Harry Sickmeyer inducted into The Randolph Society

Harry C. Sickmeyer

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Harry Sickmeyer, a visionary who worked hard to make rural electrification a reality, will be inducted into the 2023 class of honorees.

Harry Sickmeyer was born in the small town of Welge in Randolph County on September 25, 1892. He was the fourth of seven children of Heinrich Sickmeyer and his wife, Caroline Welge Sickmeyer, both of whom were the children of immigrants from Germany. He left school after finishing the eighth grade and went to work on his family’s farm. Life for the German-American farming community changed rapidly in the years that followed.

When Harry was 24, the United States entered World War I. He enlisted in the army in June 2018 and served as a corporal with the 20th Company of the 159th Depot Brigade. He was honorably discharged in April 2019 and returned to the family farm near Campbell Hill, but his time in the army had broadened his horizons. He became deeply interested in technological innovation, experimenting with new techniques like terracing his fields. In 1922, he married Pauline Huch in Wine Hill, and they settled down on their own farm together, raising four children in Shiloh Hill.

Harry never lost the desire to make farming life easier for himself and the other residents of the area. By the 1930s, a new avenue for improvement was becoming a reality: electrification. It is difficult to imagine how much harder farm life must have been before electricity. No lights, no machines, no tools that required power. Tasks that seem simple now, like keeping milk fresh on its way to the consumer, took immense effort. Residents of nearby towns like Steeleville and Chester were already enjoying the benefits of electrification, and Harry was keen for power stations and lines to be extended into the county’s rural areas as well.

In 1934, Harry joined a forward-thinking group that included his brother-in-law, Theodore Kueker, with the goal of bringing electricity to the rural parts of the county. Four years later, the organization officially became the Egyptian Electric Cooperative. Harry spearheaded the Randolph County membership drive that allowed the cooperative to secure an REA loan and begin construction on power lines and substations. He navigated challenges like cost concerns, language barriers, and arguments about property and easements as he successfully reached the cooperative’s goal.

The first rural substation was located on a plot near Bremen. There, in September 1939, Harry was one of the leaders at a large celebration marking the beginning of the project’s construction. Eight hundred people came from the surrounding area to watch the first power pole’s placement. After several complicated months of construction, with obstacles like salary disputes, bitterly cold weather, and the ongoing war, the cooperative was finally ready to electrify the lines.

As president of the cooperative, Harry was appointed to flip the switch that officially brought electricity to rural Randolph County in April 1940. Soon, more and more county residents were clamoring for electrification. Over the next several years, Harry and the cooperative worked to make it happen for them. “We had no idea our little cooperative would grow into one of the largest in the state and would be serving such a large variety of member-owners,” Harry remembered later.

For the rest of his life, Harry remained devoted to the cooperative and its vision for a connected, empowered population. He served in various roles on the board of directors, including terms as president, vice-president, and secretary-treasurer, every year from the cooperative’s formation in 1938 until his retirement in the spring of 1973. He stated that May that he was stepping down after “seeing the fulfillment of my early efforts and dreams.” By that time, the cooperative had grown to more than 8,000 members and 1,800 miles of power lines. He died four years later at the age of 82. Harry’s foresight, his leadership, and his dedication to the cause made it possible for rural Randolph County to enter the modern era with the flip of a switch.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Harry Sickmeyer.

Katie Fiene inducted into The Randolph Society

Katie Fiene Birchler Heires

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Katie Fiene, a pioneering journalist and food historian who documented the local past and present, will be inducted into the 2023 class of honorees.

Katheryn Rae Rosendohl was born on March 9, 1917, in Willisville. The daughter of Henry Ray Rosendohl and Maude Smith, Katie was raised in rural Perry County alongside her three sisters. After three years of high school in Steeleville, she completed her senior year at Cleveland High School in St. Louis. In 1938, 21-year-old Katie married George Edison “Judy” Fiene at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Steeleville.

