News and Observations from Wapella, Illinois: Home of the Wildcats.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Maroon and Illini Legend Gene Vance Profiled

Here from News Gazette

It's a deep breath, like Gene Vance is trying to summon the memory through the air.

He fiddles with the oxygen tube that makes the breath come easier. At the same time it's a reminder why the memory doesn't.

"That was quite a while ago," he says, and you nod, and the 1943 Big Ten championship ring sparkles in the light, and he fiddles with that too, and he loves that ring. He wears it every day, like it's an extension of his still-strong hands, just as "a member of the famous Whiz Kids" remains an extension of his surname.

"It was hell," Vance says. That's what he remembers about the Korean War, and that's enough. Memories of the Whiz Kids return more quickly, maybe because that's the memory he's asked about most often. "It was a perfect team," he says, a heavenly quintet, really.

At 86, Vance is the last living member of the Whiz Kids.

"He's our John Wooden," says longtime UI athletic trainer Rod Cardinal. "Whenever there's been a high point in Illinois basketball – in 1989 or 2005, whenever it might be – people always bring up the Whiz Kids. He's the tie to that era."

"I stopped by his house the other day," current coach Bruce Weber says. "We talked for a while. He's a big part of our history here."

From where he sits in a dark green recliner, in the comfortable living room of his Champaign home, Vance can see a lifetime of unforgettable gifts, like friendships built through his beloved university, and forgettable hell, like war. The memories often escape him, and frankly, his closest friends who lived those memories, like his Whiz Kids teammates, have passed.

But there, stacked high on a coffee table, stand a half-dozen scrapbooks, rich with history and fading photos and tales that could make a Hollywood film.

Go on, take a look.


"His Beta fraternity brothers call him 'Body' and 'Lana Turner.' (One of the brothers) started the latter by calling him 'the male version of Lana Turner.' ... Really slays the women. Lots of girls call up giggling and ask for Gene."

– Essay written by the Beta Theta Pi fraternity in 1942, titled "Gene Vance, alias 'The Body Beautiful' "

As a youth in Clinton, Ellis Eugene Vance was a kid on the move. The fraternity essay tells of a boy shooting baskets "in rain, snow, fog, sleet, wind, daylight and dark" and burning energy in the YMCA – after basketball practice was over. In the summers he would lifeguard on a lake, returning as a bronzed statue of a figure, 6-foot-3 and chiseled at 200 pounds.

Appearance has always been important to Vance, never more so than as a representative of Illinois, either as a Beta, a baseball or basketball player, the athletic director or as one of 20 players selected to the All-Century team.

"He always wore a coat and tie," his wife Janann says. "He would say, 'When I'm representing the University of Illinois, this is the way I want to be.' "

From his chair, Vance leans over to examine a pair of brown boat shoes. They're worn from time, not from recent overuse. Two hip replacements and two major knee surgeries stole him from the golf course a few years back. Playing partners offered to pick him up, have him drive the cart. Vance politely declined.

When once you were "a world-class athlete," as his son Jon says, and it becomes tough to tee off, the change can be hard to accept. "I don't leave the house much," Gene says.

He's handed a scrapbook. It opens to a photo of him, ripped arms beneath a No. 25 Illinois jersey, dribbling a basketball toward the camera.

He smiles.

"That was quite a while ago."


"Need your permission to get wedding license."

– Western Union telegram sent from Vance, 20, to his parents on Aug. 3, 1943

When he was stationed in Mineral Wells, Texas, Gene wasn't old enough to be legally married to Grace Hoberg. Four days later, he had the permission of Ellis and Barbara Vance, and the couple was bound until her death in 1980.

"The most wonderful woman in the world," says Jim Vance, one of their sons. "Not a day goes by when we don't think about her."

Across the living room from his chair, family photos are perched on a wooden bookshelf. He and Grace had two boys (Jim and Jon) and two girls (Sue and Martha).

"They're all grown now," he says. "Good kids."

And despite his schedule they were always a priority. The children don't recall Dad ever missing one of their games.

"Tennis, golf, basketball, baseball, cheerleading," Jim says, "he was always there."

"He lived for two things: his university and his family," Jon says.

On weekday nights, Vance worked as a high school basketball official, in gyms from Peoria to Hoopeston. The kids would join him, not for the basketball, but for the guarantee of a trip to Steak n Shake after the game. No surprise, it's still his favorite place to eat.

"A burger," he says. "I always get a burger."


