The bombing of Pearl Harbor is a day that Wally says he will always
remember, even though he was only 7 years of age. His uncle, who had
just reached the draft age, was outside with Wally, keeping him
entertained. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and they were having a
good time, Wally says, when his parents came outside and told them
about the bombing.
Wally also recalls VE day in Mount Pulaski. He
said there was a spontaneous parade around the square with folks
celebrating. The fire trucks were pulled out and driven around, the
church bells were all ringing, and the fire whistles were being set
off at the station.
He reminisces that things young people today just seem to think
have always been here, he saw them come into being. He recalls the
advent of the atomic bomb, the invention of television, all the way
down the line to computers and cell phones.
After graduating from Mount Pulaski High School, where he was
active in music and worked in the school library, Wally joined the
In the Navy he traveled to Germany, Sweden, the Mediterranean,
spent Christmas in Cannes and in the second year was on board a ship
in South America. He recalls that of all those places, Sweden was
the place he liked best. He said it was the cleanest place he's ever
Israel and Egypt were at war with one another at that point in
time. Wally recalls that on one occasion: "It was the middle of the
night and the officer of the deck saw flashes of light off to one
side, and he thought it was lightning. Then he saw flashes of light
off to the other side, and soon realized that we were sitting
between two ships who were firing at each other over our ship."
After the Navy, Wally returned to the family farm and remained
there with his parents.
Wally recalls quite clearly where he was the day that President
Kennedy was shot. He was at the Christian Church in Mount Pulaski.
Volunteering his time even then, he recalls that they were
electrifying the console of the church organ. One person working on
the organ was a man who had brought his family to America from one
of the Eastern Block countries.
Wally had gone home for lunch, heard the news and told the folks
at the church about it when he returned there. He recalls the man
saying in astonishment: "You mean here, in the United States of
America, this can happen."
By 1966 his mother's health was failing, his father had passed
away four years earlier, and she became concerned about living in
the country. She wanted to move back to Mount Pulaski, nearer to
family and friends, and she didn't want the responsibility of the
farm, so she sold it.
Wally laughs and says, "She sold the farm, then said to me, 'Now,
what are YOU going to do?’"
His concern for his mother's health and the desire to be there
for her brought him back to Mount Pulaski, where be became a city
letter carrier. Wally stayed with the post office until his
retirement in 1992.
Until the summer of '92, state employees managed the Mount
Pulaski Courthouse as a state historical site. In June of that year,
budget constraints forced the state to close the site. The mayor and
community of Mount Pulaski wanted the site reopened and reached an
agreement with the state that the town would buy back the property
for $1. The state would maintain the building, and the community
would provide volunteers to keep it open.
Wally had retired in October of that year, and it was the first
of December when all the agreements were finalized and the
courthouse became a community project. He says, "Someone asked me if
I wanted to get involved, and I thought, Why not? And here I still
am 16 years later!"
Wally is now the site director of the courthouse and is
responsible for keeping the building open and in good working order.
One of the most important things that have to be done, he says, is
climate control. With furniture and documents that are 150-plus
years old, humidity and temperature are important to their
There are 14 volunteers for the site -- not nearly enough, Wally
says -- but it is difficult to get folks to volunteer when they have
to work for a living, so the volunteers are primarily retired people
Wally says he personally spends about three days a week there,
but sometimes it's more, as occasions arise that other volunteers
are not able to come in when scheduled.
[to top of second column]
Tim Guinan with the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency oversees
Lincoln's New Salem, Postville Courthouse and Mount Pulaski
Courthouse. Guinan stated in a recent e-mail: "Wally continues to be
a very reliable and hardworking volunteer for the Illinois Historic
Preservation Agency and the Mount Pulaski Courthouse. (His)
dedication and commitment to the site visitors provides visitors
from all over the country an opportunity to tour the courthouse."
When asked about the people he's met while working in the
courthouse, Wally said that perhaps the most memorable moment was
when Sen. Dick Durbin came in. He explained that it is a proven fact
that the courtroom upstairs has its original flooring. Wally said
that Durbin was in awe as he bent down and placed his hands flat on
the floor, saying that today he had touched a spot where the great
In addition to his work at the courthouse, Wally has been a
volunteer at the Mount Pulaski Township Historical Museum, he's
assistant treasurer at the Christian Church in Mount Pulaski, and a
trustee for the Mount Pulaski Library.
Sue Stewart, who serves on the board of the Mount Pulaski Museum
and is a member of the same church as Wally, says she's known him
since childhood. "I was raised in rural Lake Fork, and Wally and his
parents lived in the farm behind our timber. Therefore we have been
friends since my birth," she said.
"Wally doesn't say no when people ask him to help," she added.
"He sells soda, popcorn, 50/50 tickets or any other money-making
project that comes up. He loves the Mount Pulaski community and
works to make sure history is preserved for the next generation. He
also works hard in the Mount Pulaski Christian Church. He has been a
member of the museum for many years. If someone in the Mount Pulaski
community deserves to be noted, it would be Wally Kautz."
Wally says he enjoys a morning routine that includes a trek
around the square visiting with friends. He starts at the post
office, checking for courthouse mail, then drops in at the dentist's
office to say hello to folks there. Moving on, he visits the bank
and the hardware store and usually ends up at the antique store,
where he enjoys a cup of coffee with the owner. He says that
everyone knows about when he's going to be stopping by, and if he's
a few minutes late in his schedule, they tease him about
On a more serious note, though, Wally says that while he has very
little family, he has lots of good friends and neighbors, all of
whom showed their love and concern for him when he became ill a
while back. He said that even a longtime friend who lived in
Maryland came all the way to Illinois to help out.
Wally adds that he is blessed and privileged to be a part of the
community and to have so many friends in his life. He goes on to say
that he knows there are people who don't have what he has. He
doesn't understand how they get through life when they have no one
to care about, and no one to care about them.
There are many people in Mount Pulaski who have wonderful things
to say about Wally, but his friend and the presiding president of
the Mount Pulaski Museum, Jane DeWitt, perhaps offered the best
summary of all when she said: "(He) is the head coordinator for the
courthouse, and we are truly blessed to have him. He is perfect for
the job, being born and raised in Mount Pulaski area. Wally shows
such enthusiasm with his knowledge of the town history, Abraham
Lincoln and our courthouse. He works tirelessly with the volunteers
and the daily upkeep of this historical site."
She added: "With all the budget cuts with the state (and shame on
them for giving Mount Pulaski the short end of the stick!) Wally at
times pays for things himself. He is admired and adored by many for
being such a 'gentleman' and a 'gentle man.’ (He's) quiet, with a
sometimes wonderful sense of humor."
When asked how he would describe his own life, Wally smiles and
says, "Wonderful." After a short pause, he adds, "I have no
[By NILA SMITH]