Ryan Nelson has released a book of 11 stories that he feels will allow the reader to “discover the essence of living in southern Illinois.”
His book - “The Big Foot of Hamilton County: And other stories of Southern Illinois” - chronicles local lore from “The Notorious Straw Gang” to, of course, “The Big Foot of Hamilton County.”
“I wanted to try to discover the essence of what it’s like living in southern Illinois, at this particular time, or perhaps past times,” he said.
The book is a collection of magazine and newspaper articles Nelson has written over the past several years. The stories have appeared in Springhouse Magazine out of Herod, The Wanderer Magazine based in Grayville and local newspapers such as The Mt. Vernon Register News and the McLeansboro Times Leader. Some are based on tall and not-so-tall tales told to Nelson by residents living in the area. And some come from his experience living in southern Illinois.
Nelson, 28, of McLeansboro is a part-time English instructor at RLC. He started teaching there in the summer of 2004 and has taught every semester since. He has a Master of Arts Degree in English Literature from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and was nominated for the 2001 Illinois Community College Trustees Association Pacesetter Award. He is President and lifetime member of the Hamilton County Historical Society and is a Red Fox member of the Hamilton County Schools Foundation.
“Most everyone has a story,” he said. “You just try to talk to people and see what they have to say. Although you wouldn’t find these stories in a history book, I believe they are important to preserve.”
The “Big Foot of Hamilton County” is a story involving two high-school kids from Hamilton County and the alleged hoax they played on citizens and county officials.
“The Notorious Straw Gang” features characters such as The Black Widow, Cousin Eddie and Baby Face Thomason and tells about their run-in with the owner of a small-town restaurant, their pursuit of an unusual loot and the events that led to a mock trial in Gran Gran’s Country Cafe.
The warm dialogue from Nelson’s witty, unfakable characters serves slice after slice of life in southern Illinois. One of those characters is Josephine Bonan, the mother of RLC Board Chairman Hunt Bonan. In “Pioneer of the Library,” Nelson describes how she became the longest serving public library trustee in the state.
“If you start [children] reading when they’re young, they will continue their love of reading and books their whole life,” states Josephine Bonan in the story.
The book is dedicated to longtime RLC English professor, Dr. Barbara Luchsinger, who passed away in 2005. After she died, the college was informed that she had left her entire estate to RLC.
Eleven stories make up the book of which Springhouse Magazine Editor , Gary Deneal, said, “You will laugh, you will think, you will consider the money well spent.” Deneal is the author of “A Knight of Another Sort: Prohibition Days and Charlie Birger.”
Other stories in the book include “Extreme Catfishing,” “Monster in the Pond,” “The Super Fox,” “Mr. Trombone Man,” “Going to Grandma’s on the Plug,” “The Real McCoy,” “A West Side Story” and “Playing Basketball With the Boys.”
To order a copy of Nelson’s “The Big Foot of Hamilton County: And other stories of Southern Illinois,” one may send a check made payable to Nelson at 409 Pearl Street, McLeansboro, IL, 62859. The books are $12.95 each, plus a $3 shipping and handling fee, and Illinois residents should include 6.25% for sales tax.
In the epilogue, Nelson stated, “The leaves of history books are littered with the dates of wars or the exploits of the victorious leaders. Yet, life happens mostly between the signposts that mark the ages.”