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The Weistart Family

Information for this article was obtained through interviews with members of the Weistart family.
Many of Minonk's early settlers were farmers and miners who worked hard and struggled to provide a better life for their children. Many of their children became doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen. The Frank Weistart family from Minonk was a striking example of how discipline and hard work can enable one to rise above humble beginnings to achieve success in life.

Frank and Verna Weistart had five sons who all achieved a level of success uncommon for a small town family that was short on wealth but long on determination and hard work. Their marriage produced a bank president, CPA, doctor, lawyer, and computer expert. The story began years earlier when their father moved to Minonk by literally walking the railroad tracks from Oglesby with nothing but the shirt on his back. Here is their story.

Charles Weistart (born Kazimieras Vystartas on Christmas Day 1880) emigrated from the agricultural area of Silale, Lithuania in the late 1890's and after working for a period in Pennsylvania settled in Deer Park near Oglesby, Illinois. He began his life in America as a coal miner. In 1909, Charles married Barbara Kusctina a widow with two children. Frank Weistart was born to the couple on March 4, 1910. Six years later Frank lost his mother. The two older children were placed by officials, with the oldest assigned to a farm family as a servant. The other child went with a farm family as a foster child. Frank stayed with his father. Shortly after these tragic events in the family, Frank and his father moved to Minonk- walking the tracks from Oglesby south to Minonk.

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Charles and his son Frank first settled in a house facing the alley side of north Walnut Street behind the Sutton buildings. Charles worked in the mine while Frank attended grade school. His fifth grade teacher was Miss Marie Ryan who would later teach all of Frank's five boys. Frank quit school after the fifth grade and at the age of twelve began working at the mine as a "breaker boy" picking shale out of the mined coal. When he became of age, he took a job in the mine as a "mule driver". Frank supplemented his income by working part time jobs on farms, at stores and as dishwasher and waiter at restaurants.

Charles was forced to leave the mines in 1936 because of black lung disease caused from breathing coal dust in the narrow passages of mines 500 feet underground. Charles was found drowned in the clay pit next to the Minonk Township Cemetery on March 31, 1943.

Frank married Verna Margaret Barth in 1933. Verna was a daughter of Henry and Christina Barth. Her youngest sister, Ruth Park, presently resides in Minonk. Verna completed the teaching program at Illinois State Normal University and was a teacher in country schools around Minonk. Frank and Verna had five boys- Jerry, Barth, David, James, and John.

Verna Weistart taught school until just before the birth of her third son David. She remained home after that caring for her family. During World War II, she was a member of the Red Cross in charge of nutrition education for the City of Minonk. Many will remember studying the 7 basic food groups in grade school. This nutrition program was instituted by Verna and taught in school even after the end of the War. Verna also became proficient at completing contest jingles 'in 25 words or less'. As winner of multiple contests, she received a complete kitchen of cabinets with sink, a refrigerator, a deep freezer, a baseball signed by the Chicago White Sox players, several sets of silverware, a deep fryer, two electric sewing machines, and other prizes.

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Verna saw to it that her younger boys developed strict study habits. Homework had to be done nightly and good grades were necessary if you wanted to become doctors, lawyers and such. There was never a question of whether the boys were going to college. Despite a very modest family income, the boys were encouraged to go to whatever college suited their interests and to pursue opportunities in graduate school.

In the late 1930's, Frank Weistart was elected president of the United Mine Workers of America's District 12, Local 247 which was located in Minonk. He was elected by the miners partially because he learned to speak Lithuanian and was able to understand other eastern Europeans as the Poles and Romanians. This would also prove to be his ticket out of the mines. In 1941, a mine strike of the northern coal fields was called to improve wages. John L. Lewis President of the United Mine Workers of America came to the Weistart home in Minonk to encourage the Local president and striking miners. Shortly after the strike was settled Frank was offered a job as a representative for the Union's District 12. Within a year he was offered a position as representative for the Union's reorganized District 50 whose members were workers from factories and businesses except mines.

Verna Weistart receives a check from Max Poynter for winning a contest. Max owned an appliance store in Minonk on the site of the present Minonk Foods building.

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Frank remained president of Minonk Local 247 until the Local was combined with another by the Mine Workers new president. Miners were regular visitors to the Weistart home, to pay monthly dues, to file pension claims, and to talk about personal needs. Frank often drove miners to St. Louis for physical examinations required when seeking benefits for the Black Lung Disease contacted during their many years in the mines. At different times several older miners lived in a room attached to the garage of Frank's house. Frank was Alderman of Ward 1 for 20 years. Although Frank never ran for Mayor, he served as Mayor Pro tem in three administrations.

All of the Weistart boys worked hard to earn their education. Early on in life, they learned to fend for themselves. They had many jobs around Minonk. Often jobs were passed from one brother to the next. Some began their jobs by the time they were in second grade. Places worked included Buds Royal Blue, Vissering's Grocery, Gay Day Dress Shop, Leslies Shoes, Joe Vallow Studio, Meirhofer Clothier, Morrison's Chocolate Shop, Liner's Diner, Hayes Pharmacy, Schmitt's Drug Store, and the Minonk Theater. Other jobs included mowing and raking lawns, delivering evening papers, scooping snow, stoking furnaces, detasselling corn, working on farms, highway construction, working on Illinois River barges, and summer factory work.

