Dr. C.O. Boynton and Bertha Gillespie Boynton inducted into The Randolph Society

Dr. Charles Otis Boynton
Dr. Charles Otis Boynton

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Dr. Charles Otis Boynton and Bertha Gillespie Boynton, who were dedicated to improving the health and education of the people of Randolph County, will be inducted into the 2023 class of honorees.

Charles Otis Boynton was born in Cahokia on December 26, 1875. His father was a physician who moved his practice and his family to Sparta when young Otis, as he was usually called, was seven. After graduating from high school in Sparta, Otis enrolled in the Homeopathic Medical College of Missouri in St. Louis, graduating in 1897. The Homeopathic Medical College is noteworthy as one of the early medical schools granting degrees to women beginning in 1874.

On May 29, 1897, Otis began his medical career in Baldwin. Two years later, in April 1899, he relocated his practice to Sparta, first sharing an office with his father, Dr. S. R. Boynton, and a year later, moving into the building on Market Street where he would remain for the majority of his long medical practice.

In his early professional life, Otis was a typical “horse & buggy” doctor, making house calls, often in the middle of the night. He knew at times that he would not be paid for a call but nevertheless always felt obligated to go. In 1908, he bought a Eureka Motor Buggy to use in his practice, but often had to revert to horseback for rural calls. At one time, he was so busy that he had to use six different horses in a 24-hour period. He saw patients on freight trains on the two railroads that ran through Sparta and once walked from Houston to Sparta through six inches of snow, wearing “rubber-felt boots and a sturdy ulster [overcoat] and carrying a heavy case.”

Otis was still seeing patients and making calls every day at the age of 86. He estimated that he had delivered almost 4,600 babies over his 60-plus years in practice, and in some cases, he had been the attending physician for three generations of the same family.

As retirement approached, the community that Otis had faithfully served for so long turned out in his honor. The Sparta Rotary Club honored Dr. C. Otis Boynton as one of the founding members of the club, as well as for his service to the community as a physician. At “Dr. Boynton Night” in March 1960, a letter from Dr. Frank Glenn, a native of the nearby Houston area, was read. Glenn, who had become the famous surgeon-in-chief at New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center, referred to Otis as “one of many early physicians responsible for the advancement of medical science in the world today.”

Shortly after opening his practice in Baldwin, Otis had married Bertha Gillespie on April 20, 1898, in Leavenworth, Kansas. Born in Sparta on July 8, 1875, Bertha was the daughter of Rev. Dr. W. J. Gillespie and Jane Weir Gillespie. Her father was a pastor of the United Presbyterian Church and her maternal grandfather, James B. Weir, was an early Randolph County settler.

Bertha attended grade school in Sparta, but in 1886, she moved with her family to Leavenworth, Kansas, where her father was hired as a chaplain at the Leavenworth Soldiers’ Home (now the Dwight D. Eisenhower Medical Center). Bertha attended high school in Leavenworth before going on to Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri. In June 1892, she graduated from the Kansas Conservatory of Music in Leavenworth as a teacher of piano. She also studied violin and pipe organ.

After she married Otis, Bertha’s curiosity for learning extended to the world of medicine. She began studying medical texts with her husband, and she read and worked side by side with him until illness prevented her from continuing.

Always a pastor’s daughter, Bertha was also actively engaged in the work of the United Presbyterian Church as a Sunday School teacher and a member of the Women’s Missionary Society. She was also active in both the county and state auxiliaries to the Illinois State Medical Society and the auxiliary to the Association of Surgeons, and she was frequently invited to speak before both religious and medical organizations.

Dr. Charles Otis Boynton’s contributions to the community as a physician were considerable in their own right, and Bertha Gillespie Boynton’s work with and in support of her husband’s medical practice were perhaps ahead of her time. However, their commitment to the community went beyond the practice of medicine, and their philanthropic mission continues today.

During their lifetime, the Boyntons contributed $70,000 to purchase the site for the Randolph County Care Center. They also donated funds to build the “Boynton Wing” at Sparta Community Hospital. Through the Sparta Rotary, they established a fund to help defray medical costs for needy individuals. Many more individuals, organizations, and churches were recipients of their generosity.

Perhaps the most lasting evidence of that commitment to community is the Boynton-Gillespie Memorial Fund. Since its inception in the early 1960s, the fund has distributed over $1,000,000 in scholarship grants to area high school graduates who wish to continue their education. Over 1,000 students have received scholarships due to the dedication, generosity, and vision of Dr. C.O. Boynton and Bertha Gillespie Boynton.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Charles Otis and Bertha Gillsepie Boynton.

Judge William G. Juergens inducted into The Randolph Society

Judge William G. Juergens of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois
Judge William G. Juergens of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Judge William G. Juergens, a jurist with a keen sense of fairness who served his county and his country as a judge in county, circuit, and federal courtrooms, will be inducted into the 2023 class of honorees.

William Juergens was born on September 7, 1904, in Steeleville. He was the first surviving child of H.F.W. Juergens and his wife, Tillie Nolte Juergens, joining a family that included an elder sister from his father’s first marriage. Three more siblings completed the household, which maintained close ties with their family back in Germany throughout William’s childhood.

William’s father worked as a tailor with his own shop in Steeleville. In 1911, he moved his business to Chester, and the family relocated as well. William excelled as a student at St. John’s Lutheran School and Chester High School. He initially dreamed of becoming a physician, but ultimately he decided that his talents were a better fit for a legal career. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Carthage College in 1925 before going on to law school at the University of Michigan. After graduating in 1928, he returned to Chester and set up a law practice in his hometown.

