Biography - William Fern

WILLIAM J. FERN, M. D. Few men are sufficiently versatile to successfully pursue two separate and entirely different vocations during their lives. Rare, indeed, does the physician while carrying on a large practice become the proprietor of a general merchandise business that carries a stock of ten thousand dollars worth of goods, but this has been accomplished by Dr. William J. Fern, of Tunnel Hill, who also superintends the operation of four hundred and eighty acres of excellent farming land. Dr. Fern was born November 18, 1846, on a farm in Johnson county, and is a son of Lawrence W. Fern.

James Fern, the grandfather of Dr. Fern, was born in England, and came from that country to the United States in 1823, settling with his family in Otsego county, New York, near Cooperstown, where he spent the rest of his life. His son, Lawrence W., who was born in England in 1814, left New York in 1840 for Texas, but after spending some time in the Lone Star state started to return to New York, his funds having become low. Stopping in Johnson county, Illinois, he began teaching subscription schools in order to secure money to complete his journey, but, liking the country and seeing its future possibilities, he filed a claim on Government land, settled down to farming, and at the time of his death was the owner of two hundred acres of fine land. He married Mrs. Ellendra (Leslie) Ford, a widow who had two children, and died July 15, 1894, she surviving him until 1909, when she passed away at the age of eighty-seven years. They had the following children: Mrs. Sarah Lemons; William J.; Andrew J.; George W., who is deceased; Mrs. Missouri Whitesides; Mrs. Anna Simpson; Mrs. Fannie Willis; and Caroline and Florence, who died in infancy.

William J. Fern was reared on the home farm and received his education in the common schools. In 1865 he began the study of medicine in a physician's office, and in 1866 entered Rush Medical College, Chicago, from which he was graduated February 5, 1868. He began practice at Grantsburg, Johnson county, where he continued seven years, and after spending one year in Vienna came to Tunnel Hill, in 1876, where he has since had a large and lucrative clientele. In 1885 Dr. Fern opened a merchandise store, and erected a building in which he started the present firm of W. J. Fern & Son, which now carries a ten thousand dollar stock and does business throughout Tunnel Hill and the surrounding country. Associated with him in this business are his sons, Lawrence D. and William, and his son-in-law, Robert S. Gilliam. In addition to this large interest Dr. Fern has one farm of two hundred and eighty acres and several smaller tracts, and has considerable real estate holdings in Tunnel Hill and other towns.

He is well and favorably known to the members of his profession, and holds membership in the Johnson County, Illinois State and American Medical Associations, and is fraternally connected with the Lodge and Chapter of Masonry and the Odd Fellows. He is possessed of considerable more than the ordinary business ability, and is a man of progressive ideas and much public spirit.

On October 14, 1869, Dr. Fern was married to Miss Sarah J. Poor, daughter of S. D. and Sarah J. Poor, of Johnson county, and to this union there have been born children as follows: Cora, who died in infancy ; Nora F., who married Robert S. Gilliam; Lawrence D., associated with his father in business, and postmaster of Tunnel Hill since January 30, 1907, married Maggie Whitehead, now deceased, and has two children, Herbert and Louis; William, connected with the grocery store conducted by his father, married Ada Taylor and has two children, William and Lucille; and the two youngest children of the subject, Charles Otto and Roy, both died in infancy.

Extracted from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, volume 2, pages 588-589.

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