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Good Living In


West Frankfort Volume 3 • No. 1 • Spring 2009

Showcasing the People, Places and Pride of West Frankfort, Illinois

The 149 Grill Spring • 2009

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Spring • 2009

Letter from the



f you’re looking for a few good men, you’re sure to find them in this issue of Good Living in West Frankfort. The young, the old, the brave and the talented – stories that help make up the profile of this community.

We’ve wanted to talk to M. C. Odle for a long time. We were going to do it last year, but when he fell and suffered a broken hip while working on a sign, we had to postpone our interview. Other stories got in the way, and well, here he is – finally. He’s seen a lot of stories come and go from his home and shop on Odle Street; we declare him president of Frankfort Heights. We have another story of a courageous veteran in this issue. Michael met with Earl Williams at his home east of West Frankfort and was enthralled with his story of WWII. Williams was stationed on the aircraft carrier Lexington when it was sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea and his account has all the makings of a Hollywood movie, but here he is sharing his story of war with our readers. He is another hero among us, and we are so proud and grateful. We have still another success story from the community. Josh Mandrell is a young man with places to go and things to do. Only 28 years old, he has his own story to tell and has begun telling it in his newly published book. Dating, Finding and Keeping The One: Stuff Other Relationship Guides Won’t Tell You. Mandrell has a lot to say and says it with confidence and authority. He will be a gift to our community when he completes his residency and brings his medical practice back to West Frankfort. Now the story you’ve all been waiting for – The 149 Grill. If you don’t remember the grill, you’ll still find this interesting. If you do remember it you probably could have written this yourself. Everyone has their memories of the grill, where friendships were made, hearts were broken, and thousands of cars turned around in the parking lot while dragging Main. The years were the 50’s and the 60’s. Orville Nolen was the man. And the hamburgers were – well, you just had to be there. The story of the hexagon barn and the mural of West Frankfort is especially interesting. Thank you to Linda Kathalynas for tipping us off to that one. If you like bread pudding, and it’s my experience that a lot of people do, you might enjoy the recipe for the bread pudding that we used to serve at Rissi Pastries. We haven’t published many of our recipes, but this one’s for you. We hope you have a good time reading and sharing this issue of Good Living in West Frankfort. Let us know what you think.

Gail Rissi Thomas, Publisher Spring • 2009

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Serving Southern Illinois since 1988 An Elite Platinum Baby Lock dealer

Now available at:

West Frankfort, Marion and Carterville, IL

Quilting Classes


Spring • 2009

Good Living In

West Frankfort

Vol. 3 No.1

Spring 2009


Table of Contents 4 An easy-to-make recipe for Bread Pudding in this issue of Good Living in West Frankfort.

6 8

20 26

7 The date of January 1st is very historical to the members of West Frankfort’s First Baptist Church. Triumph and trajedy have both happened on that date in church history.


8 They gound their own beef, they peeled pounds of potatoes for the french fries and mountains of onions for their hamburgers. The legendary 149 Grill is remembered.


14 M.C. Odle is a master sign painter who painted his first sign when he was only 12. That was 79 years ago and he is still painting. 20 The corner lot two blocks down from Sherri Murphy was more than a place for her sons to play ball. 22 Earl Williams got more than he bargained for when he joined the Navy in 1939 to find a job during the Great Depression.




28 A hexagon shaped barn in Mt. Vernon is the home to a wonderful mural of Southern Illinois including one scene from West Frankfort. 30 Last Look: A warm late winter’s day is the perfect setting for Marilyn Simpson and her grandson Chase to enjoy blowing bubbles together.

30 Good Living in West Frankfort is a magazine about the people, places and pride of West Frankfort. Our goal is to showcase interesting, unique and previously unpublished stories about the citizens, events and places in our community in a positive manner. Good Living in West Frankfort provides businesses the choice to advertise in a high-quality full-color venue at affordable prices. This magazine is free to our readers because of those advertisers. No portion of this publication, including photos and advertisements, may be reproduced in any manner without the expressed consent of Good Life Publications.©2009 Printed quarterly: Spring, Summer, Fall and Holiday Season. Cover Photo by Michael A. Thomas: The magnolia trees in front of the West Frankfort Post Office provide a beautiful setting to a beautiful building.

Josh Mandrell has some advice to give to those who are searching for their soulmate.

Good Living In

West Frankfort

A production of Good Life Publications 309 East Oak Street West Frankfort, IL 62896 (618) 937-2019 Published Quarterly: (Spring • Summer • Fall • WInter) Contact: For Story Ideas: Gail Rissi Thomas / e-mail: For Advertising: Michael A. Thomas / e-mail:

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Bread Pudding


“Oh gosh, it’s great, the best I’ve ever tasted. Why?  You don’t have one in the oven right now, do you?  I could always stop by on my way home.”                                     --Gary Willis--


