As published in the Mt. Carmel Daily Republican-Register - October 1998
I am a very, very lucky person! I grew up in a Magic Place at a Magic Time. I had
the great good fortune to spend my childhood and teen years in Mt.Carmel during
the 1940s and ‘50s. I really do love Mt.Carmel, I always have. Pastor Randy
Mullinax (a Georgia native) remarked at the last Chamber Banquet that he was
happy now to be living in Mt.Carmel, the best town in Southern Illinois. Of course
Randy was absolutely right. Mt.Carmel is clearly the best, it is Magic.
I need to point out that when I say “Mt.Carmel”, I really mean the entire area. To
me Lancaster and Bellmont and Allendale and Keensburg are all part of “my”
Mt.Carmel, as are Cowling, Friendsville, Lick Prairie, Cabbage Corner and all
points in between.
I began to realize that Mt.Carmel was a Magic Place when, as a child, the
“grown-ups” said that “Shorty” Dillard was the shortest soldier in WWI and that
Frank Carrel was the tallest one in WWII. Imagine that! Mt.Carmel produced
Generals and Admirals and, more importantly, genuine heroes who served in all
branches of the armed forces every time the nation called so that they could help
preserve that fragile thing we call “Freedom”.
It WAS a Magic Time! We had just whipped the Germans and the Japs and we
stopped the Commies cold at the 38th Parallel. One of our boys, “Hoot” Gibson,
became a Jet Fighter Ace in Korea when he sent five Commie pilots off to meet
their maker in classic aerial dogfights.
In Desert Storm my Mt.Carmel sent 57 of its finest souls to answer America’s latest
call. Such a huge show of Patriotism from our tiny county flushed out my eyes and
“lumped-up” my throat when I heard the actual number. I did not know it as a child,
but I have since learned that Col. T.S. Bowers from Mt.Carmel, adjutant to Gen.
Ulysses S. Grant, was in the very room in Appomattox Court House, Virginia when
Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Gen. Grant. Think about that! A
Mt.Carmel boy was one of only a dozen or so people on the entire planet who
literally was a witness to the end of our great Civil War!!
In another piece of pure Magic, Capt. Bellenden Hutcheson, M.D. was a WWI
recipient of Great Britain’s highest honor - The Victoria Cross. Only a tiny handful
of non-British subjects have ever been so honored, and a Mt.Carmel boy is in that
select circle. So you see, the Magic is not new.
Mt.Carmel was truly a Magic place for a kid to grow up in. (Please do not blame
Anna Lee Jones for that sentence ending in a preposition. God Bless her! - she
strove mightily to show me the light!) We had Cowlings, a world-class furniture
store, a wonderland called Stein’s Hardware, and a young boy could actually stand
in front of Wolf’s and see Coke bottles march up in perfect, seemingly endless
ranks to be filled & capped! Try that in any other town in the region. We even had a
REAL football stadium, not just some bleachers thrown up on a flat place as other
towns did. We all took pride in the magnificent old homes on Cherry and Mulberry
streets. Without question Mt.Carmel had the best swimming pool anyone had ever
seen, and probably the best municipal golf course in the region as well.
I honestly felt sorry for relatives, friends and acquaintances who were not lucky
enough to live in Mt.Carmel. My greatest childhood radio hero, The Lone Ranger,
was in reality Mt.Carmel-born Brace Beemer! He was bigger than Tom Mix, bigger
than Jack Armstrong, bigger than Captain Midnight, bigger even than Superman
himself. Yep, I did live in a Magic Place. Fifty years later I was delighted to learn
that Brace Beemer was my cousin, but that’s another story…
It WAS a magic time with local sports heroes galore! My very earliest heroes were
Ed Fearheiley, Kimball Watson, John Beck, Bill Brines, Charley Holcomb and
many, many others. John “Doc” Reburn was quoted a year or so ago as saying that
Archie Dees was the greatest athlete Mt.Carmel ever produced, an opinion that few
would object to. (There I go again, another sentence ending in a preposition) Doc
then opined that Bud Brown was the greatest all-around athlete in our storied past. I
agree with Doc in both choices. I know that these very subjective “greatest
all-around” judgments are often largely generational. So be it! Names like Ollie
Shoaff or Gene Mundy, or Bill Cotner or Junior Stillwell might be advanced by
folks who have been around a little longer than Doc or I have. Also, in the 42 years
since I left MCHS, there may be other worthy candidates who are totally unknown
to me, but I’m content to go along with Doc on this one.
I saw Don Liddle pitch for the Meissner Indians before he became a World Series
hero. He was teamed with his brother Ivan, his cousin Leon, and the Crums, and
Pfeiffers and Raibleys and Hockgeigers. You think that wasn’t Magic? I saw Gib
Mains and Archie Dees and the Brown Brothers work their Magic. I was lucky
enough to have played with and watch (up close) probably the two greatest running
backs ever to don the Maroon & Gold, Butch Knowles and Dick Steckler.
It certainly was a Magic Place. We were not saddled with boring pedestrian names
for our sports teams like Lions and Tigers and Bulldogs and Wildcats, NO! we
were THE GOLDEN ACES!!! How fitting. After all, our girls WERE prettier and
our guys WERE cooler than those other towns. It was Magic! Even our band and
music programs were the best. We had Pappy Perkins and we had great singers
who helped maintain the Magic. What other towns could hope to match the great
bass voices of Chester and Leroy Parrott or the wizardry of Lawrence Baggerly on
the drums? If you never heard Magdalene Beuligmann sing “Ave Maria” or Shannon
Garrett do “Galway Bay” or “Tura Lura Lura”, then I feel sorry for you. I especially
would grieve for anyone who has not heard Sharon Waddle Mobley sing anything at
all. Such is the very stuff of Magic!
Do you want another example of Big-Time Magic? In 1962 Liz & I bought the
house at 1013 Market St. Our Realtor, Ed Couch, was embarrassed to disclose that
the seller had no keys for the house. He hastily volunteered to engage a locksmith to
install new locks and supply us with keys if I wanted them. I told him not to bother.
I had grown up in a farm house with no keys and did not see the need for them
then. We lived at 1013 Market St. for four years, and rented it for 10-12 years all
without keys. Only when we sold the house to a family from Chicago were keys
demanded. They had never lived in a Magic Place before and considered keys to be
A part of the Magic, a BIG part, was (and I hope still is) the plain, old-fashioned,
down-home common sense exhibited by most Mt.Carmel folks. When the very first
District 348 school buses rolled in 1948 they quite sensibly picked up and
deposited children at St. Mary’s School. All citizens paid taxes so, of course, all
children rode the buses. That was a simple, straightforward EASY CALL for
Mt.Carmel people to make. Not so in Sangamon County (Springfield)! In 1972, 24
years after Mt.Carmel folks settled the issue, the Springfield area schools fought an
exercise in pure sophistry and hogwash as phony constitutional issues blocked
parochial school children from riding the buses. It was actually argued that if
Lutheran or Catholic children rode the buses it would be an establishment of a state
religion. How Silly! I don’t know how it ended up as we moved from Springfield in
1972. But I do know that I never felt more certain, or “smugger” if you will, about
the innate superiority of a Magic Place called Mt.Carmel than at that very moment.
My family and I were separated from the Magic for 24 years from 1966 to 1990.
You may be assured that we are back home to stay. My next exit will be feet first. I
have been accused of being a shameless “Booster” for Mt.Carmel, a real “Homer”.
So be it. Dizzy Dean once said, “If you’re telling the truth, it ain’t braggin!” I ain’t
braggin about my hometown…Mt.Carmel is Magic!