Mrs. Nancy Irene Downs. At no time in the world’s history has the position of woman been so notable, not nerely as a factor in the home but as a power in economic and political affairs and in that practical philanthropy which serves to soften somewhat the cruel actions of conflicting nations. Champaign County has many noble women and there is every reason why special attention should be paid by this work to their achievements and lives.
One of them is Mrs. Downs, who since the death of her honored husband has taken his place as a practical farmer and has done that in addition to the responsibility of caring for and training a splendid family of children. Mrs. Downs resides in Newcomb Township on a fine estate and for years has been prominent in the church and social life of that community.
She is a native of Champaign County, born in a log cabin that stood two and a half miles east of her present home in Newcomb Township, August 1, 1860. She was the fifth in a family of thirteen children; six sons and seven daughters. Her parents were John H. and Elizabeth Ellen (Baily) Funston. Her father was an Ohio man, and the fact that General Fred Funston’s family were also of Ohio makes it very possible that a family relationship existed there. Mrs. Downs is one of seven living children, and four of them are in Champaign County, she being the second in age. The oldest sister, Jennie, married John Trotter, a prosperous agriculturist. Mr. and Mrs. Trotter and their four children are all active members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. George W. Funston is a retired resident of Champaign and married Martha Lanam, both being members of the First Methodist Episcopal Church at Champaign. Cora is the wife of Mark Hazen, of Champaign, and they are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church there. Of the children outside of Champaign County, Edmund B. is a successful architect practicing his profession at Racine, Wisconsin. He was educated in the University of Illinois and made a splendid success in his calling. He married Miss Ella Kelphart, and they have one child, Jeannette. Jesse Grant, a graduate of the University of Illinois and an expert mechanic, lives at Vermillion, South Dakota. He married Miss Jinks Hume, and they have six children. They are also members of the Methodist Church. Minnie E., the youngest of the living children, is the wife of W. L. Hart, a wholesale ice cream dealer at St. Louis, Missouri. They have two sons and are Methodists.
John H. Punston was born in Ross County, Ohio, February 29, 1828. He died May 25, 1903. He grew up in his native state, having the advantage of the common schools and became an architect and cabinetmaker. About 1851 he came to Illinois, locating in Piatt County. He had no money, and though he found himself among strangers he soon gained the confidence of his community and found plenty of work at his trade. For several years he lived at Monticello, and the year he married he located in a log cabin in Newcomb Township in 1857, the same house where Mrs. Downs first saw the light of day. Mr. Funston was diligent at his business and therefore gained a substantial success in life. At his death he owned more than 400 acres of the rich land of Newcomb Township. For a number of years he had combined farming with his trade as cabinet maker. In the early days he was called upon to make many of the coffins for the bufial of the dead. Mrs. Downs frequently aided her father in making caskets. He was also very progressive and enterprising. It was his distinction to own the first mower, the first self binder and the first corn planter in the township. The old log cabin home of the Funstons in Newcomb Township was a place of very meager comforts. There were no glass windows and light was admitted through greased paper. There was not even a board floor, and the bare ground, packed hard, furnished footing and Mrs. Downs as an infant played about on the dirt floor of this humble abode. John H. Funston was not only a successful man in business but a leader in the community and in its spiritual and moral uplift. He was one of the founders of the Shiloh Methodist Episcopal Church and for years was one of the officials. A substantial monument in Riverside cemetery marks his last resting place. His wife was born in Ohio, in Madison County, November 26, 1832, and died September 3, 1895. She moved with her parents to Piatt County, Illinois, about 1857 and soon afterwards married and located in Newcomb Township. She was the oldest of twelve children, her parents being John and Mary (Hubbard) Baily. She proved herself a loving and affectionate mother and devoted the best energies of her life to her family.
Mrs. Downs had an interesting childhood and girlhood in Champaign County. The first school she attended was a more or less exact copy of the primitive schoolhouse which has become so celebrated in song and story of the early times. The slab benches had no backs and she can testify to the fact that it was exceedingly tiresome to sit upon one of these benches for any length of time. The first book put in her hands was a little green primer. She has never forgotten her first lessons in school. Her first instruction was to memorize a stanza of poetry and the words of that little poem have never escaped her. They are as follows: “Oh mother may I go to school with brother Charles today? The air is very soft and cool, do, mother, say I may. Well, little Mary, you may go if you will keep quite still, ‘Tis wrong to make a noise, you know, I do not think you will.”
