Lee M. Van Wegen is one of Champaign County’s well known citizens who started life with no particular advantages and assets and by self denial, thrift and industry gradually accumulated those means which represent financial independence. He was a successful farmer for many years, and was also at one time engaged in manufacturing at Champaign.
Mr. Van Wegen was born in New York State December 1, 1856, a son of James S. and Mary E. (Wells) Van Wegen, both of whom were natives of Orange County, New York. James S. Van Wegen brought his family to Champaign County in 1868, locating on a farm three and a half miles southwest of Champaign. He proved a valuable factor in that community and continued farming until within the last two years of his life, which he spent in Kansas. Mrs. Mary E. Van Wegen lived to the great age of eighty-eight years, passing away January 16, 1917. Their nine children were: Horton and Maria, both deceased; Lee M.; Clarissa, deceased; Sidney, a resident of Iowa; Ella and Emma, twins, the latter deceased, and the former the wife of Scott Raypholtz, of Medford, Oregon; Alexander, deceased; and Louis, of Ashland, Oregon.
Lee M. Van Wegen was twelve years of age when his parents removed to Champaign County. He had acquired some of his education up to that time and he also attended the country schools of this county. His father’s home was also his home until he was twenty-two, and he then put his experience and training to practical test, married and started a home of his own on a rented farm. He followed the plan of renting for six years. He and his wife lived frugally and his hard work enabled him to accumulate the capital required for the purchase of 160 acres of land. That was his first farm, and later he bought another of 160 acres. He sold both tracts and subsequently bought a half section of land near the city of Champaign, where he accumulated a large portion of his prosperity. Mr. Van Wegen also owns lands in the state of Louisiana.
In 1892 he retired from the farm to a residence in Champaign. In that city he served five years as superintendent of streets. He was also a financial and official member of the Champaign Cabinet Company, manufacturing as a specialty a fine type of kitchen cabinet. At the present time Mr. Van Wegen finds plenty to do in looking after his private investments.
He was married in February, 1878, to Miss Ella Hammer, a native of Bondville, Illinois. They are the parents of two children: Etta is the wife of Tony Saunders, of Greenwood, Mississippi, and they have two daughters, Madge and Ellen; Nellie is the wife of O. L. Gearhart, of Champaign, and they had one son, Van S. Gearhart, deceased. While living in the country Mr. Van Wegen served as supervisor of his township one term and was also a road commissioner for six years. He is affiliated with the Masonic Lodge and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.