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Local Carnegie Hero Awardee honored with memorial plaque, exhibit

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Ivah Coles

This story is contributed by a member of the Macoupin County Historical Society.

CARLINVILLE — It was a typical June evening when Ivah Coles, age 21, and Richard Cromwell, age 20, went for a swim in the reservoir near Benld. While attempting to climb up the steep, high bank, Cromwell fell back into the water and began to sink. From the bank, Coles waded into the water toward Cromwell but sank within eight feet of him. The men’s bodies were found in water 10 to 12 feet deep; the reports indicated that they were victims of cramps, caused by the chilliness of the water due to springs nearby. That was June 8, 1904.

Though newspaper accounts of the incident gave no stirring account of bravery or heroism on Coles’ part, recognition would come later. In 1908, Coles’ mother was presented with a silver Carnegie Hero Medal, Coles’ act being among the first few dozen recognized by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission (CHFC), which since 1904 has recognized nearly 10,000 acts of heroism throughout the United States and Canada.

The Coles medal was recently put up for sale on eBay by a jeweler in O’Fallon, Mo., who had acquired it from someone selling it for its 5.5 ounces of silver. The medal was purchased by Matthew Campbell, a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN), of Washington, Pa., who contacted the Commission, based nearby in Pittsburgh. Rarely seen for sale, these medals are usually held by the recipients and families as heirlooms.

When Campbell contacted the Macoupin County Historical Society (MCHS) for research assistance, the society seized on the story, gathering information and locating Coles’ grave at Bunker Hill Cemetery.

“When Ivah went to his final resting place,” said David Jokisch, MCHS web developer and manager of the plaque project, “by all accounts, it was quiet. But it is never too late to honor a hero. Thanks to the Carnegie Hero Commission, the Macoupin Historical Society, and the generosity of Carlinville Monument, Mr. Coles will receive more permanent recognition.”

Finding Coles’ grave site to be unmarked, MCHS, PAN, Campbell, and various individuals contributed money to install a memorial plaque and a Carnegie Hero grave marker supplied by CHFC. The plaque will be installed at Bunker Hill Cemetery during a ceremony at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, August 24.

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The Coles medal, which traveled from O’Fallon to Pennsylvania, will return to Illinois to be shown at MCHS’s Ruyle Building at a reception at 1 p.m., also August 24. A photographic display will remain at MCHS, while the medal will be displayed at PAN’s semiannual conventions in Pittsburgh and potentially travel nationally for other events.

MCHS has invited many involved in the project as well as county and state officials to the dedication at Bunker Hill Cemetery. The public is welcome to attend both the ceremony at the cemetery and the reception. CHFC Executive Director Eric P. Zahren will attend both events.

“We were impressed with the work done by the Macoupin County Historical Society,” said Zahren. “We were happy to support their project to honor Coles and make his inspiring story known to the community.”

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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