Cabon Hill honors one of its own

Lissy selected as 2022 grand marshal

Photo by Michele Micetich
GARY LISSY, SR. was selected by the village of Carbon Hill to serve as its 2020 Homecoming grand marshal.

Michele Micetich
Special to the Coal City Courant

Gary Eugene Lissy—you may know him as the John Deere tractor guy—is being honored by the village of Carbon Hill as its 2022 Homecoming grand marshal.

Each year the village honors one of its own during the annual Homecoming, now in its 73rd year, and as this year’s honoree, Lissy joins a long list of community residents who have been recognized for their service to the community.

The 40-plus year resident of Carbon Hill has supported the community he calls home since the day he moved there, and his participation in the annual Homecoming dates back to when he was just a kid.

Everybody from every town came to Carbon Hill for the festival back then and the Lissy family would park and sit under the big tree in Annie Testa's yard all day on Homecoming Sunday. They ate a packed picnic lunch and bought hamburgers from the food stand for supper.

As most know, the Lissy Family has a deep connection to the Homecoming parade with its impressive display of vintage John Deere tractors.

For more than 40 years the green and gold machines have been a part of the parade, a tradition started by Lissy’s son, Gary Jr., who was 13 when he drove his first tractor in the 1976 Carbon Hill parade—it was a 1938 John Deere two row planter he purchased in 1974.

And every parade—even the year it poured—the tractors have been in the lineup, with just one exception. In 1993, Gary, Sr. had a heart attack and machines stayed parked.

The most tractors in one parade was somewhere be-tween 27 or 30. Gary Sr. and Gary Jr. bought the tractors together and it was a hobby that became something they shared and enjoyed.

Lissy’s path to Carbon Hill wound from his formative days in the village of Godley to married life in Braidwood and Coal City.
Lissy came into the world two months earlier than expected on June 8, 1943 in St Joe's Hospital in Joliet. His early delivery resulted in a month long hospital stay until he was big enough to leave the hospital.

The youngest of four children born to John and Elizabeth [Hakey] Lissy, he joined siblings Marion [Sanders], John Jr, and Sylvester “Snook” at the family home in Godley.

As a youngster, Lissy would stand on the back hump in the car when his older brothers were driving any of their Model A cars—a '29, a '30 and a '31—and would watch as they shifted gears. That's how he learned to drive.

Today cherished snapshots are around to show his family through the generations, and Gary's baby bib and blue leather baby shoes are preserved in a display case in the living room of his Carbon Hill home.

Lissy describes the little Lissy house in Godley as having one bedroom with two beds, he and his brother, John sharing a mattress. The front porch feather tick bed was warm, but if you slept out there you woke up with frost on your nose. And, they could hear the noise from Soxy's tavern through their window.

The kitchen had a coal stove stoked with corn cobs and lump coal from nearby McElvain's mine. There was no indoor plumbing.

Lissy attended the Godley Grade School that was just down the street. There was only one teacher—first Mr. Dillon and then Mrs. Adeline Aten—in the two room schoolhouse. One room was used for classes and the other for big events. A big plus was there were inside toilets.
The school building is still there, but it’s apartments now.

Among his memorabilia from those days, Lissy has his report cards, a sweet letter from Mrs Aten, and a fancy framed Champion certificate he won in a Joliet Herald News sponsored Will County Schools Spelling Bee.

Surrounded by many relatives, neighbors, and school mates, life in Godley was familiar with people welcome in each others' homes along the streets of the small village.

Lissy recalls an old guy named Vigo who lived south of Godley that regularly tied up his team of horses at Patty Buffo's saloon to have a few short snorts and then would walked the team of horses back home. Such characters continue to tumble out in stories as Lissy recalled his hometown. A keen observer of daily life and people, there was always something impressionable which he noticed.

When he was in eighth grade he farmed 80 acres on the Buffo farm using two trac-tors - a '39 B and a '40 B and of course these were John Deeres. The Buffo farm actually was his uncle’s, but the farm kept the name of the original owner. That year he got waist high soybeans off the farm acreage, 30 bushels to the acre, he said.

There are so many other memories from his youth from the Lily Mine dump, Mr. Smith’s DeSoto car, Big Sally slicing bologna for the town kids’ sandwiches to the “working girls” sunbathing outside the Farmhouse.

After grade school graduation Gary attended Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, because his family lived on the Will County side of Godley, a village that sits on both sides of the Will-Grundy line road. The school bus picked the kids up at Rohrback's corner and went down the gravel road to Reed Road to where the Halls lived on the corner and then went across by Tessler's land, which was all the Eureka Coal Co. property. And then the bus continued on to the school in town.

Lissy went two years to high school and then left to get married at the age of 16 1/2 years old. It was 1959.

His love, Nell LaZier, had already graduated from Reed-Custer. Nell's sister, Mona and her husband, Frank Basham drove the young couple to Clayton MO., to be married and when they arrived he had to call his mom to mail a notarized letter to Missouri saying it was OK for him to get married.

He left his little home with no running water to a place where there was not only running water and a toilet, but a coal heat stoker furnace. This place in lower Braidwood had been the old schoolhouse and was transformed into three apartments by Porky Lestina, who owned it.

Lissy had to fill the coal stoker that heated the whole building. But the thermostat was next door in Nell’s sister and brother-in-laws apartment. That meant Gary and Nell's apartment had to be kept really hot to keep Frank and Mona's warm. Trader Weidner and his wife, Pauline lived in the third apartment.

The couple welcomed a daughter, Michelle in 1960 and by the time Gary Jr. was born the family had moved into a home owned by Angelo Pogliano on Shabbona St., in Coal City.

The family would then move on to various farm locations and settled in Carbon Hill in 1978. They moved in a week before Christmas, their tree being a fir they cut down from their yard.

In 1978, Marty Kaiser was living next door with Tony and Jen Balbinot on the east and the Sheridans were across the street.

At the time the first block of First Street on the west side was all empty lots. The Fowlers were on First Street further north and Alec and Barbara Balbinot and their two daughters were up on the corner of Second Street. There was plenty of empty property in 1978, Gary said.

As residents of the village, Gary and Nell got involved with the community and did their part to support the Homecoming.

Lissy volunteered to work the beer stand and food stand, and Nell did her part baking pies to be sold at the food stand.

Daughter Michelle says she remembers her aunts and uncles asking what kind of pie and what day so they could go buy a piece.

Over the years Gary worked for Diamond Brothers, Arrow Road, DesPlaines Chemical and the Arsenal for 10 years and three months, he then hired on at DuPont in 1976 and worked there 22 years.

He shares that he always liked to work and do things well. At age 55 he retired to take care of Nell, who passed six months later.

He didn't like “not working” so he took a position at Mazon-Verona-Kinsman as custodian and after nine years he retired once again at age 65.
Retirement has been filled with more work. Devoted to maintaining his property, his tractors, and his garden, Lissy and his daughter do lots of chores together, inside and outside. They make spaghetti sauce, jalapenos, anti-pasto, peppers and bagna cauda dip.

His affection for the green and yellow tractors he’s known for are featured on a beautiful white lighted John Deere Christmas tree with over 300 John Deere ornaments that stays up year round, and its surrounded by John Deere memorabilia.

Lissy’s contributions to the community he calls home will be recognized on tonight (6 p.m.) with a plaque presentation at the entrance of the village park, a ceremony that will officially kick off the annual Homecoming.

As the grand marshal, he will lead the annual parade that steps off at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 26 and that will be followed by an open house at the Carbon Hill Museum beginning at 4 p.m.

Everyone is invited to the open house, refreshments will be served and John Deere photos, scrapbooks and stories will all be on hand.