By Gail Rissi Thomas ’ve often found it interesting and sometimes surprising that when writing stories about a community like West Frankfort, so many of the people, the families, and even the buildings and the events are intertwined with one another. Sometimes I feel that if we looked back carefully enough through all nine issues of Good Living in West Frankfort we could connect every story, creating a single chain out of everything we’ve written.      I had that feeling last week in talking to M.C. Odle at his home up on Odle Street.  He referred several times to the house next door at the corner of Odle and Main where the Dunn family had lived when he was growing up.  There were eight children in the Dunn Family and Odle and two of the youngest, Leonard Dunn, the attorney, and Emmet Dunn, the dentist, were great friends as kids, playing together and probably as my Uncle Leonard Dunn used to tell me, getting in lots of mischief together too.      My mother told me many stories about my great grandparents, James and Martha Dunn, and good times spent in their home in the heights.  Many of them, like many of the other stories in our family, revolved around food.  According to my mom, my great grandma Dunn was known as a cook who would serve enormous meals with favorite dishes for every person in the


family. “That dining room table would almost groan under the weight of all that food,” my mom would say.       When all the courses had been served and consumed, and the elaborate desserts polished off, I guess you could find the men in the family with belts unbuckled, holding their stomachs and wishing they shown a little more moderation.  That is when Great Grandma Dunn would come trotting out of the kitchen with a tray with still another course.  “Plum Puddin’ anyone?” she would sing out in a chipper voice, enjoying the moans and groans of her grown children before they reached for -- just a taste.       Well, this has been the long way around the barn just to say that I don’t know much about plum puddin’, but I do know a thing or two about bread puddin’and those who used to claim it as their favorite during our bakery years, will probably be pleased to see what is going to follow.  Are you reading this Joann Bennett?       I learned to make bread pudding from Nadine Robey, who used to be the head cook at Wit and Wisdom for many years in the seventies and eighties.  I worked for Volunteer Services (now Crosswalk) at the time and had a desk in the Wit and Wisdom building.  I never strayed far for lunch on bread pudding days, and later, when Nadine came to work for me in our catering business, I learned the details of making this very rich and simple dessert.     

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Recipe for Nadine’s Bread Pudding  (I have scaled this down to a 9 x 13 pan.  It should make about 8 to 12 servings.)   Toast about 8 slices of regular sliced white bread in the oven until dry and golden brown on both sides.  Break up slices in any way in small to average chunks and place in the pan (I spray my pan, but you probably wouldn’t need to.) There should be enough bread to overlap or provide more then just one layer.  Melt one stick of butter (I use butter) and drizzle over the bread.  Beat together: about 8 or 9 eggs, one and a half cups of sugar, and 2 cups of milk and pour mixture over bread pieces.  Add pecan pieces and/or raisins as you prefer   Bake: 350 for about 45 minutes or until liquid has turned to custard and top is puffy and golden brown.  This pudding is not soft; it is more like French toast.   Sauce: Melt:  One stick of butter with about a cup of light brown sugar.  Cook over low heat, stirring until it blends together and bubbles.  Drizzle over bread pudding and serve warm. ( If you prefer, you can use vanilla instant pudding thinned down with an extra cup of milk for sauce.)  

Strange Coincidences? January 1st an historic date for West Frankfort’s First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church was founded January 1, 1900 at its present site on East Oak Street. Ironically, it was January 1, 1940 when the church was destroyed by fire, and on January 1, 1941, it was rededicated debt free.  The current church is home to approximately 650 members.  

Photos courtesy of Brenda Odle

January 1, 1940

January 1, 1940 Spring • 2009

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By Gail Rissi Thomas

you stir up the memory. Hot bread from Table Pride Bakery. Bowen’s ice cream. very small town must have them.  Mike’s frosty.  OK, ready?  Orville’s Community icons that are so hamburgers.  Ahh yes, twenty cents well remembered that just the apiece, all squished up in their little white mere mention of the name brings grease stained paper wrappers.  I could eat memories out of the woodwork with a whole sack of them right now. residents sharing their personal stories      We knew all along that this story’s time about what they remember and why it would come. Just like a few other story is special to them.  It’s almost always a ideas that simmer on our back burner, positive recollection and probably more how do you put out a magazine about often than not, it has something to do with West Frankfort without at some point food.  telling the story of the 149 Grill and their      Let’s try this out.  I’ll say the word, and trademark sandwich which over the years

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came to be known affectionately as Orville Burgers. Orville and Ethel Nolen owned the grill and managed it faithfully with the help of their five children and many additional employees.  Over the years, business was usually booming. According to their daughter Myrna Warren, still a West Frankfort resident, on a Saturday night it wasn’t unusual to put out over 800 Orville Burgers to the hungry crowds who converged upon the grill.       “I started working the curb when I was 12, Myrna said.  When I was 14, I started working inside as a waitress, and I worked

at the grill until I was 18. All of us kids, Joyce, Harold, Bill, Marilyn and I, worked there at different times.  It was expected of us.  Sometimes we would rather be at Teen Town or dragging Main, but we had to work.  But then in another way it wasn’t so bad,” she added.  “A lot of our friends were working there too, and of course we got to see everybody.  Nearly everyone ended up at the grill.”      “A lot of nights in between the busy times my dad would trip the juke box and

we would dance. We had a lot of fun.”  Myrna met her husband Larry Warren at the grill too.  How did they meet?  “Well,” she laughs, “Larry was the customer and I was the waitress.” Even Warren helped out at the grill later on.  “I could fry hamburgers,” he says, “but I never could grind the meat to suit him.”      In the 1930’s, Orville Nolen went to Detroit and worked at a White Castle there, and his wife, Ethel worked at a bank.  In the 1940’s, they moved back to West Frankfort, where Orville took a job at Orient #2.  On March 29, 1948, they realized a dream when they opened their own business, the 149 Grill, just over the Heights hill on the east edge of town.        The Grill boasted a full menu, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, barbeques, chili and home-made pie.  The pies, made from scratch by Ethel, sold for 15 cents a slice, and other menu items were fresh, original and equally as inexpensive.  Hamburgers, White Castle style, were 20 cents each and cheeseburgers, 25.  Hand dipped shakes and malts were popular

