Biography of W. R. Cole

W. R. Cole is one of the former prominent business men of Champaign County now living retired. He and Mrs. Cole occupy a very attractive home on Belle Avenue in Rantoul. Mrs. Cole is a member of an old and prominent family of Champaign County, and is a sister of one of the foremost physicians and surgeons in the world, Dr. D. A. K. Steele, one of the founders of the University of Illinois medical department. Mrs. Cole and her brother both taught in the school at Rantoul and they are of a family of teachers, preachers and lawyers.

A native of Canada, W. R. Cole was born at Adolphostown, a son of Conrad B. and Sarah Ann Cole. He was only an infant when his mother died. He grew up and received his early education at Nappanee, Canada, and at the age of twenty-six, in 1870, came from Kingston, Ontario, to Rantoul, Illinois, to visit his brother, L. B. Cole, who was at that time a coal, grain and lumber merchant. He assisted his brother in the business for several years.

In 1872 Mr. Cole married Mary E. Lavinia Steele. She was born at Grandcote in Perry County, Illinois, daughter of Rev. Daniel and Mary Leatham Orr (Anderson) Steele. Her parents were natives of northern Ireland. Rev. Daniel Steele came to America in 1851, locating in Ohio, and in 1868 removing to Rantoul. He was a Presbyterian minister and for a number of years filled a pulpit in Rantoul. As the result of a run-away horse he sustained an injury which crippled him through his later years. He took up the drug business and employed Mr. W. R. Cole, and they were associated until his death on January 5, 1891. He was a man of exceptional character and ability and for many years was closely identified with Rantoul. His fellow citizens showed their confidence in his judgment and integrity by electing him to a number of offices. Mrs. Cole’s mother died February 13, 1899, at the advanced age of eighty-four years, two months and nineteen days. She was a noble character, and her many kindnesses endeared her to a large circle of friends.

Mrs. Cole has only her one brother, above mentioned, Dr. Daniel Atkinson King Steele, who was born in Delaware County, Ohio, March 29, 1852. He was graduated in medicine from the Chicago Medical College in 1873, and in 1906 was given the honorary degree LL. D. by the University of Illinois. He was one of the founders in 1882 and since 1894 has been president and professor of principles and practice of surgery and clinical surgery in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the medical department of the Illinois University at Chicago. In 1907 he also became president of the University Hospital and for many years was professor of clinical surgery in the Post-Graduate Medical School. He is attending surgeon to various Chicago hospitals, was president of the Chicago Surgical Society in 1907, was president of the Chicago Medical Society in 1884-85, and by his skill as a surgeon and his researches in medicine his name is known world wide in the profession. He married Alice L. Tomlinson of Rantoul, September 7, 1876. She is a college trained woman and a cultured writer. Doctor and Mrs. Steele made a trip together around the world in 1912.

After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Cole continued to reside in Rantoul. There were born into their home four children, named Mary Maude, Alice Bell, Lilly Lavinia and Daniel Thomas. Mary Maude graduated with honors and as valedictorian of her class from the Rantoul High School and then continued her studies in the University of Illinois, graduating as valedictorian of her class in that institution. As a result of her unusual ability she was given a scholarship and $400 to continue her studies and has attained the master’s degree. She taught one year in the Rantoul High School and had taught several terms before finishing her education. She is now the wife of George Harvey Scott, who was a member of the same class in the Rantoul High School and was also in her class at the University of Illinois. Mr. Scott is now professor of mathematics in a college at Yankton, South Dakota, and has filled that chair for the past sixteen years. Mr. and Mrs. Scott have five children: William Arthur, Franklin Daniel, Irving Cole, Mary Elizabeth and Clara Lavinia. Irving C. died in infancy. William A. was a member of the United States army while guarding the Mexican border, was promoted from corporal to sergeant, and is now in the detail of the United States army destined for early action in France. Franklin D., the second son, has distinguished himself as a youthful orator and has won prizes in high school and college oratorical contests at Yankton, Vermillion, Brooking and Mitchell, South Dakota.

Mr. and Mrs. Cole lost their second and third children. Alice Bell died at the age of thirteen months and Lilly Lavinia at the age of eleven years. The youngest child, Daniel T. Cole, entered the medical department of the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1900, and was graduated in 1905. He is now a successful physician practicing at Odell, Illinois. He was recently appointed, with the rank of first lieutenant, to the Medical Eeserve Corps of the United States army. He is now located with the Medical Eeserve Corps at a base hospital somewhere in France. Dr. Daniel Cole married Miss Ethel Martin of Rantoul, and they have a daughter, Mary Lois.

For thirty years Mr. W. R. Cole was successfully engaged in the drug business at Rantoul. Then desiring a change and having acquired a financial competence, he exchanged his business property for land in Saline County, Illinois. Since then he and his wife have enjoyed the comforts of a good home at Rantoul. They are members and liberal supporters of the First Congregational Church and for a number of years he has been a deacon. In politics he is a stanch Republican.

Mrs. Cole is one of the cultured women of Champaign County. She and her husband have traveled a great deal and have seen much of the beauty and grandeur of American scenery. She has always been interested in literature, especially poetry and history. It has been a task spread over many years to neatly compile some scrap books of the choice bits of information and literature which she has come across in her reading and these books already find increasing value with the passing years. Mr. and Mrs. Cole have been closely identified with Champaign County and their lives have meant much to the welfare of the little city of Rantoul, where they now reside and can look back over many years of happy associations and of good work well done.


Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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