Hubert Ropp: ‘born genius,’ ‘celebrated man’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

An accomplished and talented artist’s framed watercolor that was donated recently to the Pekin Public Library – a maritime scene of sailboats offshore – bears the artist’s signature in the bottom right corner: “C. H. Ropp.”

This watercolor was donated by David and Connie Perkins of Pekin, who had purchased it in June 2013 at a yard sale held by Gene and Joan Goodale, also of Pekin. The Ropp watercolor was one of several items that had been left in the Goodales’ attic by Mr. Velde, the former owner of their house.

This watercolor by accomplished artist Hubert Ropp, a native son of Pekin who went on to become Dean of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library.

This watercolor by accomplished artist Hubert Ropp, a native son of Pekin who went on to become Dean of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library.

The artist’s name in full was Clarence Hubert Ropp (1894-1973), but his friend and fellow member of Pekin High School’s Class of 1913 Everett McKinley Dirksen recalled that Ropp dropped the “Clarence” and went by his middle name instead. Throughout his career in the art world, he was usually known as Hubert Ropp or C. H. Ropp. The son of Aaron and Catherine (Schrock) Ropp, he was born on a farm two miles east of Pekin on Allentown Road. Hubert Ropp’s obituary in the Pekin Daily Times reports that the old Ropp home, “the first house on the north side of the road, east of the railroad tracks crossing Allentown road,” had been torn down some years before Ropp’s death.

It’s fitting that Ropp and Dirksen were friends. They are the best remembered members of their graduating class, and even in high school it became clear that fate held good things in store for them. The 1913 Pekinian shows that Ropp was president of his class and Dirksen was vice president. A short but glowing comment at the end of the list of Ropp’s high school activities says, “He has more nicknames than any other student in High School. This goes to show that he is very popular. As an artist he is superb; as a musician, nothing is beyond him. Verily, he is a born genius and will some day become a celebrated man. Here’s to him.”

This is the senior picture of C. H. Ropp from the 1913 Pekinian yearbook

This is the senior picture of C. H. Ropp from the 1913 Pekinian yearbook

Ropp was editor-in-chief and illustrator of the Pekinian that year, but it would have been most unseemly for him to have written the words of praise in his yearbook. (A Chicago Tribune story at the time of Ropp’s retirement in 1959 calls him “as modest as he is great.”) Most likely it was another member of the yearbook staff who had the task of penning the memorials of the senior class. In any event, the words of high praise in the yearbook were a faithful portrait and would prove to be a true prophecy of his life.

During their high school years, Ropp and Dirksen showed an interest in the theater, both having roles in “The Colonel’s Maid,” the high school play, during their junior year. After graduation, Dirksen tried his hand as a playwright and wished to become an actor, but his mother regarded the theater as a wicked line of work and dissuaded him from that career path. Still feeling an attraction to the theater, however, Dirksen collaborated with Ropp on a production for Pekin’s Centennial celebrations in 1924, a pageant called “1,000 Years Ago.” Dirksen and his future wife Louella Carver were the stars of the show, which was directed by Ropp, who also painted the scenery. Publications on Dirksen’s life characterize the show as “more noted for bringing Dirksen together with the future Mrs. Dirksen than for the quality of the show.” In his later years, Ropp did an oil painting of his old friend Dirksen.

After the death of Ropp’s father, he and his mother moved to Chicago, where he attended the Art Institute of Chicago. According to a biographical sketch by Bruce Allen at AskArt.com, after graduating from the institute, Ropp studied in Paris and Vienna. Returning to Chicago, Ropp became Dean of the National Academy of Art, and then in 1942 he was named Dean of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. According to Allen, Ropp was an innovator in his field. “As a dean,” Allen writes, “Mr. Ropp expanded the curriculum of the school by adding more contemporary design classes, as well as a variety of courses that catered primarily to war veterans who were enrolled in great numbers under the GI Bill.”

