Barb Brown inducted into The Randolph Society

Barbara Leavitt Brown
Barbara Leavitt Brown

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Barbara Leavitt Brown, a trailblazing educator and public servant, will be inducted into the 2022 class of honorees.

Barbara Colleen Leavitt was born in Red Bud in October 1954. She was the first daughter of James and Colleen Leavitt, who had deep roots in southern Illinois. On the Leavitt family farm in Ellis Grove, Barb grew up with two older brothers, John and Carl, and four younger sisters, Shelby, Joann, Karen, and Rebecca. Education was important in the Leavitt household, and Barb grew up to be a standout student with varied interests, nurturing a love for learning that would last for the rest of her life. After graduating from Sparta High School in 1972, she enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, majoring in political science.

Barb would eventually earn three degrees from SIU, and she became an important member of the alumni community in the region. In May 1985, Barb and her sisters were the subjects of a profile in the Southern Illinoisan, celebrating the number of SIU degrees—eight—that they had collectively earned. That spring, Barb graduated with her doctoral degree in political science, capping “the formal end of an education that started with first grade in fall 1959 and continued more or less without interruption through December 1984, when she completed her dissertation.”

In August 1976, Barb married a fellow SIU student, Richard Brown. While she completed her graduate degrees, and he finished law school, they also expanded their family. Barb affectionately referred to their three sons, Jay, Matt, and Nate, as “those Brown boys.” The Browns worked hard to balance the demands of their jobs with the responsibilities of parenthood. Barb began working as a lecturer in the political science department at SIU in the fall of 1983, extending her passion for education to her students. Barb’s career as an educator, which lasted until 2000, became one of the defining achievements of her life. She was a mentor and advocate for countless students who learned to become more engaged citizens in her political science classes.

Barb’s political science studies also inspired her to take on a hands-on role in local political organizing. She served as a delegate at nine Democratic National Conventions. In an era when women were beginning to be more visible in the political world, Barb was a trailblazer in Randolph County politics. At first, her political interests were primarily centered on recruitment and organization. Encouraged by mentors like SIU professor John Jackson, she became chair of the Randolph County Democratic Party in the early 1980s and worked to develop local candidates. Barb firmly believed that opportunity was the only serious barrier to increased political involvement for women in the region, and she was part of numerous initiatives dedicated to opening more doors for women in the political arena.

As Barb’s profile in state and national politics rose, she decided to seek political office herself. She ran twice for a seat in the Illinois State Senate, and in 2000, she was elected Randolph County Circuit Clerk. She served in the position for more than a decade. Barb used her skills and connections to support the people of Randolph County throughout her lifetime. She was a proud organizing member of the local chapter of the NSDAR, and she was dedicated to supporting and honoring local veterans. For many years, she led the annual Independence Day celebrations at the Liberty Bell of the West Shrine on Kaskaskia Island.  Barb served on the board of trustees at Chester Public Library, was a member of the local Rotary International Club, and was a founding member of Chester’s 4-H Club. She was a longtime supporter of the American Cancer Society, helping to establish Randolph County’s Relay for Life program.

At the end of her life, Barb persevered through a lengthy course of treatment for cancer. She passed away on May 5, 2016, in Chester. In the years since her passing, her family and friends have kept her spirit of service alive through programs like the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s Barb Brown Springfield Internship and the Barb Brown Memorial Endowment.

Senator Dick Durbin, a longtime colleague and friend, called her “a trailblazer, a devoted mother, an inspirational professor and a tireless public servant.” Barb Brown’s legacy of service and dedication to the people of Randolph County challenges us all to become more involved with work in our communities, sharing our gifts and talents to inspire those around us to think bigger and reach higher.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Barb Brown.

Orlan Pflasterer inducted into The Randolph Society

Dr. Orlan Pflasterer
Dr. Orlan Pflasterer

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Dr. Orlan Pflasterer, a rural physician who served his patients and the community of Coulterville for more than four decades, will be inducted into the 2022 class of honorees.

Orlan Walter Pflasterer was born in St. Clair County in September 1927. As a young child, he moved with his parents and his brother to Tilden, where his father taught in the local schools. He attended high school in Marissa, where he played on the school’s basketball team and nurtured a pair of ambitions: to serve his country, and to care for his fellow citizens.

In December 1941, when the United States entered World War II, Orlan was fourteen years old. Like so many of his generation, he felt compelled to do his part. Immediately after his graduation from Marissa High School in May 1945, Orlan decided to enlist in the military. He served a year-long tour in the army, and after returning home in 1947, he resumed his college studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. There, Orlan refocused on his second goal: becoming a physician. He’d known that he wanted to be a doctor since he was a young teenager.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, he enrolled in 1950 at the University of Illinois medical school in Chicago. He completed his medical degree in the spring of 1954, and he soon began his year-long internship. During that year, he got a call from Dr. Dickinson, the local doctor in Coulterville, asking him to come and help at his practice. Dickinson was in poor health, and when he died in the summer of 1955, the young Dr. Pflasterer took over the office—and ended up staying there for the rest of his career.

In those days, doctors were less specialized in their practices, performing many more services for their patients. For Orlan, that meant everything from treating infections and illnesses to diagnosing heart attacks, performing minor surgeries, and delivering babies. Over a span of 25 years, until local obstetric care became more available, he helped to bring more than a thousand babies into the world in Randolph County.

