Introduction: Lunch with Friends at 58 Avenue Foch

Avenue Foch is situated in one of the most elegant neighborhoods in Paris. In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the street is filled with large stone apartment buildings, home for many of the leaders of the city, as well as the nation. In the good times between the wars, the mayor of Paris and the head of the American Hospital lived close by; during World War II, the Avenue housed ranking members of the Gestapo. For years, chauffeured limousines parked in front of 58 Avenue Foch, on the “sunny side” of the street, depositing their passengers on the sidewalk – men often dressed in Brooks Brothers’ suits and highly polished black wing-tipped shoes, their wives in the latest fashion of a French couturier. They had been invited to lunch.

Having left their cars, the guests walked past a high wrought iron fence leading to a glass entrance, where the concierge, a lady in a black dress and white apron, would peer through lace curtains before pressing a button, allowing the guests to enter through the impressive walnut doors. The guests walked down a wide, red-carpeted stairway to a hydraulic lift which rose, ever so slowly, to a single apartment covering the entire fourth floor. There the guests would ring for the butler, Maurice, who would unlock three more elaborate locks and escort them to a vast front hall, where they joined others for drinks and for the chance to meet their hosts: Nelson Dean Jay and his wife, Anne Augustine Jay.

Over fifty years ago, an invitation for lunch at this address was considered by Parisian society to be an honor, perhaps even an event, not just because Jay headed J.P. Morgan for Europe, but also because he and his wife attracted such interesting guests. They might have included a Russian pianist, a French banker, an American diplomat, the CEO of an international company, a British actress, an Italian painter, perhaps even someone from the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) or the CIA. Number 58 Avenue Foch was “the place to be.”

On the surface, Nelson Dean Jay (NDJ) is a peculiar subject for a biography. First, he is nearly forgotten. Second, he was a banker, a profession not known for attracting interesting people.

Jay has been dead for more than 40 years, and no biography has surfaced, just his Times obituary. His employer has forgotten his role in international banking. Although his name is attached to a classroom at his alma mater – “The Jay Recital Hall” – the college president didn’t recognize the significance of his name. A staff member at the school wanted to write his biography decades ago, but the book never materialized probably because Jay was not the sort of person to seek recognition. Even in his hometown, members of the American Legion, who decorate the graves of veterans with small flags on Memorial Day, have ignored his for nearly a half century, never realizing that he was the highest-ranking veteran of World War I buried in the cemetery and the only one honored by four nations for his service to the Allies. Except for very few people, the mention of his name – Nelson Dean Jay – brings a puzzled look.

Even when he was alive, his importance was often overlooked because he was an American who was better known in Europe than in the United States. In spite of spending his 35-year career in Europe, his name appeared in more than 200 articles in the New York papers, sometimes in the headlines. Nelson Dean Jay was not a man who sought public attention, but played such an important role in American and European affairs over his long life that he was frequently mentioned in the press. He was not a political leader or the head of the House of Morgan, but to study his life is to understand the twentieth century in a way that is not possible by considering the life of a head of state or a corporate head.

Never a leading man, figuratively speaking, Jay played a role in many of the most critical events in the last century – World War I, Paris in the Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Many Americans served in World War I, but Jay served on the Commander-in-Chief’s staff. He was not just employed by a bank, but was a partner in one of the most influential banks in the world. Some Americans spent a few weeks or a month in Paris during the Twenties, yet Jay spent the entire decade there, often mingling with members of the avant-garde: an acquaintance of Ernest Hemingway, one of America’s most famous authors of the twentieth century; a banker for Igor Stravinsky, the well-known composer of The Firebird; and a friend of Nadia Boulanger, the celebrated pianist and music teacher. Toward the end of his career, Jays’ expertise was sought by such people as Allan and John Foster Dulles (the head of the CIA and the Secretary of State, respectively), Jean Monnet (Father of the European Union), and David Rockefeller (an international banker).

Like her husband, Anne Jay was never a leading actress, but she was on the stage, figuratively speaking, playing a part in the drama. Unlike many women of her day, she didn’t fill a mere cameo role. She was a wife and mother, who directed a staff of servants, took her children to school, etc., but she was a participant in her husband’s success. She knew how to “work the crowd,” to follow her husband’s lead while entertaining their guests. Mrs. Jay was an active participant in conversations involving wives as well as their husbands. After three-hour luncheons at Avenue Foch, the Jays and their guests took coffee and brandy in the salon, trying to keep the men and women together, rather than separating them by sex. Anne was always disappointed when the men closed the library doors behind themselves to smoke cigars and discuss “important matters,” leaving her to discuss trivia with those who were perhaps not her intellectual equals. She was a modern woman, fifty or more years ahead of her time, wanting to know what was going on in a wider world beyond her home and her family.

