Thursday, December 19, 2013


I can get discouraged by the spite in the world.

Yesterday, our Rotary group delivered dictionaries to third grade students at a rural school.  One little boy, the moment I walked in the door, made a beeline for me. He stood directly in front of me, very close, and stared at my tie. He asked me if I was a “professor.”  He was accompanied by a young woman who explained that the boy is fascinated by ties. I assumed, from his demeanor and the fact he seemed to have an adult assigned to him, the boy has special needs.

As we met where the third graders were gathered (seated on the floor) the boy lingered, obviously reluctant to join his peers. There was an awkward moment. Without prompting - one little girl stood, walked to the boy, reached out her hand, took the boy’s hand in hers, and led him to the group.

After the dictionaries were distributed we took a group picture. I looked down. The little girl’s arm was around the boy’s waist.  Her kindness and intuitive acceptance was amazing.   

What a great thing to see before Christmas.  I wish more adults had seen it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Derrill McMorris, Watseka Hero

Most Watsekans remember that Derrill C. McMorris was an elementary school principal.  He was also much more than that.  I knew who Mr. McMorris was. However, I didn’t know him. My mother once told me he was quiet and very good at his job.

Mr. McMorris was born on January 8, 1921. He grew up in Charleston, Illinois and graduated from Charleston High School in 1939. From what I can tell, he took a job after school. Perhaps, like many young Americans, he was biding his time. War in Europe and Asia was picking up speed and most people knew the United States was going to be drawn into it.

In March 1942, at Chanute Field in Illinois, Mr. McMorris enlisted in the Army Air Corps. By December 1944, he’d received flight training, a commission as a second lieutenant, and he was flying B-25 Bombers on missions over Italy. He was assigned to the 428th Squadron of the 310th Bomb Group, flying out of a village on the east coast of Corsica. 

On December 10, 1944, Second Lietutenant McMorris was co-piloting a B-25 named the “Donna Marie II” on a mission to bomb a bridge over the River Adige. On the bombing run, the Donna Marie II was hit by flak (anti-aircraft fire). The crew managed to drop bombs on target but the aircraft lost power to an engine. The Pilot, First Lieutenant Lee McAllister, Jr., ordered the crew (including Second Lieutenant McMorris) to bail out of the aircraft. McAllister kept the aircraft aloft until everyone was out and then managed to bail out too.  The plane crashed into a mountain.

Second Lieutenant McMorris was captured the day after the B-25 was shot down. Everyone, except for First Lieutenant McAllister, was captured quickly.  McAllister was aided by Italian partisans for three weeks until he was captured. Then, McAllister was murdered by the SS. 

McMorris was sent to a POW Camp, Stalag Luft I, in Germany.

Mr. McMorris was liberated in June 1945. He was discharged from the Army as a First Lieutenant. He graduated from Eastern Illinois University, in his hometown, in 1948. He probably used the GI Bill to attend college.

Mr. McMorris taught and coached basketball in Crescent City for several years. In his final season as coach (’55-56) his team was 23-6. He received a Masters Degree and, as far as I know, finished his career as a school administrator in Watseka.  He passed away in October 1985; he was 64 years old. He is buried at Oak Hill - with many other heroes.

Please think about what Mr. McMorris did in his early twenties. He left his small town. He learned to fly bombers. He went half-way around the world. He parachuted from a disabled aircraft into territory held by an enemy - an enemy he'd just bombed. Then, he spent six months as a prisoner of war.

At some point, Mr. McMorris learned that the guy seated next to him (in the bomber) was murdered. Having survived the War, Mr. McMorris must have pondered fate.

Then, after all that, Mr. McMorris came back to small town Illinois and made a little portion of the world a better place.

Sources available on request (moderated comments).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Marty Stuart's Telecaster (Clarence) and Esquire

These are iPhone photos from Iowa City, 8-31-2013. I believe the Esquire is tuned up a half- step. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


August was a good music month. I had two great experiences with fine musicians and really nice folks . . .

On August 3rd, my good friend Bill Melton and I traveled to the Watseka Theatre to open for the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Our buddy Bob had told us about the great guys in the TMJB (see my July 23, 2013 post). Bob wasn’t exaggerating.

All the guys in the TMJB are good men. When we met them they’d just driven from Nashville. They had been in the Carolinas a day earlier. The guys must have been tired and felt a bit rushed. Regardless, they said hello, talked to Bill and me, wished us well and cheered us on. They seemed to enjoy Watseka and the Theatre. They played and sang their hearts out to an appreciative crowd.  