During his tenure as Dean, the school became the largest of its kind in the U.S. When he retired from his position in 1959, the school had a student enrollment of 4,908 and a staff of 101, according to a Chicago Tribune report dated Aug. 17, 1959, entitled, “Hubert Ropp Ending Art Institute Career,” by Edith Weigle.

“Each year, as the students’ own show is staged in the east wing galleries,” Weigle wrote, “Dean Ropp’s creative mind has made it tick. It is he who has arranged the artistic and highly original decorative accents in the galleries, backgrounds against which each student’s work is shown to best advantage, and it is he who personally had added the finished touches that give the exhibition a professional air.”

After retirement, Ropp painted and worked in artistic crafts from a studio near Libertyville, Ill. At the end of his life, Ropp lived in Lake Bluff, Ill. He died June 22, 1973. His obituary in the Pekin Daily Times that day observed that he died “the same day that President Nixon came to Pekin on the invitation of Louella Carver Dirksen to honor the memory of her husband.” Ropp’s aunt, Mrs. Barbara (Schrock) Heisel of Pekin, received word of his death just as she was about to send him clippings about the laying of the Pekin Public Library’s cornerstone.

#c-h-ropp, #chicago-art-institute, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #hubert-ropp, #louella-dirksen, #pekin-history

First flowering of Pekin’s Marigold Festival

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The 44th Annual Pekin Marigold Festival, scheduled to run from Thursday, Sept. 8, through Sunday, Sept. 11, is less than two weeks away. However, since this weekend in fact falls within the anniversary of the very first Marigold Festival, which ran for 10 days from Aug. 24 to Sept. 2, 1973, now is an ideal time to refresh our memories of the festival’s first flowering.

After almost a year in which the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce worked hard to fertilize and cultivate the ground for the first Marigold Festival, the festivities opened with the coronation of Cynthia Xanos as Marigold Queen at the Pekin riverfront, followed by the arrival at the foot of Court Street of a group of Voyageur canoeists who were reenacting the expeditions of French explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette through the states of Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin that summer. The festival also featured the now traditional Marigold Parade and a carnival, along with dinners, music festivals, an art fair, and a visit from the King Brothers Circus.

Since the festival was conceived by members of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce as a way to honor the memory of Pekin’s late Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen (1896-1969), the first festival’s committee scheduled public readings from Dirksen’s speeches and writings on the first three days of the festival, along with a special reception for Dirksen’s widow Louella at the Pekin Country Club on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 26, 1973. An invitation-only benefit ball for the Dirksen Library (originally located at the Pekin Public Library, now in its own building on the east end of town on Broadway) took place on Saturday, Aug. 25.

In this Pekin Daily Times photograph, Pekin's first Marigold Queen Cynthia Xanos, right, chats with Mrs. Everett M. Dirksen and Mrs. Dirksen's daughter, Mrs. Howard Baker, during the Marigold Ball at the Pekin Country Club, Saturday, Aug. 25, 1973, one of the main events of the First Annual Marigold Festival.

In this Pekin Daily Times photograph, Pekin’s first Marigold Queen Cynthia Xanos, right, chats with Mrs. Everett M. Dirksen and Mrs. Dirksen’s daughter, Mrs. Howard Baker, during the Marigold Ball at the Pekin Country Club, Saturday, Aug. 25, 1973, one of the main events of the First Annual Marigold Festival.

To promote the late Senator’s favorite flower – and bolster Pekin’s self-bestowed title of “Marigold Capital of the World” – the planning committee not only organized a flower show and contest at the Pekin Mall on Thursday, Aug. 30, but in the months leading up to the festival also strongly encouraged Pekinites to plant marigolds.

