This past March 8th was International Women’s Day, and the print, broadcast, and social media highlighted numerous examples of women who have contributed to our society in various ways. As I watched these stories I thought back to some examples of women’s contributions to the Marengo community throughout our history. For example, over the years several women ran successful businesses in Marengo; one being Henrietta C. Thayer who operated a Millinery, and the second was Miss Kate Bloodgood who operated a shoe store. Both of these enterprises were part of our downtown business landscape from the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. In the 1930’s Marengo’s Emma Van Alstyne Lanning, or Aunt Em as she was referred to, was a well-known radio personality who regularly broadcast shows on Rockford’s WROK, and Chicago’s WLS. But, these stories are for another time. This month I’m going to introduce our readers to DR. Arabella “Belle” Seward; a Marengo physician.

Belle was born in Coral Township on Christmas Day of 1849 to Ephraim Hewitt Seward, and Louisa Rogers Seward. Ephraim and Louisa were both from Middletown. Vermont, but did not marry until they met again in 1846 in the Marengo area.

Belle attended local schools, and afterward finished her studies at the Rockford Female Seminary, which is now Rockford College. Belle then continued her education at the Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital which was then located at 2809 Cottage Grove in Chicago.

Hahnemann was a homeopathic institution that opened its door in 1859 and in 1871 became coeducational. The institution shuttered its doors in 1922 after a merger with Northwestern failed. In February of 1882 Belle graduated with an M.D. Interestingly enough; the announcement in February 24, 1882, edition of the Marengo Republican News mentioned two other Marengo women earning their M.D.’s – Lida and Millie Peck; a topic that will surely be researched in the future.

A woman attending medical school is not unheard of today, but it was a different situation in the 1880’s. A biographical sketch in The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois (1903) stated this about Belle’s medical education; “She took her course in medicine and began practice at a time when the obstacles which barred the entrance of women into the professions in general, and to this one in particular were in full force and effect, and when popular prejudice excluded women, to a large extent, from employment as physicians in private families.” The sketch concluded, “And thus it was, that Dr. Belle Seward was entitled to be regarded as one of the pioneers in this new era of progress.”

After graduation Belle practiced medicine in Rockford for few years, but she could not be kept away from Marengo. In the early months of 1885 short announcements appeared in the Marengo Republican News informing readers that “Dr. Belle Seward will be in town for a few weeks. Any ladies wishing medical treatment from her can call upon her at her home. Neuralgia, headaches, and diseases of women a specialty.” By June of 1885 advertisements in the newspaper appeared that announced that Belle opened an office on the corner of Main St., and State St. But, Belle’s medical practice wasn’t limited only to the city limits of Marengo. According to the Encyclopedia of Illinois her practice “extended to the surrounding country, compelling her, at times, to take night rides in all sorts of weather and engage in treatment of all kinds of diseases.”

In mid- July of 1895, her night rides suffered somewhat of a setback when thieves entered her father’s pasture in Coral Township and removed her white-faced bay mare and road cart. Local police sent a “be on-the-lookout” for the horse and cart to authorities in a 30 mile radius of Marengo. Finally, 10 weeks later in late September the horse and cart were recovered by the Milwaukee Police Department in Wisconsin. The thieves were never caught.

In 1901 Belle married Loren Woodard, local business man and former Marengo city president (mayor). Woodard settled in Marengo in 1851, and engaged in the nursery business. He is also known for opening Marengo’s first pickle factory, as well as serving as the Director and Vice President of the Dairyman’s State Bank. The marriage was a short one; Woodard died on November 29, 1904, leaving Belle a widow.

Belle passed away on March 22, 1918, at age 68. The Marengo Republican News for the time of her death is not available in digital format, and the facts surrounding her death were not immediately available. Belle is buried in the Marengo City Cemetery. 

You cannot beat the taste of freshly dug potatoes from your own garden. If you do not have the space or believe it is just too difficult, there is a solution for you. Try growing potatoes in a container in a sunny spot on your patio, backyard, or balcony. Container grown potatoes are more disease free and easy to harvest.