Chester would remain William’s hometown for the rest of his wife. He married Helen Young in 1929, and the couple raised two children, Jane and William Jr., in a home on Swanwick Street. William became Chester’s city attorney in 1930, a position he held for the next eight years. He was also a very active member of numerous civic organizations and a church elder at Chester’s Presbyterian Church.

In 1938, William entered his name in the race for county judge. He won the election, as well as the next two, serving in the job for the next 13 years. He ran an efficient county court, economizing during the depression and war years. He also gained a reputation for fairness, as well as for special consideration for the juvenile offenders who arrived in his courtroom. “The youth of today are the men and women of tomorrow and upon their righteous conduct depends the future,” one of his campaign advertisements stated.

William advanced to the next stage of his career in June 1951, winning an election to serve as a judge in the Third Judicial Circuit. His dedication and fairness on the bench caught the attention of those in positions of power. On June 8, 1956, he was nominated by President Eisenhower to become a federal judge, serving in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois. He was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate a few weeks later and sworn in on June 29. He promised to be “fair and square” in his new role, following the same “prayer of ethics” that had guided him for years. His promotion was celebrated widely—even by many of the men who had been sentenced to prison in William’s courtroom. Several Menard inmates worked together to create a portrait of the judge, with the prison warden noting, “The boys at Menard recognize the judge as being a fair man.”

William served as a federal judge for the next 16 years, presiding over a number of high-profile cases. He became Chief Judge of the court in 1965. Sadly, he lost his wife, Helen, the following year after a long battle with cancer. Eventually, he married again after reuniting with a childhood friend, Louise Mann. He retired in 1972 but retained senior status and continued to hear cases in courtrooms across the country when needed. In his later years, William received numerous accolades recognizing his long, dedicated service to the judicial system, including an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Carthage College. On December 7, 1988, he passed away in Chester at the age of 84, leaving behind a towering professional legacy.

Perhaps the clearest summation of William’s character was written by a fellow attorney and friend, Robert Broderick. He called William Juergens simply “a great and good man whose character showed clearly through all that he did.” William’s commitment to justice helped him to climb the ranks in his profession, and the long list of his achievements serve as a challenge for all of us to follow the same set of principles in our lives.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Judge William G. Juergens.

Louis W. Rodenberg inducted into The Randolph Society

Louis W. Rodenberg

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Louis W. Rodenberg, a talented innovator who was instrumental in transforming Braille notation for visually-impaired musicians, will be inducted into the 2023 class of honorees.

Louis William Rodenberg was born near Evansville on May 11, 1891. He was the first child of Philip and Frederika Rodenberg, who both came from German families. He had two older siblings, Henry and Elizabeth, from his father’s first marriage, and the Rodenberg family quickly grew to include numerous additional brothers and sisters, all of whom were raised on farm land in rural Randolph County near Ellis Grove.

In January 1901, a tragic accident changed Louis’s life forever. While running across a frozen field on his way to school, he tripped and fell, injuring his eye. Infection set in and spread, and soon he had lost his vision entirely. An operation at a St. Louis hospital was unsuccessful, and Louis faced the reality of learning to function without his sight.

A teacher at the Belle Vista schoolhouse introduced Louis to a brand-new way of reading and writing: Braille. After some initial resistance, he quickly learned the new notation system. Learning to read Braille unlocked a new world of possibilities for Louis, and as an adult, he often enthused about the doors that Braille education could open for other blind men and women. His education continued in his teenage years at the Illinois School for the Blind in Jacksonville, Illinois, where he earned his high school diploma and discovered a love for music.

Louis had a natural talent for working with machines, something that led to his appointment as director of the school’s print shop. Now he wasn’t only able to read Braille texts—he was also an instrumental part of their production. The print shop became one of the largest producers of Braille literature in the country. As he continued to hone his skills playing the piano and various other instruments, Louis began a series of experiments to find a more effective way to print musical scores for blind musicians.

Louis quickly identified one method, the “bar over bar” system, as the most natural way to represent music for visually-impaired musicians. The Rodenberg method of musical notation for the visually impaired was, by 1923, accepted as a standard by all leading American institutions for the blind. Louis was hailed as a “genius” for his achievement. All major schools for the visually impaired in the country adopted his system, and the print shop in Jacksonville became the nation’s leading producer of musical scores for the blind. He also became a biographer of blind musicians from the past, as well as an editor for the Musical Review for the Blind.

The system that Louis developed gained international attention. He traveled to Europe multiple times to serve as a delegate at conferences dedicated to Braille and musical notation for the blind. By the 1950s, the United Nations had appointed him as a technical consultant on the subject to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind. The American Federation for the Blind gave him one of their highest honors, the Migel Medal, in 1943, with Helen Keller herself presenting him with the award. More accolades followed, including an honorary doctorate from MacMurray College.

Louis also cherished a love for poetry. During his lifetime, most of his own poems were shared only with a small circle of trusted family members and friends. An exception is his “Triptych to a Sunken City,” a trio of sonnets about the lost village of Kaskaskia. In 1942, the poem was engraved on a set of bronze tablets placed at the new Fort Kaskaskia State Park, the creation of which he had strongly advocated. After more than half a century working as a writer, editor, publisher, and composer, Louis passed away in 1966. A biographer noted, “In spite of his childhood tragedy, Rodenberg’s life was full and fruitful. His ‘affliction,’ as he called his blindness, prompted him to pursue a career that greatly benefited blind people around the world.” Visually-impaired people everywhere can thank Louis for opening up new doors for them—and so can every single person who enjoys hearing poetry and listening to music.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Louis W. Rodenberg.

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.