The Daily American - Benton, IL
  • 'Growing old ain't for sissies'

  • “Growing old ain't for sissies!” While taking liberties with grammatical correctness, that statement was made by one of the best educators in the history of Southern Illinois, L. Goebel Patton.
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  • "Growing old ain't for sissies!"
    While taking liberties with grammatical correctness, that statement was made by one of the best educators in the history of Southern Illinois, L. Goebel Patton. As Patton approaches his 99th birthday on October 24, he is still a vital citizen in the West Frankfort community.
    At one meeting of the West Frankfort Lions Club, the guest speaker was referring to his father who was in education many years ago. He told the pride of Lions that whenever their school system had problems, the solution was always, "Call Patton in West Frankfort and get his advice." Patton has been a member of the Lions Club for 70 years. At a recent meeting, the club spontaneously broke out in a hearty rendition of "Happy Birthday."
    The former Frankfort Community Unit School District 168 superintendent had better get used to the song. He is likely to hear it often in the coming weeks, before and after the big day. And if they can get the lighting of the candles cleared through the West Frankfort Fire Department, there will probably be a few cakes, too.
    Throughout the years, the soon-to-be centenarian has been honored often for his many accomplishments, hailed as a community leader, and is the only person ever named twice as the Daily American Citizen of the Year. Through the many good and few bad times, Patton has maintained the same philosophy.
    "I've always looked forward, I'm not looking back," Patton said. "There's nothing you can do about the mistakes you make along the way other than learn from them and keep moving forward."
    Over the years, Mr. P. has received many memorable honors. For instance, he was once honored by Illinois State Representative John Bradley (D-Marion) on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Bradley read to the nonagenarian a House resolution that honored him for a lengthy and impressive list of accomplishments that spanned more than seven decades, at that time.
    Among said accomplishments are Patton's 50 years in education in the West Frankfort school district and more than 75 years as a member of West Frankfort Second Baptist Church. Patton worked more than a half-century as a member of the Franklin County Salvation Army and was the first-ever chairman of Southern Illinois Schools Credit Union when it was formed more than 50 years ago.
    Patton generously lends his wisdom and sage advice to many organizations over the years including the American Cancer Society, the West Frankfort Lions Club, the Masonic Lodge, West Frankfort Men's Prayer Breakfast, Franklin-Williamson Human Services and the John A. Logan Foundation Board.
    Much like an athlete who yells, "Gimme the ball," when the game's on the line, he is the go-to guy when the task seems overwhelming. For instance, he was the chairman of the building committee after a fire destroyed the sanctuary of his church. Ironically, it is the same position he held 50 years earlier as chairman of the building committee when the church was built in 1950. There are myriad such "then and now" stories. And to whom did they go when they decided to build a magnificent new indoor swimming pool and facility at Frankfort Community Park? L. Goebel held weekly meeting of his fund-raising committee at the old city council meeting room for three years. He ran it in a stern manner allowing no nonsense and no bickering. His leadership resulted in raising a half a million dollars. In expressing their "thank you" the banquet room at the facility is named in his honor.
    Page 2 of 2 - A lifelong West Frankfort resident, Patton retired at age 70 after working as an educator for 52 years in the West Frankfort school system. It seems he was always a teacher, educator and profound executive. Patton began teaching in September 1931 - a couple of months before his 18th birthday. He once commented, "Luckily, nobody asked me how old I was, and by the time they got around to it in October, I had already turned 18," he said.
    Patton then became principal at the now-closed Lincoln Elementary School when he was 19, and also served as principal of Central Junior High School. Patton was later named superintendent of the grade school district and then moved to the high school after the two districts merged. He also has the distinction of being the first superintendent when the unit school district was formed in West Frankfort.
    Patton acknowledged that serving as a school administrator for more than 50 years was not always a popular position. Comments that he made, even years ago, are as relevant today as ever and as new as tomorrow. "You can't always make everybody happy and sometimes, as an administrator, you have to make tough decisions," he pontificated years ago. "My approach to the job was to always be honest, tell the truth and try and do the best I could. I never flinched, though, when I had to make a tough decision. If they accepted it, fine, and if they didn't, well that's the best I could do."
    One report written about Patton describes one of those tough decisions. That was the formation of a unit school district in West Frankfort - a move that Patton spearheaded in 1958, that eventuated in 1960. The consolidation, which resulted in several small schools within the city closing, prompted some disgruntled employees to "hang Patton in effigy," a rather dubious honor at best.
    He has summed up his philosophy: "Your faith, family and friends. once you get past that, there's not a lot left. I try to do something good for somebody every day. Even if it's something small like sending somebody a card or making a phone call to somebody who's been sick, I try not to let a day go by without doing something." And his classic comment: "I like to say that service to people and helping others is the rent you pay for the space you occupy here on Earth."
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