INA – Evertt D. Atkinson’s autobiography will not shoot straight to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List. But, it will find acclaim among his family, friends and one very special reader.
The book, titled “Early Memories of Evertt D. Atkinson: A Collection of Life Experiences,” would never have been written if it weren’t for the influence of retired Rend Lake College Liberal Arts Chair and Atkinson’s teacher, Dr. Evelyn Claxton. He presented her with the first copy when the two met recently on the campus where it all began.
Atkinson was her student in a writer’s workshop through the RLC Community Education department when it was under the RLC Foundation. That experience changed his life forever and gave him the desire to chronicle his life history. He wrote a dedication to Claxton in her copy that spoke of her knowledge and encouragement which inspired him to write. She agreed to write a foreword for future copies of the book.
When asked to describe how it felt for one of her students to have been so inspired by her teaching, the 84-year-old educator simply said, “Joy.”
“I have the highest regard for teachers,” Atkinson said. “In my opinion, it is the highest calling on the face of the earth.”
His story starts with the birth of his youngest brother when he was three years old, living on the family farm east of Mt. Vernon where five generations of Atkinsons have resided. It tells of how the death of his mother brought on the tough decision to quit school at age 13 and tend the family farm.
According to him, it is an account of the highs and the lows through which he has lived – from back when he “owned the world” to when Pearl Harbor changed his world forever. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Atkinson volunteered for the Armed Forces and served in World War II as an airplane mechanic with the U.S. Air Force. The story includes how, while stationed in Arizona, he paid for his wife, Doris, to move there so the two could marry. They moved back to Illinois and continue to live on Atkinson land east of the King City.
When he presented her the book, he said he wanted to thank Claxton in person and that being able to do that was “wonderful.”
Claxton is a resident of Benton and widow of Celebrity Boats founder Fred Claxton. She was recently the lead contributor for the “Friends of the Theatre” campaign through the RLC Foundation which raised more than $63,000 to revamp the college’s theatre. She was accompanied at the book presentation by her daughter and son-in-law, Jerry and Laura Eader. Atkinson came with a couple of his fellow students from Claxton’s community ed classes, Vida Headrick and Wilma Guy.
Headrick was also inspired by Claxton to expand on a book she wrote about the tornado of 1982 which devastated tiny Conant – a mining village located between Sparta and Pinckneyville.
“She was always encouraging,” Headrick said of her teacher. “Her criticism was always complementary and constructive. It gave me great insight into my own life. She was the inspiration for me to take it to the next level.”
Those interested in purchasing a copy of Atkinson's autobiography for $10 can contact him at 618-242-3941. Proceeds will go toward offsetting printing and production costs.