Excitement builds. Hillsboro's Main Street has readied for the 128th annual Old Settlers celebration. Felkel family roots are buried deep in Hillsboro Township. Both ghost-memories of forebears and personal memories abound.
The beginning: The Montgomery Agricultural Society, founded in 1854, promoted an annual country fair to be held at the county fairgrounds, established on a portion of the original Seymour tract and now the site of Beckemeyer School.
My great-grandparents hitched horses to a wagon to transport and display farm produce and products and visit with attending "townie' cousins and friends. According to an excerpt from Hillsboro, A History by Dorothy Bliss, the Old Settler's Organization—formally organized in 1883 and based on the friendly visiting that connected town and country—was an outgrowth of the Montgomery Agricultural Society.
Each year ancestors traveled to the Fairgrounds via horse and buggy from our mid-1800s-settled family farm five miles southwest of Hillsboro. The buggy was loaded with a bulging picnic basket, a container of water, a bag of oats, and children. Empty containers and tired kids were returned home in time for evening chores.
As a young man, my father raced his horse (but never won) on the now-barely-visible Fairgrounds race-track, now in the process of becoming an all-weather walking track.
My own Old Settlers memories begin in 1936, separated from mamma and lost in the huge crowd surrounding the platform in front of the courthouse. I was four. Spotted by an aunt and uncle, this sobbing, terrified child was taken to the platform. An announcement reunited frantic mother and child. I was consoled by my first merry-go-round ride.
As children, our generation saved pennies, nickels and dimes for Old Settlers carnival rides—the highlight of our summer. The celebration was then a one-day affair. The parade, held Thursday morning, was always a major attraction.
In 1946, at age 14, I joined Shirley Ann Rush (also 14, who was to become the wife of Mayor James Lyerla and mother of fire chief Joe Lyerla) on a float titled "Sweethearts Then and Now," sponsored by long-gone Hewitt-Ware Farm Supply. She wore a lovely, white, strapless gown and was beautiful. I wore a heavy, black, long-sleeved, high-necked gown and bombazine bonnet and was dowdy. Years later, I chuckled as I watched a home movie of that parade.
Fuller twins Rex and Drex, along with their mutt dog, were the main attraction on our 1952 Illinois Public Aid employees' comic float depicting a large early-farm family. Mid-parade, the dog leaped off the float. The twins were bereft. We won first place in comics division. The dog eventually found its way home.
In later years, married and with children, the1959-introduced Kiddie Parade became a feature in our Lingle lives. Five-year-old son Dale led that first parade pedaling his mini-fire engine, followed by scantily-clad daughter Aimee, at age two portraying Eve on the Hillsboro Players Little Theater mini-float, "The First Settlers." Her equally-scantily-clad companion, as Adam, was the son of photographer Larry Autery. Green felt fig leaves sewn on training pants? Hey, it worked!
Way back when, Hillsboro Woman's Club—as did other organizations—created their own yearly Big Parade floats. A chicken-wire base, stapled as a skirt around a borrowed farm wagon, served as stuffing points for individually-cut squares of crepe paper or napkins. We spent weeks planning and preparing. And frequently won. Today, floats are few and far-between. Most are commercially-built and rented.
In 1963, as Hillsboro Woman's Club president, I escorted our queen candidate to the platform, where Charlotte Peters crowned that year's queen. Some years later, for WSMI, I co-interviewed guest star Porter Wagner while Dolly Parton remained in seclusion in their shared trailer on Courthouse Square. And then there were our recent Red Hat parade entries . . . such fun!
Lingle Motor Company, with its large, rear-repair-shop and overhead doors, always emptied the shop to house float entries the night before the big parade. One year, a downpour flooded Central Park where transport trucks—loaded with carnival rides—were parked waiting for set-up. Ivan and his wrecker crew spent days rescuing mired vehicles. Main Street rides were erected on schedule. Another successful Old Settlers!
Years flew by. Younger son Craig marched with the junior high band, flag corps and flute-player daughter Aimee marched with the high school band and, as a queen candidate, sold her share of tickets to help finance the annual celebration. For several years son Dale, then helping his father at once-upon-a-time Lingle Motor Company, headed the Old Settlers Association. I graduated to moral support, became one of several parade judges, and served on various committees. Now, I'm an obsolete onlooker.
My mid-August birthday has always fallen on or near Old Settlers day. When people ask how I celebrate, I tell them the whole town turns out with parades, marching bands, and a carnival. I've missed only one Old Settlers celebration in my lifetime–the day I was born: Aug. 16, 1932. My 80th birthday is Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, the day of this year's Big Parade. As an octogenerian, I'll celebrate with a pronto-pup from my favorite stand.
Happy birthday to me!
Lyn is author and columnist Marilyn Felkel Lingle. e-mail LYN@nwcable.net