Q&A with Chuck Knox, who will not seek re-election in Douglas County
Chuck Knox of Villa Grove, who has served on the Douglas County Board for 12 years, will not seek re-election in the fall.
Knox began his time on the board in 2002 after retiring from a long career at the University of Illinois. Recently, News-Gazette correspondent Amy Rose spoke with him on a cold winter's night in his home office to reflect on his service to the citizens of Douglas County, his love of history and his philosophy on life.
Q: What originally motivated you to run for a seat on the county board?
A: I retired from the University of Illinois as a senior purchasing officer in 2001 and was looking for something to do that meant more than just drinking coffee with the boys. Our county board member had decided to retire, so I ran for her position in 2002. Prior to this I had been the Douglas County Republican Chairman but retired from that after eight years in 2000.
Q: What made you realize it was time to retire from the board?
A: I will be 77 this year and have been chairman of the board since 2006. It seems like it is good time to step aside and let someone else take my place while everything is going along smoothly. The next term would end when I am 81 which might just be too old to be doing this. This is not the United States Senate. We have a great board where civility reigns, and that gets along well with each other. I have a real gentleman who is running for my spot on the board.
Q: Which accomplishment, over your 12 year tenure on the board, are you proudest of?
A: Probably the restoration of the courthouse which has just turned 100 years old and the Veteran's Memorial. I had the honor of being chairman of the veterans committee and they and the county board worked well together to achieve our goal. We have veterans from the Revolution to current times in the memorial area. The memorial was paid for with private funds and is still self supporting with private funds.
Q: Being a history buff and the author of several military history books, what is your favorite landmark to visit and why?
A: Actually, I have two. The Grand Army of the Republic room in the courthouse that was dedicated to the Civil War veterans when the courthouse was built. I had a great-grandfather who served in the 57th Illinois Volunteer Infantry from Douglas County and another who was a chaplain in the Ohio 65th Volunteer Infantry. My other favorite site is the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. I had the honor to be a guardian for two different WWII veterans on two different Honor Flights. It was a life enriching experience for all the guardians and veterans.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
A: Politics is a game, it is not life. Don't give up your day job.
Q: What is your best piece of advice for others?
A: Leave your little piece of the planet better than you found it. I always tell new board members that you have to run as one party or another, but potholes have no party and that is what we do — fix potholes and make things work for everyone in the county.
Q: The time I used to spend at county board meetings will now be used to ...
A: Write a small book for my six grandchildren about their great-great-great-grandfather in the Civil War. Also, I plan on volunteering at the Villa Grove Library scanning in old photos to our website and at the Douglas County Museum sorting and cataloging military items. This will be so enjoyable that I can't believe they are not charging me for coming in.
Q: In 10 years, the thing that folks in Douglas County will be talking about will be ...
A: Just about the same things that they are now. Weather, crops, local politics, and how the oldest one at the McDonald's coffee table would be a better president. The current contender is 90 years old.
Q: How do you handle a stressful situation?
A: I usually try to get everyone to sit down around a table, keep the coffee flowing and work things out. NO DRAMA!
I have been known to use a second hand Eight Ball to come up with an appropriate answer.
Q: Which historical figure do you admire most and why?
Abraham Lincoln. My great grandfather shook his hand at the Charleston Debate with Douglas. It prompted him to join the Union Army in 1861. Lincoln epitomizes common sense solutions to complex problems. He used humor to make his points. Humor helps things along and avoids a lot of adversarial relationships holding up progress.
Q: How did you meet your wife, Caryl?
In 1954 she and I met and went on a blind date with two other couples. We had a good time, but a week later I went into the local dime store to buy some Chocolate Malted Milk Balls and the girl at the counter asked me if I had called for another date. I said, “Not Yet.” She said I could not have any more candy until I called. I did and we were married in 1960. We will have been married 54 years this coming June. Not bad for a blind date.
We have two great children, Ann and Jeff, a wonderful daughter in law, Jenny and son in-law Paul and six grandchildren, Matt, Alex, Gracie, Sarah, Katie and Johnnie, who like everyone else’s grandchildren are above average. Actually, they are all the joy of our lives. One grandson, Matt, is a sophomore at the U of I in Urbana, and the rest are in middle school or high school.
Q: What are some of your favorite past times?
My favorite warm weather past time is riding around the country side in my trusty, rusty 1954 Willys Jeep. I call it my mental health wagon. You can sort a lot out looking at cornfields and the horizon in the flatlands. Also all the grandchildren have learned to drive it as soon as they can reach the pedals.
My cold weather past time the past 12 years has been book writing. I did a two volume family stories for the grandchildren, and then three veterans books for the Villa Grove Library and two veterans stories books that were published commercially. I met many great people collecting the veteran stories. It has been sad to see these friends passing over through these years. They were great people of the greatest generation.
Q: What time do you typically get up and what do you do the first hour of the morning?
I get up around 6:30 am and grab the News Gazette before my bride confiscates the Jumble and Crossword page. We usually try to get the Jumble without working it so who ever gets it first has bragging rights for the whole day. We always have to read Pickles, Zits, The Dinette Set and For Better or For Worse, to see how the days comic relates to what is going on in our family. Next is the Letters to the Editor read for entertainment.
Q: What do you regard as your greatest treasure.
I dearly love my books and photos, but my greatest treasure is my bride, my two children and my six grandchildren.
Q: What is your favorite sports team(s)
I like to watch the Bears, the Cubs, Illinois Basketball and Football. This tells you that you have to believe in a second coming to be fans of these four teams.
Q: What is the happiest memory of your life?
More than one. When I was 7, I got up on Christmas morning and came down stairs and found my Dad putting together a Lionel train under the Christmas tree….WOW! As an adult my happiest memories of my marriage and the birth of our two children.
Q: Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?
I have three guilty pleasures. Macadamian cookies, chocolate cake and chocolate malted milk balls. Over indulgence does not give me a headache and I have overcome guilt.
Q: What would you order for your last meal?
I have a menu so long that I will die of natural causes before the executioner gets around to me.
Q: What are your favorite musicians and why?
Johnny Cash, Beethoven, Straus, Wagner, Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Earl Garner, and any smoky piano bar jazz. And why, because I enjoy all kinds of music as long as you can hum, whistle or sing it. Otherwise it is not music, just noise.
Q: Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?
Sure I have regrets, like everyone. However, I have put them all behind me and wake up every morning feeling blessed that I have another day to be with my family and friends. Life is good if it is powered by optimism.
Q: What personality traits do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?
Deceit, Pomposity, Bullying, a sense of entitlement, too much drama and inciting discord among those that they work with. As for myself, letting my mouth run before the brain kicks in. Some folks have told me I do not suffer fools well.