and soft drinks sold for 5 and 10 cents. . The beef that went into the hamburgers was ground fresh at the grill daily, and fries were fresh cut. “We used to sit on crates in the back room and peel potatoes with a potato peeler,” remembers Myrna.  “Mounds and mounds of potatoes.”      “On weekends the inside of the grill was standing room only and cars in the parking lot were three deep,” she says.  Weekends were when hamburgers sold for six for $1.  “The standard Orville burger was a very small patty of meat with grilled onions, mustard and dill pickle.  We used an ice cream scoop to measure out the ground beef,” Myrna says.       That small scoop of meat lent itself to many long-standing jokes, and when Orville was razzed about the meager serving, apparently he had a standard answer for an occasional grumpy customer.  Both of Myrna’s sons, Brad and Bruce Warren, did their time at the grill, and Brad recalls a story that other grill employees have also told.  “When someone would ask Orv a version of

(Inset) Orville Nolen checks out the jukebox, a popular feature at the Grill. (Above) In a scene repeated in towns all across America before the advent of major fast-food chains, the 149 Grill was a popular hang-out for West Frankfort teens wanting to, eat, socialize and listen to the latest hits on the jukebox. (photos provided)

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‘Where’s the beef?’ he was quick to tell them, ‘It’s under the pickle.’” Brad laughs. “I don’t remember who the priest was at the Catholic Church in the early 60’s. Someone says Father Klimas.  He just loved our hamburgers.  He used to tell his parishioners that it was ok to eat Orville’s hamburgers on Fridays because there wasn’t any meat in them anyway.”       Brad began working at the grill when he was in the third grade.  “My first job was sitting in the back room on a crate and peeling onions,” he says. “We’d peel onions and peel onions until our fingers were yellow.  But I was the only kid at Logan Grade School with money in my pocket that I had earned myself.  I don’t remember how much he paid me, but when I got older, I got $1 an hour plus tips to hop the curb.  I remember one weekend I was working the curb right at the time that the price on hamburgers went up from 6 for a dollar to 5 for a dollar.  Boy some woman lit into me; she was so mad about it.  He had to come out and

save me. I think maybe he gave in and gave her a free one to make her happy.”      West Frankfort resident, Gene Williams, was a regular employee at the grill for about five years.  He not only was witness to a lot of stories that played out there over the years, but came to know Orville well and was treated like family.  “After I got out of the service, I applied for a job at Inland Steel Mine,” Williams says.  “The superintendent called me in and said, ‘That guy that you gave for a reference must not like you much’ I was really surprised, I thought, ‘What could Orville have said about me?’  He started laughing and said,   ‘He said that if he had a million dollars and wanted someone to keep it for him, he’d give it to you.’”      As the trusted employee that he was, Williams was allowed in on a practical joke that Orville played on a delivery man one day.  Williams tells the story with all the details. “Orville always kept his gun under the

counter; most of us knew that. Well, there was a guy named Bill who delivered the buns.  Every time that he would make a delivery, he would pick up Orville’s gun and mess with it.  Orville told him time and again to leave it alone, but it didn’t phase Bill.”      “Well one day, Orville told me, ‘I’m going to teach Bill to leave my gun alone.’  He handed me a firecracker and told me, ‘You go on in the back and when I give you the signal, I want you to light this and throw it down on the concrete floor.’  Well sure enough, Bill showed up and was stocking the buns under the counter.  Orville gave me the signal, and when I lit the firecracker, Orville grabbed his chest and fell on the floor. Well, Bill just about died and when Orville started laughing, that guy went ballistic.  I’ve never seen Orville laugh as hard as he did.  Bill said, ‘Orville, I will never deliver another bun to this place again.  You will either have to get someone else to do it or come and get

With it’s gleaming counter, grill, fryers and malt machine, the 149 Grill was a hamburger mecca for those seeking to indulge their taste buds.

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...he went up behind another kid in high school and put his hands over his friend’s eyes. “Guess who?” Willliams said.  “I don’t have to guess who,” the kid answered. “I can smell the onions.” --Gene Williams, 149 Grill employee-them yourself, but I won’t be back.’  As far as I know, Bill never delivered again.  Orville thought it was hilarious.”      Williams is full of stories about the 149 Grill and Orville’s hamburgers, like the time he went up behind another kid in high school and put his hands over his friend’s eyes.  “Guess who?” Willliams said.  “I don’t have to guess who,” the kid answered. “I can smell the onions.” He also tells about one Sunday afternoon

when after opening at 4 p.m. as always, they had sold over 400 hamburgers by 6 o’clock. Orville had to get out and scout around at all the grocery stores looking for buns to buy.  “He bought all the buns he could find,” Williams said, “but we ran out in a couple of hours anyway and had to close.”      Williams also laughs, remembering when Pontiac came out with the GTO in 1967.  Orville was always telling kids to

tell their parents to buy them a GTO, because it stood for ‘Go to Orville’s’” But probably at least half the people in town who were here any time from 1948 to 1971 have stories of their own. Rosalyn Stilley talks about coming home from Germany where her husband had been stationed while in the service.  “All I wanted was a cold soda with ice and a sack of hamburgers from the grill.  I ate all six of them and they

