The Elkhart, Illinois, exit off of I-55 in Illinois, just north of Springfield, has intrigued me ever since I wrote a history of Sigma Chi’s Kappa Kappa Chapter at the University of Illinois. For five seasons of football games at Knox College and countless trips to Monmouth, Illinois, the sign for Elkhart brings to mind Garland “Jake” Stahl, an outstanding athlete and one of the most famous of the University of Illinois’ early athletes. He was the captain of the 1902 Illini football team as well as a star on the baseball team. His nickname “Jake” was given to him by one of his Sigma Chi brothers. Stahl grew up in Elkhart.
In 1903, at a home game against Michigan, Stahl hit a game-winning homer “so hard and so high that it struck amid the upper limbs of a tree almost down to the football field.” The soft maple tree became known as the “Jake Stahl Tree” until the late 1940s when it was cut down because of advanced decay.
In 1903, after graduating, Stahl joined the Boston Red Sox as a first baseman. Later he was transferred to Washington, Chicago, New York and then back to Washington as player- manager. He went back to the Red Sox as manager.
In 1906, he married Jane “Jennie” Mahan, a classmate and a member of the Delta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta at the University of Illinois.
In the off-season, Stahl worked for his father-in-law’s bank. He served in World War I. Later he became the bank’s president but his health failed. The family moved to the West Coast in an unsuccessful effort to regain his health. He died of tuberculosis on September 18, 1922; he was 43. At his interment in Chicago, his Sigma Chi chapter placed on his grave a large white cross of Sigma Chi roses.
Was he remembered in Elkhart? That was my thought each time I drove by the sign and the grain elevators to the north of the exit. This time, as I drove north for a meeting, I impulsively took the exit. I needed to know if Elkhart remembered Jake Stahl.
(c) Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/