Three old soldiers …

By Jim Muir

During a span of four months the city of Sesser, IL has lost three icons – three old soldiers and three good men who took on near-legendary status in the small farming community.

The death on August 2 of Amos Mitchell, 100, and on August 6 of Leroy Spotanski, 93, coupled with the March 18, 2019 death of 94-year-old Delmar Jones continues to close the chapter and usher out important members of the greatest generation. For those in the younger generation or those unaware, this is the generation that defeated Hitler and saved the free world. It’s because of old soldiers like these that we are not speaking German today! Let that sink in a moment!

Amos Mitchell

When I wrapped my mind around these three deaths, my first thought was how uniquely different each of these men were in their ideologies, personalities and professions. But, while all three men were contrasting in those areas, they were actually one and the same in their beliefs. These three are men that look you in the eye when they speak to you and say what they mean and mean what they say. These were men whose word was their bond and who put as much importance on a handshake as signing their name to a legal document.

Leroy Spotanski [/caption]

We hear a lot these days about the word “legacy” – what we leave behind when we’re gone. Often, legacy is talked about by stuffed-shirt politicians and ego-maniac athletes who would have us believe that accomplishments paid for by taxpayers and how many championship rings collected are how we should measure the greatness of people. Other people measure legacy by bank accounts and material possessions, and others by status in the community and by titles behind their name.

Delmar Jones [/caption]

But, when the final words are said about each of us there are three things, only three things that truly matter concerning our legacy. Those three things and they must be in this order, are faith, family and friends. When it comes to the legacy of faith, family and friends, Amos, Delmar and Leroy got it right, they understood the importance and lived it daily! And in the case of these three old soldiers you can quickly add these words to their legacy: respect, loyalty, integrity, honesty and an unapologetic, unwavering belief in the Stars and Stripes and that we are blessed to live in the greatest country on earth.

Several years ago country crooner George Jones sang a song entitled, “Who’s Gonna Fill their Shoes?” The song laments the fact that when many of the old classic country stars are gone, there will be nobody to take their place. With three prominent deaths in a small community, this song and that question crossed my mind. Who will fill these three old soldiers’ shoes? Who will walk in parades, who will put flags on the graves of veterans, who will support their community and their country, who will salute the flag, who will understand and practice daily those three F’s of faith, family and friends?

For anybody willing to step up … those are three mighty big pairs of shoes to fill!

In 1951 Gen. Douglas MacArthur gave a farewell speech to a joint session of Congress. During that famous address MacArthur coined the phrase: “Old soldiers never die … they just fade away.”

In regard to the three old soldiers I write about today, let me paraphrase General MacArthur’s famous quote – Old soldiers never die, they leave an indelible mark on the collective hearts of their family, friends and the community they live in … and then … they just fade away.

Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Spotanski and Mr. Jones … I join countless others in saying thank you for your service to God and country and thank you for making Sesser a better place to live. Godspeed Gentlemen and rest easy.

2 mass shootings in less than 24 hours shock the U.S., leave 29 people dead

It took just 30 seconds in Ohio and zero bullets in Texas for officers to stop two mass shooters this weekend, but not before 29 people were killed and about 50 injured in less than 24 hours.

Here’s a link to the story at the Chicago Tribune.

Meet the people working to kick Chicago out of Illinois

It is midday and hot as a firecracker in the historic town of Mount Vernon, Ill.
The sun is nearly unbearable on the asphalt parking lot of the Fairfield Inn out by

Here’s a link to the story in the Chicago Tribune.

48 people shot, five killed in weekend of violence in Chicago

About two hours after seven people were shot in Douglas Park in the Lawndale neighborhood, eight more people were wounded, one fatally, in a nearby shooting, according to police.

Here’s a link to the story at the Chicago Tribune.

A sportswriter, a donkey and a March Madness tale for the ages

By Jim Muir

Merle Jones and Bill Darnell met only once in their lifetimes, but my-oh-my what a memorable meeting it was. In fact, it was a meeting that thousands of Southern Illinois basketball fans can still recall with exact detail.