Lunch with Friends is more than a modern version of a Horatio Alger story. A young man from a small town in Illinois graduated from a little known college in the Midwest, left for the big city to seek his fortune, and fell in love with a young woman from a socially prominent family from St. Louis. According to a member of the Jays, he “married up.” His career began by going door-to-door peddling pots and pans on the streets of Galesburg, Illinois, to selling bonds, first in Milwaukee and later in New York, to those with fortunes to invest. Helped by friends, Jay served his country at the highest level, bringing him to the attention of the House of Morgan, where he spent the rest of his career.

By modern standards, Dean and Anne would probably be called old-fashioned: they treated each other with love and respect, worked hard, told the truth, spoke softly, liked classical music, were totally without pretense, drove nothing more conspicuous than a Buick, and even went to church. Although Anne came from a large city and Dean from a small town, they shared similar 19th century Midwestern values: the closely-knit family, a respect for education, a love for gardening and animals, and the recognition that hard work was necessary for a happy, successful life. One is reminded of others who came from the Midwest and espoused those same values: Sam Walton and Dwight Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson and Henry Ford, Warren Buffett and Harry Truman.

As far as I have been able to determine, the Jays never took advantage of others, but Nelson, who wanted his sons to succeed so desperately, may have pushed them too hard, guiding them into careers which drove one away from the family and the other to a career in banking which he found boring. Nelson and Anne were obviously children of the 19th century, but they spent the bulk of their adult lives in the 20th. It was probably a simpler time for those who lived more provincial lives than the Jays, but it would probably not be accurate to say that Nelson and Anne lived in a slow, quiet time in Paris. After reading Lunch with Friends, the reader might consider whether the Jays could find as much success and happiness in the 21st century as they did in the last one – with their values, and society’s rules for playing the game. Their experiences, their relationship with friends, their roles in the heady atmosphere of the times, rendered their experiences meaningful and their story of uncommon value. This book traces their lives.

Writing, Just for the Heck of It

Dad Modern Woodmen

The author in his home office. Photo provided by The Modern Woodmen magazine.

It’s my daughter’s fault. She’s responsible for ruining my retirement. I’ve had no trips to Europe, few days to go fishing, and fewer days to sleep late. I spend my free time working at the computer.

You see, the story began when I caught Amy rifling through some papers on my desk. “What are these?” she asked.

“Nothing that would interest you. Just a bunch of stories about growing up in the fifties and sixties.”

A few days later she called, saying, “Dad, these are really interesting.  Others need to read them.”

“Amy, I don’t think anyone would look at them unless they came from Elmwood, Illinois.”

“Dad, your stories are universal. Most of Garrison Keillor’s audience has never been to Lake Woebegone or a place like it. Maybe no one will be attracted to Elmwood, sixty years ago, but I’ll set up a blog, and we’ll see what happens, just for the heck of it. Doesn’t take much time.  Doesn’t cost a dime.”

—————–

“I’m 78 years old, wise enough to know what will interest readers. She’s in her forties, still wet behind her ears.  What could she possibly know? And besides, what in the world is a blog?”

My stories began appearing on the blog for the first time about two years ago. Since Amy knows how to put them on the internet, she can monitor how many people read a story, but also where they reside, and how often they return to read another story. It’s exciting to see the numbers grow and satisfying to know how many people are interested in what I have to say. By the first of the month Amy and I are on the phone discussing the latest statistics: how many readers, from how many different places? What did they like—or dislike? If I don’t make my self-imposed deadline of one new story- a-month, I receive a call from my son: “Your readers are waiting. You can’t let them down.”

——————

“Well,” you ask, “What do you write about that attracts an audience?” I’ve dealt with a range of subjects, everything from my yellow 2000 BMW convertible entitled “The Chick Car,” to tales about people who weren’t particularly important, but were to me. They did something for me or taught me something, or simply made life more enjoyable.  Unfortunately, they were gone before I thought about them as worthy subjects.

