News and Events

McDonough County Historical Society Announcements Spring, 2019   

No Spring Newsletter     

These announcements are being sent out because our McDonough County Historical Society Newsletter, filled with historical items, won’t be issued this spring. Long-time editor Kathy Nichols, our vice president, recently developed serious problems in her right knee, so she has not been able to go to work at the WIU Archives, or get much else done, during the past couple of weeks. In fact, because her knee problem has worsened, she is now temporarily at Heartland Health Care Center (8 Doctors Lane, room 224), and her doctor will determine the necessary procedure (probably a knee replacement) this week . So, Historical Society leaders simply decided to omit the spring newsletter and send out these announcements. Of course, our best wishes are extended to Kathy, as she gets her knee problem taken care of.                     

Oakwood Cemetery Program and Tour     

The Friends of Oakwood Cemetery—which is a kind of spin-off group from the Historical Society, and includes such figures as our society’s current president, Larry Zigler, our vice president, Kathy Nichols, our secretary, Ken Keudell, and one of our board members, John Hallwas, together with half a dozen other historical activists—has worked with Oakwood Cemetery sexton Gary Rhoads (who is also in the Friends group) to develop a spring tour of the Oakwood Abbey mausoleum and some noted grave sites. That free tour will take place on Saturday morning, June 1, at 9:30 a.m., and of course, the public is warmly invited. Among other things, the tour was prompted by the fact that Oakwood Abbey was constructed exactly 100 years ago. Gary Rhoads has developed a new historic marker for the mausoleum, and he will be leading the Abbey tour, followed by the gravesite tour with John Hallwas. The latter will focus on a variety of interesting gravesites, including some military ones, for this spring also marks the 150th anniversary of the first Decoration Day (later, Memorial Day) event in Macomb.


On the Thursday before that tour, May 30, at 7:00 p.m., the Western Illinois Museum will be having a two-part program. The first is focused on the work and services of the McDonough County Genealogical Society and the WIU GIS Center, in relation to cemeteries, graves, etc., and that will feature comments by Marla Vizdal and Chad Sperry. The second part, titled “The Meaning of Cemeteries and Macomb’s Oakwood,” will be given by John Hallwas, the author of a book on Oakwood, Here to Stay (2012), and many articles on the cemetery’s historic graves.       


The May 13 Historical Society Meeting       

The May 13 meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society is set for 7:00 at the Spoon River College Outreach Center, on East Jackson Street. Along with the usual brief reports,and announcements by the president, there will be a program titled “Women of the Illinois HomeFront during World War I” by Virginia (“Ginny”) Boynton, who is a professor of history at WIU(and the former chair of that department). Of course, women became involved in a variety of new responsibilities during that war effort a century ago. Our thanks to society board member Sterling Kernek, retired from that same department, for lining up that program by Professor Boynton. Society officers and board members will look forward to seeing you at that meeting.  

Ginny Boynton
Ginny Boynton

The next meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society will be Monday, May 13, 2019, at 7:00 PM. 

The meeting will be held at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 2500 East Jackson Street, Macomb, IL.

Our program will be provided by Ginny Boynton. She will speak on “Women of the Illinois HomeFront during World War I”.   Boynton is a professor of history at WIU (and the former chair of that department). 

We encourage members to bring guests to our meeting and program.



September 9, 2019 - Greg Hall

November 11, 2019 - John Hallwas

all meetings will take place at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 

2500 E Jackson St., Macomb, Illinois 61455

Thank you to Jean Ray of the McDonough County Genealogical Society for creating a page on their website for cemetery information compiled by Gil Belles. 

Previously this information was available on the McDonough County Historical Society website. Now the work begun by Gil Belles will be maintained and expanded by the McDonough County Genealogical Society.

Gerald White
Gerald White

The next meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society will be Monday, March 11, 2019, at 7:00 PM. 

The meeting will be held at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 2500 East Jackson Street, Macomb, IL.

Our program will be provided by Gerald White

He will be speaking about an archaeological dig at his family farm on the Lamoine River.   Native Americans lived in this area many years ago. 


We encourage members to bring guests to our meeting and program.

January 14, 2019

Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 

2500 E Jackson St., Macomb, Illinois 61455

Marty Fischer will speak on "Ancient Works Near LaGrange" - a large fortification that is all but unknown today. Was it an Indian construction or a French post/fort or both? Why was it forgotten?

Next McDonough County Historical Society Meeting

Monday, May 14, 2018, at 7:00 p.m.

Conference Room B -Spoon River Community College Outreach Center on East Jackson Street, Macomb IL. 

Speaker will be WIU history professor Greg Hall speaking on “The Path to Freedom: The Underground Railroad and McDonough County, Illinois".

The programs are free and open to the public.

Gil Belles at Old Bedford Cemetery
Gil Belles at Old Bedford Cemetery

A special invitation to all McDonough County Historical Society members to attend the next meeting of the McDonough County Genealogical Society-The next meeting will feature

Chad Sperry from the GIS Center.

February 19, 2018 7:00 pm at Western Illinois Museum,

201 S Lafayette St, Macomb.

As the Genealogical Society takes over the Historical Society cemetery signing project that was lead by Gil Belles for so many years, we have invited Chad Sperry of the WIU GIS center to be our speaker for the Feb.19th meeting.

Gil worked with Chad to plot the cemeteries of McDonough county on the GIS map.