In a 1973 promotional advertisement expressing hope for the blooming of 250,000 to 300,000 marigolds, the planners stated, “We take this opportunity to encourage your youth groups, men’s club, and other church organizations to participate in this festival by planting your grounds with as many marigolds as possible. . . There are seven varieties of marigolds the committee has chosen for their ease in planting and growing, as well as for their abundance of bloom. They are: Lemon Drop, Aquarius, King Tut, Mediterranean Moon, Bolero, Sparky, and First Lady. . . . We want each block in Pekin alive with MARI-GOLD. Our major planting weekend will be May 24th through May 27.”

The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection maintains archival folders for each year’s Marigold Festival. Included in the 1973 Marigold Festival folder is a copy of the minutes from the Oct. 2, 1972 planning committee meeting at the Chamber of Commerce offices. From those minutes, we learn that the committee members were Dorothy Doan, Elaine Jefferson, Tom Hallett, Gene Sangalli, John Turnell, Lee Williams, Julian Smith, John Walker, and Henry VanderHeyden (who was absent from the Oct. 2 meeting).

“Meeting was called to order at 4:05 p.m. John Turnell was appointed Treasurer of the Committee. Mark Heine was appointed to Publicity. Lee Williams was appointed as Secretary,” the minutes say. Turnell served as the festival’s general chairman.

Tasks and duties were then assigned to each committee member, with local horticulturalist Sangalli naturally being given the role of Grower’s Coordinator – “To designate five types of Marigolds to be promoted. To discuss the promotion with the growers solicitating (sic) their cooperation. To provide Mark Heine with mats. To assist in the development of planning planting designs.” Hallett was named Retailer’s Coordinator, Heine was in charge of the publicity campaign, Williams was Industry/Business Coordinator, VanderHeyden was Governmental Coordinator, Walker was Special Events Coordinator, and Jefferson and Doan were Service Club Coordinators.

The committee’s hard work was deemed to have paid off: after the festival, the Pekin Daily Times reported that the 10-day event was a “tremendous success,” and the planning committee immediately began to solicit ideas from the public in preparation for the 2nd Annual Marigold Festival. A few years later, the ever-popular Marigold Medallion Hunt was added, and the event was fixed for the weekend following Labor Day in September. The festival no longer extends over a 10-day period, but still carries on the essential traditions of the original celebration in 1973.

#everett-mckinley-dirksen, #howard-baker, #marigold-festival, #pekin-history

Obama historical materials and memorabilia donated

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week’s “From the Local History Room” column spotlights a recent addition to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection (previously announced here).

The library last month received a donation of an impressive collection of materials and memorabilia from the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama as well as some historical materials from Obama’s time as a U.S. Senator for Illinois from 2004 to 2008.

These materials, which include numerous U.S., European, and Canadian newspapers, magazines, and assorted political campaign and convention memorabilia, were donated by Amy and Mark Werner of Pekin. Amy Werner was the first director of Pekin Main Street, and she and her husband are active in Democratic Party politics.

Obama’s chief place in history is as the first African-American to be elected president of the United States. Notably, one of the articles in the Werners’ collection is a Peoria Journal Star opinion column by James Unland, formerly of Pekin, which recalls the link between Obama’s historic election in 2008 and perhaps the most important achievement of U.S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen of Pekin.

“As President-elect Obama prepares to enter the White House,” Unland wrote in the Jan. 4, 2009 Journal Star, “it is worth remembering that it was central Illinois’ own Senator Everett Dirksen who orchestrated what has been called the single most important congressional vote of the 20th century, the U.S. Senate’s vote to close off the civil rights debate on June 10, 1964.

“That vote, which ended a 12-week filibuster by southern Democratic senators, paved the way for the final passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The move was significant enough that it landed Dirksen on the cover of Time magazine on June 19, 1964.

“Without the support of Dirksen and Republican senators, who were in the minority, this landmark legislation would have been dead at the starting line . . .”

As it happens, the Werners until recently owned and lived in Dirksen’s former home. Obama’s own direct link to Pekin is a visit to the Pekin Public Library during his time in the U.S. Senate.

The Werners’ donated materials are available for researchers in two archival boxes in the wide storage cabinet in the back corner of the Local History Room.

