By Ryan Bland
Earl McKinnon’s hardworking attitude and common sense approach to living life helped him carry Monmouth through the lean years of the Great Depression. On December 9, 1893, Wiley and Mary McKinnon gave birth to Earl in Albia, Iowa, a town approximately 125 miles west of Monmouth; he lived there until his family moved to Monmouth in 1895. McKinnon did all his schooling in Monmouth.
In high school, McKinnon excelled in athletics. During his senior year, McKinnon was captain of the 1911 Monmouth High football team, but the 1910 team, which Earl was also a part, is better known for what it accomplished on the field. The 1910 Monmouth High School football team earned the right to play in the state title game against Rockford. Although they lost to Rockford, for years to come many locals talked about the 49-0 defeat that Monmouth handed to rival Galesburg in 1910. McKinnon also participated in track as well as serving as business manager for the school newspaper, The Clipper, during his time at Monmouth High.
McKinnon was drafted and served in World War I. After returning home McKinnon married Vera Elizabeth Jones, in October of 1919. Vera was six years younger than Earl, and twenty when they wed. Two years later their first child, Earl Jr., was born. During this time Earl and his father, Wiley McKinnon, worked together in the contracting firm W. McKinnon and Son. On the 1920 census McKinnon lists his occupation as a house builder and as a brick mason on the 1930 census. Vera gave birth to another child, Mary Frances, in 1926.
McKinnon had originally petitioned to run as an alderman in his ward, but after a meeting of Union party leaders on January 19, 1931, McKinnon decided to run for mayor. Prior to this Earl McKinnon had very little political experience. In his campaign ads in the Review Atlas, McKinnon cited being the physical director of the local Y.M.C.A. as his only political experience. Getting his name on the ballot required McKinnon to run in the March primary.
In the March primary, McKinnon defeated the Union party opponent, Charles W. Trowbridge, in a landslide. In contrast to this, the Republican ticket was rather close: “Irvine defeated his opponent for the Republican nomination, Charles W. Ward, by a majority of 40 votes while McKinnon swamped his opponent for the Union party nomination under a veritable avalanche of votes.” The Union party turnout at the primary was much lower than that of the Republicans, however. The Union party only received 578 votes, (494 of them going to McKinnon) while the Republican ticket drew 1,138 voters. McKinnon drew far more voters in the April election.
Leading up to the election both candidates, McKinnon and A.H. Irvine, ran campaign ads in the Review Atlas, both including photographs. Irvine appeared much older than McKinnon and McKinnon seemed to use this to his advantage. The Review Atlas called him “one of the city’s younger business men” and “an ideal candidate.” The voters felt the same way. McKinnon beat Irvine in the election receiving 2,670 votes to 1,698. Two years earlier the Republican party had defeated the Union party, the Review Atlas offered this insight as to why the McKinnon won by such a large margin:
Earl McKinnon, Union party candidate for the office of mayor, was swept into office yesterday on a veritable tidal wave of votes by the citizens of Monmouth who indicated by their action that either they disapprove of the presence of the Republican party in city politics or they disapprove of the manner in which the affairs of the city have been managed during the last bi-ennium.
In short, the voters of Monmouth were upset with the way the city had been managed. Evidently, the voters were pleased with the way McKinnon would carry the city through the depression, for he would be mayor throughout the rest of the decade.
McKinnon and the council took office May 4, 1931. His first act was to appropriate funds for May 1931 until April 1932. McKinnon’s appropriations did not differ much from his predecessors. McKinnon and his Union party colleagues eventually allowed their actions to establish themselves, but taking over a city in 1931 meant getting the budget aligned first. Mayor McKinnon also had to approve his salary at the initial meeting. He was paid $50 every two weeks.
During McKinnon’s first two years in office a few problems arose. Throughout his campaign in early 1933, McKinnon discussed the lowering of water rates and the responsibility of community welfare. McKinnon felt he was being held responsible for the welfare of the community, “when as a matter of fact he [McKinnon] is not a member of the board of directors of the organization and has nothing to do with the financial affairs of the relief work of the society.” The Community Welfare Association tried to pin the financial responsibilities on the city council when in fact; the association was not started by the city government. The timing of these allegations surfaced right before the mayoral election of 1933.