Miss Funston grew up in the home of her parents in Newcomb Township, and on December 19, 1880, she became the happy bride of the late Woodrow Downs. Mr. and Mrs. Downs became the parents of fifteen children, ten sons and five daughters. Thirteen of them are. still living. It is a splendid family record. Dwight, the oldest, was educated in the common schools and is a practical agriculturist at Clyde, North Dakota. He married Miss Maud Lott and their four children are Rollo, Mary, Elsie and Josephine. Mr. and Mrs. Dwight Downs helped build the first Methodist Episcopal Church at Clyde, North Dakota. Mettie, the second child, was educated in the Fisher High School, with the class of 1904, and is still living with her mother, and she has taught school successfully in this county. Elizabeth was graduated from the Fisher High School in 1905 and is still at home. She is a member of the Domestic Science Club of Mahomet. Woodrow was educated in the common schools and is now following agriculture near Baker, Montana. He is a member of the Modern Woodmen of America and married Miss Anna Becker. Pearl had a common school education and is now doing much of the work of the home farm for his mother. Bernice graduated from the Mahomet High School with the class of 1913, taught two years in this county, and is still at home. John Isaac had a common school education and two years in the high school at Mahomet and is now connected with a large automobile firm at Alma, Michigan. Nannie had two years in the Mahomet High School and is now the wife of E. J. Hammell, an agriculturist of Newcomb Township. They have a daughter, Mary Louise. Jesse Glenn, still at home, is attending high school at Fisher. Don Edmund has finished the common school course and in 1917 received his diploma from the Rakes Automobile and Tractor School at Kansas City, Missouri, and is now a very expert mechanic and thoroughly competent to handle all kinds of automobile and tractor machinery. Melvin is in the seventh grade of the common schools; Leslie S. is also in the seventh grade of the Fisher school and Carrol Newton, the 3’oungest, is in the third grade.
Great credit is due Mrs. Downs for the way she has reared her children and the unusual advantages she has afforded them both at home and in school.
The late Mr. Downs was born in Logan County, near North Lewisburg, Ohio, February 27, 1852. He grew up there until he was fifteen and then came to Champaign County. He had the advantages of the common schools and early took up agriculture as his vocation. With the aid of his good wife, who stood constantly by him in practical assistance and in counsel and advice, he was highly prospered and stood high in community esteem. This esteem was well manifested at the time of his death on December 17, 1912, when it was generally felt throughout Newcomb Township that one of its ablest and best men had passed away. He is now at rest in the Shiloh cemetery, where Mrs. Downs has erected a monument to his memory. Mr. Downs was a Republican, and in a public way served as a justice of the peace and town clerk and for twenty-five years was a director of the public schools. He had the. good of his community at heart and was always willing to work for the raising of standards and improvement of the locality. He was a devout member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and served as superintendent of the Sunday school. His parents and grandparents were Quakers.
For years Mrs. Downs has been foremost in all the good work of her township and particularly in her church, with which she is officially identified. She is also one of the teachers of the Sunday school. Mrs. Downs has given liberally of her means to the Shiloh Methodist Episcopal Church, of which her father was one of the founders. This church stands just across the road from Mrs. Downs’ residence. The handsome and modern edifice was dedicated May 13, 1917, at a cost of $9,000. There was still a deficit of $1,850 at the time of dedication and the members of the church at once subscribed $2,700, nearly $1,000 more than enough to pay off all indebtedness.
Mrs. Downs still lives on her farm of 270 acres in Newcomb Township. It is a splendid place, and for a number of years has been known as the home of some very fine Shire horses. It bears the title of Willow Brook Farm, but has long been known as the Pancake Point Farm, due to the fact that members of the Pancake family entered the land from the government.
Mrs. Downs has taken pleasure, recreation and additional means of culture from travel. She has visited many of the states in the Union, including the Dakotas, and has been through Canada. She has a fine home, many friends, and her high place in the community is not difficult to understand.