Marengo resident Judge Edward Shurtleff recalled the Grand Jury that examined the case of the two police officers who fired their weapons in self-defense during the 1924 milk strike in Garden Prairie. Richard Saunders was mortally wounded in the incident

The year 1924 was a tumultuous year for McHenry County’s milk industry. As 1923 came to a close dairy farmers in the Chicago Milk Shed were at odds with dealers. The Milk Producers Association represented dairy farmers, and the price of milk was negotiated with the large dairies in Chicago - a great distance away from the dairy barns and pastures. Finally negotiations broke down and on New Year’s Day the dairy farmers in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and northwester Indiana went on strike. In McHenry all of the farmers honored the strike with only one exception; the dairy farmers in the Union area. After a marathon negotiation session the strike was finally settled on January 14th.

The agreement reached in January, 1924 was for only three months, and almost immediately after the strike was settled new talks surfaced about another strike in April,f 1924. In an editorial that appeared in the January 4, 1924, edition of the Woodstock Daily Sentinel; the newspaper’s editor Charles F. Renich reported that according to the US Department of Agriculture “the Producer in the Chicago District receives the lowest price paid in any large city district in the United States.” If true, then the farmers lost more ground in mid-March when they settled for $2.55 per hundred pounds – a 12 ½ cent reduction from the previous agreement.

In December, 1924 tensions between milk producers and dealers rose again; this time in neighboring Garden Prairie in Boone County. Gifford Milk Products posted their offer price for milk in the Belvidere Daily Republican. One of these short blurbs appeared in the November 29, 1924, issue of the newspaper and announced; “Effective December 1 and until further notice, we will pay $2.00 per 100 pounds for 3.5 test milk at Garden Prairie.”

Predictably tensions rose; local milk producers wanted $2.25 per hundred pounds, and by December 8th area farmers picketed the plant. The picketers also blocked the highway leading to the plant and stopped trucks that were delivering milk. Garden Prairie’s mayor appealed to local and state law enforcement for to help to clear the highway through the little village. Boone County Sheriff Fair responded to the picket site and spoke with the strike organizer John Sullivan of Marengo. Sullivan told the lawman that the picketers would not close the highway.

The strikers broke their promise; on the following day a milk truck driven by Frank McKiski was headed towards the milk plant when it was stopped on the state highway. Approximately forty angry picketers swarmed the truck. Illinois Highway Patrolman Paul Clendening and Belvidere Police Department Officer Fremont Nester were called to the scene to open the highway, and assist to in getting the truck through. Clendening jumped on to the truck, and told the picketers that the truck was going through – the mob became furious. Logs, branches, bricks, and cans were hurled at the truck and the two police officers. A gang of men threw a railroad tie at the vehicle. One witness later testified that the crowd screamed; “get him, hang him, and “get the cop.” Clendening defended himself by using his revolver as a club and struck one man in the head. The angry mob continued its attack, and finally both officers fired warning shots into ground and in the air to scare the mob. Unfortunately; one .45 caliber steel jacketed bullet found its target in the leg of Richard Saunders of Marengo. The bullet entered Saunders left leg between the hip and the knee, and travelled into his abdomen causing a mortal wound. The shooting broke the picketers resolve, and peace was finally restored – the road was open, and milk deliveries resumed.

The twenty-four year old Saunders was treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital and initially doctors felt the patient would fully recover. But, on the December 11th Saunders condition worsened and he passed away. As customary in those days both officers were arrested, and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, assault with intent to commit murder, and assault and battery; however, they were both released on a “liberty bond.”

Judge Shurtleff, a Marengo resident, convened a grand jury to hear the officers’ cases. The panel spent one week examing evidence, and on December 20th the jury reported to the Judge Shurtleff that there would be no indictments in case.

As the remaining days of 1924 ticked off the calendar milk deliveries to Gifford Milk Products were being made in increasing amounts. I couldn’t find a newspapers article that reported that the strike was officially settled, but eventually milk flow to the plant resumed to prestrike levels.

The January 7, 1925, edition of the Belvidere Daily Republican featured another short blurb announcing the price that Gifford Milk Products paid farmers for their milk - $2.00 per 100 pounds. Looks like things returned to normal – at least for some of the people involved in the milk strike. 

