Judge James Neal McGee, now in his third consecutive term as probate judge of Rice County, was one of the early settlers in the county and had lived here continuously for almost forty years. Judge McGee had that depth of character which is due to a long and diversified experience in practical affairs and in dealings with men. All these qualifications he had brought to his present position, where he had been instrumental in the delicate adjustment of human relationships and of property matters such as come before the probate tribunal.
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Judge McGee was born near Mount Zion in Muskingum County, Ohio, March 20, 1843. His father, Robert McGee, was born in 1809 in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Those familiar with Washington County will perhaps regard his birthplace as evidence in itself that he was a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian. In fact he was descended from one of two Scotch brothers who came to America in colonial times and one of them settled in Southwestern Pennsylvania in Washington County. Robert McGee belonged to that branch of the Presbyterian Church known as the United Presbyterians and was a very active member and an elder for years. He grew up in his native county, when a young man removed to Muskingum County, Ohio, and married there, went to Mercer County, Ohio, in 1853 and to Mercer County, Illinois, in 1863. He spent his active life as a farmer and died near Alexis, Illinois, in 1884. He was a republican in politics. His first wife was Miss McNaughton, and their only child, Mary Jane, is now deceased. March 10, 1842, Robert McGee married Mary Ann Allen. She was born in Muskingum County, Ohio, in 1818 and was of pioneer stock. Her parents went out of Virginia about the beginning of the last century, took up a claim near Detroit, Michigan, but they were driven away on account of the Indians and sought a more secure refuge in Muskingum County, Ohio. Mrs. Robert McGee died at the home of one of her children in Northern Nebraska. Judge McGee was the oldest in a family of five. Annie, now deceased, married Phil Steward, a Nebraska farmer. Margaretta is the wife of Frank Ozenbaugh, and they reside at College Springs, Iowa, Mr. Ozenbaugh being a retired farmer and druggist. John A., a soldier in the Civil war, participated in the siege of Mobile, Alabama, afterward took up railroad work and was killed in a railroad wreck at Sagetown, Illinois. Samantha, the youngest child, married Mr. Pearson, a farmer near Alexis, Illinois.
Judge McGee received his early training in the common schools of Mercer County, Ohio. When between sixteen and seventeen years of age he left his father’s farm, clerked for a time in a store at Fort Recovery, Ohio, and while clerking paid his tuition in the local schools. He qualified as a teacher, spent one winter as principal of the schools of Deerfield, Indiana, taught another winter in Jay County, Indiana, spent the winter of 1863 in Mercer County, Ohio, and from there removed to Mercer County, Illinois, and for one summer clerked in a store at Monmouth, Illinois. After that he was again in a store at Fort Recovery, Ohio, until 1865, and on February 20, 1866, in Northern Michigan, he married Miss Eliza Jane Ferguson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ferguson. Her parents are both deceased, her father having been a farmer.
After his marriage Mr. McGee brought his bride to Monmouth, Illinois, and continued clerking in a store for a time. He acquired his first independent business connections in the insurance field, and handled the local agencies of several companies at Monmouth until the time of the Chicago fire. That holocaust put several of his companies out of business. He then took the agency for a sewing machine company and sold sewing machines in Illinois until he arrived in Kansas March 6, 1879.
Judge McGee located at Sterling in Rice County, again set up in the insurance business and built up a large clientage. He was called from this work to the office of probate judge by election in November, 1912, and was re-elected in 1914 and again in 1916. He now lives in Lyons, having his offices in the Court House and his home at Grand Avenue and Lyons Street.
During his residence at Sterling Judge McGee served as police judge, justice of the peace and city clerk. He is a very active republican. Among other business interests he is a stockholder in an oil company. In church matters Judge McGee had always been a Presbyterian but had affiliated with several branches of that church. In Mercer County, Ohio, he was a member of the Seceder Church, later worshipped with the United Presbyterians, and is now a member of what is known as the Presbyterian Church of America. Judge McGee joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in December, 1874, and is past noble grand of Sterling Lodge No. 131, a member of the Grand Lodge and is past chief patriarch of the Odd Fellows Encampment and a charter member of Sterling Lodge of Rebekahs.
To his marriage were born seven children. Effie Belle, died at the age of sixteen. Robert R. had spent his active career as a farmer, but is now employed in general work at Anthony, Kansas. Dora Ella is the wife of J. M. Stout, a railroad man living at Belva, Oklahoma. Ethel Maude married Fred L. Weede, who is vice president and general manager of the Erie Evening Herald at Erie, Pennsylvania. Mary Jane lives at home and is assisting her father in his office. Etta F. is the wife of Carl E. Stomquist, their home being at Coffeyville, Kansas. Mr. Stomquist is general superintendent of the Electric Light and Water Company at Coffeyville and at the present time is installing a plant at Deming, New Mexico, for the Government. Edwin F., twin brother to Etta, died at the age of three years.