Museum the New Llano Colony

John Szpila


Family Information:  

Description: Called "an inspiration and a fellow that anyone would do well to learn to know and pattern after," and "a Llano jewel."  

Pre-Colony History: He was born in Poland.

Came to the colony around 1928, from New Jersey, having sent his cash membership payment ahead.  

Home in Colony:  

Job in Colony: In 1928 he and Comrade McGee were running the machines that got out the material. Those two fellows were "careful and painstaking in their work, protecting the machinery and doing their work in the best way possible at all times."

Later that month he was helping Ole S. and Ikey Jensen build a rig for cutting big logs into veneer blocks, a process expected to help save labor.

In October 1930 he was part of the crew at the planing mill that included Cleve Campbell, Kittle, Szpila, Rand, Rickey, Thomas and Parsons.

In March 1932 he, Frank Borello and Bickle were working in the colony gardens.

In 1934 he was sending in crates and crates of splendid turnips, beets, cabbage and greens. In April of that year he was "up to his boot-tops in turnip tops."

In March 1935 he was the head gardener.

In 1936 it was reported that he had been the head gardener, in charge of all the gardeners for many years.  

Other Info: On May Day, 1935, some dissatisfied colonists -- most of them younger members who had not yet earned their right to vote on colony decisions -- held a meeting while Pickett was out of town and elected a new Board of Directors that didn't include George Pickett. Doc Williams, an on-again / off-again colonist from the early years in California, was elected President; Eugene Carl, a new member who'd only been at the colony about three months -- he was still a probationer and consequently didn't even have voting rights in colony matters, was elected Executive Director; and Walter Robison, also a recent arrival, was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Pickett and his supporters fought the action in the Vernon Parish courts, but even though the courts ruled the new board was not legal, they also refused to name Pickett's board as the legal directors, so the disagreements within the colony only continued to escalate.

Read the Court Judgment dated September 6, 1935.

On July 22, 1935 a group of Pickett supporters held their own meeting and elected a board which included George T. Pickett as President and General Manager, Arthur Hoffman, H. Claude Lewis, Oscar Needham, Sidney Young, Sidney Archer and John Szpila.

After the previous information (about his being a member of Pickett's latest board) was published in the "Llano Colonist" dated September 7, 1935, Szpila wrote a letter which was published in the September 21, 1935 issue of the "Llano Colonist" and spelled out the reason's the overthrow of former General Manager, George T. Pickett, had been necessary. Many colonists subsequently signed a petition in support of the letter.

In order to claim that an official board had been properly elected after the court judgment had been handed down, the new board and leaders held another election. They advertised for former colonists to send in their proxies and adopted a rule permitting all resident members who had been at the colony more than sixty days to vote in the election, provided too few proxies were received to hold a regular stock holders' meeting.

In October 1935 he was nominated to be on the self-proclaimed "legal" (new) Board of Directors, along with (in order of nomination), Robert K. Williams, E.D. Carl, Lester Caves, Crockett Campbell, Harold Emery, Charles Lawrence, Chester Peecher, E.O. Joynes, Chester Page, Horace Cronk, George Hullinger, Walter Robison, "Chauncey" DuProz, Mrs. Olive Lentz, Mrs. Mabel Busick, Lionel Crossland, Charles Derleth, J.H. "Dad" Ribbing and Cy Horney.

As expected, less than one fourth the required stock was represented at the Stockholders' meeting, so the colonists proceeded with the election of a new board of directors as planned. Those selected were: Robert K. Williams, E.C. Carl, Lester Caves, Crockett Campbell, Harold Emery, Chester Peecher, E.O. Joynes, Charles Lawrence, and Chester Page. Runners up were Mrs. Mabel Busick, Horace Cronk and John Szpila.

This new board tried to make improvements to colony life, but after the first year, finances were in such a state that the court appointed a receiver to help them straighten out their affairs. Two different receivers tried to calm the colonists and persuade them to work together, but this proved fruitless.

In June, 1937, as disaster loomed, some control was returned to Pickett when he was asked to be, first the Farm Superintendent, then the Ice Plant Manager, and finally in control of all colony industries. Unfortunately, it was too late; within months the receiver petitioned the court for permission to sell the land and soon began to divide the property into smaller lots which were sold at auction for much less than their actual value.  

Post-Colony History: Left the colony in 1936 to go to Jersey City, New Jersey where he hoped to complete a book which he'd been working on for several years. At the time, he thought he might be able to return when the task had been completed.  


Sources: "Llano Colonist": September 1, 1928, September 22, 1928, October 25, 1930, March 12, 1932, January 20, 1934, April 28, 1934, March 9, 1935, September 7, 1935, September 21, 1935, October 12, 1935, April 4, 1936  


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