Max Armstrong talks about his book and career
From left to right at the Winged Ear historical marker at Fourth and Lincoln in DeKalb are DAAHA curator Donna Langford, Larry Mix, Max Armstrong, Daryl Roland and Norm Larson. (Schrader photo)
By Barry Schrader, editor of DeKalb County Life.com
The sidekick to “Big O” was in town last week and sat down to talk about his book, his life and his mentor.
Max Armstrong came to DeKalb Friday to film the newly-relocated Winged Ear state historical marker that commemorates the famous DeKalb Ag logo known worldwide as the symbol of hybrid corn and also provides great publicity for the city and county. Practically every nation in the world recognizes that winged ear but some probably don’t even know there is a city connected to it.
Anyway, I asked Max eight questions and here are his answers, not exact quotes but condensed in some cases for brevity and easier reading.
QUESTION: Why did you decide to write a book at this point in your life?
ANSWER: The couple that helped Orion Samuelson write and publish his book (titled “You Can’t Dream Big Enough”) contacted me to offer to help me do one as well. I didn’t think there was enough material but they proved there was. I provided some material from my shows over the years, my Facebook entries and even wrote some notes while flying around the country to various ag-related events. So now the book “Stories from the Heartland” is done. It took less than a year to complete, even though I am busy flying weekly from Raleigh, North Carolina to Midway-Chicago to do the broadcasts with Orion (Samuelson).
Q: Why did you leave the Midwest and move to North Carolina?
A: Our daughter and husband moved to Raleigh where he is an attorney and I could see the handwriting on the wall. A new granddaughter: And now we live only seven miles from them. But I get up at 4 a.m. to get to the airport and get to the gate by 5 a.m. for the trip to our studio.
Q: When did you start WRFD-TV?
A: Orion and I have been working together for 38 years, most of that time at WGN, but we wanted to own our own show so started RFD-TV 10 years ago.
We also have “This Week in Agribusiness” which airs all over the country and on such local stations as WLBK and WSPY.
Our RFD program brought me to DeKalb this week, where we are taping our Christmas show, covering the DeKalb Methodist Church choir performing and also this historical marker. We interview the pastor and talk about their music ministry.
(NOTE: The Christmas show will be broadcast on DIRECTV Satellite Channel 345 at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 and again at 5 a.m. Sunday. Many farm families have this satellite service.)
Q: Where do you keep your antique tractors?
A: I have three old tractors at Benjamin Eypers’ place between Sandwich and Plano. He has helped me maintain and store them there for years. One is the Farmall Super H (his dad’s 1953 tractor) that I take to the Sandwich Fair (and often the Waterman Tractor Show.
Q: What radio personalities have you known?
A: Well I knew Bob Brown (Mister WLBK) and many with WGN over the years—Bob Collins, Wally Phillips, Jack Brickhouse, Ray Rayner, Bozo the Clown, Tom Skilling, and Roy Leonard, to name a few.
Q: We are losing tillable farm land events years across the country. Should we be concerned?
A: It bothers me. I hate to see that land lost because once it is gone it is lost forever. They pave it over and it never comes back into productivity again. But fortunately we are continuing to increase productivity on the land we still have. It is one more reason we have to have this upward trending line in yields to get more out of them. That is why the research that is taking place right here in the DeKalb area to this day is so crucial, because we must continue to grow those yields.
Q: Do you think we will continue to rely on the American farmer to feed the world?
A: We will have to continue doing that, but honestly, we have a lot of competition now around the world, a lot of other countries doing it as well…. Argentina has recently changed its President and that’s a sleeping monster that is really going to come to life down there in South America. Hopefully, in this country our government will continue to let agriculture grow unfettered. I’m a little concerned about the heavy hand of Regulation is being felt everywhere. (I mentioned the control on inland waters and he added:) The waters of the U.S. issue is a big concern.
Q: What about the future of farming in general?
A: It will be more important in the future, more concentrated larger farms and companies… Farmers need to become more efficient. There will still be a place, especially for young people who are bright, who want to be a part of the agriculture industry. Our role as adults is to encourage them, to give them the avenues. For example, working in research and in new equipment development.
Those of us who have been a part of this industry for life have been so blessed, we need to make sure we give something back to enable those young people who have a chance to go into agriculture, and not go in to technology other than ag…let them look right here in our own back yard. Make sure we keep some of those great minds in rural America. A lot of people think the “entrepreneurial spirit” is concentrated on the coasts—Silicon Valley and the canyons of New York City. And that just isn’t so.
