George Khoury inducted into The Randolph Society

George M. Khoury

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that George Khoury, philanthropist and founder of the George Khoury Association of Baseball Leagues, will be inducted into the 2018 class of honorees.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, George Khoury was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1900. After a childhood spent near the city’s riverfront, George moved as a teenager with his parents and seven siblings to Coulterville, Illinois, where his parents purchased a family farm. He attended school in Coulterville and did apprentice work with a local printer.

After moving back to St. Louis and marrying Dorothy Smith in the early 1920s, George began working with various business enterprises and ventures. With three young sons to support, the Great Depression’s impact on George’s financial life was nearly ruinous, but the printing skills he had learned in Coulterville helped to sustain him and his family. As the Khourys fortunes improved, they looked to share their prosperity with their sons’ friends, starting a small baseball team of local boys. The small baseball team blossomed, and by 1936, George started the Khoury League, a baseball program for the young boys of St. Louis.

With support from the community, and encouraged by the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns, the Khoury League grew into one of the largest youth baseball programs in the area. George was committed to keeping the program accessible to any boy who wanted to play, regardless of talent level, even waiving entry fees for those who couldn’t afford them. He was focused on giving the youth of St. Louis an outlet to channel their energy in a positive way, learning good sportsmanship, responsibility, and organizational skills. Although the Khoury League emphasized that children of all talent levels could play, the organization’s alumni include several Major League Baseball stars, including Mike Shannon, Earl Weaver, Dal Maxvill, Frank Baumann, and Homer Bush.

The Khoury League became an important community program for the youth that played on the teams as well as the volunteer adults who managed clubs and officiated at games. In the 1950s, the program expanded to include a girls’ softball program and added new sports, like soccer. In 1952, Randolph County’s first Khoury League teams were organized in Sparta, and teams quickly joined throughout the county. Five years later, George was honored during a Khoury League game in his childhood home of Coulterville with a special plaque recognizing his achievements.

Eventually, the Khoury League expanded to include programs in several states and even foreign nations. George was chosen in 1960 by the United States Committee for Baseball in Israel to travel throughout the nation, sharing information with Israelis to help them form their own baseball programs using the Khoury League as a model. George’s work at home and abroad earned him the admiration of many, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wrote, “I understand that nearly a whole generation of boys has grown up in the fine program of your baseball leagues. They have been strengthened in body and spirit and you have the rich satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed much to the fitness of American youth.”

After George’s death, the Khoury League tradition was continued by his sons and numerous other committed men and women, and it remains an important youth sports program in the United States and abroad. In 1967, one St. Louis sportswriter paid tribute to George’s work, noting that the “monument to the man is in the vibrant, living program he founded and headed” – an organization that continues to thrive and to improve the lives of children today.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of George Khoury.

Henry Gerecke inducted into The Randolph Society

Henry F. Gerecke

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that the Reverend Henry F. Gerecke, who devoted his life to ministering to the most vulnerable, marginalized, and culpable members of society, is the final honoree of the 2017 class.

Henry Frederick Gerecke was born in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, in 1893. The grandson of German immigrants, his life was centered from the beginning on the local Lutheran church. In 1913, he enrolled at St. John’s Academy and College in Winfield, Kansas, a Lutheran seminary prep school. After graduation, he moved to St. Louis, where he began seminary studies at Concordia and met his wife, Alma Bender. They married in 1919 and had three sons: Henry, Carlton, and Roy.

Gerecke was ordained in January 1926 and began serving as pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, located near St. Louis University. After a decade leading the church, he took over the leadership of City Mission, which was devoted to helping the neediest members of society in the midst of the Great Depression. This new ministry took him to hospitals, jails, and workhouses – anywhere that he felt he could help those who needed it most. Gerecke also widened his ministerial net via his own radio program, Moments of Comfort.

When World War II broke out, Gerecke volunteered for the United States Army’s Chaplain Corps. He was assigned to the Ninety-Eighth General Hospital, an army medical unit that moved throughout Europe during the war. In 1945, the army requested Gerecke’s transfer for a special assignment: he was to serve as the Lutheran chaplain for the Nazi war criminals who were about to be tried at Nuremberg.

Gerecke’s faith, his facility with the German language, and his experience ministering to the incarcerated in St. Louis were all factors in his selection for the post. The assignment was perhaps the most frightening and challenging moment of Gerecke’s life. He had visited concentration camps in Germany, and he understood the atrocities the prisoners had committed. Ministering to them throughout the trials and subsequent executions challenged the limits of Gerecke’s understanding of good and evil, of salvation and forgiveness.

When Gerecke’s military service ended, Randolph County became the beneficiary of his ministry. He and Alma moved to Chester, where he served as the assistant pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church; perhaps even more importantly, he also became the chaplain at the Menard Correctional Center and Chester Mental Health Center. He extended his ministry even further, making regular visits to patients at Chester’s hospital and serving as a chaplain to the VFW and the American Legion.

