Montgomery County Illinois History

By Nancy Bliss Slepicka

From Journal - News Monday August 17th, 2009

Lincoln, portrayed by Lonn Presnall of Decatur, surprised the crowd when he and Kathy Dagon arrived in a horse-drawn buggy owned by LaVerne Young of Litchield. Journal-News/Nancy Slepicka

Abe was the star, but the spotlight was on Hillsboro's achievement for the unveiling of the new statue of America's 16th President.

An overflow crowd attended Saturday evening's dedication of "Among Friends," a life-size bronze sculpture of Lincoln on the downtown plaza.

The program opened with Girl Scout Troop 6322 leading the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the National Anthem played by the Hillsboro High School band, with singing led by Sandy Leitheiser.

Just as emcee Roy Hertel concluded his opening remarks, a buggy pulled by a handsome Haflinger horse arrived on the square.

Abraham Lincoln emerged as the evening's surprise guest. He was accompanied by Kathy Dagon, president of the Old Settlers Association and leader of the Lincoln Fund committee.

After Dagon introduced other committee members and thanked city officials and employees for their assistance in the privately funded project, she gave special recognition to the family of the late Virgil Reck, a master tile installer whose son, Randy, and grandsons, Andrew, Matthew and Daniel, have donated their talent and time to install more than 300 commemorative tiles on the plaza.

Sale of the engraved tiles –– which honor families, loved ones, businesses, organizations and high school classes –– has financed over half of the nearly $80,000 project.

In brief remarks, Mayor Bill Baran, State Representative Betsy Hannig, State Senator Deanna Demuzio and U.S. Congressman John Shimkus each praised the Hillsboro community and its volunteers for supporting the effort.

The mayor announced that at the next city council meeting he'll propose that the city-owned property on Courthouse Square be officially named Lincoln Plaza.

The sculpture's creator, John McClarey, Decatur, said that the statue's placement, facing the plaza stage, shows an aspect of Lincoln's character –– his love of music, theater and all forms of entertainment –– not portrayed in any other public statuary.

McClarey said that Lincoln relied on music, public discourse and conversation with friends to provide the balance he needed to deal with tragedies in his personal life as well as the tragedies of war.

Lincoln as he looked in 1858 appears to smile at his bearded impersonator moments after the life-size sculpture was unveiled. At left is Old Settlers Association president, Kathy Dagon, and at right is sculpture creator John McClarey of Decatur. The statue was dedicated Saturday evening to celebrate the opening of the 125th Old Settlers Days and the Lincoln Bicentennial. Journal-News/John M. Galer

The sculptor complimented Hillsboro for helping to preserve Lincoln's legacy, and he challenged all sectors of the community –– schools, churches and civic groups –– to continue telling the story of Lincoln's history here and to promote Lincoln's presence for all future events on the plaza.

McClarey said that Pat Brink's original play, "Among Friends," to be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21-22, at the Presbyterian Church, is just the first of many great ideas that he believes the sculpture will inspire.

"People who are interested in Lincoln and his legacy will take note of what Hillsboro is doing," McClarey predicted.

Lonn Presnall, Decatur, a professional impersonator of the 16th President, was the last to speak. He talked about his ride to the square that evening in LaVerne Young's buggy, and he told humorous stories and reminisced about his frequent visits in Hillsboro during the mid-1800s.

Lincoln introduced his friends and his adversaries who will perform in this weekend's play, Joseph and Jane Eccles (Jack Evans and Liz Huber), Jonathan Baldwin Turner (Matt Ferguson), Francis Springer (Ken Sandlin), Mrs. A.N. Kingsbury (Pat Brink), and Stephen A. Douglas (David Hough).

Following Rev. Matt Ferguson's benediction, Dagon, Presnall and McClarey removed the cover cloth to unveil the sculpture.

As the crowd applauded and moved close for their first glimpse, cameras flashed to capture young and old posing beside a smiling Abe with the Historic Courthouse providing a picture-perfect background.

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