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Woman reflects on early days of Watseka, Iroquois

PatriciLedderboge Valparaiso recently turned 86. The former school teacher also is world traveler master gardener author. Her caregiver April Dillingham

Patricia Ledderboge of Valparaiso recently turned 86. The former school teacher also is a world traveler, master gardener and author. Her caregiver, April Dillingham, has become like a daughter to her. | Photo provided

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Updated: July 3, 2013 6:23AM



“He is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman’s daughter. So far we are equal.”

— Jane Austen

Recently, just before leaving for Midway Airport and eventually Reno, my lady friend and I stopped for lunch at Marti’s Place on the Kankakee River in extreme northern Jasper County.

We opted to enjoy our repast al fresco, as did Patricia Ledderboge and April Dillingham. It was Ledderboge’s birthday; Dillingham is her caregiver. At 86, Ledderboge came into this world the year a chubby chap known as “The Bambino” swatted 60 homers for the Bronx Bombers.

I explained to Ledderboge and Dillingham that for 25 cents they could feed a handful of dog food to the fish. Ms. Ledderboge enjoyed that as much as the 20-pound carp rapaciously roiling the river below.

Within a few minutes of conversation, I had set up two interviews for this column with each of these Valparaisans.

I figured, after three days of pulling one-armed bandits and tossing bones in “the biggest little city in the world,” I’d need the money.

***

“I was born in Watseka, Ill.,” Ledderboge began. “After a year or so, my family moved to nearby Iroquois, Ill. I lived there until I went away to college.”

I know that Iroquois was once known as Bunkum. That’s where pioneer Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard set up one his fur trading depots. For a few years, Hubbard was married to the niece of a Potawatomi chief named Watch-e-kee or Child of the Evening Star. Hubbard eventually became one of the founding fathers of Chicago. Watch-e-kee died on an Indian reservation in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The town of Watseka is named in her honor.

“Jeff, there are different stories about how Bunkum got its name. Some say it meant that the area wasn’t worth very much, but the other story I heard is that a stranger came into town and the womenfolk asked: ‘Well, where’s he going to stay?’ Supposedly, an Indian woman was standing nearby and said: ‘I’ll bunk ‘em.’”

I like that latter version. But then again, my favorite theory on how Indiana came to be known as The Hoosier State is that it evolved from an incident when a throng of ruffians in some flea bag whorehouse got into a savage donnybrook that included knives and shards of whiskey bottles. When the dust mites settled, one of the illiterate inebriates allegedly held up a bloody lobed slab of flesh and yelled out, “Who’s ear?”

But I digress. Tell me more about Iroquois.

“It was a farming community with a bank, a Methodist Church, a grocery store and a grain elevator. And then there was the corner tavern which was — and probably still is — a very important part of Iroquois because that’s where all of the men gathered.”

At what high school did you attend?

“Donovan. It was interesting because the town of Donovan had the French contingency, the Swedish group, and then there were people like us — Germans and Irish, mostly.”

What is your maiden name?

“McCarty. My father managed a bank. Jeff, I want to show you an old book I have...”

Young lady, I love old books.

Hmm. “The History of Iroquois and Concord” by Salem Ely, copyright 1918. Very interesting.

“My great-grandfather’s photograph is in there.”

Let me read that cutline: “Peter B. Strickland, a veteran of the Civil War, Company F, 155th Illinois Infantry, who enlisted from Concord Township was born in Paige County, Virginia in 1827. He settled in Concord Township in 1835 and will soon celebrate his 92nd birthday. He is the oldest living resident of the township and perhaps of the county. He enjoys excellent health and is able to do a day’s work on the farm. He attended the Iroquois County Fair the present year and had a jolly time with the boys.”

“My grandmother said he was an ornery cuss.”

He looks it. You mentioned college.

“Yes, it was determined by my father long before I graduated high school that I would go to college. I attended Illinois Wesleyan for two years, then I went to Olivet College in Kankakee, Ill. I earned my master’s at the University of Illinois.

“My mother went to Valparaiso University when it was a teacher’s college. She taught several students who would end up being her nieces and nephews once she married my father.”

And marrying your father put an end to her career.

“That’s right; women were not allowed to teach school and be married. Just like the right to vote, they kept us out of it as long as they could.

“During World War II, my mother got together with several other women from Iroquois and went to work at a factory in Watseka.”

What did you major in?

“English. I taught at Bradley High School for seven years and then at York High School in Elmhurst, Ill. for 17 years.”

York is known all over the country for its tremendous distance running program.

“Yes, it is. I met an aviation teacher there and joined the aviation club. I received my pilot’s license while in my 50s.”

Good for you.

“My second husband and I traveled all over the world. We visited places like Turkey, France, Italy, Scotland, England, Ireland, and to the Far East as well. I preferred Europe.”

Other hobbies or interests?

“I recently completed a romance novel that is set in the Midwest. It’s in the process of being published as we speak. The book is entitled ‘Moonfire.’”

April told me you’ve been a voracious reader nearly all your life. One of your favorite authors?

“Jane Austen. I loved ‘Pride and Prejudice.’”

***

The saga of Patricia Ledderboge and April Dillingham will resume Wednesday with the caregiver’s point of view.

To be continued...



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