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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column every other Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Society columnist one of history's mysteries

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................Aug 25, 2015

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “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, 1899—1993

This 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 years.

As a “preservationist,” I had saved two of Luke’s 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 mysterious figure.

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 Bell’s 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 still.”

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 unknown.

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 her parents.

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.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115