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The Tavern Owners Club

Did you know that at one time Peoria was known as the “Whiskey Capital” of Illinois?  According to a PeoriaMagazines.com article written by Jerry Klein, between 1837 and 1919, there were 24 breweries and 73 distilleries in Peoria.  In another publication, “A Brief History of Peoria,” published by C.A. Cockle in 1896, it was noted that out of all of the breweries in Peoria, three of them had the lions’ share of the beer market: Gipps Brewing Co., Leisy Brewing Co. and Union Brewing Co.

The picture on this page shows the Peoria Fire Department attempting to put out a fire at Gipps Brewery.  The picture was taken in 1957 (the year I was born) and shows the entrance side of the building which was on Bridge St. (now known as Kumpf Blvd).  The entire Gipps complex consisted of the building shown in the picture along with several attached buildings.  The damage from the fire was so extensive that the brewery closed and never reopened for business.

When I was growing up, my grandfather (Tom Williams) told me about how he had his own coal delivery business in the 1940’s.  At that time, he owned his own dump truck and made daily trips to a coal mine near Canton, Illinois.  One of his customers was Gipps Brewery.  When he made his daily delivery of coal to Gipps, he would back up to a large opening in the Brewery building and dump the coal into a basement storage area.  The coal was used as fuel for the furnaces to generate heat for the brewing process.

My grandfather was of Lebanese decent and spent the better part of his youth in the country of Lebanon.  In the Lebanese language, a grandfather is referred to as “Jidu.”  That’s what all of his grandchildren called him: “Jidu.”

One particular incident that Jidu told me about concerning Gipps Brewery happened in 1946.  One day, after Jidu was done delivering coal, the general manager of Gipps told him that his services were no longer needed.  Apparently, a relative of the general manager had purchased a truck and was given the coal delivery job by the manager.

At that time, there were 23 taverns in Peoria that were owned by Lebanese men.  The men met every Tuesday evening at a building on S.W. Adams Street that was owned by the Lebanese community (the predecessor to the Itoo Hall).  The tavern owners started with dinner and then spent the rest of the evening playing cards and enjoying each other’s company.  The name of their group was the “Tavern Owners Club.”  Several of the men were related to Jidu and all of them were his friends, so he joined them every week for dinner and cards.

At the meeting on the Tuesday after Jidu’s encounter with the manager of Gipps Brewery, Jidu told his friends what had happened.  The next day (Wednesday) every one of the men in the Tavern Owners Club called the sales representative for Gipps Brewery and told him to “come and pick up your d*** beer.”  By Friday of that week, Jidu had his job back delivering coal for Gipps Brewery.

I have a lot of great stories I could tell you about Jidu, but the Gipps story is one of my favorites.  It shows how much power and influence a small group of friends had over the manager and the corporation Jidu worked for.

I thought about my grandfather and the Gipps Brewery incident last Sunday when I read the letter that was inserted in our Church bulletin.   The letter, which was from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), stated that new federal government regulations had been put into place to force religious organizations such as Catholic colleges, hospitals and charitable agencies, to include in their policies and private health plans coverage for all FDA approved sterilization procedures and contraceptives, some of which include drugs that cause abortions.

The letter from the USCCB asked Catholics to object to the new regulations by sending an email message to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with follow-up messages to representatives in Congress asking them to support a law that would allow an exemption for religious organizations.

Last Monday a judge in Springfield, Illinois, denied the request of Catholic Services of Illinois and Illinois Catholic Charities to stop the state from cancelling contracts that allowed the agencies to place children in adoptive homes.

On June 1st of this year, a new Illinois law went into effect that prohibits foster care and adoption service providers from discrimination that is “based on race, marital status and sexual orientation.”  As a result of the new law, the State of Illinois refused to honor its contracts with Catholic Services and Catholic Charities agencies because the agencies refused to place children with homosexual or unmarried couples.  A lawsuit was subsequently filed by Catholic Services of Illinois and Illinois Catholic Charities against the State of Illinois.  The judge’s ruling last Monday allowed for the cancellation of the state’s contracts with the Catholic agencies.

