John J. Rea. A member of the Champaign County bar for thirty-seven years, John J. Rea has during this period risen to be one of the most forceful attorneys of his native community, and at this time occupies a recognized position of eminence among the legists of Urbana, where his entire professional career has been passed. While his later years have been crowned with success, Mr. Rea is fully acquainted with the rough and stony paths which the young aspirant so often finds it necessary to trod, for in his own youth he found no royal road to success, but forced to carve out his own destiny and to make his own opportunities. Determination and persistency triumphed in the end, and the reward has been commensurate with the labor.
John J. Rea is a product of the farming district of Mahomet Township, Champaign County, where he was born on his father’s farm October 11, 1852. His father, John J. Rea, was born in Lewis County, Kentucky, and first came to Champaign County as early as 1836, in which year he purchased one hundred and sixty acres of government land in what later became Mahomet Township. He did not remain here at that time, but returned to his Kentucky home, where he lived during the next thirteen years, and while there was united in marriage with Miss Sarah P. Henderson, also a native of Lewis County, Kentucky. She was a daughter of the late Judge Henderson. In 1849 they came to Champaign County and located on the farm which Mr. Rea had bought years before, and there the father passed the rest of his life, his death occurring March 5, 1863. He had by that time put a large part of his land under cultivation and was on the highroad to success, but death came to him when he was still in middle life, with his work unfinished. Mrs. Rea survived her husband for many years, dying at Ludlow, Champaign County, in November, 1909, when ninety years of age. She was one of the best known and most highly respected ladies of her part of the county. There were eight children in the family, as follows: Mary E., who died in 1907; Robert, whose death occurred in 1860; Sarah E. and Louisa A., who are both deceased; Thomas H., of Mahomet; Alice A., deceased; John J.; and William T., also deceased.
John J. Rea remained on the home farm until he was fifteen years of age, and during this time attended the country schools during the winter terms, his summers being spent in assisting on the farm. He then began attending school at Mahomet, and spent one year at Mount Pleasant, now Farmer City, when, being compelled to contribute to his own support as well as to that of the family, he secured a position as clerk in the general store of P. H. Scott at Mahomet. Mr. Rea remained in Mr. Scott’s employ for three years, but by that time, having given it a thorough trial, found merchandising distasteful to him, and began teaching in the country schools, where he advised the youthful mind for three or four years. In the meantime he had become interested in the subject of law, and after about eighteen months of study, during hours that could be spared from his school work, on March 16, 1879, he located at Urbana and entered the law offices of Somers & Wright. He was duly admitted to the bar of Illinois in June, 1880, and soon thereafter formed a law partnership with Judge Sim, of Urbana, but after two and one-half years this association was mutually dissolved, and since then Mr. Rea has been engaged in practice alone. He now has one of the best law clienteles in the county and is acknowledged to be a shrewd and capable attorney, the elasticity of whose mind, combined with keen faculties of perception and analysis and a mastery of the principles of the common law, have made him a striking and successful advocate. If there is a close legal point involved in any issue his examination of the authorities bearing upon it is exhaustive. From the time he accepts a case until he has carried it to the highest tribunal, his client’s interest comes before all else, and perhaps this quality of fidelity has done as much as anything else to win him confidence and patronage. During the administration of President Cleveland, Mr. Rea was offered several important positions, one being that of chief clerk of the auditor’s office in the Treasury Department at Washington, D. C., and another that of federal attorney looking after the claims of the Indians made for services of their ancestors during the Civil War, but both of these offers he refused, preferring to devote himself to the responsibilities of his constantly growing private practice. Mr. Rea is a staunch Democrat. He has served five years as supervisor of Urbana Township and three years as city attorney of Urbana, and has always shown marked executive and official ability. His fraternal connections include membership in the Masons, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the Modern Woodmen of America.
On April 5, 1882, Mr. Rea was married to Miss Minnie H. Fugate, who was born in Illinois, and to this union there have been born two children: Thurston Wayne, now managing editor of the Urbana Courier, who married Alydia Conkwright and has three children, John J. Ill, Myrtle Ellenor and Robert Wayne; and John Carlysle, whose death occurred January 5, 1901.