The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band’s show is part comedy, part bluegrass/old time music, and part country music.  Roger Miller fans (like me) will love these guys.  Their musicianship is first rate and their singing is phenomenal. I went thinking we were going to hear a lot of great old time banjo music and was pleasantly surprised to hear the TMJB’s diverse repertoire.

After the show, the guys talked to us like we were their Nashville neighbors. And, when we complimented each of them on their parts in the show - every man praised his band-mates' talents.

A few days after the concert, when my oldest son had a medical issue, I got nice notes from two of the TMJB guys (dad-to-dad). Then, Bill and I received a compliment on Facebook from the TMJB’s guitar player.  Good guys.

On August 31st, the Bomber (my ten-year-old) and I drove to Iowa City's First Avenue Club to see Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives.  We saw this band in Watseka in February and they were fantastic. The highlights in Watseka (besides the magnificent Watseka Theatre and great show) were the band’s stage guy showing us Marty Stuart’s famous telecaster and mandolin (see entries from March 7th and 11th) and meeting the band. We couldn’t wait for the Iowa City show.

We arrived at the First Avenue Club and waited in line for a few minutes. When we entered I was surprised at the venue. It's cool. Essentially, it’s a large room in the basement of a strip mall. The ceiling was kind of low. There was a small bar.  It was intimate. 

Our general admission VIP tickets guaranteed us seats at a table in the front half of the room. The hostess looked us over and helped us find good seats; seats fit for a guy with a ten-year-old. We ended up one table removed from the stage. We were seated with a pair of non-drinking couples who seemed delighted to have us join them (how cool is a venue that forces you to make new friends?). Bomber and I went for root beer, visited with a friend, and sat back down for the show.

Following a really, really, good opening act (Iowa City’s Slew Grass) Marty and the Superlatives came out and completely floored us with musicianship, excellent harmony singing, and showmanship.  I’ve seen some great (famous) musicians over the years - - - I can honestly say this band is in the top two-percent; a “must see."

When the lights came on, we talked to the same stage guy with whom we visited in Watseka. He gave Bomber a copy of the set list and one of Marty’s guitar picks. In Watseka, and again in Iowa City, he went above and beyond the call of niceness.  I am kicking myself because I didn’t get his name. I hope, if he sees this, he knows how special he made the concerts.

After their shows, Marty and the Superlatives greet fans.  We said our thanks and goodbyes to the stage crewman, grabbed Bomber’s guitar, and took our place in line to meet the band. In Watseka, the guys seemed nice. In Iowa City, while we waited, I watched Marty Stuart interact with the concert-goers. When a woman mentioned she couldn’t get tickets to the Marty Stuart Show’s Nashville taping, Marty and his tour manager talked to her. I'm not sure exactly what was said but I heard them assure her she’d get tickets. Marty could have blown her off. He didn’t; she'll get to see the show.

When it was our turn to meet the band I mentioned we were at the Watseka show and that Watseka is my home-town. The guys seemed delighted and told me how much they enjoyed the Theatre. They said that they’d like to play there again. They each autographed Bomber’s guitar and encouraged him to play – really encouraged him. They acted like he did them a favor by asking them to sign it. Their affection was genuine. Bomber was beside himself with delight.  I was so happy for him and so grateful to the band - I got a little choked up.

As we left the venue, Bomber said:  "Dad, I'm NEVER selling this guitar!!! . . . I can't wait to show Gary (his guitar teacher)!"  I had to explain to Bomber that while mom would be excited, she might not want us to call and wake her up at midnight to tell her about the autographs.

The next day, I exchanged messages with Paul Martin, the band’s bass player (a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer).  In a dad-to-dad exchange he told me he and the guys in the band love to see children interested in music. He said his band-mates treat his four children the same way they all treated Bomber.  Very cool!

We could all learn a few lessons from the guys in the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band and Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives.  If you get a chance, see these bands.

* TMJB photo by Joy St Peter

Monday, August 19, 2013

Feeling at home . . . .

I feel right at home where I work here in Adel, Iowa. There's an Old Courthouse (still in use) and people recognize local heroes (and not just Nile Kinnick). Check out this 1907 photo, which hangs in a local eatery:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Great Blog

A former Watsekan's blog (great entry yesterday about the Watseka Theatre):

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Leroy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, Watseka August 3, 2013

There are still tickets available to see the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band ("TMJB") in Watseka on August 3, 2013. My friend Bill Melton and I are opening. Bill and I will receive no financial gain from it (but you might want to buy some of Bill’s CDs). I just really hope to see old friends. 

