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When that evil day shall come whereon William A. Meese exchanges his 7 1/8 derby of commerce for the starry crown of heavenly reward, doffs his conventional haberdashery of the Mississippi Valley for the celestial cerements of eternal bliss, Moline will pause in its onward march to industrial eminence, consider well this life-time of devotion to the city’s interests, drop a tear of affection for a departed comrade and wonder with apprehension where the half-dozen men are to spring from to take his place in the struggle for civic improvement. He has been for a half-century the loyal friend of his town, the unwavering champion of Moline’s claims to consideration, her press agent, advocate and guardian spirit. This esteem is mutual and reciprocal and the constant plea of Moline is that William A. Meese may long be spared to serve as her envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary. His list of activities for the good of his city before deliberative and legislative bodies and as a member of organizations which have built the city into its present proud condition, spiritually, morally, educationally and industrially has not been written. The record is long, honorable and fortunately incomplete.
William A. Meese was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, February 1, 1856. It has been a subject of regret that he was not a native of Moline, but this error, not his own, he repaired as speedily as possible by bringing his family to the village of promise in the garden spot of the Mississippi Valley at the age of two. His father, Henry Bruno Meese, and mother, Johanna (von Thielde) Meese, were natives of Hanover, Germany, and came to this country in 1852.
A small and sturdy specimen of the tow-headed German-American he entered upon his education in the Moline public schools, graduating therefrom in due time; thence to the preparatory course of Griswold College in Davenport, and completed the Freshman year in that institution. From Griswold to Rock River Seminary (now Mt. Morris College) and graduation in 1876. In one subsequent year at the State University of Iowa the degree of Bachelor of Laws was secured. The next year was spent in advanced studies. In 1878 after preparation adequate and admirable, the law student was transformed into a practicing attorney by admission to the bar of Illinois.
He entered upon the practice of law in his home city and soon attracted a volume of business flattering to the native product, who, unlike the biblical prophet, found honor in his own country. By utilizing a natural talent for concentration which brings a margin of leisure, Mr. Meese has found time to serve his City and State in many ways. He has been a member of the library board, a member of the cemetery board, has served as City Attorney for six years and for four years was a trustee of the Northern Illinois State Normal School. His profession brought him into politics and he has been allied with the Republican Party in his State.
Mr. Meese admits a natural inclination toward allying himself with other men in organizations for mutual helpfulness and the advancement of society. He is a member of the Modern Woodmen, the Odd Fellows, the Elks, the *Red Men, the Turners and a few other fraternal bodies. He is also a member of the Moline Club, the Tri-City Press Club, the Chicago Press Club and a half-dozen historical societies.
It would be easy for a biographer to write a chapter concerning Mr. Meese’s love for history, his work along that line and his really valuable contributions to the records of this region. A number of monographs which he has published show original research of vast industry and commensurate result. He has been the inspiration of the Rock Island County Historical society and has been called upon for historical addresses on many important occasions in western cities. His historical library is admirable in its range and has many exceptional books of rarity and great value. Mr. Meese’s friends are hopeful that there may come from his pen some day the yet unwritten history of Illinois, for which he has ample original material at hand.
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Mr. Meese’s research into local events of bygone days led to his appearance before the Illinois General Assembly and an appropriation to mark the battlesite of the War of 1812 on Campbell’s Island near Moline. The dedication of that memorial in the Summer of 1908 was the occasion of such a patriotic demonstration as the City of Moline had never previously entered upon. Incidentally the scholarly historian was so glorified by orators and press that his natural modesty has. suffered an inordinate increase. His subsequent life has been one continuous unspoken apology for being unable to feel as great as his friends have painted him.
The work which at present engrosses the spare minutes of Mr. Meese concerns a wider area than his beloved City of Moline or his home state. It is the splendid endeavor to which the Upper Mississippi River Improvement Association is pledged. Of that organization Mr. Meese is first vice-president.
While president of the Moline Business Men’s Association Mr. Meese made several trips to. Washington, and as the result secured an appropriation of $386,000 for the construction of a lock in the Mississippi River at his home city, thus making Moline a river town, a privilege it had been deprived of for over thirty years. As first vice-president of the River Association Mr. Meese assumed charge of and personally conducted the campaign before Congress for a six-foot channel for the Mississippi River from St. Paul to the mouth of the Missouri River. The work was successful and in March 1908, Congress adopted the plan, the largest before that session, carrying an expenditure of over twenty million dollars.
The solid foundation of success in life is a happy home. Whether this was appreciated by the young attorney and his marriage made a part of his plan for advancement, or whether Fortune so ordered affairs in the distribution of her favors, in any event the best piece of good luck that ever befell Mr. Meese was his marriage in 1878 to Miss Kittie Buxton, daughter of Daniel Buxton and Anna S. (Kane) Buxton, of Marengo, Illinois. Their home has been brightened and blessed by four daughters-Maude, the wife of Harry E. Newton; Kittie, wife of Benjamin S. Bell, also Lillian, Gertrude and Helen Meese. In his life of professional activity and public usefulness, William A. Meese has had the unswerving and sympathetic encouragement of his family circle.