September 11, 2017

CARTERVILLE — The storybook life of the late James and Rosemary “Dee” Childress turned another page this week with the largest donation in John A. Logan College history.

The Carterville couple — who wed during World War II, saw tremendous success in business, and lived to see their 71st anniversary — willed $1.5 million to the College, the College’s Foundation announced on Friday.

The couple left the money behind to benefit students through scholarship opportunities. Their attorney, Robert Howerton, delivered the money in the form of a check Thursday morning.

“What a difference this couple is making,” said Staci Shafer, executive director of the John A. Logan College Foundation. “Their enormous generosity will impact so many lives for a very, very long time. I’m overwhelmed by their generosity and the difference they will make in the lives of others with this contribution.”

Howerton said he was proud to be able to deliver the check. He also said the money couldn’t have come from two finer people.

“This is a couple who knew what it was like to start out with nothing, high school sweethearts who married during the war, they worked hard and were very successful,” Howerton said. “I am simply fulfilling their instructions by making this contribution, and I am very pleased to do so. These are people young people could look up to and model their lives after.”

Their storybook life began as high school sweethearts in Carterville. They married in 1943 just before James left for the South Pacific with the U.S. Navy to fight in World War II. (James — like many other young men at the time — would have to return to high school after the war to complete his degree, which he did in 1946. Dee (Samuel) graduated in 1943.)

While living in a small second floor apartment, the couple worked hard on their future. James would graduate from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1951.

“They were deeply in love,” Howerton explained.

With the support that love offered, James became a successful businessman and owned numerous corporations and businesses in industries such as steel erection, banking, construction, sales, as well as motels and nursing homes throughout Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri.

Their eventual success later allowed for leisure time which was taken primarily on the golf course. They were both avid golfers and Dee was known as the “life of the party” with her personality and clever wit.

They traveled extensively and played many of the major golf courses throughout the world.

He and his wife were always very close with her brother, Frank Samuel Jr., and his wife, Louise. For a time, both families lived in the Samuel family home on South Division in Carterville, and Frank Jr. and James became brothers rather than brothers-in-law. Frank Jr. became mayor of Carterville and served many years, remaining in the Samuel family home, but James and “Dee” moved to Benton, headquarters of AC Enterprises, his construction firm. James designed and built many buildings there and they made lifelong friends. He was nicknamed “Gentleman Jim,” a nod to his kind and honest demeanor.

Dee passed away on July 6, 2015. James passed away on May 21, 2016. Both were 90.

“What an incredible donation from an incredible couple,” said Dr. Ron House, College president. “The legacy they leave behind is one of hard work and selflessness, a determination to help others even after their lives had ended. I believe many students who — like James and Dee —are also determined to be successful will benefit from this enormous generosity.”

Shafer said the couple has been loyal supporters of the Foundation and mentioned a number of times that after their death they would “take care” of the Foundation in their will, Shafer said. Still, she explained, a donation of this size shocked her.

The money will establish a new endowment, the James and Rosemary Samuel Childress, John A. Logan Endowment. The only restriction on the endowment is that it provide scholarships for students interested in business.