LOOKING NORTH ON ROUTE 45 TO THE INTERSECTION WITH 6TH STREET
|It was a fine 1942 Wednesday afternoon and I had just
ordered a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake at George Meyers
restaurant in down town Neoga. Rather than occupying one of the booths, I
was sitting at the counter ready to enjoy one of the world's best
cheeseburgers. I had walked from Jennings Park where our Neoga team had
just lost to Beecher City. |
I was almost a hero and surely a goat in that game. Late in the game with men on first and second and two out, Coach Andy Meurlot sent me up to bat against the lanky, red headed Beecher City pitcher. The first strike was so fast that I hardly saw it and then he sent a screamer that would have hit me in the side had I not made a quick rotation. POW a loud noise which led my team mates to think I was severely injured but did not bother me for the noise was caused by the fast ball hitting my thick leather bill fold in my left back pocket. So I proudly walked to first base, the two runners advanced and we watched with sorrow as the next batter struck out.
Then Coach Meurlot sent me to right field. Beecher City loaded the bases and then a softly hit ground ball eluded our first baseman and trickled out to me. Bracing myself for a heroic throw to home plate, I bent down, but not enough, as the ball skittered between my legs to the far outfield. After it was finally recovered by the Center Fielder, the Beecher City boys only scored 3 runs and assured our loss. Despite that humiliation, I had a pleasant walk uptown on that Wednesday afternoon. And I knew it was Wednesday for Mom would drive to the Presbyterian Choir practice where we would meet and I would have a ride home.
But what was Neoga like in 1942? That is the purpose of these pages which are as truthful as the other several Neogaites and me could make them. ENJOY:
This photo is from a videotape Bob Burry made in 1994. The following is from an email by Bob sent March 31`2004 with a few corrections and comments from me and other Neogaites such as Rowena Elson, Bob Benefiel, Bob Blomquist, John Tolch, Mack Dougherty and Kermit Bushur. I thank all of them for their interest.
"The buildings on main street have changed since the '40s. On the corner south of the bank was the American Legion Pool Hall with the meeting room above. Next to that was Jimmy Soward's drug store then came George Oakley's car repair shop which he later turned into a Kern garment factory making brassieres and sanitary belts (Neoga's war time industry known as Hangers and Safety Belts). The Gingham Inn was next (Fred Lueken later sold the place to Francis Kritz)---an empty lot then McGinnis' Garage and the Funeral Home."
The following are comments regarding Burry's email concerning Neoga
1. South of the bank on Route 45, the upper story of the two story American Legion Building was removed prior to 1990 to make a one story building which until recently was Mercer's Drug Store.
2. The Soward family who owned the drug store just south of the Legion were a Jewish family from Chicago. Jimmy had a very squeaky voice but he ran a tight ship and operated well a store of great value to the public.
3. Prior to 1942, there was a fire station to the south of the Gingham Inn. In the 1920s, it was destroyed by a fire of mysterious origin. In 1942, there was only one fire station on the street west of the IC RR between the Short Furniture Store and Shorty Lowe's Barber Shop. When Dean Swengel was Fire Marshall in the mid 1940s, he pointed out the need for a fire station east of the IC RR so that the fire equipment would not be trapped by IC RR traffic. Thus a new fire station was built just south of the Gingaman Inn.
4.(An RLY Note) Lewis McGinnis had a Chevrolet Dealership in his garage. I remember how eagerly we awaited the chance to see the new Chevrolet models in November of the late 1930s. Chevrolet for several years made the Standard model of the next year much like the Deluxe model of the preceding year. Thus the 1935 Standard two door Chevrolet Sedan that Dad bought in early 1935 from Bartelsmeyer Chevrolet Dealership in Mattoon was very similar to the 1934 Deluxe Chevrolet Sedan. In reality the Chevrolets from 1934 to 1941 were quite similar mechanically but different in appearance. Strangely, Dad never bought a Chevrolet from McGinnis even though Lewis's son married Dad's sister Ina. In addition to the 1935 Chevrolet, we had a 1938 used brown Deluxe Chevrolet bought from a dealer in Decatur and a new 1941 Special Deluxe two door Chevrolet purchased from the Bartelsmeyer Dealership in Mattoon. All were two door sedans because Mom did not believe that the four door sedans were safe for the children in the rear seat.