Their early years of marriage were, like so many others, affected by war. Judy enlisted in the army in March 1943. Katie was inspired to do her own bit to improve the morale of the young men from the area who had joined the service. During the war, she began publishing her first column, called “Dear Boys,” in the Steeleville Ledger. The column was written like a letter from home, sharing all the latest news to make the soldiers and sailors feel like they were hearing from a friend.

After the war, the Fiene family grew to include two children: a daughter, Cassandra, and a son, Kent. Stories of family life often made their way into Katie’s columns. By this time, Katie had been hired to write for the Sparta News-Plaindealer. Her “Katie’s Kolyum” became a mainstay in the paper for the next three decades. She also began making regular radio appearances on WHCO and KSGM, reading her columns and broadcasting special events during a regular 10-minute show. For years, she was WHCO’s radio host for Steeleville’s annual Fourth of July Parade, and she also served as the director of advertising and public relations for First National Bank of Steeleville.

Katie covered an enormous range of topics in her column—“everything from the Twist to the church bazaar,” she told a fellow columnist in the 1960s—and she was always on the hunt for good material. She wrote about a little of everything. But some subjects were particular favorites. Along the way, she incorporated two of her greatest interests, history and cooking. She was an active member and president of the Randolph County Historical Society. She was also elected president of the Illinois State Historical Society in 1976, becoming just the second woman to hold that position.

When she began sharing recipes and stories from her kitchen, the reader response was overwhelmingly positive. Katie found her regular baking ritual to be a soothing and essential part of life. She became so proficient at bread-making that she won a blue ribbon at the Du Quoin State Fair. For three decades, her readers mailed in their favorite recipes. Katie tested and tried them, sharing her favorites with the public in her column. By the 1980s, she had amassed such an interesting assortment of dishes that she decided to publish her own cookbook featuring many of the recipes. She also shared recipes and cooking tips from her own family, especially her mother, and added a historical angle by including techniques and dishes from Randolph County’s past.

In 1977, Katie’s husband, Judy, passed away. She surprised herself by finding love again. She married state representative Vincent Birchler in Chester in 1979. They shared a dedication to public service. Katie was as a member of numerous boards, including the Randolph County Welfare Service and Southern Illinois Incorporated. She did a little bit of everything, from emceeing local fashion shows and judging county fair cookbook competitions to delivering keynote speeches and volunteering with elementary school programs. She also received numerous awards for both her writing and her cooking.

Katie lived to the remarkable age of 100, passing away on Christmas Day in 2017. As a member of a small pioneering group of local female columnists, she demonstrated that a woman’s viewpoint—the phrase she used to describe her column—was more than worth reading. In a letter to a friend who had decided to try her own hand at writing, she wrote, “I’m so happy you are taking up journalism. It’s such fun … and you never get over the whole bit. I always say that when I cut my finger I don’t see blood, but ink!”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Katie Fiene.

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.

George Hoffmann inducted into The Randolph Society

George and Dora Hoffmann, 1902
George and Dora Hoffmann, 1902

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Dr. George Hoffmann, a dedicated physician who devoted his life to caring for the people of Randolph County in their most vulnerable moments, will be inducted into the 2022 class of honorees.

George Hoffmann was born in Maeystown in March 1871. The son of a large German immigrant family, he was educated in Monroe County’s schools, and he learned the mercantile trade while working at his father’s store. Though he initially intended to become a merchant himself, he quickly learned that his real passion was medicine. After beginning his studies to become a pharmacist, George decided that becoming a doctor was a better use of his skills. He graduated from St. Louis College of Physicians and Surgeons with a medical degree in the spring of 1896, establishing his first practice in Campbell Hill.

After the tragic early loss of his first wife, Lena, George married Dora Ebers in Bremen. The couple had four children, settling first in Jackson County before moving to Chester in 1909. There, George established a thriving and innovative medical practice on State Street, while still continuing to regularly pay calls to patients throughout the surrounding rural areas. The challenges of traveling on muddy and often impassable roads would later lead him to advocate for both the adoption of the automobile and for upgrades to local infrastructure. His work to secure improvements on Route 3 between Chester and Waterloo helped the project to reach the attention of the governor. For George, the result was worth the effort. ” I have spent lots of time on this job,” he told one reporter, “but if the road is built in the spring I feel that I am well repaid for the work.”