A Feb. 23 hearing compelling Arnold Magnetic Engineering, Inc. and its landholder, 300 West LLC, to show cause regarding a requested extension on a previous court order to bring water lines to contaminated wells has been held over. The two entities have not met a Feb. 16 deadline date, and must now produce a report on remediation objectives and status, along with a revised comprehensive site investigation plan by Mar. 2.

The civil litigation, under docket #13CH1046, was filed in 2013 by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to force compliance with required on- and off-site testing of groundwater at the plant site, located in Marengo. They also sought corrective measures for groundwater contamination from production chemicals that leeched into the water table contaminating seventeen private and commercial wells in a one-mile proximity of the plant site.

The issue surfaced when Marengo crews attempted to install a well on Ritz Road and discovered the condition. In May 2010, Arnold retained a consultant group with monitoring wells to produce on-site samples. The subsequent findings detected concentrations of the vinyl chloride, PCE, TCE, and other carcinogens. The plume is migrating toward Railroad Street and potentially reaching the Kishwaukee River basin.

McHenry County Judge Michael Chmiel has presided over the case and monitored the progress. During its Feb. 22, 2016 meeting, the city of Marengo entered into an agreement for the two entities to bring water lines, connecting the municipal water system with the plant site, Railroad Street and Ritz Road. The 7-1 vote also called for a contingency annexation agreement to bring the 90-acre industrial parcel into the municipal boundaries.

“The water main is in, and they are proceeding with the acquisition of easements that will allow the piping… so that aspect needs to be addressed before piping goes to the residences,” said Marengo City Manager Joshua Blakemore. “The city’s agreement with Arnold and 300 West is outdated, and we’re also in negotiations to bring those contract stipulations into current terms. There is no timetable for the completion of the updates, due to their efforts to obtain the necessary easements.”

Additionally, the agreement covered piping locations through an engineering contract with McHenry-based HR Green, also the city’s engineering firm. “There was a contract for engineering services, and it was basically for observation services and other items on the city’s behalf,” he said. “There was a deposit on file, from Arnold and 300 West, which covered the costs of the service contract. The final cost amount was $37,000.”

Effectively, the entire project was estimated at more than $3 million and at no cost to the municipality. Hook-ups to the water main were similarly to be completed at no cost to impacted homeowners, and the applicable usage rates were to be assessed at the “in-town” rate, despite waiving the requirement for annex into the city proper.

“We recognize and understand the frustration of the impacted residents and continue to ask the court to hold the defendants accountable for completing the work,” said Annie Thompson, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office’s press secretary. “Under the judge’s consent order, the defendants are required to continue providing bottled water until the hook-up project requirements have been met. The order spells out the schedule for the hook-up project. Because the defendants missed the Feb. 16 deadline, our office sent them correspondence to that effect, and will push for them to complete the project.”

In that correspondence dated Feb. 22, responding to the request by Arnold Engineering and 300 West invoking an extension due to a “force majeure” (weather), the attorney general’s office noted that the IEPA office had not been notified 48 hours prior to any such potential event, as ordered, and that a Feb. 15 email to the IEPA showed no indication that an event had even occurred.

It further stated, “In addition, obtaining the easements and the permits is a condition precedent to the affected residents’ laterals to the water main and obtaining water service from the city of Marengo. As of Feb. 14, two days prior to the deadline…the defendants had not conducted negotiations with the affected residents regarding the necessary easements.”

Thompson said, “The water main is completed, and we are currently reviewing (their) request for a deadline extension, due to inclement weather conditions, for the installation of the water lines that will connect the mains to the houses. At this point, the information we have is that 300 West is paying for the work required under the order, and not Arnold Engineering, although they are equally responsible for the funding. This is a continuing concern for us, and it has been brought to the court’s attention.”

The issues of non-compliance penalties being incurred by the two entities through IEPA mandates along with damage claims from impacted property owners are still open-ended questions yet to be resolved.

“Those penalties against the defendants are specified in the consent order, and continue to accumulate for those violations of the order. We are prepared to seek payment for them,” said Thompson. “Our office cannot seek damages on behalf of the homeowners, which we have explained at public meetings. Impacted residents have every right to seek damages and obtain legal counsel, and our understanding is that many homeowners have already done so.”

