Peoria's "Mr. Hockey" Bruce Saurs dies

By WEEK Producer

July 11, 2014 Updated Jul 11, 2014 at 7:45 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Peoria legend Bruce Saurs has died. He was 88.

When Saurs bought the Rivermen in the summer of 1989, it kept the team from going out of business.

Less than two years later they won a league championship, validating that decision.

He stepped in again last summer after the St. Louis Blues moved their AHL team out of Peoria and helped finance a move to the SPHL.

"There are a lot of successful people in life, but a successful person that's ready to put everything on the line to save hockey in Peoria a few times - and we know that not every year he made money off of this hockey team," said Rivermen head coach Jean Guy Trudel, who also played for the team under Saurs.

In fact, Saurs originally assumed ownership of the Rivermen following a season in which the team lost a million dollars.

But Bruce had a knack for hiring the right people and then letting them perform.

"It wasn't me so much as our staff did so much to build it up to what it is today," said Saurs during an interview conducted last year.

He learned to trust in others as a member of Peoria High's 1944 state championship baseball team and later playing for Bradley University.

"He was here as the university got its athletic department up and going again after World War II and certainly played a vital role in helping to grow our athletic department over the decades," said Bobby Parker, Bradley University's Associate Athletic Director for Communications.

Bruce Saurs wasn't afraid to take a risk. He made his fortune when he opened a group of car dealerships in Pekin. He put a lot of people to work.

Saurs also became a local celebrity in TV ads where he appeared dressed in a tuxedo.

He changed a lot of lives by supporting so many other people.

"Bruce got them into education or into coaching. Or he got them into sports or he got them into the car business," said Saurs' former partner Rory Griggs. "Bruce was unbelievably generous."

And equally as popular.