As you may already know, my wife and I home educated our children through grade school and high school.  For over 25 years we’ve been members of a couple of different home schooling organizations.  Every time any new law is introduced in the State of Illinois that will in any way restrict or hinder our right to educate our own children, we receive an email explaining the details of the newly proposed law, the person or persons who introduced the law, and where the proposed law likely originated, which is usually the Illinois Education Association and/or the Illinois Federation of Teachers.  (Follow the money!)

The email also provides the names and telephone numbers of the senators and representatives that need to be contacted.  Update emails are regularly sent suggesting further action and, if necessary, a date is set for members to travel to Springfield, Illinois, to meet directly with legislators and to show them how united we are.  All of this takes place before there’s a vote on the newly proposed law.  There have been several laws that have been introduced over the past 20 years to restrict our rights to educate our own children.  Thanks to superior leadership and several thousand passionate members, the homeschoolers have been able to stop the passage of every single law that has been proposed.

Although the group of 23 tavern owners were able to reverse what happened to my grandfather, it is almost impossible to reverse government regulations and laws that have already been passed and put into place.  If we Catholics don’t get our act together, we’re not only going to lose our rights to openly practice our faith, but we are also going to be fined and punished for our beliefs.  The forces of evil are becoming bolder and more aggressive with their new laws and intimidation tactics.  Rather than fear the backlash that we as a group could deliver to them, they ridicule us and laugh in our face.

This is not a criticism of the USCCB or of any priests or bishops.  It’s a criticism of the more than 60 million Catholics in the U.S. who are too lazy and lukewarm to care about their faith, their religion and their Church.  I don’t have any simple solutions to this problem other than to ask you to pray that the right group of lay Catholics will organize and put a strategic plan into place to reverse the dangerous trends that we are up against.

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6 Responses to “The Tavern Owners Club”

  1. Marie Says:

    I agree that a grassroots Catholic organization could have tremendous power in influencing American legislation. I’m sure some exist, but must not be widely known or utilized to their full potential. I receive emails from American Family Association (a Christian organization) whenever action is needed to contact legislators in Washington regarding bills contrary to AFA’s beliefs, which are mostly consistent with Catholic teaching. They also contact television networks and other corporations, and are frequently able to effect change with the large number of AFA members who express their concern. I would love to see a distinctly Catholic version of this, but the AFA is worth receiving emails from if you are interested in these sorts of things.

  2. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Harry, thank you for the stories and the background information. Some I knew, because I, too, have email contacts & mailigs that provide means of writing to Senators & Congressmen. I’ve received replies from some, who seem sincere. We have our CSJ Community Members whose primary Work is Social Justice, alerting us of such issues as you mention, including the fight to abolish the Death Penalty. I still pray for Troy Davis – we lost that battle to Georgia’s shame. Now there’s Reggis Clemons in St. Louis… No end to the needs. I can still write, type, and mostly pray! And I do for you and Georgette, as you already know! Sister Roberta

  3. Harry Says:

    Thanks for your comments and prayers Sister.

  4. Harry Says:

    Thanks for the information Marie. I’ll signup for the AFA emails. We need more Catholics like you who pay attention and take action. Keep up the good work.

  5. Robin L. Fritz Says:

    My greatgrandfather John T. Spelman owned & operated a tavern on 1900 Washington called “The Leisy” in late 1800’s or early 1900’s. I am doing an ancestry search & can’t seem to find much info on him. May be of Irish descent?? He died in 1903. His wife Pauline (Lena) then married Hermann Schmolder, & the two of them operated “The Leisy”, not sure if they changed the name. Any info someone has about my greatgrandfather would be greatly appreciated, thank you, Robin

  6. Harry Says:

    I’m sorry, but I can’t be of any assistance to you. You may want to check with the Peoria Historical Society.

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