Thompson also said the companies are required by the judge’s consent order to provide bottled (potable) water to the impacted homeowners for drinking, until such time as the line work and connections are completed. “Should they comply with the Mar. 2 order, a trial date is scheduled for Mar. 8,” she said. 

Sacred Heart Parish in Marengo is launching a new local Conference of a Society that is 185 years old. Founded in France in 1833 by a group of young laymen, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is a lay Catholic organization of volunteer women and men, committed to offer person-to-person help to all those in need. It is funded mainly from donations.

Inspired by the works and writings of the Catholic Saint Vincent de Paul, the Society seeks to “embrace the world in a network of charity.” This means that members do not emphasize simply giving assistance to those in need--though they certainly do that—but call for members to seek to grow in their own spiritual lives of charity in partnership with those they serve. Since 1845 the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has grown exponentially in the United States. There are local conferences in every state of the Union, in large cities, small towns and rural communities.

Putting a more contemporary voice to the Society’s mission, their website states the goal to “End poverty through systemic change.” Each local conference goes about its work based on how they discern local needs. The Sacred Heart Chapter’s mission statement says, “We provide relief to the needy in our Marengo/ Union community by assisting with food, bill payments and other types of life’s hardships that people are going through.” Conference members will go out in pairs to visit all who request assistance, ascertain their needs, and work with the local conference to meet those needs.

If you or someone you know needs help, there are two ways to contact the Sacred Heart Conference: Call their dedicated line at 779-548-5057 and leave a detailed message. Someone will soon return your call. You can also email them at

If you feel drawn to become part of this conference and share in their mission (Catholic Church membership is not required) or if you would like to make a donation to help support their outreach, you can use the same phone number and e-mail address. All inquiries and offerings will be most welcome.

At this point in the winter it is tempting to think about starting seeds. For a vegetable gardener, nothing more effectively takes the mind off off the cold winter weather than seeing the first seeds sprout in the starting trays. Experience has taught us that only slow growing seeds like some herbs and perennial flowers should be started this early in the year. However, for those of you yearning for some fresh garden grown food, we have some suggestions. If usual local sources of seeds are not yet available, open those seed catalogs that have piled up or try online sources.

February in McHenry County is too early to plant seeds or seedlings outdoors. Starting cool season crops right now in containers or grow bags is a great option to put some fresh greens on the table in March. To avoid spindly seedlings, it will be necessary to provide supplemental lighting over starting trays or containers.

An almost constant supply of salad greens can be provided by planting successions of mixed baby greens. As the temperature warms containers can be moved outside into the sun and brought back inside to avoid frosty nights. Greens can be grown well into the summer until the heat causes most varieties to bolt.

Radishes are a great cool season crop to start in a container and many varieties may be ready to eat in three to four weeks. Be sure to space the seeds a couple inches apart to allow room to develop into nice sized edible roots. A window box is a good container for growing seeds in a row. Kids can handle radish seeds so involve them in this project.

Fresh garden spinach is a favorite at our house and is easy to grow in containers or trays. Check the days to maturity when purchasing spinach seeds and choose those varieties that grow quickly. Spinach is a good crop for succession planting to keep a continuous supply on your table.

Snow and sugar peas are a great spring crop that kids usually love. When selecting seeds take into consideration that peas grow either as vines or bushes. We suggest that peas be planted in starting trays so that they can be ready to go into raised beds with frost protection using row cover. Peas usually take 50 to 65 days to mature and giving them a head start indoors will get them on your plate by late May by transplanting in late March or early April.

Take away the winter blues by trying some of these ideas and involve your children or grandchildren too. Contact us with your gardening questions.

Your favorite Christian Arts Student Theater group is back for a magical adventure with Peter Pan, April 27-29, 2018 at MCHS. The turnout is incredible for this show, with 62 children participating, and 21 of them are first time actors with CAST. Kimberly Voller returns as the Senior Director and joining her will be Christo Poggas as Co-Director, Paige Lush as Music Director and Heather Tynis Choreographer. CAST had performed Peter Pan in 2010, their 4th production. Kimberly said it is such a wonderful story and allows for many children to participate, so she thought it would be fun to direct it for a second time. It was their first show with “flying” and that was just amazing to see on opening night... truly magical.