The 149 Grill was truly a family-run business with all of Orville and Ethel Nolen’s five children participating in the business at one time or another. Pictured above are (l-r) Joyce Nolen Pinkston, Annabelle Hubbard, Bill Nolen, Barbara Caraway, Marilyn Nolen (insert), Sam Nolen and Ethel and Orville Nolen. Not pictured: Myrna Nolen. (photo provided)

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According to Larry Warren, one of Orville’s son-in-laws, Sunday nights were reserved for the clean-up crew to scrub the floor with SOS pads.

didn’t even make me sick,” she laughs.     For Orville’s family, who literally grew up at the grill, the memories are poignant.  “Guys who used to hang out at the grill would leave for Vietnam and send us letters to the grill,” says Brad. “ I remember them leaving and I remember them coming back.  It made a big impression on me.”      “We learned to do the bunny hop at the

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grill,” says Myrna. “My dad was a friend to all the teenagers.  It was a good life.”     Orville Nolen served West Frankfort as street commissioner two terms and one term as mayor in 1984.  He died in 1990 and Ethel died in 1991.  The old grill, now owned by Apostolic Faith Assembly, still stands out on Route 149.  It probably doesn’t smell like hamburgers anymore.  If the walls could talk…

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Spring • 2009 Photo by Michael A. Thomas

M.C. By Gail Rissi Thomas

Odle has watched a community change and grow from his vantage point at the top of Heights Hill. Odle was born and raised at the site of his present home on Odle Street, named after his father, Marion Columbus Odle, Sr. He has lived in what he refers to as “a fine neighborhood” both then, when it was a bustling, prosperous section of West Frankfort and now, a quiet and lovely residential area of Frankfort Heights with only a few remnants of the former businesses that made it a town in its own right.       “Rose and I came up here and tore down the old house,” Odle says, referring to his late wife.  “My dad owned the whole block on North Odle and he owned some of the land on South Odle too, across Main Street.  It was all pasture land then; there weren’t any other houses when he bought it.”      Describing the old neighborhood, Odle’s memories are a stream of consciousness, painting for us the details of his life in the late Twenties and Thirties.  “We had really hard water when I was growing up,” he recalls.  “I remember we used to get water at times from a well that was behind the Dunn House (the corner of Main and Odle Streets). Several of these houses here were owned by Old Ben Coal,” he says, referring to the Dunn house and the Yadro house on the corner across Odle Street.  Some of these houses were 50 years ahead of their time.  The one over there even had air conditioning in it.  That was

Photo Provided M.C. Odle has painted signs for many of the churches in West Frankfort.

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unheard of when I was young.”     “There were about four grocery stores up there then.  The flagpole was in the middle of the street at the top of the hill and cars parked in the middle of the street.  It was quite a shopping center back then.  Louie Youchoff had a bakery where the Heights Market is now.  You could get a double loaf of bread and a peppermint stick for 15 cents.  They had good donuts and cookies too.  Charlie Bennett had a drug store, not a pharmacy, but you could buy all packaged medicines.  It had a soda fountain – it was a really good drug store.  Beulah Turner had a hamburger place, made hamburgers out of this world.  I painted the sign for her business.”      “L. A. Harriss had a clothing store where you could buy a suit of clothes; you can’t even do that today in West Frankfort.  There were two filling stations here for a long time.  Dr. Lamont had his office up here.  He was so fat that he couldn’t drive a car because he couldn’t fit behind the steering wheel.  His sons had to drive him around, and boy, they hated that. Vantrease had a funeral home for a while.  The first body they had there was Doc Joplin.  He was in the timber business and wanted to be buried in his overalls and that’s just what they did.  The Legion home was up here too, but then it moved to Orient.  And of course there was the old Post Office.  I miss the post office.   There’s a lot of history up here, there is.”      Odle was employed by the A & P Grocery on west Main for 30 years, but it was his expertise as a sign painter that made him so well known to West Frankfort residents. “We had a theater up here too,

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even though there were three more downtown,” Odle continued. “I used to paint the signs for the movies that were playing and I would get a free pass to the movie and a bag of popcorn. I painted signs on the sidewalk for the grocery stores too.  That’s when I was just a little kid.”           “You could buy a can of enamel for ten cents at Woolworth’s. I had my first job painting a sign when I was about 12.  I painted the sign for VanTrease Filling Station and he gave me $1.25 for it when I was

    Odle entered the service during World War II and it wasn’t long before the U.S. military put his talent to work.  “I left town on the Meadowlark, the train that used to come through West Frankfort to Chicago,” Odle says. “I entered the infantry, but I was transferred to the Air Force.  I painted signs on planes and anything else that they wanted.  I painted everything on airplanes— cartoons, names…a lot of officer’s nameplates.  I can’t remember any of them there were so many.  They really kept me busy.”

Odle’s whimsical artistry is very evident on this fleet of Bowen’s Ice Cream trucks dated from 1959. Odle has painted countless trucks in his career

done. It should have been more than that, but he was a friend of mine so I didn’t care that much. When I was 14, I had a job killing and dressing chickens, but Lord, I’ve painted a lot of signs since then.”

