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Local Column

Schrader: College housefather was the mayor

This portrait of DeKalb Mayor J. Clayton Pooler was taken by the columnist in 1960 for an NIU photography class.
This portrait of DeKalb Mayor J. Clayton Pooler was taken by the columnist in 1960 for an NIU photography class.

My sophomore year at Northern Illinois University a Genoa-Kingston High School classmate, Bob Campbell, and I decided to room together and found a house on Lucinda Avenue that was advertising rooms for students. Genevieve Pooler greeted us, and after checking our references (we didn’t smoke or drink) rented us one of the upstairs bedrooms for the 1959-60 school year.

It was then we found out her husband, J. Clayton Pooler, was the DeKalb mayor. He served a long time as mayor, from 1953 to 1965. He wasn’t as colorful a character as his Sycamore counterpart, Mayor Harold “Red’ Johnson, who served from 1957 to 1991, but knew how to get things done. He headed the city during a rapid growth period for the university as well as the transition to the city manager form of government, something he opposed.

I once interviewed him for WNIC, the campus radio station, and he did not mince words about his feelings – it would be too expensive and take the decision-making away from officials elected by the people whom he thought were doing just fine. But the city moved to a professional manager and he stayed on four years after that, retiring in 1965.

He and his wife were gracious houseparents, although she was strict about noise (playing records loudly) and no girls (Neptune Hall was just in the next block). Gen, as she was known to her friends, baked delicious cookies and when we smelled the aroma coming from the kitchen we knew she would be bringing us a sampling.

My roommate, Bob, recalls that the mayor was proud of the fact he got the traffic signals coordinated at the Fourth and Lincoln Highway railroad crossing so traffic on Lincoln always got the green light after the trains had passed. Pooler also was generous to his students, one time repairing a leaky car gas tank for Bob when Pooler operated Yocum Welding and Supply in the 1800 block of East Lincoln Highway.

Recently, I learned from his granddaughter, Sue Berg, that he also had owned a business at 803 S. Fourth St., Poolers Texaco Service and Neighborhood Grocery, before the welding shop.

In good weather, you often would find him in the backyard smoking a cigar, something his wife frowned on in the house. For an assignment in journalism photography class taught by Hallie Hamilton, I took a portrait of the mayor with his cigar and a derby he often wore. It is included with this column.

All was not rosy during his tenure as mayor, much like today. Looking through the two bulging scrapbooks provided by his granddaughter, I found articles about several hot-button issues. In one instance, the new city manager, John Cottingham, sought the resignation of Chief of Police Vic Sarich. After he received a petition signed by 3,800 residents and pressure from councilmembers, it was decided not to accept the forced resignation of the chief.

Another controversy arose when the city wanted to create a large city landfill outside the city limits on Dresser Road and the county opposed it.

The Poolers were quite unhappy when the state approved NIU buying the houses, including theirs, in the 600 block of Lucinda Avenue to build the new student center, and had to move south to Leonard Avenue. Later, they made their final move to the new Taylor Street high-rise before Pooler passed away Nov. 9, 1972 at the age of 73. Gen died in 1995.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or by writing to P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. Past columns can be found on his website at www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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