A Glimpse Into the Past


An excerpt from the John and Nellie Schwengel gold wedding anniversary announcement, June 17, 1962.

The other day my mother shared with me a full-page typed document that was preserved in a book along with other family heirlooms and history. It was an article written 1962 to recognize and invite the community to celebrate the golden anniversary of my great- great-grandparents, John and Nellie Schwengel. The anniversary open house celebration was hosted by my great-grandparents, Wesley and Mary Emily Schwengel, and took place from 3-5 p.m. on June 17, 1962.


The following italicized excerpts were taken from the article, in additional to supplemental information from me:


"Mr. John Schwengel and Nellie Opal McMillen were united in marriage on June 15, 1912 by the Rev. Charles Ryan of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign. They were married at the home of Nellie's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fremont McMillen. Nellie's sister, Mrs. William Ehler, searched the highways and hedges to make a living bower of wild roses (a flower whose delicate beauty is seldom seen today) where they stood together at the entrance to the library of their home."


I love the fact that the person that wrote this felt it necessary to add a parenthesis about the delicate beauty of wild roses. I feel like that is just one of many examples of the style of storytelling I’ve discovered as part of this project. I also am delighted to note that I was also married at the entrance of a library! Although Oliver and I married at the Newberry Library in Chicago, I still find it so interesting that there are similarities that I can tie together between my present life and the life of my family nearly 90 years ago!

"The Schwengel's had two sons, John Stanford, who passed away in 1938, and Wesley McMillen Schwengel (my great-grandfather). They have three grandsons – Phillip (my grandfather) who is married and farming, Marc in the Navy on the USS Canberra, and Jon D. at Southern Illinois University. They also have a great-granddaughter Lorri Lynn (my mother)."

This article was written in 1962, before my uncle Kenny was born and before my grandfather's brothers were married and had children of their own.

"Lorri Lynn (my mother) represents the sixth generation since her great- great- great-grandfather (George Francis Curtis) purchased the homestead. This land was purchased in 1859 from the Big Four railroad with the understanding that within five years, one fourth of it should be in cultivation and fenced or hedged. Mrs. Schwengel's father (Fremont McMillen) came here in a covered wagon with his parents when he was three years old. Mrs. Schwengel’s mother (Laura Curtis McMillen) came to Champaign in a covered wagon when she was eleven years old.”


My mother did some even further digging to learn that George Francis Curtis, (born February 20, 1843) was married to Elizabeth Curtis (born October 16, 1842). George was the son of Thomas Broughton Curtis, Jr. (born September 20, 1818) and Elizabeth Jane Riley Curtis (born December 26, 1821). The timeline of the farm is as follows:

  • George purchased the farmland from the railroad in 1859

  • Fremont purchased the farm 1892

  • Nellie and John purchase the farm in 1923

After this point the farm transitioned into the care of my great-grandparents Wesley and Mary Emily Schwengel, and then to my grandparents Phil and Sharon Schwengel. The farm and stone house transitioned out of the family in the early 1980s but still remains on North Duncan Road in Champaign.


“During a lifetime in the community, Nellie and John Schwengel have been active in a number of organizations. Mr. John Schwengel farmed the homestead and other property until his retirement, was a charter member of the Champaign Farm Bureau, and serves as Chairman of the Staley Unit. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign.”


“Mrs. Nellie Schwengel lived at the McMillen homestead for her entire life. After graduating from high school in 1912, she took a psychology course as well as the Quisenberry Poultry Course. For the next 18 years she trapnested, pedigreed and progeny tested poultry. Her work received inquiries from as far as British East Africa. Retiring from that work because of health, she focused on hybridization of Iris, with six of her introductions registered with the American Iris Society. She was a member of the Home Bureau for many years, a lifelong member of the First Presbyterian Church and for six years was Vice President of Church’s Woman’s Christian Temperance League. Her parents (Fremont and Laura McMillen grandparents (George and Elizabeth Curtis) were members of the church since 1859.”

I learned that the poultry course that Nellie took was part of the famous T. E. Quisenberry American School of Poultry Husbandry, a part of the American Poultry School out of Kansas City, Missouri. Her family’s work in poultry and poultry breeding dates back to their family farm’s homestead date of 1859, with Fremont and Laura featured here in the Prairie Farmer’s Reliable Directory of Farmers and Breeders in Champaign County.


The article continues on by sharing that Mr. and Mrs. Schwengel flew to Cuba in 1954 and in 1955 went to Israel and 15 other countries over a span of about two months as part of a church trip.


I admire the story told as part of John and Nellie’s golden wedding anniversary. I can’t help but share that reading these stories about my family flood me with excitement and emotion. It’s a special feeling to know that my family helped to shape the community that I live in. That they were active in the community, contributed to so many different groups and efforts, and wanted to travel. I connect with all of this, so very much. From my interest in local government, to serving on various non-profit boards, to my interest in travel. There are just so many connections that I want to further explore. Where do I move on from here? I’ll probably continue to use the power of Google to search online records but I’m guessing a trip to the Champaign County Extension Services Collection is in order. I’m hopeful that from there I’ll be able to learn more about Nellie’s work with poultry husbandry and her role with the Champaign County Home Bureau.


To be continued!


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