There are two types of potatoes for the potato grower; determinate and indeterminate. Determinate potatoes are considered fast-growing and produce tubers at the soil depth just above where the seed was planted. Indeterminate potatoes are classified as slow-growing or late harvest and produce tubers all along the stem where soil exists. Indeterminate varieties are preferred for containers, so the yield is worth the effort. Indeterminate varieties include Carola, Nicola, German Butterball and Elba potatoes. If these varieties are not available, use any late season type.

Purchase seed potatoes from the local garden center or a mail order source. Do not use supermarket potatoes that may have growth suppressant applied to them. Seed potatoes should be the size of a chicken egg. Cut in half if necessary.

To get started you will need a container of at least 7-10 gallons. Covering potatoes as they grow is not necessary in containers. Fill the bag or container with good quality multipurpose soilless mix and compost to around 1" below the rim. Carefully plunge potato tubers into the container with the potato eyes and any shoots pointing upwards, to a depth of 5 inches from the soil surface. Plan on one seed potato for every three gallons of soil. Water them, place the container in a bright, frost free location and wait for them to grow. Feed potato plants every other week with a balanced vegetable fertilizer and water when the soil begins to dry out.

After approximately 10 weeks of growth the plants will blossom. You can harvest new potatoes usually about two to three weeks after plants flower. If the potatoes are too small, be patient and wait. After the plant’s leaves and stems have withered, the potatoes will be ready to harvest and enjoy.

Anthony (Tony) Diller, 32, approaches his fledgling business the way he approaches life, with what he calls a Warrior’s Ethos. “I will never quit until the job is done,” he explained. "Life is not easy. A lot of it is just pushing through.” Diller’s perseverance is what got him through high school, through his 4 ½ years in the military, and ultimately back to his hometown of Marengo.

A self-proclaimed late-learner, Diller gives credit to Marengo Union High School teacher Mr. Schermer. “I learn more from doing than from reading,” said Diller. “Mr. Schermer and his auto classes showed me that I could be successful.” During Hiller’s high school years, Mr. Schermer got an old clunker car for the class to rebuild for the Demolition Derby. “The class had to make it safe enough for Mr. Schermer to drive,” said Diller. “We got put to work as part of the pit crew at the Demolition Derby.” That experience cemented Diller’s goal to become an auto mechanic. When he joined the military, he became a mechanic as part of the 1st Calvary Division, 4th Brigade, eventually deploying to Tillil Air Force Base in Iraq.

After leaving the military in 2010, Diller started college. According to Diller, a government shutdowns that year resulted in his brief period of homelessness. Following his Warrior’s Ethos, he scraped together enough funds to return to Marengo and go to college by selling cans and wood pallets and by working on cars in parking lots. He graduated from Universal Technical Institute in 2012 specializing in auto repair, diesel repair, industrial equipment and Ford Fact. He is ASE Certified. He is licensed to service and recharge air vehicle conditioning.

Diller began working for other mechanics at dealerships and area auto service franchises. He became disillusioned with the pricing schemes of the larger corporations. He decided to establish his own business in 2017, Cowboy Auto Repair, Inc. He started in his mother’s barn, and moved next to NAPA Auto Parts earlier this year.

“I tell people the way it is,” he explained. “I want to give them the best price possible.” With simple things like an oil change, Diller does a thorough inspection that includes suspension, air filter, brake line, tire pressure and tire inspection. “It’s more than a simple drain, refill and go.”

Diller credits the Marengo community for his success. “If it wasn’t for the community, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “The community gives me the trust I need for a successful business. In return, I’m here to make sure they have safe travels to where they need to go at a price that they can afford.

This team of boys is made up of 7th and 8th graders from Zion Lutheran School in Marengo.

