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Isaac T. Leas. It is by no means an empty distinction to have lived actively and usefully in any community for a period of over sixty years. At this writing Isaac T. Leas is in his eighty-third year and is one of the few men who knew Champaign County before the time of the Civil War. He has been both a witness and an actor in the changing developments of a long time and is a real pioneer. He has been successful in his work and business and is still a hale and hearty man, enjoying the highest esteem of a large community.
Mr. Leas was born near Covington, Indiana, October 27, 1833, a son of George and Lydia (Robinson) Leas. The ancestors of the Leas family came from England and were colonial settlers in Pennsylvania. George Leas had ten children, eight sons and two daughters, Isaac being the third in age.
The latter spent his boyhood days and youth in his native county and when a young man came to Champaign County with his father. His father entered 160 acres of land and the son also secured a tract of land in section 9 of St. Joseph Township.
In October, 1860, Mr. Leas laid the foundation of his own home by his marriage to Miss Ervilla Sumner. Mrs. Leas was also born near Covington, Indiana, a daughter of Selby and Rebecca (Hatheway) Sumner. After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Leas settled down to begin wedded life on land which he bought, and with hope for the future, enthusiasm and unlimited energy their prospects all partook of a rosy hue. Mr. Leas had many trials and privations in early years. His first land he bought in Champaign County cost him two dollars and a half an acre, and gradually his accumulations grew until he was paying taxes on 640 acres, a complete section.
Mr. Leas’ brother William was a brave soldier in the Civil War, having spent more than three years in the army. As that was a long time to be away from home and friends an arrangement was made between him and Isaac that they would exchange places for a brief time to afford William an opportunity to visit home and friends. It was a risky thing to do, and had the exchange been discovered William would have been liable for arrest as a deserter. Isaac went to Louisville, changed clothes with his brother, took his brother’s place in the ranks and every morning answered to the roll call under his brother’s name. Thus he too had a share of the service required for winning the war, though his name does not appear on the records of the great armies of the North.
During the passing years Mr. Leas gave the best of his energies to the improvement and development of his farm, erected many commodious buildings, planted fruit and shade trees, and the entire estate stands as an attractive monument to his industry.
Into their home were born nine children: Emma, Jennie, Clara, Gertrude, Sadie, Ernest, Ross, Nettie and Frank, the last three dying in childhood. Mr. and Mrs. Leas saw to it that their children were well educated, at first in the Argo district school and later some of them attended the fine old college in Sullivan County, Indiana, on the banks of the Wabash, known as Merom College, and also the University of Illinois. Gertrude graduated from the Indiana school. These children have since married and have become substantially located in the world of affairs. Emma is the wife of Christian Furst, a farmer at Maucie, Indiana, and she has four children, Ervilla, Oral, Russell and Stanley, the last being now deceased. The daughter Jennie married Charles Mallow and they live in Ohio and have children named Leroy, Guy, Orr and two daughters deceased. Clara L. married William Beverlin and lives in Urbana, the mother of Gladys and Mayme. Gladys is now Mrs. E. L. Coolidge of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Mayme was graduated from the Urbana High School in 1911, and then entered upon a course of instruction in the University of Illinois, but was prevented from finishing it by the sudden death of her mother on January 24, 1912. W. N. Beverlin, her father, was born near St. Joseph, Illinois, and finished his education in Earlham College in Indiana. He was a son of T. J. and Elizabeth (Stevenson) Beverlin. T. J. Beverlin was born near Centerville, Indiana, and was a soldier in the Union army during the Civil War. His wife was born near Ridge Farm, Illinois. Gertrude L. Leas is the wife of Dr. L. C. Phillips, a graduate of Merom College in Indiana, and they now live in Pensacola, Florida, and have seven children named Ian, Kent, Portia, Leeta, Mayme, Willis and Lawren. The daughter Sadie L. Leas married Edwin Keller, an insurance man of Frankfort, Indiana, and they have one child, Emerson Leas Keller. Ernest Orr Leas lives in Fountain County, Indiana, and married Miss Temperance Hayworth.
