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July 15, 2018

6/25/2018 2:15:00 PM
Community leader Chamblin dies at 86
Jack Chamblin was larger than life.

Chamblin, Robinson, died Thursday at 86. He was, among other things, a long-time business and civic leader in Robinson and an avid supporter of his alma mater, the University of Illinois.

He was also a sportsman who loved hunting, fishing, golfing and horse racing. And that's just scratching the surface.

"He was a very accomplished man who shared the fruits of his successes with a lot of other people," said Greg Meador, who had worked with Chamblin during Chamblin's time as Crawford County Bank chairman. "He loved his family and his community."

"He had a gruff exterior, but a heart of gold," Robinson businessman Steve McGahey said.

A Robinson native, Chamblin first rose to prominence here playing football at Robinson High School in the late 1940s. He was then accepted as a cadet at West Point, where he played varsity ball. His time there was cut short, however, by a cheating scandal in 1951.

As Tony Chamblin explained in Illinois Iron Man, his 2014 biography of his cousin, Chamblin had not cheated, but he was aware of the events and had discussed them with other cadets.

When the top brass ordered him to name those cadets, he had to choose between the academy's honor code - which demanded a cadet not tolerate cheating - or his own code - which told him it was wrong to implicate other innocent cadets.

Chamblin took the Fifth and was among 90 cadets - including Army's entire varsity football team - dismissed from West Point.

Chamblin landed on his feet, though, U of I had wanted him before he signed with the academy and football coach Ray Eliot there made it clear he was still welcome. The NCAA, however, penalized him for the West Point dismissal by banning him from playing for two years.

Once Chamblin was back in the game, he became a star center, earning second-team All-Big Ten and academic All-Big Ten honors. He was named the Illini's MVP his senior year. He earned a masters degree in geology, then served two years in the U.S. Air Force, having soured on the Army.

In 1962, Chamblin returned to Robinson to join his father at Bradford Supply Co.. Founded in Bradford, Pa., in 1907, Bradford Supply had fallen on hard times by the early 1960s when the elder Chamblin acquired it. Jack Chamblin, with the assistance of his friend Dick Heath, secured the funding necessary to keep the company going.

Chamblin took over a chairman of the board in 1988 and started turning control over to his sons in 2011.

One of Chamblin's most important achievements for the local community was the creation of CRAW-PAC, a political action committee for Crawford County. The bipartisan group, founded in 1982, was the only county PAC in the state for a time. It was also the longest-lived PAC of its kind.

McGahey, who served with Chamblin on CRAW-PAC and the Robinson Chamber of Commerce, explained Chamblin helped found the PAC because "he knew nothing was going to happen in southeastern Illinois if we didn't get active."

Chamblin personally courted the state's top officials, hosting receptions at his Hilltop Ranch for at least three governors - Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan.

"That's probably the biggest reason we've got the prison out there," McGahey said.

And once Crawford County was picked as the site of the state's newest prison, Chamblin immediately started working to get as many local people jobs out there as he could, McGahey added.

Jack Morris recalled how he first worked with Chamblin when he was attempting to buy Heath family interest in Bradford. Later, he introduced Chamblin to future governor Thompson, then unknown here.

"For the next 50 years we worked pretty closely. I think history will show we made a difference," Morris said, recalling working with Chamblin on CRAW-PAC. "We were good for the state and for the local area."

But there were smaller - though no less significant - measures Chamblin took to aid the community. When Peggy Keen, then Robinson chamber executive director, told him local families could not afford shoes for their children, he didn't hesitate.

"It's not going to happen here," he said, instructing her to send the families to a local shoe store and the bills to him.

He did this for 10 years, McGahey said. "He was always generous with his money."

Chamblin also helped iron out a sewer dispute between the City of Robinson and Leaf Inc. and secured funding for Lincoln Trail College.

He contributed to charitable organizations, helped the U of I Foundation and athletic fund and the Illinois State Historical Society. He founded the Merle Crosby Scholarship in honor of his RHS football coach and helped with the Palestine City Rodeo.

Chamblin also donated land to several nonprofit organizations and served as chair for the local Boy Scout Drive.

Among his other accomplishments was serving as chairman of the chamber's economic development committee and serving six consecutive terms as president of Quail Creek Country Club.

Sports continued to play a role in Chamblin's life after college. He raised race horses at his ranch and in the late 1960s was involved with the PGA tournament Heath started at Quail Creek.

Chamblin generally avoided publicity for his community services, although he was honored for them several times. In November 2014, Chamblin was honored as an "Illini Legend" by the Champaign News-Gazette, just in time for his 85th birthday. It focused on the instrumental role Chamblin played over the years at the U of I.

For all his achievements, Chamblin took a humble view of himself. In meetings, "it was all about Crawford County, nothing about Bradford or Jack personally," McGahey said.

When discussing his efforts to save Bradford, he once told his cousin, "I was just a pig iron salesman. Buying and selling products is not very creative."

Still, he hoped people would think well of his efforts after he was gone.

Asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said, "not famous, but not forgotten for what I have tried to do for the communities in which I have lived."

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