Gerecke died suddenly of a heart attack in Chester in 1961 at the age of 68. His impact on the prisoners at Menard was so profound that they requested a special visitation so they could pay their respects to their late chaplain. The prisoners even raised the funds to install a lighted cross atop St. John’s School. The cross, recently repaired and rededicated, still shines in Chester today as a reminder of Gerecke’s legacy. Eileen Gordon, the secretary at St. John’s during Gerecke’s tenure there, explained that legacy simply: “When someone writes of Pastor Gerecke, they must write of love, because this, indeed, was the essence of the man.”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Henry Gerecke.

Bill Mullins inducted into The Randolph Society

Bill Mullins (1905-1978)
Bill Mullins (1905-1978)

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that W.E. “Bill” Mullins, founder and president of a local coal mining corporation and pioneer in the field of land reclamation, will be inducted into the 2017 class of honorees.

William Edward Mullins, Jr. was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1905. After his graduation from Westport High School, Bill moved with his parents and two siblings to Lawrence, Kansas, where he attended the University of Kansas. He graduated in 1929 with a master’s degree in civil engineering, and he was quickly recruited by an uncle, T.C. Mullins, to work for a coal company in Indiana.

Bill’s next career move – a job working for a Chicago-based engineering firm – proved to be life-changing. He traveled to Siberia to help develop coal mines with Soviet partners. Bill was shocked by the dangerous mining conditions and the way that the landscape was ravaged by the project. His wife later explained that the experience in Siberia helped Bill develop two important convictions: first, “that he would never put anyone to work in an underground mine,” and second, that “he would never lay waste to the land that gave him its riches.”

On his return to America, Bill worked for a mining company in Henry County, Illinois, where he met his wife, Maria Everett. The two married in 1936 and had a daughter, Mary. The same year, the family moved to Randolph County, where Bill became the founder and president of Southwestern Illinois Coal Corporation. The firm opened two mines in the area: the Streamline mine near Percy and the Captain mine near Cutler. The latter was the largest surface mine east of the Mississippi River.

Bill worked constantly to develop new mining technologies and techniques. The most famous of these innovations was “the Captain,” the enormous electric shovel commissioned for the Captain mine in 1965. At the time of its construction, the shovel was the largest mining shovel in the world – and the largest mobile land machine ever built.

Decades before coal companies were legally required to do so, Bill tirelessly pursued ways to support and reclaim the land that had given so many resources to him. He worked with local university faculty, experimenting with reforestation and agricultural projects on recently-mined ground. Eager to give back to the community that had supported his coal mines, Bill was instrumental in establishing the W.E. Mullins Recreation Area near Percy, which included lakes and ponds, campgrounds, a shooting range, the Southwestern Lakes golf course, and the Scuttle Inn.

After his death in 1978, Bill’s important work in land reclamation was recognized by conservationists. In 1981, he was posthumously given the Eddie Albert Fund Conservation Award; the fund subsequently also created the W.E. Mullins Conservation Award in Bill’s honor. Long after his death, Bill’s “foresight and imagination” have continued to be recognized by those who have hailed him as a “pioneer” and “a truly concerned citizen.”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Bill Mullins.

Nora Lane inducted into The Randolph Society

Nora Lane in a studio portrait
Nora Lane in a studio portrait

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Nora Lane, an actress who made her mark as a leading lady in Hollywood Westerns, will be inducted into the 2017 class of honorees.

Nora Schilling was born in 1905 in the small settlement of Cora, in the southernmost part of Randolph County. Her parents were from German immigrant families who lived and farmed the fertile land around Chester and Wine Hill. The family later moved to Willisville, where her father worked in the coal mines. After her mother’s early death, thirteen-year-old Nora was responsible for keeping house and watching her younger siblings.

As a young woman, Nora moved to St. Louis, where she worked as a model. During a 1925 trip to California to visit friends, she was convinced to do a Hollywood screen test. She began working as an extra in silent films, and she was soon signed to a contract with Paramount Pictures. As her star rose, she adopted a stage name: Nora Lane. Her early pictures were Westerns with popular cowboy star Fred Thomson. One, a biopic of the outlaw Jesse James, brought Nora extremely positive reviews.

Thomson’s sudden death in 1928 put a slight damper on Nora’s rising star, but she continued to work steadily in Westerns as well as in other film genres. She acted in films directed by the likes of Cecil B. DeMille and Frank Capra, and she starred alongside famous figures like Boris Karloff, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Jimmy Stewart, Mickey Rooney, and even Rin Tin Tin. While some actors struggled with the transition from silent to sound, Nora made the transition to talking pictures easily.

