The Dave and Mary Griffel family in Gillespie was recently named the Great American Family of the Year, an annual award presented by the Illinois Association for Home and Community Education to an Illinois family based on their professional accomplishments, community involvement, and family dedication.
“We are are very humbled to receive the award as there are many other deserving families in the state,” Mary Griffel told The BenGil Post.
Dave is a fifth-generation farmer. He and his wife, Mary, reside on the family farm which was originally purchased by Dave’s great-great-grandparents William and Eliza Huddleston in 1856. The farm continues to grow with each generation and today includes corn, soybeans, and beef cattle.
The sixth generation of the farm is Dave and Mary’s two sons, Nathan and Jonathan. Nathan lives in Chatham and is employed full time in sales at Isringhausen Imports of Springfield helping on the farm in his spare time while Jonathan lives in Carlinville engaged full-time on the farm and also works with Century 21 Real Estate as a sales representative. Jonathan is married to Kristin (Davidson) who is employed as a surgical nurse at Hillsboro Area Hospital.
The farm’s seventh-generation includes Dave and Mary’s three grandchildren: Nathan’s two daughters, Anabelle and Madeline, and Jonathan and Kristin’s son, Jameson.
“We don’t look at ourselves as farm owners but rather as caretakers of the farm for future generations. The family works hard together and also takes time to have fun together,” added Mary.
Education and service are held in high regard for the family.
Dave holds an associate’s degree in agricultural production and served on Lewis and Clark Community College’s Agricultural Advisory Board after graduation. He also completed several agricultural courses from the University of Illinois and continues to attend workshops and field days. Dave currently serves as a director for the Macoupin County Soil and Water Conservation District, a position he has held for over 20 years; serves as a commissioner for the Macoupin County Public Housing Authority, a position he has held for over 10 years; is a lifetime member of the Gillespie FFA alumni; and serves a judge at the local and state levels of FFA competitions, something he has done for over 30 years. Previously, Dave was a member of the Gillespie CUSD #7 school board for 18 years.
Mary holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree as a reading specialist from SIUE. She retired after teaching in the Mt. Olive CUSD #5 for 35 years holding a few positions through her tenure including junior high literature and social studies, fifth-grade teacher, and Title 1 reading/math K-5 administrator/teacher. She continues to be a mentor for the district helping write Title 1 grants and recently helped modernize the Mt. Olive School Library. Mary is a member of the Lewis and Clark Reading Council, Illinois Reading Council, Project Kid Care in the Gillespie CUSD #7, Partnership for Educational Excellence; and author of 8-week classroom units named Learning in Technology Enhanced Schools
Both Nathan and Jonathan were active in the First United Methodist Church of Gillespie growing up and were graduates of Gillespie High School where they were Illinois State Scholars, National Honor Society members, and recipients of United Community Bank’s Student of the Year. They were active in the chorus being inducted into the Tri-M Music Society, participated in many sports, and active in FFA under advisor Rick Spencer. Currently, both boys are FFA alumni members and judges for the Supervised Agriculture Program at the district level.
They both advanced their education with secondary education at University of Illinois at Springfield. Nathan graduated with high honors from UIS with a business management degree while Jonathan transferred from UIS to Blackburn College after his freshman year to play basketball later graduating with honors with a dual major in business and accounting.
The family continues to be active in the First United Methodist Church of Gillespie serving on many committees, teaching Sunday school, working Harvest Feast, helping with Vacation Bible School, and helping with Trunky Treats. One of the family’s favorite outreaches to the community is the live nativity held on their farm the second Sunday in Advent each year which attracts more than 200 people.
“As a family, we enjoy working together,” Mary concluded. “We encourage and support each family member’s dreams and endeavors. We are ‘ohana. The Hawaiian word for family and family means no one gets left behind.”