To Mark 90th Birthday
Sunday will mark the 90th birthday of Frank Melville MacConnell, the county's oldest lawyer who resides at Winona Lake.
Because MacConnell has been ill, the birthday celebration will be a quiet observance at the home of a son-in-law, Isaac Hire.
MacConnell was born in Warsaw Jan. 1, 1866, in a house which stood just west of the Pennsylvania railroad station's present site. One of his earlier memories is of being held in his mother's arms and watching troop trains pull into the old depot. "The men in blue" were returning from occupation duty in the south after the civil war.
Frank, eldest of six children of Nathan Bowman MacConnell and Melissa Clentine Huffman MacConnell, is proud of being a ninth generation American. Descendants of an ancient Scots clan, MacConnells fought in the Revolution and founded McConnellsburg, Pa. A MacConnell's two-story log cabin of pioneer days is still preserved, with original fire places and authentic furniture used long ago.
The cabin is owned now by another family who always welcome the MacConnells. Frank saw the home some years ago when he attended McConnellsburg's sesqui-centennial celebration as an honored guest.
Liked Outdoor Life
While Frank was still quite young his family moved out on Lake street to the old Garner house and then to 422 West Main street. He was fond of hunting, fishing, boating and outdoor life in general. He liked the rain too and there's a family anecdote about it.
Once when he was five or six he was left in charge of his baby sister, Ida, while his mother did some shopping. Ida seemed to be missing the pleasure Frank felt in the rain, so he held her head out an open an open window.
He remembers long ago seeing a small brass cannon submerged in Center lake. How it got there was a mystery to the small boys diving deep into the water. Frank has told his children of the river boats that used to come up to a landing across the road from the old Wright farm near Lake Street. Small wild creatures such as muskrat, mink and coon, were very plentiful then.
Today there aren't many Warsawans who remember Theodore Dreiser, a famous editor and novelist in later years. The Dreisers lived in the old Thralls place which was between Main and Center streets, east of Union, and not far from the MacConnell home.
In the southwest corner of the MacConnell yard was a large boulder which the boys used every Fourth of July as support for their skyrocket through. One year Frank and his younger brother, Will, were preparing for their celebration about dusk and getting along peaceably in the pleasant task.
However, the Dreiser boys, who had no fireworks, came over to lend a hand and Theo assumed the leadership. His technique was faulty and disaster followed. The first rocket, insecurely anchored, slipped off the trough and head for Theo who caught the full impact squarely in the abdomen. Exit the Dreisers, crying and making threats.
As he grew to manhood Frank became a creditable boxer and weight lifter. He studied pharmacy and served as prescription clerk in Charley Pyle's drug store, later bought by I. D. Webb who operated it for many years on the present site of the First National bank.
Pyle went out to Hiawatha, Kans., in the early '80's and wrote for Frank to join him there. The idea appealed to Frank who passed his Kansas state pharmacy test with a perfect score.
In Hiawatha, a thriving town situated between two Indian reservations, Frank fell in love with a winsome and talented young school teacher, Miss Frederika Rohl. They were married and had three children, Alice, Charles and Marie. By this time MacConnell was a partner in the Kentner-MacConnell drug store.
Those days in the west people contrived their own entertainment. Frank's deep bass voice added strength and richness to the church choir. He played violin and directed an orchestra for which Frederika was pianist.
Alice died in 1893, her mother in 1895. Stunned by the double bereavement, Frank sold his interest in the drug store and boarded a train for Warsaw with five-year-old Charles, the baby, Marie, and her nurse.
He worked awhile for I. D. Webb but wasn't very happy in the drug business. Besides, he had decided he wanted to study law. A brother, Bert MacConnell, and sister, Ida, Mrs. Sam Ulsh, were living in Detroit Michigan, so Frank went there. He obtained a job with Mutual Benefit Life Insurance, later joined H. W. Noble and Co., oldest bond house in Michigan.
He returned to Warsaw and his law studies, and on May 8, 1900, was admitted to the bar. The Honorable Hiram S. Biggs was judge of the circuit court then. A committee composed of A. G. Wood, Edward Haymond and L. W. Royse, passed on MacConnell's qualifications.
Warsaw has always been his favorite town and he is firmly convinced that some of the finest men and women on earth have made it their home. MacConnell has studied the history of Wayne township and Kosciusko county exhaustively. Perhaps his interest really began with the stories told by old Mrs. Carpenter, who lived near the Tippecanoe river. The events she remembered occurred 120 years ago.
In Detroit Frank played first violin with the city symphony. In Warsaw he often led orchestras at the old Opera House and at many church affairs. In addition to being an accomplished musician he could sketch quite well. His main interest all through life, however, has been books. Mrs. Mary B. Brown, Warsaw librarian, comments that Mr. MacConnell has probably read more extensively in serious literature than anyone else in the community. His vocabulary is enormous.
Some year after his return to Warsaw, MacConnell married Clara Ellen Thomas, a widow with a daughter, Kathleen, who is Mrs. Charles Campgel, of Puente, Calif.
Kathleen recalls walks with her father along the Tippecanoe. He would point out the various medicinal plants and many pot herb, seldom used now, but really delicious.
Max Rapp, formerly of Warsaw and now an executive of Universal Studios in Hollywood once told Kathleen he might have benefited greatly had he followed her Dad's advice on music.
Both Kathleen and Charles commented on Frank MacConnell's feeling that a lawyer is a public servant. He never asked an outright fee but was willing to accept what his client thought the legal services were worth. Charles MacConnell resides in Tucson, Ariz.
Kathleen writes: "I remember one old lady who came to Papa with four dollars. It was all she had. He noticed her worn, cracked shoes and learned it was her only pair. He put the money in her hand and sternly told her his fee was new shoes which she was to be wearing within an hour. She wept and complied. I believe lawyer and client were both broke then, but happy, too."
MacConnell's son, Charles, says: "Dad never took anything for himself. He was always the giver. One bitter cold day on Fort street in Detroit a shivering, nondescript character solicited a dime for coffee. Dad gave him a quarter, then took off his own, almost new overcoat and gave it to the bum. It was a typical act. His life has been filled with just such incidents."
Kathleen remarked, "Papa has never lived in the present. It is always years in advance or years in the past. Therefore it sometimes is difficult to understand him." Charles closes with this summary: "Dad is a great man, one of the few who had the courage to live his own life. He is also a gentleman and a scholar, rather rare in today's mechanistic world."
Warsaw Times-Union Friday, December 30, 1955
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