The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

March 17, 2013

Minister found joy in simple things


I was reminded of a story passed down by the Rev. Wesley Blackwell when the church I attend was short a musician a few weeks ago.

Rev. Blackwell faced a similar situation on a long ago Sunday morning, and it appeared the collection plate would have to be passed with no musical accompaniment. But he was rescued by a member of the congregation who assured him her young daughter knew the offertory music, and would certainly be willing to play it.

The little girl was less than willing, but reluctantly took a seat at the piano at the front of the church. When the ushers passed the collection plate she began to play, and treated the worshippers to a rousing rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Rev. Blackwell’s son, Joe, did not recall his father mentioning how the United Brethren congregation reacted to the music, but noted his father enjoyed the incident. The reverend had a good sense of humor and enjoyed telling of humorous events that occurred during his lifetime in the ministry.

He was born in 1879, when ministers were still following the circuit on horseback in Illinois. During his half century behind the pulpit, he moved to a number of different locations, including Casey, White Heath and Yale, Ill. But he spent nearly half of his career in Vermilion County, living in Oakwood.

He was an avid hunter and was a crack shot with a rifle. When I was a boy, he would come to the farm and demonstrate his skill with my short barreled 22 caliber rifle. He could hit a tin can thrown into the air nearly every time. Joe recalled his father didn’t hunt for sport, but to put meat on the table.

Rev. Blackwell and his wife, Sally, had nine children. Joe recalled the large family necessitated his father supplementing his income from preaching by working at different jobs, including carpentry work. A diarist who attended the Lake Shore Church on the Old State Road in Vermilion County recorded Rev. Blackwell assisted in roofing the little church while preaching there, and did not charge for his labor. This evidently impressed the diarist, because it was the only mention of the church in several years of observations.

Joe recalled the years of the Great Depression were certainly trying for his family, but no more so than for most of the rest of the population of the country. He recalled members of the congregation of the church shared meat when they butchered and his mother always canned a lot of food.

When World War II came, Joe remembered the hard financial times ended. He entered the Army and was a gunner on a tank in the 778th Tank Battalion of General Patton’s 3rd Army Division. His unit was on the front lines for 176 days, and he was severely wounded in both legs. He noted the strong faith instilled in him by his father and mother served him well during that period of his life.

Rev. Blackwell retired from the ministry and he and his wife Sally left Oakwood in 1948 to live next door to their daughter, Evelyn, in Lee Center, Ill. Sally passed away in 1953 and he in 1956. Joe remembered when times were the hardest his father had lifted their spirits with humor. “He could always find joy in the simplest things,” Joe noted. Things like a little girl playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on a Sunday morning.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.