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    After the service, he brought his talent back home, where there was no lack of opportunities to ply his trade.  “I painted all the Bowen’s Ice Cream trucks, the Frank Russell trucks and all the pickup trucks.  Lord, I don’t know how many.  The biggest sign I ever did was one for Citgo out on Interstate.  It was 48’

by 16’. I think they’ve taken that one down now, but I did the McDonald’s signs on both the north and south coming into West Frankfort.  I don’t like messing much with the Interstate signs.  It takes an act of Congress to get a sign up on Interstate.”      As the sign making became more complicated with size and location, Odle’s son, Roger took on part of the workmanship and then Roger’s sons, Chris and Andy have both chipped in to help with difficult jobs.  In fact “Lad and Dad Sign Shop” was a fixture on Rt. 37 for years.  “It’s a wonder that someone didn’t get killed,” laughs Roger’s wife, Brenda, in referring to some of the bigger jobs that Odle had undertaken. Odle did fall and suffer a broken hip last Fall while working on a sign that he was painting for Yadro’s in his shop, which is now in the garage at his home. But still resilient and determined at 91, he was soon back at work with jobs looking for him on a steady basis.      Odle may have been too modest or it may have slipped his mind, but there are a couple of stories that Brenda had heard him tell over the years that she shared with “Good Living in West Frankfort.”  “When John Yadro was running for school board one time, M. C. told me that there were restrictions on what kind of campaigning could PHOTOS PROVIDED be done out near the high school.  He and Yadro, with a little help from their friends, towed four old cars and parked them in various places along Main Street.  M. C. had painted them all up for John’s campaign.  Election Day, when city officials told them that the cars would have to be moved, they said, ‘We can’t move those cars, they don’t have any engines in them!’”

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114 East Main • West Frankfort

    “Another time, he and Yadro painted the yellow line in the middle of Main Street to make the traffic turn Spring • 2009

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right into Yadro’s Auto Parts. He said he did it early in the morning before the traffic started, but Frank Russell’s big trucks got going early and sprayed yellow paint everywhere.  “We had to stop doing that,” Odle says.      Odle is still keeping busy, still painting signs.  “I’m working on the one for Yadro’s now,” he told us, “but I don’t have enough done for a picture yet.”  He also keeps busy with his volunteer job as president of the board for Tower Heights Cemetery.  Every morning, he visits the cemetery, where his wife Rose is buried.  “Rose and I were married 65 years,” he says.  “She died 4 years ago.”  Odle explains that the only money that the cemetery makes is from selling lots and digging graves.  “There’s no money appropriated for it.  On Memorial Day I take a table up there and try to collect donations. 

M.C. Odle, son Roger and grandson Andy, hang the sign for McCord’s Market in place. The Odles operated “Lad and Dad Sign Shop” for many years together. Odle, 91, still makes signs in his garage at home. Photo Provided

Some give. Some don’t.  There’s a lot of work up there.”      Odle is also busy with his family, who keeps his time filled with invitations for every family gathering.  “Last week I had seven invitations,” he laughs.  “I didn’t eat one meal at home.  I was (either) at the grandkids or Brenda took care of me a couple of nights.”  Odle now has two great grandchildren and another on the way.”  “Yeah, that one’s a girl,” he says with a

smile. “We need that little girl.  I saw a picture of her already.  They had a picture, and you could see her face, what she will look like and everything.    I kind of think I’d just as soon be surprised, but maybe this is good too.”      “Lord, things have changed.  Here it is 2009.  I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. The good Lord’s sure been good to us.”       

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Spring • 2009

President, Terry Rawson Vice President, Tracy Davis Secretary-Treasurer, Rosi Miller Recordiing Secretary, Bill Rainey Trustees: Jerry Cunnigham Terry Gossett Stan Patterson

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their improvement as I started noticing some budding talent.

After a few days of sulking, I decided that this was my new normal life.

As they grew, more and more of their friends had joined the teams.

And I would make the very best of it.

Their games became more serious, but still so much fun to watch. As they got a little older, a little candy store was just around the corner, and they began to stop there for a soda and snack afterward, instead of having me make Kool-aid or handing out Popsicles.

Photo by Jordan Murphy

By Sherri Murphy Many years ago in a quiet village, lived three young boys who loved to play baseball. Their own yard was rather small, so a daily short walk just a couple of blocks down to the empty lot on the corner was a perfect spot to create a ball diamond. Each day the brothers would gather their bats, baseballs, gloves and makeshift bases, and would practice and practice, trying to perfect the fundamentals of the game. In the beginning, a tee to practice their swing and a rubber ball was used. Later, friends started gathering and teams were picked and a couple of neighborhood teams were formed. Little battles between teams would sometimes arise, but boys, being the forgiving creatures that they are, would always decide that no game was more important than a good buddy...or a brother. They would walk home, tired and sweaty, asking for drinks and some for their friends. Sometimes a Popsicle would do the trick.   They were always trying to invite a friend over to spend the night.I would walk down to the corner sometimes, just to watch them have their fun. I was  impressed with

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I remember the day that it first hit me. The fact that my sons were growing up, and it wouldn’t be too long before the corner lot would once again become empty. I dreaded the day when their bicycles would be traded in for cars, the ball gloves for class rings, and their feet would no longer be running home to see MY smiling face but that of the girl of their dreams. It came much sooner than I had ever expected. When my last son graduated, I came out of the high school gymnasium for the last time as a parent attending their child’s school function, and cried uncontrollably. My work was done. It was a very strange feeling. Much like the last day on the job that you loved, a job you gave your life for, a job you eagerly anticipated going to each day but were forced to leave.   It had been my role for over 20 years and now I was asked to lay it down. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go back home to my “empty nest”. But I did. I had to.