The allegations against Mayor McKinnon did not keep the voters from reelecting him. McKinnon beat his Republican opponent, Faye Houtchens, by 161 votes. A record breaking number of voters turned out for the election, which The Review Atlas attributes to the “beer proposition” on the ballot. Voters decided by nearly a two to one margin that the sale of alcohol should be legal in the city of Monmouth. In addition to winning the mayoral election, the Union Party scored another victory as Milton Carrier defeated Robert McCloskey of the Republican Party. Many of the Union party aldermen retained their positions as well. As a whole, the Union party was quite pleased with the results of the election, “Joy reigned supreme in the Union party camp last night and shortly after the result of the election was known a parade was quickly formed at headquarters.”
McKinnon and the city council ran the city in primarily the same manner as they had the previous two years. There were not a significant number of city improvement projects, but rather funds allocated to each department to maintain proper upkeep. When the next election came around in 1935, McKinnon faced an opponent who was already familiar to Monmouth voters. He was up against former mayor Otto Fowler. Fowler represented the People’s Party. Fowler did not present much of a challenge to McKinnon.
The front page of the Review Atlas sums up the results of the 1935 mayoral election quite well with its statement, “Newly Formed Peoples Party was Decisively Defeated by People at Polls Yesterday.” McKinnon defeated Fowler by 422 including victories at seven of the ten precincts. The city council remained heavily dominated by the Union party, as eight of the city’s ten aldermen elected were Union party representatives. McKinnon and his Union party representatives got to work the succeeding two years, passing resolutions and ordinances designed to better the lives of Monmouth’s residents.
Many of the resolutions and ordinances dealt with the budget, but a fair number also concerned other aspects. The conditions of the roads and the fact that alcohol was being sold in town prompted the city council to take action. In 1935 an ordinance was passed that made it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The city council also passed a number of resolutions that allowed for the paving of various city streets.
The Union party was not shy when it came to the boasting of their achievements. In a campaign ad that ran several times in The Review Atlas leading up to the election of 1937, the Union party listed their candidates for city office and the accomplishments of the party which include:
Installed garbage collection system.
Built sewage system.
Remodeled fire station.
Paved the city tie lot. (no expense to the city)
Built 10 blocks new pavement. (no expense to the city)
Rebuilt 8 blocks old pavement. (no expense to the city)
Resurfaced 10 blocks of dirt streets. (no expense to the city)
Paid off all water works bonds.
Refinanced City Hall bond debt which was handed down to us.
The ad also ran a section that listed the party’s plans for the future. The list included promises of paving more streets, but it also mentioned plans for building an addition to the hospital. City projects that were accomplished during McKinnon’s tenure can be attributed to his being a contractor. While in office, McKinnon was able to get debts paid off and streets paved at a time when the country was experiencing a national depression. The training that he received as a contractor allowed him to understand how business dealings operate. Verne “Bud” Barnes (who knew McKinnon personally) said that, “he [McKinnon] was a man who knew how to get things done.” This reputation and the fact that he was able to retain many of the same aldermen throughout his tenure helped McKinnon retain popularity with the voters of Monmouth.
In the election of 1937, the voters once again proved how popular McKinnon was as he defeated his Republican opponent, Harry C. Lightner, by 886 votes. McKinnon became Monmouth’s only mayor to date to be elected to three consecutive terms. This was not the only victory for the Union party in the election. The party claimed every aldermen position except one and retained Milton Carrier as city clerk as well as claiming the office of treasurer.
