Harley R. O'Neal

Harley R. O'Neal, the third child and first son born to Eleazer O'Neal Jr. and Rebecca Rees O'Neal was delivered into his parents' loving arms on September 6th, 1885 in the small town of Ellsworth, McLean County, Illinois. We don't know much about Harley's childhood years and upbringing, but we can deduce his character from events in his adult life.

On a sunny day in April 1905, 19 year old Harley took Miss Bertha Amanda France as his bride in Paxton, Ford County, Illinois. Their marriage was to be short lived, however. On June 3rd, 1907 "Bertie" gave Harley his first son, Vernon O'Neal. As a result of complications during childbirth, Bertha passed away later that same day.

Bertha Amanda France O'Neal was the youngest daughter of Henry S. France and Martha J Dugan France. Henry France was born in Newton Township, Muskingum, Ohio in 1838 to Jacob France and Phoebe Elizabeth Slack. Bertha's sisters were Marietta France, born in 1867, Phoebe Elizabeth France, born in 1871, and Cora Belle France, born in 1873. Bertha also had a brother, Jacob Urena France, born in 1875, who died at ten months of age. According to cemetery inscriptions in the Rankin-Union Cemetery, R. Vernon O'Neal is buried next to his mother. He died 9-23-1971. Jacob, Henry, Martha, and Bertha' s Uncle John are also buried in Rankin-Union Cemetery, Vermilion County, Illinois (Note, the history of Bertha's family was obtained from John France, a great great grandson of John France, who was an uncle of Bertha, and sent to me by Bill Boyle.)

How Harley coped with the loss of his young bride will always be a mystery to us. To assure a maternal hand in the raising of his infant son Harley enlisted the aid of his mother in law, who acted as a surrogate mother to Vernon until Harley remarried.

Harley coped with the tragedy dealt him and moved on with his life. Nearly six years later he took a new bride, Miss Myra Norris. She raised Vernon as her own, and together, they bore and raised seven additional children. Harley and Myra were married February 26, 1913 in her mother's home in Rankin, Illinois. The Rev. H.C. Johnson officiated, and the attendants were Elmer Jones and Miss Edna Marshall of Rankin. They started housekeeping on a farm near Cheneyville (where Glenn, was born) and later moved to Rankin where they lived for 18 years before moving to Milford in 1934.

Harley was the Fire chief of Rankin, Illinois and on the Rankin town board and the Rankin High School Board. Harley bought the Harmon home, a large Victorian that had belonged to a prominent Milford family. 200 North Chicago Street was just the right size for his large family. His son, Glenn, was 20 when they moved to Milford, and was a freshman at the University of Illinois.

On moving to Milford,Harley opened the O'Neal Plumbing and Heating, which he later sold to Glenn when he retired in 1950. He was a member of the Milford High School board for many years and a prominent businessman in Milford. He and Myra celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on Sunday, February 24, 1963 with an open house at their home from 2 to 5.

Harley's granddaughter, Mary Lynn O'Neal Morin wrote:

"My grandfather, Harley, owned a plumbing and Heating business in Milford, Illinois, and lived in a beautiful Victorian home that was a joy to visit; stained glass windows, maid's stairway, pocket doors and a sweeping front staircase. My grandmother cooked great meals, and when the entire family got together, it was loud and jovial. He loved to go "up north" to Wisconsin to fish and enjoy the wild country. As a child, I was always fascinated by the large fish hanging on the dining room wall."

"I don't believe my grandfather was a religious person, but he was a good person. My grandmother was the one who belonged to the Milford Methodist Church, and she often provided flowers for the altar from her beautiful garden. Her flowers and beautiful arrangements were known around Iroquois County, for she entered them in many fairs. She also provided flowers for local graduations. The garden in her backyard was breathtaking: there was a trellis seat that we grandchildren fought to sit in to enjoy the garden."

"It was beyond this garden, on the other street, that my mother and her family lived several years with her grandmother and she often watched the handsome young man who moved into the Harmon house come and go She even cleared the brush between her grandmother's backyard and my grandmother's garden so that she could see the yard (and Glenn!) better. She still has a nasty scar made by the scythe that sliced her leg as she was clearing the area. Eventually she met the new neighbor, my father, Glenn O'Neal."

"Later in his life Harley began doing woodworking. He made toys and garden gadgets such as Indians in canoes with whirling paddles; he often let me help him paint the finished products!!"

"When he became quite ill and finally sold the house, he came to live with my parents; and my mother helped care for him until she developed a heart condition and was unable to do so any longer. He then went to stay in Cincinnati, Ohio with his youngest son, Earl, who was a minister. It was there that he died on November 2, 1975 at age 90. Myra died on January 9, 1970. All of the children of Harley and Myra are now deceased, with the exception of one."

Harley lived a full life and passed on November 2nd, 1975 at 90 years of age. He can be found today at his final resting place, the Maple Grove Cemetery in Milford, (Iroquois County) Illinois.

Below are some photos of Harley and Myra and their family.

Source information for this article provided by the following descendants:
Eleazer O'Neal: Bev Crowe
Harley O'Neal and descendants: Mary Lynn O'Neal Morin
Bertha Amanda France: Bill Boyle

Below is a photo of Waneta Lucille Hartberg O'Neal, widow of Glenn O'Neal and her children. From left to right, Sharon Ann O'Neal Bohlman, Dr. Steven Wayne O'Neal, Waneta Lucille Hartberg O'Neal and Mary Lynn O'Neal Morin, taken in 2003.

Mary Lynn O'Neal Morin and husband Ron Morin, 2003