Hillsboro Native, Dale Suderman, died last week at the age of 75. Suderman contributed to Marion County both as a resident and when he lived in Chicago for a period of time where he wrote a column for the Free Press called View from Afar.
One of his most well-known columns was the one run on August 15, 2007, about the show ‘The Simpsons’ which was written by his relative. In honor of Suderman, we are running that column this week. Here it is as it originally ran.
For two decades, “The Simpsons cartoon show on the Fox network has made people laugh and groan at antics of the most dysfunctional family in America. Homer and Marge Simpson and their three children, Bart the brat, Lisa the child genius and Maggie the pacifier -sucking infant along with Grandpa Abraham live in the mythical city of Springfield.
The creative genius of the show, Matt Groening, has been coy about where Springfield is located—even suggesting it might be Winnipeg, Man., since his father was born Canadian.
Groening has carefully recreated his own family tree in cartoon form. His real-life parents are Homer and Margaret Groening, and he has a sister Lisa.
After reconstructing the genealogy of both Matt Groening and the Simpsons, I can announce the actual location of Springfield.
Springfield is Hillsboro, Kan.
The story begins in the 1870s, when Abraham Groening emigrates from the Ukraine and becomes a leading member of the Gnadenau Krimmer Mennonite Brethren church located south of town. He is a school board member of a one-room school district and hires his 16-year-old son, Abram Abraham Groening—soon known as A.A. Groening—to teach a room full of youngsters, most of them his siblings.
In 1908, A.A. Groening is among the first 39 students in the newly opened Tabor College meeting in the Mennonite Brethren Church in Hillsboro. Seven years later he graduates and begins some graduate work at Kansas University and teaches part-time at his alma mater. He is what is known as a promising young lad.
But there is a shadow on the horizon. War fever is breaking out with the looming conflict with Germany. The Groenings speak both High German and the Plautdeutsch (Low German) dialect. They are pacifists by religious conviction. A draft notice is sent to A.A. Groening.
Vigilante groups in Kansas are out to prove their patriotism and protect America by kicking some German pacifist butt. One night, they pick Abraham Groening as a target. He gets wind of this and drives his family to his brother-in-law’s house. John Siebert hides the car in the barn, the Groenings in the attic and tells his own family to keep quiet. (The mother of Paul Penner was told she nearly suffocated as her sister held her hand over her mouth.)
The vigilantes came on horseback with torches and guns, circling the house but not entering. On Sept. 18, Abraham Groening had a quick farm sale and moved his family to Hepburn, Sask.
An agent from the Bureau of Investigation—the predecessor of the FBI—came looking for A.A. Groening. He interrogated John Siebert rather firmly. Siebert claims he does not speak the English so good, does not recall ever discussing religion or politics with Groening and says that Groening went to Canada because he thought farming would be easier near the Arctic Circle.
The draft-dodging A.A. Groening marries in Canada, begins a family and has a son named Homer.
When the war is over, A.A. does more graduate work at the University of California and returns to Tabor College as a professor in 1920.
By 1930 he is dean of Tabor College and instrumental in starting the athletic department. His parents, the Abraham Groenings, have also returned to Hillsboro and retire there.
In 1930, A.A. Groening and family—including the 10-year-old Homer move to Oregon, where A.A. teaches at Albany College, later known as Lewis and Clark.
Homer marries Margaret Wiggam. He has strong aesthetic interests and works in advertising, but also makes films and writes poetry and cartoons. He fights in World War II as a pilot—which probably produced some interesting conversations with his father.
Homer and Margaret have a son, Matthew Abram Groening, born in 1954. Matt remembers his father’s encouragement for sketching and cartooning.
Matt graduates from Evergreen College, gets a slacker job in a record store and begins selling his cartoons known as “Life in Hell” from the front counter. He gets an offer to do a cartoon series and “The Simpsons” begin.
In 1972, A.A. Groening returns to Tabor College to receive a distinguished alumni award. He and his wife walk through the old church building where he first took college classes.
In the 1980s, Homer Groening returns to Hillsboro and takes assorted cousins and relatives to lunch at the old Iron Kettle Restaurant. He thanks them for their kindness to his family.
If the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce moves quickly, there is time to put up highway signs before the Arts and Crafts Fair visitors arrive.
“Welcome to Hillsboro. Home of the Simpsons.”
And perhaps a smaller sign quoting the wisdom of Bart Simpson, “Don’t have a cow, man.”