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  • Dale C. Maley

A look at Reis family history

(John B. Reis entered Naval Reserve in January 1942 and discharged in April as Apprentice Seaman)

The Reis family has been essential to Fairbury's history since the late 1800s. The story of the Reis family began with the birth of John B. Reis in Germany in 1859.

John B. Reis had a brother named George Reis in Germany. Family lore says that John and his brother George had to flee to America to avoid capture for hunting in Kaiser Wilhelm's woods without permission.

Between 1879 and 1881, brothers John B. Reis and George Reis emigrated from Germany to Fairbury. Family lore says that George Reis died and was buried in an unmarked grave in St. John's Catholic Cemetery north of Fairbury.

In 1886, John B. Reis, 26, and Margaret Haffey, 40, married at Fairbury. Margaret Haffey and both her parents were born in Ireland. James Haffey (1819-1878) and Margaret Erskine (1820-1893) were her parents. John B. Reis ran a tailoring shop in Fairbury for most of his working career. Near the end of his career, he worked in a tailor business in Pontiac with one of his sons.

John B. and Margaret Reis had two boys. One of their sons was John James Reis (1890-1966). He married Eleanor Margaret "Nellie" Taylor (1884-1966). They had five children. John J. Reis worked as a tailor in Pontiac.

Joseph P. Reis, born in 1887, was the other son of John B. and Margaret Reis. Joseph and John J. Reis grew up in Fairbury. Joseph P. Reis married Zoa Genevieve Personett in 1917. Joseph was 29, and Zoa was 19 when they married.

On April 6, 1917, America entered World War I. This conflict lasted until November 11, 1918. On February 21, 1918, Joseph P. Reis was inducted into the U.S. military. His induction paperwork noted that he had been a musician, tailor, and teacher. His basic training was at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas. He became a member of the Aero Squadron. He was promoted to Sergeant 1st Class and was discharged on February 5, 1919.

While Joseph P. Reis served in World War I, his first child, Joseph Patrick Reis, Jr., was born on May 7, 1918. After being discharged from the military in 1919, Joseph P. Reis returned to Fairbury and ran a dry cleaning business.

Joseph P. and Zoa Reis had four children. In addition to Joseph P. Reis Jr., they had George E. Reis, born in 1920, Lillian M. Reis, born in 1921, and John B. Reis, born in 1923.

Two sons of Joseph P. and Zoa Reis entered the military before the start of World War II when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On April 20, 1937, seventeen-year-old Joseph P. Reis Jr. entered the U.S. Navy. He mainly served in the Pacific Theater and was discharged on July 13, 1947.

Joseph P. Reis Jr. joined the U.S. Navy on June 8, 1937, about six weeks after his brother, George E. Reis, joined the Navy. Joseph served in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters in World War II. He was discharged in October 1945 as a chief radio technician.

John B. Reis entered the Naval Reserve in Chicago on January 6, 1942, and was discharged as an apprentice seaman at Great Lakes Naval Hospital on April 27, 1942.

Joseph P. Reis Jr. married Martha M. Best in May 1944. Mr. Reis was a musician and official in the Pensacola Symphony orchestra, as well as the treasurer and manager of the Elks band. He ran a uniform shop and then became a partner in the tailoring firm of Reis and Rein on South Baylen Street. Unfortunately, he died after a short illness in 1950 at the age of 32. Joseph and Martha Reis had no children.

After World War II, George E. Reis earned a degree in physics from MIT. He then moved to Albuquerque in 1951 and worked as a member of the technical staff at the Sandia National Laboratories for 34 years. Reis married Tess K. Kersting (1926-2020), but he and Tess had no children. George Reis died in 2007 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the age of 86.

Lillian Reis, daughter of Joseph P. and Mary Reis, married John J. O'Brien (1919-1996). John and Lillian Reis had nine children. Lillian O'Brien died in 2013 at the age of 91 in Kankakee.

John B. Reis, son of Joseph P. and Zoa Reis, married Rose Anne Boland in 1953. John B. and Rose Reis had five children. Because he served as the Postmaster of Fairbury for 28 years, John B. Reis was very well-known in the community. Mr. Reis was also notable in the community because he was a magician and liked entertaining others with his music, magic, and comedy shows. John B. Reis died in 2014 at the age of 91 at Fairview Haven.

The Reis family played an essential role in Fairbury's history. One family member served in World War I, and three served in World War II. Family members also owned and operated tailoring and dry cleaning businesses in Fairbury. Another family member served as the Fairbury Postmaster for 28 years.

(Dale Maley's local history article is brought to you each week by Dr. Charlene Aaron)

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