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Dean McCully - Farmer and Statesman

The following article was written by Virginia Bell McCully Miller as a tribute to her father Dean McCully who served the Minonk area as a State Representative for 17 years. The McCully family lived at 401 Maple Avenue.
      Dean McCully in front of the state capitol in Springfield.
William Dean McCully was born in 1907 and raised in LaRose, Il. His grandfather Samuel McCully, along with 3 brothers left their beloved family and homeland near Belfast, Ireland in the mid 1800s to immigrate to America. The family had moved from Scotland when the Queen of England wanted Northern Ireland settled. Samuel worked the Santa Fe railroad after reaching Chicago via Pennsylvania until the RR reached the La Rose area where he was given the offer by the RR of land or continuing work on the rails westward. He chose the latter and stayed right there for life.

Dean’s parents were Charles and Laura Hoskins McCully. Many of their descendants still reside in the Lacon, La Rose and Toluca area.

Dean was educated in a one room schoolhouse with his many siblings. His sister Ethelyn was the teacher. (She was eventually the mother of Marge Hill and Edith Tallyn both of whom married and lived in Minonk for years.) After high school in Toluca, Lacon, and various schools where the La Rose students were sent, Dean attended Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington working all the while as a bookkeeper and different jobs to pay tuition. I remember that he mentioned selling shoes in the summers while in college.

Actually the only way Dean was able to attend college at all was by painting his sister’s house the summer he graduated from HS for all of $50. But that was enough to allow attendance back then in the 20s. He pledged Tau Kappa Epsilon at some point. All this background provided a strong foundation for his character and he was always willing and anxious to help others in need.
He met our mother Sara Elizabeth Stoddard while in college there. They married and thereafter they farmed near Walnut Il. Eventually, Dean attended Univ. of Iowa Law School where he pledged the legal fraternity of Phi Alpha Delta. The school was then closed down for the duration of WWII.

Dean and Sara Beth settled in Minonk in 1942 with their 4 children who by that time ranged in age from 2 yrs to 13 yrs old. Over the subsequent years they acquired farmland together and loved farming dearly. His idea of a Sunday afternoon or a summer evening activity was driving up and down all the roads that bordered the farms, visiting the tenants and families. Mother and I were usually along. He worked the farms also along with them especially during planting and harvest seasons.

He ran farms here for people who lived elsewhere and ran elevators, one of which was on the Santa Fe RR at about Lincoln St.  It burned early one Sat am. in the 40’s.  We got the call and rushed over.  Dean ran out to the car so fast he forgot his shoes.  The elevator was too huge and too high to be saved. It actually buckled and the top fell over next to the bottom, splitting the building right in half. I had never seen anything like it before at my young age. Elevators were all wooden back then. I can vividly recall the late Jack Livingston standing closest to where I was with a huge hose fighting it. No one was injured and no trains were on the track although we did still have the doodle bug back then shuttling daily from Streator and back to connect Minonk with the Santa Fe to Chicago.

Dean was active locally in different organizations but as a youngster one of my most vivid memories is of his service on the school board. The district included only Minonk at that time. Jim “Snake” Schneider who lived across the street from us on Locust with his wife Phyllis, was the principal. There were no superintendents back then. Dean was very instrumental in consolidating the school district along with Howard Jury (Elaine Cinnamon’s father) and others. That included adding a cafeteria, more teachers, textbooks, equipment and more buses among other things plus all the logistics involved.

Pictured above in the first row from the left are Donald, Martha, and Sarah Beth holding Virginia.
Dean and daughter Nancy are in the back in their home on Locust Street in the early 1940's..

I will always remember a huge poster, leaning against our dining room buffet wall in the house at 619 Locust St. From day to day straight colored pins would appear and move around on the various roads of this map of the district so that no child would be left out on the bus schedule. He would sit for hours and work on the plan. I was 9 or younger and at the time did not realize the import of it all and it’s future. Now I look at so many couples who met because they were in school together from different small towns and country schools with marriages that have lasted 50 plus years. What a wonderful thing and look at the results, many generations followed right here!

Another innovation he was part of was the shop classes building a house each year and selling it. Back then Mr. James Wise was the teacher and did a great job with it. So many young men had readymade jobs and did finish school because they knew the ropes of a trade by the time they graduated.

Dean and Sara Beth helped several businessmen get started in Minonk personally. He was a Real Estate Broker licensed in 1955 and an auctioneer. I recall him practicing to be an auctioneer hour after hour, day after day, not easy.

After he was elected to the Illinois state legislature he gave many scholarships and jobs to people in the area who otherwise would have been without. He was in Springfield starting from 1952 for 17 years of commuting and circulating on the campaign trail. State Representatives did not have very long terms and it was a lot of work staying in office.  One term he had to run statewide because the legislature could not agree on the reapportionment of the state that time.  He won even then.  He thought it was because of his Irish name, the Chicago people voting for the name.

He was the on and/or chairman of the Agriculture Committee of the House for the entire 17 years. He was on various other committees also forever fighting the Chicagoans for money and allotments for downstate. Other committees he sat on, always representing his voter best interest, were Appropriations, Waterways-Conservation-Fish and Game, Pulbic Utilities-Railroads and Aviation. Being the youngest and only child still at home I was able to spend much time at the capitol myself. He represented his district well keeping the highway in good repair here etc.

