Julie Covert, R.I.P.

Before the word “activist” had been invented, Julie Covert, who spent most of her life in Algonquin and Cary, was one.

In the foreground sits Julie Covert. Leona Nelson is behind.

I don’t know when my father and mother met Julie, who just died at age 96, and her husband Ben, but my guess is during the late 1950’s. She and her family moved to Algonquin in 1951, so she was a 59-year resident. They were great friends.

Julie probably was present at the Silver Lakes subdivision special assessment road meeting at the Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner’s garage that I attended one summer while I was in college. That’s the first government meeting I remember.

Julie’s doggedness had resulted in the road commissioner’s vehicles being identified so they couldn’t be driven for private use without taxpayers being able to figure it out.

Making people accountable.

That was one of Julie’s attributes.

She and Stan Steckley (am I spelling that correctly?), who moved to Pennsylvania and was elected township supervisor where townships really do a lot, were involved in the Government Improvement League. Some meeting of thar group may have been where my father and mother met Julie.

My father eventually because editor of the GIL News, which morphed into Dad’s Public Affairs Newsletter and the Star Reporter. McHenry County Blog could be considered the lineal descendant of that publication.

I heard of the mass meeting she organized outside a fire house after re-assessment notices went out one year. I can’t remember if it was in Algonquin or Cary, but the report was hundreds of people showed up.

When I ran for County Treasurer, her neighbor up the hill from the Fox River held one of my first coffees.

Previously, she had worked to elect Woodstock Mayor James Cooney judge.

This was in a time an acquaintance of my father, Sam Smunk, who identified himself as the slot machine repairman for McHenry County, told my father that he delivered $1,000 a week to each of the county’s two judges.

What a change having an honest judge in the courthouse must have been.

Having an interest in county government, Julie attended board meetings. Before I started attending them in the spring of 1966 when I was running for County Treasurer, she told me G. Watson Lowe “tried to kick the ladies out.”

You can imagine how successful her fellow Cary resident’s effort was.

Once Julie went to the courthouse (the one on the Woodstock Square) and found an election sign right in the front yard behind the iron fence. It promoted the re-election of the State’s Attorney.

I can imagine her outrage.

She took it down.

A sheriff’s deputy followed her out of town. I can’t remember if he stopped her or not, but husband Ben got a warning call telling him of her action.

I can imagine the response.

Had it been in person, he would have probably shrugged his shoulders and asked, “Why are you calling me?”

Julie didn’t need the Women’s Movement to assert her rights.

Why would she?

In the late 1940’s she had organized a company in Chicago that made electrical parts for the turn tables on record players.  The name of the Company was WEB-COR or Webster.

That takes the type of boldness Julie showed all of her life.

She was, however, an active member of the Crystal Lake-Cary League of Women Voters. That may have been where my mother met her.

Julie probably spent the most time on the League’s court watching program.

The ladies would just sit in the courtrooms and take notes. They even got access to the juvenile courtrooms.

Having seen how the behavior of the McHenry County Board of the late 1960’s improved when Crystal Lake Community High School teacher George Hartung brought his class to observe, I can imagine decisions were better when the Court Watchers were in the room.

Given her interest in property taxes and the vast inequities in Algonquin Township, where she lived most of her life, the 1969 and 1973 candidacies of Crystal Lake’s Forrest Hare for Township Assessor was a natural. Those campaigns were crusades against the Establishment, which, by the way, were won.

Julie also supported Democrat Art Tryell in his upset 1970 victory over Republican Party pick Nick Justen for McHenry County Sheriff. Tyrell is the only Democrat to have won countywide office in McHenry County’s history. He was soon co-opted, however, and headed Democrats for Ogilvie in 1972.

Once Julie ran for county board. I still remember the attack headline on a condemning editorial

in the Crystal Lake Herald (predecessor to the Northwest Herald):

“Covert Actions”

It was a typical newspaper hatchet job that reformers in McHenry County encounter when they run for office.

I have written elsewhere of Julie and Janice Johnston’s interest in those with special needs. Julie was a founder of the McHenry County Association of Retarded Citizens. Of course, the organization’s name has been changed.

I saw her interest close-up and personal when she and attorney Janice took an interest in Bill Spencer.