Jones was the legendary sports editor of the Southern Illinoisan newspaper and Darnell was a civil defense worker who lived in West Frankfort. A series of events and a touch of March Madness brought the unlikely duo together on a cold, blustery and snowy day 48 years ago.

Jones, who served as sports editor at the Carbondale-based newspaper for nearly 30 years, was looked on as an icon and an institution in the region. It was often said that once an individual’s name appeared in one of Jones’ column it was a clear indication that person had arrived and was a fixture on the area sports’ scene.

(Merle Jones is pictured riding a donkey and leading a victory parade down West Frankfort main street in March 1960. Billy Darnell, who passed away this week, is pictured on the left in the dark coat.)

In his easy and folksy style of writing Jones often made predictions about certain games. One of those predictions came in March 1960 prior to a super sectional match between West Frankfort and Granite City.

The Redbirds entered post season play on somewhat of a down note, going just 2-6 during their last eight regular season games. In the regional finals the Redbirds had to come from behind to beat Johnston City by a score of 40-34.

West Frankfort then defeated Mounds 71-69 in double overtime in the first game of the sectional and then squared off with Metropolis in the sectional final played at Herrin. On the other side of the bracket Pinckneyville and Granite City played in the other sectional final in East St. Louis. The two winners would then meet, also in East St. Louis, in the super sectional and the right to advance to Champaign, where the state tournament was played.

Jones wrote that Pinckneyville or Granite City, regardless of which team won, would be the heavy favorite to advance to state tournament play. In what might have been an omen that Jones didn’t recognize at the time, West Frankfort defeated Metropolis 71-69 in double overtime – its second straight double overtime victory by the exact same score. Granite City knocked off Pinckneyville 73-66 to set up the East St. Louis super sectional match up.

Convinced that Granite City was the better team, Jones wrote the following sentence that started the now legendary chain of events.

“The Redbirds go to Champaign, win or lose, but they need not worry about taking their uniforms,” Jones wrote in a Sunday column on March 14, 1960 predicting Granite City was a cinch in the super.

The day after the column ran in the newspaper Jones received a note from Darnell, a young civil defense worker and avid West Frankfort Redbird fan.

“I would like to thank you for your preview of the West Frankfort-Granite City game,” Darnell wrote. “I’m inclined to go along with you on your prediction but I’m not quite as sure as you are.”

Then Darnell penned the paragraph that will forever be etched in the annals of Southern Illinois March Madness history.

“If West Frankfort beats Granite City and gets to take their suits to Champaign, you should ride a jackass down the main street of West Frankfort in front of the parade. Since you know the outcome it is no gamble on your part.”

The letter was signed by Darnell and also contained a post script.

“PS – I will furnish the jackass.”

Showing that he was up for the challenge and also displaying his flair as a writer Jones fired back a quick reply to Darnell via another column the following day.

“Brother Darnell, you’ve got yourself a deal. Nothing would please me more than to lead the victory parade.”

Proving the unpredictability of high school basketball West Frankfort pulled off a stunning upset defeating Granite City 66-64 in double overtime – their third successive double overtime win in succession. Years later Jones wrote about the night of the game, the parade and his ride down West Frankfort Main Street on Zephyr, the mule.

Jones wrote:

“That night produced one of the biggest snows of the winter – so much that the Redbird team stayed overnight in East St. Louis. I was not so fortunate. I had to come home that night to write my story for the next day’s paper. The next day was something else. The West Frankfort radio station kept blaring away about parade plans. I kept getting telephone invitations to appear.”

