MURPHYSBORO — 17th Street Bar & Grill pioneer Mike Mills has a long-established legacy in Southern Illinois, but after last weekend, he’s officially earned a place in the history of American barbecue.

Mills and longtime friend and occasional championship cook-off rival John Willingham of Memphis, Tenn., were inducted into the National BBQ Hall of Fame during the National Barbecue Association Convention in Memphis, Tenn.

“To be in there with the people who are already in there, I’m honored. It’s unbelievable,” Mills said, adding the surprise celebration was only made sweeter when Willingham was announced as his fellow inductee. “He’s probably forgotten more about barbecue that most of us know.”

The two men were the sixth and seventh inductees into the hall.

Amy Mills-Tunnicliffe, 17th Street’s marketing director and Mills’ daughter, had the opportunity to surprise the friends with the announcement of their induction. She said the night will always be a cherished memory.

“They were just tickled to death to be up there on stage together,” she said. “It was very special.”

Inductees are nominated by their peers and undergo a screening process. A two-tier, top-secret committee evaluates the nominees, and voting must be unanimous.

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