James used to pick carrots from the garden and sell them to the railroad workers passing through on the Illinois Central. Later he would live in a converted coal room in a fraternity house at the University of Chicago and worked at the steel mills in East Chicago during the summer. A unique job passed from oldest to youngest was folding together two sections of the Chicago Tribune for sale at the Chocolate Shop on Sunday morning. Pay for this job was two passes to the Minonk Theater.

Jerry Weistart was Minonk-Dana senior class president and graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1955 with a degree in accounting. During his college years he played semi-professional basketball. After college, Jerry worked for KW Battery Company in Chicago. He returned to Central Illinois where he accepted a position with a Certified Public Accounting firm and became an enrolled agent to practice before the IRS. Jerry then went into management of the Princeville Canning Company. This move led to his banking career. He became president of an affiliated bank and ultimately president of two other banks. In two of the banks he was also Chairman of the Board and he owned the third bank. After an early retirement, Jerry acquired several farms which he continues to supervise. He and Jean have four children and six grandchildren.

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Barth Weistart was Minonk-Dana senior class president and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1959 with a degree in accounting. After a short employment at Illinois State Normal University, Barth moved to Phoenix, AZ where he received a Masters Degree from Arizona State University and became a Certified Public Accountant. He worked for a utility company bringing water to the Phoenix area and an international accounting firm before established his own public accounting firm in 1976. Barth managed the firm until his retirement in 2001. He and Diana have three daughters and five grandchildren.

David Weistart was MDR sophomore class president and attended Elmhurst College following his graduation as MDR high school valedictorian in 1958. After three years college he was accepted to the Medical School at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduation, Dr. David interned in Phoenix AZ. He eventually established a large and vibrant family practice in Maryvale, AZ and was much beloved by his patients.

The above picture of the Weistart family was taken in 1960. From the left is Barth, James, John, David, and Jerry. Seated is their father, Frank Weistart.

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In 1992, David accepted a position at the VA Hospital in Phoenix where he became physician to hospital employees. He also was given charge of the 'Vietnam Era' Agent Orange and Desert Storm Syndrome Clinics. He was interviewed several times on national TV about the clinics. He maintained that the veterans had been exposed to something yet unidentified which the government could not ignore. Dave served as a captain in the air force reserves as company physician at Luke Air Force Base in Litchfield, AZ. David enjoyed his 1930's adobe constructed home which was the last of its type in his hometown of Litchfield, AZ. David died in July, 2000 and is buried in the Minonk Township Cemetery.

James Weistart was sophomore MDR class president and graduated co-valedictorian in 1960 and completed study at the University of Chicago in 1965 with a degree in psychology. He later attended Roosevelt University in Chicago and Sangamon State University where he received three separate Master Degrees in Operations Research, Computer Science, and Psychology. He also is a member of Mensa. James worked as a caseworker for Cook County Public Aid, as a computer programmer for Continental Assurance and Household Finance in Chicago before moving to Springfield.

James was Manager of Information Technology for the Illinois Department of Insurance where he was responsible for 30 employees and consultants. His employment covered the term of office of six governors. James retired in December 2002. He and his wife Rosemary live in Rochester. IL and have a son Robert who lives in San Diego.

John Weistart graduated salutatorian from MDR High School in 1961 and from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1965 with a degree in philosophy. He attended law school at Duke University. He graduated second in his class and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Duke Law Journal. After graduation he worked for the law firm of Sidley & Austin in Chicago and then later clerked for Judge Walter Shaefer on the Illinois Supreme Court. He returned to teach at Duke in 1969, where he became the youngest law professor in the country. While his permanent position has been at Duke, John has taught at Harvard, Michigan, UCLA, and Virginia. John is the co-author of The Law of Sports, the first comprehensive treatise on sports law published in the United States. He was also the Executive Producer of the television show, Fair Game, which aired on some 380 PBS stations. The show examined the developing commercialization and corruption of college sports.

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John has recently produced the first set of law school course materials to be delivered entirely on a DVD. The Contracts Experience contains some three hundred video segments in addition to traditional text materials. It has been used by about 500 law students at Duke and Georgetown universities during its trial phase and will be distributed nationally this next year. John is married to Denise Thorpe. He has two daughters, Lisa, who lives in Raleigh, and Whitney, who is deceased.

Achieving academic success did not separate the Weistart boys from their fellow classmates. They were all well-liked. Their acceptance as being one of the guys was confirmed by the fact that each had a nickname, the traditional sign of acceptance at MDR High. Jerry was known as "Jumoke"(his father's nickname), Barth was "Bevo" (after basketball star Bevo Francis), David was "Pete", James was "Penquin"(for his shuffling walk), and John was "Doc", even though he eventually became a lawyer.

It is unfortunate that their mother did not live to see the level of success achieved by her sons. Her encouragement and support was a prime motivator in their lives. Verna Weistart died of cancer at the age of 49 in 1960 just as her sons were getting started with their careers.

Frank Weistart lived to see his sons become successful in their careers. He died in 1974 at the age of 64. From that lonely walk down the railroad tracks into Minonk 58 years earlier, he and his wife Verna went on to raise a remarkable family.