John Herman Dougherty, Curtis Laws Wilson Library’s largest benefactor, was born in Washington, IL, a few miles east of Peoria. He was one of four children of Robert B. and Minnie L. Dougherty. As a child, he enjoyed being outdoors, especially when he was riding Shetland ponies. He was educated in the Peoria school system and graduated from Peoria High School in 1918. His dream was to attend the Missouri School of Mines (MSM), and he enrolled at MSM in 1918, attending through 1921. He was a member of the Student Army Training Corps (now Reserve Officers Training Corps) and of Kappa Alpha fraternity.
During Spring 1921 he worked as a surveyor’s assistant in Arkansas and contracted an illness which left him unable to work so he returned to MSM. Unfortunately, the illness left him exhausted and he returned to the family home in Peoria to recuperate. He realized that the effects of his illness were such that he could not work outdoors as a surveying engineer, which had been his goal, so he transferred to the University of Missouri at Columbia to complete a degree in Library Science. He returned to MSM in June, 1929, as Librarian and Associate Professor of Library Science, where he remained until 1932. At that time, he developed tremors resulting from his illness, which forced him to resign due to disability.
Mr. Dougherty returned to Peoria, where he developed two passions: collecting books of odd facts, and investing in utility and industry stocks. He proved to be a good investor and achieved complete financial security. Collecting books of odd facts fulfilled his love of books and learning, and he amassed quite a collection. Following his father’s death in 1955, he donated over 2000 volumes of such works to the library at Bradley University. In spite of his infirmities, he managed to closely attend and care for his parents in their old age. By 1962, his mother required nursing care, and he closed the family home and moved into the New National Hotel. After his mother’s death, he moved to Alton, IL, to be near his one remaining sister, Mary Arterberry. He entered a nursing home there but did not like the confinement and many rules. He decided to move to Tucson, AZ, where he could be free to live life as he pleased. Mr. Dougherty died there and his body was returned to Peoria, where he was buried in the family plot at Springdale Cemetery.
Mr. Dougherty once confided to a close friend that although his dream of becoming a surveying engineer had been thwarted, God had given him the joy of studying and working at the Missouri School of Mines, and that he wanted to leave the largest sum of money possible at his death in order to say “thank you” to the university for all it had meant to him. That is precisely what he did.
Summary prepared by Mrs. Sara Fannin, Rolla, MO, 2007
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