My audience fell in love with “Helen Hart Metz,” who taught me how to write, and they had great respect for “Miss Roma Shively, a Short Woman in a Tall World.” She was a “spinster” eighth grade teacher who felt students should spend more time learning about local history than memorizing the principal crops of Delaware. (Remember that stuff?) My audience identified with Don Gronewold, the full-time pharmacist and part-time mayor who grew up on a farm and walked two miles to a one-room school house in the forties. In Don’s case, we included a picture of him, standing behind his soda fountain, mixing a delicious chocolate shake. Lots of people identified with my story entitled “The Wednesday Night Drawing at the Palace Theater,” because they could remember when small town movie theaters had cash prizes for anyone who was present and whose name was drawn from a drum.

So, was Amy right? Did anyone care to read my short stories? In a little over two years, my blog has attracted more than 6,000 unique visitors who have come back multiple times. (Trust me, I don’t have that many friends and relatives.) The greatest number of views came from the United States (8,623), but we have had almost 200 from Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, France, Germany, U. S. Virgin Islands, Norway, Russia, and Italy as well as a smattering from 25 other countries across the world. Good stories can be universally relevant.

Why should you spend your retirement years sitting at a computer writing stories? I like to write for the “heck of it.” I find great pleasure in putting down stories that have been running around in my head for years, waiting to be told to my kids and grandkids, to friends and neighbors, even strangers.

It’s satisfying to know that I can explain what my mother was like or how hard my father worked running a grocery store for over thirty years in a small country town. If we don’t put these stories down, they will be gone when we are gone. My stories may not be about people who are famous, but most have stood out, in their own way, in the small towns where they lived, raised families, and made a living. They deserve to be remembered, and if we don’t preserve these precious moments from the past, who will?

Don’t worry about a blog if you aren’t tech savvy. Begin by describing a special memory for a member of your family and stick it in a birthday or Christmas card. Don’t worry about the spelling. You aren’t writing a theme for an English teacher. Then watch their faces. That’s your reward for writing a story for someone special — your readers. They won’t forget your effort, and may remember it for years.

 

** Originally printed in the October 2017 issue of The Modern Woodmen magazine

Chapter One Galesburg, Illinois – June 6, 1960 Graduation Day at Knox College

Graduation Photo

Dr. Sharvy Umbeck hands the author his bachelor’s degree from Knox College.

Since my last name began with a “T,” I was seated in the first chair of the “T’s.”

To my left was Steve Suzuki of Kobe, Japan, an economics major – no more than five feet tall – wearing wire-rimmed glasses. His face was broad, his smile wide. To my right was Glynne Thomas, a tall, slender woman from New Orleans, with a bright, unusually narrow forehead. She was African-American, one of only a handful in the class. All seniors, 150 of us were sitting on folding chairs, waiting for the 115th commencement exercises to begin on the Knox College campus in Galesburg, Illinois. Midway between Chicago and St. Louis, it was a railroad town, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy tracks running just a few blocks east and south of the campus, the Santa Fe just a few blocks north of the business district.

We were outside on the lawn, protected somewhat from the sun by a canopy of fairly tall maple trees, planted sometime in the 1950s, replacing the diseased elms which had shaded the tall, lanky politician who stood under a huge banner reading: “Knox College for Lincoln.” That was over 100 years before. On each side of the seniors were their parents and friends, some seated with legs crossed, others standing huddled in pairs, passing the time, waiting for the music to begin. This was a middle-aged, middle-income crowd.

The fathers, most gray, some bald, wore light blue two-button seersucker Haspel suits, white shoes, button down white shirts, striped ties, and white leather belts. They looked “preppy.” Some were seated, while others were standing to the sides, talking about the coming election in the fall. “We can’t have a President reporting to the Pope, can we?” said a gentleman from Chicago’s North Shore, answering his own question by the tone of his voice. Others were conversing casually with strangers, inhaling Marlboro or Kent cigarettes. “I’m going to miss Ike,” said another, flicking an ash on the wet grass. “Nothing like his Interstates to get around Chicago.”

The ladies in the audience — mothers and sisters, grandmothers and fiancées — looked fashionable in silk dresses, nylon hose, high heels, pill-box hats, and of course, white cotton gloves. Quiet, reserved, dignified, they were church-like in their demeanor.