During a city council meeting that took place two nights after the election, a statement was read concerning the terms of city officials, “to comply with state statutes the terms for mayor and one alderman from each ward must be four years.” The method for determining which alderman would serve for four years and which would serve for two was administered using blind draw. Sealed envelopes containing two slips of paper, one with a number 2 and another with a number 4, were used for the blind draw. Each of the aldermen from the five wards drew out of an envelope, and the men’s terms lasted for the number of years written on the paper. The new statues meant that McKinnon would not have to win another election until 1941. It also meant that the aldermen would be elected in a staggered fashion from that point on. Many of McKinnon’s Union Party colleagues drew a four-year term. McKinnon and the new city council were once again ready to get to work.
Once again in the 1937 election the voters of Monmouth voted to permit the sale of alcohol within city limits. At the request of some of the voters and other outside parties, the city council passed City Ordinance 94 on October 4, 1937. The ordinance stated that it was illegal to sell alcohol on election days and Sundays.
Other ordinances passed while McKinnon was in office related to the parking of automobiles. A fair number of these ordinances were passed most of them dealing with what side of the street vehicles were permitted to park, what angle, and for what extent. The emergence of the automobile as a common means of transportation meant something else for the community of Monmouth—more taxes. McKinnon saw the opportunity to benefit the community with the revenue generated from a motor fuel tax.
On February 7, 1938, McKinnon first proposed his plans for street improvement with money from the motor fuel tax. McKinnon explained that it would be a logical decision to use those funds for the improvement of the streets since more traffic meant there was a growing need for better streets. The plan was proposed in early February and on March 21, 1938 it passed unanimously. This was not the only business on the agenda for the meeting that night.
Hugh Moffet representing the newly formed Warren County Historical Society wrote a letter to the mayor to be read in front of the city council. He requested that the Warren County Historical Society, with support from the city, help maintain the “Old Cemetery” located on North Sixth Street and East Archer Avenue in Monmouth. He also requested that the cemetery’s name be changed to “The Pioneer Cemetery.” After a brief history of the cemetery was given in the letter, Moffet also expressed to the city council that he hoped the newly formed Warren County Historical Society become officially recognized and that it last for a long time (sixty-eight years later, the society is still going strong). Moffet’s letter may have seemed insignificant at the time, but several decades later the Pioneer Cemetery still remains kept and the Warren County Historical Society still holds meetings.
In the campaign ads of 1937 supporting the Union Party one of the promises listed was “build addition to hospital—which is greatly needed.” The Union Party was not exaggerating in stating this. On July 5, 1938, the council first discussed the hospital repairs, and McKinnon explained that a federal grant was available to help fund the repairs. The U.S. government was not asking Monmouth to repair the hospital—they were demanding. The grant was an emergency grant issued by the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works when the government deems hospitals out of date or unsafe. The government was willing to give Monmouth approximately $40,000. The grant was designed to cover about forty-five percent of the total cost of the repairs. The city council was able to get a larger grant by request. The sum of the larger grant amounted to approximately $60,000. The city also received “$10,000 as a gift from the Illinois Bankers Life Assurance company,”(whose headquarters are in Monmouth) and “$12,000 from the hospital board’s building fund.” The city still needed to come up with approximately $50,000 in order to satisfy the terms of the federal grant.
The quickest and easiest way for a city to raise a large amount of money in a short amount of time is to hold an election. The issue was discussed in council chambers on July 21, 1938. On September 6, 1938, Monmouth held a special election for the approval of a city bond to aid in the renovation of the hospital. The hospital bond was approved by over 800 votes. After the vote passed, the council knew they would have the money they needed. That meant it was time to start looking for a contractor. Since McKinnon was in the contracting business himself, it seemed that the council knew how to go about looking for a contractor.
The hospital committee went about looking for contractors in the succeeding months of the hospital vote. On November 14, 1938, the committee announced that the winning bid went to the Sumner S. Sollitt Company of Chicago, Illinois. The company estimated the job at $130,000. This estimate meant that the federal grant was only covering a little less than half of the total bill, which met the requirements.
In 1939 McKinnon was faced with a difficult decision, what to do with Monmouth Airport? This was not a new dilemma, for “McKinnon twice in six years had found a way to keep the airport from the plow.” During the 1920s and 1930s flying services would lease the land and the services could keep planes in the hangars at the airport. In 1939, the Currey Flying Service left and the city council had to decide what was to be done with the flying field. At the January 17, 1939, city council meeting several local pilots attended in hopes to keep the field active.
