DURING the nearly 50 years he lived and operated a successful automobile dealership in Hannibal, Mo., Tom Boland was often described as a tireless civic and regional leader who knew how to work with people to get good things done.
Today, the extensive list of "good things" Boland helped accomplish, both large and small, serve as a lasting and admirable tribute to a man who spent a lifetime working unwaveringly for the betterment of the region he called home.
Boland, who died May 25 at age 88, will perhaps be most remembered as a determined, vocal advocate for improving the transportation network in Northeast Missouri, West-Central Illinois and Southeast Iowa.
Alongside other community and transportation leaders in those three states, he spent nearly four decades working publicly and behind the scenes to break down the barrier of parochialism on projects he considered vital for public safety and economic development, a cooperative regional partnership that remains today.
"Highways and bridges really should not be political; they are for the most part a bipartisan effort, and should remain so," Boland wrote in a guest commentary for The Herald-Whig in 2000. "When all is said and done, they are not a rural-urban issue either, because both entities need each other to travel and work together, and thereby continue making this tremendous country of ours an even better place to live and prosper."
For Boland, one of his most notable achievements was the construction of the four-lane Mark Twain Memorial Bridge at Hannibal, a project that began during the four years he was chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.
During the dedication ceremony in September 2000, then-U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond of Missouri called Boland the "burr under the saddle" that kept Bond fighting for federal funding that eventually covered 80 percent of the project's $58 million price.
That, however, was just one piece of the transportation and economic development puzzle that helps define Boland's legacy.
He reached across state lines in 1984 to work with Thomas A. Oakley and Illinois transportation supporters to prioritize 10 regional projects, nine of which have been completed. That partnership eventually grew and led to the creation of the Tri-State Development Summit 12 years later.
Moreover, Boland was a central figure in the U.S. 36 Group that paved the way for the 52-mile stretch between Hannibal and Macon to be upgraded to four lanes.
The result: Three national highway corridors now intersect at Hannibal, which once was isolated from the major economic centers in Missouri, helping usher in a new era of economic development and growth in the region.
The Avenue of the Saints stretches from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minn., offering north-south travel; the Interstate 72/U.S. 36 highways handle traffic headed east or west; and the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway carries the Route 110 designation for travelers between Chicago and Kansas City.
In recognition of his decades of work, a 5.8-mile stretch of U.S. 61 from Warren Barrett Drive on the southern edge of Hannibal to County Road 407 north of the city was designated the Tom Boland Highway in 2016.
Boland clearly had interests beyond transportation. He also volunteered his time to assist several other state, regional and local organizations and causes.
"Tom not only dedicated himself to improving the highway system in Missouri, but community projects in Hannibal as well," Larry Craig, executive director of the U.S. Highway 36-Interstate 72 Corridor Transportation Development District, told The Herald-Whig.
"He dedicated himself to improving the quality of life in our region."
Quite simply, Tom Boland made Hannibal and the region a better place to live and work. We will be forever grateful for his vision and perseverance, and for his ability to work with people to get good things done.