Strawn THOMPSON, president of the First National bank of Lacon,
Illinois, and senior member of the firm of J. S. Thompson & Sons, investment
bankers, also of Lacon, is one of the most widely known of Marshall county’s
citizens. His record is a most unusual one and shows what a young man,
without capital, and without any natural advantages, can do to achieve
success in life and at the same time maintain the good will and universal
respect of his fellow citizens and all with whom business or social
relations have brought him in contact. A native of Marshall county, his
entire life has been spent there, and his life’s work is known and read of
John S. THOMSPON was born in Hopewell township, about three miles east of Lacon, in a log cabin, December 26, 1840. He is the son of James and Mary A. (STRAWN) THOMPSON, a sketch of whom appears elsewhere in this volume. His boyhood was spent upon the home farm, and his education was commenced in the country school. When about ten years of age, the family moved into the city of Lacon, and here he attended the public school for a time, that being all the educational advantages that he enjoyed. Notwithstanding this lack of knowledge to be obtained in the school room, there are few better informed men, especially in all the practical affairs of life. By reading and observation he has ever kept abreast of the times.
As a day laborer he toiled in youth and early manhood, with probably little thought of the active, busy life he should later follow, or with but a dim idea of what the future had in store for him. He was always industrious, however, and had a laudable desire to be something more than a common day laborer, however honorable labor may be. On the 12th of February, 1864, he embarked in his first business enterprise, purchasing the grocery stock of William WRIGHT entirely on credit, not having a dollar in the world that he could invest. This purchase showed wonderful pluck and courage on his part, and the utmost trustfulness on the part of Mr. WRIGHT. But with little more than a boy’s mercantile experience, he commenced business, and in one year’s time had paid off every dollar of indebtedness and had his shelves well filled.
From the very beginning he was prosperous. Accommodating and enterprising, trade naturally came his way. People liked to deal with him. They knew him to be honest and conscientious, and withal they admired his grit. With the increase of trade he was enabled to make other investments, to make loans in a small way. The profits from his grocery trade and the income derived from his loans was promptly invested in other loans, and this branch of his business rapidly increased, so that on the 12th of February, 1869, just five years from the date of his purchase, he sold his grocery stock and gave his entire attention to his loans and investments.
At first the business was carried on under his individual name, and as his sons developed business abilities, they were taken into partnership, and under the name of J. S. Thompson & Sons it has been carried on for some years. Year by year the business has grown, until at present an annual business of over five hundred thousand dollars is transacted, loans being made principally on farm lands in Illinois. The plan of the firm is to make loans on farm property and sell the notes to persons desiring a safe investment, doing something unusual in cases of this kind, guaranteeing to the purchaser both principal and interest. Those dealing with this firm have only to send their interest coupons and principal notes when due to the bank, and they are instantly paid the amount, thus having no trouble or anything whatever to do with the mortgagor. After thirty years’ successful business career the company can point with pride to the fact that they have never suffered loss or been compelled to foreclose a mortgage in Illinois. This career is probably without a parallel. Farmers like to deal with the firm because they know they will be treated fairly, and investors know they are sure of safe returns. The firm have customers from Maine to California, and its reputation is A No. 1. Its individual responsibility is $400,000.
In addition to his loan and investment business Mr. Thompson for a number of years has been interested in the First National bank of Lacon, and in 1884 was elected president of the concern. Since that time he has given considerable attention to its business, and his excellent business judgment and wise foresight has been of great service to the bank, which is regarded as one of the strongest and most conservative in this section of the state.
Mr. THOMPSON was married to Miss Eliza H. NORRIS, the wedding ceremony taking place at the home of the bride’s parents in Lacon, May 12, 1863. She was a native of Ohio and a daughter of Ira and Elizabeth NORRIS, both of whom were natives of the same state. They came to Lacon at an early day, where their daughter grew to womanhood and was educated in its public schools. By this union were three children, all of whom grew to maturity. Charles Norris, the eldest, grew to manhood in his native town, and received a good literary and practical business education. He married Miss Ada BURNS, a daughter of Judge John BURNS. In his youth he entered the office of his father and in due time was taken into partnership, having shown rare business qualities. For several years he was a sufferer from tuberculosis, during which time he traveled extensively in search of a health-giving climate, spending two seasons at Colorado Springs, Colorado. Early in the winter of 1896 he went to Phoenix, Arizona, accompanied by his wife and parents, with the hope that its favored climate would be beneficial to him. But the end was near, and notwithstanding the faithful ministration of his loved wife and fond parents, death came to his relief the morning of February 22, 1896. He was amiable, forbearing, and a thorough Christian gentleman, his life and character affording no reproach to his professions of allegiance to the teachings of the Master, and his death was calm and peaceful – a fitting close to an exemplary life. He was conscious to the last, and as he fell quietly to sleep he seemed ready and willing to go and confident of the future. He was a Knight Templar Mason, and a member of the Knights of Pythias. His remains were brought to Lacon and laid to rest in the beautiful cemetery, there to wait the judgment day. Jennie Eliza, the second child, grew to womanhood and married Dr. C. E. VERNAY, of Lacon, where they still reside. They have two children, a son and a daughter, John Strawn VERNAY and Clara Eliza VERNAY. John Ira, the youngest of the family, is now the junior member of the firm of J. S. Thompson & Sons, and is also a young man of good business ability. He married Miss Maud A GOODRICH, and they have one son, John Strawn THOMPSON, Jr. They, too, reside in Lacon. The mother of these children died January 1, 1876, of tuberculosis. She was a devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal church, and died in the full assurance of faith, loved and mourned by all who knew her in this life – a woman of rare character.