#amy-werner, #barack-obama, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #political-memorabilia

Donation of Barack Obama historical materials

The newest addition to our Local History Room collection is a donation of materials from the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama. These materials, which include numerous U.S., European, and Canadian newspapers, magazines, and assorted political memorabilia, were donated to the library earlier this month by Amy and Mark Werner of Pekin, who until recently owned and lived in the former home of Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen. The Werners’ donated materials are available for researchers in two archival boxes in the wide storage cabinet in the back corner of the Local History Room.

Shown here is a sample article highlighting some Dirksen history from the Werner collection of Obama materials.

image0000

#amy-werner, #barack-obama, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #political-memorabilia

Kingman’s elephants from Baker’s office

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A piece of artwork with an interesting Pekin connection recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library’s collection. The artwork is a watercolor depicting a row of six seated circus elephants being directed by a trainer, with a second trainer or ringmaster standing in the background between the second and third elephant.

At the bottom right corner, the artist signed his name, “Kingman.” That was the late Dong Kingman, whose obituary, “Dong Kingman, 89, Whimsical Watercolorist,” was published in the New York Times on May 16, 2000. The obituary says Kingman was “an American-born watercolorist known for humorously illustrational cityscapes, magazine covers and contributions to Hollywood films.

Kingman was born in 1911 in Oakland, Calif., and his father was a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong. His family returned to Hong Kong when he was child, and while there he studied traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy as well as European styles. During the Great Depression, Kingman returned to the U.S. “After a successful first show of watercolors in 1933 he joined the Works Progress Administration for five years, while also teaching at the Academy of Advertising Art in San Francisco,” the obituary says.

“In 1940 the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought one of Mr. Kingman’s paintings, and later two more. His New York solo debut was at Midtown Gallery in 1942,” the obituary continues, also mentioning that, “Paintings by Mr. Kingman are owned by the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and are in private collections.”

Before coming to Pekin’s library, this watercolor had hung for many years in the Huntsville, Ala., law office of the late Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. After Baker’s death on June 26, 2014, his former law firm of Baker Donelson closed the Huntsville office on Oct. 30, and Baker’s senior adviser Fred Marcum and secretary Jewell Kidd closed out his estate. In so doing, they had this watercolor sent to the Pekin Public Library.

Why did they send it to Pekin? The immediate answer to that question is found on the back of the framed watercolor, where one may find a handwritten note that says, “From Ben Regan / Eventually wants it placed in Pekin Library.”

That, however, raises more questions — namely, who was Ben Regan, and why did Baker want this watercolor sent to Pekin’s library? Baker presumably directed that it go to Pekin because of Baker’s own link to Pekin – Baker’s late first wife Joy was the daughter of Pekin’s native son, Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen.

An interesting political column by George Tagge, printed in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 17, 1968, says Regan, formerly of Chicago, was an old friend and associate of Dirksen. The column tells of some backroom political maneuverings of Dirksen and his friends aimed at convincing Richard Nixon to choose Baker as his running mate rather than Nelson Rockefeller. Describing the maneuver of Dirksen and Regan, Tagge writes, “Sen. Dirksen hoped on convention eve that a delay in committing the largest bloc of votes Nixon was to get from any state would bring Nixon around.”

As a long-time friend and ally of Dirksen, Regan apparently acquired this Kingman watercolor as a gift for Dirksen’s son-in-law Baker. The watercolor’s circus theme is perhaps intended as a humorous allegory of the “circus” shenanigans of Washington politics. Dirksen, Regan and Baker were staunch Republicans, and the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party, so an illustration featuring six circus elephants would be a nice fit for the office of a prominent Republican.

This watercolor by the late artist Dong Kingman recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library.

This watercolor by the late artist Dong Kingman recently was
donated to the Pekin Public Library.

#ben-regan, #dong-kingman, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #howard-baker, #watercolor