Our season was filled with many great accomplishments: Undefeated Regular Season Undefeated Conference Record and Championship Immanuel Lutheran Tournament Champions Concord Classic Invitational Champions Christ Lutheran Peoria 3rd place finish St Peter Arlington Heights Saints Shootout 2nd Place Finish Illinois State Championship 3rd Place Finish

As a result of such a great season, the Zion Boys have earned an invitation to the Lutheran Basketball Association of America's National Championship being held at Valparaiso University March 22-25. Only 32 teams from throughout the country are rewarded with an invitation, and Zion is proud to accept one of only three invitations to teams in Illinois. Throughout the season each and every player has contributed to the team's success. Along the way, a couple of our players have earned individual accolades as well. 8th Graders Evan Shepard and Matthew Volkening were both selected to the Christ Lutheran All Tournament Team, Saints Shootout All Tournament Team and the Illinois State All Tournament Team. Both would agree that without the support and hard work of their teammates, these individual awards would not be possible. 8th Grader Preston Bailey is the other returning starter from last year's team and leads both vocally and with his hard work and determination and does so many things that go unnoticed in the box score. Liam Keller (8th Grade) and Patrick Signore (7th Grade) round out the starting lineup for the Panthers of Zion. 6th man Nate Cieslak also played key minutes throughout the season. Others coming off the bench for Zion are Isaiah Taylor (8), Jericho Tynis (7), Mike Ashbaugh (8), Bryden Steele (8) and Brian Scholl (7).

As a coach, I could be not more proud of these guys. As deserving as they are for their success on the court, it is even more special to see such great young men work hard towards a common goal...and achieve it. This is a group of young men whose parents, church, school and entire community should be proud of...I know I am!

It is noteworthy to complete fifty years at any endeavor. It seems even a bit more remarkable to complete fifty years as a mortician. Tom Fashingbauer of Marengo, presently owner of McHenry County Burial and Cremation Society, has just reached this special milestone. He is reflecting back on ways he has been able to be of service in this profession.

It was April 27, 1964 that he suddenly thought, “Why don’t I become a mortician?” Just graduated from high school and working in a factory, he knew he wanted a career, not just a job. He looked up funeral homes in the phone book, called one and was invited to come over. There he met Donald Child. To Tom’s surprise Don put him to work that day, transporting a body and helping with an embalming. Tom gets teary eyed thinking of Don, Don’s partner Ken Breda, and others who have been his mentors and inspirations along the way.

After getting his required undergrad courses at Parkville College in Parkville, MO, Tom enrolled in the Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago (It is now in Wheeling) for the intensive 18 month course of studies that included everything from anatomy, to cosmetology to business management. While at Worsham he went after chances at every opportunity to help Childs and Breda at their funeral home. “It was a sort of pre-apprenticeship,” Tom remarked.

In January, 1968, Tom reported for duty in the Army and after basic training was deployed to Vietnam. As he arrived he learned that his base was one of the army’s collection points for the dead. Mentioning that he was a mortician, his orders were soon changed to work there. He spent his tour of duty processing the bodies of dead troops, documenting their effects and arranging for flights to transport the bodies to the actual military mortuary in Saigon where they were embalmed and prepared for transport to Dover Air Force Base in Maryland. He also filled in as an embalmer when needed. In fact, after his tour of duty was over he was asked to stay in Saigon for another year as a civilian doing mortuary work, which he decided to do. “You did your best and you did what you had to do,” Tom says of this difficult time in our history.

In 1971 he began a storied career as a mortician that continues to this day. For years at a stretch he owned funeral homes. At other times, he worked as a free-lancer for some of his many colleagues in the Chicagoland area. Now, he operates his burial and cremation society with the help of his wife, Carole. Tom reflected on how his trade has changed over his fifty years. “There’s a lot more interest in cremation now,” he remarked. He commented that now that the Catholic Church allows cremation he has had many questions from Catholics and offers a free brochure explaining the latest Catholic teaching.

Tom Fashingbauer’s goal is to serve the community by offering affordable services for those who want a full funeral with a casket or a cremation. He even provides free urns for cremations. “I will do this until I can’t anymore,” Tom states. “This is not a job to me. This is my calling.”