In front and slightly above us was the platform party finding seats reserved for trustees, a couple of administrators, and three dignitaries who were to receive honorary degrees: Chesser Campbell, publisher of the Chicago Tribune; William Benton, chairman of the Encyclopedia Britannica; and Nelson Dean Jay, president, Morgan & Cie.

To the young, bright-eyed seniors, these three honorees looked very old – all in their sixties or seventies – their white hair standing out from the blackness of their robes. They donned their caps, alternately moving their tassels first to the right, then to the left, looking desperately for an authority on proper placement. Then, they sat down: Campbell on the left, Benton in the middle, and Jay on the right.

After the preliminaries, the Dean of the Faculty, Dr. Herman Muelder, a Midwestern historian of some note, introduced the first honoree with his usual scowl. “Nelson Dean Jay, a 1905 graduate of Knox and a faithful alumnus, we confer on you an honorary degree.” Muelder paused, once again, to push his black horn-rimmed glasses up his long nose, and glanced at his script, “for achievements in international commerce, finance and goodwill.” Muelder’s face was expressionless in contrast to the banker’s. Jay beamed.

In his late seventies, about six feet tall, a little thick around the middle, Nelson Dean Jay’s (NDJ’s) most distinguishing characteristics were his white hair, combed back on both sides, and that broad, friendly smile. He truly was “glad to meet you.” He could have been a twin for David McCullough, the famous American historian. In 1960, most people present had read the Tribune, checked something in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but had never heard of Nelson Dean Jay. Then and now, he is virtually unknown in the United States, his name almost forgotten, even at the college from which Jay himself had graduated in 1905.

On June 6, 1960, we seniors were thinking about our future, but Jay may well have been remembering moments from his past. There were certainly memorable ones.

———————–

Chaumont, France — June 23, 1918

NDJ, now a Lt. Colonel, was having dinner at the Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force with his friend, Col. Charles Dawes. They were not alone. They had been invited to hear how American soldiers would enter into battle, for the first time, in World War I. They were learning about an important point in history, the battle of Cantigny, from the Commander-in- Chief, General John Pershing, standing before them, looking at a large map, pointing to critical bridges, important highways.

———————-

     There was that day when the Jays bought their weekend retreat.

Fontainebleau, France–Sometime in 1922

Fontainebleau, a city of 35,000, is located 34 miles southeast of Paris. The city has been well-known for centuries for its large, scenic forest and for the historic Chateau, once belonging to the kings of France and often compared favorably to the Palace of Versailles. The Jay home was about a mile from the Chateau with paths leading to the forest where they rode their horses and where, centuries before, royalty went for fox hunts. The two-acre property, surrounded by a high stone wall, consisted of a three-story house built in the 18th century at the time of Napoleon, a gate house for the gardener and his wife, a garage, a stable for their horses and a pavilion for their guests.

_______________

     There was that time when he received this note of condolence from a friend:

New York City — January 1, 1929

My dear Mr. Jay,

Ever since the great tragedy which came into your lives last year I have wanted to write you a word of deep sympathy and human understanding. Thus far I have hesitated to intrude upon you with even such a message. On this New Year’s Day, however, my heart prompts me to tell you how truly Mrs. Rockefeller and I have sympathized with you and Mrs. Jay in your great loss, and how gladly we would have helped you bear this sorrow had that been possible…

That the New Year may bring to you and Mrs. Jay the fortitude with which to meet life’s sorrows and heart aches, and that peace may come to your aching hearts is my earnest wish…

(Letter from John D. Rockefeller, Knox College Archives)

————–

     There was the time when Anne went back to the U.S., but Dean stayed in Europe, wondering if they would ever see each other again.

Paris, France — July 4, 1940

Dean Jay had been warned to leave France twice – once in Sept 1939 personally by Ambassador Bullitt when Britain and France declared war on Germany, and on June 12, 1940, by the American Embassy, when the French government began moving its operations out of the city to the south. Instead, Dean Jay decided to stay in Paris, moving most of the bank’s activities to Niort and helping the American Hospital prepare to care for the sick and wounded, first refugees, later soldiers.

Events occurred quickly. On June 12, Paris was surrounded by Panzer Divisions. On June 13, Paris was declared an Open City. On June 14, everyone was waiting for the arrival of Adolf Hitler, whose soldiers were confiscating buildings for their headquarters. Swastikas, red, black, and white, were flying all around the Place Vendome, even next door to NDJ’s office.