"Vance came to the rescue of the water-soaked infantrymen, shortly after they scampered to safety on a precarious rocky island. Minutes earlier a flash flood whipped down the narrow valley, inundating the region."

– Army newsletter, distributed in 1951 during the Korean War

"I imagine I was in a little better shape than most men when I came over (to Korea), but believe me, it didn't do me too much good. There's a whale of a difference between climbing these Korean mountains and running up and down a basketball court."

– Vance, in an unnamed newspaper report in 1951

The smell of Janann's coffee cake sweeps from the kitchen as you see a photo of Vance in military gear. It was taken in Germany, in 1945, with a message scribbled on the back.

"Send this one to my folks."

Vance served in World War II from 1943 to '46 and in Korea from 1951 to '52, where he earned a Bronze Star. Ask him about his military service and the conversation turns back to the Whiz Kids. He's never been one to speak of himself. But if the topic includes him as part of a group, an infantry division, a team, he'll offer what he can.

"Even though we (the Whiz Kids) were apart," Vance says, "we were always together."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Backyard Tire Fire and a Testimonial to College Towns

Got this in my Facebook inbox this morning from a San Fran based Illini who knows his rock-and-roll Backyard Tire Fire is a band from Bloomington-Normal who storm through some country rockers perfectly suited to Hog City. I think this music video was shot in Bloomington.

I also penned this Jay Bennett obit for another publication, but the above video reminded me of how the creative types are drawn to Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal, forming a critical nexus around Wapella, as the source of all that is interesting. The obit is a bit overwrought, but I have an occasional valid observation (sort of like Judy Frazier without the weather radar or the good looks).

The Sound of Rolling Meadows

Jay Bennett, the guitarist for the Chicago band Wilco, has died at age 45. Bennett a native of Rolling Meadows, Illinois had a long career in the music business, and could easily be dismissed as just another job related fatality in his chosen industry. Years of the rock-and-roll lifestyle, some serious cigarette smoking, and the erratic nature of royalty checks do not figure well on actuarial tables.

Reading through the Chicago Tribune reader comments, within some heartfelt eulogizing, there are some vile put downs of Benett (and musicians in general). A Tribune reader “ouchbabe from Hanover Park, Illinois” spits “again who is this person? and why should I care?” which is unpleasant in general, but struck me as at least a valid request requiring more than a blog post for compliance.

Jay Bennett was a guy who worked at the Video Repair shop in Champaign (2 points if you can name which one). He was in school at the University of Illinois a long time, starting around 1982 and continuing till recently. He received three degrees, in Secondary Education, Math, and Political Science, as well as a Master’s Degree. He taught math and was a tutor in Champaign-Urbana. When he came off tour with the band Wilco, he would return to work at the Video Repair shop in Champaign, as well as participate in local Champaign-Urbana based music production.

There are literally hundreds of guys like Jay around college towns all over the country. Only occasionally do they break out of the lifeline tethering them to the University, but Jay Bennett made the big-time, and still returned to Champaign. Wilco, Bennett’s band with frontman Jeff Tweedy (from Belleville), had some big selling records, and 4 albums in the Top 1000 on as I look. Wilco’s 2003 DVD “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” is a best seller 6 years later (and currently sold out). Bennett was a highly regarded session musician, recording with Sheryl Crowe and Blues Traveler, among others.

I crossed paths with Bennett in Champaign a few times in the 1980’s, where he was part of legion of creative types constantly educating themselves, while playing in bands, working part-time in record and stereo stores and striving to make a living in a very uneven musical marketplace. It was certainly possible to write off this type of personality as a daydreamer who could not possibly have the talent to make it in the big leagues, thus sentenced to repeat his tales at repair shops, bars, and coffee houses.

Yet, it is exactly this type of person who makes college towns interesting and provide a farm-team for the creative world. Bennett had a very successful musical career, which (as usual) was not matched by financial success. Hardly anyone gets a contract with Warner Brothers, then go on to botch it, only to become more even appealing to independent minded music buyers.

Bennett also had a vivid stretch of imagination that pressed others around him to expand their productions to bigger and riskier if not necessarily better things. His music was generally tuneful, while dramatic, and more than a bit off-kilter with the mainstream. His techniques with Betamax conversion to DVD are probably more memorable than his Rock-and -Roll career to most of his audience, but there are more than a few of us who really enjoyed his technical competence coupled with his fascinating drifts into the artistic genre.

