GUEST COLUMN • Thanks, Hillsboro, For The Memories

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When I was 16, I stopped in the Texaco gas station near Wood Street and South Main Street in Hillsboro and received both fuel and a life lesson.

“Fill it up,” I told Willis Sturgeon as he came to the car window in his Texaco uniform and hat. After he pumped the gas, I gave him the cash that my mother handed me from the passenger seat.

She advised, “Gene, fill it up, please.”

I never forgot that word “please.” A station attendant, whether he’s my uncle or not, deserves a “please” and so does any adult who might serve a young kid.

Thanks, Hillsboro, for a lot of memories.

I recently traveled to Hillsboro from my home in Abingdon, VA, to revisit my childhood. I was born on a farm west of Hillsboro on Nov. 12, 1934, and lived at 310 White Street until I enrolled at Southern Illinois University in 1952. Traveling with me were my sons, Jeffrey Nelson Sturgeon, 60, of Bent Mountain, VA, and Bradley Eugene Sturgeon, 58, of Monmouth, and my son-in-law, Mark Boenke, 52, of Wytheville, VA.

We initially stopped at Hillsboro Presbyterian Church for a tour by Pastor Matt Ferguson.  I went into the sanctuary and stood on the very spot where I married Mary Catheryn Nelson, one of the Nelson twins, on March 23, 1957. 

Our group visited the graves of my parents, Earl and Eva Sturgeon, and my sister, Dorcas Fergusson, and her husband, Bob, at Irving Cemetery.  My dad worked at the glass plant in Schram City when I was a boy. My mother was as dedicated a homemaker as they come.

We visited the graves of Catheryn’s parents, Carl “Papaw” Nelson and Vaun “Nana” Nelson, at the cemetery in Van Burensburg. Carl, who died in a tractor accident at age 52, was a farmer. After his death, Vaun served ice cream at the Hillsboro Dairy Queen. In honor of her, the group stopped in for a cold treat at the current Dairy Queen in Hillsboro.

We visited the farm home where the Nelson twins grew up on Route 185 at County Road 1375E. Built in 1930, the one-story white house appeared unoccupied and the property now belongs to Hillsboro Energy.

In Champaign, I visited with my brother, Dick Sturgeon, 90, and his wife Barb, at their retirement home. He and I are the surviving children of ten born to Earl and Eva. 

We drove by the Hillsboro schools where I and all my brothers and sisters spent our early years, including the location of Winhold School–grades one through six–at North Main Street and Brailley Street.  The building I remember has been replaced, as had the junior high school I attended on West Fairground Avenue. I wonder where the tubular fire escape slide for the junior high is now.

Hillsboro High School looked about the same, with the addition of some newer buildings.  The Nelson twins and I graduated 69 years ago.  The twins finished grades one through eight in the country Whitehall School, then attended HHS starting in 1949.

We stopped and looked through the fence at Central Park Pool. I remembered ball games and the swimming pool, where I was saved from likely drowning by my brother Bruce Sturgeon when I was 12.

The touring men next visited Cousin Grace Sturgeon, age 97, whose late husband Clayton Sturgeon was originally from Downs.  Grace is still very active and lives in Bloomington.

We later met up Bruce Branham of Champaign and Paul Branham of rural Springfield, two of the three children of my late sister Lois and her late husband John Branham, who lived and worked in Springfield. We saw Roger Sturgeon of Springfield, one of two sons of my late brother Jim and his wife, Olga, who has also passed.

The foundations for life of the Sturgeon and Nelson families were built strong in Hillsboro. The town has been well maintained and shows signs of new life.  We salute the HHS Class of 1952, and honor the life of the late John Paden, class president.

Gene Sturgeon, 86, is retired and he and Catheryn live in Abingdon, VA. He can be reached at cesturgeon@gmail.com.

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