The Wallace family were long-time residents of the Marengo community, at least from the late 1800’s. The elder members lived on a farm near the sharp corner on Johnson Road, about a mile south of the intersection with W. Grant Highway. Their son, Artell, was one of Marengo’s businessmen in the 1920’s, selling insurance under the name of Wallace Insurance. In 1947 his son, Charles, became a partner in the office at 211 S. State Street.
Charles graduated from the Marengo High School in 1939. In 1943, he graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology, enlisting almost immediately in the U. S. Army Air Forces, reporting for active duty at a special U. S. Army Air Forces Meteorology School at Grand Rapids, Michigan. Following graduation from this course of study, Charles was assigned as the Weather Officer for the newly formed 506th Fighter Group (P-51’s) which was destined for the island of Iwo Jima. His group, which consisted of three squadrons, was scheduled for daily missions between Iwo Jima and Japan. He remained on Iwo Jima for the balance of W. W. II and later became the Weather Officer for the 7th Fighter Command Headquarters on the island of Saipan.
Charles was one of many young men going off to far-away places to defend America should the need arise. But what was life like for this young teenager growing up in Marengo? What did he do to keep himself occupied and prepared for a meaningful life as an adult? Fortunately for the Marengo Society for Historic Preservation, Charles wrote down his memories of growing up in Marengo. These memories certainly give today’s residents a bird’s eye view of life in Marengo during the 1930’s. Just as our young men of 2017 look for part-time work, the young men of the 1930’s were no different, looking for an opportunity to earn extra money during the summer months or after school. Charles recorded the following: “Specifically, I remember working for Wendell Swonguer, who owned and operated the furniture, appliance, and funeral business in the building on the southeast corner of South State and East Washington Streets. As part of this business, he sometimes installed linoleum, and I remember helping with the laying of the linoleum floor surfacing in the tavern now (1950’s) known as “the Spot” on S. State Street. I also worked for Ray Shearer in his woodworking shop on the southwest corner of East Prairie and S. Taylor Streets. The latter building has now become a part of the McGill Metal Products Company. Working for Harold Hyde when age fourteen or fifteen was an experience I will never forget. Sometime during the summer, Harold brought the keys to our home for his Terraplane pick-up truck and asked me to take care of his business for several weeks while he would be vacationing in California. It seemed like quite a challenge, because I don’t think I had a driver’s license at that time. Harold owned and operated a draying business along with a small coal yard, with an office on the east side of N. State Street at the site of the present city parking lot. At that time, most freight, merchandise, etc. were shipped to Marengo by train instead of by truck. Twice a day Harold would meet the trains, and then he would in turn deliver the shipments to the local businesses. Because he had only one full-time employee (George Hewitt), it was necessary to make arrangements for additional help when freight car loads of flour for Brey’s Bakery or freight car loads of stoves and refrigerators for Eicksteadt’s Hardware Store arrived in town. Finally, in my last year of high school, I worked at the Marengo State Bank. As I recall, there were a total of only three or four employees in the bank at that time, even though most of the bookwork was done by hand. During that period, I thought I personally was acquainted with nearly every resident in town.
Lucy West, my future wife,also had a part time job while in high school. She worked at the Swiss Miss Drive Inn on East Grant Highway at the site where the First National Bank drive-in facility is now located. The Swiss Miss originally started as a “road-side” stand serving refreshments, later adding a miniature golf course. After remodeling, the last years included the manufacture and sale of ice cream…featuring curb service”.
Do consider writing down your own memories of growing up in Marengo! Many things change in a community, but the teenager’s need to earn some spending money never changes. Hire a teenager whenever possible! You’ll make great memories for them!