I do, however, want to tell you about the main act. I wholeheartedly encourage you to attend. The TMJB's members are a “living history lesson” and – they are nice people. They could skip Watseka on their tour but they are not – and they are bringing something special to town.

I know many of you listen to country music. Even if you don’t, I’ll bet you’ve tapped your feet to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs or hummed along with the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man.” I’d be surprised if you’ve never sung along in your car to an Eagles' song (I hope I’ve just put “Take It Easy” into your head). That music (country, southern rock, and country rock (heck, all rock)) can trace its roots to the old-time music that echoed through the hills of Tennessee.  

The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band plays old-time Tennessee music as it was originally played. The guys do it in a family-friendly way that combines Vaudevillian showmanship with musical virtuosity.  Their show is affordable and they are nice guys.  If music moves you, skipping the TMJB is like ignoring the Mona Lisa and praising Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can.

But Tom (you ask): “How do you know the TMJB has nice guys?”  Well, my friends (fellow acoustic musicians Bob and Lori) told me so. Bob’s and Lori’s son, Connor, is autistic. Connor loves the Marty Stuart show and he adores Leroy Troy. Connor went with his folks to see Leroy Troy and the TMJB (of which Leroy is a member) in Silver Dollar City last year. Here’s what Bob told me about it:

“Connor wanted to see Leroy Troy and the TMJB so much that we attended both shows that day. After the show Leroy and the band all lined up to sell merchandise, sign autographs, and just talk to folks and take pictures. Connor was way too shy to approach them, but when we told them they were his favorite, Leroy signed a CD 'to Connor, from your friend Leroy Troy' and brought it out around the table. Leroy asked Connor if he had Leroy's new CD. Connor said 'no,' and Leroy said ‘you do now.’ They all said goodbye to Connor, and were friendly and pleasant to everyone. Great bunch of guys! All of them talked to Connor and were extremely nice, a class act. If you get a chance, thank them again for us and tell them Connor says ‘hi.’ Besides that, they are excellent musicians and play ‘real’ music.” 

How can you not want to support, see, hear, and meet people like that? Come to the show - bring your significant other, your friends, your children, your families . . . .

Here's more about the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band:

Thanks and I’ll see you at the Watseka Theatre.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gettysburg is relevant to today's politics . . .

On the eve of Independence Day, the bloviators (left and right) of talk radio and television punditry are still getting rich spewing hate and distorting information. Their lemmings take to the internet in droves to perpetuate the silliness.

The eve of this Independence Day marks a significant anniversary: The Battle of Gettysburg ended 150 years ago today.

At the end of the battle approximately 8,000 Americans lay dead. More than 40,000 more were wounded, missing or captured.

I choose to honor this event by asking you to challenge those who attack their fellow Americans’ intellect, devotion, and (worse) patriotism. We don’t all have to agree. We don’t all have to be of the same political orientation.

It was the terrible toll at Gettysburg that prompted President Lincoln, on November 19, 1863, to challenge us to honor the dead by ensuring “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It would do us all well to remember Mr. Lincoln’s challenge was issued BECAUSE of hostility between Americans – not to encourage more hostility.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pickup Trucks

Pickup trucks are everywhere in small midwestern towns.  They're tools. There is a cool aesthetic to them. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Small Town Breakfasts

Saturday my oldest son and I went to a suburban Perkins for a late breakfast.  I ordered a biscuits and gravy with eggs kind of meal. It wasn't bad. But, it "weren't nothing to write home about."

My opinion, I am sure, was related to a meal I had at VIPS in Watseka in late May. VIPS advertises its biscuits and gravy skillet as having two eggs, two biscuits, hash-browns and gravy. When it comes, it has three eggs, three biscuits, a heap of hash-browns, and lots of gravy. 

VIPS versus Perkins?  Comparatively, Perkins looks and tastes like road kill. 

Sometimes, food looks so good you have to take a picture of it before you eat it. As you can see, I got wheat toast too. I am a health nut, after all. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Muscle Cars

When we were teenagers these were "used" cars.  I never had one.  Someday . . .

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wilbert J. Koester, Watseka D-Day Hero

Years ago I read Cornelius Ryan’s book: “The Longest Day.”  I noticed Private First Class Wilbert J. Koester, of Watseka, Illinois, was listed as a source.  PFC Koester, on his thirtieth birthday, landed on Omaha Beach with the First Infantry Division (the U.S. Army’s famed “Big Red One”).