Bill Spencer was the son of the city hall janitor of year’s past and everyone treated him as if he was retarded.

When he was forty or fifty-something, he came into my office across the street from the train station one day, parking his bike out front.

That was in the days when he was the only one riding a bicycle in Crystal Lake.

He talked quite rapidly.

I finally concluded that his speed speech was because people didn’t listen to him, so he was trying to get his message out before they turned him off.

They must not have listened to him.

I had to keep telling him, “Bill, slow down.”

Julie and Janice took him to the University of Chicago for testing and, guess what?, he wasn’t mentally impaired.

That was the type of interest Julie took in people.

Her capacity for outrage is demonstrated in a short letter she sent to the Northwest Herald which I wrote about May 10, 2009.

Reacting to the McHenry County College Board’s giving a Golden Parachute to former MCC President Walt Package, Julie wrote,

“How dare the McHenry County College Board give away our tax dollars as though they are confetti?

“Hopefully, they all will be defeated in the next election and we will have new members with more fiscal responsibility.”

All were re-elected, but obviously not with Julie’s vote.

Earlier, she wrote a letter chiding county board members for being “childish” for complaining about my taking flash photos.

Julie’s daughter Ruth Rooney was elected as Algonquin Township Clerk and McHenry County Auditor, showing her mother’s interest in politics “took.”

Her obituary, which contains additional information, is below:

Woodstock – Julia M. (Dunn) Covert 96, of Woodstock, passed away Monday August 9, 2010, at Centegra Hospital – Woodstock. She was a resident of Hearthstone Village Independent Living, Woodstock, for the past six years.

She was born Nov 13, 1913, in Lehigh, Mont., to Hugh P. Dunn and Loy (Eslinger) Dunn.

She and her sister Dorothy were orphaned when she was 5 years old and her sister 3 years old.

They were brought up in the Catholic Orphanages both in Great Falls, MT, and Indianapolis IN.

They moved to Chicago when they were 13 & 15 years old to live with their uncle and his family.

She married Benjamin L. Covert on June 16, 1934, in Chicago.

She was an activist all of her life, both politically and socially.

She raised her family and worked for the war effort during World War II in the factory that made the parts for the B-29 Planes.

She was the epitome of a “Rosie the Riveter”.

After the war she worked as a union organizer trying to better the lot for men and women in the everyday toil of factory work.

In 1951 she and Ben moved to Algonquin and lived there for many years before moving to Cary, Where they lived for 36 years.

After raising her children, she had an interest in piloting her own plane and leaned to fly and received her license when she was 51. She and Ben had many happy times flying around the Country.

She worked as an advocate for the disabled and children’s issues, such as the League of Women Voters Court Watching Project in the 1980’s.

She is survived by two children

  • Dorothy L. (Richard) Sherwood and
  • Ruth Rooney (Michael) Murray;

six grandchildren,

  • Richard C. Sherwood, Jr. of Naples, Fla.,
  • Karen (Sherwood) (Tom Gill) of Chatam, N. J.,
  • Michael A. Sherwood, (Bronwyn) of Falcon Heights, Minn.
  • Sandra L. Rooney, of Lake-in-the-Hills,
  • Jeffery M. Rooney (Marcia) of Chicago and
  • Patrical R. (Rooney) Grindle of Madison, Wis;

and eight great-grandchildren,

  • Elizabeth M. Gill,
  • Ryan P. Gill,
  • Syrah Sherwood,
  • Carly Sherwood,
  • Bennett Sherwood,
  • Sarah Rooney,
  • Abby Rooney, and
  • David Grindle.

She was preceded in death by her husband of 50 years Benjamin L. Covert, Sr., on March 7. 1985; Benjamin L. Covert, Jr., May 3, 1994, three sisters Geneva (Dunn) Brookfield, 2002; Georgia Marie (Dunn) Morgan, 1998; Dorothy (Loy) (Dunn)Covert, 2001 and one brother Thomas H. L. Dunn in 1993.

A memorial service will be held at 2 PM Saturday August 14, at Hearthstone Village, 840 N. Seminary Ave. Woodstock, IL. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the Hearthstone Early Learning Center in Woodstock.


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