Bob Allen was known around his hometown of Newman for his love of family, community and the family farm.
"If you live in paradise, why would you want to go anywhere else?" he used to say.
Allen's widow, Eileen, their four children and extended family just celebrated 175 years of their little piece of paradise on the family homestead in southeast Douglas County.
A long line of descendants of Robert Hopkins, the original family owner, have been born, baptized and buried on or near the 96 acres he bought in 1836. Hopkins is documented as the great-grandson of Stephen Hopkins, one of those who signed the Declaration of Independence.
The current house on the property was built in 1895 by Hopkins' daughter, Lydia and her husband Will Turbyville. The Turbyville children subsequently lived in the home, with the farm eventually passing down to Sanford and Ella Turbyville Albin. The Albins deeded the property to Bob Allen's mother, Lela Albin Allen.
In January 1951, Bob and Eileen moved in to the home with his father and took over farming operations in 1960. By that time, the farm had been reduced over the years to include the house and 18 acres of the original plot. With a determined effort, Allen was able to increase the area of the farm to about 60 acres. After his father's death, the farm was split into seven separate sections, but Allen was able to eventually buy the plots from his siblings to keep the land together and under family ownership.
Allen's children — Jim, Steve, Connie and Becky — remember the farm as a great place to grow up.
"The whole farm was a playground and a place to explore," Jim Allen said.
They also remember the hard work that went into farming.
"We lived frugally," daughter Becky Robinson said.
The family raised animals including milk cows, planted fruit trees and tended a large garden to sustain the family. Every member of the family had a part in the harvesting and butchering rings, in which local families got together to help complete the harvest or butchering work for all.
"We grew up learning how to work, expected to work, and it has served us well," said son Steve Allen.
These work days were always followed by large celebratory meals to end the day.
The family has hosted a harvest wiener roast at the farm since 1946. It is held on the first full moon in September. The tradition started when Lela Allen wanted to get rid of a large brush pile. She invited all the neighbors for a wiener roast to burn off the pile, and they've been invited back every year since.
The home has pretty much remained the same through the years except for the addition of modern conveniences like electricity, running water and, much later, vinyl siding, It has been the center of the family for eight generations, and family members still visit Eileen, 88, every Sunday to enjoy the homestead, each other's company and homemade desserts.
Ancestors were born in the bedrooms, children have been baptized in the pond, young adults have had wedding receptions in the yard and countless other memories fill the home and the hearts of the Allen family.
Many of those ancestors are buried in the Wesley Chapel cemetery, which is just a mile up the road from the family farmhouse. The Allen family helped establish the church and are still faithful parishioners there today.
"We all feel deeply blessed that we have this heritage," said Steve Allen. He said his parents raised them to know that high expectations came along with that heritage to live an honorable life.
"I've been very proud to say who my ancestors are." said daughter Connie Underwood. "Mom and Dad were the glue that held us all together."
The future of the farm is secure for now. The home has been willed to the eldest son, Jim, who plans to give the farm to his son Ethan in nine years, when he retires from his service in the U.S. Army.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture has documented about a dozen farms that are 150 years old or more in Douglas County. Delayne Reeves, marketing representative for the Department of Agriculture, says it's getting harder and harder for families to keep their farms together through each generation. Many families move off the farm or sell to others. Reeves congratulated the Allen family on their commendation. "They have accomplished something that they should be very proud of. This family has been good stewards of the land."