George never lost the entrepreneurial spirit he had learned from his father. While seeing his patients, he also invested in real estate and became an active member of Chester’s business community. He was elected as president of Buena Vista Bank, while also serving in a similar capacity at the local shoe factory. He also acquired numerous properties throughout the region, including a coal mine in Willisville. The trust he earned from his fellow citizens also allowed him to become an effective advocate for public works projects, including efforts to stem the growing tuberculosis crisis during World War I. He was also passionately dedicated to educating the public about the need to modernize local water systems as a way to avoid outbreaks of typhoid fever.

In 1918, following the death of the head physician at Menard Penitentiary, Governor Lowden appointed George to take over the role. He arrived on the job just as the Spanish Influenza pandemic was beginning to sweep through the county. A horrific flu outbreak at the prison was one of his earliest challenges in his new position. He also continued to tend to patients outside the prison walls. His heroic efforts to treat the Louvall family on Kaskaskia Island during the pandemic—including a harrowing journey across the river and then along miles of muddy island roads to reach them—caught the attention of a Chester Tribune reporter, who wrote that George deserved “great credit for the humanitarianism he displayed” in caring for the ailing and dying members of the family when others were too afraid even to enter their home.

During his lifetime, George was lauded as “one of the finest physicians and surgeons in Randolph County,” as well as “a particularly capable businessman.” He established a family legacy that lasted long after his own time. Two of his sons, Ebers and Omer, followed in his medical footsteps, opening a dental practice and a doctor’s office in Chester. One of his daughters, Marie, also became a beloved member of the community, teaching physical education to children in Chester’s schools for decades.

After a full day of work in his Chester office in January 1934, George died at his home of a heart attack at the age of 62. Citizens from Chester, and patients across the entire region, mourned the doctor who had cared for them and their families for more than three decades. George’s dedicated and extraordinary care for his patients, and his civic-minded advocacy for all of the members of his community, provided an example for those who followed after him—and helped to leave the world a better place for the future. Even today, those of us who drive on solid roads and drink clean water can thank Dr. George Hoffmann for his efforts to make Randolph County a safer place to live.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Dr. George Hoffmann.

Roscoe Misselhorn inducted into The Randolph Society

Roscoe Misselhorn
Roscoe Misselhorn

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Roscoe Misselhorn, a talented local artist who honed his craft and shared his work in Sparta for more than seven decades, will be inducted into the 2022 class of honorees.

Roscoe Misselhorn was born in Sparta in January 1902. From a young age, Roscoe discovered that he had an interest in and talent for art. Even as a kid, he would later reflect, “more than anything else, I wanted to draw.” He dropped out of school before graduation and went to work in a Sparta department store while also drawing sketches and cartoons for the Sparta Plain-Dealer. His work caught the attention of executives at Meyer-Both, a news syndication company out of Chicago. They hired him to do weekly political cartoons to be printed in papers all over the country, paying him $5 for each cartoon.

In 1926, Roscoe married Ruth Tritt in Sparta. She encouraged him to develop his talent at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. He studied at the school for two and a half years, discovering the thrill of working as part of a community of artists. He left the university in 1928 to work in advertising, but the school would later award him an honorary bachelor’s degree in art. While he loved St. Louis, he ultimately decided to make Sparta his permanent home. He told the Southern Illinoisan in 1959, “For a home, I prefer a quiet place, where when you meet someone on the street, you probably know him and he knows you.”

Roscoe began a career as a commercial artist, painting signs and murals, and in his down time, he started to develop his own personal artistic style. In 1930, he would produce the first of a series of pencil sketches that would become his trademark. The subject was the covered bridge over Mary’s River, which his grandfather, Wilhelm Misselhorn, had supposedly helped to build. The county’s landscape would provide him with endless inspiration over the next half a century. Rolling hills, historic homes, farms, rivers, bridges—the entire world of Randolph County seemed designed to be captured by Roscoe’s pencil.