There are still many opportunities for those with a little stage-fright to be a part of the fun. Building sets, painting, decorating and not to mention the costumes (I mentioned 62 kids, right). If you are interested in spending time with an excellent group of people, contact Kimberly for a schedule and you can jump right in, as your schedule allows. There are former actors who have grown into integral members of the production team and do an amazing job.

All parts have been assigned, rehearsals are underway, and the excitement is building. As always, this show will be fantastic with all the talents of children from Marengo, as well as Huntley, Woodstock and Crystal Lake! From just a small after school activity at Zion, it is awesome to see how CAST has grown.

Being completely self-funded, one way that CAST can help off-set their costs is with a Quarter Auction that will be held at Joe’s Place on March 16th at 6:00pm. This event has become very popular and is supported through donations of gifts, services and baskets from local businesses. It is a great night for the CAST families to come out and have fun, along with the community to support this wonderful organization.

After half a century of dentistry, one thing remains constant for Dr. Jim Sweet: “When people come to visit, they aren’t like family, they ARE family.”

Sweet became a Michigan Avenue dentist immediately after graduation from Northwestern University. “Stops lights brought me to Marengo,” he said. In 1968 colleague asked him if he’d like to buy a practice in Marengo. “I’m one of those people who don’t like change,” Sweet gave the reason he stayed. “I’m married to the same woman and live in the same house since I moved to Marengo. His practice started on second floor of the old Lindsay’s Drug Store on 104 state street. It had been a dentist office for 100 years. “Lindsay’s had a real soda fountain.”

Sweet and his wife, Carol soon came to love the small town and countryside. Six years later he moved into third floor of Marengo State Bank building. He and his wife, Carol, raised a daughter and two sons in Marengo. Their daughter, Beth Peters is Dr. Sweet’s dental hygienist, and their son, Jay Sweet recently moved his Sweet Dental Lab headquarters from Barrington to Marengo. “Carol is my office supervisor, general expediter, and whip-cracker,” said Sweet. Sami Wilkening works chairside, Nancy Silverman manages the front office, and Sophie Knox and Nick Peters work in the sterilization room.

On his first day of dental school, Dean George Toscher, said “your academic half-life is about 8 years, after that it will half and half and half during your career.” Sweet agrees that technology changes dentistry and continuing education is an imperative. “Nowadays there’s so much information that students must absorb, they can’t get it all in four years of dental school, he said. “Now they have to have an additional year in a preceptorship or internship.”

For Dr. Sweet, an interesting aspect of running a dental practice is how dentists charge for their services. “A lot of dentists at the beginning of my practice said not to charge more than $10 for any filling,” he explained. So instead of filling, for example, three tooth surfaces that needed filling, a dentist would fill one surface for $10, followed by scheduling two additional visits. “In most places a three-surface filling was around $15,” Dr. Sweet explained, “In Marengo people expected cheap dental appointments, so dentists scheduled more than one sitting. I charged more per sitting, but got it all done in one visit.

In his early years of practice, people didn’t want their teeth cleaned. Didn’t understand the importance of periodontal maintenance. “People were not aware of gum disease. They thought cleaning teeth was a waste of money,” said Sweet. “Actually, we lose a little bit of money.” Good periodontal care costs less than restorative care.

Sweet became very active in the Dental Society of McHenry County and served on the Illinois State Health Society communication committee. Sweet became instrumental in identifying why people avoided the dentist. “It was a melding of fear, embarrassment, and shame,” He explained. “Patients are often ashamed because they let their mouth get into a bad condition.” With Sweet, the Dental Society created a program that was a counter-barrier program, based on patience confidence in modern dentistry and that ensured the patient would be treated with respect, be in control of his care, and most of all, the program would help confidence. “The campaign focused on how the patent would feel when treatment was complete.”

