Holten

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Frank Holten Sr.,

Dean of the Illinois House of Representatives, 54th District

 

Frank Holten died in 1966 at age 98. He was the oldest man ever to serve as an Illinois legislator. He retired in 1964 at the age of 96. The East St. Louis Democrat served nearly half a century -- 24 two-year terms. He lived at 1114 St. Louis Avenue, his residence since 1906.

Mr. Holten had exceptional popular appeal. Holten never made rash promises. He'd just say, "tell me what you want," when a voter asked him for something, "and I'll try to get it for you." Usually he did, most of the time -- nearly all of the time. He liked to think that his success was based on a winning personality and a knack for showmanship, which grew out of his early experience as a band leader. He was proud of his ability as a violinist, and on questionnaires he often listed his occupation as "state representative and musician." He organized an eight piece orchestra in 1898 and later founded the first musicians union in East St. Louis, under the Grand Knights of Labor. Old-timers remembered when he used to play the violin and call the quadrilles at local square dances. Holten's Band later played at the Fairmount Race Track and at the old dog track in the same area.

Mr. Holten thought of himself as a spokesman for the common man, or in his own words, the "down dogger." He pioneered for organized labor when labor had almost no spokesman in public life. He was active in the fight to give women the right to serve on juries. He supported the eight hour day and the six-day work week He co-sponsored area flood control bills. He became more conservative toward the end of his career and complained that politicians were becoming too long-winded. He also reached the conclusion that the state government was becoming too complex and was passing too many bills.

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He served continuously from 1917 until 1943 when he was ousted by a Republican-controlled House in a vote dispute. Ironically. he was replaced by his Republican brother-in-law. The voters returned him to office the next election.

Mr. Holten was an East St. Louis alderman from 1896 to 1904. He was city treasurer from 1909 to 1911. He was a longtime member of the Holy Name Society at St. Henry's Catholic Church. He was also a Third Degree member of the East St. Louis Knights of Columbus.

His formal education stopped at the sixth grade. He also served as proprietor of the old Home Tea and Coffee Company at 323 Collinsville Avenue for 45 years. When a church or a lodge had a special program, Holten always sent them enough coffee for the party. With his band, he made many parties affairs that people long remembered.

 

On his 95th birthday, President John F. Kennedy sent him a Western Union telegram which read:

"I HAVE LEARNED WITH MUCH PLEASURE FROM CONGRESSMAN MEL PRICE AND FROM MANY OF YOUR GOOD FRIENDS THAT YOU ARE CELEBRATING YOUR 95TH BIRTHDAY TODAY. ON THIS MOST MEMORABLE OCCASION IN YOUR LIFE, I AM DELIGHTED TO EXTEND MY WARMEST CONGRATULATIONS AND VERY BEST WISHES.

YOUR NEARLY FIFTY YEARS AS A MEMBER OF THE ILLINOIS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES IS TESTIMONY TO THE HIGH ESTEEM IN WHICH YOU ARE HELD BY THE PEOPLE OF ILLINOIS. YOU ARE MOST DESERVING OF THEIR GRATITUDE AND OF THE COMMENDATION OF ALL WHO KNOW YOU.

WITH EVERY GOOD WISH FOR AN ESPECIALLY HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND FOR MANY MORE YEARS OF DEVOTED, RESPONSIBLE SERVICE TO YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS, YOUR PARTY AND THE NATION. JOHN F. KENNEDY.

 

Survivors at the time of his death included a daughter, Miss Charlotte Holten; two sons, Frank Holten Jr., state license inspector, and Dr. Edmond H. Holten; a sister, Mrs. Henry (Elizabeth) Zuroweste, mother of the Most Reverend Albert R. Zuroweste, D. D., Bishop of Belleville; a brother, Joseph Holten of Collinsville; nine grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. Brothers Henry, Charles, and Julius preceded him in death. His mother, Mrs. Charlotte Eckermann Holten, died in 1929. At the time of her death at age 95, she was the oldest resident of the city. She had been a widow for 54 years. Her family came to America in 1853 when she was ten. She was married in the old St. Louis Cathedral. Her husband, John Holten, built the old Rock Road that later became State Street.

 

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