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And I did. I had to. I still must pass the now empty corner, and when I drive by I can still see my little blonde boys (and one brunette) full of energy and excitement. I see them as little guys whose eyes lit up when I walked into the room and they would run to me for hugs—and fight over who would get to sit by me on the couch. Those were the days. But in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Oh, yeah, it happened. And I’m smiling. Through the tears. I am blessed.

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est Frankfort resident Earl Williams knows a lot about economic stimulus packages. Maybe not the kind that give away billions of taxpayers dollars, but in 1939--ten years into the Great Depression--Williams decided there wasn’t much hope for a job. One solution was to join the Navy. It was steady work and it certainly appealed to the young man’s sense of adventure. “I was 17 when I enlisted,” Williams said. “Mom and Dad were apprehensive. They didn’t really encourage me to leave the farm, but I had two other brothers.” “I took the oath on August 11, 1939. They asked us what kind of ship we wanted to serve on. The Lexington was in the harbor when we graduated from basic training at North Island Air Base in San Diego,” Williams said. “I told them ‘I want to serve on that big air-craft carrier right there’ and that’s where I ended up.” So Williams could truthfully say that when

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it came time to be assigned to a ship, the USS Lexington chose him. The Lexington boasted a crew of over 2,000, but there were many shipmates that Williams never even met. “On the Lexington, you rarely got to know anybody past your division (work detail). I was assigned to the deck force. We handled all the transportation, the liberty boats, the topside equipment and the side cleaning. I did that for six months. When they had an opening in the barbershop, I applied for it. I had a little experience cutting hair (in civilian life) and I got the position.” The Lexington had four barbers but they weren’t rated so there was no room for advancement, something that frustrated Williams. A haircut cost 15 cents of which Williams got to keep half. Even so, Williams found out that he could pad his meager pay.

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“We were supposed to give them a ‘G.I. cut’”, Williams, said. “That’s where they sit in the chair and we hold the clippers to their head and spin the chair. A lot of the men would slip us 50 cents to avoid it and keep more of their hair.” When he got the chance, Williams transferred to the carpenter’s shop where he could earn ratings, which meant promotions and pay raises. By the time the war ended, Williams was a Chief Petty Officer. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. They had hoped to catch the American Pacific fleet off-guard and their main targets were the American aircraft carriers. But the Japanese found no carriers at Pearl and even though they wrought tremendous damage on the U.S. battleships, they did not deal the American Navy the deathblow they were seeking.

“I told them if you’re not a good swimmer get in the raft. I was a good swimmer so I didn’t worry. Heck, I could swim across the ocean if you gave me enough time.” “We were in Pearl Harbor before the attack,” Williams said. “but we left on Friday, December 5th, two days before the attack. We were assigned to take Marine pilots, airplanes, spare parts and equipment to Midway Island. We were actually defenseless because we couldn’t use our flight deck. About halfway to Midway we heard on the PA that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. They announced, ‘The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill’ and they repeated it.” The Lexington never made it to Midway but stayed at sea for two weeks, nervously avoiding detection by the Japanese while the American forces regrouped. “Right at first it was pretty frightening,” said Williams. “When we came back to Ford Island (Pearl Harbor) it was still burning. There were eight battleships still in there, some sitting on the bottom.” Williams and the Lexington would soon find themselves in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first major naval battle of WWII. With a Japanese invasion of Australia imminent, the Lexington became part of the task force to defend Australia. The two-day battle began on May 7, 1942, and the opposing ships never saw each other. Combat was carried out by dive-bombers, fighters and torpedo planes. With air power playing such a critical role, the carriers became the primary target for both sides. Sink the enemy’s carriers and you will most likely win the battle. During the battle, Williams watched from his position at the forward end of the stack. “We could see the torpedoes drop from the plane,” Williams said. “The

would porpoise in the water. There were also Jap dive-bombers overhead, but we didn’t know it. All of a sudden, machine gun fire from one of those bombers raked across the deck real close to where we were.” After that close call, Williams retreated to a safer position “inside the stack.” At least two torpedoes found their mark. When the first torpedo hit the Lexington it made William’s knees buckle. But Williams said he wasn’t worried. “Humor is a great catalyst sometimes,” he said. “I told everybody, ‘all right you guys, now we get to go back to States with the Saratoga’ (referring to the Lexington’s sister ship which was at the Bremerton naval yard undergoing repairs and modernization). When you say something stupid in a time of great crisis it seems to help instead of saying something serious.” “When the second torpedo hit I said, ‘Belay that order. We may not get to go back.” Indeed, the Lexington had also been hit by bombs, one of which came very close to Williams’ position, but it was still afloat. “The word went out to man our battle stations and set condition Zed,” said Williams. “Condition Zed meant that we had to close up the ship. Everybody had an assignment. Mine was to ‘dog-down’ the door of the Admiral’s cabin.” “During the battle I was sent with a pharmacist’s mate to tend to the wounded. I didn’t do anything heroic. I just did what I had been trained to do, and you aren’t thinking about danger. There was no panic. You were beyond panic. There were a lot of wounded and we were on our way to an area of the ship when we passed a

