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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Christmas and the Depression

During the Depression Christmas must have been an especially depressing time if you had children for whom you could not buy a present. The people of the cities and towns of Central Illinois were painfully aware of the anguish of their neighbors and wanted to make a difference in their lives. Two events were produced in 1937 to bring cheer and presents to children in Bloomington, Illinois -- the Good Fellows Food Benefit and the Children's Christmas Jubilee. Both events had entertainment -- the Good Fellows had roller skating performances and the Christmas Jubilee had dancers and musicians.

Roller skating race team Henson, Mitt; Valentine, Curtis; Fitzgerald, Ken; Fitzgerald, Jim

The roller skating benefit took place at the Mackinaw Dells skating rink, owned by A.R. Warren, the Master of Ceremonies. The benefit raised $15.30 for the Christmas poor of Bloomington and gathered hundreds of cans of food. The Good Fellows would distribute over 3000 toys to the children of Bloomington and Normal as another part of their volunteer service.

Margaret Eades and Ralph Johnson were the waltzing skaters who led the skate party in a dance. Ralph Johnson had an interesting life story: At age 16 he left school to work full time at Beich's. He stopped working there to serve in the Pacific during WWII, but returned after the war to work at Beich's until 1985. He also served on the Board of Supervisors for 29 years! He was forced out of Beich's when it was sold to Nestle and the mandatory retirement age became 70 -- Ralph was 73.

The Good Fellows event was not merely a roller skating show, but an opportunity to enjoy rollerskating:

Through the efforts of the "Good Fellows" many children and families in McLean County had a happier Christmas than they might have enjoyed!

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