Oldest Living Alumni
Rosemary “Rodie” VanGundy King

As Arcola Alumni Association continues its recognition of Arcola High School graduates who have now reached the age of 90 and beyond, we honor Rosemary “Rodie” VanGundy King, who graduated with the AHS Class of 1943.

Rodie VanGundy was born October 30, 1925, at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the first of three children of Clarence W. VanGundy, Sr. and Alma Marie Dannenmueller VanGundy. The VanGundy family later moved to Macon, Illinois, and then to Decatur, where Rodie attended elementary school. Following her eighth grade promotion in Decatur, Rodie learned she and her family would be moving to the much smaller central Illinois town of Arcola. Her father would be manager of Williams Grain Company in Hindsboro.

Although reluctant to leave her friends in Decatur, Rodie headed to Arcola with her parents, brother Clarence W., Jr. and sister Barbara. She entered Arcola High School in the fall of 1939, and in just a few weeks, Rodie’s delightful demeanor was quickly rewarded as she was chosen class president, cheerleader and also the Freshman Class Homecoming attendant. She soon learned to love the small town of Arcola.

On July 24, 1941, in the summer prior to Rodie’s junior year, Arcola High School was struck by lightning and much of the school was damaged by fire. This event was just the beginning of some of the most historical times at AHS. School reconstruction took place while classes were in session throughout Rodie’s junior year. In December of the same year, students learned of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and watched as their teachers and fellow students left AHS to join the war effort. With an anticipated shortage of labor for the spring farming season, students attended school six days a week in order to end the school year early on May 6, 1942.

Despite turmoil in the world, a familiar routine continued for students at Arcola High School. In her junior year, Rodie was chosen GAA Vice-President, and was also involved with Arco-Lite and GAR. Her classmates once again selected Rodie as their class attendant to the Homecoming queen. As a senior, she was Arco-Lite Society Editor, GAA President, Home- Economics Vice-President, Science Club member and also participated in the Masque & Gavel play.

In her October 1, 2009 Record-Herald interview with Phyllis Bergfield, Rodie stated, “We had the best time in high school. We would go to the Ritz Theater to see movies, to the Sweet Shop and to Lesters to dance. When I learned to drive, sometimes my dad would let me have the car. It was a big old Buick and we would load it full of kids.” During her senior year, Rodie accepted a date with a Tuscola High School senior, John King. Despite the teasing of her friends, she continued to date the young man from Tuscola. The AHS Senior Class Will, as reported in the June 3, 1943 Arcola Record-Herald, stated, “Rodie VanGundy leaves everything but Johnny and she prefers to keep him.”

Rodie graduated on Monday, May 31, 1943, with her class of 42 students. Some of her fellow AHS classmates included Don Bartholomew, Lowell Bergfield, Hobart Milton Butler, George Dilliner, Marjorie Gardner Morris, Bobby Ghere, Russell Ghere, Bob Holaday, Bertha Mae Hood, Glenna Hopkins McLane, Phyllis Knaus Randell, Robert Lutz, James McLane and Helen Walls Logan.

Following her high school graduation, Rodie attended Stephens College, a two-year private women’s college in Columbia, Missouri. After earning a degree in Early Childhood Development in 1945, Rodie was able to continue in a training position at Stephens College through the 1946-47 school year.

During Rodie’s years at Stephens College, John King enlisted in the Naval Reserves in 1943 and was stationed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was able to attend the University of North Carolina. He then transferred to Great Lakes Naval Station at North Chicago in June 1944 and served on the USS Portsmouth until June 1946.

In September 1946, John enrolled at Millikin University in Decatur, where he studied business and accounting, and also played varsity basketball. As Rodie returned to Arcola in June 1947, John also returned to his home and then managed the grain elevator in Hindsboro, which was now VanGundy Grain Co. One fall night, after a long day of harvest, John visited Rodie at the VanGundy home in Arcola. As they sat outside together atop the tall flight of front steps, John fell asleep and then rolled head over heels down the stairway. As the story goes, Rodie laughed so hard she could barely muster the strength to help John up from the steps.

