Early this year, Marc Albrecht, an old friend from St. Louis and an Illinois Education Association representative for Mt. Olive, contacted me to suggest I contact Kate Klimut and Jim Schoppman, who I knew mainly though Marc when we all lived in St. Louis. Little could I have imagined what has resulted from renewing an acquaintance with these two.
The museum board is now proud to announce that Kate and Jim have joined our creative team and that Kate has joined our board. They both bring a passion for this history, direct family connections to the story, and multiple talents.
Both of their family’s histories are connected to Mother Jones and mining in Southern Illinois. They grew up hearing about Mother Jones and knowing that miners had played an important role in organizing the union movement in the United States.
Kate remembers being taught about Mother Jones, the work of women in coal mining conflicts, and the Battle of Virden in Carlinville schools, where teachers instilled a sense that miners and their families, including the women and children, had been a force in history. She also learned to think of the home in Carlinville that was an important part of the Underground Railroad, and for her, this communicated a sense that ordinary people could be a force in history. Keep in mind, she says, little labor history was then—or now—usually taught in the schools. Not so in this area of the country, where the miners culture built the first teachers unions as well.
Kate’s family were Ukrainian and Hungarian immigrants who came to the US in the early part of the twentieth century. “My maternal grandfather, John Hurzon, first came to Pennsylvania but migrated to the West Frankfort area of Illinois,” where immigrant militancy was part of daily life. Her grandfather, she says with a chuckle, “was a Commie” in Benld, where various strains of radicalism coexisted with devotion to church and ethnic organizations. “My daddy, a union airline pilot, taught me never to cross a picket line,” a direct result from his miners’ heritage and his own experience. She treasures other values she learned from her family. Kate remembers as a young girl driving to Missouri with her maternal grandmother Helen Klimut, who lived in a small village of Hettick Illinois in Macoupin County. Helen made it a point to show Kate a segregated drinking fountain, pointed to it, and told her “that is so wrong!”
When Kate met Jim at her workplace years ago, and she learned he was connected to a mining family in the Mt. Olive area, she knew he was a “good guy” with working class roots. Both of them still think of themselves as “an extended part of the Mount Olive community and want to give back by honoring the global message of Mother Jones acting as a fighter who loved humanity. We believe in being open in our assistance with this project.”
Jim grew up in Florissant, Missouri, but visited his maternal grandparents Clarence and Edith Engelman in Mt. Olive. He heard stories about Mother Jones while traversing the cemeteries to learn directly the stories of his ancestors. Clarence was a standard bearer at Mother Jones funeral, an honor given to families directly connected to the origins of Union Miners cemetery and the battle at Virden. His great grandfather, Mike Engelman, was a survivor of the Virden conflict in 1898, going to the scene to confront the Thiel detective agents and Chicago policemen who armed themselves and built stockades to defeat the new union in 1898. He later became a teamster.
Another of Jim’s relatives include Edward Fletcher, an English miner by the age of 11, whose death testifies to the casual way that tragedy was an everyday part of the miners’ life. Edward, his great great maternal grandfather, died when he was grinding an ax in a mine in Collinsville, Illinois; the spinning emery wheel broke and according to a newspaper story in Jim’s possession, resulted in “knocking his brains out and killing him almost instantly.” The family then depended on the male children to go down in the pits for survival. These brutal stories, and the militant determination of the miners to secure their rights, were all part of a thread that was communicated in personal stories.
Kate believes that the “story of Mother Jones is a wonderful piece of history, and now, more than ever, it needs to be told.” As she works in St. Louis with immigrant refugees, she tells them that one hundred years ago, her family faced some of the same prejudices and yet shaped the history of the United States. They, like her ancestors, are worried today, “but eager for democracy.” Jim can’t think of a better contribution to make to ensuring that the history is remembered and demonstrated in the museum and beyond.
Over the past year, they have both been drawn to the project, first helping us with the May Day event, then finally committing to more extensive planning, graphic design, and event planning. They bring decades of work as graphic artists. Jim is planning to help us with museum display cases. He learned the craft of woodworking and has produced extraordinary pieces that are shown in the gallery of photos here.
Already they have created some of the work and planning new materials that will multiply the value of your donations far beyond what would have been otherwise feasible. See the gallery of photos to see what talents they bring to this project.
The Museum board members are grateful for Kate and Jim’s volunteer labor of love. They join other board members who are multiplying your contributions. All of the board members have stories to tell about their motivation and perspective, and we hope to bring more of those in future posts. If you are interested in volunteering from near or far, or have a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you. Maybe you have a family story that you could tell? Maybe you will donate to our museum history makers wall to reinforce the volunteer contributions?