Mr. Isaac Leas, as is also true of his wife, has been a lifelong member of the Christian Church and for many years worshiped in the Prairie Hope Church, to which he was a liberal supporter. Mr. Leas had an important part in the building of this venerable religious structure. From his father’s farm he hauled many logs to a mill in Indiana, and then hauled the finished lumber back to the site of the church building. The seats in the church contain a great quantity of choice walnut timber, a very rare wood at the present time. The weatherboarding on the church was sawed from fine poplar logs. This church is a splendid monument to the zeal and religious spirit of the pioneers who erected the structure and the church itself has stood as a beacon light in the community.
The influence of the Leas family has always been for good and uplifting work in that part of the county. Mr. Leas has courageously supported and upheld the principles of the Republican Party, and has been firmly convinced that the best laws our nation has ever had emanated from that source. He is a great admirer of Roosevelt and looks upon him as one of the strongest men America has produced.
The crowning sorrow of the Leas family was the death in March, 1915, of Mrs. Leas, who for years had stood side by side with her husband in the work of establishing a home and had been mother and adviser to her children. For twelve years before she died Mr. and Mrs. Leas had lived in the city of Urbana, where they kept up their associations with old friends from St. Joseph Township and also found many new friends in the city. When the name of Mr. and Mrs. Leas is mentioned in St. Joseph Township there are many who are eager to speak of the many deeds of kindness performed by them, and there still live in that section a number of families who were aided in their early struggles and eventually came to some considerable measure of success largely through help extended in time of need by Mr. and Mrs. Leas. Notably among these is the family of John Fiock, who enjoys relating his early experience in St. Joseph Township. Landing in St. Joseph with a wife and five children and a cash capital of 35 cents, a stranger to everybody, hunting for work, he was referred to Isaac Leas, who went his security for furniture and provisions and employed him for two years, at the end of which time he was able to purchase forty acres, making a payment of $60, the agent requiring him to sign an agreement that he was to forfeit the same if he could not pay $40 more within six months, said time to expire at 2 P. M. Being unable to raise the amount, he went to Isaac Leas at 11 A. M. of said day, telling him his troubles. Mr. Leas was busily engaged with farm hands building fence, but like the Good Samaritan of olden days, immediately stopped his work, had his team hitched up and drove with Mr. Fiock to Urbana in time to draw the money from the bank and secure the home to Mr. Fiock, who returned home with a glad heart to announce to his family their little home was safe. Some people strew their flowers to the memory of their friends after the weary heart and hands are stilled, but Isaac Leas has chosen to modestly and quietly strew his flowers along the pathway of a needful humanity, while the heart may be made to rejoice at their reception, the fragrance and beauty surviving as long as memory lasts. It is these worthy acts that causes one’s memory to be enshrined within the hearts of the recipients of the same generous deeds.
Since the death of his good wife Mr. Leas has continued his home in Urbana, but usually spends his winters in Florida with friends and relatives. On some of his journeys his granddaughter Mayme Beverlin has been with him as traveling companion. Together they made a most enjoyable tour to the Pacific coast in 1915, visiting the exposition at San Francisco and also the fair at San Diego. They were impressed with the wonderful mountain scenery between Colorado Springs and Salt Lake City, went from Los Angeles to Catalina Island, where they viewed the wonders of the deep through the glass bottomed boat, also crossed the border to the quaint Mexican village of Tia Juana, and then returned by the southern route, first pausing at El Paso, Texas, and again crossing the border into Juarez. They also remained in New Orleans a few days and from there came back to Illinois.
Mr. Isaac Leas has always been a stanch friend of the cause of temperance. Temperance has not been merely a theory with him but a practice from youth to old age. He has never used either tobacco or liquor, and his life and character in its essential attributes has been consistent with these moral principles. In the matter of commercial integrity there is no question that the word of Isaac Leas is as good as a gold bond. In his business relations he has always been careful, and an incident testifying to his discretion is related. An agent was recently trying to sell him a $3,000 automobile, saying to him, “You might as well buy it and enjoy it, you cannot take your money along with you into the next world.” To which Mr. Leas replied, “I think I might take it along as well as I could an automobile.”