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Harry's Story

Submitted by Jari Lynn Oncken - September 15, 2009

When Harry Green shares his many life experiences one is transported back to an earlier time. This is what he had to say.

Harry was born in Minonk on January 29, 1920, a son of Alvin and Mary Kutchma Green. His siblings included Melvin, Harvey, Betty Green Hart, Rita Green Hakes and Bob. Only Harry and Bob are living.

Harry's dad was a baggage clerk on the Illinois Central Railroad in Minonk. It was his job to record the number and destination of every railroad car that had been switched the night before from the Santa Fe to the Illinois Central tracks. Alvin also loaded and unloaded heavy freight such as farm equipment and automobiles with the help of the section men. In later years there was less freight so it was more cost efficient to transport by truck.

When describing his mother Harry said that she was of Polish descent, a wonderful mother and a great cook. He still misses her cooking. Many Polish friends came to her for help with the English language when reading and writing letters.

The family's first home was on Walnut Street, three houses north of the Santa Fe depot. When Harry was a boy he would rather talk to agent August Schneider and play with the cattle in the stockyard then go to school. The stockyard was located north of the Santa Fe tracks (where Seventh Street is now) between Johnson and Lincoln Streets. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon on shipping day the farm animals, mostly cattle, were loaded onto upwards of eight railroad cars and at midnight the train left for the Chicago stockyards. Across the street on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Seventh Streets stood the Farmer's Elevator which burned down around 1948.

Harry attended part of the first grade in the West Side School with all the grade school students who lived on the west side of Minonk. When his family moved to the east side of town he finished his education at the East Side School which housed all the east side elementary and all the high school students. He said for whatever the reason, all of the fifth grade students attended the West Side School. Harry's senior class was the first to graduate from the present high school building in 1939 after the previous building burned down on December 12, 1936. On August 4, 2009 Harry attended his 70th class reunion.

Harry was quite the athlete. In high school he played basketball, baseball and track. At the end of the school year he and his friends would talk coach Eihausen into letting them borrow the track equipment for the summer. They played baseball with repaired bats from the high school and "indoor balls" made of rags. The boys played baseball in the empty lots west of the Royal Theatre on W. Fifth Street and later on the ball diamond just north of Dude Ryan's Cafe which was in the old Schlitz Opera House building on 601 Chestnut. When they became tired from playing ball they drank penny root beer from Dude Ryan's. Harry also liked to play tennis with his homemade tennis racket and net made of gunny sacks. Most of his time was spent outdoors because his mom said to keep out of trouble and "keep movin".

Harry did odd jobs for almost all Minonk businesses except Vissering Mercantile Co. While in junior high he swept floors at the Royal Theatre, delivered meat for Fuller's Meat market on W.Fifth, sacked potatoes for Chicago Butchers at 439 Chestnut, and cleaned spittoons in Sam Anderson's pool hall at 474 Chestnut and in return he earned 1 1/2 hours of pool. While in high school he took part in a program in which students could wax lockers, sweep floors and scoop coal into hoppers for pay. He also worked for Tom and Nick Paloumpis at the Princess Sweet Shop on 524 Chestnut making ice cream, chocolate candy, candy canes and ice. He also ran the popcorn machine. After that he worked for Bob Morrison at his Chocolate Shop on 506 Chestnut making ice cream, fudgie and ice cream bars and working behind the fountain.

Harry's dad was a Methodist and his mom a Catholic which made for friction in the family. They did not go to church as a family but the kids did go to Sunday School at the Methodist Church. Every year August Schneider "adopted" Harry and took him along to the Methodist Father and Son Banquet.

While Harry was in high school he became acquainted with Louise Reese, a fellow student and his future wife, after throwing a spit ball at his brother Harvey which accidentally hit Louise. She was born and raised on a farm west of Minonk. Her family included her parents Louis and Rose Reese and brothers Louis and Don. They were members of the First Baptist Church and when Harry and Louise began dating he went to church with her. Throughout the years Louise was employed by Mary Kipp at the Minonk Telephone Company and by Granert & Son Clothing .

After Harry's high school graduation he began working as section man and then as head brake man for the Illinois Central in Minonk. Three years later on February 14, 1942 Harry and Louise were married in the First Baptist Church by Rev. Buchanan and a month later on March 24th old Uncle Sam grabbed him and he was drafted into the Army during World War II. Harry and his brother Melvin left for the service on the same day. Harry to Louisiana and Melvin to the Allutians. That was the last time Harry saw his brother who was killed in action on April 12, 1944 after helping to save a bridge on the Rhine River in Germany.

Harry was in the 101st Airborne Division, Company G, 327 REG, 2nd BN. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and other battles in Europe, always wondering if he would make it home. "Soldiers paid a dear price for freedom," he said. "I saw many graves of men who gave their lives." On November 30, 1945 Harry was discharged, went home and began working for Frank Grampp & Sons Poultry on 432 Chestnut. Then on July 1, 1948 Harry and Glen Hinkle were hired as Minonk's first mail carriers. Every other year they rotated their routes from one side of town to the other. Harry took over Coon DeFries' country route in 1955 and delivered mail west of Minonk and including Pattonsburg. On November 30, 1987 he retired after many enjoyable years of serving the people.

When Harry was in the service he was baptized with other soldiers in a large church in Reading, England and that baptism counted towards his membership into the First Baptist Church. On September 3, 1944 the First Baptist Church received a letter from the office of the Protestant Chaplin, 327th Glider Infantry telling of his baptism and wish to join the church. Harry and Louise and their three sons were active church members. Son Gary, an Episcopalian minister in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and his wife Kathy have two daughters, Kendra and Jenny who is married to Adam Johnson. They have a daughter Hazel. Son Jerry is a retired UPS man living in Bloomington with his wife Bernie. Their children are Aaron and Jessica. Son Jeff, a pharmacist in Cleveland, Ohio and wife Cherie have two daughters Loren and Christian and a son Adam.

Louise taught Sunday School and Harry was a trustee and a member of the Adult Gleaner class led by Leonard Stonier and later by Monica Tucker. When remembering fellow church members whom he looked up to, he mentioned Fred Parks, Frank Tucker, Bill Rooker and Clarence Smith. Always a lover of music, he enjoyed listening to Virginia May play the piano in church.

A few years ago Harry and Louise moved to the Good Samaritan Home in Flanagan where she died on April 30, 2007. Harry still lives there in his own apartment and enjoys listening to music of the forties on his cassette player, playing pool with other enthusiasts of the game and attending 4 o'clock Sunday church at the Good Samaritan Home. His son Jerry stops by and they go to Minonk on business or out to eat at one of their favorite restaurants including the Subway in Minonk and Pontiac, Mona's in Toluca and Bernardi's in Pontiac.