Peru: a small town in northern Illinois with a population of about 10,000. Throughout the years, Peru, Illinois has accumulated a rich history that has involved many notable people. Did you know these 7 people once called Peru, Illinois home?
Maud Powell, American Violinist
Born in Peru, Illinois, Maud Powell was the first American violinist – male or female – to earn international recognition. Being recognized as a prodigy as early as 7 years old, Powell began taking extensive lessons in Chicago at a very young age. Soon after, she began touring throughout the United States and internationally before recording her music from 1904 – 1917. In 2014, Powell was granted the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award for her work.
Frank Vlastnik, Actor
As an American theater and film actor native to Peru, Frank Vlastnik has appeared on Broadway, in popular primetime television shows and in several films. Most notably, Vlastnik was cast as the original understudy of Tom Hanks in the popular 1988 film, Big. In more recent years, Vlastnik has made guest appearances in Law & Order, The Good Wife, Person of Interest, and Elementary.
Wilhelmina Kott, Illinois’ Oldest Person
Living to be 114 years and 183 days old, Wilhelmina Kott lived longer than any other Illinoisan in history. She was born in Peru, Illinois in 1880, 1 of 16 children. In 1881, she moved to Chicago where she spent most of her life until passing in 1994. Kott was even noted as the Oldest Living American in the 1995 Edition of Guinness World Records!
J. A. Happ, Professional Baseball Player
A third-round pick of the 2004 MLB Draft, J. A. Happ is a professional baseball pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After graduating from St. Bede Academy (Peru) in 2001, Happ attend Northwestern University where he obtained a 16-11 winning record. Since being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2004, Happ has played for the Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and now the Pittsburgh Pirates!
Howard C. Ryan, Illinois Chief Justice
Howard C. Ryan served as the 10th Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. An alumnus of LaSalle-Peru-Oglesby Junior College and the University of Illinois, Ryan served as a judge for 36 years, 20 of which were on Illinois’ highest court. In his time on the court, he was involved in monumental decisions surrounding capital punishment in the 1970s.
Esther Hobart Morris, First Woman Justice of the Peace
Often celebrated as the “Mother of Woman’s Suffrage”, Esther Hobart Morris served Wyoming as the first female Justice of the Peace in the United States. Morris was a long time resident of Peru and is credited as one of the main instigators in the Wyoming Territory’s monumental 1869 decision to allow women the right to vote. Ms. Morris played such a big role in women’s suffrage that there is a statue of her in the National Statuary Collection Hall in the United States Capitol Building.
John Virginius Bennes, Architect
John Virginius Bennes, born in Peru in 1867, was an American architect famed for his work in various Oregon cities in the early 20th century. He worked to design more than 20 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to that, Bennes designed more than 35 buildings on the campus of Oregon State University and is credited with the design work of many historic hotels and theaters throughout the state.
Peru, Illinois has blessed us with some pretty important people who have shaped the ways of several different industries. From musical performance to baseball and women’s suffrage to architecture, Peru brings a vibrant mix of famous people to Illinois history!