“World titles commonplace for horse trainer Pres Oder” was the title on a lengthy article by John O’Connell appearing in the Journal Star on October, 2, 1986. The two inch column appearing in the obituaries on 9/19/05 noted that Preston “Pres” Oder of Macomb passed away on 9/18/05. I write this letter because the Oder Brothers were once well renowned in the show horse set in Peoria from the early 1960’s thru the 1980’s. Brother Gene at one time owned Riverview Stables, later known as Baty’s Barn, maybe once named the Red Barn and now known, I believe, as the Heart of Illinois Arena. The stables are located at 9201 N. Galena Road and if a building could talk, many an interesting story could be told. Horses attracted many women, so we always had a number of good looking owner’s daughters hanging around the horse barn or setting in the tents when we traveled to different fairgrounds. On at least one occasion, mother and daughter had a spat about the same Oder. Problem for me was I had very little money; what I had I needed for college, and my hours were unpredictable; sometimes cooling down horses till 3 A.M while my testosterones were still “heated up”. However; Pres and Gene could leave shortly after the last show and I never recall seeing them leaving alone.
Show horse owners who had their horses trained and stabled at Riverview were families such as the Dr. Trewyn family, the Rozells, Saul Schmidt, the Finches (Gloria was an excellent horse woman) and the Baty’s; all from Peoria. Horses came to be trained from as far away as California, Kentucky and North Carolina. Beth Wherry from Farmington, the Bradley’s from Bushnell, (Pres later married Shirley Bradley and she is listed as his widow,) Laura Warnsing from Petersburg, the John Murphy’s from Mason City, Sam Davis from Jacksonville and a Vice-President from State Farm who treated me to my first shrimp dinner. I was so embarrassed around his good looking daughters that I stared to eat my shrimp with the shell on. I was pretty embarrassed and the family, the Taylor’s, I believe was their name, got a good laugh! I was pretty country in the farm days of my youth. I got my first taste of raw oysters, (dad occasionally was treated to fried oysters by his son-in-laws but he never ate them raw) at the elite Dallas Club in Dallas, Texas, where I was introduced to many of the oil and steel barons of that area and era, names like Murchison, Vought and Ling, and including the famous football coach, Vince Lombardi 1961.) I still love raw oysters but really good ones are hard to find and getting harder.
I had the good fortune to work for Gene and Pres from 1948-52 while I was attending college. Five summers I spent grooming horses and transporting them around Illinois showing and competing with other stables and horses. Gene was the owner and a widely renowned trainer and judge. Gene passed away in Naperville a few years ago. Pres started his own stable in Macomb in 1982, while holding an interest in a stable Northeast of Morton, owned, I believe, by the talented horsewoman, Libby Mathers and called Mathers Top Line Farms.
Pres trained or was involved in the training of a number of world champions including trotter Iggy Magoo and Ruthless Reuben, a standard bred gelding that won the roadster to wagon class at the Kentucky State Fair and then defeated nine challengers for the world cup title in 1982. He trained and rode or drove 14 world Champions by 1982. I know he won many championships including 14 Blue ribbons at the Illinois Sate Fair in one year.
The Oders wanted me to stay with them in the horse showing business, even giving my new wife and I, 2 registered yearlings. While I later stabled horses for my kid’s enjoyment, I went into teaching and coaching and over the years, my interest waned but I’ll never forget the impact of Gene and Pres Oder on my life. I never lost my love for horses and believe all kids should have the advantage of grooming, feeding and caring for a large animal, especially a horse.
Fame and popularity is fleeting but had the brothers continued their operations in the Peoria area, I believe they would have been worthy of more than a couple of inches in the JS obit section. I believe many a small story that could have been told in an obit will never appear in print because of the new “you pay for it” unfortunate policy adapted by the JS.
If anyone reading this has any memories of Pres and Gene and the Riverview Barn, later named Baty’s Barn, please call me. I’m in the phone book. Unfortunately another era in Peoria’s rich history has passed with little or no recognition of these champion show horses and their records; their owners as well as the most important trainers and riders like the Oder Brothers, the Parkinsons also from Peoria, and the Leonards of Lincoln.
Thanks for reading my tribute to the Oders and others while I took a trip down memory lane.