DeForest L. Skinner, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of DeForest L. Skinner

DEFOREST L. SKINNER. Of the late DeForest L. Skinner it may well he said that he coveted success but scorned to gain it save through industry and honest means. He acquired wealth without fraud or deceit, and the results of his life are full of inspiration and incentive. He was a dominating factor in connection with the material and civic development of the city of Valparaiso, which represented his home during virtually his entire adult life, and his influence also proved potent in the general advancement of his home county and the development and progress of northern Indiana as a whole. No shadow rests on any portion of his career now that he has been called from the scenes and labors of this mortal life, and his name merits enduring place on the roll of the really representative men of the fine old Hoosier state. His success, and it was great, was achieved through his connection with legitimate financial and other business enterprises; his character was the positive expression of a strong and noble nature; and his course was ever guided and governed by inviolable principles of integrity and honor, so that he eminently merited the confidence and esteem so uniformly reposed in him by his fellow men. Simple and unostentatious in his self-respecting and tolerant individuality, his influence was a dynamic power for good in all of the relations of life, and his broad mentality and mature judgment gave him prominence in public affairs and in the management and control of business activities of broad scope and importance. Not too often and not through the agency of too many vehicles can be recorded the life history of one who lived so honorable and useful a life as did Mr. Skinner, and this history of Porter county would stultify its legitimacy were their failure to incorporate within its pages at least a brief review of the career of this honored and influential citizen, whose death occurred at his home in Valparaiso, on the 21st of February, 1902.

DeForest Leslie Skinner was born in Hardwick Caledonia county, Vermont, on the 1st of November, 1835, and was a scion of a family of English lineage, that was founded in America in the early colonial epoch of our national history. He was a son of John R. and Emily Ward (Reid) Skinner, the former of whom was born at Bakersfield, Franklin county, Vermont, and the latter of whom was born at Townshend, Windham county, that state, on the 27th of March, 1806, their marriage having been solemnized on the 20th of June, 1830. John R. Skinner studied law at St. Albans, Vermont, and was admitted to the bar of his native state when but twenty-two years of age. He became one of the representative lawyers of the old Green Mountain commonwealth but finally decided to cast in his fortune with the progressive west. In 1846 he immigrated with his family to Indiana and became one of the pioneers of Porter county. He established his home in Valparaiso, which was then a mere village, and here engaged in the practice of his profession, in which he achieved marked prestige, but he was not long permitted to continue his labors, as he died in the year 1849, secure in the high regard of all who knew him and recognized as a man of sterling character and fine intellectual and professional powers. He served in various positions of public trust, both in Vermont and after his removal to Indiana. He was but forty-one years of age at the time of his death, and his wife, a woman of noble and gentle character, survived him by nearly two score of years, she having passed the closing years of her life in the home of her son DeForest L., of this memoir, in Valparaiso, where she answered death's inexorable summons on the 18th of December, 1885, about four months prior to her eightieth birthday anniversary. Of the six children four survived the loved mother, and of the number only two are now living. Mrs. Skinner was a daughter of Elkanah and Patty (Rawson) Reid, the latter of whom was a daughter of Edward Rawson, who was a scion of a distinguished English family and who immigrated to America in 1636. He soon became a prominent figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he filled many offices of public trust. At a meeting of the commissioners of the united colonies at New Haven, in September, 1651, Edward Rawson was chosen steward and agent "for receiving and disposing of such goods and commodities as should be sent to this country by the corporation in England for the propagation of the Gospel among the Indians in New England." Mrs. Skinner was a woman of fine intellectual and literary ability, and her gracious personality gained to her the affectionate regard of all who came within the sphere of her gentle influence, so that her name and memory are revered in the community in which she so long maintained her home and of which she was one of the most venerable pioneer women at the time when she passed to the life eternal. She was a most devout and zealous member of the Methodist Episcopal church and her hand and heart ever responded to the call of suffering and distress. Hollis R., one of the sons, was in the employ of the great house of Field, Leiter & Company (now Marshall Field & Company), of Chicago, for a number of years before his death. He died in 1873 at the age of thirty-three years. Henry, the youngest son, tendered his services in defense of the Union at the inception of the Civil war, for "which he enlisted when seventeen years of age. He became captain of Company B, Sixty-third Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and the history of this gallant regiment constitutes the record of his military career, which was one of long and arduous service. At the close of the war he too entered the employ of Field, Leiter & Company, but he died at the early age of twenty-two years.