Volunteers are being sought to help out with cleaning the Marengo Cemetery on the corner of N. East St. and Jackson St. During the winter winds and weather, branches, pinecones, and other detritus tend to accumulate. Homeowners tend to spend late winter and early spring weekends cleaning up their own yards. The Marengo Cemetery Board of Managers has a huge job in front of them in clearing acres worth of winter’s accumulation from the property.

“We are looking for volunteers, individuals and groups to help us do a spring cleaning,” said Diane Oranger. “We have time slots available, but if everyone wants to show up at the same time, that’s fine too. We can get it all done.

“We will be working from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 14 and 15. We will be starting at the northeast corner of the cemetery. We will be dividing it into sections for workers to concentrate on, clearing one area, and moving on to the next. We will be offering a light lunch and drinks for those that come to help us.

“We will be providing gloves and trash bags. Feel free to bring any clippers, shears, and rakes you have available.

“I am reaching out to groups in the community. It would be nice to get as many as we can to come help and make short work of tidying and making the Marengo Cemetery look presentable after winter’s ravages.”

For further information or to reserve your spot, please call Diane Oranger, 815-568- 8250. Volunteer sign-in on that weekend will be at the Cemetery Garage located in the northeast corner of the cemetery.

Dubbed by American Idol hosts as “The Ukrainian Rapper,” Marengo’s Mish Gontar has much more music versatility than the title implies.

Gontar, 27, moved to McHenry County from Ukraine seven years ago. When his mother and her American husband decided to move to America, she asked Gontar to come with her. “I said, why not?” He had good friends in Lugansk, but most of them are gone now. “Because of the war, they moved to Kiev, Russia, and other countries.” Gontar moved to Marengo four years ago. He works as a freelance MRI technologist, commuting to Lake Barrington, Deer Park, and Arlington Heights. So, when he realized American Idol auditions were in Chicago, and he had the day off, he decided to audition.

In Chicago, Gontar spent most of the time standing in line with about 2500 other people. The process is a little different that the television show portrays. Gontar sang a song in English: “Bad Company” by Five Finger Death Punch to a judge at one of 10 tables set up in a large room.

“She told me she really liked my guitar playing and voice.” After an interview, Gontar was asked to come back the next day for more auditions. After two more auditions with judges and producers, Gontar got asked to audition in New York in front of the celebrity judges.

“A lot of people liked the song I sang in Ukrainian,” he said. “It’s a crazy song with a catchy chorus, by a band that isn’t mainstream.” The band is more of an underground reggae-rap band.

“They asked me to do something different,” Gontar explained. “It didn’t show as much vocal range as some of the other songs I sing.”

Gontar has no formal vocal training. “Lots of people encouraged me to try out for American Idol or The Voice,” he said. “Since I had the day off, I thought, why not?”

Waiting in New York was the biggest challenge. “There were only about 35 people auditioning there, but the wait to perform was 10 hours.” While he waited, the crew shot video and interviewed him. Since Gontar had never been to New York, some of the video involved him taking in the sites. “It was a good experience.”

Since his ‘stardom’ on American Idol, Gontar has been on Star 105.5 and invited to play in a few places. Most recently he performed at Stage Left Café in Woodstock. He sings rock, alternative rock, some more melodic metal songs, and reggae. His advises others to “be your best self and show a range of good singing ability.”

Watch Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan sing along with Gontar in this American Idol clip of Gontar’s audition on YouTube:

Saturday March 24th marked the 18th Moms United of Marengo resale event in 9 years. With up to 70 sellers, an abundance of gently used clothing, toys, baby equipment and more started in the Zion gym and now has the walls of the MCHS commons bursting each spring and for “back to school.” Shoppers come from far and wide across Northern Illinois, averaging around 700, knowing this is a bargain hunters dream. This event was a means to help support Moms United, a monthly group that met at Zion Lutheran Church to hear inspiring speakers and fellowship amongst mothers with childcare provided. Being blessed with such tremendous success with these sales, the group now gives back to the Marengo-Union communities by sponsoring events like the Cancer Kids 5K, Lutheran Charities Comfort Dogs and the Marengo Park rebuild. For items left for donation to the M.O.R.E. Pantry, thank you to our volunteer driver Mr. Ham for your service.