5. (An RLY Note) At the end of the block to the South was the Swengel Funeral Home owned and operated by Fred Swengel. During the early 1940s, we had choir practice on Wednesday nights in the big room of the Funeral home. Fred was the choir director and my Mother was the pianist. Fred was a very fine musician and he and his wife quite frequently attended concerts at the University of Illinois in Champaign and in Chicago.
COMMENT BY BOB BENEFIEL RE AN OUR GANG MOVIE ACTOR:
Did you know that Carl (Alfalfa) Switzer at one time, lived in rural Neoga?
His father bought some land that, I believe, was west of Neoga and raised some horses there.
I used to see "Alfalfa" hanging out at the pool hall in Neoga. In his 20s, boy was he ugly!
THE NEOGA GARMENT FACTORY VITAL TO THE PROSPERITY OF NEOGA
The small well-groomed woman, who manages the Frank Kern Manufacturing Company, and the Neoga Manufacturing Co., both of Neoga, Illinois, is Mrs. George Oakley. Mrs. Oakley, at the age of 42, has become one of the most widely known and successful business women in the area. She manages two plants with a total of 130 employees. The companies manufacture garrnents for the A. Stein Co. in Chicago, who manufacture the nationally advertised Forma-Lift garments for women.
Mrs. Oakley has been with the Company since October, 1933. About 1931 two Neoga business men, Trace Higgins and Harry Hill, bought the Frank Kern Manufacturing Co. in Mattoon, Illinois. In October, 1933, Mrs. Oakley, then Miss Mayhall, received employment at the plant as general office worker and bookkeeper. She was married November 11, 1933, to George Oakley of Neoga, who was employed at Mattoon at the time. They set up housekeeping in Mattoon where they lived for the next six months and then returned to make their home in Neoga, when the factory transferred to Neoga in April, 1934. Soon after Trace Higgins died, the company went into bankruptcy in 1942. Mrs. Oakley worked as receiver during the bankruptcy period. The factory was then sold to three local people; A. J. Kepp, ; Mrs. Lucille Husband; and W. L. Short. Mrs. Oakley was retained as manager of the factory. In January, 1943, Mrs. Oakley became one of the owners. The plant manufactured children's supporters in Mattoon, and continued to produce this product in Neoga. Then in the fall of 1942, when the metal used in making hose supporters became increasingly difficult to get, a representative from George H. Reinghberg Co. in Chicago carne to the factory to make arrangements for the plant to use plastic substitute for the metal. This representative told Mrs. Oakley that he had a friend employed at the A. Stein Co. in Chicago. He asked her if the factory would like to do contract work for the A. Stein Co. The factory owners decided to sign the contract, so in the fall of 194Z, the plant began to produce garments for the A. Stein Co, in Chicago.
The Neoga Manufacturing Co. was started in 1944, for the purpose of additional room. It is managed by Mrs. Oakley, although her brother-in-law, Lloyd Casstevens, works as sub-manager. Mrs. Oakley's husband, George Oakley, is in charge of maintenance in the two factories..
Preceding is from the 1968 History of Cumberland County.
Both Mary and Lucille Ralston, my first wife's sister and mother, worked many years at this factory. Although the work was very demanding and they were paid on the basis of the number of items they made, they much enjoyed being with the other workers. Even though old and frequently ill, Lucille continued to work longer than she should have to be with her many friends.
CONTINUING EMAIL FROM BOB BURRY MARCH 31. 2004
"North of the Bank was the clothing store and Lewellen's grocery (later a 5 and 10 store)--George Meyer's restaurant, Casstevens grocery with the hardware combined taking two buildings then a store that was at one time Perry's store where he held auctions on Saturday nights-- then a Kroger store. The Neoga Theater was built next to it then came Clarence's Standard Station and Dr. Bilgier, DDS, on the corner.
