by Terry Hogan

John Van Ness Standish

Galesburg is full of historical signposts, pointing back in time toward locally significant figures. The names are everywhere, commonplace, perhaps too much so to be noticed. Just part of the environment. Churchill Jr. High-- it was just a place where the other kids went. So it is with Standish Park.

John Van Ness Standish was another of the early citizens that helped shape Galesburg. He was very influential as a professor of the Illinois Liberal Institute and Lombard College (University) from 1854 to 1892. He was Lombard's president from 1892 to 1895. Today, his name is associated with the city park that provides a splotch of green, west of the court house. Standish is an odd story. He was well educated, successful educator, with great historical roots, but seems to be best remembered, by some, for his trees.

Standish was a nobility in Galesburg's teaming, huddled masses. He was the sixth generation from the Pilgrim Captain, Miles Standish. But his roots go back even further, even with greater nobility. The Standish family was descended from the Standishes of Duxbury Hall. This was one of two branches of Standishes that date back to the thirteenth century. One branch was the Standishes of Duxbury Hall, and the other were the Standishes of Standish. Miles Standish was born in Duxbury Hall in 1854 and was to become the leader of the Pilgrims move to America. He died in Duxbury, Mass. on October 3, 1856. John Van Ness Standish was educated in New England and taught there until he was invited by P. R. Kendall, president of Lombard University, to come to Galesburg and teach Mathematics and Astronomy. It is reported that Mr. Kendall wrote to Standish, ''You and I are to build a college. I want you to take charge while I collect money.'' On October 22, 1854, Dr. Standish arrived at Galesburg to start his new life. John Standish married Harriet Augusta Kendall, daughter of Francis and Rebecca (Stowe) Kendall on March 24, 1859. Harriet taught painting, French and Italian at Lombard.

John Van Ness Standish appears to have been a noted teacher, instructing a wide variety of topics with great success. He and his wife traveled extensive in Europe and visited all the great art museum that Europe had to offer. His biography published in the 1899 'Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County' gushes the following description of their travels:

''Dr. Standish has been a great traveler. In company with Mrs. Standish, he has visited the Old World three times-in 1879, 1882-3, and in1891-92. With the exception of Denmark and Portugal, he has visited every country of Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land and Asia Minor, went to the North Cape within 19 degrees of the North Pole, saw the midnight sun seven nights, and took a trip of a hundred miles out on the Sahara Desert. Both Dr. and Mrs. Standish have gone abroad for study , as well as pleasure. In his own country, he has visited every State in the Union excepting the Carolinas.''

One has to wonder how such behavior was viewed in straight-laced, working-class Galesburg. Carl Sandburg provides some insight. Sandburg wrote: ''They had come into money and brought home ransacking from ancient Rome and the more ancient Greece and the still more ancient Assyria, the daily papers telling where they had been and what they brought back. I read about them in the papers and looked at the Standish couple and wondered what they got out of what they seen and heard where they had been. I would look out of a milkwagon door passing by them on a street and have half a notion that my thirty Italians in the two houses on Berrien Street near Seminary had told me a few things about Italy and the sons of Tuscany that The Standishes never ever suspected. The Standishes were what my friend Tom Ferril of Denver calls 'Culture Vultures.''' (Always the Young Strangers).

John Van Ness Standish was not without redeeming value in Sandburg's assessment. Standish was a horticulturist, to use the term in his biography. Carl Sandburg says he was the ''City Forester.'' In either event, Standish left his mark in the City, probably not in any remembrance or artifact from Europe or the Holy Land, but by the care and planting of trees. Long after Lombard merged with Knox College and Lombard became a junior high school, the trees were an inseparable component of the campus. Sandburg writes of the great elm ''near the college pump'' having a wider spread than any other tree in the county. I assume that this was the same tree the shaded me as I waited for the school bus to take me home from Lombard Jr. High. At least the attribution was the same for the massive old elm whose branches had shaded students that came and went for about a 100 years.

Sandburg writes that Standish resigned his presidency of Lombard in 1895 ''in some kind of a huff.'' Calkins refers to Standish as ''peppery'' and makes as similar vague reference to the dispute. According to Sandburg, three years later Standish provided a gift to Knox College (not Lombard) of $100,000. This occurred well before Lombard had ceased to exist. He also left his home and land near Knox to Knox while on hs deathbed. Sandburg suggests that Standish could have said ''All that I have an am I give to Knox. I have forgotten the name Lombard if I ever knew it.'' To me, this has a touch of Sandburg philosophy in it.

Despite this quarrel that apparently was sufficient to cause him to turn his back on the institution that he served for over 40 years, Standish left his mark in Galesburg, perhaps in a way he never anticipated. He organized the horticultural society and was responsible for the planting of many trees. So Galesburg has Standish Park, a cool oasis on a hot day, a small bit of nature, contained by a moat of streets. It seems that on Standish, both Galesburg and Sandburg could agree.

In Sandburg's eyes, Standish's success was best defined as a City Forester. This was the appropriate record for his gravestone according to Sandburg. He writes (''Always the Young Strangers''):

''I still love him as a forester. If the roots of trees tangle in his frame under the grass roots we can imagine an inaudible voice whispering, 'These bones shall rise again.' He might have said to St. Peter, 'On earth it was men failed me. I was ever kindly to trees and no tree ever betrayed me.' He could have had no memory that once after Lombard commencement exercises in the third-floor chapel he passed in a lower hall three barefoot Swede boys who had sat in the chapel gallery. He laid his hand on the head of one of them and smiled and went on. Maybe he meant to give me a blessing. He died thirty-three years ago, as this is written, and now I give him my blessing for the tress he game me and so many others.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr website April 24, 1999

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