Orlan prided himself on his connections with his patients and his ability to meet the medical needs of the people of Coulterville in ways that made them feel comfortable. He was one of the last physicians in the area who still made house calls. “Sometimes that’s the most convenient thing to do,” he told the Southern Illinoisan in 1995. “You can get acquainted with the family situation, and see how they live.”

But even as he continued older and more traditional ways of practicing medicine, Orlan understood the need to evolve. He mentioned better vaccines, better anesthesia, and better medications as major advancements he’d witnessed during his time. He also adopted the use of computers to manage the medical information and paperwork in his small practice. But he also believed that the basics of communicating with patients hadn’t changed much at all: “You still have to see a patient, take a history, do a physical examination. There’s no way to take a short cut there.”

Orlan’s ability to adapt while maintaining the trust of his patients earned him the recognition of his peers as well. Notably, he served as president of the Southern Illinois State Medical Society. He also contributed his time and expertise to numerous local boards, including the Coulterville Care Center Board, the Fire District Board, the Coulterville Ambulance Association, and the Randolph County 407 Mental Health Board. In 1995, he was recognized with an especially important and meaningful award: he was named the Rural Health Practitioner of the Year by the Illinois Rural Health Association.

In 2000, Orlan finally decided to retire from his full-time medical career. Retirement offered him the chance to enjoy some of his other interests, including fishing and playing in a local bluegrass band. That September, he also married Ardith “Dardee” Ervin, joining a family that included three stepchildren and numerous grandchildren.

Dr. Pflasterer passed away in September 2003 at the age of 75. For almost fifty years, his simple philosophy of serving others—extending kindness, understanding, and serious concern to his patients and to his fellow citizens—helped Dr. Pflasterer to build a lasting legacy in Coulterville. His example of service to his community provides us all with a challenge to continue that legacy today.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Dr. Orlan Pflasterer.

Flora Cleland inducted into The Randolph Society

Flora Cleland in her WWI nursing uniform, ca. 1917
Flora Cleland in her WWI nursing uniform, ca. 1917

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Flora Cleland, a nurse who cared for the most vulnerable members of her community and valiantly worked to save the lives of soldiers wounded in a global conflict, will be inducted into the 2022 class of honorees.

Flora May Cleland was born near Cutler in February 1879. The daughter of a Scottish and Irish farming family, she spent her childhood in rural Perry and Randolph counties, settling with her parents and siblings on a farm near Percy.  While her elder brother worked with her father on the family farm, Flora set her sights on a very different kind of life for herself. In her early 20s, she decided to move to St. Louis to pursue a career in nursing, a vocation that would sustain her for the rest of her life.

One of Flora’s earliest professional nursing jobs was at the city’s Bethesda Foundlings Home. Founded in 1900 on Vista Avenue near the present-day home of St. Louis University, the orphanage cared for children under the age of three who had become wards of the city. In April 1910, 31-year-old Flora was working as the facility’s assistant head nurse, part of the all-female medical staff who cared for the infants and small children living in the home.

In May 1917, Flora volunteered for a daunting new challenge. She was recruited to join Base Hospital Unit No. 21, a medical unit out of Washington University heading to Europe during World War I. She was part of a staff of 65 nurses that arrived in France in the spring of 1917 to take over a frontline hospital from the British army. In Rouen, she worked tirelessly in difficult conditions, nursing soldiers who had been grievously wounded in combat. Flora treated soldiers suffering from shell shock, assisted in countless operations, and cared for men who had been gassed, who were suffering from trench fever, and who had contracted illnesses like bronchitis. As the influenza pandemic took over the world, she also cared for many soldiers who had contracted the often-deadly illness.

In the summer of 1918, Flora treated an Australian soldier, John Knight Simmonds, whose legs had to be amputated after he was wounded in battle. He managed to survive and was sent to England for further convalescence. His wife, Grace, wrote Flora a touching letter from Sydney, thanking Flora for saving her husband. “Dear Sister Cleland,” she wrote, “I feel so grateful to you for all your kindness and wonderful nursing which saved my husband’s life when he was so ill after his last operation. My husband tells me we owe his life to your careful nursing. Oh sister, I want to thank you for all you have done for us, but cannot express just how grateful I feel.” Flora kept the letter for the rest of her life.

After the war, Flora was honorably discharged from the military, and she returned to her nursing career in St. Louis. After working with the Visiting Nurses Association of St. Louis for a time, she was hired by the Board of Education of the St. Louis Public Schools to work as a public health nurse. She would devote the rest of her life to improving the health of the children of St. Louis, building on lessons she had learned while caring for orphaned children decades earlier.

After six decades in nursing, Flora died of a heart attack in St. Louis in September 1962. She was 83. Flora had devoted her entire life to providing medical care and comfort to others. After her passing, her family made sure that her dedicated service on the frontlines in France would not be forgotten. Flora was buried in Caledonia Cemetery in Sparta. Only a few days after her funeral, Flora’s niece, Florine McConachie, wrote to the army to apply for a military marker for Flora’s grave. The stone was approved, and it remains at her gravesite today. With bravery, kindness, and compassion, Flora Cleland spent decades caring for the abandoned, the sick, and the injured. Her special dedication to the health of the most vulnerable—the wounded soldier and the orphaned child—provides us all with an example and a challenge to do our part to improve the lives of those in need today.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Flora Cleland.