The public responded enthusiastically to Roscoe’s work, and eventually he was able to leave his sign painting business behind. He published a series of books featuring drawings he’d done both at home and in St. Louis, including Misselhorn’s Pencil Sketches of St. Louis and Misselhorn’s Pencil Sketches of Missouri. His work was exhibited in museums in St. Louis, and then across the country. One wood engraving, “Ohio River Fish Boat,” was shown at the Carnegie Institute and the Library of Congress. Prints of his work became sought after, and he began producing notepads and postcards with his sketches of landmarks in Randolph County, Carbondale, Cairo, Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis, and New Orleans.

In 1951, Roscoe began teaching adult extension classes in drawing, as well as working with pastels, oils, and watercolors, through SIU Carbondale. Over the next three decades, he assembled work for a proposed book of sketches of Southern Illinois. When the project struggled to find a publisher, his work ultimately found a home in Sparta. Roscoe and Ruth established an art foundation, to which they contributed more than 4,000 pieces of his original artwork, as well as a collection of art books valued at $50,000. The foundation then helped coordinate the restoration of the Gulf, Mobile, & Ohio Railroad Depot on Second Street in Sparta, which was reopened in 1992 as the Misselhorn Art Gallery.

The new foundation and gallery ensured that the legacy that the Misselhorns built would remain accessible to art lovers for generations to come. The Southern Illinoisan praised the city of Sparta for helping to fund the project, writing, “The community of Sparta showed that it cares about its art and its architecture.” The foundation has helped to extend that care by awarding scholarships to young artists, encouraging the continuation of Sparta’s artistic legacy. Roscoe died in 1997, five years after the gallery’s opening, but the museum has continued to support both his work and the work of other artists over the past three decades.

In the years since Roscoe sketched many of those landmarks and landscapes in Illinois and Missouri, many of them have been lost or changed significantly. Today, Roscoe’s work provides us with both a moment of beauty and a window into the past. In 2010, foundation trustee Terry Waldron told the Southern Illinoisan, “The reason I think he’s important, especially for a Midwest artist, was what he chose to draw. The stuff he liked is the stuff that’s not around anymore. The historic value of his work is what’s important.”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Roscoe Misselhorn.

2022 Nominations are open!


The Randolph Society Foundation Board today began the nomination process for its annual awards to honor outstanding historical citizens of Randolph County and their achievements.

“The Randolph Society Foundation Board is seeking to honor the prominent men and women who contributed to Randolph County by living extraordinary lives. Through their deeds and notoriety, they have added to the reputation of Randolph County being one of the ‘Great Counties in Illinois,’” said Dr. Marc Kiehna, founding member of the Randolph Society Foundation. “We encourage everyone that knows of a person of special merit to submit their nomination to the Randolph Society Foundation for consideration.”

Nominations may be made by contacting Dr. Marc Kiehna, the Randolph Society Foundation Board Chairman, by email at mkiehna@randolphco.org, or by mail at the following address:

Dr. Marc Kiehna
Randolph County Courthouse
1 Taylor Street
Chester, IL 62233

Nominations should include a name, picture, and a narrative highlighting why the individual is worthy of being honored.

The nominations are open to everyone and will be accepted through October 31, 2021. Nominees must have passed away at least 5 years ago to be considered. The Foundation Board will review the applicants and select up to 5 nominees. The awards will be announced in March 2022, with a special reception to be held soon after.

The honorees will have a special plaque that tells their story of significant contribution displayed on a prominent wall in the Randolph County Courthouse. The plaques will hang in the designated area of the Courthouse on permanent display and be available to the public for viewing during normal County business hours. The Randolph Society honorees are highlighted on a special website: http://www.randolphsociety.org. In-depth stories of the honorees are included with photos and video footage when available.