There have been some tremendous innovations in the rural communities of the Midwest coming out of small shops that continues to this day.
AND WITH THAT, the interview ended and Max went back to his role as interviewer, not the interviewee. By the way, I found out that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield has the original copy owned by Lincoln of the first annual report from the newly-created U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was donated to the library by Max and Linda Armstrong in 2000.
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The Sheriff Tradition Begins
(Part 1 of the historical perspective of the Office of Sheriff)
“There Is A New Sheriff In Town” a familiar American idiom used frequently to describe a new beginning. This phrase harkens back to the American West, and refers to a new sheriff arriving in town and cleaning up corruption and arresting the outlaws. It is an example that shows the sheriff is part of the culture and democratic fabric of the United States.
This is the first of a short series of articles that will go back to the “roots” of the Office of Sheriff in early England, trace its appearance in other parts of the world, with a focus on the American Sheriff. In addition this series will take a factual, and sometimes humorous look at some of America’s most notable sheriffs. Let’s begin though with a look at the images that comes to mind surrounding the word sheriff. When people hear the word sheriff some may think of Sheriff Buford Pusser of McNairy County Tennessee, highlighted in the 1970’s movie series “Walking Tall,” or maybe the more recent television series entitled “Longmire,” perhaps the current and controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County Arizona comes to mind, he wrote the book “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” If Sheriff Joe is “America’s Toughest Sheriff” America’s most beloved Sheriff has to be Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, so brilliantly portrayed by Andy Griffith in his ever popular television series. As a member of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association you know what a sheriff is, and the image you have probably has developed from your local sheriff and his/her deputies.
There are three primary factors that distinguish the Office of Sheriff from other law enforcement agencies in this country. The first factor is that throughout 95% of America’s counties and parishes, the sheriff is the only leader of a law enforcement agency directly elected and accountable to the citizens of his/her jurisdiction*, the next factor is that again throughout 95% of America it is the sheriff that is responsible for the incarceration of inmates in the County Jail. In Illinois he/she statutorily is designated as the “Warden” of the County Jail which houses prisoners from all jurisdictions within the County. The third significant factor is that the Sheriff’s Office is the oldest continuing law enforcement unit, outside of the military, in world history. We will review all of these factors but we will begin with the origin of the Office of Sheriff.
The Office of Sheriff began around the 9th Century in early England, the land was divided into a few geographic areas known as “shires.” The shire, what we might refer to as a kingdom, was ruled by a king or lord and his family. The population of the shire was made up of free peasants who in exchange for the protection of the king and his armies, would supply food and labor for the king. Within the peasant group, a leader emerged known as the reeve, meaning guardian. He was leader in all areas of the community of peasants and key in their relationship with the king or lord of the shire. As time passed the king saw the importance and influence of the reeve, and incorporated that position into an important role within the king’s governmental structure. The reeve became known as the shire-reeve because he was the guardian of the geographic territory known as the shire. As time passed the term evolved into what we know today as sheriff. The sheriff became the kings appointed representative to protect the king’s interest and act as a mediator with not only the peasants, but others within the king’s realm.
In 1066 William of Normandy, who believed he was the rightful heir to the throne of England, invaded England which was by then made up of many shires, but had only one king, King Harold, who had several sheriffs. William invaded England and defeated King Harold at the battle of Hastings and history reflects that King Harold’s last line of defense were his sheriffs. As William took over the throne, he kept the Office of Sheriff, as a vital position in his government, and so it continued becoming even more important to King William and those that followed in his stead.
In the next installment of this series we will examine how the duties of today’s sheriff tie directly back to the early shire-reeves.©
(Reprinted from Illinois Sheriff newsletter with permission of DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Modest proposal could change County names
By William Furry
Executive Director, Illinois State Historical Society
For all our reverence for the past, history is more about change than anything else. We take it in stride that things will change, at least some of us do. The Sears Tower is no longer the Sears Tower. The Illinois Centennial Building is now the Michael J. Howlett Building. Even the Illinois State Museum building has a new name—the Alan Dixon Building—though who knows how long that will last. Highways, too, seem to have new names all the time. Springfield’s West Grand Avenue became MacArthur Boulevard not long after World War II. Certainly Chicago’s Stevenson and the Dan Ryan expressways had earlier identities. Politicians seem to have a fast track for memorializing their own, but that shouldn’t surprise any of us who follow Illinois politics.
That’s why I think it’s time for greater changes, especially now that the Illinois Bicentennial is only three years away. How should we commemorate our state’s 200th birthday with positive change for the future? How should we recognize our own heroes while still telling our “wond’rous story” to the world?
For starters I suggest we look at Illinois’s 102 counties, all of which were named before 1860. For more than 150 years they have honored a past that is beyond any living person’s memory. Given that Illinois history is rarely taught in Illinois schools these days, the names for the counties might as well be written in Latin, or worse, French. Not that I dislike our county names; I just think we have an incredible opportunity to make our own history for the future.
And I suggest we start by renaming the counties. For argument sake I recommend renaming Woodford County “Vautrin County,” for Willelmina “Minnie” Vautrin, the teacher from the tiny town of Secor, Illinois, who saved 10,000 lives in Nanking China at the onset of WWII. Outside of China there is no monument to this “Goddess of Mercy,” and Illinois would do well to recognize one of its own.
Sangamon County might consider naming itself Duncan County, for Otis Duncan, the highest-ranking African-American soldier in WWI, who earned his rank fighting in France at a time when the U.S. Army—and the rest of America–legally discriminated against minorities.
Who knows the namesake for Cook County? Wouldn’t it make more sense to name the county for Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president who has brought hope to millions throughout the world, and claims Chicago as home?
Some of our counties are named for folks who never set foot in the Prairie State. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe come to mind, but Dewitt Clinton—for whom two Illinois counties are named, didn’t either. Abraham Lincoln, who wandered all over the state, doesn’t have a county named for him. Perhaps Saline County, where rebel flags have been seen flying recently on public school property, would consider a name change.
In like manner, Madison County could be renamed “Lovejoy County,” and Adams County, with the addition of one letter, could become Jane “Addams County.” Heck, we could rename Clinton County for Hillary and never have to change a letter.
The point of all this is that, in a free society, we should be at liberty to change the course of our future, to reinvent ourselves every few years so that our history and our heroes are relevant to a generation that, by mandate of the State Board of Education, isn’t taught history at all.
While we’re at it, I’m also in favor of striking the names of public officials from the rolls of honor, similar to what the ancient Egyptians did to pharaohs who committed offences that betrayed the public trust. This would ensure that the names of convicted felons such as George Ryan, Aaron Schrock, Dan Walker, Otto Kerner, and Rod Blagojevich could never be engraved on any public building.
But back to the point. Renaming Illinois counties could be a moneymaker for the state. Perhaps Governor Bruce Rauner, who isn’t afraid of throwing a fortune into the wind to ensure his name in history, would drop $10 million to rename Winnebago County for his kin, or for Ronald Reagan, another cowboy with more hat than head. Likewise the League of Women Voters could raise another $50 million to rename 10 current counties for women. If you haven’t already noticed, there are no counties named for women in Illinois, an oversight by our esteemed forebears no doubt.
For starters, take a look at the attached map. If you could rename an Illinois county for someone (preferably an Illinoisan) who has inspired you, astonished you, or made the state (and the world, possibly) a better place, send us your nomination. Let’s get this bicentennial ball rolling by taking charge of our own history… and our future. Let’s reignite the passion of the revolution, and make the next 200 years relevant for the “suckers” who have to pay for it.
(Reprinted with permission of William Furry, executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society and a former editor at Illinois Times).
From the Doug-Out
He is one of those guys you can’t help but admire.
From 1966 to 1979, Doug Buffone played outside linebacker for the Chicago Bears. A fourth round draft pick out of Louisville, Buffone was a dependable, hard working player who was often overlooked because of some of the giants he played with, namely Dick Butkus, Gayle Sayers and Walter Payton. He was a typical working guy: good, but not enough to make all-pro or the hall of fame.
However, Buffone is probably best known for his radio commentaries on the Bears, including the last eight years with fellow teammate Ed O’Bradovich. Their rants, especially after a Bears loss, were far more entertaining than when they won.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Buffone once. It was at one of those super market openings in the suburbs many years ago. He was genuinely friendly and generous, something not all former professional athletes are, as I have discovered the hard way.
Many of Buffone’s exploits, both on and off the field, are included in his new book, “Doug Buffone, Monster of the Midway.” Buffone completed the book shortly before his unexpected death this past April at the age of 71.
“Monster of the Midway” is essentially a 240-page conversation between Buffone and veteran sports writer Chet Coppock, divided into different topics, which details the highlights of Buffone’s career, including many of his legendary stories about life with George Halas, Mike Ditka and other Bear greats. It is as insightful look into the world of the NFL. And yes, there is a story or two about training camp, including the bar that used to post a sign on its door: “No Chicago Bears allowed.”
The book is one of several offerings by Triumph Sports Books in Chicago that would make great Christmas presents for the sports fan in any family.
An equally impressive book, which is great for any long-time Packers fan, is “Lombardi and Me” by Paul Hornung with Billy Reed. The book contains memories of the legendary coach who won five NFL titles in nine seasons, including the first two Super Bowls. Contributors include former Packer greats Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Willie Davis, Jerry Kramer, Forest Gregg and many others.
One of the most poignant tales was told by Kramer. One particular practice early in his career, Lombardi wouldn’t let up on Kramer, berating him for everything he did. It got so bad Kramer was considering giving up the sport entirely when, unexpectedly, Lombardi came up to him after practice, patted him on the shoulder, and told him he was going to become the best tackle in the game.
Thanks to his coach, who used to hang a sign on the locker room door, “Leave no regrets on the field,” he just may have.
Lombardi was as loved and respected as he was hated and feared. “I didn’t go to Green Bay to play for the green and gold,” Marv Fleming remarked. “I wanted to play for Lombardi’s Packers.”
Changing sports, did you know that Michael Jordan was a geography major in college? Or that he loves history and practical jokes, but he can’t tell a joke? Or that he is afraid of swimming? Or what he considers the eight top moments in his storied basketball career?
You will if you read “If These Walls Could Talk,” a first person account by sports writer Kent McDill about the Bulls dynasty, when they claimed six NBA titles in eight seasons.
McDill, who covered the team for various Chicago newspapers, also reveals that Dennis Rodman, the notorious bad boy of the NBA, is more intelligent and thoughtful than his public image might indicate. He also writes about make up calls and phantom calls, how Philadelphia is not the City of Brotherly Love, what it’s like playing tennis with Phil Jackson, and how sitting close to the court isn’t always a good thing.
More than simply the Bulls, there are several pointers for prospective journalists on how to cover a professional sports team.
This is a book the more I read, the more intrigued I became by it.
A Chicago team in the middle of a dynasty is the Chicago Blackhawks. “Hawks Dynasty” is a collection of newspaper pictures and newspapers that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, like a souvenir of the Hawks run to the 2015 Stanley Cup. Besides each of the playoff series, there are features on Patrick Kane, Jonathan Tows, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad and Corey Crawford, as well as the result of every game last season, sort of like a long souvenir..
The amazing pictures alone, some of which will leave you breathless, are worth the price of the book themselves. As someone who has covered a variety of local sports over the years, I can’t imagine how they got some of these pictures.
Finally, I saved the best for last. For Cub fans, there is “The Cubs Fan Guide to Happiness” by long-time Cubs fan George Ellis, which asks the age old question: “To Boo or Not to Boo?”
This is an hysterical look at various reasons – or excuses – to be a Cubs fan. Some of the titles include: “If Not a Championship, Beer will Make it Better,” “At Least You’re Not a White Sox Fan,” “The Power of Low Expectations,” and “15 Habits of Highly Happy Cub Fans.”
There’s also, which is my favorite, a Cubs fan glossary, which is absolutely must reading while we all wait for next year and hopefully a chance at what we just missed out on this season. Under the definition of bullpen, for example, it reads: “Part of Wrigley Field that house Cub players who should still be in the minor leagues.”
This book is funny and irreverent,and is guaranteed to keep you chuckling until next season when, hopefully, the Cubs will do what they just missed out on this season.
In many ways, this is my favorite of the five books.
All of the above books were published by Triumph Sports Books and, since we no longer have a big chain bookstore in our area, can be purchased on line. Each one is great in their own way.
Reach him at: email@example.com
From the Party Line……
Not every issue will include this personals column, but I welcome contributions of interest about people and organizations around the county.
