By DERRICK BABBS
For the Ford County Record
Leslie Cornelius Arends was born Sept. 27, 1895, in Melvin, where he, his four brothers and two sisters grew up on his father’s farm. After graduating from Melvin High School in 1912, he attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years.
Arends enlisted in the Navy during World War I and, following his discharge in 1919, returned to Melvin to work in the grain business and private bank founded by his father. In 1946, he married the former Betty Tychon. They had one daughter, Letty.
In his first bid for public office in 1934, Arends ran on the Republican ticket and was elected to serve as representative of the 17th Congressional District. The voters returned Arends to the House in the next 19 elections. In 1974, he announced his retirement and did not seek re-election.
As a congressman, Arends was particularly concerned with reduction of the federal budget and decentralization of the government. As a long-time member of the Military Affairs Committee — now the Armed Services Committee — Arends also expressed special interest in military spending and military preparedness.
In 1943, Arends’ fellow party members elected him to the position of minority whip. The whip’s major duties are to gauge the feelings of fellow representatives, try to predict their votes on upcoming legislation, and then see that colleagues are present to vote on important legislation. The whip, thus, aids the party leadership in designing its legislative strategy.
Arends continued to serve as Republican assistant floor leader for 31 years. When he announced his retirement in 1974, Arends had served as whip longer than anyone else, Republican or Democrat.
Arends died in 1985 and was buried in Melvin Cemetery.
Famous guests come to Melvin
On May 27, 1960, Richard Nixon, who was then vice president to Dwight Eisenhower, visited Melvin for "Les Arends Day." Nixon flew to Chanute Field in Rantoul and proceeded to Melvin in a motorcade. The first stop was at Melvin-Sibley High School, where Nixon gave a short talk to more than a thousand people. Then the crows moved to the Arends’ residence, where a press conference had been set up in the back yard.
Around 5,400 people came to the Melvin fairgrounds at 7:30 for a program that was held in front of the grandstand. Nixon gave the address, and a telegram from President Eisenhower was read to the crowd.
On Oct. 24, 1974, U.S. President Gerald Ford flew in Melvin by helicopter to speak at 4:20 p.m. at the "Les Arends Day" farewell celebration at the Melvin fairgrounds. Ford was there to honor Arends, who was retiring after 40 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Some 8,000 people greeted the president at the Ford County fairgrounds, and Ford devoted his entire speech to Arends’ service to the country.