Guy William Pearson

By Orrin Peterson (MC, '08)

Guy William Pearson was a steadying force to the city of Monmouth for decades throughout the depression and World War II.[1] Mr. Pearson was born April 11, 1894, to J.W. and Lizzie Pearson.[2] He was the middle of their three children, but he had two half siblings from his fathers first marriage.  

“Mr. Pearson (Jonas W.) was married to Mary Lidstrom, who died, have borne her husband the following children: Mary S., who was born in 1888, died in 1916; and Esther C, who was born in 1899, married Arthur C. Anderson of Monmouth, Mr. Pearson was married (second) to Mrs. Lizzie (Peterson) Felt, a widow of Nels Felt. Mr. And Mrs. Pearson became the parents of the following children: Ruth L. who is the wife of Custer Linman, of Monmouth; and Guy W., who is associated in business with his father. Another daughter, Mary E., Died December 26, 1919.”[3]   

His father was a harness and leather goods worker and had a harness shop at 92 Public Square. Guy’s mother and father were both immigrants from Sweden and were in their mid-thirties when Guy was born.[4] Guy was a freshmen student at Monmouth High School in 1912, but never got past that grade. Instead of high school, Guy went to work with his father in the leather business; soon after the name of the business was changed from J.W. Pearson’s to J.W. Pearson and son. On January 1 1912, J.W. Pearson spearheaded a project to build a new First Lutheran Church. He organized the project and followed it to the completion.[5] Guy undoubtedly saw his father doing work for the community and wanted to do the same. “Guy always looked up to his father and wanted to be like him in every way.”[6] Guy undoubtedly continued to have these feelings for the rest of his life. After just a few years the world was threatened by war. When the U.S. got involved in World War I, Guy was called on to “Serve under the selective service act”.[7] A young man who had lived in Monmouth his whole life, it would have been quite an experience. The need for troops was so great that many of the troops were rather poorly trained. Ralph Eckley, nearly twenty years after Guy’s death, could remember a story about his training for the war: “He served in World War I and told me that he trained with a wooden ‘rifle’ and first saw a rifle that would shoot real bullets when he was moving into the trenches in France.”[8] Guy returned from the war to work with his father again. Guy married his wife Lillian, on the 10th of May 1921, in the First Lutheran Church, the same one that Guy’s father had helped to build just years earlier. In 1923, they had their only child, a daughter, Martha J.[9] As Bud Barnes said, “Guy continued to live next door to his parents and did so much as I can remember until his parents passed away.”[10] For about fifteen years following his return from the war, Guy continued to work for his father. “Guy loved people, he would talk to anybody about anything.”[11] As Guy met more he started to think about how he could help Monmouth.

In 1931 Guy decided to become involved in politics. He ran for alderman of the third ward, vowing to help clean up Monmouth.[12] Guy won the seat to begin his nearly two decades of service to the people of Monmouth. In that election Earl McKinnon was elected mayor and would serve there until Guy took the position. “They (Guy and Earl) were the flag bearers for the Union party from the early thirties until the time Earl left to go to war in 1941.”[13] In 1933 the state of Illinois changed political offices from two to four years; therefore, every person elected in the 1933 Monmouth election served for the next four years. At this time the country was going through the depression and money was scarce, so the union party, who controlled all but one seat in the town government, tried to keep the town from falling apart. They made jobs for people by passing ordinances to fix up the roads in the town.[14]

Guy ran for re-election of alderman third ward in 1937. Once more all of the city council chairs were filled with union party candidates. In his first term in office Guy had helped Monmouth pull through the depression; at the beginning of his second the world looked as if it would break into war. “Guy continued to run his leather shop while in office. His father retired and Guy changed to selling mostly leather goods because there was hardly any demand for saddles any more.”[15]

Guy was also a good husband and father. Mr. Barnes remembers that “Guy was strict with who he let his daughter date but I was lucky enough to have a date.”[16] Guy was having good success with his family and his career but it would soon get even better.

On Monday February 17th, 1941, with the war overseas raging, the three time incumbent mayor Earl McKinnon, who was up for reelection in less than two mouths, was called to active duty and resigned.  

 “I here by tender my resignation as mayor of the City of Monmouth Illinois, to be come effective on the 28th day of February 1941.

Mr. McKinnon named alderman third ward Guy Pearson Mayor pro-tem for the remainder on the meeting and exited.

Mayor pro tem Pearson commented that Mayor McKinnon had been the best mayor the City of Monmouth had ever seen.

 It was moved by Maxey and seconded by Costellos that Alderman Pearson act as mayor to fill the un-expired term of mayor McKinnon beginning March First 1941”[17] 

Guy was not in the running for mayor and the people of Monmouth loved McKinnon. At this meeting it was agreed upon by all of the aldermen that Guy Pearson become the mayor pro-tem until the election had been decided.[18] Guy’s name quickly showed up in advertisements in the paper, stating that he was the Union Party’s nominee for Mayor.[19] On February 26th 1941, Guy won the primary election and guaranteed himself the mayoral seat because he would run unopposed in the April election.[20] Two days later Earl McKinnon turned over his duties as mayor and Guy Pearson officially became mayor.

