PEORIA, Ill. -- With heavy hearts, the Peoria Chiefs and the Vonachen family announce the passing of Harold Albert "Pete" Vonachen at the age of 87 on Monday, June 10, 2013. Known as Peoria's Mr. Baseball, Vonachen is synonymous with the Peoria Chiefs franchise and made his final appearance at Dozer Park on Friday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Mr. Vonachen purchased the Peoria Suns in September 1983 and turned the Midwest League franchise into a 1980s powerhouse after renaming the team the Chiefs in 1984. An innovator in promotions and marketing, Vonachen brought the Chicago Cubs affiliation to Peoria in 1985 and set Midwest League attendance records in 1985, 1988 and 1989. With the likes of Greg Maddux, Mark Grace, Joe Girardi and Rafael Palmeiro playing at Meinen Field the Chiefs attendance grew each season from 1984 to 1989 when Pete sold the team. Meinen Field was renamed Pete Vonachen Stadium on April 18, 1992.
He bought back into the Chiefs in September 1994, leading a new investor group and served as the General Manager through 1998. In his first season back at the helm of the Chiefs, the team became affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals and attendance grew by nearly 20,000 fans. Vonachen helped the Chiefs secure the site and money for the downtown stadium, originally called O'Brien Field and now Dozer Park, before turning over the reins to his son Rocky in 1998. In 2002, the Chiefs moved into their new stadium, won their first ever MWL Championship and obliterated the franchise attendance mark.
Over the last 11 years, Pete was always around the ballpark handing out baseballs to children, having fun with water guns or thanking fans for coming to the Chiefs games. During his time with the Chiefs, Pete was named Midwest League Executive of the Year and The Sporting News Class A Pro Baseball Minor League Executive of the Year. He served on the Peoria Park Board for over six years and was the President of the Peoria Pacers in the CICL. He also served on the board of the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame of which he is a member, elected in 1988.
Born Aug. 31, 1925, Harold Albert "Pete" Vonachen graduated from Spalding Institute in 1943 and earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Bradley University in 1949. He served in the United States Navy from December 1943 to May 1946.
He married the former Donna Hurt on May 11, 1957, and she preceded him in death on March 25, 2007. Daughter Mary Michael "Mikie" Shadid, Harold (Rocky) III, Gregory, Daniel and Mark.
Mr. Vonachen owned and operated Peoria Blacktop, was general partner and developer of Days Inn Motel 1978-85, developed and managed Vonachen's Hyatt Lodge 1965-76, built Vonachen's Junction restaurant in 1955. Among his many community endeavors: Director of Peoria Cerebral Palsy Board, OSF St. Francis Medical Advisory Board, Peoria Park District trustee, Bradley University Chiefs Club and Board of Trustees, Children's Hospital of Illinois Medical Center Chairman and Salvation Army Tree of Lights campaign director.