In the fall of 1947, the couple prepared for their upcoming November wedding. Rosemary VanGundy and John Barlow King were married in the Arcola Methodist Church on November 29, 1947. Family records note their wedding was the first to take place in the church following extensive remodeling of the sanctuary. The wedding reception followed in the VanGundy family home at 450 West Main Street. Rodie and John made their first home together in an apartment near the grain elevator in Hindsboro.

John was soon called to active duty in the Naval Reserves in July 1948 and the newlyweds headed to Pensacola, Florida, where John was stationed at Ellison Field. Rodie was able to use her teaching skills in daily physical education classes as she instructed 300 daughters of other service couples. While stationed in Florida, Rodie and John shared an apartment, as well as their grocery and living expenses, with another service couple, who remained their great friends through the years.

The Kings returned to Arcola in September 1952. John was again manager and now also partner in VanGundy Grain Co. at Filson, Kemp and Hindsboro. The couple rented a home in Arcola and their first daughter, Nancie, was born in October 1952. Rodie and John later purchased a 100-year-old home at 427 East Washington Street, where they would live for the next forty years. Their second daughter, Jan, was born in 1956, and their son, John VanGundy “Van”, in 1961.

While John continued at VanGundy Grain, Rodie concentrated on their home life, family and friends. She was a volunteer driver for Arcola Telecare, helped with potlucks and bake sales at the Arcola Presbyterian Church and enjoyed bridge club with her friends. In the 1970s, Rodie’s eye for fashion was put to use as she created clothing displays at CaBett’s boutique in Arcola.

Their three children, Nancie (Class of 1970 and 2013 Charter Distinguished Alumna), Jan (Class of 1974) and Van (Class of 1979) were very active students at AHS and Rodie was a willing volunteer for her children. While their children were students at AHS, the King family welcomed three or more foreign exchange students into their home.

At the time of John’s retirement in 1980, the King children were in college and beyond. John and Rodie were able to travel more. One notable trip took them to Europe, where they purchased a car and then sailed home with it on the Queen Elizabeth 2.

As they continued in their retirement, Rodie’s interest in cooking led to their purchase of The Cook’s Collection in the Arcola Emporium. Their trips to market and food shows to purchase gourmet foods and merchandise allowed more travel around the country. One trip led to a chance encounter with renown chef and TV personality Julia Child.

As avid golfers, the Kings spent much time with their friends on the greens at Kaskaskia Country Club. In retirement, they were able to spend six months each year in their home on the golf course at the Palm Desert Country Club in California. They eventually returned to Illinois year round and then purchased a home on the golf course at Lincolnshire Country Club in Champaign.

In the summer of 1994, not long after their move to Champaign, Rodie suffered a massive brain aneurysm while on the golf course with her sister. She was subsequently airlifted to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where her surgery was performed. Rodie was comatose for many days following, but with the assistance of her family, friends and her exceptional determination, she was able to make a remarkable recovery. Rodie and John then shared many more happy years together in Champaign until his death in 2006.

After John’s passing, Rodie knew she wanted to be back home in Arcola, where she could be closer to her family and friends. Her brother, JR VanGundy (AHS Class of 1945), and sister, Barb VanGundy Wills (AHS Class of 1951) were nearby in Arcola and Tuscola. With the support of her children, Nancie King Mertz, Jan King Haddock and Van King, Rodie returned to Arcola in 2007. She first purchased a home on East Madison Street, next door to Helen Harrington (AHS Class of 1942), who had been her unfaltering friend since high school. Rodie also maintained ties with both the Arcola Presbyterian and the Arcola United Methodist Churches. Rodie then became one of the first residents at Arcola’s Carriage Crossing in 2013.

Just as her friendly personality had garnered the admiration of new friends when she arrived at Arcola High School in 1939, Rodie acquired more friends in her new home at Carriage Crossing. And now, nearly 77 years after first entering AHS, Arcola is still home to Rodie VanGundy King.

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Last Revision December 14, 2017