. 

Event Accessibility

Western Illinois Museum is wheelchair accessible. There is a handicapped parking space on Lafayette Street (south of Washington Street) by the entrance of the Museum.

Forgottonia Freeway

Neal Gamm, "Governor" of Forgottonia.

Western illinois museum event

Outside the Western Illinois Museum.