Several plans were suggested to the city council as to how to keep the field up and running. The local pilots said that they would lease the field and have administrative power as well. Richard McVey passionately spoke of increased popularity of the field and pledged to lease the field with his brother, Robert, but promised cooperation with others. Mayor McKinnon also invited Arthur Currey, D.W. Moffat, and Ralph Eckley to speak about the airport; the three men were in agreement that it was in Monmouth’s best interest to keep the airport alive. One may argue that all of these men had wonderful ideas as to what to do with the airport, but none of their ideas were ever carried out. The one man that seemed to have much stronger plan than any other was David McMichael.
David McMichael, business manager of Monmouth College, “testified in support of the airport, and mentioned a new program was in the works by the government, that could involve using colleges for aviation schools.” That’s all it was at the time, “in the works,” McKinnon and the city council did not have the time to wait around for the government flying program, they needed a solution—and quick.
McKinnon acted in the only way left that seemed logical, he sent out a contract to collect money from the five men that had planes in the hangars. This action caused three of the owners to move their planes elsewhere. It looked as though it was the end for the flying field until two brothers, Bob and Dick McVey, decided to open an airplane dealership in addition to a car dealership they owned. Once the dealership was opened and more money could be invested into the flying field, the McVey flying service was created. The remainder of 1939 consisted of flying lessons being taken by various people from the town and a flying show that attracted over 3,000 people.
The flying field operated in much of the same way until late 1940 when Monmouth College applied for the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), the government program that David McMichael had mentioned in council chambers a year earlier. Monmouth was approved as a site for the government program, which after the attack on Pearl Harbor, was renamed to the War Training Service. The plan was to have a surplus of pilots ready to fly while receiving proper classroom instruction from the college. McKinnon and the city council no longer had to worry about the financial situation of the flying field because of the government program.
In 1940 McKinnon was faced with many other dilemmas. He was enlisted in the 123rd Field Artillery a division of the Illinois National Guard. McKinnon knew that it would only be a matter of time before the 123rd was called for active duty as other divisions were being called upon around the nation.
Throughout 1940 Mayor McKinnon missed several meetings because of his obligations to the military. In his absence, Guy Pearson filled in for McKinnon at the city council meetings. It appeared as if it was only a matter of time before McKinnon was going to resign. At the February 17, 1941, city council meeting Earl McKinnon made his resignation official in a letter to the city council:
I hereby tender my resignation as Mayor of the City of Monmouth, Illinois, to become effective on the 28th day of February, 1941. The reason for this resignation is that I am entering the service of the United States’ Army, and expect to be called for active duty on or about March 5, 1941.
I wish to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to each member of the City Council, who has served during my administration, for their cooperation in helping administer the affairs of the City. Together, I feel we have achieved reasonable success in carrying on thee functions of the City. I feel that no small part of this achievement is due to the efforts of the councilmen and their committees.
Yours very truly,
Mayor of the City of Monmouth, Illinois
Guy Pearson was elected mayor pro-tem for the remaining two months of the term. The choice was logical, as Pearson had served as city alderman under Mayor McKinnon since 1931. After his resignation was read Guy Pearson stated that, “Mayor McKinnon has been the best mayor the City of Monmouth had ever witnessed.”
Mayor Earl McKinnon was highly respected and well liked by many people, and Captain McKinnon received the same accolades. In a personal correspondence James Haynes writes, “My late uncle, M/Sgt Leland K. Carson, served under Captain McKinnon in the 123d Field Artillery (NG) during the 1930's and when it was activated, and in my conversations with him, I could tell he held McKinnon in high regard.” McKinnon was called up for active duty in early March, 1941. He was the first in his regiment to leave for Camp Forrest, Tennessee. During World War II, the military utilized McKinnon’s contracting background, “during the War he [McKinnon] was transferred to the Headquarters of the Fifth Air Force and spent much of his service building air strips in New Guinea.”
