I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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Era ends for DeKalb Ags Roberts family
By Barry Schrader.................................October
The father founded the bank in 1891 and it is now the
only remaining locally-owned banking institution in the county.
If you were to pick the three most influential men in DeKalb
County in the 19th Century they would undoubtedly be Glidden,
Ellwood and Haish. Then in the 20th Century the three names that
come to mind would probably be Tom Roberts, Sr., Tom, Jr. and
That family founded the DeKalb
Ag and continued to be a major influence in the countys
fortunes even after The Ag was sold to Monsanto.
The last of the three men Tom Roberts, Jr. died in September
and memorial services were held for him Saturday.
have variously been called visionary, inventive, philanthropic
E.E. Al Golden
who knew them all well offered this: DeKalb County with
the spirit of creative leaders produced the Marsh Harvester,
barbed wire, pure milk, the first Farm Bureau and hybridization
of seed corn
..The greatest agricultural achievement of
the first half of the 20th Century was the development of hybrid
corn. He added, It was through the genius of Tom
Roberts, Sr. and later his son Tom, Jr. and a son-in-law Charlie
Roberts (who happened to have the same last name) that the family
became visionariesfor they had the idea of expanding into
genetic improvement of crops, poultry and swine. Technically
their goals were broad for they worked toward the ideals of an
improved life for farmers and made farming a respected profession.
In reading the book The Story of the DeKalb
Ag by Tom, Jr. one realizes the impact that family and
their closest associates over the years had worldwide and brought
untold millions the benefits of hybridization. When writing this
I cannot overlook the major contributions of the late Charlie
Gunn who was the man who made DeKalb hybrid seedcorn the most
successful for its time.
Tom Roberts, Sr. got
his start in life on a Waterman farm owned by his father Humphrey
Roberts whose land is where the Waterman depot and Waterman State
Bank stand today.
Charlie Roberts file photo, undatedTom Roberts, Jr. stands in front of his fathers
portrait in this 1972 photo.
The founders of Waterman, named after a railroad
magnate Daniel B. Waterman, might better have chosen the name
Roberts for their village, but that is all past history now.
Tom became the DeKalb County Farm Adviser for 10 years until
he fathered the DeKalb County Agricultural Association, The
Ag to its employees and most of the rest of the countys
One cannot extol the virtues of the
Roberts family without mentioning the creation of the DeKalb
County Community Foundation. It was Charlie Roberts and his wife
Mary (sister to Tom, Jr.) who gave $3 million to start the foundation
but made sure it was named DeKalb County not the
Roberts Foundation. Jerry Smith the recently-retired executive
director of the Foundation said: There is no greater testament
to Charlie and Mary than their desire to see their philanthropy
grow with the inception of the DeKalb County Community Foundation.
It has truly allowed folks throughout the county to give back
to the communities where they have lived, worked and raised their
families. The foundation will be a lasting legacy of the Roberts
family, for sure.
I could go on detailing
many more gifts of land and money, but maybe you should just
read the DeKalb Ag book and get a better feel for the magnitude
of their accomplishments. It will make you think of them every
time you see that famous Winged Ear of corn on fence lines, caps,
T-shirts and memorabilia in so many places around the country.
By the way, there will be an exhibit of DeKalb Ag
history at the Nehring Gallery in downtown DeKalb starting in
February. I am wondering when there will be a museum built to
showcase the history of the Ag like there are for the Barbed
POSTSCRIPT: Just a heads-up for the teams planning on
competing in the Spelling Bee at St. Marys in Sycamore
on October 15 sponsored by the Daily Chronicle and the Altrusas.
The Oak Crest competitors are going to be tough to beat. The
team is full of retired schoolteachers and one old former Chronicle
editor who never uses Spellcheck on his computer. See you there,
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115