The Jay Bennett’s of the world are complicated sorts. There is not a recognizable pattern to the behavior that makes for such a talented artist, perhaps more a lack of pattern. Still I find Jay Bennett types fascinating, perhaps from lurking around college towns for 20+ years myself. It is not all that useful to glamorize the occasionally-disturbing-chain-smoking-heavy guy, but there is more than enough in his career to care about him.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Salute to Those Who Served

Memorial Day weekend always gives us a chance to salute those who served our country in the Armed Forces and the Home Front. Hats are tipped, solemnities uttered, and applause rounded up for the few who sacrificed so that the rest of us could live in (relative) peace in Wapella and the rest of DeWitt County (and the USA).

What better way to Memorialize than to travel this weekend to visit friends, relatives, and see the sights of this great country? In the meantime, some traveling music to help you on your way while heading out. Here Tommy and Dick Smothers (not Tommy Toohill) with the great Beatle, Ringo Star having some fun with the No No Song. Special guest comes in at the end of the video, watch it all for full effect.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 Mourns the Passing of Charles Mouser

Charles "Charlie" Mouser, WHS 1951, has passed away at the age of 75.

Charles Alvin Mouser, nationally known lecturer and editor, died Tuesday, February 10, 2009 in a Richmond hospital following a brief illness.

A resident of Nottoway County, he was a native of Wapella, IL. He served in the U.S. Army and was a paratrooper in Korea from 1952 to 1954. He was a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He was a former school teacher and grade school coach. He attended Illinois College and Eureka College. He taught art at the Art Institute in Columbus, GA, and handwriting at the Perry Business School also in Columbus. In 1953 he was voted the nation’s most expert penman by the Zaner-Bloser Penmanship College in Ohio.

For years he spoke to press associations and businessmen across the country and he was known for his ability to detect business trends far ahead of most. He was considered an authority on newspaper and print advertising. He was Editor and Publisher of the Mouser Report, a monthly newsletter for the business world.

He retired in 1994 and devoted much of his time to helping friends and enjoying being a country gentleman, the life enjoyed by many of the Wapella gentry.

Survivors include his wife, Brenda Mouser of Crewe; son, Dwayne Mouser of Burkeville; two daughters, Carrie M. Gravely of Petersburg and Christie Mouser of Blackstone; and four grandchildren.

All Flags Half Mast please for US Army Veteran Charles Mouser.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

RIP Wayman Tisdale

Wayman Tisdale was an amazing basketball player, always remembered in Wapella because he was truly ambidextrous, and the first NCAA player to make All-American 1st team as a Freshman. RIP Wayman.

Obituary Lifted from the AP

Wherever Wayman Tisdale went, whatever he was doing, chances were he was smiling.

Tisdale was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma in the mid-1980s before playing a dozen years in the NBA and later becoming an accomplished jazz musician.

But those who knew Tisdale, who died Friday at a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., recalled not only his professional gifts but a perpetually sunny outlook, even in the face of a two-year battle with cancer that took his life at 44.

"I don't know of any athlete at Oklahoma or anyplace else who was more loved by the fans who knew him than Wayman Tisdale," said Billy Tubbs, who coached Tisdale with the Sooners. "He was obviously a great, great player, but Wayman as a person overshadowed that.

"He just lit up a room and was so positive."

After three seasons at Oklahoma, Tisdale played in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. The 6-foot-9 forward, with a soft left-handed touch on the court, averaged 15.3 points on 50.5 percent shooting for his career. He was on the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.

Gov. Brad Henry attended Oklahoma at the same time as Tisdale and later appointed him to the state's Tourism Commission.

"Oklahoma has lost one of its most beloved sons," Henry said. "Wayman Tisdale was a hero both on and off the basketball court. ... Even in the most challenging of times, he had a smile for people, and he had the rare ability to make everyone around him smile. He was one of the most inspirational people I have ever known."

State senators paused and prayed Friday morning after learning of his death.

Tisdale learned he had a cancerous cyst below his right knee after breaking his leg in a fall at his home in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2007. He said he was fortunate to have discovered the cancer early.

"Nothing can change me," Tisdale told The Associated Press last year. "You go through things. You don't change because things come in your life. You get better because things come in your life."

His leg was amputated in August and a prosthetic leg he wore was crimson, one of Oklahoma's colors. He attended an Oklahoma City Thunder game April 7 and later that month was honored at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa.

During the ceremony, he spoke about his cancer, saying, "In my mind, I've beaten it."

He recently told Tulsa television station KTUL he had acute esophagitis, which limited his eating for about five weeks and led to significant weight loss. Among the causes of that condition are infections, medications, radiation therapy and systemic disease.

