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Residents try to better Prophetstown

PROPHETSTOWN -- Six city blocks in any direction will put you at the city limits.

Pickup trucks almost always outnumber cars on Main Street. The churches still outnumber the taverns. If you overhear ``market'' talk, it's a safe bet it's not stocks and bonds but corn and beans, and John Deere green always is in fashion.

The town garnered its name from the Winnebago Chief Wabokieshiek, who ``prophesied'' more than 160 years ago that the Ottowas, Chippewas, Pottowatomies and Winnebagoes tribes would join Sauk leader Black Hawk's fight and expel the white settlers. They didn't, but the ``prophet's'' name stuck.

The town hosted a little lawn mower company, which grew to rival some of the biggest names in the industry in the early to mid-1900s. Eclipse Lawn Mower Co., was started by an introspective tinkerer, Fred Adams, in 1900 in a barn along the town's Main Street.

In 1920, the company built its own foundry and woodshop, which later would evolve to Penberthy Manufacturing Co., which still provides employment for many town residents. In 1960, Hahn Inc., of Evansville, Ind., bought the company and moved the manufacturing operation to Evansville, closing Eclipse's chapter of the city's history.

Economic setbacks are something the townsfolk have become accustomed to, but they also have rallied against the economic erosion that plagues rural economies.

The tiny metropolis of 1,800 or so is similar to many Midwestern small towns. The people struggle to leave it better than they found it, and usually succeed.

The city's inhabitants have created a legacy rich in community activism. Through a series of innovative initiatives, the town has developed a nine-hole golf course and indoor swimming pool, and helped create a center for quadraplegic and paraplegic adults, which is one of the nation's most unique care centers.

In 1986, the town created its own corporation, Prophetstown Mfg. Inc., and sold up to 50,000 shares of stock to raise money to buy and move a small factory and much-needed jobs to the area. The townspeople bought a small furniture manufacturer, now called Clear Creek Furniture, to shore up its economic standing.

Through volunteer efforts, the town is trying to pull its downtown area up by its bootstraps. Prophetstown is one of several Illinois communities participating in the state-sponsored Main Street Program, which qualifies it to receive design and architectural assistance to rebuild the downtown.

Residents feel strongly about such efforts and put more than muscle and time into keeping the town thriving. In 1994, the town inherited $1 million from long-time residents Ken and Arletta Moore to spend on worthy projects for the good of the town.

The Moore Foundation spends the interest earnings on projects such as linking the public library to a computer system with the Quad-Cities library system, a heart stimulator for the volunteer ambulance service and a camping trailer for the Boy Scouts.

The town also has cheered two of its sons while they served in state government. George S. Brydia served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1939 through 1964, and Calvin Schuneman served 12 years in the Illinois Senate, beginning in 1971, and seven years in the Illinois House of Representatives, beginning in 1987.

Now retired, Mr. Schuneman still serves on the Illinois Pension Laws committee, a commission charged with reviewing the state pension systems and making sure they are properly funded.

The city has seen ups and downs and likely will see more as time passes. Its residents, whose names and faces change over time, continue the tradition of the town, weathering the bad and always striving for the good.

-- By Todd Welvaert (February 2, 1998)

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