George N. Leas. No name can be recalled more profitably for the instruction and enlightenment of future generations in Champaign County than that of the Leas family. One of its representatives is Mr. George N. Leas, a prosperous land owner, farmer and business man at St. Joseph.
Mr. Leas is a native of Champaign County, having been born in Stanton Township, April 10, 1869, son of William C. and Margaret (Argo) Leas: His paternal ancestors were from Indiana, while the Argos came from Ohio. The Leas family located in Champaign County in early days. William C. Leas was a gallant soldier of the Civil War. He served his country three years, marching and battling for the cause of the Union, and did not return from the front until the flag was waving in triumph over all the states. After the war he settled down and reared a family of honorable children, educating and training them for the responsible duties of life. He was wounded in the battle of Chattanooga, and just forty years to the day from that event he attended the reunion of Wilder’s brigade on the battlefield of Chattanooga, being accompanied by his son George N. and wife.
George N. Leas was one of three children, the other two being daughters. Mr. Leas married Martha Bowers, member of another notable family in Champaign County. She was born in Indiana, November 28, 1870, a daughter of A. J. and Kuth (Raper) Bowers, also natives of Indiana. Mrs. Leas was educated in the Bowers district school in Champaign County.
After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Leas farmed for one year eighty acres of land belonging to his father in Stanton Township. His father was so much pleased with the manner in which his son did the farm work that at the end of the year he placed a deed for the eighty acres in George’s Christmas stocking, and at the same time gave a similar deed to his daughter, Mrs. Christie. Later he gave another eighty acres to the other daughter, Mrs. Leigh. William C. Leas was always impartial and treated all his children alike.
For five years Mr. and Mrs. Leas occupied the eighty-acre farm in Stanton Township. About that time Mrs. Leas’ father, A. J. Bowers, desired” to sell his place and expressed a wish that some of his family should be its owner. Therefore Mr. Leas with his father, William, bought the Bowers estate, where Mrs. Leas had spent her girlhood. Thus the place is endeared to her by many associations.
A. J. Bowers was a minister of the Dunkard or the Brethren Church. He ministered to the organization at Urbana and also the congregation in the Swearingen schoolhouse four miles southeast of St. Joseph. He was a faithful minister for seventeen years, and during all kinds of weather he never failed to be on hand to hold services. It is the rule of the church of the Brethren that ministers shall serve without financial recompense, and this adds to the merit of Mr. Bowers’ splendid fidelity and work. He was a splendid citizen, widely informed in secular as well as biblical knowledge, and his life was one of Christian action. His widow remained at the old homestead with the family of her daughter, Mrs. Leas, until September 24, 1917, when she entered into rest, her husband preceding her to the realm of the dead five years previous. The land of this estate was first acquired from the Government by Benjamin F. Argo, and he sold 120 acres to Mr. A. J. Bowers in 1872. At that time the land had very few improvements. Mr. Bowers owned the property for thirty years, and during that time he beautified the place with commodious buildings, set out fruit trees and shade trees, including a fine grove of evergreens in front of the house and lined the driveway with maples and pines. Thus, as a result of his labors, it was converted into one of the conspicuous country seats of St. Joseph Township. Mr. Bowers took special pride in his fruits, and at one time had seven varieties of yellow peaches growing in his orchard. He practiced agriculture with the faith of the true Christian, believing that where he sowed there also should he reap, and he had many evidences that his diligence and faithfulness were liberally rewarded. He also took pride in his home, and it was one of his greatest pleasures that his daughter’s family finally took charge of the management of the estate where he had worked so long and faithfully. The Bowers property comprised 200 acres originally.
Since he took active charge Mr. Leas has done much to increase the value and attractiveness of the farm, and all is now in a shining state of improvement and cultivation. Mr. Leas is one of the leading stock farmers of Champaign County, has a number of full blooded Percheron horses, Shorthorn cattle and Poland China hogs.
Mr. and Mrs. Leas have two sons, George William and Arthur Bowers, aged respectively seventeen and twelve years. The Bowers district school furnished them their early advantages and George is now a student in the St. Joseph High School.
Mr. Leas and wife spent seven years in western Canada, in what is now the Province of Alberta. They made this change for the benefit of the health of Mrs. Leas. Mr. Leas now owns 960 acres of the land of western Canadian prairies and is very enthusiastic about the country, and is certain that it is now the greatest land of opportunity in the western hemisphere. While in western Canada they saw much of the scenery of the Canadian Eockies and also visited Portland, Oregon.
Mr. and Mrs. Leas are members of the Christian church, the Prairie Hope Church, a splendid little chapel which was built from lumber taken off Grandfather Leas’ estate in Indiana and was hauled by his sons to the site of the present building. Grandfather Leas was a charter member of the church, and thus that place of worship has many happy associations for the family.
In politics Mr. Leas is an active Republican, is identified with the Masonic order, and has been a stanch friend of education and schools, having served as director of the local school. Thus the lives of the Bowers and Leas families have been in many ways identified with the best life of Champaign County.
In conclusion a word should be said concerning the life and character of Mrs. Margaret (Argo) Leas and her husband, William Leas, the parents of George N. They possessed many admirable traits of character, but especially were noted for their generous hospitality and kindness to the poor and needy. After her death it was well said that no one could ever take her place in the community. Whenever a needy family moved into the neighborhood this worthy mother, with her heart filled with love, was the first to be there, a ministering angel of mercy, and many a heart and home were gladdened by her presence. They were constant in Christian practice and charity, relieving distress, lightening burdens, enkindling hope, and no one ever called upon them in vain. It seemed to be Mrs. Leas’ special mission to help the poor and unfortunate in ‘the bearing of their burdens, and like the woman of old it will be written of her in letters of imperishable gold, “She had done what she could.” Father Leas was a devoted member of his church and one of his rules of life was that when he had Sunday visitors they were invited to attend religious service with him or remain at home until his return, recognizing thus his Christian obligation to his church and its importance.