The Randolph Society Foundation is sponsored by the Randolph County Historical Society, The Liberty Bell of the West Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Rotary Clubs of Chester, Red Bud, Sparta, and Steeleville. Officers and members of the Randolph Society Board include Dr. Marc Kiehna (Chairman), Justin Jeffers (Treasurer), Lori Hill (Secretary), Emily Lyons, Jane Lucht, Dr. Lauren Kiehna, Cynthia Lawder, Melanie Johnson, and Mike Reed.

The Society is now a 501c3 Foundation and tax-deductible donations are being accepted. Donations can be mailed to:

Justin Jeffers
Treasurer, Randolph Society Foundation
Randolph County Courthouse
1 Taylor Street
Chester, IL 62233

Terry Brelje inducted into The Randolph Society

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Dr. Terry Brelje, a renowned clinical psychologist who worked for more than thirty years to modernize and humanize treatment for mental health patients in Randolph County, will be inducted into the 2021 class of honorees.

Terry Brelje was born in Chester in May 1938. His parents, Gerhard Brelje and Virginia Young Brelje, raised Terry and his sister, Linda, in Chester, where Gerhard worked at Paulter’s IGA. Both of the Brelje kids attended school in Chester, where Terry was an active and involved student. After graduating from Chester High School in the spring of 1956, Terry enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. As a child, he had dreamed of a career as a diplomat with the state department, and he began working toward a political science degree with that goal in mind. After taking a course in psychology, however, his plans for the future shifted. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the university in 1960, and then returned to complete his master’s degree and his doctorate in clinical psychology, graduating in 1967.

Shortly after Terry finished his degree and married a fellow academic, Martha Brose, he was offered the job of chief psychologist at Chester Mental Health Center, then called the Illinois Security Hospital. The facility, located beside the Menard Correctional Center, is the only maximum-security forensic psychiatric hospital in the state of Illinois. The institution, which was founded in 1891, houses a subset of patients linked to the state corrections system, including those who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or have been found unfit to stand trial, as well as those requiring more secure housing. Terry was quickly promoted to program director, and soon he became the superintendent of the entire facility.

In the 1960s, when Terry arrived at the hospital, the institution was in dire need of both physical upgrades and changes to its care procedures for patients. The hospital had been run for years by political appointees rather than medical professionals, and the buildings were dated and crumbling. The John Howard Association, a correctional oversight organization based out of Chicago, had written a troubling report on conditions at the hospital. Terry was tasked with bringing both the buildings and the systems of treatment for the patients up to date. Treatment programs deemed archaic and even abusive were abandoned, and rooms were repurposed for more modern therapeutic sessions. More than 20 new staff members were hired, including additional trained counselors and psychologists. Terry told the press that all of the changes were aimed toward achieving one major goal: “We want to make it less repressive, more humane.”

The crowning achievement of Terry’s tenure as head of Chester Mental Health was the construction of a brand-new facility, which replaced dungeon-like buildings that had been used for more than 80 years. The new center, which cost $8 million to complete, featured more private accommodations for patients and upgraded security features to replace outdated, repressive iron bars. More space for educational activities was also included in the new facility, as were better and updated spaces for medical services. Notably, the new facility, located on the humid banks of the Mississippi River, would finally be fully air conditioned. The cleaner, more modern buildings were anticipated to lead to better rates of employee retention as well. Overall, Terry explained, the new complex was “designed with therapy in mind, rather than punishment.” The new facility was officially opened in April 1976.

Terry remained at the helm of the Chester Mental Health Center until 1983. That December, he was appointed Associate Director for Policy and Special Programs for the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. He moved with his wife and sons to Springfield, where he also served on the board of directors of the Gateway Foundation and the Hope School. By the 1980s, he had become a nationally recognized expert in the field of forensic psychiatry, with several books and articles to his name. He had undertaken consulting work for the US Department of Justice and served on a mental health task force during the Reagan administration. In 1988, he was appointed Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Mental Health.