Nora’s career waned at the height of the Great Depression, although she continued to work in supporting roles and short films. A failed marriage to her business manager stalled her film career even further. After their divorce, she found success again as a leading lady in Westerns, especially films in the famous Hopalong Cassidy series.

Nora also found renewed happiness in her personal life, marrying Burdette Henney in 1941 and becoming stepmother to his two children, Tim and Jill. Her final film appearance was in 1944, and she began focusing more on her family life and charitable work. After Burdette’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1948, Nora found that she could not endure and ended her own life. Although her life came to a tragic end, her legacy endures, with more than eighty film credits and a career that spanned a fascinating and tumultuous period in film history. Nora saw a career in entertainment as her destiny; just after signing her first studio contract, she told a reporter, “I didn’t choose pictures for a career — they chose me.”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Nora Lane.

The Hunter Brothers inducted into The Randolph Society

The Hunter Brothers

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that the Hunter Brothers, record-breaking pioneers in the field of aviation, will be inducted into the 2017 class of honorees.

Albert, John, Kenneth, and Walter Hunter were born in southern Illinois and raised in rural Sparta. After the early death of their father, they worked to support their family as coal miners. Soon one of their hobbies – motorcycle riding – led them to the career that would make them famous: aviation.

After purchasing a plane in St. Louis in 1923, the brothers all learned to fly. With several fellow aviators, they formed the “Hunter Flying Circus,” performing death-defying stunts in airshows across the Midwest. They also began contracting with companies as airmail pilots, flying routes that would eventually become the passenger airline routes we use today.

In 1929, John and Kenneth Hunter made their first attempt to break the world record for endurance flight. After eleven consecutive days in the air, they were forced to land in heavy fog. The following summer, all four brothers teamed up to attempt to break the record again. With John and Kenneth flying the “City of Chicago,” and Albert and Walter piloting the supply plane, the Hunter Brothers managed to stay aloft for a record-breaking 553 hours, 41 minutes, and 30 seconds – approximately 23 consecutive days in the air. Their incredible feat brought them global attention and fame, including a movie contract with United Artists.

The brothers made a permanent mark on Randolph County when they inaugurated Hunter Field, an airport just north of Sparta, in May 1931. The airfield is still Randolph County’s only public airport.

Three of the brothers, John, Kenneth, and Walter, pursued professional careers in the field of aviation after their world-record flight. The fourth, Albert, left professional flying behind for farm and construction work. John died while working on an airmail route in Louisiana in 1932; Kenneth perished in a crash in Oklahoma City in 1974. In 1966, Walter retired as the senior jet captain for American Airlines.

In 1980, Sparta celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Hunter Brothers’ amazing endurance flight with a celebration at Hunter Field. The day, which was attended by Walter Hunter, included a recognition of the Hunter family and an airshow. A news report from the day summed up the brothers’ achievements: “They were the astronauts of their day.”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of the Hunter Brothers.

John Willis Menard inducted into The Randolph Society

John Willis Menard at the time of his election to the United States Congress
John Willis Menard at the time of his election to the United States Congress

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce its first honoree: John Willis Menard, a speaker, writer, and public servant who broke new ground for African-American representatives in American government.

John Willis Menard was born in 1838 in Kaskaskia to Creole parents. He may have been related to the Menard family of Kaskaskia, including Pierre Menard, a prominent Kaskaskia resident who served as the first lieutenant-governor of Illinois. John Willis Menard was educated in an abolitionist school in Sparta and later studied at Iberia College in Ohio.

Menard spent much of his career writing and speaking about abolitionist causes. His first prominent speech took place in Springfield in 1859. He wrote for, edited, and established numerous newspapers in Louisiana, Florida, and Washington, D.C. He was also a poet, composing verses in honor of various historical milestones and publishing a book of poems, Lays in Summer Lands, in 1879.

Menard was appointed to a clerkship in the Department of the Interior in 1863, making him the first African-American to serve in an administrative role in the federal government. He was deeply involved in the Lincoln administration’s exploration of possible colonial settlements for freed slaves, and he embarked on an investigative mission to Belize on the government’s behalf in the summer of 1863. He met his wife, Elizabeth, while traveling through Haiti and Jamaica. The Menards had three children: Alice, Willis, and Marie Jeanette.

In 1868, Menard became the first African-American to be elected to the United States Congress after winning a special election in Louisiana’s second congressional district. When the election was contested, he traveled to Washington, where he broke yet another color barrier, becoming the first African-American person to address the chamber of the House of Representatives. Even so, he was denied his seat, largely because of his race.

Menard held numerous other elected and appointed positions in state and federal government. He was the Superintendent of Schools in Duval County, Florida; a member of Florida’s state legislature; and a clerk at the census bureau in Washington, D.C.

Menard died in Washington in 1893 at the age of 55. Today, he is recognized not only for his landmark achievements as a pioneering elected official but also for his literary work.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of John Willis Menard.