Oldest Living Alumni
Wanda Roberts Dilliner

As Arcola Alumni Association continues its recognition of an elite group of Arcola High School graduates who have reached the age of 90 and beyond, local resident Wanda Roberts Dilliner is now honored. This 1944 Arcola Township High School valedictorian was recognized by the U.S. War Department for her work leading to the production of the atomic bomb during World War II. Wanda shares her recollections of her childhood, her years at Arcola High School and her life following.

Wanda Louise Roberts, the first child of farming parents Homer E. and Daisy Dobbins Roberts, was born at home east of Arcola on October 17, 1926, and now resides in the same home where she was born 93 years ago. Wanda’s younger brother, Lowell, was born in 1930.

Wanda began first grade during The Great Depression and her memories of her years at the Filson rural school are abundant. She recalls 12- 15 students in grades 1- 8 attended the one room school house with no indoor plumbing. Well water was available for drinking from the pump outside the school building. Wanda remembers Mrs. Modesta Rollings Gilbert, her first and second grade teacher, not only taught all students in all grade levels, but was also responsible for firing up the furnace in the winter and various other janitorial duties.

She and her brother walked about one half mile each day to Filson School, with their sack lunches in hand. Wanda remembers the desks were neatly arranged in rows and students were not allowed to talk unless they were called upon. She notes she loved all subjects, as well as their morning and afternoon recesses, when students raced to the swings and their softball games. On occasion, Filson students were allowed to enjoy a softball game with neighboring rural schools. In the winter months, Wanda and her friends built snow forts and also cleared paths in the snow as they played the Fox and the Goose game. At times, her father provided a horse and sleigh ride to school in the winter months. On very special occasions, Wanda was able to walk home with friends who lived in Filson, and then visit the Filson store for a candy treat.

When asked about her memories of The Depression years, Wanda recalls those challenging times made everyone realize food, clothing and shelter were their real priorities. Her father brought corn in from the field to heat their home in winter and her grandmother made her dresses from printed feed sacks she trimmed in ruffles. Their garden and livestock provided food for the family.

Wanda’s family and friends enjoyed the times when they gathered together for potluck dinners, cards and board games. At times during the summer months, they were able to attend free movies in Hindsboro, which included silent movies. Wanda’s father had a love of horses and showed his own horse at the Coles County Fair in Charleston, as well as other nearby county fairs. She remembers her family also took special two-day vacations to the Illinois State Fair, where they enjoyed the horse shows. Wanda and her family attended the Filson Methodist Church, where she remembers week-long revivals with visiting evangelists. Mrs. Josie McCarty was Sunday school teacher and a great inspiration to Wanda and other children at the church.

The 5-9-1940 Arcola Record-Herald reported the 8th grade pupils of eleven rural schools were to graduate in exercises at Arcola First Methodist Church the following evening. Wanda Louise Roberts was the only student to be promoted from the Filson School.

Wanda continued her education at Arcola Township High School in the fall of 1940. With no bus transportation for rural students at that time, she relates the parents of high school students took turns providing transportation to Arcola. During her years at Arcola High School, Wanda experienced some of the most historic events in AHS history. Prior to her sophomore year, the high school was struck by lightning on July 24, 1941, resulting in a fire that burned the top floor and the auditorium. High school classes started as scheduled on September 2nd with no roof on the building and it was necessary for some classes to be held in available West Side Grade School classrooms. Wanda remembers students walked to the West Side School in all kinds of weather that year. The Torch described how high school classes were interrupted with the pounding of the workmen and falling debris, but the students understood the work had to be done. The yearbook also stated electric lights were in use for the first time in the school year on November 1, 1941, and the roof was not completed until the following year.

Despite the impactful circumstances of the July 24th fire, students at AHS encountered even greater events later that same year. Wanda and her classmates were sophomores at the time of the Sunday, December 7, 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. involvement in World War II. She states she will never forget the following day when students gathered together at school and listened intently to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s radio broadcast as he asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

Even during war time, Wanda and her friends enjoyed Arcola football and basketball games, as well as the nickelodeon and treats at Lester Davis’ ice cream parlor. They attended movies at the Ritz Theatre and Wanda remembers the Tarzan movies were her favorite. She and her friends enjoyed Big Band records when they gathered in their homes. Wanda also worked at Mace’s dime store on weekends while she was in high school.

In the spring of 1942, during her sophomore year, Wanda accepted a date with George Dilliner, who was a junior at AHS. Wanda and George were able to borrow his father’s car to see a movie at the Mattoon theatre, the first of many dates in high school. George entered the U.S. Army Air Force following his 1943 graduation. Wanda recalls she was able to accompany George’s parents, Frank and Minnie Dilliner, and sister Wilma Dilliner, when they visited George at Gowen Field at Boise, Idaho.

