Friday, December 5, 2014

The Man from Ovaltine

James G. McMillan was born in Broughty Ferry, Scotland, on July 10, 1881 to a family of modest means. He attended Grove Academy and won many medals in sports, especially swimming. He was a member of an elite group called “Ye Amphibious Ancients” who always opened their swimming year with a dip in the Firth of Tay on New Year’s Day. He was apprenticed to chemists for a total of six years, becoming a pharmacist in 1905.

He moved to London and after a period of time became a detail man for A. Wander, Limited. During World War I, he served in the Home Guard as a second lieutenant. In the fall of 1919, he moved to the United States to manage the Wander Co. Their small factory built in 1917 was located in Villa Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. “He ably and constructively filled the position of President and General Manager until his retirement in 1951 at the age of 70.”

In 1935, a large addition was added to the Wander factory in Villa Park. Their business steadily gained in sales throughout the depression. In 1932 the company had expanded by building a one story building and now they added three more stories with a floor area of some 60,000 square feet. In 1935, the plant used 15 million pounds of grain, half a million pounds of milk per week and the eggs from 70,000 chickens. The new plant contained a bowling alley and was totally air conditioned. There was also a baseball field for the employees to use. During the Great Depression Mr. McMillan was paid $100,000 a year. I have been told it was a good place to work and that employees were well treated. Those of you who live in the area, as I do, know that the plant building has now been converted to apartments.

Not far from the plant was a modern “moving picture” theater of old English design, erected and owned by Mr. McMillan. It appears the building still exists and has recently been converted to three floors and three apartments. The Ovaltine club, carried on the social activities of the company’s employees; they also had an orchestra and three tennis courts. When the plant closed in 1985, it was a complex of 23 buildings on 15 acres with 237,000 square feet of work space. In the 1950s the factory ran at peak production and employed 300 to 400 people.

In March of 1923, James McMillan married Emily Virginia Brady. She was born in 1890 in Lucas, Ohio. Mrs. McMillan died in Passavant hospital (Chicago) on July 22, 1959. She was founder and first president of the Illinois Opera Guild and was president of the Great Lakes Hospital Music League for which she received a Navy citation. Mass was said in Holy Name Cathedral. As of this writing, I do not know her place of burial even though there has been a diligent search.

Mr. and Mrs. McMillan lived at 445 Sheridan Road in Winnetka, Illinois. It was the former home of Albert Pick and later was famous as the home of W. Clement Stone who entertained lavishly in this mansion along the lake shore. McMillan bought the house in 1931 and lived there until his death in 1965. At the time, the house contained 17 rooms and a 3-car garage. The sound of bagpipes could be heard often at 445 Sheridan Rd. Mr. & Mrs. McMillan regularly entertained their Scottish friends. You can see the house and read its history if you goggle: 445 Sheridan Rd., Winnetka, IL.

James McMillan was an active member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. He served on the Board of Governors and was made an Honorary Governor when he retired. Under the leadership of Hughston McBain in 1964, the Scottish Home added a 14-bed health care wing to its facility. Total cost, including furnishings was $200,000.  James McMillan was the major donor and so the wing was named for him. He died shortly before the dedication. We have made a diligent search of the burial place of Mr. and Mrs. McMillian without success. If anyone reads this who can help, we would like to pay our respects.

(The last reference in the Chicago Tribune was a wedding announcement, between Suzanne Snells and Franklin Martin deBeers III of Glenview, Illinois, February 15, 1965. “His great-uncle is James G. McMillan of Winnetka.”)

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

December 14, 2014 - The annual Christmas Party and a general meeting of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society membership will take place in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home beginning at 3:00 p.m. RSVP 708-408-5591.

January 10, 2015 - History Club Meeting. Our speaker is Ana Koval, President/CEO of the Canal Corridor Association.

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