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Growing up in Minonk

Submitted by Jack Cullen - September 10, 2009

This article was originally published in the Peoria Journal Star on September 5, 2009

My late childhood and youth was enjoyed in Minonk, a mining, railroad and farming community of about 2,000 population, approximately 40 miles northeast of Peoria.

In the 1930s, '40s and into the late '50s, Minonk was a commercial hub for its area. On a summer Saturday night, a person could not walk a straight line in the north block because of clusters of people (mostly farm folks) standing and visiting on the walkways.

The theater on the weekend was always well attended. A new feature began on Sundays. "Ma and Pa Kettle" movies along with "Martin and Lewis" features always drew a packed house for each of four showings beginning at 1:30 p.m.

A softball league of eight teams (from 1947-1955) usually four from Minonk and one each from Benson, Flanagan, Dana and Roanoke afforded summertime entertainment, and only a voluntary offering was asked. Games were played on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Wednesday was church night and Friday was for the movies.

At the end of the season, a 16-team tournament drew teams from Pontiac, LaSalle, Ottawa and Streator and several other towns along with the best league teams.

During the summer, there were band concerts twice a month on Saturday nights. Also, each Sunday evening during the summer of the 1950s, a local musician who lived about half-mile northwest of town would turn up the volume on his electric guitar and his amplifiers and serenade the north and west sides of town with popular '40s and '50s music. He was rumored to be inspired after "being in his cups" on Sunday afternoon and would play from about 7 p.m. to sunset.

Some folks told time by the coming and going of the trains on the mainline Illinois Central Railroad. On a spur of the Sante Fe Railroad, a freight and limited passenger unit called "The Dinky" ran from Streator to Pekin. It came through Minonk at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. During the early '50s, I remember several local soldiers who died in the Korean War coming home via "The Dinky," - honor guards, flag-draped coffins and the family waiting in sorrow. I'll never forget that. Two summer previously, I watched two of those young men playing in the softball league.

Perhaps the highlight of each summer was the Fourth of July celebration - a parade, entertainment and food, climaxing with fireworks.

Many kids tried to earn pocket money or even start a savings in early youth by mowing lawns, carrying a paper route, doing cleanup at a store, running errands or babysitting. We entertained ourselves with riding our bikes around town or with pickup games of softball or baseball, even with three or four on a side. We worked on our hobbies on rainy days.

During the '40s into the early '50s, some of the more bold boys were known to skinny dip at "The Claypit," a pond beside a mining slag pile known as "The Jumbo." Minonk, at one time, had two landmark jumbos. Only one is barely visible today. "The Claypit" has been filled.

Minonk was known for its premium candy from The Princess Sweet Shop, from 1915 to the late 1950s. The tradition continues with Cunningham Candies.

The bakery is gone, but anyone who lived in 'Minonk from the '40s through '50s will still remember the aroma of fresh baked bread wafting over the area as we walked home from school. Fond memories, indeed!

Jack Cullen, is retired and lives in Washington. He enjoys reading, good music and is an avid baseball fan.