A RLY comment:
The Casstevens Store Burry referred to had been D. N. Snyder's Grocery store. These stores had clerks who took orders across a counter, got the product and brought it to the customer in contrast to the modern super market. Later in the 1940s,R L Casstevens took over the grocery store and ran both the hardware and grocery store. R L was a very good sharp businessman. Mrs. R L always worked in the stores, was a hefty woman and very friendly and kindly. My Grandma, Rosa Higgins Parker, ran a bill at the grocery store to the extent that the grocer sometimes called my mother to warn about the big bill. But it always got paid.
Later the same day from Bob Burry:
"The Standard Station I was referring to was just north of the new Neoga Theater. It was a two pump job owned by Foster Swengel (don't know why I said Clarence), He lived just north on fhe corner from dentist, Bigler. Jack Ellis lived in the next house then on the next lot was where Russel Swinehart owned a Gulf filling station."
I SENT BOB BURRY A PHOTO OF THE 1928/29 NTHS BB TEAM WITH LOWELL BURRY SITTING NEXT TO DEAN SWENGEL. BURRY RESPONDED SAYING LOWELL WAS AN OLDER COUSIN OF HIS AND NOTING THAT HE THOUGHT HIS COUSIN WAS A MUCH BETTER PLAYER THAN SWENGEL.
I surely suspect that your relative was better than Dean Swengel who probably was rather awkward. Bernie Peters was a very handsome fellow and a very good friend of my Uncle Bernard Higgins who was killed at age 16 in a terrible firey auto wreck south of Neoga. Bernie was a good barber and during high school days I went to him for hair cuts. But every time I went he would repeat all the gory details of Uncle
Bernard's death which I did not like to hear and found quiet upsetting.
Was Shorty Lowe still in the barber business near Shorts Furniture Store at that time? I also recall going to him and I also remember that he had a lot of old fellows, not customers, just sitting around in his shop for entertainment.
That was a long time ago and these were fine people. But I do think there was more drinking and wild behavior then than when we were in high school. Bob
Now, you have "jogged" me into thinking about things I haven't thought about for a long time. I was just goofin" around with the Basketball picture. I didn't really know my cousin, Lowell, too well as he was some 20 plus years older than me which is the story of my life as my brothers and sisters were much older. Anyhow, I did take some advantage with Swengel as I knew him very well. He not only taught me to run the movies (he was manager of the theatre) but when we moved back to Neoga in the 50s (I disassembled Buchanan's cleaning plant in Mattoon and moved all the pipes and equipment to Neoga then put it all together again) Swengel furnished me with all the Scien tific American magazines as they came out and became a very good friend. I was into Astronomy at the time, he liked that. That's why I "slammed" him...he would understand. So much for that.
As I recall, and it is very clear to me, Bernie Peters came back from the War...he was older and with his service in one of the South American (Central?) got points and was discharged early in the war. He did his barber training with Crookshank who did business where Bernard finally set up shop. He went into competition with Shorty Lowe who had been in business "forever". Shorty was the West side barber and Crook was on the east side. One day, Shorty went "huntin"" and fell dead out in Kinsel's wood someplace....that is out on the little Wabash on the North road past Richardson's etc. His dog stayed with him, that's how they found him. You are right, there were always characters sitting in the barber shops and when Shorty died, Bernie had smoothe sailings with no competition. When I ran the Cleaning Plant, Bernard was my neighbor...the characters moved from Shorty's place to Bernard's. The Woolery brothers and other townspeople were always sitting around conjuring up michief of one kind or another. Bernard was easy prey for them. I'm sure he enjoyed it all.
Comments by me.
1. The clothing store was owned and operated by Harry Figenbaum. His son was a big friend of Bernard Higgins
2. RLY agrees that there was a Kroeger near te theater but doubts that it was there in 1942..