On July 4, Dean Jay was not celebrating Independence Day. He was confronted by a member of the Gestapo. “Heil Hitler!” His message to the banker was direct: “You are to report tomorrow to the Vice President of the Reichsbank. You are to bring a copy of all the investments. Authorities will call in a few days to examine all your safe deposit boxes in the presence of a German customs officer.”

“What are you looking for?” Jay asked.

“Gold, convertible currency, unset precious stones and securities.”

————–

     There was the time when he was viewed as more than a banker, something like an elderly statesman.

Amsterdam, Holland — March 18, 1954

Prince Bernhard, the husband of the Queen of the Netherlands, looked particularly striking, wearing his trademark white carnation on the lapel of his colorful uniform. Twenty-eight years older than his host, Dean Jay looked distinguished, nearing the end of a long colorful career.

Bernhard’s motives for seeing Jay aren’t recorded. The Prince may have wanted to “look” the banker over, to verify what others had said about him, or recognizing what others knew, Bernhard may have come directly to the point.

“For the last two or three years, I have been meeting with some key people around the world.” While continuing to talk, the Prince removed a silver cigarette case from his coat pocket and opened it, removing a cigarette, tapping it against the case. He continued. “We began talking to people in Western Europe, as well as the United States. We met with the outgoing members of the Truman, even with some of the new Eisenhower administration.”

The first cigarette was followed by another. The Prince continued, “We are planning a meeting in Holland in May. I am authorized to invite you to that meeting. Jean Monnet says you are just the kind of man we need, someone with a balanced view of America and Europe. Will you join us?”

———————

Galesburg, Illinois – June 6, 1960

Six years later, at the 115th graduation exercises at Knox College, I turned to Steve Suzuki, my classmate, seated next to me, and asked, “Who’s Nelson Dean Jay? Where did he come from? Why haven’t we heard about him before?” Fifty years later, I began answering those questions.

Karl K. Taylor Copyright 2012

Preface: Lunch with Friends at 58 Avenue Foch

003Although I saw him once from a distance, I never knew Nelson Dean Jay.

Forty years after it appeared in the New York Times, I read his obituary, called the caretaker to verify that he was buried in the cemetery in Elmwood, Illinois, and went to see the grave site.

I never knew Anne Augustine Jay and have only seen pictures of her.

Another call to Galesburg, Illinois, made me aware that Knox College had useful material:  letters between college presidents and Jay, large professional photographs taken of him in a New York studio, and alumni news releases, going back to 1905, the year when Jay graduated from college.

A week later I dialed “Nelson Dean Jay” in Seattle, Washington, who responded, “I’m a great grandson. You need to talk to my great aunt who knows the whole story.” Thus I began a lengthy e-mail relationship with Cynthia who was in her 80s and shared wonderful stories about the Jays’ years in Paris.

Six months later, Cynthia invited me to Huntington, New York, on the north shore of Long Island to meet her and several of her children who had flown in from across the country. When asked if I were going to write a biography of their grandfather, I didn’t know how to respond.

After dinner, Cynthia invited me into her library, where we sat in wing-back chairs beside the fireplace. While she was reading aloud from a letter sent from Paris in 1920, she urged me to sort through a cardboard box filled with material from her attic…  I looked down at a large engraved invitation from General Charles De Gaulle, inviting the Jays to a luncheon for the new President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.  In the upper right hand corner someone had scribbled “accepted.”

Several months later, my wife and I flew to Bow, Washington, along the Pacific coast where  another grandson, George Jay,  stacked forty pounds of memorabilia on his dining room table and spent two days telling us stories about his grandparents.  By now, I was thinking seriously about writing a biography.

As I began visiting and corresponding with libraries, I found more and more to convince me there was a story to be told. At the National Archives in St. Louis I saw Jay’s war records beside those of his friend Charles Lindbergh.  I was awed with what I found at the McCormick Library at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; reports typed on yellowed onion skin paper from General Charles Dawes to General John Pershing, concerning the weekly activities of Lt. Colonel Dean Jay.

I flew to New York City, spending several days at the J. Pierpont Morgan Library not far from Fifth Avenue, reading letters written between J.P. Morgan and Dean Jay during the Great Depression, some addressed to “Dear Dean,” and signed “Jack.”  At the Harvard University Library I read letters from other Morgan partners who were impressed by NDJ’s work.  I reviewed correspondence from additional academic libraries – the Dwight Morrow letters at Amherst College, and the Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh correspondence at Yale University.  The aviator and his wife were invited to stay in the Jay home in Fontainebleau to avoid the hordes of admirers.  I was convinced.