I waited too long to try track down Mr. Koester and talk to him about his experiences . . . if he would have talked to me about them. By the time I inquired about him my dad told me Mr. Koester had recently passed after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Mr. Koester’s obituary (appropriately published November 11, 1997) briefly mentioned his Army service, participation in D-Day, and that he was twice wounded. It also mentioned, and this is typical of Watseka veterans, that he was active in his “Church, the Disabled American Veterans, Watseka American Legion and VFW.”

His obituary was silent about one thing, and like most combat veterans Mr. Koester probably never told his family about it; in 1944 Mr. Koester was awarded the Silver Star (the third highest award for valor in combat).  I can’t find the citation but I can tell you that the Army didn’t give Silver Stars to enlisted men unless they did something that would have caused their mothers significant anxiety.

Mr. Koester came home from the war, farmed, raised a family, and served his community. He was, and forever shall be, a true American hero. He, and many men like him, made Watseka a great place to be a kid.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Blank Check Project, One More

My buddy Tater (seriously) says "music is too important to be left to professionals." I tend to agree.

Still . . . when professionals play it, and they're playing it with excitement and energy, music is important and magical. 

Last night, my old friend Doug Schuler brought his altruistic band, the Blank Check Project, "home."  The stage of the Watseka Theatre was filled with three singers, a six piece horn section, two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist, and two keyboard players (one of whom also sang lead and backing vocals). Watsekan Steve Courtright sat in on one song, playing an acoustic guitar he made. There were no weak links in the chain. 

The band played something for everyone.  There were original numbers - and favorites from Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Rascal Flatts, and more.  Because I don't have to be creative with superlatives, I'll just say everything was wow, wow, WOW!!!

The energy in the Theatre may have caused structural damage. 

I'm hoping these folks do another show. 

Thank you to Doug, the band, the crew, and everyone who made the evening happen.  

I'm hoping someone will credit the musicians and crew in the comments. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mr. Rogers


I'm passing on what seems like small town sensibility.

Who among us never watched "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood?"  Mr. Rogers spoke at commencement at my (and many of your) alma mater in 2001. I've attached, below, a link to the text of his speech.

I'm posting this today because: Marquette shared it; I'm (like you are) growing weary of how divided our society has become; and it's very good.

We probably can't redirect the anger of all of our citizens, tone down the vitriol of the television and radio pundits, or make our politicians and public employees treat each other with respect and dignity. But, we can make our little corners of the world better by how we view and treat each person we meet.  I think that's kind of what Mr. Rogers is suggesting.

I'd encourage you to take five minutes and read what I've attached.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Big, IMPORTANT, Event at the Watseka Theatre, May 24, 2013

On Friday, May 24, 2013, Doug Schuler, WCHS 1980, is bringing his “Blank Check Project” to Iroquois County for a concert at the Watseka Theatre.

I’m hoping to go (I have to convince a judge to let me go early that Friday – ponder that). I hope to see you all there.

“Tom,” you’re asking, “what’s the Blank Check Project?”

Well . . . a short while ago Doug gathered some of the best musicians (including Watseka’s Steve Courtright) in Chicago and produced an album of great music. He did it to raise money for the new Walter Reed – which is where many wounded warriors go to heal.

Unfortunately, the last 12 years have created a tremendous need for the resources Walter Reed provides. Those resources are limited by government budgets.

Fortunately, there are people like Doug, his fellow musicians, and you, who are willing to ante up to make the Walter Reed stays of our wounded soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen/women better.

“Wow,” you’re thinking, “I want to support our wounded warriors too . . .  and I want to hear what Doug’s got going on. How do I get in on this?” 

Hey --- it’s easy. You can call the Watseka Theatre and order tickets. Better yet, get on the Theatre's website and get your tickets that way. Take a look at the dinner option too. The Theatre's website and number are set forth below.

Then, you can get on iTunes, search for the “Blank Check Project,” and download the album.

The concert will be great. It may be the best thing to hit Watseka since the first Van Natta put canned peaches on his grocery’s shelves.

The album is really good . . . I mean – it’s REALLY GOOD. Download it or buy it at the concert. Use money you’d otherwise spend on liquor, fancy-pants coffee, or Powerball tickets (I know, most of you have no vices . . . so you have the money anyway). 

You won't be disappointed. And, you’ll be supporting somebody who shed blood for you. That gesture, more than your money, means a lot.

Watseka Theatre: 815-993-6585

For more information about the Blank Check Project: