Rod Randall with Josephine, Andy, Lynn Marner and Dorothy (Marner) Hostetler. In back, Steve Howell.
By MARTY YEAKEL
The weekend of September 2-4, 2023 was quite an historical one in Arthur for many reasons. Not only was the town celebrating the 50th annual Arthur Cheese Festival but also celebrated the 150th anniversary of our community’s founding. In fact September 2, 1873 was the exact date on which we officially became the Village of Arthur.
Saturday morning began with the annual firemen’s breakfast that took place at the firehouse. Once again, our volunteer firefighters and paramedics served almost 1,600 people. The Cheese Festival then opened at 10 a.m. with the ceremonial cutting of the cheese wheel at the Cheese Boulevard corner of Illinois and Vine. Arthur also welcomed founding father Michael Hoblican Warren who was portrayed by Thomas MacMullen. Warren owned the land nearest the railroad on the Moultrie county side of town and deeded that land over to help establish the town of Arthur. The great great great grandsons of Michael Warren, Jim and Rob Fustin as well as Steve Howell, all current residents of Arthur were also in attendance to help with the cheese cutting.
In addition, Josephine Marner, the daughter of George Marner who was the original owner of the Arthur Cheese Factory, shared a bit of the history of the beginnings of that company back in the early 1930s. Josephine’s niece, Dorothy Hostetler, nephew Andy Marner and wife Lynn, were also present as representatives of the Marner family. Local royalty Regann Bowles, Miss ALAH; Emeline Greathouse, Junior Miss ALAH; and Harper Hale, Little Miss ALAH helped with the cheese cutting along with
Village President Rod Randall, and Fustin, Howell and Randall family members. ‘Michael Warren’ helped pass cheese slices out to the crowd present at the ceremony.
Other Saturday events included free cheese giveaways at the cheese tent, the Cheese Curling Championship, Cheese Eating Nationals and the Big Cheese Parade. Village President Rod Randall, wife Carol and Warren family members served as Grand Marshals of the parade.
The Sesquicentennial celebration for Arthur began with the publication of a special edition of the Arthur Graphic Clarion detailing and highlighting many parts of our town’s history and founding including articles on founding father Michael Warren and information on the time capsule which was placed in the floor of the Arthur Welcome Center in 1973. This edition also contained information on the 1973 Centennial celebration, the history of our churches, schools and banks as well as many historical photographs depicting people and places in Arthur over the last 150 years.
The big event took place on Saturday evening, September 2, when over 200 community members and interested parties gathered at Penn Station for a Founder’s Day Dinner. Jo’s Country Diner provided the delicious meal. Illinois State Senator Chapin Rose was on hand to bring a message from the Illinois Senate. Letters of congratulations from United States Senator Richard Durbin and Governor JB Pritzker were also shared with the gathering. Village Board Trustee Christy Miller welcomed all to the event and members of the ALAH High School Choir with director Stephen McClarey sang the National Anthem. The invocation was given by Rev. Mike Johnson, former pastor of the Vine Street Christian Church.
After dinner, Richard Bradford, current resident living the longest in Arthur, blew out the candle on the 150th birthday cake to officially begin the evening’s festivities. This was followed by an Arthur trivia quiz from Jim Fleming, Village Board Trustee.
The ALAH High School Choir then sang “America the Beautiful.”
Next up Jim Fleming interviewed Michael Hoblican Warren, portrayed by Thomas MacMullen, who shared how his family came to Arthur and some of the family history which included the fact that he truly was a founding father as he and his wife had 13 children, all of whom survived to adulthood which was quite unusual at that time. This interview was followed by Jennifer Randall McCormick singing a song penned by past resident Minnie A. Thompsen, “My Boy Who Stayed in France,” a mother’s lament about her son who did not return from World War I. Jennifer was accompanied by Ramona Carlyle.
The Arthur District #305 Education Foundation had sponsored a sesquicentennial essay contest. The overall winning entry was read by Adyson Hopkins, 8th grade. Adyson also happens to be the current Junior Miss Moultrie-Douglas County Fair. Other winners were Hadden Fabert, 8th grade and Laila Sanchez, 6th grade.