Along the way, I read some books on the time period, but the strength of this biography rests, however, on the primary sources, which have allowed me to describe, in some detail, the lives of two Americans whose acquaintances included the rich and famous, the important and the noteworthy, by virtue of his position as an international banker.  The family documents included hundreds of personal letters between Anne and Dean when they were apart, and their children while attending school or serving in World War II.  Anne’s cryptic notes and Dean’s journal were also helpful.  According to the family, Anne transferred notes from her calendar to four small spiral rimmed notebooks, indicating when, where, and with whom they had lunch or dinner from the early 1920s to her death in the 1970s.  After he retired, Dean compiled his thoughts in a journal, probably from memory, on his work at Morgan & Cie.

With this material, readers are able to glimpse inside the relationship between NDJ and important people as well as to visualize the details of family life.  Readers will enjoy Dean’s letter to Anne describing the celebrations in Paris when World War I ended, or when NDJ, like any ordinary father, reminded his teenage son to wear warm clothing when crossing the Atlantic. Other readers will be amused to hear Anne’s newsy comments to her family describing fashion or the lack of it in Paris in 1945, or her feelings about one of Ruth Draper’s dramatic performances or about a Berlin Philharmonic concert. In short, while Dean is talking about the problem of the German debt or rate of inflation, Anne is musing on the problems of running their household, raising their children, and planning their next dinner party. There is something here for those readers who are interested in his story as well as for those who are attracted to hers.

To help the reader grasp his position in time, I have inserted brief time-lines at the beginning of some chapters, putting the Jays in the foreground and projecting them against the historical background. At the end of the book, I have highlighted several special relationships, describing some people who were important to the Jays, but whose tales, however interesting, would detract from the narrative, including stories about Edward Stettinius, Sr., Ruth Draper, Betty Draper, and the Lindberghs.  Like other modern biographers, I have used a bit of non-fiction narrative to give Nelson and Anne the opportunity to speak for themselves.  Those moments are rare, and I make clear in the context when I am dealing with fact or using my imagination.

_____________

     But why did I write this biography?  Dean Jay and I came from Elmwood, Illinois; graduated from the same high school; and from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois:  Dean in 1905 and I in 1960.  I had heard about him from people in Elmwood over the years, and I went to school with several of his nieces and nephews.  His name was always mentioned with some degree of awe and respect – the hometown boy who had gone on to bigger and better things across the Atlantic, but few people knew much about him. After my retirement I decided to research his life, beginning with reading his obituary in the New York Times.

An obituary is not a biography; however, an obituary is about the most we can expect when we are gone. After examining the Jays’ lives, I had to decide whether an obituary was sufficient or not for the time they spent on this earth.  It was not.

Karl K. Taylor Copyright 2012

 

The Trailer

Many of dad’s regular followers know he has been working on a book/movie for more than ten years. He wrote a short story about the process posted here on this blog in June of 2015 entitled “Why Central Illinois Needs to Learn About Nelson Dean Jay.”

Chicago filmmaker Vincent Singleton has been working with dad on this project putting some visuals to his extensive research. Vince was selected to participate in the prestigious Kartemquin Films documentary program using content from “Lunch with Friends.”

We’ve decided to provide a link here to the documentary trailer to bring dad’s followers up to speed on the project. Dad would find all feedback extremely valuable as this is still a project in process.

Thank you!

Amy (Taylor) Steinbruecker

  • Note, please click on the words “link here” in the third paragraph to go to the trailer. Enjoy!

The Miracle on March 5, 1957

Gerald “Sonny” Patterson

With seconds left on the clock, Jack Jordan, a speedy little guard from ECHS, bounced the ball to Sonny Patterson, the tallest player on the team, who threw it from center court toward the hoop. Everyone was standing, watching, silently. Elmwood had been waiting more than thirty years for the chance to beat the mythical Canton Little Giants.


As early as the late 1940s, followers of Elmwood basketball realized that our grade school teams were taller, faster, and scored more points than they had in more than thirty years. The dream was that some time in the 1950s we would have at least a couple of winning seasons, perhaps beginning with 1955-56. Maybe we could even beat the Canton Little Giants for the first time. (At that time small schools in Illinois had to compete against the large ones on the way to the state title.)

