James R. Wills. Special interest attaches to the career of James R. Wills of St. Joseph not only because of his long residence in that community but also for the fact that he is one of the honored survivors of the great struggle between the North and the South in the ’60s. Mr. Wills was one of the productive farmers of this county for fully forty years, and then turned over the heavier responsibilities to a younger generation and with his good wife, who has traveled by his side for over half a century, is enjoying the comforts of a good home and the esteem of many friends in the village of St. Joseph.
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Mr. Wills is a Kentuckian by birth, born in Clark County, son of Elijah and Ruth (Beall) Wills. The Wills family came to Illinois in 1855, first living in Edgar County and later locating at Urbana, where the mother died. James R. Wills received his education in the public schools of Kentucky and Illinois, and was twenty-three years of age when the war came on. He felt it a privilege as well as a duty to serve his country in that exciting time, and enlisted in Company K of the Twenty-fifth Illinois Infantry. His company was organized from men from Urbana and Homer. The record of this regiment was a splendid one. It served in Arkansas with General Sigel’s division, was at the battle of Pea Ridge, at Sedalia (Missouri), Paducah (Kentucky), and in many of the leading campaigns of the Middle West. Mr. Wills was a natural musician and played the fife in the regimental band, though he also carried a musket and did valiant duty as a private in many battles. He was not possessed of a vigorous constitution when he went to the war and finally his health became so undermined that he was discharged on account of disability.
On May 6, 1866, about a year after the war closed, Mr. Wills married Miss Ella Crayne. A little more than a year ago they celebrated the golden anniversary of their wedding. Mrs. Wills was born in Covington, Indiana, June 20, 1848, a daughter of Levi and Elizabeth (De La Tourette) Crayne. Her mother was of French origin, as the name indicates, and the French words have a significance, “The keeper of little tower.” Elizabeth De La Tourette was born near Franklin, Ohio. Her father, John De La Tourette, grandfather of Mrs. Wills, was born on Staten Island, New York, in 1795, and married a girl from Monmouth, New Jersey, where she was born in 1799, of Holland Dutch parentage. John De La Tourette and wife had six sons and six daughters, most of whom lived near Covington, Indiana. It was a splendid family and all of them are now deceased except one son, Schuyler De La Tourette, who remains at the fine old Indiana home, enjoying the comforts of a brick house that was erected many years ago. Schuyler De La Tourette was captain of a company in the Civil War. He is now eighty-three years of age, but his years rest lightly upon him and he retains much of the soldierly bearing of his youth.
After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Wills located on his farm of 120 acres in Stanton Township. Mrs. Wills had grown up there, her father being among the pioneer settlers. The Wills farm adjoined the farm of Mrs. Wills’ father, and they began life there when all was open prairie. In 1866 they built a commodious house and it was their home for forty years. Many improvements and adornments were made in this time, including the planting of fruit and shade trees, the cultivation and maintenance of fine fields of grain and pasture and the operation of a very successful farm.
Mr. and Mrs. Wills became the parents of one son and one daughter. Charles Clifton was born September 7, 1867, and Bertha Florence was born January 2, 1872. The education of these children was carefully looked after and they have proved themselves worthy and equal to all the emergencies of life. Charles is a prosperous farmer in Compromise Township of Champaign County, and is one of the men of judgment and capacity in that community, where he has served as school director and road commissioner and in other places of trust and responsibility. Charles Mills married Alta Eyestone and six children were born to them, three dying in infancy, those living being Ella, Florence and Harold. The daughter Florence Wills married Charles P. Lippe and they live in the city of Champaign. Mr. Lippe is a traveling salesman for a wholesale house of Decatur, Illinois. They have one son, Raymond W. This grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Wills has made a notable record for so young a man. He was president of his class when he graduated from the Champaign High School in 1910, then did three years’ work in the University of Illinois, and is now employed in the First National Bank of Champaign. In 1906, forty years after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Wills left their fine farm and moved to the village of St. Joseph, where they built a cozy home in the north part of the town. They have beautified this place in many ways, and Mrs. Wills is never happier than when working with her flowers and has made her lawn in summer time a bank of flowers enjoyed by all who pass that way as well as by herself.
In matters of politics Mr. Wills supports the Republican party. He and his wife have lived to see most of the changes of importance made in Champaign County, and through all the years they have been upheld by their intimate love and sympathy and by the consciousness of doing a good work for those dependent upon them and for their community.