A special note of sincere appreciation needs to be mentioned to the outstanding committee members for dedicating so much time, effort and love to this amazing organization…I could never do this without you. xoxo Cecily

This Easter Moms United hosted a breakfast fundraiser at Zion Lutheran Church to help the family of baby Levi who was born in December with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The group no longer meets for monthly “meetings”, but now they focus on having monthly “outings” where moms can get together and have fun at various activities. Open to anyone, and always welcoming new faces, to get more information about Moms United, please visit their Facebook page (Moms United Marengo) or for upcoming sales information for sellers and buyers (

March 14th marked the one-year anniversary that the Vallee family received the blessing of a lifetime…Logan would receive a new heart. After 17 years of doctors, several open-heart surgeries, tests and uncertainty of heart failure this young man would get to finally do things we take for granted. Logan’s recovery was amazing and day by day he healed and adapted to be a little more normal. Logan now had stamina to watch an entire basketball game, without being exhausted and leaving early. He would ride a bicycle farther than one block and a tedious chore to most… shoveled snow for the first time in his life this winter. As a teenager, going to the mall or out for a bite to eat with his friends alone was unheard of, until this year.

His testing for rejection has been at zero, but he is still monitoring, testing and adapting to the right balance of several medicines that he will have to take for the rest of his life, but he doesn’t mind. He is very aware of his gift and when asked if he wanted to celebrate his one-year anniversary with a party, he said no. What Logan decided to do was ask his friends and family to donate to the Ronald McDonald House. A huge success, March 14th was the largest donation day from private parties, from money to vacuums they were overwhelmed by the generosity. The Vallee’s ask in honor of selfless donors, their families and miracles they provide, please consider organ donation yourself. Toss your change into the bin for the Ronald McDonald House at McD’s or contribute to a wonderful means of communication for families with critical illness, which they have used for years. As a community #TeamLogan helped keep a positive energy present during many dark days, but now we can all cheer our buddy on for more milestones and a bright future. 

Robert and Heidi Fish of Union already had three children under the age of six when a friend called asking for a favor. Her friend had agreed to foster an infant with special medical needs, but she was in California and the baby had been born. Could Heidi help and foster him for a few days till her friend returned home?

“As we drove up our driveway bringing Arthur home from the hospital, I already knew we’d never let him go anywhere else,” Heidi said. Arthur had been diagnosed with a chromosome disorder called 22Q or DiGeorge Syndrome, so they had an idea what challenges might lay ahead. Developmental delays and abnormalities of the face structure are typical. Arthur also needed several heart surgeries—his first at age six weeks.

Arthur is ten now. His physical health problems have largely been resolved. He has learning delays with “splinter skills,” so he is excellent beyond his years in some things and deficient in others. He is in the fifth grade, studies theater with the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association and participates in Challenger bowling and Challenger baseball.

His greatest accomplishment is communication. Two years ago, in preparation for a medical test that required him to speak different sounds while doctors viewed inside his neck with a scope, Heidi searched for someone to give Arthur speech therapy. Pediatric Speech Therapist Lisa Kubelka of Swedish American Hospital in Rockford, began working with him to prepare him for that test. He did so well that his test went better than doctors had ever seen with a 22Q child. He wanted to do more. So he has been working with Lisa and his mom with the goal of being able to speak clearly and be understood by others. “He works so hard and is aimed at his goals. He enjoys each time we reach a new milestone. I love Arthur!” Lisa enthused.

So do his parents, his big brother, Isaiah, his big sisters, Isabella and Rebecca, and the family dog, Samson. “He’s a joy,” Heidi commented. “It hasn’t always been fun, but it has always been worth it. We know we were called to be his parents. Arthur is making all of us better people. He brings out empathy and grace in others.”

If you meet this young Union resident, he would love to practice his speaking skills with you. If you take the time, you’ll be glad. Arthur Fish has important things to tell us.v


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