DeForest L. Skinner gained his early educational discipline in the schools of his native state, but his advantages in the academic sense were necessarily limited, so that the broad and accurate information that designated his symmetrical mentality in later years stood as the result of self application and the lessons learned under the direction of that wisest of all headmasters, experience. He was a lad of eleven years at the time of the family removal to Indiana and save for one year, 1864, passed in the territory of Idaho, he continued to reside in Valparaiso during the remainder of his long and useful life. Soon after the family home had been established in Valparaiso Mr. Skinner secured employment in a mercantile store, and at the age of eighteen years he was found engaged in independent business. For many years he was associated with the late Michael Harrold in the retail grocery trade, under the firm name of Skinner & Harrold. This partnership was dissolved in 1878, and during the remainder of his life Mr. Skinner devoted his attention almost entirely to his banking and other capitalistic interests, which grew to be of wide scope and varied order.

In 1889 Mr. Skinner became one of the organizers of the State Dank of Valparaiso. And of this substantial institution he continued a director until his death. Prior to this, in 1874, Mr. Skinner had become identified with banking interests in Valparaiso, where, it may be noted, he served for six years as station agent of the Fort Wayne Railroad. On the 16th of January, 1878, he was elected president of the First National Bank of Valparaiso, and upon the expiration of the charter of this institution he became president of its successor, the First National Bank of Porter County, of which executive office he continued president from the time of its organization, in 1882, until his death, twenty years later. It may consistently be stated in this connection that this institution, which was long a staunch conservator of the financial and industrial interests of Porter County, was succeeded, upon the expiration of its charter, in May, 1902, by the present Valparaiso National Bank, of which he would have become president but for the fact that his death occurred about four months prior to the change. His only surviving son, Leslie R. Skinner, is a member of the directorate of the Valparaiso National Bank. For a number of years prior to his demise Mr. Skinner had served as a director of the Chicago & Grand Trunk Railroad Company, and in this office he was succeeded by his son, who thus became one of the youngest railroad directors in the United States.

From a tribute paid to the memory of Mr. Skinner by William E. Pinney, who had been his long-time friend and a business associate, are taken the following pertinent extracts, which are well worthy of perpetuation:

"I wish to mention as a characteristic quality of Mr. Skinner his skill in the diplomacy of business. He could discern, without close and prolonged acquaintance, the traits of character indicating honesty and dishonesty, and he made very few mistakes in giving credit. He was a good judge of securities, and in the course of his business life seldom resorted to the courts for the enforcement of contracts. He was able to work his way out of financial difficulties without loss to himself and his associates, with good feeling on the part of all interested persons, in the rather frequent cases in which he found that his desire to give financial aid, prompted by friendship or seeming need, had led him beyond a conservative point. I also wish to mention the tender side of Mr. Skinner's name. He appreciated all evidences of gratitude which came from those whom he helped through kindness. He was not disposed to contention and strife, and he exercised a pacific influence in business affairs, when differences seemed likely to arise, and warded off disturbing controversies. He was a man of great and varied information, and every conversation with him to some extent expanded the mental view of his companion therein and carried to such companion enduring impressions of his congeniality and native ability. Mr. Skinner was fertile in argument and in conversation was able to present his views in original and pleasant ways with convincing power. He was a good student of government and laws and understood the theories of both. He would have been a great lawyer if he had taken the law as his profession. His mind seemed to be moulded for the study of law and government, and as either a lawyer or politician of the higher class he might have won national fame and honors."

Known as one of the ablest financiers in northern Indiana and honored as a man of sterling attributes of character, Mr. Skinner's death called forth many commendatory comments in the press of this and adjoining states and all these utterances were tributes to his worth as a man, as a loyal and public-spirited citizen, and as an influential factor in productive activities. Within the compass of an article of this circumscribed order it is, of course, impossible to reproduce these tributes, but the following estimate, which appeared in the Indianapolis Independent, has a personal or intimate touch that makes its insertion altogether consistent:

"The death of DeForest L. Skinner, president of the First National Bank, Valparaiso, removes another of those strong characters that have placed indelibly upon northern Indiana the stamp of their sturdy honesty and determination of purpose. While every inch a business man, DeForest Skinner made and retained strong friendships. He was loyal to the section of the state in which he resided, and his friends and admirers there were numbered by the thousands. Years ago the editor of this paper first met DeForest Skinner, when both were in the prime of life, and the friendship then cemented has never been broken. As one of our exchanges puts it, he 'was of the salt of the earth.' Although, like the oak before the tempest's blast, he has bowed his head to the inevitable, the influences of his upright life will live on. The world is ever better for the lives of such men as DeForest Skinner; the world would be poorer, indeed, for his death were it not that the works and memories of good men do live after them."

The death of Mr. Skinner was the result of a stroke of apoplexy, and when the news of his passing became known the entire community mourned with a sense of deep personal bereavement, the while the city and the county in which he had so long maintained his home realized to the full that they had lost one of their most loyal and valuable citizens. In addition to his widow and three of their children Mr. Skinner was survived by three sisters -- Mrs. James Spencer, of Monticello, Indiana; Mrs. Celestia Dell, of Logan, Montana; and Mrs. Mariette Pierce, of Detroit, Minnesota.