The Genealogical Society would especially like to invite the McDonough County Historical Society members to this meeting as we transition this program from the Historical Society to the Genealogical Society.

Monday, January 8, 2018, at 7:00 p.m., the members of the McDonough County McDonough County Historical Society will meet at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center on East Jackson Street .We will have a brief business meeting, followed by a program entitled “Early Roads and Settlement Patterns in McDonough County” by our own Marty Fischer.

      Marty has spent years applying his engineering background to his investigation of trails and roads in our region of Illinois. What is more impressive is that he’s made use of his findings to enhance his understanding of the everyday experiences of our early settlers in this place—the ways in which those people lived. When I asked him for a brief overview of his talk, he said in part, “The county’s first trail was to guide southern Illinois pioneers from Beard’s ferry across the Illinois River to Rock Island and into the mining region of northwestern Illinois. In 1826, when McDonough County was founded, pioneers began settling in three distinct groupings that became three distinct settlements. When the county was granted self-governing status in late 1830, some of the first items that the commissioners went to work on were the laying out of roads to places of importance. Over the next twenty years, prior to the coming of the railroads, twenty-four settlements appeared.” As we prepare to celebrate Illinois’s Bicentennial, Marty’s talk will paint a fascinating and unique picture for us of the very early days of Macomb and McDonough County.

Remembering Gil Belles

Celebration of Life

and Ice Cream Social 

will be held on Saturday July 15, 2017 from 1:00 PM until 3:00 PM

at the COFAC Recital Hall Western Illinois University.

Here are directions and parking information for COFAC Recital Hall

WIU Mourns Passing of RPTA Professor Emeritus Gil Belles

May 25, 2017

MACOMB, IL ‐‐ Gil Belles, professor emeritus of Western Illinois University's recreation, park and administration (RPTA) department, was killed in a vehicle accident this morning (May 25) in Macomb. Arrangements are pending at Dodsworth‐Piper‐Wallen Funeral Home.


"The Western Illinois University community mourns Gil's tragic death," said President Jack Thomas. "He was a wonderful man, and will be missed. We send our deepest condolences to Gil's many friends, his family and to the members of his WIU family."


Belles arrived at Western in 1968 to teach history. While he was in that department he helped create a Black Studies Area and then chaired the department of African American studies. In 1985, Belles "retrained," earning another degree, and began teaching in the department of recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA). He taught in RPTA, creating courses for the tourism component of the curriculum, until his retirement in 1996. Along the way, he chaired the Council on Admission, Graduation, and Academic Standards (CAGAS) for three separate terms. He was the recipient of the College of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Outstanding Teaching Award, five WIU Faculty Excellence Awards and a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Wittenberg University, to name a few.


During his tenure, he was actively involved in such campus activities as Open Door and the President's Task Force to End Homophobia, and continued to be involved in numerous community and civic organizations including the Performing Arts Society, YMCA of McDonough County, Tri‐States Public Radio and Tri‐States Audio Information Services, the Western Illinois Museum, Meals on Wheels, McDonough County Historical Society and the Macomb Public Library. "


Gil took his roles as a faculty member and community member in a manner that we should all try to emulate. He was always attending events on campus and in the community, and he was a great representative of Western," said Brad Bainter, vice president for advancement and public services and executive officer of the WIU Foundation. "Not only did he support areas in the community, like the hospital and the Y, he has also given approximately $600,000 to Western that will forever keep his spirit alive at this University that he loved so much. He was a great friend through good times and bad. I know that I will miss his presence and support."


In 2009, the College of Fine Arts and Communication recognized Belles with the "Distinguished Friend of the College Award." Belles is a past board member for the Performing Arts Society and was instrumental in leading the effort to renovate the COFAC Recital Hall Green Room. The PAS named the Green Room in Belles' honor. In addition, he supported many Alumni Programs functions and was instrumental in coordinating the annual Homecoming run/walk.


Belles delivered the inaugural Jackie Thompson Wellness Lecture, "The Importance of Wellness in Your Life," in October 2011. An advocate of health and wellness, Belles could often be found at WIU's Student Recreation Center and the McDonough County YMCA.


In his earlier years, he served as the swimming coach for the YMCA, the high school and the WIU Water Polo team, which won the NAIA national championship in 1969. He created the first WIU TinMan Triathlon in 1980 and served as the event's director through 1985.


He was recently inducted into the WIU Phi Kappa Phi chapter, and was featured in a 2016 episode of the PBS program "Illinois Stories." The program focused on public art on Western Illinois University's Macomb campus, and featured Belles, who started a project to add signage to the public art at WIU (and in Macomb) in order to give credit to the artists. In Spring 2016, Belles co‐coordinated an extreme triathlon at Macomb's Spring Lake. He also was an active participant in the annual Senior Olympics held at WIU.


Posted By: WIU News, University Relations Phone: (309) 298‐1993 * Fax: (309) 298‐1606

The next meeting of

the McDonough County Historical Society

will be on March 13 at 7pm.


Our speaker will be Tom Stites and the program will be

"Downtown Macomb Businesses: 1962-1968." 


The meeting will be held at the Spoon River College Outreach Center on East Jackson Street.

On Jan. 23, 2017, the McDonough County Historical Society received $50 from Ginny Ewing as a Memorial gift in her husband Jack's name toward the Rezab Prairie Meadow.

Jack and Ginny were Life Members of the MCHS.

She lives in Florida.