For much of the that time, being the youngest and only child at home I attended parties at the Governor’s mansion beginning with Gov. Adlai Stevenson and on thru until I left for college in ‘58. It was very exciting there and which included entertaining all sorts of people in our home in Minonk at 401 Maple, from Congressman Les Arends to U. S. Senator Everett Dirksen, to Olympian Jesse Owens, various State Senators and State Representatives and Governors to good friends and neighbors as well as teenage friends that we entertained. They were ever present, preparing and serving the food.

At the McCully house at 401 Maple Avenue are left to right Dean McCully, Il. State Representative from the 16th District, residence, Minonk, Il., Ora Dillavou, Il..State Rep.from the 24th District, a residence of Champaign, Il., Joe Peterson, Il. State Rep. from the 37th District, residence, Princeton, Il., Rollie Carpenter, State Senator from the 16th District, residence, Ancona, Les Arends, U. S. Congressman from Il,15th Congressional District, longest running Republican Majority and Minority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, residence,Melvin, Il., David Davis, State Senator from 26th District, residence, Bloomington, Ben Rhodes, State Rep. from 26th District, residence, Normal, Bill Harris, State Rep. from 16th District, residence, Pontiac Warren Wood, State Rep. from 41st District, residence, Plainfield. Behind them Tom Barrett, John Walker, Ed Lambert.

Mother and Dad worked very hard but also enjoyed their leisure. They spent much time playing bridge with the Morrisons, Mohars, Barretts, Rowes, Walkers, Eikenmeyers, McCarthys, Wylies, Morgensterns, Palmers, Probasco’s of Bloomington, Woods of Plainfield, he was the Speaker of the House, the Whitlers of Pontiac, the Jurys and many more. They loved participating in the local bowling teams with the Davis couples, the Haveners, Janssens, Copps and many others. They loved people.

Dean was on the bank board of the former Minonk State Bank for years and was President for some time. Even when he was unable to drive distances we would get him to the board meetings, still ever alert and excellent with finances. He was always conservative and believed in paying bills and not accumulating debt. He had charge accounts at local stores here and paid the bills promptly and in full, never owing. He was a real “stick in the mud” by today’s standards with credit cards and all as we know it. He was very strict about not overextending on loans. That paid off personally and for the bank and local farmers during the terrible farm crisis in the 1980’s that cost the loss of much human life.

Dean was a man of few words but when he spoke people listened. He always meant what he said. In fact I grew up with the crazy idea that the world worked that way, that you could believe what people said and it never waivered. I was in for a surprise later.  

I walked in the door after my first day of High School.  He was sitting at the kitchen table midafternoon and not in his office which usually meant trouble.  He said "Let me see your school books".  I sat down and watched him look and he turned to the glossary of the General Science textbook.  He said "Memorize this glossary now and you won't have any problems in this class all year".  I looked at him in disbelief !!  It was like a foreign language to me!!  I agreed that I would try. I don't know that I was ever able to succeed completely but that is an example of the way he approached things, tackle them head on.  Must have been successful for him many times over through the years

At the right is Dean at the farm with Rudy Ruestman and his sons Darrell and Rodney Ruestman.

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me besides my doll, Peggy, was a pair of stilts that my father made for me for almost no money or maybe even leftover wood.  I loved those stilts.  They were not popular.  I don't think anyone else even had any, but I loved my stilts so much.  I could make it all the way around the block over and over between Locust and Maple and 6th and 7th Streets.  I knew every crack in the sidewalk and every place a tree root had pushed the sidewalk up all the way around that block.  It is amazing that a simple pair of homemade stilts meant so much to me, made by my dad.  I hope I thanked him.

The 401 Maple house was the site of my sister Martha’s wedding reception while the Queen Anne house which preceded on that site was where my sister Nancy was married. The latter structure became unsafe and it’s owner Aunt Melita Stoddard had moved to Bloomington near her daughter’s home. I was not allowed to enter as one of the longtime workers had been hit by a falling brick. It was built by B. M. and Sara Bell Stoddard. It was full of nooks and crannies and beautiful wood and all sorts of interesting spaces. As I recall it was 5 stories. Dean and Sara then bought the Queen Anne at 401 which had to be taken down and the present house was built there by local tradesmen. Earl Rowe did the brickwork and Kent Lumber much of the rest. Parts of the former house were incorporated into the new one which made it more meaningful to us.

Dean and Sara Beth sold the 401 Maple house, the property having been in the family for generations, to Dr. Tom and Naomi Barrett. Then downsizing some, they moved to the previous carriage house behind it facing 4th St. It had been renovated by the McCarthys who had the elevator south of town. Irene McCarthy wanted to move back to Champaign after her husband Mac passed away while working in the elevator.

The 3 car garage between the 2 structures was the former pump house for the buildings. Years later our parents sold the carriage house to Herc and Irene Paloumpis and kept only a farmhouse east of town on one of their farms for themselves.

They eventually retired to Florida and Wisconsin. He became quite a good golfer as a retiree with those strong farming arms of his and landed several holes in one, a golfer’s dream. He then lost his dear Sara Beth to heart disease the same as her mother Mattie Wilcox Stoddard, having already lost his only son, Donald, to cancer years before and two granddaughters. He wanted most to return to Minonk where he felt more at home. He was well cared for by my sister Nancy and in various care facilities in the Minonk area. After giving up both other residences out of state and battling Alzheimer’s for many years he died on June 23, 1998 at the age of almost 92 outliving his wife, most of his lifetime friends and all siblings.
References: Illinois State Blue Books, "The Gathering of the Clan" by Betty Jo McCully Spangler and my own best memory