In the midst of the many responsibilities and exactions of a particularly active business career, Mr. Skinner found time to devote much attention to the general interests of the community and to serve in various offices of public trust, his acceptance of the same having always been prompted by his high sense of civic loyalty and duty. For many years he was one of the most influential members of the Democratic party in Indiana and a prominent figure in its councils. He was a delegate to the Democratic national convention of 1880, in Cincinnati, and to that of 1888, in the city of St. Louis. His broad and well fortified convictions relative to governmental and economic affairs led him to reject the free-silver heresies exemplified by the Democratic party in the platform of 1896, and, with the characteristic courage that had ever designated the man, he withdrew from the party that had so long held his allegiance and gave his support to the Republican presidential candidate, the late lamented William McKinley. Thereafter he continued to De arrayed with the Republican party until the close of his life. From 1874 to 1878 Mr. Skinner represented the home district comprising Porter and Lake counties in the state senate, in which body he made an admirable record for careful, faithful and judicious service. He was renominated for the senate in 1882, but was defeated by a small majority, as the political complexion of the district had become strongly Republican in the interim. In 1882 Governor Porter appointed Mr. Skinner a member of the board of commissioners to which was delegated the work of providing for the construction of three additional state hospitals for the insane -- those at Evansville, Richmond and Logansport. He served on this, board contemporaneously with Governors Porter, Gray and Hovey, and later Governor Chase appointed him a member of the board of trustees of the state normal school at Terre Haute, an office which he felt constrained to decline. He received from Governor Matthews appointment as representative of Indiana at the world's congress of bankers held in connection with the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Were indulgence in words of respect and eulogy permitted to extend to the compass of expressions on the part of the citizens of Porter county there could be set no limit, for the name and character and services of Mr. Skinner are there remembered with all of pride and appreciation.

It is deemed but consonant, however, to reproduce in this memoir the resolutions adopted at the time of his death by the board of directors of the First National Bank of Porter County:

"Whereas, It has pleased God to take from us our esteemed and honored fellow member and president of the board, DeForest L. Skinner, and,

"Whereas, the cordial and pleasant relations which for nearly twenty years he held with the board, both as a director and as president thereof, makes it fitting that we should spread upon record our feelings of appreciation of his services and regret for his loss, therefore be it

"Resolved, That the board of directors of the First National Bank of Porter County will treasure in grateful remembrance the sterling business qualities, the integrity and acumen ever manifested by our late president and fellow member in the work of this board.

"Resolved, That the death of our honored fellow citizen creates a vacancy in the board not easily filled, and that his fellow members fully realize and greatly deplore the loss occasioned not only to themselves but likewise to the members of his family and to the public in general.

"Resolved, that we express our regrets and extend our sincere sympathy to the bereaved relatives and friends of the decedent and hope that even in the sorrow of their affliction they may find consolation in the knowledge that the worth of his private qualities, his standing as a citizen, and the value of his public services are fully appreciated.

"Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be not only spread on record but likewise sent to the family of our deceased president, and published in each of the daily papers of the city."

From a Valparaiso paper are taken the following brief statements: "The death of Mr. Skinner removes one of Valparaiso's vigorous and progressive citizens. He did much to advance the interests of the city, where he spent nearly his entire life, and he will be greatly missed, for he enjoyed the entire confidence of the people of Porter county." Mr. Skinner found his greatest solace and pleasure in the gracious precincts of his home, whose every relation was ideal, and the only fraternal organization with which he was identified was the Valparaiso lodge of the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks, with which he became affiliated only a short time before his death. He was liberal in the support of all measures and enterprises tending to advance the general progress and prosperity of his home city and county and here his real-estate holdings were large, as were also his financial interests, which were such as to make him one of the wealthiest men of the county. His success was the direct result of his own ability and efforts, and he left the heritage of a name untouched by shadow of wrong or injustice.

Concerning the domestic relations of Mr. Skinner it cannot be wished to give other than brief data in this review, as these things are not to be surveyed and commented upon in such a way as to invade the sacred precincts of the home in which his interests and affections were centered and in which his noble character showed forth most benignantly. In 1861 was solemnized the marriage of Mr. Skinner to Miss Rachel Maxwell, who was born in Wayne county, Indiana, and who was a representative of one of the honored pioneer families of that county. Mrs. Skinner survived her honored husband. She was venerated as a woman of most gentle, kindly and gracious personality. Of the seven children four did not attain to years of maturity, and the three surviving are: Maude, who is the wife of Dr. H. M. Evans, of Valparaiso; Fannie, who is the wife of J. H. McGill, of this city; and Leslie R., who has assumed charge of the large family estate and who is well upholding the high prestige of the honored name which he bears.

Source: Lewis Publishing Company. 1912. History of Porter County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests. Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Company. 881 p.
Page(s) in Source: 363-368

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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