This past Thursday afternoon, a nice crowd gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Vandalia’s new National Road Interpretive Center downtown.
John Goldsmith, president of the organization, along with Jerry Swarm and Mayor Rick Gottman, each gave a brief speech. Jerry received special thanks for the long hours he spent working on the center, and he spoke volumes when he said, “I had a lot of help.”
This is what the National Road Association of Illinois has exemplified since its inception in 1997. People working together for a common interest.
As I scanned the crowd, I recognized Mae Grapperhaus, a writer for the Troy Times-Tribune, who became an active member early as a Madison County representative, and George Gobberdiel of Bond County, who with his wife, Jeanne, I remember from the first meeting of the group.
Swarm was also at the first meeting in Effingham, as was the late Jesse Miller, Brownstown’s mayor. Mary Truitt joined the group by the third meeting as Vandalia’s representative.
The vision of a National Road Association in Illinois was born during a conversation between some folks returning to Effingham from a conference on tourism.
Accompanying Diane Aherin of the Effingham Convention-Visitors Board to that meeting were Lyle Kruger of Effingham, at the time senior surveyor with District 7 of the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, his brother, Cumberland County Engineer Gary Kruger of Toledo and historian Jerry Roll of Greenup.
An announcement was placed in local newspapers that an organization to promote the history of the National Road-Cumberland Trail would take place Aug. 28, 1997, at the Effingham City Hall, located above the fire department.
Interested persons from the counties forming the corridor through which the National Road was surveyed were encouraged to attend. These included Clark, Cumberland, Effingham, Fayette, Bond and Madison counties.
Five of the six counties were represented at that first meeting, with Madison County joining the effort soon after. There was much enthusiasm and interest in that room on Aug. 28, and the decision was made to form an Illinois support group, The National Road Association of Illinois.
The next order of business was nomination of officers. The goal was to have each of the counties along the Illinois portion of the National Road represented among the officers and board members.
With Lyle and Diane being among the charter organizers, they were immediately nominated as president and secretary-treasurer. Both were Effingham County residents. Leon Goble of Clark County was nominated as first vice president, and I represented Fayette County in the slot of second vice president.
Two persons from each of the six counties were appointed to the first board of directors: George Gobberdiel and Susan Moore of Bond County; Ron Deisher and David Floyd of Clark County; Kathy Perkins and Wayne Swim of Cumberland County; Dick Brummer and Ellie Maroon of Effingham County; Jesse Miller and Mary Truitt of Fayette County, and Mae Grapperhaus and Virginia Johnson of Madison County.
The stated goals at the organizational meeting were the development of an informational brochure, to increase awareness of the historical value of the National Road, and establishment of interpretive centers along the route.
It was a wonderful experience for me to be associated with the caliber of people who were among the first to show an interest in establishment of a National Road support group. For me, it was all about the history.
I remember making the acquaintance of an older gentleman named Ernie Ballard. At the time, he was making plans to donate a plot of land along the National Road for a nature preserve. The Ballard Nature Center, all 210 acres of it, is now a reality along the National Road – Route 40.
Gary Kruger, the Cumberland County Engineer, told how he was working with others on a grant proposal to construct a covered bridge on the National Road west of Greenup to replace a span damaged by high water in 1996. They were waiting to see if their proposal had been accepted.
I was also at the Effingham meeting when Gary came rushing in to share with us earlier that evening, with two minutes to spare, that the call had come and their application for funds to erect a 200-foot, Jackson-style covered bridge across the Embarrass River had been approved.
It was this shared sense of accomplishment that made the National Road group so great to work with. These were people were willing to roll up their shirtsleeves to make exciting things happen, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Since August 1997, many have stepped forward and given of their time and expertise to further the goals of The National Road Association of Illinois, many more than the few names I have mentioned.
The ribbon-cutting on Thursday afternoon proves that.
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Sidenote: Last week I received a most interesting note from Sue O’Dell (Mrs. Bernard) of Pine Bluff, Ark., regarding my article on rationing during the Second World War, which was published in the Jan. 15 issue. Sue had an insight into the ration stamps that I had no knowledge of.
She wrote “My brother-in-law, Lawrence O’Dell of Brownstown, sent me your article on ration books. I really enjoyed and appreciated it. I was the first bookkeeper for ration stamps at the Texarkana National Bank in Texarkana, Texas. They were deposited by the grocery stores and other businesses just as their money deposits were and were also audited. I hadn’t thought of them in years, so you can see how enjoyable this was for me to read.”