After his retirement in the early 1990s, Terry continued to maintain a private practice in Springfield. He died at the age of 67 in November 2005. He had devoted his life to improving forensic psychiatric care and extending more modern mental health services and treatment for patients in the state of Illinois. With a focus on therapy and humanity, he worked to create a healthier, kinder environment for patients in state care, providing them with enhanced opportunities to rehabilitate and grow.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Terry Brelje.

Elizabeth Durfee inducted into The Randolph Society


The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Elizabeth Durfee, a trailblazing law enforcement officer who challenged the perception of gender norms in Randolph County, will be inducted into the 2021 class of honorees.

Elizabeth Ackermann was born in rural Red Bud in October 1895. The granddaughter of German immigrants, she and her siblings were raised on the family farm and educated in both German and English in local schools. She worked hard to help her parents on the farm, doing chores and ferrying milk to the creamery in town. A talented shot from a young age, she learned early on how to handle a gun safely and accurately. She loved to hunt and fish with her brothers, and she was dedicated to outdoor pursuits like riding, skating, and bicycling.

An early tragedy shaped her life significantly. Her older brother, Herman, died in the influenza pandemic of 1918 while serving in the army.  In her grief, Elizabeth decided to embark on a new life for herself. She left Red Bud for St. Louis, where she quickly found work in an unexpected profession. She became one of the city’s first female streetcar conductors, working on the Jefferson, Cherokee, and Tower Grove lines. The job was sometimes physically demanding, but Elizabeth persevered, working in the city for a decade.

By the 1930s, Elizabeth had returned home to Red Bud. There, she met and married a local widower, Winsor Lee Durfee. He sold farm machinery and automobiles and ran a filling station in town. For decades, he had also served as a constable. His duties serving summonses, collecting court fees, conducting evictions, and repossessing property. Only four years after they married, however, Winsor died suddenly in 1940 at the age of 62. Because she was familiar with the responsibilities he had held as constable, Elizabeth was tapped in the summer of 1940 to serve as his temporary replacement until an election could be held that November.

Without hesitation, 44-year-old Elizabeth pinned the constable’s badge to her dress and stepped into her late husband’s shoes. Very few women in state, let alone the country, served as county constables, but just as she’d done on the streetcars of St. Louis, Elizabeth took on her new responsibilities fearlessly and with determination. She had inherited Winsor’s 1938 coupe and his .38 pistol, and she used both in her new job, which involved facing her fellow citizens at some of their lowest moments. One journalist described her can-do attitude succinctly: “She takes on all assignments and neither expects nor gets help from anyone.”

Through her genuine care for the people of her community and her fair approach to justice, Elizabeth quickly won the appreciation of those with whom she lived and worked. Still, it was a shock to many when she decided to run to keep the job of constable in November 1940—and an even bigger surprise when she easily won the election. She would go on to be elected to the post several more times, holding the job for a remarkable eighteen years. She approached her duties with candor and determination, not backing down from challenges in tough situations. But she also tried very hard to be kind when she could, offering outreach to local citizens who needed it very much. After serving an eviction notice to a local family, she found them secure housing, as well as a loan to help them establish a firm foundation.

Elizabeth worked for a local mailbox manufacturing company and conducted her constable duties on nights and weekends. By the 1950s, the press began to catch wind of Elizabeth’s unusual job. She was featured in multiple major news profiles, which were syndicated across the nation. But the sudden celebrity didn’t change much about Elizabeth’s life. When her constable duties ended in 1958, shortly before the state abolished the role and reassigned constable duties to sheriffs’ departments, Elizabeth maintained an active life. She lived to the remarkable age of 99, passing away in September 1995, just a month before her 100th birthday.

Elizabeth’s long life of self-assured work in areas traditionally not open to women provided a fantastic example to those around her, allowing them to adjust their expectations about traditional gender roles in the workplace. Her commitment to fair, humane law enforcement also offers all of us a model to follow in our interactions with our fellow community members. With determination, fearlessness, and confidence in her own abilities, Elizabeth Durfee blazed a trail for working women that continues to serve as an inspiration today.


Click here to read a more detailed biography of Elizabeth Durfee.