Pete Vonachen ’49, credited with bringing professional baseball to Peoria during tough economic times in the 1980s, died on June 10.
His storied career often revolved around hospitality and entertainment. He opened the popular Vonachen’s Junction restaurant on Knoxville Avenue in 1955. Previously, he ran concessions for Robertson Memorial Field House on Bradley’s campus. It was then that Vonachen met his best friend, legendary baseball announcer Harry Caray. Vonachen went on to invest in and manage the Hyatt Lodge at Junction City, and later developed Peoria’s Days Inn Motel. In 1970, he became president of Peoria Blacktop Inc.
Vonachen’s foray into minor league baseball began in 1983 when he purchased the Peoria Suns, who were on the verge of leaving town. The team became the Peoria Chiefs, playing at Meinen Field, which was renamed in Vonachen’s honor in 1992. The Chiefs moved downtown in 2002 to the new O’Brien Field (now Dozer Park), where Bradley’s baseball team also plays. Affiliated with the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chiefs have had several players become prominent in the major leagues.
Known as one of Bradley’s biggest fans, Vonachen served on the University’s Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1994 and was named Distinguished Alumnus and a member of the Centurion Society in 1985. He was a World War II Navy veteran. Five children and 11 grandchildren survive.