Dilliner states she loved her years at Arcola High School and all subjects she studied. Math was her favorite class and Miss Modesta Scott was one of her more memorable teachers. Wanda played flute in the high school band, was a member of the Masque and Gavel organization and was involved in the junior class play. The junior class elected Wanda their treasurer and she was also selected to be her class representative for Girl’s State at McMurray State College at Jacksonville, IL.

While the 5-25-1944 Arcola Record-Herald reported the Class of 1944 had chosen Wanda Roberts as recipient of the DAR award for good citizenship, their class history stated she had been chosen for the award because of her popularity. The Record- Herald also noted Miss Modesta Scott, class advisor, presented 4-year honor awards to Bobby Bright, Janice Honn, Wanda Roberts and Frances Sisk at Class Night on Tuesday, May 23rd. Wanda was honored to be her class valedictorian at a time when that distinction was not publicly recognized.

The May 18, 1944 Arcola Record-Herald reported thirty members of the ATHS Class of 1944 were to graduate in the high school auditorium on Wednesday, May 24th, with only 28 in attendance to receive their diplomas. Charles Hudson and Pat Harrington were both air cadets in the service of their country at the time of graduation and “had practically completed their work before having been called, having left during the semester, the board of education voted to award them diplomas.”

Wanda Roberts Dilliner’s 1944 classmates included several graduates who local readers may recall: Charles Bickel, Jr., Jean Blagg Ghere, Bobby Bright, Charles Edwards, Lowell Garrett, Patricia Lindenmeyer, Martha Pullen Herrington and Frances Sisk Thompson.

Following her high school graduation, Wanda continued her education at Utterback’s Business College in Mattoon, IL. Upon meeting all requirements to earn her diploma, Wanda then moved to Decatur when she accepted a position at Houdaille-Hershey Plant. There she worked as a secretary for an engineer on the highly secretive atomic bomb project, known as the Manhattan Project. Only family and close friends knew the nature of her work and she was not allowed to talk about her work. Wanda states all files were very confidential and typed in code. The US War Department Army Service Forces - Corps of Engineers awarded her a certificate reading, “Wanda L. Roberts, Houdaille-Hershey Corp., has participated in work essential to the production of the Atomic Bomb, thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of World War II.”

Wanda had been offered a position in Oakridge, Tennessee, where the atomic bomb was assembled, but declined the job and a move to Tennessee because of her upcoming marriage to George Dilliner. George completed his service as a tail gunner in the Army Air Force in October 1945 after flying 54 missions over enemy territory. Mr. and Mrs. George E. Dilliner were pictured on the front page of the 2-28-1946 Arcola Record- Herald following their Thursday evening, February 21st wedding at the Arcola Christian Church. Wanda’s Decatur roommate, Rosie Goetz Hammett, served as Matron of Honor and Milton Butler, George’s 1943 AHS classmate, served as Best Man.

The Dilliners rented their first home west of Arcola as George continued to farm with his father. Over the years, Wanda and George also lived in Arcola, on a farm located north of Arcola and on the Helm farm northwest of Arcola. Wanda was involved in the family farming operation for both the Dilliner and Roberts farms. She drove the grain truck to the elevator, ran farm errands and took meals to the field. Their daughter Beverly was born in 1949, son David in 1952 and second daughter Angela in 1963. In the spring of 1973, Wanda and George completed major remodeling before moving into the Roberts’ family home east of Arcola, where Wanda had been born 46 years earlier.

Through the years, Wanda and George were involved in their children’s 4-H club activities, Scouts and athletic events. Wanda has served as an election judge, elementary school room mother, Girls’ Booster Club president, PTA president and also delivered Meals on Wheels. She is a faithful 62-year member of the Arcola United Methodist Church, where she has served on the administrative board, taught Sunday school, helped with Bible school and was an active member of both the United Methodist Women and the ladies’ circle organizations. On Sunday mornings, she continues to drive from her rural home to church services at Arcola UMC. She also enjoys the church’s monthly singles luncheons, as well as occasional bunco games at the community building. Her athletic loyalties are tied to Arcola Purple Riders, the Fighting Illini and Chicago Cubs.

Wanda and George enjoyed more than 53 years together before his passing on November 20, 1999. Their three children are Arcola High School graduates: Beverly (1967), David (1970) and Angie (1981). David passed away in 2018. Wanda states her favorite times are with her family. Their three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren have provided her with great memories. Wanda and her daughter, Beverly McGee, were able to watch her granddaughter play college basketball in Hawaii, and she has flown to Florida several times to attend Gator and Jacksonville Jaguar football games when she visited daughter Angie Adamson and her husband.

When Wanda is not visiting her family, at church, singles luncheon or bunco, you may find her at home in her television room – the same room where she was born 93 years ago.

Arcola Alumni Association is pleased to honor 1944 graduate Wanda Roberts Dilliner.

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Last Revision November 1, 2019