Last month, Tisdale was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

He was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American since freshmen were allowed to play again in the 1971-72 season. He was also among 10 three-time All-Americans.

"On the court, he was an offensive machine that could score with the best of them," said Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson, an assistant on Tisdale's Suns teams. "Off the court, he was grounded in faith and family."

Tisdale played on an Olympic team that sailed to the gold medal in Los Angeles. The squad was coached by Bob Knight and featured the likes of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Sam Perkins and Chris Mullin.

Perkins, a former Sonic, and Tisdale shared a love of music and became friends during the Olympics. Perkins later was the best man at Tisdale's wedding.

"That's a real friend who's got your back and would do just about anything for you," Perkins said. "That smile just gets you."

As a musician, Tisdale recorded eight albums. A bass guitarist who often wrote his own material, his most recent album, "Rebound," was inspired by his fight with cancer and included guest appearances by several artists, including saxophonist Dave Koz and country artist and fellow Oklahoma native Toby Keith.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First We Take Out All The Pinball Machines

One whale of a website here, chronicling Logan County and Lincoln Illinois History, with an extensive section on gaming and the peculiar nature of enforcement in the sporting life, this circa 1950

In May of 1950 Governor Adlai Stevenson began to order the Illinois State Police to raid businesses throughout Illinois in order to confiscate illegal gambling devices. Stevenson had been elected Governor by a landslide because of his campaign promise to reform government. Once elected, he was pressured to move against illegal gambling and the corruption associated with it. Caught in a dilemma, the Governor experienced a heart-felt need to crack down on gambling (and the need to fulfill campaign promises), but attempted to do so in a way that would not create political backlash--gambling devices added to the bottom line of many small businesses because countless citizens patronized the various gambling devices (slots, pinballs, punchboards, and fishbowls, for example). Stevenson would have preferred local authorities to enforce anti-gambling laws, and he would have preferred enforcing them in private clubs as well as in "the corner tavern." On October 11, 1950, Stevenson ordered the Illinois State Police to conduct extensive gambling raids in many taverns, restaurants, and other businesses in Logan County and Lincoln, the county seat--but not the private clubs, for example: the Moose, the Eagles, the American Legion, the V.F.W., and the Elks. The State Police raid Lincoln, Logan County, and other sites in Macon County on October 11, 1950, was the fifth in a series throughout Illinois. The raids in Lincoln touched off legal proceedings against the owners of the gambling machines--especially one-ball pinball machines--and those who offered these machines in their places of business. These 1950 State Police raids in Lincoln and Logan County sparked legal drama that ensnared state, county, and city police; lawyers; an assistant attorney general of Illinois; circuit and county judges; businessmen; ministers; mayors; city council members; county board members; a city attorney; and many private citizens. The controversial civil trial of the state vs. the pinball machines continued into 1951, giving rise to additional proceedings aimed at controlling amusement devices and eliminating corruption. The legal proceedings stemming from the 1950 State Police raid also inspired a controversial "Good Government" movement in the early to mid 1950s. In 1954, the local Good Government Council provided information that led to charges of corruption against a local justice of the peace. After his acquittal, this justice of the peace retaliated by suing his accusers for $900,000.

which lead to the formation of the Lincoln Pinball Operators Association
Mr. Trapp had been hired by nine members of the Lincoln Pinball Operators Association--the owners of the confiscated gambling devices--to defend the owners against the state's petition to destroy the devices as illegal gambling equipment. In court, Mr. Trapp came out swinging--he filed a motion to dismiss the state's petition based on the argument that the devices were taken by "unlawful search and seizure." Trapp's motion to dismiss was also based on the argument that the state's petition failed to show that the machines were used for gambling.

All good clean fun! 76 pinball machines were seized in Lincoln during these raids. Of course this was before home video games took hold in Logan County. Here's a shot of the website keeper, none other than Fred Blanford, Sr., of the illustrious Blanfords of Logan County, well known to many a Wildcat, (most likely a relative of Fred Blanford, a mid-1980's Illini)

Friday, May 8, 2009 Stray Quiz

Over the last few months a few stray quiz questions have built up, none of which were particularly interesting nor useful, but sure to be a hit on

1) This ISU Redbird busted out some real number in the major leagues
1974 ATLNL 16 W 8 L 2.28 ERA

Who was the Redbird in question and what is he up to now?

