Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
Sometimes history questions are easily answered with a
visit to the Joiner History Room or going online to find obituaries
or cemetery records. But in this case I was stumped.
It all began when I gave a talk as part of the Sycamore
History Museum Brown Bag series earlier this month. I had researched
the lives of a dozen local legends and living icons, whom people
might be interested in learning more about.
One of the legends is Luke McLagan, a once familiar newspaper
reporter and columnist who worked for both the Daily Chronicle
and then the Sycamore True Republican and Tribune. His abiding
interest in history resulted in two books, Nostalgia and
Glee in 1960 and Sycamore According to Luke,
published posthumously in 1993.
My only encounters with Luke were some letters we exchanged
when I was involved with the acquisition of the Sycamore True
Republican and Sun-Tribune from the Dean family in 1965 and 66.
Luke was retired by then and wanted to be sure we continued the
tradition of local news in his hometown papers. He also offered
to write a column that eventually resulted in his Yarns, Tales
and History being run in the weeklies in the 1970s, which he
wrote from his retirement home in Lake
Luke McLagan, 18991993This small grave marker for Sada Lillia is in the
Charter Grove Cemetery north of Sycamore on Moose Range Road.
(Photo by Barry Schrader)
Worth, Florida. I also learned from his obituary and Averil Schreiber
that he married a woman named Dora Fauerbach in Florida and then
after her death returned to live at Barb City Manor in his later
As a preservationist, I had saved two of Lukes
lengthy handwritten letters from 1966 and read some passages
at the Brown Bag. This brought up the name Sada Lillia, a longtime
society news correspondent for the Sycamore papers and a somewhat
Longtime residents recalled her incessant phone calls asking
for personal items for her columns. Back then, correspondents
were paid by the inch of published material, so they needed to
collect as much news as they could.
To quote from one of the letters from Luke, who knew her
well: Sada is an institution in the world of Sycamore society,
deaths and locals. She has worked many late-night sessions on
the telephone. I think I could be safe in stating that no one
in Sycamore but a telephone girl (operator) put in as many hours
with Alexander Graham Bells greatest invention than she
has. In her better days she was always very accurate. If an error
did creep in by her doing, she was almost in tears. She lived
her job. Felt every death as if it were the passing of her own.
It is difficult to estimate the results of her long service.
She has written millions of words for Sycamore readers for half
a century, through the regimes of at least four publishers
It is interesting to note that she never typed. Her stuff would
come in bales (stacks of half sheets) written in a slashing longhand.
Also, she rarely attended an event in person
. She often
knew within minutes about a death. As far as I can recall, she
never once in her career touched scandal. She derived far more
pleasure by writing of the best about people.
Calling around, I found others who remembered Lillia at
various times in their lives. Jay Elliott, a friend of mine who
at one time was a Linotype operator in the Sycamore weeklies
back shop during the 1950s, now retired in California, told me
by phone how she brought in a packet of half-sheets each week,
generally four lines per page. He even recalled one of her favorite
sayings: A man convinced against his will is of the opinion
I also talked to George Suter, now 80, whose family were
neighbors to Lillia during his school years. He recalled that
she was friendly to kids, but deplored her tying up the party
line so he and others would have to break in and get her off
the phone so they could use it.
Yvonne Johnson told me her home at 210 E. High St. was
bought by Jim Womack in 1972, but Jim said it was owned by James
and Genevieve Richardson, so Lillia must have lived with them.
She died three years later at age 83, but her address then is
Her obituary has been lost because of some missing back
issues of the Sycamore paper, but I located her gravesite in
the Charter Grove Cemetery a small, simple stone next to
No photos of her have been found and her name never appeared
in the society columns, although she wrote so many words about
so many others.