As a matter of fact, Canton was concerned enough about Elmwood’s successful record in the Blackhawk Conference that a bunch of the Little Giants drove up to Elmwood and shot baskets with most of the Elmwood players in my backyard. The Trojans did win 20 games in 1955-56, but they lost the title game in two tournaments and drew Peoria Spalding (not Canton) in the Regional, losing to them 95-59. The dream had been crushed. Two of the four scoring leaders from Elmwood graduated in May 1956: George Whitney and Sam Jones.

When the 1956-57 Trojans, took to the floor a year later, the fans had little to anticipate: the team was short and green – only two experienced seniors, Gerald “Sonny” Patterson and Richard “Cracker” Coon, were over 6 feet. They had lost 8 of their last 9 games in regular play and both the Galva and Princeville tournaments. When they learned that Canton was their opponent for the first game of the Regional, there was little joy. Despite the outlook, the seats for visitors at the Alice Ingersoll Gymnasium in Canton were filled. Most of the bleachers for the home team were empty, probably because the Little Giants had a (6-18) season, but against big schools.

The referee blew the whistle to begin play. Dave Downey, the 6’5” center, easily tipped the ball from Sonny Patterson, the 6’2” Trojan center, and tapped the ball to Ethan Blackaby, the short Canton guard. Known for his speed, he took the ball quickly to the end of the floor and scored: Canton 2, Elmwood 0. Tom Jones, the blond ECHS guard, threw the ball to Sonny Patterson who was covered by Downey, a sophomore who starred a few years later for the University of Illinois. Without looking, Sonny whipped one of his quick passes to “Cracker,” the forward, who took a shot from deep in the corner. Swish: 2 to 2. Throughout the first quarter the teams traded baskets until the buzzer sounded. Canton 11, Elmwood 5.

As Dick Whitney, the Elmwood forward, was waiting for the ball to be thrown, he thought, “If we keep this up, the score will be 22 to 10 at the half, and we’ll have to score six baskets to stay close.” When the players left the court at the half time, Don Hooker, a Canton fan peered at the scoreboard: Canton 20 – Elmwood 14. “Canton is still beating them, but Elmwood is hanging on. I think Canton will begin to pull away in the third quarter and beat them by the end of the game.” Chances were that Hooker would be correct because the Little Giants boasted a 12-point 32-20 bulge at the three-quarter mark.

As the fourth quarter was about to begin, the Elmwood coach, Rolland Cady, huddled with the team: “Guys you have the opportunity to win this game and make up for a really pathetic season. I want a full-court press. We can take them.” Elmwood rallied in the fourth period and Dick Whitney’s field goal in the final 57 seconds of regulation time tied the score at 44-44, sending the contest into overtime. Ethan Blackaby hit for Canton with seven seconds left in the extra period to give the Little Giants a 52-51 lead and an apparent victory. Jack Jordan took the ball from the referee and threw it to Sonny who grabbed it at the center court, turned and threw the basketball like a baseball to the hoop.

The sports editor for the Canton Daily Times described those last seconds in this way: “Gerald Patterson, lanky Elmwood center who had missed a layup shot with one second to go in regulation time, had not given up hope. Patterson broke away for what looked like an impossible shot and the ball swished through the net for the two points which gave the Trojans a well-earned victory and left Canton followers stunned.”

A miracle had occurred in Canton on March 5, 1957.


Only five Elmwood players scored that night: Tom Jones (6), Richard “Dick” Whitney (5), Jack Jordan (15), Gerald “Sonny” Patterson (10) and Richard “Cracker” Coon (17). The other members of the team included Ronald Brooks, Edward Cosby, Douglas Coulter, Thomas Kirkpatrick, Charles Chapman and Malcolm Bollinger. The cheerleaders were Jackie Martin, Vernon Broadfield, and Mary Ruth Webster.

Karl K. Taylor, March 2017

Saturday Night in a Small Country Town

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Today, as one drives around Central Park in Elmwood, Illinois, on a Saturday, it’s hard to believe how busy it was more than fifty years ago. Sales receipts were usually higher on Saturday than on the previous five days combined. No stores were open on Sunday, except for Steer’s pharmacy where customers could pick up a Sunday Chicago Tribune until noon.