His first major duty was to complete the construction of a new hospital, a project that was very important to McKinnon. Guy took this very seriously; at every town meeting, he had something to say about the progress of the hospital. Guy tried immediately to make Monmouth a more beautiful place. Towards the end of the summer of 1941 many junkyards sprung up in the city and Guy introduced ordinances to clean them up. He also passed an ordinance to oil all streets in the city and have curbs installed on major streets where people park.[21]

In 1942 the people of the town were concerned about the war. There was a shortage of metal in the United States. The Monmouth fire department had purchased a new truck the previous November, but many of the parts were inferior to those of the old trucks, so people petitioned the city to get good high quality parts. Guy and the government agreed that the safety of the people came before money and authorized the purchases. At this same meeting Guy passed an ordinance to have the city buy up unused lots around the city for gardens to support the less fortunate people of the city.[22] At the same meeting, on January 18th 1942, “Pearson informed the council that a government man had visited him and asked that the city form plans of employment, after the war, of the many men that would be available at that time.”[23] The city council then voted to hire up two more policemen and one more fireman once the men got back and they asked everyone to bring ideas to the meeting.

In the election of 1945, Pearson won against an Independent. Most people knew that Guy would win, so yet again the most important issue on the ballot was whether or not to sell alcohol in Monmouth. The day after the election The Review Atlas stated, “Mayor Guy Pearson, union party candidate for re-election, as mayor of Monmouth won a better than two to one victory over Herbert P. Hillman, Independent candidate, in yesterdays election and the city went wet by 515 votes”.[24] When the war was over many men returned to Monmouth and were given their jobs back. Pearson continued to clean up the city and fix the roads because so many people were getting automobiles. “Guy changed his store from a general leather store to a shoe store that also did simple leather work.”[25] He now managed the store alone, since his father had retired. In 1949 Guy decided that he would not run again and retired from politics to focus on his business.

He continued to manage the store and be a service to the people of Monmouth until his father died in 1955.[26] He then retired, selling the building and living in Monmouth until he died of pneumonia ten years later on March 3rd 1965.[27] Guy lived to be seventy years old. His wife and daughter survived him. Six years after his death his wife passed away in a nursing home on October 21, 1971. Guy lived his life to its fullest extent and always wanted to help others. He accomplished his goal of helping others by taking over his father’s store, being elected mayor of Monmouth and helping the city to survive through the depression and World War II. He was an outgoing and giving person and will long be remembered as one of Monmouth’s greatest residences.


This biography was written in William Urban's historiography class at Monmouth College in the fall of 2006.

[1] The Daily Review Atlas (Monmouth Illinois April 17th 1941). Hereafter referred to as The Review Atlas.

[2] Birth certificate of Guy W. Pearson Warren County Court House.

[3] Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County Illinois (Chicago: Munsell Publishing Co., 1927). Hereafter referred to as Historical and Biographical Record.

[4] Birth certificate.

[5] “First Lutheran Church Membership list” Vol. 2 p. 135 1927-1996.

[6] Verne “Bud” Barnes interviewed by the author 10/20/2006.

[7] Historical and Biographical Record.

[8] Eckley Articles Vol.4 Book 31.

[9] 1930 U.S. Federal Census “Ancestry”.

[10] Verne “Bud” Barnes interviewed by the author 10/20/2006.

[11] Verne “Bud” Barnes interviewed by the author 10/20/2006.

[12] The Review Atlas April 13, 1931 p9.

[13] Verne “Bud” Barnes interviewed by the author 10/20/2006.

[14] “City of Monmouth Illinois City Meeting Minutes” 1937 p733.

[15] Howard Oaks interviewed by the author 11/2/2006.

[16] Verne “Bud” Barnes interviewed by the author 10/20/2006.

[17] “City of Monmouth Illinois City Meeting Minutes” February 17, 1941. P.949.

[18] The Review Atlas. April 17th 1941 p12.

[19] The Review Atlas April 19th 1941 p8.

[20] The Review Atlas April 26th 1941 p1.

[21] “City of Monmouth Illinois City Meeting Minutes” October 20 1941 p. 645

[22] “City of Monmouth Illinois City Meeting Minutes” January 18 1942 p.153. These gardens were very popular all over the United States and became known as victory gardens in support of the war.

[23] “City of Monmouth Illinois City Meeting Minutes” January 18 1942 p.153

[24] The Review Atlas April 18th 1945 p.1

[25] Verne “Bud” Barnes interviewed by the author 10/20/2006

[26] Verne “Bud” Barnes interviewed by the author 10/20/2006

[27] Death certificate Monmouth City Court house