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Opinion

  • A dismissal that had its beginnings in a case involving tall grass may eventually land the city of St. Elmo in deep weeds.

    For 16 years – under five mayors – Ken Thomason has served as St. Elmo’s chief of police. From what is known, his personnel file contains no reprimands, no indications of performance problems.

    Then, two weeks ago – after a flap over the enforcement of the city’s weed ordinance – Mayor Larry Tish presented Thomason with a letter saying that he was being terminated.

  • Driving in the Ramsey Creek bottoms the other day, I slowed down to watch the graceful ballet of three Case-IH combines as they performed the dance of "gathering the harvest" in the field below me.

    Chaff and dust rose up behind the combines, fully engulfing them as they made a sweeping turn at the end of the row. The men and women in the cab know exactly how far to go before executing their turn so that the beans are fully harvested.

  • Most of us have heard of Wyatt Earp and the shootout at the O.K. Corral, but did you know that Marshal Wyatt Earp was named for a Vandalia man?

    Yes, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was named for his father’s commander during the Mexican War, Capt. Wyatt Berry Stapp, whose family came from Kaskaskia to Vandalia with the capital.

    One of eight children of Nicholas Porter Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey, Wyatt Earp was born on March 19, 1848, in Monmouth, in Warren County, at the home of his aunt, Elizabeth Earp.

  • What’s better than a volunteer program that enhances our business district by providing facelifts on downtown buildings? One that draws participation by a large group of youths.

    Since its inception, the Vandalia Main Street Program’s “Paint the Town” project has brightened several downtown buildings with new coats of paint.

    The last building to get exterior improvements is the National Road Association of Illinois’ interpretive center in the 100 block of South Fifth Street.

  • The Ben-Hur Literary Club was organized on Oct. 25, 1901, by some of Ramsey’s upper crust ladies, and has been identified as one of the longest continuous organizations in Illinois.

    The object of the club, as stated in their "constitution," was to "advance the knowledge of literature and promote the art of conversation."

  • In recent years, Vandalia has stepped up its commitment to better present the history of this community, this region and this state. In turn, those efforts have improved the experiences of people from other towns and states who stop here to learn about Vandalia, Fayette County and Abraham Lincoln.

  • Mark Twain wrote of his Western travels in the book, “Roughing It.” Twain said that the men he traveled with had three subjects on their mind – "Californy, the Nevada silver mines and the desperado, Slade."

    Twain wrote, “From Ft. Kearney west, he was feared a great deal more than the Almighty. Mothers used his name to strike terror in the hearts of their misbehaving children.”

  • Being chauffeured in a decorated car for five or six blocks is not really an adequate way for two men to be recognized for their lifetimes of service to our community. But it is, at the very least, a way to show Don Funk and Ed Taylor that we do appreciate all that they have done for Vandalia.

    Funk and Taylor will serve as the grand marshals for the Vandalia Lions Club’s Halloween parade next Thursday evening. It will be the first time in several decades that they won’t have to be helping to pull off one of the largest Halloween parades in Illinois.

  • Someone asked the other day how I found ideas for the articles that appear in this column.

    That is an interesting question. A subject can be suggested by a photograph, a biography of a person, the history of a town and even questions from our readers.

    Fayette County’s recorded history begins in scattered histories of Illinois, the "History of Fayette County," published in 1878; followed by the "Pictorial History of Vandalia, Illinois," in 1904; and the "Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Fayette County," from 1910.

  • There aren’t many among us who haven’t been impacted by breast cancer.

    It is the leading cause of cancer death among women between the ages of 40 and 59, and it is second only to lung cancer in total cancer deaths among women.

    This week, we at The Leader-Union are observing national Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a variety of activities.

  • Along with contributing a weekly history column for The Leader-Union, I also answer genealogy and history questions in a “Queries” column published bi-monthly in The Ramsey News-Journal.

    A question from Ron Marsh of Pullman, Wash., prompted me to look closer at the family of Zelah F. Watwood, who homesteaded along Boaz Creek (Ramsey Creek) in the 1830s.

    Ron had found the family living in Fayette County in 1840 and 1850, but Zelah was not mentioned in the 1855 Illinois State Census records. Ron questioned what happened to him. Had he moved on?

  • It’s been a long time since residents of this area were offered any type of recycling program. If the participation in recent recycling drives are any indication, they are ready and willing to start recycling again.

    In recent months, area residents have had the opportunity to turn in old electronic items and paper products, instead of throwing those items into the trash. Those drives have kept several tractor-trailer loads of old TVs, computers, cardboard boxes, newspapers and other pieces of what is normally considered to be garbage out of our landfills.

  • Last week, I wrote of my work to compile a list of War of 1812 veterans buried in Fayette County. Beginning with seven names, the list had grown to 11 by publication time.

    After receiving her newspaper, Lucille Fisher telephoned to remind me of the War of 1812 veteran marker in the Pilcher Cemetery for Winslow Pilcher. Winslow served in Captain G. Smith’s Company of the Virginia Militia.

  • This area dodged a major bullet last week when a Johnson County judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevented Gov. Pat Quinn from laying off more than 2,600 state employees – including about 125 at Vandalia Correctional Center.

    The ruling sends the governor and the union representing the prison workers back to the bargaining table.

    Hopefully, by buying some time, the two sides can begin moving down a path that will lead to real solutions that work for everyone involved.

  • Given the roller-coaster ride that those of us in the media have been on this past year, it’s more appropriate than ever to pause and take a deep breath during National Newspaper Week.

    And as we do, it’s time to take stock of this always fascinating but sometimes maddening institution in which we toil.

  • It’s down to crunch time.

    One week from today, the state is scheduled to lay off 2,600 state workers, including 1,000 employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections. About 125 of those layoffs would be at Vandalia Correctional Center.

  • Last Tuesday evening, my friend Bill Wilson, president of the Hill’s Fort Society, telephoned to remind me that I had promised him a list of War of 1812 veterans buried in Fayette County.

    This sounded like something I would do, and the fact that Bill needed it for a talk on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Society’s “Living History Days” in Greenville, spurred me to begin my research right then and there.

  • Three weeks ago, I contributed a story for this column telling how I had been contacted by editor and publisher Mike Lakin of The Mt. Pulaski Times for permission to reprint an earlier column.

    Immediately, my antennae went up, because Thomas N. Lakin was editor and publisher of The Vandalia Union. I learned from Mike that his grandfather, William Lakin, and Thomas Lakin were cousins.

  • As construction work advances down Gallatin Street, the rebirth of Vandalia’s downtown is becoming more apparent each day. Much of the underground infrastructure work is now complete, and workers are preparing to pour the second block of concrete street surface.

    There’s a lot to be excited about as a new and improved downtown Vandalia gradually takes shape.

  • In his life outside his duties as a state senator, Kyle McCarter is a businessman. And he plans to keep his business ties to remind himself that his votes as a senator have a real-world impact on the state's businesses.

    It's a perspective some of his fellow legislators apparently have forgotten.