On the 12th of October, 1877, Mr. THOMPSON was united in marriage with Miss Emma J. NORRIS, a sister of his first wife. Two children came into their home, the eldest, Ora James, dying at the age of ten months. The other, Emma Mai, yet resides at home, a bright little miss of thirteen years, a joy and comfort to all who know her; giving promise of useful and accomplished womanhood.
Mrs. THOMPSON was a woman of rare Christian virtue, and in early life united with the Methodist Episcopal church, and was earnest, active and thoroughly loyal to the Master, giving of her time and talent to the advancement of the cause of Christ. Her death, which occurred July 30, 1884, of a tumor, was a peaceful one. She was ready to go and be at rest in the home prepared for the children of God.
In early life Mr. THOMPSON was converted and united with the Methodist Episcopal church, and has ever been a thorough and consistent follower of the lowly Nazarene. Since commencing life for himself, he has been a busy man, a very busy man, but business cares and responsibilities have never been so great as to take him from his accustomed place in the house of God. The work of the Master must be attended to as well, and time, talent and all must be given to his service. In the church he has filled nearly every official position, and in the Sunday-school he has been an indefatigable worker. This work may be said to be his special delight, and for twenty-five years he has been superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Sunday-school of Lacon, Illinois. That his labors have been appreciated is attested by his long service in that capacity. His zeal and ability in this direction have been recognized outside of his own church, and for several years he has been president of the Marshall County Sunday School Union, and for five years president of the District Sunday School Union, comprising the counties of Marshall, Putnam, La Salle and Bureau. He is a good officer, with unquestioned executive ability, and above all he has a heart a love for the cause and an earnest desire to save the children of this land. To the church and its work he has always been a liberal contributor. Taking into consideration the time required for his business and the work of the church and Sunday-school, it would seem that he could find time for nothing else. But it is the busy man who finds time to engage in any enterprise, or do anything that will benefit his fellow-men. In fraternal work Mr. THOMPSON has given more or less of his time. He is a Mason of high standing, holding membership with the blue lodge and chapter of Lacon, a thirty-second degree Mason. He is a member of the Peoria Consistory, and the Knights Templar Commandery, and the Mohammed Shrine, also of Peoria. He is also a member of the Knights of Pythias and Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Lacon, and has been connected with nearly every temperance society organized in Lacon. In temperance work he has always manifested a great interest and has actively engaged in doing all in his power to suppress the great evil of intemperance.
On the 22d of February, 1887, Mr. THOMPSON married Miss CLARA L. VERNAY, a native of Lacon and daughter of James and Cynthia (WILCOX) VERNAY, and granddaughter of Dr. and Mrs. Levi WILCOX, who were numbered among the honored pioneers of Marshall county. In Lacon she grew to womanhood, and received a good education. For ten years previous to her marriage she was a teacher part of the time in the schools of her native city, and was regarded as among the best teachers employed. A lady of taste and refinement, a Christian woman with the love of humanity and heart, she is a worthy helpmeet of one who himself delights in doing good.
Mr. THOMPSON has always used his wealth for the enjoyment of his family, town and church. He for thirty years has visited most of the interesting places of his native land and Mexico. Mr. and Mrs. THOMPSON made a European tour in 1889, visiting Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Norway and Sweden, together with the principal countries and cities of Europe.
Politically Mr. THOMPSON is a democrat, and while firmly believing in the principles of the party, has never been a partisan. The right of opinion asked for himself he has always been willing to concede to others. Of political favors he has asked none, and cares nothing for the honors of office. In 1891 he consented to make the race for mayor of Lacon, that he might be instrumental in securing a system of water works for the city. He was elected almost unanimously and re-elected in the same manner in 1893, serving in all four years. Under his administration was consummated the present efficient water works of the city, which are a credit to the municipality and to the honored mayor and council who superintended their construction.
As a citizen, no man enjoys the confidence and respect of others more than the subject of this sketch. His election as mayor tested his popularity with the voters of the city. Enterprising and progressive, everything calculated to build up and strengthen the business interests of Lacon and of Marshall county is encouraged by him. A friend of the poor and needy, his good work among such has brought upon him the blessings of many unfortunate ones, of which numerous incidents might be related. A Christian man, his entire family has followed his good example, and all are members of the Methodist Episcopal church and workers with him in the Master’s vineyard.
Extracted March 2011 by Norma Hass from The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois, 1896.