Route 66 News

Pontiac and Route 66 booster Betty Estes dies

Betty Estes, the first tourism director for Pontiac, Ill., and a longtime booster of her town and Route 66, died Wednesday at age 81, reported the Bloomington Pantagraph and Pontiac Daily Leader.

She served as Pontiac’s treasurer, then its tourism director from 1999 to 2005. Among her key accomplishments were developing the Illinois Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor, a cooperative effort by communities along Route 66 from Joliet to Towanda, and leading the establishment and opening of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac. She laid the groundwork for Pontiac having successive years of record tourism.

Even after she retired, she served as a volunteer at the 66 Hall of Fame and Museum.

Here’s a recently produced video of an Estes interview:

Estes was inducted into the Illinois Seniors Hall of Fame in 2007.

City Administrator Bob Karls told the Pantagraph:

“She was a dreamer but she put hard work behind those dreams that nobody thought were possible,” he said. “She was so far out there, but it turned out she was so far ahead of us and the rest of us had to catch up. She worked hard to make things happen. She loved people and was always so positive and encouraging.” […]

Estes and her late husband, Dal, founded the Livingston County War Museum and Dal Estes Education Center in Pontiac. She also played a key role in encouraging the Route 66 Association of Illinois to locate its museum in Pontiac. […]

The Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project created a college-level scholarship in her honor to recognize her contributions to the creation and development of Route 66 as a tourist attraction.

Current tourism director Ellie Alexander, who was traveling at the time of Estes’ death, told the Daily Leader:

“I was very sad to get the call today,” Alexander said from New York. “It’s like losing my best friend. She was such an inspiration to me. I knew she wasn’t feeling well, so I talked to her before I left. I told her the only reason I was going, the only reason I’ve been so busy selling the road she loved, is because of her and what she started. Getting the Heritage Byway designation for Route 66 and all the improvements that have come in the last six years was because of a twinkle in her eye of what this could be someday. Now it is all coming to fruition and she was so proud of that.

“She was still very involved in tourism and I leaned on her,” Alexander continued. “She was a great mentor and a great friend. We went to a lot of places together and no matter where she was, there was somebody she knew,” Alexander recalled.

This is one of my favorite parts of the Leader’s story:

“But beyond that, she was one of the most giving individuals I have ever known. I recall vividly that once a pregnant woman came into the Chamber and it was cold and she had no coat. Betty literally gave her the coat off her back. That’s when I really knew that Pontiac and the world were a better place because of Betty,” Lambert said.

Calvert & Martin Funeral Home of Pontiac is taking care of arrangements. We’ll post them here when we get them.

UPDATE 6/23/2012: The Daily Leader posted an obituary today. The key parts:

A memorial Mass will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 30, at St. Mary’s Church, Pontiac, with Rev. David Sabel officiating.

Interment will follow in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Loretto.  Her family will receive friends at a Celebration of Betty’s life on Friday, June 29, from 3 to 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Parish Hall, Pontiac. […]

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Betty Estes Community Service Scholarship, c/o Bank of Pontiac, 300 West Washington Street, Pontiac, IL 61764 or to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry or the Livingston County Humane Society.

In keeping with Betty’s nature, donations of blood to the American Red Cross would be greatly appreciated.

A guestbook is available to sign at


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