Sweet loves his home town and shows it by his community involvement. He was the Zoning Chairman for 20 years. He helped rewrite ordinances and make a new zoning map, which laid the groundwork for an historic preservation ordinance and eliminated “spot zoning.” According to Sweet, Marengo had lost in court a suit where a judge found zoning to be arbitrary and capricious. The zoning must be consistent with 5th amendment rights to property. While on the zoning board Sweet worked closely with several mayors. He said that Dorothy Otis, and Don Hubbs should both be in the Marengo Hall of Fame for their community contribution. The same can be said of Dr. Jim Sweet.

The cold weather might be keeping everyone cooped up indoors a little more than usual, but that’s not stopping us from enjoying tons of fun indoor activities this winter. We’re thrilled to be offering art and dance classes, as well as sports and fitness activities for all ages all winter long.

Dance - Our brand new dance classes just began in early February, but the eightweek program goes through the end of March so it’s not too late to sign up if you missed out. The classes are on Saturdays and include Adult Zumba; Baby Ballerinas and Tiny Tappers for ages 3 to 4; Fairytale Ballet and Fairytale Tap for ages 5 to 7; and Hip Hop classes for pre-teens and teens.

Painting - Two eight-week painting classes kicked off on Jan. 30, as well – one for kids and one for adults. Kids are learning the artistic stylings of “The Masters,” while an adult beginner class teaches the fundamentals of paint - ing beginning with a snowscape. All painting supplies are provided for our art programs, which will continue this spring.

Basketball - The second installment of the Lil Indians Basketball Program has been in full swing since Jan. 13. Following the Fundamental Skills program, the Basket - ball Program helps kids ages 6 to 14 get more comfortable playing the game through drills and scrimmages. If you missed this round of Lil Indians Basketball, you can catch the Team Play program in March, where players par - ticipate in games with a run - ning clock.

Fitness – Our fitness center is open year-round, but it’s a great way to stay active indoors this winter. Our fitness center has elliptical machines, treadmills, circuit workout equipment, free weights and much, much more. It’s the full fitness experience, and non-members can drop in any time for just $5. We’ll thaw out soon enough, but until then, we hope you can get involved and stay involved as we continue to roll out programs through 2018. And if you missed out on these class - es and programs, be sure to watch for information about our spring programs either online at www.marengo -, at facebook. com/MarengoParkDistrict or by calling us at 815-568- 5126.

Spend some time at the Marengo Union Library when you get a chance. Check out some books, sure; or return the ones that are due. But sit down for a while and just watch the comings and the goings. Perhaps you’ve come for a special presentation of interest to you. You might be bringing your child for a club meeting, an art project, to play chess or Lego. Look around and see who else is at the library.

“It’s a happy place to be,” states Denise Hotchkiss, the Library’s Patron Services Coordinator. Because every library staffer wears several hats, Hotchkiss is also the library’s Cataloguer. Which brings up the question— what exactly is a Library catalogue these days?

Hotchkiss remembers seeing others enter book information onto cards that were filed in long thin drawers. Some of our older readers will remember these card catalogues. “People still refer to the card catalog,” she laughs. “But there aren’t any cards in drawers anymore. Everything is stored on computers, of course.” Hotchkiss spends a good amount of time with data entry and management. Each new book is catalogued in the computer, physically marked with a sticker to indicate it is new and placed in a special section of the library. After six months, she changes the book’s data to remove it from the list of new books. Its tag is removed and it gets a place in the regular library stacks.

Hotchkiss also enters all requests for new purchases in a computer spreadsheet where she can track the number of requests and verify when a book has been purchased.

So our library has views like the one in the photo above—a bank of computers flanked by shelves of books. “Libraries are evolving,” Hotchkiss remarks. While there are those who wonder if libraries are relevant anymore, she is a strong proponent of the idea of a bricks and mortar library. She insists, “We will always need libraries! At the library we can provide so much that people need—a place to work, technology, information, help, and most of all, contact with other people.”

Looking back to the 1970’s it seemed like there were a lot more dairy farms in the Marengo-Union area than there are today. The pastures were speckled with cows lazily grazing on green grassy hills. It was a tranquil scene, and occasionally the tranquility was broken for brief moments by the rumbling of trucks with shiny silver tanks shuttling fresh milk from the farms to the processing plants. Little-by little these farms disappeared. According to the book Lost Farms of McHenry County, in the early 1990’s McHenry County dairy farms numbered at around 140, and by 2009 that number dwindled to approximately 32.

