Lasting Tribute

Posted: December 13, 2022

Lifelong Farmer Honored by Family – James E. Montgomery Ag Scholarship established

Family members describe James Montgomery as “humble, honest, and hard-working.” He was a devote family man and a dedicated farmer.

In his 93-year-life, he raised his family of nine children and farmed in the Kirkland, Esmond and Malta areas. He also understood the value of a good education, having a college education himself, and supported his children in their educational pursuits.

James Montgomery was a family man and farmer, shown in 1991 at the age of 85.

To pay tribute to James, his family has endowed a gift to the DeKalb County Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture to create the new James E. Montgomery Ag Scholarship.

“I think Dad would be honored by this scholarship in his name,” said Marilyn Montgomery, his daughter. “Education was important to him along with being a lifelong farmer and Farm Bureau member.”

The new scholarship will be available to college students in an agricultural field of study in the Spring of 2023.

Family Man & Farmer

James Edward Montgomery, Sr. was born Dec. 3, 1906 on the Applebee Farm south of Malta on University Road. He was the first of seven children born to Edward Montgomery and Nettie Suzanna Applebee Montgomery.

James enjoyed raising chickens and beef cattle. He built one of the first chicken confinement buildings in the area in the 1940s.

The farm where he was born belonged to his maternal grandparents, George Henry and Margaret Stone Applebee. The Applebees purchased the 120-acre farm in the 1880s which remained in the family for over 100 years.

Eventually, James would move with his parents to another farm, on McQueen Road. In his youth he would walk to school through the fields to a small schoolhouse located on Route 64. Upon completing 8th grade, James would go to Sycamore High School to complete his high school education.

In the 1920s, James would get to high school by riding the train from Esmond to Sycamore on Sunday evening. He stayed at a boarding house in Sycamore during the week as he went to school. For most of his high school years he stayed at the boarding house ran by Lucius and Agnes Atlee Darnell. It was here that he met his first wife, Mildred Darnell, Lucius and Agnes’ youngest child.

After graduating high school, James went to Wheaton College for two years. “He said he got what he needed to farm so he went back to the farm,” explained Marilyn Montgomery. “His parents supported his education. Previously, his mother had gone to Northern Illinois Teachers School in DeKalb.”

The Applebee Farm in rural Malta was the birthplace of James Edward Montgomery. James is shown here with his parents Nettie (Applebee) and Edward Montgomery and Aunt Mabel Applebee in 1909. The farmhouse still remains on the farmstead at University and Gurler roads.

James and Mildred Darnell married in 1929 and began farming near his parent’s farm on McQueen Road. In 1940, the young couple bought a farm on Byers Road, south of Kirkland. On this farm they raised their family of four daughters until Mildred’s death in 1951.

As part of the war effort, James grew hemp on his farm and POW’s tended the field. Now, 80 years later, James’ grandson, Phil grows hemp on a nearby farm.

In 1954, James married Mildred “Millie” Carter. They had three daughters and two sons. Their complete family of nine children were all raised on the Kirkland farm and attended school in the Kirkland-Hiawatha School District. James served on the Kirkland-Hiawatha School Board for 14 years, including being president.

When the youngest of their children, Carter, graduated from Hiawatha High School the family received a plaque commemorating 44 years of children in the school district, from 1941 to 1985.

Marilyn explains that their large farmhouse accommodated their family of 11, but since there was an age gap between the older and younger children, some of the older children were “out of the house” before the younger ones were born.

James grew corn, hay, wheat and oats and raised pigs, beef cattle and chickens. He had one of the first confined chicken houses, featured in Prairie Farmer magazine.

“Dad saw a lot of changes in farming,” said Marilyn. “He started farming with horses. He walked to a one-room country school and hand-picked corn on his way to school. He had one of the first tractors in the area and first chicken confinements.”

James loved farming with his International tractors. He expanded his farming operation by purchasing additional acreage amounting to a total of 600 acres, which he farmed with his family.

James and Millie Montgomery’s family attended the 85th Birthday celebration for James in 1991. In the front row are the nine original children, with spouses in the back row, and grandchildren throughout. The family picture was taken in front of the barn which James built.

He retired from farming at the age of 65 in 1971, but later helped his son, James, Jr., seasonally with planting and harvest.

James passed away in 2000 and Millie passed in 2016.

The family farm in Kirkland is still owned by James and Millie’s children and the house is occupied by their grandson Matt Montgomery and his children.

Their family legacy consists of 9 children, 19 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren.

The Montgomery original nine children are: Bonnie Kollman, Rock Falls, IL; Carol Miller, Malta. IL (dec.); Marilyn Montgomery, Rock Falls, IL; Sharon May, Lowgap, NC; Janice Suber, Kailua, HI; Rebecca Rodriguez, Weslaco, TX; James Montgomery, Jr., Kingston, IL (dec.); Ruth Johnson, Rhinelander, WI; and Carter Montgomery, Sanford, ME.