Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

Ledru J. Willits

LEDRU J. WILLITS. Banker, farmer and cattleman, Ledru J. Willits has been a hard working citizen of Cheyenne County for thirty years, and in many ways has stimulated and co-operated with the larger movements which have brought prosperity to the northwestern corner of Kansas. The fact that he has always been known as a man of initiative and independent judgment is doubtless due in part to his pioneer forefathers in America.

The Willits family came originally from Wales. They settled in the Northwest Territory about the time of the Revolutionary war. Mr. Willits' grandfather, Samuel Willits, was born in 1784 in that portion of the Northwest Territory that is now the State of Ohio. His first wife was a cousin of Gen. George Washington. He lived near Columbus and at Zanesville, Ohio, and during the '20s moved to Western Illinois and finally crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa Territory, where he undertook the development of a new farm. He died at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1877.

Charles G. Willits, father of the St. Francis banker, was born at Zanesville, Ohio, in 1822, and was a small child when his parents moved to Mercer County, Illinois. There he grew up and married in the community known as New Boston, was a farmer there and in 1854 went to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and was a farmer and influential factor in that new settlement the rest of his life. He died at Mount Pleasant in 1898. He was a republican in politics, and was one of the leading spirits in the Methodist community that has largely influenced the Town of Mount Pleasant and for many years he served on the official board of the church.

Charles G. Willits married Lurella Thornton, who was born in Mercer County, Illinois, in 1826 and died at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1861. She was the mother of the following children: Charlotte, who is now past seventy years of age, lives on her farm at Letts, Iowa, the wife of William Hendricks; Sarah, living at Central City, Nebraska, is the widow of John Litzenberg, who was a farmer; Alice, wife of W. O. Campbell, a retired merchant of Almena, Kansas, but now living at Norton; E. Thornton, vice president of the National State Bank and a farmer at Mount Pleasant, Iowa; Samuel, who died at the age of seventeen years; Ledru J., who was sixth in the family; and Novello, whose first husband was Leander Shields and who married second, Andrew Smull, a pioneer merchant at St. Francis, Kansas, where both of them died. Charles G. Willits married for his second wife Ellen Cozier. She was born at Dayton, Ohio, and is now living at Kansas City, Missouri. Her two sons are: Rev. John C., pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church at Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Dr. W. C., who has practiced medicine at Kansas City, Missouri, for twenty-five years.

Ledru J. Willits was born on his father's farm at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, September 20, 1857. in 1873, at the age of sixteen, he graduated from the Mount Pleasant High School. From that time he assumed increasing responsibilities on his father's farm, remaining there to the age of twenty-six and then farmed for himself several years. He identified himself with the community of St. Francis in 1886, the same year that Cheyenne County was organized and population and business began centering at St. Francis. He became connected with the old State Bank, now the Citizens State Bank, and has continuously served that old and substantial institution as president since 1890.

Mr. Willits is a man of such energy that he could never be contented with the role of banker, important though it is in a community. His early experience as a farmer led him to see the possibilities of Northwestern Kansas, and by gradual accumulation he has acquired 2,000 acres of land, including some of the best farms to be found in Cheyenne County. As a matter of profit to himself and the community he early undertook to raise the grades of livestock and is credited as the first to introduce thoroughbred cattle into Cheyenne County. Besides his farms he owns considerable real estate in St. Francis, including a beautiful home, his modern residence having been erected in 1909. It stands in the midst of ample grounds, surrounded by shade trees, and is a spot of beauty in the landscape.

Reared in a Methodist home and a Methodist community, Mr. Willits united with the church at the age of fifteen and has been among the first in work and in varied service in building up and keeping up the church at St. Francis. For the past thirty years he has been church treasurer and was a member of the building committee when the elegant church home was erected, a frame building covered with Kellistone. Mr. Willits represented Cheyenne County in the State Legislature during the session of 1899, having been elected in 1898 on the republican ticket.

He is a member of the Kansas Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association, and is affiliated with the Masonic Lodge, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Ancient Order of United Workmen, and Modern Woodmen of America, all at St. Francis.

In 1883, three years before coming to Western Kansas, at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Mr. Willits married Miss Nannie Lee, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Lee, both now deceased. Her father was a farmer and noted in that section of Iowa as a breeder of fine cattle. Mrs. Willits died in the spring of 1890. In 1893, also at Mount Pleasant, Mr. Willits married Miss Jessie Pontius. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Pontius, both deceased, were farmers and stock raisers in the same neighborhood as the Willits family. Mr. Willits has no family by either marriage, but he and his wife have an adopted daughter, Helen, born in June, 1904.