The Marengo-Union area has a rich agricultural and dairy farming history, but unfortunately it wasn’t always tranquil and peaceful. During the early part of the 20th Century McHenry County was considered part of the Chicago Milk Shed or Milk District. As early as the 1880’s milk produced in McHenry County quenched the thirst of Chicagoans; and as one observer put it; “a river of milk was flowing down the railroad tracks to Chicago everyday…” The price of milk was negotiated by an organization that represented the farmers--the Milk Producers Association-- and the large Chicago milk companies like Bowman, Borden, Wieland, Wagner, Mix and Natoma-Huntley. These companies were often referred to as the “dealers,” and they would try to secure the lowest price. The perception that the dealers’ goal was to break the Milk Producers Association was widely held by the farmers. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the struggles between the milk producers and the milk dealers often resulted in milk strikes. This month I’m going to write about a particularly rough and violent year in our areas milk production history – 1924.

The last issue of the Marengo Republican News for the year 1923 reported ongoing negotiations between the dealers and the producers. Area farmers were asking for a six month contract price of $2.75 per hundred pounds. The milk dealers countered with a three month contract, but offered no price. As the negotiations continued the producers modified their request to $2.75 for a six month contract, or $2.85 for a three month contract. The smaller milk dealers were willing to accept these terms, but the large milk dealers offered $2.60 on a three month contract. The two sides were far apart, and on January 1, 1924, the farmers went on strike. The January 3, 1924, edition of the Marengo Republican News announced “Milk Strike is Declared, Big Dealers Refuse to Meet Demands of Producers, Strike is Ordered, Local Borden Plant Closed Yesterday.” This was not only a local strike limited to McHenry County; approximately 6,000 farmers participated from Northern Illinois, Southern Wisconsin, and Indiana.

The news of the strike didn’t reach all local farmers immediately. In Marengo some farmers made their deliveries to the Borden Plant on Tuesday the second day of the strike, but by the third day the news sufficiently spread and no deliveries were made resulting in a complete closure of the plant. Marengo area farmers were skimming their milk and feeding the skim to pigs. One by-one almost all of the 20 milk plants in McHenry County closed – the one exception was the plant in Union.

This did not sit well with the milk producers, and hundreds of picketers gathered in Union to block milk deliveries to the plant. The Union farmers turned to the Village government for help, and special officers were put in place to counter the picketers. Union farmers continued their milk deliveries, and no stories of violence or destruction of property were reported in the newspapers.

The two sides continued to meet in Chicago and attempt to negotiate agreeable terms, and after nearly fifteen days a compromise was made. In a marathon negotiations session that started at 8:15 p.m. on January 13, and lasted into the early morning hours of January 14, the farmer’s finally accepted $2.67 ½ per hundred pounds for the next three months; the two sides split the difference between the producers request of $2.75, and the dealers offer of $2.60. The dealers also agreed to an eight cent freight differential bonus for deliveries made within a fifty mile radius of Chicago.

Soon after the deal was reached Bowman Dairy decided to renege on the 8 cent bonus, tempers flared, and a threat to renew the strike was made. The City of Chicago and the milk dealers were under pressure from consumers whose anger was fueled by rumors that during the strike the big milk dealers were purchasing and distributing uninspected milk. Bowman Dairy finally caved in and the strike was finally settled.

As I mentioned earlier in this story 1924 was a rough and violent year for the region’s milk industry. As soon as the January strike was settled the participants were looking ahead three months into the future, and the farmers not completely satisfied with the settlement were threatening a spring milk strike. Next month I’ll continue on this topic and tell the readers how another 1924 milk strike eventually turned deadly in neighboring Garden Prairie.

Marengo Woman’s Club will be offering one $1,500.00 scholarship for 2018 graduating seniors in High School District 154 (Includes Marengo Community High School, Marian Central Catholic High School, Faith Lutheran High School and Homeschooled students). Application forms are now available at the high schools’ guidance offices. Application deadline is Friday, April 13, 2018.

Any questions regarding this scholarship application, please contact Cynthia Tomczyk, Marengo Woman’s Club Scholarship Chair at 815-568-1775.


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