Settling for a
virtual Old Settlers
Wallowing in self-pity over having to miss this year’s Old Settlers parade — and thereby losing my opportunity to editorially label it the best ever — I suddenly realized I hadn’t actually seen an Old Settlers parade since I was 10.
From ages 11 through 17, I couldn’t watch the parade. Like almost everyone I knew, I was part of it — showing off a pet, riding some contraption or other, or marching in a band.
Those days, bands from all over the county marched in events all over the county. They kept track of what other towns thought of them by whether they were scheduled to march before or after horses traversed the parade route, depositing gifts for subsequent marchers to tiptoe around. Archrival schools always showed up, but their bands inevitably brought up the rear, just before street sweepers.
College years followed. I tried to make it back for Old Settlers, but my college, KU, played football that weekend, and I once again was in the marching band. This was so long ago that, in my first year, the band still was all-male, if you can fathom such sexist stupidity. It also was so long ago that KU still had a decent football team. These days it’s hard to tell the difference between a COVID-limited crowd and a normal one.
Family and career followed. Half the time I couldn’t get away for an every-five-years class reunion 600 or more miles away. When I could, I once again was riding in, instead of witnessing, the parade.
Then came 2020. What COVID gave in the form of an opportunity to work remotely from Marion it promptly took away when this year’s parade was canceled.
A largely one-woman campaign by Elgin owner Tammy Ensey and her relatives means we’ll still have some events Saturday. But the real joy of being reunited with people from our past is hard to replicate safely in a time of social distancing.
I can’t walk up, for example, to former Record intern Don Westerhaus and thank him for teaching me how to develop film — a now lost art that occupied much of my time in junior high, high school, and even into college. In showing me how to use a bottle opener to pop the lid of what at the time was a relatively new invention — 35mm film canisters — Don also introduced me to a new name for the opener: “church key.”
Years later, at another Old Settlers, I was able to thank returning teachers Conrad and Lois Steinel — “Mr.,” as I continued to refer to him, for enduring eight years of my sousaphone playing and actually encouraging me to continue in college; “Mrs.” for doing what the best librarians and journalists do and valiantly battling political censorship.
Such encounters, and countless others, were the heart and soul of Old Settlers Day — much more so than any parade, games, or lunches might have been.
We have nothing against scaled-back events planned for Saturday — though we pray all involved think first of others, not of themselves, and wear masks to prevent a new round of COVID.
For our part, we’ve tried to replicate as much of the Old Settlers socializing and tale-telling as we can with a special section in this week’s paper.
In keeping with long-standing tradition of Old Settlers not becoming a commercial event, it’s most definitely not a moneymaker. Despite soliciting support from many institutions and businesses around town, we received about half the donations and advertising necessary to break even. So consider it a gift we hope you will enjoy.
We’d publicly like to thank major donors Marion Manufacturing and Animal Health Center, medium donor St. Luke Hospital, and other donor Case & Son Insurance for their financial support in lieu of advertising. We also would like to thank all the other community-spirited local businesses that helped sponsor the section with their ads.
If you enjoy Virtual Old Settlers, be sure to let the donors and advertisers know how much you appreciate their community spirit.
We’d also like to thank Marion Historical Museum for its invaluable assistance in the arduous process of reproducing class photos.
Any mistakes — and there are bound to be a few — are solely our fault. It may not be the “best ever” Old Settlers, but at least we tried.
— ERIC MEYER