Oral History of Forgottonia – Getting to Know Forgottonia’s Governor: Cadie & Courtney Churchill Interview with John Marshall

“They needed a spokesperson. Neal was ideal because he was a great speaker, he was highly intelligent…and he was kind of a ham actually. He loved to talk in front of people.”

-John Marshall (friend of Neal Gam, Forgottonia’s Governor)

ON THIS EPISODE

As part of our Oral History in Forgottonia series, Cuba High School sophomores, Cadie & Courtney Churchill, set out to learn more about Forgottonia’s governor, Neal Gam. If you are unfamiliar with the Forgottonia story, Neal was chosen to be the governor for the tongue-in-cheek movement while he was a theatre student at Western Illinois University. Neal grew up in South Fulton and was a veteran of the Vietnam War before enrolling at WIU. Before his passing, Neal was featured on the History channel show “How the States Got Their Shape” (episode The Great Plains, Trains, and Automobiles). Neal’s humor was on full display as his segment even went on to inspire a musical production entitled Forgottonia the Musical (see our links below, both experiences are streaming for free online). Sadly, Neal passed away in 2012 not long after this segment aired (check out the links below to learn more).

John Marshall was one of Neal’s closest friends. He grew up in Table Grove, IL, and graduated from VIT school. He graduated from Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL in 1970 with a degree in Language Arts and a Minor in P.E. (while also playing football and running track). John began his career teaching at Franklin, LaHarpe, and Astoria for 5 years before switching careers and working at the AMAX Coal Company in Vermont, IL for 7 years. In 1983, Mr. Marshall got back into education working as a teacher and coach in Rushville, IL. He became a high school principal in 1990, an assistant superintendent in 1994, and a superintendent at VIT in 1999. John retired in 2014 but continued working for the Regional Office of Education as head of their alternative schools, and later as the Fulton & Schuyler truancy officer. In 2019, he retired completely, but still proudly serves as an Ipava Fire Protection District trustee, Spoon River College Foundation board member, and Regional Board of School Trustees member. John has been married for 54 years with 2 sons and 5 grandchildren.

OBJECTIVES

  • What Neal Gam was like
  • How Neal became involved with the Forgottonia story
  • Tracing the popularity of the Forgottonia movement: Just how big was this movement? And was Neal really a celebrity?
  • How the Forgottonia region has changed today
  • Why it’s important for young people growing up in this region to learn about the Forgottonia story
Before majoring in theatre at WIU and being chosen as Forgottonia’s governor, Neal was a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Cadie & Courtney Churchill BIO

Cadie & Courtney are sophomores at Cuba High School. They are the daughters of Jason and Christy Churchill. Cadie is involved in history club, cheer, and club volleyball. Her favorite place to eat is Chick-Fil-A and her favorite TV show is Stranger Things. After high school, Cadie is thinking about going to college to become a speech-language pathologist.

Courtney is involved in history club, FCCLA, drama club, cheerleading, and club volleyball. Her favorite place to eat is Texas Roadhouse. Her favorite tv show is “Orange is the New Black,” after high school, she plans on going to school to be a gynecologist. 

For your information – Cadie & Courtney are twins.
By all accounts, Neal was joyful, charming, hilarious, very social, and always fun to be around Yet as this Purple Heart demonstrates, Neal–like so many veterans–quietly carried his war experience his entire life.
Neal portraying the role of “Governor of Forgottonia” (Photo available at the WIU Archives)
Cadie & Courtney had the chance to view several photos of Neal at the WIU Archives. This one taken at the historic Bernadotte Bridge is their favorite, & also appears to be the most well-known one of Neal as Governor of Forgottonia.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Our ORAL HISTORY of FORGOTTONIA series is part of the NCHE Rural Experience in America grant in partnership with the Western IL Museum, and the Western IL University Archives.  In 2021, the National Council for History Education (NCHE) recruited teachers nationwide to participate in free and open professional development that occurred asynchronously and synchronously online, focusing on rural history and historical inquiry using Library of Congress sources. Teachers travelled to Norman, Oklahoma to collaborate with a community partner selected from their hometown to create a public history project.

These community-based, service-learning public history projects enable students to investigate their local and regional histories deeply and to connect their own histories to the larger human experience. A key purpose of this project is to link rural communities and their histories to national narratives and primary source collections, and the targeted focus of this proposal provides an avenue for such purposeful connections.

Our project, The Oral History of Forgottonia, is one of several throughout the country featured by the NCHE. To learn about other projects featured by this grant, check out this list and visit the links at the bottom of this post.

SOURCES

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