sailor with a leg wound. I saw a puddle of blood and grabbed the pharmacist’s mate’s hand and said, ‘let’s get this one first’. We put a compress to his wound and stopped the bleeding. His name was Bob Murphy. That may not mean much to you now, but he was a fighter and, after the war, fought for the heavyweight championship and lost.” But after the battle, the Lexington was in serious trouble. Torpedo planes usually targeted only one side of a ship, hoping to get the ship to list and eventually capsize. “The torpedoes had all hit on the port side,” Williams said. “We were listing at about 15 degrees until the engineers shifted the ballast tanks—fuel and water— so we came back up.” The listing was only one of the Lexington’s problems. Japanese bombs had penetrated the deck of the Lexington and started fires below. The crew battled furiously to get the fires under control but it became evident that the Lexington only had a short time left. “There was nothing to do while we were waiting for the order to abandon ship. We were at GQ (general quarters) when someone remembered that there was a bunch of ice cream below. A bunch of us ran down and filled up our steel helmets with ice cream. Why let good ice cream go down with the ship?” Williams said with a laugh. “When the order came to abandon ship we all knew what we had to do. We cut the ropes holding the life raft and dropped it over the side. We were about 50 feet above the sea and we used monkey ropes—1½ inch ropes with a knot tied every 3 feet—to get down the side. When we hit Spring • 2009

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“I didn’t do anything heroic. I just did what I had been trained to do and you aren’t thinking about danger. There was no panic. You were beyond panic.” --Earl

the water I told them ‘if you’re not a good swimmer get in the raft’. I was a good swimmer so I didn’t worry. Heck, I could swim across the ocean if you gave me enough time.” With the Lexington dead in the water and the other ships in the fleet circling her, Williams made his way to the nearest rescue ship. “Three of us swam and pushed the raft—there were about 6-8 sailors in it—to the closest ship. They couldn’t get too close because they were afraid the Lexington would blow up.” It took Williams about 30 minutes to reach the destroyer the USS Anderson. “It blew up right before it was my turn to get aboard the Anderson. Before it blew, it settled down right even with the flight deck. I remember some of the crew of the Lexington cried when they saw her sink. That ship was like your home. I hadn’t been on long enough to cry. I was just glad to survive.” Williams and many other survivors stayed aboard the Anderson for 3 days after which they were transferred to the heavy cruiser, the USS Portland. Conditions were crowded and sleeping quarters were not available. “On the Portland they gave us a wool blanket— no pillow—and we slept on the steel deck. But on the Anderson one of the guys said, ‘I’m gonna be on watch. Why don’t you sleep in my bunk’, so I did.”


Just one month after the Lexington had sunk, workers at the Quincy navy yard and Navy Secretary Frank Knox proposed a change in the name of a carrier currently under construction from the USS Cabot to the USS Lexington, and by September 23, 1942, the new Lexington was launched.


and we did,” Williams said proudly. “We got credit for 11.” After the war Williams, returned to West Frankfort where he still lives with his wife, Margret. The Williams’s had four children: Jerry, Dennis, Karen, and Greg.

While some of the crew of the old Lexington was assigned to the new Lexington, most of the survivors were assigned to other ships. “The Navy didn’t want to put us all aboard the new Lexington,” Williams explained. “They wanted to have experienced sailors in each crew so they spread us around.” Williams was assigned to the USS Card. The Card was one of many escort carriers— nicknamed baby flattops-- designed to protect troop and supply ships. The Card was assigned to the Atlantic where German U-boats patrolled in wolf-packs. “Our job was to sink enemy subs

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Earl poses with his new wife, Margret. “I was home on leave and didn’t have any civilian clothes so I went to the Diamond Store on East Main street to buy a shirt. Margret Lawrence sold the shirt to me. I knew the Lawrences but I didn’t know they had a daughter named Margret. It wasn’t until I asked a buddy of mine who that girl was that sold me the shirt that I found out. She was five years younger than me so we had never crossed paths before.” Earl and Margret were married during the war on July 12, 1943.

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Photo by Michael A. Thomas


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e’s 28 years old. He’s good looking, personable, articulate and funny.  He has a medical degree and is on his way to acquiring a specialty in dermatology. He’s an author who recently started his own publishing company and yes, he’s unattached.   Girls must be lined up, waiting – for his autograph, at least.       But according to Josh Mandrell, West Frankfort native and the subject of the previous paragraph, life just is never that simple.  Whoever you are, and whatever your destiny, until you find that person that is meant to be your soul mate, life can be very complicated.  And, according to Mandrell, the most complicated thing in life is relationships.      So using all the wisdom and experience of his 28 years of not finding the perfect companion, he has written and published a book, “Dating, Finding and Keeping The One: Stuff Other Relationship Guides Won’t Tell You,” and the advice he offers in it is fresh, simple, but surprisingly wise.       Mandrell is a 1998 graduate of FCHS and attended SIU and then St. Louis University, where he earned his medical degree in 2007.  He completed a one-year internship at St. John’s Mercy Hospital in St. Louis and is currently finishing his first year of a three-year residency in dermatology at Loyola University in Chicago.  “I was always planning on being a family practice physician,” Mandrell says, “but I did a rotation in dermatology and just fell in love with it.”      While at SIU, Mandrell worked as a youth minister at Trinity Methodist Church in West Frankfort and also served for a time as a youth leader in Nashville, IL.  He makes no secret of the fact that his Christian belief is a guiding force in his life and played a large role in his decision to write a book.  “I knew that people would say, ‘Why are you doing this?  Why not just concentrate on medical school and don’t try to take on more right now?  But I have seen so many young adults struggling with relationships and I have had so many failed relationships of my own.  I’ve read a lot of books on dating and relationships, and I kept thinking, ‘you know, there’s more to it than this.’ They’re not telling us everything.”      The “everything” that Mandrell felt was important enough to cover in his guidebook, is advice on things that a young person looking for a boyfriend or girlfriend may not be too eager to hear. 