Earl was not the only member of his family to be involved in World War II. His son, Earl A, trained to be a pilot at the airport in Monmouth. Earl Jr. enlisted into Air Corps on April 2, 1942, in Peoria, Illinois. He was killed in 1943 while still in training. He was a member of the Flying Forces and only twenty-one when he died. Earl Sr. would return home safely after his service in the war.
McKinnon’s life took a new direction, however, after the war ended, “When the war was over, he returned to Monmouth briefly, but then moved his family to California where he pursued a career as an estimator for a construction company in Riverside.” Earl McKinnon’s daughter, Mary Frances, graduated from Monmouth College in 1947. She lists her hometown in the 1948 Ravelings as Riverside, California.
Earl McKinnon died on January 19, 1961 at Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside, California at the age of sixty-seven. Skin cancer was the primary cause of his death. The following obituary appeared a day later in the Monmouth Review Atlas:
Funeral services for Earl W. McKinnon, former Monmouth mayor, who died in Riverside, California, Thursday morning, will be conducted at 1:30 pm Tuesday at the Holliday and Hoover Memorial Chapel. Burial will take place in Monmouth Cemetery.
Mr. McKinnon’s body will arrive Monday morning accompanied by Mrs. McKinnon and the family will receive visitors at the Holliday and Hoover Memorial Chapel Monday from 7 pm until 8:30.
The obituary does not come close to doing justice to a man that served both World Wars and governed the City of Monmouth through the depression. The article that appeared in The Review Atlas the day following McKinnon’s resignation seems more appropriate:
Captain McKinnon was rounding out his fourth term as mayor, the first three having been two-year terms and the fourth a four-year term. First elected in 1931, and re-elected in 1933, 1935, and 1937, Captain McKinnon came along just when a depression gave all cities plenty of troubles, owing to dwindling revenue at a time when municipal projects were imperatively needed to provide work for men who needed jobs. With a background of contracting experience, Captain McKinnon worked out a long-range improvement program which has been carried out in a large measure. Built during his terms was the sewage disposal plant, many miles of concrete and brick sidewalks, many blocks of “black-top” pavement, and to overcome traffic congestion the city undertook a street- widening program. Projects which he outlined are sufficient to keep Monmouth’s WPA crews busy for many months to come, and the new council is expected to follow out this program.
Those words better highlight the life of a man who never lost an election and carried Monmouth through the trying decade of the 1930s. In 1931 Earl McKinnon and his Union party colleagues started a stronghold that lasted through the decade and continued with McKinnon’s successor, Guy Pearson. Earl McKinnon was a not only a noble citizen of the city of Monmouth but he was also a great citizen of the United States of America having served in the two most important wars of the twentieth century.
 “Campaign Ad for Earl McKinnon,” The Review Atlas, April 4, 1931, 10.
 McKinnon attended Monmouth College for three years but never graduated.
 “Football,” 1911 Maroon and Gold, Warren County Genealogical Society, 66-67. In a personal interview with Verne Barnes, he indicated that McKinnon’s love for football did not fade after he graduated high school. McKinnon was an avid sports fan and loved participating in “pick up” sports as well as hunting and fishing.
 “First Baptist Church Records,” Warren County Genealogical Society, 120.
 “M’Kinnon to be Union Party Flag Bearer,” The Review Atlas, January 20, 1931, 1.
 “Campaign Ad for Earl McKinnon,” The Review Atlas, April 4, 1931, 10.
 “Irvine, McKinnon Nominated for Mayor of City at Primaries,” The Review Atlas, March 14, 1931, 1.
 “Campaign Ad for Earl McKinnon,” The Review Atlas, April 4, 1931, 10.
 “Union Party Wins Big, Elected All of Its Candidates but City Clerk,” The Review Atlas, April 23, 1931, 1. Hereafter cited as Union.
 Union, 1.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, May 4, 1931 Monmouth City Hall, Monmouth Illinois.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, May 4, 1931.
