Melba “Jean” McCallister, more commonly known as “Aunt Jeanie,” died August 19, 2020 at Wesley Village at age 96, with her sister and niece by her side.
She was born July 25, 1924 in rural Bentley, Illinois, the daughter of George and Aurelia Walker McCallister.
Jean was a proud descendant of the McCallister family that emigrated to the United States in the 1800’s from Antrim County, Ireland. The McCallisters became prominent farmers in Hancock County and Samuel built a beautiful house which is still inhabited today.
She was also a descendant of the Walker family and many Walker relatives still reside in Hancock County. She loved attending the annual Walker reunions.
Ms. McCallister is survived by one sister, Rosalie Tanner, of Mt. Pulaski, Illinois. She is also survived by fourteen nieces and nephews; Suzanne Tanner Behle, Marilyn Tanner Blasiar, Rauna Cadwell Brown, Rob Cadwell, Cheryl Douglas, David Douglas, Gary Douglas, Tom Douglas, Kathy Trovillion Dutton, Mary Beth Howell, Janny Trovillion Meissner, Celeste Tanner Reynolds, Sharon Trovillion Sullivan, and Michael Tanner.
She was preceded in death by her parents; two sisters, Marjorie Trovillion of Washington, Illinois and Georgia Douglas of Plymouth, Illinois; one brother, Robert Cadwell of Carthage, Illinois; two nephews, Mark Cadwell of Carthage, Illinois and John Douglas of Bushnell, Illinois; three brothers-in-law, Joe Trovillion, Claus Tanner, and Gene Douglas; and one sister-in-law, Nadine Cadwell.
Jean was a lifelong Methodist and was very active in the church groups in early years. She was a 1942 graduate of Carthage High School. After high school she embarked on work-related adventures that ranged from waitressing in the Western States to working in the main office at Caterpillar in Peoria. She also attended Gem City Business College in Quincy.
She eventually returned to Macomb to become a caregiver for her mother, something she took great pride in until her mother’s death in 1983. She was employed by the Macomb Journal in advertising for many years, often times taking her nieces and nephews to work with her.
Our Aunt’s life was centered around hard work as she had vivid memories of the Great Depression and the loss of her father when she was only five years old. In 1965 she was able to become an employee of Western Illinois University, and became reserve librarian in the campus library. This was truly a dream job for her and changed her life. She relished being surrounded by books and vibrant young people and was able to walk to and from work from her nearby home on West Adams Street. She retired in 1990 from WIU and always remained grateful for the wonderful job she had there. For many years she continued to go to lunch with the “girls,” other women that worked with her at the library.
While working at WIU, she became determined to get her college degree. While working fulltime, and caring for her mother, she took advantage of the tuition benefit and achieved both a Bachelor (1976) and a Master’s Degree (1980), from the English Department.
Over the years, her home at 511 West Adams Street was a registered off-campus residence for female WIU students. Many young college women lived with “Jean and Grandma.” Jean formed strong bonds with these “boarders” and corresponded with some of them still today. These “girls” are now in their 70’s.
Our Aunt’s life was an adventure. Although she did not raise children of her own, her nieces and nephews were a major joy in her life. She took courses from the New York Institute of Photography, using her sibling’s children as subjects. It is because of this the family has hundreds of professional quality black and white photos documenting her niece’s and nephew’s childhoods.
Aunt Jeanie owned an iconic car that became a symbol of her free spirit. It was a 1957 Chevy Bel Air Station Wagon, sienna brown in color. It was in this car that she traveled the United States. Her nieces and nephews remember trips to the South, Washington D.C., and over a dozen annual cousins’ trips to the Fort Madison Rodeo. Her excursions were meticulously planned, down to favorite flavors of soda pop, favorite kinds of sliced cheese, Grandma’s potato salad and deviled eggs, pillows, blankets, bug spray and a place for Grandma to sit in the front seat.
Jean soloed as a pilot and held a life- long interest in aviation. She admired and read extensively about the life of Amelia Earhart. Some of her friends were WASPs (Women Air force Service Pilots) during World War II.
Our Aunt loved all aspects of nature and spent her life travelling to beautiful places. She loved Manitoulin Island, Idaho, Wyoming, Mackinac Island, Arizona, the Florida Keys, and Ireland. She was a lifelong learner and was curious about the world. She enjoyed her connection to two college boarders she had from Germany, as well as interacting with her two great-nephews from Russia, Alexei and Yuri Douglas.
She taught her nieces and nephews the important things in life. How to clean a fish. How to shoot a gun. How to crack walnuts and hunt for mushrooms. How to whistle and find arrowheads. How to hold a wild animal and how to fly a kite. Many times she would give her nephews a compass on a leather lanyard. Perhaps so they would always know if they were going in the right direction in life.
If our Aunt had a main passion in life, it was her love for literature and reading. Her house was an extensive library with books on the shelves not for the faint of heart. She loved Tennyson, Yeats, Wharton, Tolstoy, Dickerson, Longfellow, Dostoyevsky, Hemmingway, and Joyce to name a few. Many times she would read multiple books at one time. She encouraged reading to all around her, and kept her nieces and nephews abreast on what they should be reading.
Our Aunt grew up with horses and loved them her entire life. For many years she participated in the annual Paul Findley Trail Ride held by State Representative Findley. She had a particular interest in the Connemara breed of horse that originated in Ireland.
In addition to her passion of reading, Jean loved flowers, piano music, growing tomatoes, wood ducks, politics and visiting with her “college kid” neighbors. She loved writing and receiving letters from family and contacts all over the world.
At the age of 96, many of our Aunt’s friends had sadly passed away. However, she was still blessed with a number of living friendships with such people as Ruth Grossman, Peggy Morris, Starr Gold, Doris Krato, and Laura Kent Donahue, as well as others.
The family wishes to thank both the Everly House and Wesley Village for providing her with an outstanding housing and care in her final years and days. She was able to stay in her own home until age 90, but once she did move she was in the best professional hands.
Our Aunt loved her time here on earth. She tread lightly and left the world a better and more interesting place than when she entered it. Anyone who knew her will never forget her Irish wit and life-loving personality.
Funeral services will be held at 2:00 PM Monday, August 24, 2020 at the Printy Funeral Home in Carthage with Chaplain Lyren Haney officiating. Visitation will be from 12:00-2:00 PM Monday, prior to funeral services. Burial will be held at a later date at Moss Ridge Cemetery. Memorials may be directed to the First United Methodist Church in Carthage.
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