The Fall 2011 School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach
Cecile A. Christison Sterrett College Scholar award was presented to Eva Herriman Fisher of Macomb, Illinois. In addition, Eva is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, one of the largest, most renowned international honour societies. There are 400 chapters in eight countries around the world.
A long term employee at WIU, Eva plans to continue her education to pursue a Master of Arts degree in History. Eva has had an interest in history ever since grade school, where a copy of a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln hung in the library. That lead an interest in Illinois history.
Her interest in history became very personal when she decided to begin working on the genealogy of her family.
“It was not until my paternal grandmother, Minnie Melva Rodgers, died in 1998 that I really began to search my family roots. Not knowing how or where to begin the search, I contacted the McDonough County Genealogical Society,” Eva said. She is a life member and current president of the society.
Along the way Eva has found some fascinating facts about her family.
“My maternal grandmother, Millie Alice Sarah Reed, was forward thinking. She was born in 1897 in rural Illinois near Colmar. The oldest of seven children, she was working by age 12 as a servant girl with a neighboring family,” said Eva.
Her grandmother, however, had bigger plans. At that time rural women, and often men, ended their education at the eight grade. But not Millie. She moved and worked for room and board in Macomb so she could attend what was then called the Western State Normal School – the founding name of Western Illinois University. As intrepid as ever, Millie trained to become a nurse, graduated from nursing school, and headed west in 1920-21.
“I have scrapbooks from her travels. The photographs are snapshots in black and white from a Brownie camera,” said Eva. “I am working on a project, a family history book … on the life and times of Grandmother Reed, and I want to include maps and a timeline of U.S. history that will reflect the happenings of that time period.”
Eva was also surprised to learn that a great-great-great uncle, John Blair, was a survivor of the great Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889. John was an avid correspondent, so Eva was able to find a letter containing a firsthand account of the flood and aftermath. His letter, intended to reassure family members that he and his mother had survived, described the tragedy.
Eva stated that John wrote that he “‘saw body after body float by, everywhere you stepped was [sic] bodies’ and ‘Mother is still suffering from the effects of the flood.’”
Her involvement with the McDonough County Genealogical Society has also led her to amazing occurrences, such as reuniting a mother and son who were separated by the mother’s wise decision to give her son a better life than she could provide him at the time.
“One glance at his photograph and we both knew without a doubt it was him,” said Eva. “The family resemblance is remarkable.”
Their first meeting in over forty years was all the more amazing for Eva because this mother and this son were her cousins by marriage.
“Needless to say, as a genealogist, I am honored to have played a part in this unique family history,” Eva said.
Indeed, the things that our students learn, such as with Eva and history, apply in unexpected ways.