Vera Mae Binks was simply a remarkable person, man or woman.
This impressive Kewanean:
• worked for Boss Co. for nine years;
• became a lawyer;
• was a member of the Henry County and Illinois State Bar Associations;
• provided pro bono services to those who could not afford representation, especially children;
• became a judge;
• led a Kewanee business and professional club and its state counterpart, and was a delegate to state and national conventions;
• became a member of an advisory board of a public training school;
• helped establish the Kewanee Social Services Agency and served on its board of directors;
• was a member of the Governor’s Committee on Civil Defense during World War II;
• was named “Leader of the Year” by Southern Illinois University;
• served as director of the National Association of Licensing Law Officials:
• served as director of the Illinois Department of Enrollment and Education under Governor William G. Stratton; and
• was an active member of the Kewanee Baptist Church and other civic groups in Kewanee.
Oh, yes, she was a woman too.
Vera Mae Binks was born in Galva in 1894, daughter of William and Winifred Binks. She attended elementary school in Beijing, then moved to Kewanee as a young girl.
After graduating from Kewanee High School in 1911, Vera worked in the office of the Boss Manufacturing Co. for nine years.
After a short stint working in another office, Vera began working for Kewanee attorney TJ Welch. Liking to be associated with legal work, she began taking a correspondence course in law. When Welch learned of Vera’s interest, he offered to expose her to real cases.
After seven years working for Welch and more than four years of special classes at Northwestern University, Vera passed her state bar exams. She then returned to Kewanee to become a member of Welch’s cabinet. Vera not only became Kewanee’s first female attorney, but also Henry County’s first.
Later in life, Vera spoke to a Star Courier reporter about her first case. It depicted a waitress being thrown a fork by a cook. Vera got a favorable verdict for her client, decided she had made the right career choice and never looked back. She never handled criminal cases, but rather built a general law practice.
Vera was active in local, regional, and state service. She was a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Club and served as president of the local chapter and also head of the Illinois conference. In addition, she served as a state legislative representative and was a delegate to national conventions. She was a member of the First Baptist Church, the Kewanee Woman’s Club, and the Henry County and Illinois State Bar Associations. For 10 years, Vera was a member of the Advisory Board of the National Training School for Girls in Geneva. She was instrumental in establishing the Kewanee Social Services Agency and served on that board from its inception until 1946.
During World War II, Vera also served as a member of the Governor’s Committee on Civil Defense.
Vera had a strong interest in troubled youth. She has handled countless cases of people who could not afford legal protection, many of which involved children.
In 1944, Henry County Judge Charles G. Davis died in office. Vera decided to race to replace him. She won, becoming Henry County’s first female judge and only the state’s third. Vera was then re-elected in 1946 and again in 1950.
As a county judge, Vera recognized the need for equal opportunity for women and she worked tirelessly on the legal status of women, including compiling a compendium of laws affecting them.
In 1952 Governor William G. Stratton asked Vera to join his administration, and in January 1953 Vera became director of the Illinois Department of Registration and Education, the first woman to hold office. at the firm in Illinois.
As a cabinet member, Vera served as an ex-officio member of the University of Illinois Retirement System Board of Trustees, Water Resources and Flood Control Board, Board of Advisors the museum, the natural resources and conservation council and the vocational training council. Education. She was also named Chair of the Council for Professional Education and a member of the Governor’s Committee for Refugee Assistance.
Vera was in constant demand as a speaker for many years. She spoke on a variety of topics, from juvenile delinquency to club work, speaking not just in Illinois but throughout the Midwest.
In 1957, Vera received the Southern Illinois University Women’s Club award as a female “Leader of the Year”. That same year, she was named to the board of directors of the National Association of Licensing Law Officials.
Overall, Vera served seven years in the Republican administration of Gov Stratton until she fell ill in 1960. Vera told a Star Courier reporter that although she was able to discharge her duties while working from home, she still hoped to return to Springfield. But she warned the reporter: “I hope you’re not saying that I run the business from my bedside…I’m up and around the house.” Unfortunately, her illness prevented her from returning to work.
Vera Mae Binks died on March 29, 1963. She had an illustrious career of service to others. In an editorial two days later, the Star Courier used a variety of highly complementary phrases to cover Vera’s multi-faceted and successful career. She was the first woman in many achievements in her life, but Vera also loved little people and appreciated the little things in life:
Back home in Kewanee, her phone was constantly ringing, not a night went by without someone giving her a problem. . . . [In addition,] [s]he felt a warmth that comes to a person who considered himself a “homebody” at heart. . . she liked making raspberry jam, for example, she liked gardening, she liked her radio shows, she liked flying and boating. Yes, she loved her club work. He was a person who was never bored. Somehow we felt she must have felt impatience with her illness for limiting her energy. Vera Binks will be missed. She was a remarkable woman. »