Leo Muhlach

Leo and his wife Norma

Mr. Muhlach was born Aug. 23, 1925, in Somonauk to Vitus and Francis (Ernst) Muhlach. He had one sister, Helen. The family moved to Mendota around 1947. 

When Leo was 12 years ago he started taking pictures. He had a friend, Merwin Shaw, who was a couple years older who got him interested in photography.  Once Leo's interest was piqued, there was no stopping him. He always carried a camera with him. When first beginning, he set up a room in his basement to develop his pictures. 

When Leo was in the service he had the honor of becoming the general's photographer. He took pictures of whatever the general requested and often accompanied the general on his private plane. He was assigned to take pictures of all of the 32 AAA Battalion in the Philippines. With these pictures he was asked to create a yearbook. During his 1-1/2 years overseas, he met and photographed some famous people. One of these was of General McArthur on the front steps of a library in Manila.

After his time with the Army was completed he became part of the 5220 club. According to Wikipedia, the G.I. Bill (officially titled Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, P.L. 78-346, 58 Stat. 284m) was an omnibus bill that provided college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as G.I.s) as well as one year of unemployment compensation. This meant GI's, including Leo, received $20 a week for 52 weeks.

In 1947 Leo purchased the Ina Herbert studio in Mendota for $2200. The studio was located on the south side of what is now the parking lot east of First State Bank. He was only in that building for a short time before he moved upstairs in the building next door where he remained until Phyllis Cody took over the photography business. Norma, Leo's wife stated that while Phyllis had the business, Leo's desk remained the same as the day he turned the keys over to Phyllis.

 When he left the studio he had purchased from Ms. Herbert, he moved in above the Canteen next door to his previous business. Norma stated that he was at this location in 1948 when he took her graduation pictures. He remained at this location until the Canteen built and moved to their new building. At that time he moved downstairs and remained there until he passed the keys on to Phyllis Cody.

 In 1950 Leo married Norma Hotchkiss of Ashton, IL. They met on a blind date and were together until Leo's death. They celebrated 61 years of wedded bliss in 2011. While on his way to the wedding, about 5 miles outside of town, Leo got a flat tire and was almost late for the wedding. The reception was held immediately following the ceremony in the church with guests enjoying their dinner while sitting in the pews. Every day since their wedding Leo has provided Norma with fresh flowers.

Leo & Norma have 3 children and 7 grandchildren. Their children are Bill, who works at Southern Illinois University in the Zoological Department, Susan, who is a pharmacist in Tennessee, and Lisa who is a school nurse in Rockford.

Leo estimated he has taken millions of pictures over the years. Most recently, one of his favorites is the picture of crop duster over a field. He carried his camera with him everywhere. It was even at his bedside while he slept. He took pictures of pictures on the television. His last camera was a Nikon Cool pix P5100 camera.

Leo was involved in taking pictures for the Conco company. For one project he took some construction pictures that he shot while on a crane so he could get the best angle. He would spend lots of time surveying the scene to see where he could shoot from.

When Leo would shoot weddings, he would shoot in black/white and by Tuesday he would have film developed so he could have it to Geraldine Haag for the newspaper.   

Some of Leo’s hobbies outside of photography included collecting old things. He enjoyed old cars, fire trucks, guns, and books. He is loved to hunt and fish. He was very active in the creation of the Union Depot Railroad Museum. He painted the Milwaukee Road combine car.

Leo A. Muhlach, 86, of Mendota died in his home Dec. 24, 2011, with his loving wife by his side, after a 30-year battle with cancer.