2) This Chicago florist, known for his dust-ups with the Capone gang, ran Schofield's Flower Shop at 738 N. State across from Holy Name Cathedral (with a tunnel to the Cathedral dug to deliver flowers, not liquor, of course). With most of this Irishman's history tied to Chicago, many people forget the Central Illinois roots of this horticulturalist. Who is he and where is he from?

3) Even more from current favorite from Birmingham England's "The Move" featuring the harriest Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood ever presented. That's Jeff hammering away on the piano and Roy dancing with the saxophone.

This time they are doing a number made popular in the US by an Illinois band. Who did the rocking US version of "California Man" and where are they from?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

RIP Dom Deluise

Dom DeLuise, the portly entertainer and chef whose affable nature made him a popular character actor for decades with movie and TV audiences as well as directors and fellow actors, has died. He was 75.

DeLuise died Monday evening at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, said his agent, Robert Malcolm. The family did not release the cause of death.

DeLuise appeared in scores of movies and TV shows, in Broadway plays and voicing characters for numerous cartoons. Writer-director-actor Mel Brooks particularly admired DeLuise's talent for offbeat comedy and cast him in several films, including "The Twelve Chairs," "Blazing Saddles," "Silent Movie," "History of the World Part I" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."

His TV credits included appearances on such shows as "The Munsters," "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.," "Burke's Law," "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and "Diagnosis Murder." On Broadway, DeLuise appeared in Neil Simon's "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" and other plays.

In part because of his passion for food, the actor battled obesity, reaching as much as 325 pounds and for years resisting family members and doctors who tried to put him on various diets. He finally agreed in 1993 when his doctor refused to perform hip replacement surgery until he lost 100 pounds (he lost enough weight for the surgery, though gained some of it back).

His love of food also resulted in two successful cookbooks, 1988's "Eat This — It Will Make You Feel Better!" and 1997's "Eat This Too! It'll Also Make You Feel Good."

Toohill Beef Is At It Again

Our friends (and longtime Wildcats) over at Toohill Beef are at it again, gearing up some Summer specials for all your BBQ/cookout needs.


Any current/past residents
Retail purchases of $100 or less=5% discount
Class of 1993=16% discount
Class of 1966=43% Discount

And never above schtick (neither are we, see 80's schtick picture accompanying this piece) TB is also offering BEER BUTT CHICKEN samples as well.

Located: 600 E. Van Buren St., Clinton
Hours: Thursday, Friday 10am-6pm Saturday 9am-5pm

Look for other specials all Summer long, and check them out at: where you can view the entire Trump-like operation.

Support your local businesses, people!

Monday, May 4, 2009

It's 60 for The Cundiffs

Richard (WHS '44) and Wanda (Slayback) Cundiff celebrated their 60th year of wedded bliss this past Saturday in Heyworth, Illinois. A massive rally and festival was held at the American Legion in Heyworth to mark the event. Maybe Wildcat all time greats were in attendance. Add some details here if you've got them.

Congratualtions Richard and Wanda! Mourns the Passing of Doris Troxel

Doris (Dodey) Fought Moody, age 82, of Crestview, Fla., passed away April 23, 2009.
Dodey was born on Aug. 11, 1926, in Wapella, Ill., to Joseph and Beulah Troxel. Dodey moved to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., from St. Louis in 1961. Dodey was a stock clerk for Carp's Department Store. Dodey loved water skiing and bowling.

Dodey was preceded in death by her husbands, Ogden Fought and Cecil Moody; parents, Joe and Beulah Troxel; and brother, Carl Troxel.

Dodey is survived by sister, Mary Brewer of Jacksonville, Fla.; children, Mike and Glenda Fought of Crestview, Terry and Wayne Zweber of Winter Haven, Fla., Robin and Bob Bridges of DeFuniak Springs, Fla., Pat and Donna Fought of Florosa, Fla., and Mark and Teresa Fought of Fort Walton Beach; seven grandchildren, Michelle, Valerie, Rob, Jennifer, Crystal, Taylor and Tiffany; and six great-grandchildren, Chris, Jacob, Ashley, Nate, Rebekah and Joanna.

The family wants to thank the doctors, nurses and staff at Emerald Coast Cancer Center, Shoal Creek Rehab Center, and Covenant Hospice of Crestview.

Flowers are accepted or donations may be made to Covenant Hospice of Crestview.

A visitation will be held on Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Heritage Gardens Funeral Home in Niceville, Fla.

Funeral services was be conducted on Sunday, April 26, at 2 p.m. at Heritage Gardens Funeral Home with burial to follow at Beal Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach.

Our condolences to the Troxel, Fought, and Moody families.

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