John English (1917-2009}
John English was born in Bloomington and, in 1939, upon graduating Illinois Wesleyan University with a degree in Chemistry, began farming 400 acres in McLean County. John served in the Army during WWII as a mechanic on B29 aircraft.
John made a major impact on this community through his many involvements and his quiet and unassuming way of getting things done. The organizations he was involved in often overlapped and he was a master in connecting the dots and working in a collaborative way. He had unlimited curiosity and ideas that sometimes took decades to come to fruition. He was progressive in his politics and a believer in strong local government.
These personal qualities and his professional involvement led him to be named the recipient of the first WJBC Spirit of McLean County award in 1977. Personnel at the radio station said that they had John in mind when they created the award.
John English contributed to his community in many ways. John served on the McLean County Soil and Water Conservation board from 1952-78. He was a member of the Unit 5 School Board from 1957-65. John was elected to the McLean County Board in 1974 and served until 1982. He was a founding member of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate and was active on its first board of directors. John was one of the first male members of the League of Women Voters of McLean County and served on its board of directors.
But John English’s true passion was horticulture.
John developed an interest in plants and horticulture at a very early age. John’s father was an attorney in Bloomington and one of the members of his father’s firm was a U.S. congressman who served on the House Agriculture committee. When John was a boy, his father would receive a large wooden box each year for six years. It contained plant material that the U.S. government wanted to introduce to determine if any of the plants would be suitable for cultivation. John and his father soon had quite a collection of unusual plants. John also gave a great deal of credit to his mother, who quizzed him on plant identification as a child, and his grandmother, who bred irises and cajoled him to save peony seeds, with instilling what became incurable horticulture fever.
John English was a founding member of the Parklands Foundation serving many years on its board. He selected trees and aided in Parklands’ reforestation efforts. John was active in the McLean County Master Gardeners program. Since 2002 the Master Gardeners confer the John W. English Award of merit for accomplishments in the horticulture area.
John was a longtime member of the Citizens Beautification Committee in Bloomington. In 1976, John helped the Beautification Committee found local Arbor Day activities which provided tree seedlings to school children in collaboration with the local school districts and Parks and Recreation Department.
John English was also one of the founding members of the Friends of the Constitution Trail and, upon his passing, left a legacy gift to the Friends.
One of his proudest accomplishments was being responsible for the planting of over one million trees at Comlara Park and on Parklands Foundation lands. In 2003, the City of Bloomington’s Beautification Committee and the Friends honored him with the creation of the John English Arboretum along the Interurban Branch on west Washington St.
Today, through the John English Fund, the Friends continue that legacy with John English Arboretums in Shirley, Towanda, Lexington and Funks Grove.