Video clips from the 1973 Centennial Parade as well as the 125th anniversary play presented in 1998 were also shared. A display was available for those in attendance which covered many aspects of our town’s history including businesses, churches, a display of the history pieces that have appeared in the Graphic-Clarion for the past year or more, Michael Warren memorabilia provided by Rob Fustin, Centennial pictures and souvenirs from 1973 provided by Tim Singer, a 1973 Arthur High School yearbook and a large photo of the 250 cast members who participated in the “Arthurama” play during Arthur’s centennial celebration in 1973. Various parts of these historical items will be on display at the Arthur Public Library over the coming months along with items from the sesquicentennial celebration.
Village President Rod Randall gave the closing remarks and shared with those in attendance a letter written that will be placed in the time capsule to be opened in 2073. This was followed by the opening of the time capsule. Envelopes placed in that time capsule, which has resided in the floor of the Arthur Welcome Center for the past 50 years, were then distributed to many present. This made for some poignant moments as many who had left envelopes are no longer with us as well as for some funny moments as some of the notes on envelopes were read. Some envelopes had been left as well for churches and other organizations in town. Those envelopes not claimed are available at the Arthur village office for pick up.
A big thank you goes out to those involved with putting this sesquicentennial event together. As with most things in Arthur this wonderful celebration could not have happened without many who care about our wonderful town.
Continuing with sesquicentennial events, a community church service was held on Sunday morning, September 3, at Penn Station and was hosted by the Arthur Ministerial Association. Members of churches from all over Arthur filled the venue. The morning began with Cowboy Church Praise Band playing and singing various hymns as the congregation gathered for the service. The invocation and welcome were given by Pastor Bob Silvanik of the Vine Street Christian Church followed by congregational hymn singing. Pastor John Stewart of the First Baptist Church read scripture and Jeff Bowyer sang, “How Great Thou Art,” accompanied by Karen Good.
Village President Rod Randall then gave a brief history of the churches of Arthur followed by Pastor Jill Bunker and Marilyn Allison of the United Methodist Church explaining that the morning’s offering would be going to the Arthur Grade School
Backpack Program which ensures that students who are food insecure have food to sustain them throughout the school year.
The service continued with special music by Erica Schrock and a congregational prayer given by Pastor Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church.
The congregation was very pleased to welcome retired pastor, the Rev. Michael Johnson, formerly of the Vine Street Christian Church, who shared the morning’s message. The service ended with a congregational hymn and closing prayer by Rev. Leroy Allison, retired pastor, Arthur United Methodist Church.
This church service concluded the formal sesquicentennial events for the weekend although the celebration of Arthur’s 150th years of existence continues throughout the months ahead.
A reminder that there are a few sesquicentennial calendars still available at Randall Electric or the Arthur Welcome Center. These calendars contain a great deal of information and many pictures of Arthur history and will be a valuable keepsake in years to come.
The Cheese Festival continued on Sunday, September 3 with a community worship service at Penn Station. Events throughout the day included cheese carving, a kiddie tractor pull, an ice cream social at Vine Street Christian Church, Collage of Faith band performing at the gazebo parking lot and free cheese giveaways.
On Monday, September 4 the Cheese Festival started with the annual biscuits and gravy Arthur Lions Club breakfast at the community building. The Arthur Woman’s Club Rat Race which took off at 7:30 a.m. with both 5K and 10K runs. Around 130 runners participated this year. The Rat Race awards ceremony was held at 9:30 a.m. The Bob Doan Memorial Cheese Curd Spitting Contest was held at 11:30 a.m. Later there was both a free sub sandwich and cheese giveaway at the Cheese Tent which is located on the corner of Illinois and Vine.
Throughout the three days of the festival there were also buggy rides, Artie’s Party Zone, ziplining and many food and festival vendors lining Vine Street. For the most part the weather was cooperative even though it was a little warm but that did not seem to keep the crowds from enjoying the 50th annual Cheese Festival and Arthur’s 150th anniversary celebration.