As I was downloading photos from my phone I realized I has not written about the Illinois P.E.O. Home. Last fall, I learned the Knox County Historical Museum in Knoxville, Illinois had an exhibit about the home which one stood in the center of town. I made a note to try to visit it when I went to Monmouth for an October meeting.
I wrote about my quick detour off the highway to see if Elkhart, Illinois, remembered its native son, University of Illinois sports legend Garland “Jake” Stahl, a Sigma Chi. (see http://wp.me/p20I1i-3cI).
Luckily, when I arrived in Knoxville, I had about an hour to explore the museum before I drove the 20 minutes to Monmouth. The story of the Illinois P.E.O. began in 1909. In her will, Mary H. Jones made provisions for a home to be built so that the elderly women of Knoxville and Knox County would have a place to live.
These provisions were set up in a time when women who became widows were often left in destitute conditions and single women who worked their entire lives had no source of income after retirement. Most counties had poorhouses. Jones’ intent might have been to keep some of these “old ladies” out of the poorhouse. In addition to the $50,000 she left to construct the home, an additional $200,000 trust fund was provided to operate it.
Construction began in 1910. There were three floors and a basement. It was made of brick and cement with three-inch solid plaster walls. The roof was covered with green German tiles. The home, which opened in 1912, took up the entire 400 block of East Main Street.
Jones left another stipulation, “Applicants for admission to said home, who in the judgment of my said Trustees are deemed worthy and proper of admission thereto, shall be permitted to reside therein and to receive all of the benefits and privileges thereof for life upon payment of the sum of $300.”
The trust fund made it through several decades, but by the 1940s, the home was operating in the red. In 1952, the property was transferred to the Illinois State Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood as a home for women who were members of the organization. A provision of the transfer made exemption for the home to keep five spots available for women from Knox County who were not members of P.E.O.
The home underwent renovations and reopened on May 3, 1953. What had once been a $300 one-time payment became a $5,000 payment and $125 per month. Those without means paid what they could with state assistance. From the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, more than 40 women lived at the home.
As the structure reached the half-decade mark, more renovations were needed. Because of the building’s construction with concrete, brick and thick walls, it was difficult to make the changes needed to bring the home up to par with retirement living options then available. By the late 1990s, there were less than 10 women living at the home.
At the 1998 Convention of the Illinois State Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, the delegates voted to close the home. In March 1999, the last resident moved out. An auction took place that May to sell the home’s contents. This closing was not without controversy and there were efforts by a non-profit organization, Concerned Citizens for the P.E.O. Home, to stop the demolition. In June 2002, the Illinois P.E.O. Home was demolished.
After voting to close the home, the Illinois State Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood established a new state project, the Illinois P.E.O. Home Fund, using the remaining trust funds. The Home Fund’s purpose is to provide Illinois senior women with living expense assistance. The women do not need to be members of P.E.O. and the grant has a lifetime maximum of $5,000. Funds can cover mortgage payments, rent, property taxes, minor repairs and utility costs.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2017. 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/