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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

bioimage-hunterbros6
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.