 “Union Party Held Meeting,” The Review Atlas, April 14, 1933, 3.
 “Mayor McKinnon Defeats Houtchens,” The Review Atlas, April 19, 1933, 1.
 “Mayor McKinnon Defeats Houtchens,” The Review Atlas, April 19, 1933, 3.
 “Newly Formed Peoples Party was Decisively Defeated by People at Polls Yesterday,” The Review Atlas, April 17, 1935, 1.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, March 20, 1916-November 5, 1942, p 570-680 (Covering 1935-1937). Let it be noted that in regards to the paving of the city’s streets, McKinnon had the 300 block of South Eighth Street paved as an experimental run. It should also be noted that at this time Earl McKinnon resided at 322 S. Eighth Street. Verne Barnes, interviewed by the author, October 24, 2006; 1936 Monmouth City Directory, Warren County Genealogical Society, p 86.
 “Union Party Campaign Ad,” The Review Atlas, April 19, 1937, 7.
 “Union Party Campaign Ad,” 7.
 Verne “Bud” Barnes, interviewed by the author, October 24, 2006.
 “Union Party Scores Almost Complete Victory at Polls-M’Kinnon Won by 886 Majority,” The Review Atlas, April 21, 1937, 1.
 “Union Party Scores…”, 1.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, April 22, 1937.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, April 22, 1937.
 Monmouth City Ordinances, City Ordinance 94, October 4, 1937, Monmouth City Hall. The ordinance forbade establishments from selling alcohol during the times that the polls were open on election days.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, Obtained from various dates throughout the latter part of the 1930s.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, February 7, 1938.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, March 21, 1938. This plan was initially passed in the form of three resolutions, 99, 100, and 101. The different resolutions each laid out the different aspects of the plan, (funds, streets to be paved/improved, timetable for improvements, etc.)
 “Letter to mayor from Hugh Moffet,” Monmouth City Council minutes, March 21, 1938.
 “Union Party Campaign Ad,” 7.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, July 5, 1938.
 “Plan to Build Hospital Wing gets Approval,” The Review Atlas, September 7, 1938, 1.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, July 21, 1938-September 12, 1938. The “hospital tax” passed by a vote of 1049-202. The number of voters that showed up to the polls was significantly lower than the number that had been showing up in recent mayoral elections, but this can be attributed to the short notice of the election and also to the time the election took place.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, November 14, 1938. The subsequent council meetings included extensive talk of the hospital and the budget for the hospital. No dollar was to be unaccounted for in the report and McKinnon made certain that none were as many “revised reports” were presented at the following meetings.
 James Haynes, Flying Field (Bushnell, IL: Robins Nest Company, 1995), 89. Referring to the period between 1933 and 1939.
 Haynes, 76.
 Haynes, 76. Richard McVey undoubtedly knew many of the men quite well on the city council. In 1937 he ran for city alderman in the 5th ward and lost. He was the only Union party member not elected in 1937.
 Haynes, 76.
 Haynes, 77.
 Haynes, 78. Bob McVey died on July 4, 1940, performing a stunt during an air show in Monmouth.
 Haynes, 80.
 Haynes, 87.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, February 17, 1941.
 Monmouth City Council minutes, February 17, 1941.
 James Haynes, “Earl McKinnon,” Personal email sent to the author, November 14, 2006.
 “Regiment will get Standards this Afternoon,” The Review Atlas, March 10, 1941, 3.
 Haynes, 88-89.
 Verne “Bud” Barnes, Interviewed by the author, October 24, 2006.
 Earl McKinnon, Burial site in Monmouth Cemetery, Monmouth, Illinois.
 Haynes, 89.
 1948 Ravelings, Monmouth College, Monmouth Illinois, 42.
 Earl McKinnon, Certificate of Death, State of California, Issued November 2, 2006 to the author.
 “Burial Services, Earl McKinnon,” The Review Atlas, January 20, 1961, 3.
 “McKinnon has Resigned as City’s Mayor,” The Review Atlas, February 18, 1941, 3.