Oak Crest is welcoming DeKalb Mayor John Rey and his wife Marge as new residents this month. The mayor will bring fresh insight into the city’s activities to residents who are interested in local affairs. So the Reys are entering a new chapter in their lives by becoming part of this retirement community.
Steve Bigolin’s column on local landmarks will resume next week with a feature on the building known as McCabe’s Tavern. Steve is part of the staff at DeKalb Public Library working long hours to complete the move into its new addition so they can open to their patrons again in mid-January.
Since there is no longer a bookstore anywhere in the county where people can feed their literary appetites, the reading public will have to visit the Sycamore Library, Malta, Genoa, Kirkland or those along Route 30 or obtain a free citizen card to the NIU Founders Library where you only need to present your Illinois Driver’s License to fill out the form and get a card, renewable each year. If you drive there during evening hours you can use the Carroll Street NIU lot free. I have been doing this for some time and enjoy the vast resources available through the university library system. They also have bargain used/donated books for sale in the first floor foyer for around $1.
More news from Ney Grange in Genoa. Vice President Tom Rhoads has been appointed to work with the Flora Grange just over the Boone County Line north of Kirkland to plan a Fairdale community breakfast next April around the anniversary of the 2015 tornado. This would be a free breakfast for all residents and responders if all goes as planned. Roger Watson has offered his large tent for a shelter in case of increment weather that day.
The board of the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society is due to take up the proposal this week to erect three historical markers in the county next Spring to recognize the role of two churches and a farm home that played a major part in providing shelter and transportation for slaves escaping to Canada before the Civil War. The locations will most likely be the Mayfield Church south of Kingston, the United Presbyterian (UP) Church north of Somonauk, and the former home of Deacon David West out East Old State Road near Sycamore. Other sites such as the former Sycamore First Congregational Church (now Federated), even though the name has changed and church relocated, might be considered as well. And we should not forget the badly deteriorating gravestone of Deacon West in the Elmwood Cemetery, which is barely discernible and needs restoring, replacing, or a historical marker placed there.
I am rereading Nancy Beasley’s well documented book on the “Underground Railroad in DeKalb County, Illinois” which provides many examples of the anti-slavery actions taken by local residents and churches. You can find a copy in most local libraries or go to amazon.com to purchase one.
Just returned from the bi-monthly brunch of our Genoa-Kingston Class of 1958. Got to sit next to Bernice and Dick Fowler. He has the largest collection of tractors in DeKalb County, so am going to buy him a copy of Max Armstrong’s book this Saturday at Barshinger’s Barn. Just don’t tell Dick; it is his Christmas gift…
This new blog about DeKalb County Life will be published again at the beginning of next week, but then will take a hiatus the last part of the year. You can expect to see a series on the local news media and some of the main players who provide us news and entertainment during 2016.
Please ask your friends and co-workers to join us. It’s free!
—-Party Line gossip is courtesy of Barry Schrader at firstname.lastname@example.org
History Mystery Photos for Dec. 14, 2015
Guess where these two objects are located. Answer at bottom of post.
Fav Photo of the Week
The photographer caught this big buck munching on an ear of corn last winter in the DeKalb area. The camera operator prefers to remain anonymous since he may be guilty of feeding a wild animal. Probably only a misdemeanor…
Photo submissions for FAV FOTO are welcomed and can be sent via email to email@example.com. Credit will be given as you request.
History Mystery photo answers: The bird painting with the name Picasso under it was discovered some time ago in one of the old vaults at the DeKalb Public Library and taken to the Art Institute and then Sothebys for appraisal and authentication, which made a good story for Auctioneer Steve Almburg when selling it last Saturday along with a hundred other items. Even though it was declared a fake, I still raised my paddle to bid and after lively competition ended up with it. Luckily for me (my wife will never know) I did not have to take it home as another art lover offered to take it off my hands, so it has found a new home with her. I did manage to snag a slightly worn office chair, a heavy-duty book cart and 120 years of National Geographic magazines. Before you utter an OH NO, I will tell you they were all condensed on six DVD disks in one little box.
The cardboard cutout of Babar the Elephant was also on sale at the library auction, but I was outbid and had to go home without it. Babar was one of my favorite childhood characters, along with the Teenie Weenies in the Chicago Trib Sunday comics, and of course the Mark Twain adventures. I recently reread the ebook “Huckleberry Finn” and once again realize what a brilliant story teller Samuel Clemens was. That’s all until next time, Mil.