Eureka College Students To Portray Figures From Eureka’s Past In May 5 Cemetery Walk

EUREKA – The Eureka College Theater Department and the Woodford County Historical Society will hold their fifth annual cemetery walk from 2 to 4 p.m. May 5 at Olio Township Cemetery, 1015 S. Main St., Eureka. 

Eureka College students will portray figures from Eureka’s past. The actors will have researched the figures and will be wearing costumes indicative of the characters’ time periods. 

Students who will portray the characters are Timothy Jenkins of Watseka, Rahmell Brown of Peoria, Coleman Payne of El Paso, Jerrod Barth of Minonk and Anna Dabrowski of Mansfield. 

The historical figures who will be portrayed are: 

• Benjamin Johnson Radford, who was born in 1838 on a farm southwest of Eureka. As a young man, he taught at one-room schools to earn enough money for tuition to attend Eureka College. His education was interrupted to serve in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, but he graduated from Eureka College in 1866. He spent the next 67 years as a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister at several churches and as a teacher at several colleges, including Eureka College, where he was president for several years. He was associate editor of the Christian Standard and wrote many poems. He owned Eureka’s Woodford County Journal for a year but turned it over to other family members, who published it for many years. After living in Des Moines, Cincinnati and Denver, the family moved back to Eureka permanently in 1890 and lived in a house just north of the current funeral home on South Main Street. B.J. Radford died in 1933 at age 95. 

• Thomas E. Wiggins, who graduated from Eureka College in 1913 and spent his entire career teaching there, including during the Great Depression. At one point, as money dried up and enrollment declined, Wiggins was among only four professors remaining at the college. The men drew no salary for a while, but they were allowed to raise food in a garden on the campus. Ronald Reagan attended the college during that time, and Wiggins was his English teacher. It was during those years that the Eureka Plan to give students jobs and the Single Subject Plan in which students took only one course at a time, were formed. Wiggins’ family attended the Eureka Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and helped with the “penny suppers,” where each dish cost just a penny. The Wigginses hosted famous poet Carl Sandburg in their home on Darst Street when he performed at the high school auditorium. The man known as either T.E. or Elbert to his friends, died in 1954 at age 66. 

• Columbus Americas Robeson, who was born in 1841 in Bowling Green, a once-thriving village located four miles southeast of Eureka. The town is now defunct, with only a stone marker noting where the town once stood. Robeson attended Eureka College but left to join the Army in the Civil War. As a member of the cavalry, he rode his horse doing reconnaissance work watching the enemies’ movements. He participated in the battles of Shiloh, Vicksburg and the march to Atlanta. Upon returning to the area, he filled many elected offices. He was the first sheriff to have an office in the new Woodford County Courthouse when the county seat was moved from Metamora to Eureka in 1897. Robeson died in 1924 at age 83. 

• Eunice McCorkle Felter, wife of Pierce Andrew Felter, who was a successful Eureka businessman and farmer.He owned farms all around Woodford County and built a grain elevator near the railroad tracks in Eureka. P.A., as he was called, was on the committee to build the new Woodford County Courthouse in 1897. The couple married in 1887 and built a grand home on South Main Street, which now is the funeral home. They had five girls and one boy, and Eunice died when their youngest child was 11. P.A. went on to raise the family and continued managing his farmlands. 

• Samuel Harrod Jr., who was born in 1916, became a well-known attorney and  was active in the Eureka community. His father, Samuel Glenn Harrod, was a  force in the development of Eureka College and was Dean of the college for many  years. Sam Jr. was the first Eagle Scout in Eureka and later had a successful law  practice for many years. He was a trustee at Eureka College and was an announcer  for the college’s football games. He was a Cub Scout master, chairman of the  Pumpkin Festival, a founder of Eureka Rotary Club and president of Eureka  Community Association. He served two terms as Woodford County State’s Attorney.  He also was a friend of Ronald Reagan, who phoned the family home to offer his  condolences on the day in 1981 that Sam Jr. died just days before his 65th birthday. 

Members of the Eureka College Circle K Club will be greeters at the cemetery gates and will distribute programs and maps to the gravesites. There is no admission fee, but donations to the historical society will be accepted. For more information, contact theater professor Holly Rocke at (309) 467-6580 or historical society member Karen Fyke at (309) 467-4525.