The very first chapter in “The One” focuses on “The Gift of Breaking Up.” “None of us like failure,” he explains. “I think we see ending a relationship as a failure, although every relationship is not meant to last forever. We are so afraid of letting go; because we think that there is no one else out there and if we end a relationship, we are going to be alone forever.  Actually in many cases, breaking up is a gift to both of you.”      It is a logical progression from having the courage to break up to another very mature and in-depth discussion of “The Gift of Singleness.”  “I think that so many of us—even from the time we are in junior high and on through high school and college— are so intent on agonizing about having a date, who are we going to date, that we can’t even enjoy the time that we are single.  And that’s sad. We should be able to enjoy this time when we are free to do things that we may not be able to do when we are married with families and more responsibilities.”      “I kind of live my life with the urgency of now,” Mandrell continues to explain.  “I was thinking about writing this book.  I don’t want to be a person at 70 who says, ‘I thought about writing a book when I was 28.  I thought about it again in my 30’s and was going to do it when I was in my 50’s.  I wish I had done it.’ Tomorrow is not promised to us.  If we want to do something for people we need to do it now.  God put this impression on my heart.  He just said, “Why don’t you write it?”  And I had to do it.”      Perhaps it was that urgency of now that encouraged Mandrell to take some extraordinary steps to get the book published soon after it was written. When he didn’t find a publisher for his book immediately, he started his own publishing company, “Looking Beyond,” making him owner of a business capable of publishing any future books or other projects that he feels compelled to undertake.  The book is now available for sale at, several area bookstores, and for a limited time, Good Living In West Frankfort will have copies for sale at a special $10 price.      Although being a published author has been an exciting experience, Mandrell realizes that it is only a diversion from his day job, which consumes most of his time and energy.  At the end of the three years of his residency at Loyola, he plans to return to his West Frankfort to provide expert medical care and commitment to

the community he still calls home.      “No one in Chicago can understand why I want to come back to Southern Illinois,” he says. “But this is home.  I’m still in contact with a lot of people here.  I want to be a community leader.  I want to make West Frankfort attractive to kids like me who can bring a profession back here and help make West Frankfort a better place.  We need to take the initiative.  We need to have a vision, but then we need a plan.  Sure it’s easy to work 60 or more hours a week and not have anything else to give, but we need to remember that we are a part of the community, and we owe a percentage of our lives to that.”      “You know, I’m away from Southern Illinois most of the time, but when I’m on Interstate and I get close to the exit 65, a whole new comfort level comes over me.  Its like, “I’m home; this is where I belong.”      And whom does he belong here with?  That part of the book hasn’t been written yet, and although he isn’t obsessing about it, he does have a little message for his future wife at the beginning of “The One.”      “To My Future Wife—This book is dedicated to ‘the one’ whom I will ‘find’ some day. After all I have experienced in relationships, only an omnipotent God can lead you in my direction to change my life forever.  I wait for that day patiently, purely and expectantly.  You will be worth it. And when we do meet, date and start our lives together, hold me to the principles that are written within these pages.”     

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By Gail Rissi Thomas


ost people probably don’t know about this, but there’s a little bit of West Frankfort history in Mt. Vernon. Out on Route 15, on the west edge of Mt. Vernon, there is a hexagon barn.  Inside the barn, the entire area of the walls are covered with a hand painted mural depicting historical events in Southern Illinois.  From the Trail of Tears through family events in 1991, the public and personal  milestones of history are displayed through the imagination and talent of an artist, Noel Smith, superintendent of Woodlawn High School, who is now deceased.       The barn is owned by Dr. Robert and Marilyn Parks.  It is a gathering place for friends and family, a meeting place for organizations of which they are members, and center for whatever events or causes  they feel they want to share.  As a general rule it is not open to the public, but on one day a year,in October, they host an art festival, when Southern Illinois artists with prior approval are invited to exhibit and sell their work and the general public is invited to come, to browse, to buy, and to enjoy.  The Parks’ charge no fees or commission.  It is truly art for art’s sake.

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    So because most West Frankfort residents may never see the mural inside the hexagon barn or the scene depicting this community, it seemed appropriate to include it in Good Living in West Frankfort, and perhaps someday if the opportunity arises, you may remember that the mural is definitely worth the trip.      Marilyn Parks explains the section of the mural that is dedicated to West Frankfort.       “My mother was Olive Jane Keith, who grew up in West Frankfort.” She says.  “As a young girl, she recalls watching  Charlie Birger’s lady friend, Mrs. Holbrook from Shawneetown, strolling down  Main Street and window shopping.  That wasn’t too surprising, as West Frankfort was widely known as the mecca of women’s fashion in those days.  A car was slowly following along behind her as she walked.  That was her chauffer.”     “ The artist, who was a personal friend of ours, took a few liberties with the story,” Parks laughed.  “”The car in the painting has some men with guns keeping their eyes on things.  That’s really not the way she remembered it at all.  I guess it does make the story more interesting.”      The next issue of Good Living in Southern Illinois will include more information about the hexagon barn and more photos of the mural.


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Last Look

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Marilyn Simpson takes advantage of mild late-winter weather to blow bubbles with her 3-year old grandson Chase Glatzer who was visiting his Gramma for a whole week.

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Good Living In West Frankfort: Spring 2009  

People, Pride and Placesof West Frankfort, IL