People were attracted to Elmwood because it had more stores than it has today and more selection than Yates City, Brimfield, Williamsfield, or Oak Hill. Elmwood was the hub. In 1956, for example, the city had five grocery stores, three hardware stores, two pharmacies, two doctors, three car dealers, two barber shops, a furniture store, a dentist, a feed store, a lumber yard, five filling stations, and a jewelry store – all in a town of 2,000. To meet the demand, some stores (like the Penny Super Market) opened their doors as early as 7 am and didn’t close until 10 pm or until the last customer was served.

Besides more goods and services, recreational activities brought people to town. The Palace Theatre offered a double feature (always a Western) on Saturday, the first show beginning at 7 and the second at 9:30 pm. The night owls were attracted to Luthy’s Recreation for bowling, a game of pool, pinball or a milk shake or hamburger and fries, served by Mary Reed.

Many people scheduled appointments on Saturday afternoons or evenings with their barber or physician. Although women had their hair appointments during the week any time between 8 am and early evening, men went to male barbers like Peally Deford or Tom Tyhurst. Beauticians did not cut men’s hair. Even though barbers were available throughout the week from 8 to 5 or 6, many men chose to have their hair cut or beard shaved on Saturday. No appointment was needed. Cuts ran 50 cents for children and $1 for adults. Until a barber chair opened up, customers hung around the shop reading the newspaper or smoking a cigarette or talking to their neighbors. Remember, talking and socializing were just as important as securing a haircut. Nobody was in a hurry.

Shopping wasn’t the only attraction to Elmwood, during the summer, folks came to town to hear the music of the municipal band.  By 5 pm no spaces were left around the square where the cars were parked diagonally so the audience could see and hear the concert without leaving their 1948 Studebakers or 1950 Plymouths.

The musicians – twenty or thirty strong – were primarily males, a couple of housewives, and high school kids like Jean Ann Deford who, on request, sang solos like “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover.” Woody Worley, the Phillips 66 dealer, was the conductor. The principals were old standbys like “Copper” Kjellenberg, bald as a cue ball, who played the trumpet, and Gladys Proctor, the high school music teacher, who alternated between playing the piano and the bass drum.

Thirsty on warm evenings, some members of the audience would drift around the square to their favorite restaurant or drugstore. “Let’s get something at Currier’s,” said the fifth grader, Carla Haines, to her friend, Ada Jones, who stood patiently in front of the white marble soda fountain waiting for Neil Currier, the pharmacist, taking long strides to his place behind the counter. He could have passed for a visiting concert pianist, walking not to the soda fountain, but to his grand piano.

Carla, with her black hair down to her shoulders, ordered a root beer made from a secret homemade recipe. The drink came in freezing copper mugs; so cold a napkin was necessary to keep her hands from freezing. Her friend Ada ordered a Green River, a lime colored soft drink, served in Coca-Cola fluted glasses filled to the brim with slivers of chipped ice, always refreshing, but outstanding especially on a hot Saturday night in July or August.

For at least one hundred years, Saturdays in small country towns in the Middle West were social events bringing together old and young, rich and poor, for shopping, popcorn, root beer and the chance to argue about the strengths of the St. Louis Cardinals or the Chicago Cubs. These Saturday nights provided an opportunity for a first kiss behind the bandstand and for people to get to know each other and learn more than just their names. As a result, the merchants knew their customers, the customers developed a loyalty to the merchants, all the while creating closely knit communities where citizens felt that everyone mattered.

The Elmwood Municipal Band still plays in Central Park, but only to handfuls of senior citizens, not to crowds of both young and old. In the late 50s and early 60s, with the building of Interstate 74 and giant shopping malls, small-town residents were quickly attracted to the glamour of bigger cities for their weekend shopping and entertainment. As a result, Elmwood merchants gradually reduced their hours on Saturdays from 8 to 2 or 3; without the stores to attract the audience, the band began playing on Sunday nights, trying but failing to recapture the excitement of the past. The bond between the merchant and the customer began to disappear. Five grocery stores became one, three hardware stores shrank into Sarah’s Tru-Value, Luthy’s Recreation became a warehouse for H. & H. Industries and many stores were not replaced when their owners retired.

The hustle and bustle of Saturday nights still exists somewhere, but not in Elmwood, Illinois. What will it take to draw the next generation to the community on a Saturday night in a small country town?

Karl K. Taylor, December 2016

Special thanks to Amy Davis Photography, Elmwood, Illinois

www.amydavisphotography.net