Jones continued:

“I arrived in West Frankfort before noon. Friend Darnell had two donkeys ready. I guess the spare was in case one donkey froze to death before the team arrived about 2 p.m. I know I almost froze waiting for the team. We had a fine parade with hundreds of fans and curious travelers lining both sides of the street. Redbird fans were good sports and hardly anybody threw snowballs at the man on the donkey. Those fabulous Redbirds of 1960 put me on a donkey for the first and last time. Imagine three straight double overtime victories and two by the same score!”

Jones retired from the newspaper in 1978 after nearly three decades of covering Southern Illinois sports. Jones died on Dec. 8, 1993 following a three year bout with cancer.

Darnell, now 74, lives in Florida but also maintains a residence in West Frankfort. Only 26 years old when he made the challenge, Darnell still has vivid and fond memories of that March Madness moment nearly five decades ago.

“I was really a little put out with Merle for writing that,” said Darnell. “High school basketball is so unpredictable, especially in the post season. I really thought he went a little out of bounds writing that, he didn’t give us any chance at all to win.”

Instead of getting mad about the column Darnell decided to extend a good-natured challenge to Jones and spent two hours composing a letter.

“I wrote the letter and challenged him and then he wrote about it in the paper,” said Darnell. “I was surprised because he accepted the challenge and was a good sport about it.”

Darnell laughed as he recalled Jones’ first meeting with Zephyr.

“He (Jones) took one look at the mule and said, ‘do you expect me to get on that thing’ and I said, ‘get on there, you said you’d do it if West Frankfort won … and we won,’” Darnell said. “In the end he was good natured about it and we laughed about it. There were a lot of people that wanted to see him on that jackass, so there was a big crowd at the parade.”

Darnell said the story has been recalled many times throughout the years but he never talked to Jones again after the parade.

“The reason I wrote the letter was because I took a lot of pride in local sports and he made it sound like we shouldn’t even show up,” said Darnell. “I don’t think either one of us thought that we would end up being a part of March Madness history in Southern Illinois, though.”

Audit shows IDOT didn’t inspect bridges, follow reporting requirements

A state lawmaker who supported doubling the state’s gas tax to pay for infrastructure projects said a new audit could mean some planned projects won’t get funded.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Illinois won’t accept federal family planning money after abortion ban, governor says

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that Illinois won’t accept money from the federal government for family planning centers after a federal rule barring tax dollars for centers that promote abortions.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Illinois Congressman wants everyone counted for citizen regardless of legal status

As the White House continues forward with attempts to get a citizenship question on the upcoming U.S. Census, an Illinois congressman said everyone should be counted, regardless of immigration status.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Rep. Bryant: Words ‘twisted’ by Pritzker staff on Confederate Railroad cancellation

CARBONDALE — A meeting between Southern Illinois state Rep. Terri Bryant and executive staffers of Gov. J.B. Pritzker has yielded more details about the state’s decision to cancel a performance by the band Confederate Railroad at the Du Quoin State Fair, apparently over their use of the name and symbols of the confederacy.

Here’s a link to the story at the Southern Illinoisan.

Benton police make arrests

On June 28, 2019 at approximately 8:15 p.m., Benton Police were dispatched to Huck’s located at 1200 North Main Street in reference to retail theft. Upon investigating, police arrested Linda L. Kilsnick, age 67, of Benton for retail theft. Kilsnick was charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On July 1, 2019 at approximately 1:30 p.m., Benton Police arrested Ada L. Mocaby, age 31, of Logan for domestic battery. Mocaby was charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On July 4, 2019 at approximately 12 a.m., Benton Police conducted a traffic stop at the intersection of Renshaw and Hunters Circle.
Upon investigating, police arrested Ronald L. Petit, age 37, of Benton for driving while under the influence. Petit was charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On July 6, 2019 at approximately 10:30 p.m., Benton Police were dispatched to the 1200 block of North Main Street in reference to a fight in progress. Upon investigating, police arrested Zachary S. Hancock, age 25, of Benton for battery and criminal damage to property. Police also arrested Tyler J. Hancock, age 18, of Benton for unlawful consumption of alcoholic liquor. Both were charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

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