In my commentaries, it often is mentioned I was raised in Chebanse, with remarks such as, “But I’m from Chebanse, what do I know?” or “I may be from Chebanse, but …” I surmise Chebanse folks are taking it good naturedly.
The Daily Journal must like Chebanse folks, employing the late Dennis Yohnka, columnist Denny Marek, former general manager Kevin Norden and myself. We all have Chebanse roots. I’m the only one the Journal worries about though.
Chebanse was a great place to grow up. Ten kids in my Central graduating class started first grade with me, all of them living within a two-block radius of our house. There were many other kids within our age group who ran around with us, including Merritt Yohnka, who would go on to become a famous Hollywood stuntman. Back then, we called him “Rusty.”
In the ‘60s-’70s Chebanse we grew up in, cars were left with keys in them, and houses rarely were locked because there simply was no crime. The biggest wrongdoing I can recall was a Halloween prank when a junk car was placed on top of the old grain office. A few more junkers were placed on the sidewalks as well. I was too young to be one of the perpetrators who participated, but I know who did.
Then, there was the group of rowdies who painted a large middle finger in black on the southeast side of the town’s water tower. The town elders had the artwork painted over, only to have the same group of hooligans put it back. It remained there for years, ingloriously greeting cars traveling up Interstate 57. I know most of who was in on that, too. Can you imagine what it took to climb a water tower with a can of paint clamped between your teeth?
I recall Chebanse also possessed some of the cutest baby-sitters, too. My mother seemed to have an eye for talent when her and dad were going out for the evening.
During the summer we’d play baseball all day at the school across the street from our house. (It’s a Civic Center now). If you hit the ball to right field it was considered an automatic out because the school had a dilapidated U-shaped shed for music classes no one mowed in the summer. “Rusty,” playing first base, would curse you for hitting the ball there, as we stopped the game to look for the only ball we owned.
At night, we’d ride bikes to the American Legion park for Little League. During the fall, we’d play basketball or football after school or hockey in the winter when the interstate ponds froze over. We were always outside, causing no trouble.
History records Harold Gray, creator of “Little Orphan Annie” was from a farm outside Chebanse. He must not have been around long, as he graduated from high school in Lafayette, Ind. He’s the only notable person mentioned with Chebanse roots.
Dennis Yohnka wrote about Chebanse entrepreneur Ray Dieter Sr., who ran the hardware store and the Culligan distributorship, among many other business ventures during his life. I knew Mr. Dieter myself and can tell you the man was indeed quite a unique individual — some would say character. Dennis didn’t embellish one bit in his column.
I found it interesting Dennis used Mr. Dieter’s son, Ray Jr., as a source of information in his story on the elder Mr. Dieter. However, he never mentioned the life of Ray Dieter Jr., or his sister, Dolly, two of the more accomplished people to come from Chebanse, in my opinion.
Dr. Ray Dieter, Jr., is a thoracic surgeon, licensed in both Illinois and Alaska. Incredibly, he has performed heart transplants. He is a past World President of the College of Surgeons. In his spare time, he and his sons, also doctors, have written medical books on heart disease.
Dr. Dolly Dieter is a graduate of DePaul University, was a research associate at MIT, became Assistant Director for Marine and Shore facilities at the University of Alaska, as well as Program Manager for Ship Operations at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Dolly and Ray Jr. were childhood friends of my late father. Dolly and my dad went to school together, and we were honored to have her speak at his funeral.
There were just so many great people and real characters from Chebanse. My dad probably could have been considered both. There definitely has been more greatness than just a cartoonist produced from the tiny town.
When I mention Chebanse in my columns, I am not poking fun. I am doing so affectionately.