John Harley Wilkins II
John Harley Wilkins II (J.H.) born April 24, 1921, died March 15, 2016.
John Harley Wilkins II (J.H.) was born on April 24, 1921, near Anna. Using the road that dead ends and divides the old and new sections of the Anna Cemetery and Brady Mill Road, go east a mile or so across the I.C.R.R. and on the south side of the road is a white house. It was a two story house on the Wilkins Farm where he was born.
There is a beautiful picture of Pauline Ruth Fox Wilkins, his mother, holding J.H. in front of a honeysuckle arbor. This is the same arbor where there is a picture of John Harley Wilkins I (Harley) and Pauline on their wedding day, Sept. 3, 1917.
Sometime between 1917 and J.H.’s birth, Harley was in the Army attached to the U.S. Army Air Corps. There is a post card telling his mother, Nellie Hileman Wilkins, about the airplanes darting about like hummingbirds. Also, a post card telling her not to worry for they had been immunized against the big flu epidemic.
Sometime prior to 1925, Harley and Pauline moved to Cobden. By 1936 the Chevrolet Garage was built by borrowing $5,000 from Uncle Charles Hileman, grandmother Wilkin’s brother.
As a frugal farmer, Uncle Charlie would not buy a heater for the car. “If it is too cold to go someplace it is too cold to drive.” He was pleased when heaters were optional equipment and J.H., years later, told him, “I give you a heater free.” He was very happy.
J.H. entered the Cobden School system for grade school and high school and he graduated from high school in 1938. As far as we know his best friend (fishing and hunting) was Bill Townsend, the only living classmate. (Bill Townsend’s sister, Elizabeth Ann Townsend Strebin, my best friend since childhood, will be at the funeral.)
Other good friends were Sam Henderson and the three sons of Hugh and Zelma Lamer. Pauline was never surprised to find on the front porch a sack of quail or geese or a bucket of sunfish or catfish.
In the autumn of 1938 J.H. entered Southern Illinois Teacher’s College (The Normal) in Carbondale.
For some reason, was it Harley’s experience in the Army Air Corps, J.H. took flying lessons. I can recall him taking me “up” two or three times at the Marion Airport. The kids in my grade didn’t believe me for airplanes were still rare and we would run out of the house to look up if an airplane flew over.
Another thing I recall, Harley was running for sheriff. J.H. had a Model T. Ford, called the Mayflower. I rode in the rumble seat as we, along with 2 or 3 other cars, were honking and yelling, “Vote for Harley Wilkins.” Off we went to Dongola, Anna-Jonesboro, Cobden and Alto Pass. What fun. This was in 1938.
Our father, Harley, was terminally ill. He, our mother and Jack Williams, who ran the garage while Harley was sheriff, went to St. Louis and it was agreed Pauline was to be the General Motors Dealer until the war was over, then J.H. would become the dealer. Harley died in February, 1942. Pauline was the only female dealer in the United States.
As soon as World War II commenced the government placed J.H. as a civilian trainer of pilots in Sikeston, Mo. He frequently flew solo to Cobden and did stunts. As he left town, he flew low, turned off his motor and yelled, “Hello Mom.” Pauline was in near faint sitting in the lawn chair. The rumor started that he flew under the Cobden Bridge. He said, “No!!”
J.H. turned 21 while he was in Sikeston, Mother, Aunt Winnie and I drove down with a pineapple upside down cake. We were fortunate to have sliced pineapple for our father knew at the beginning of the war that there would be no pineapple so he bought a case.
As the war wound down the Sikeston training center was closed. At last J.H., by then an instructor and commercial pilot, was sworn into the Army Air Transport Command. He flew planes from the U.S. to Central America, to Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to Morocco, Egypt, ending in India. After VE Day he flew from Paris to Rome almost daily as the “airline of Europe.” I loved it when he came home with chewing gum, as were the ladies with silk hose he brought, for those simply were not available during the war era. Was I popular in school and was he popular with those silk hose. Also from Paris he brought some excellent wild life paintings and from Egypt lots of metal trays.
At last the war ended. J.H. returned to Cobden and entered the automobile business. He was active in the Baptist Church (youth activities and Sunday School Superintendent) and he was active in the Lions Club (Cobden Peach Festival.) The businessmen built a lighted softball field.
Soon J.H. found Ruth Elizabeth Standard Dillow and they were married Nov. 3, 1946. That was Harley and Harold’s birth dates. They were married by Rev. McGill of Mt. Moriah Lutheran Church, the same minister who had married our grandparents, Benjamin and Nellie Wilkins and our parents, Harley and Pauline. Off they went in a maroon Chevrolet convertible to Florida.
From that union brought John Harley Wilkins III (John) and Leslie Ruth Wilkins. J.H., in 1960, moved the dealership to Olney, IL and in 1970 he moved the dealership to Keokuk, Iowa. J.H. and Ruth retired in 1983 so they could spend more time with Leslie in Hawaii. Ruth died in Hawaii in 1996. J.H. remained in Keokuk until 2010 when he moved to Muncie, Ind., to be near John and his family.
He is survived by four grandsons, Jay, Jeff, Mark and Mitch; one granddaughter, Jordan; and nine great-grandchildren. One of the grandsons is John Harley Wilkins IV (Jay) and in turn Jay has John Harley Wilkins V (Quinn.) Leslie Wilkins (husband Richard Priest) lives on Maui.
We thank John and his wife, Sigi, for their care of his father. John even took J.H. fishing, his favorite sport. An amazing picture shows him two years ago smiling as he held a large bass. Though his mind was failing he was in good spirits and in good health. Suddenly a highly toxic bacteria struck and he was gone quickly. To the end he beat his companions in Gin Rummy and Dominoes. He missed his 95th birthday by 46 days. The party was in the planning stage, all were present to celebrate his life on that date.
There will be a brief ceremony at the family plot with scriptures being read by Jim Wilkins and the Masonic rite administered by David Harris. Graveside military rites will be conducted by the Carroll P. Foster Post No. 3455 of the VFW in Anna and the Illinois Army National Guard military honors team of Marion.
The graveside funeral service for John Harley Wilkins II (J.H.) will be at 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, at the Anna Cemetery. Interment will be in the Anna Cemetery. Following the ceremony there will be a reception in Cobden at the home of Allie Jane Miller Davis by the new Cobden Bridge. J.H. donated his body to the University of Indiana’s Medical School. J.H. had a good life and lots of fun, only a few tears. Harold F. Wilkins
To leave an online condolence for the family, visit www.rendlemanhilemanfh.com.
Rendleman & Hileman Funeral Home in Anna is in charge of arrangements.