Jones logo
Thomas Russell Ercanbrack
Born August 19, 1832

Thomas Russell Ercanbrack lives in the memory of his friends, enshrined in the halo of a gracious presence, a kindly spirit, unfeigned cordiality and strong intellectual attainment. To know him was to honor and respect him. He had a very wide acquaintance for be was one of the prominent lawyers of Jones county, was recognized as one of the leaders of the republican party in the state and was equally widely known for his activity in Masonic circles and in the church. High principles of Christianity constituted the dominating force of his life and his memory remains as a blessed benediction to all who knew him.
The birth of Mr. Ercanbrack occurred at Ephratah, Fulton county, New York, August 19, 1832, and he was about nine ears of age when he accompanied his parents on their removal to Byron, Illinois. Excellent educational opportunities were afforded him, his public school course being supplemented by study at Mount Morris Seminary of Mount Morris, Illinois, the Beloit (Wis.) College and in the Wesleyan University at Middletown, Kentucky, from which institution he was graduated with the class of 1858. He was admitted to the bar at Albany, New York, and was also licensed to practice in Illinois. After his graduation he devoted the succeeding ten years of his life to the profession of teaching, in which he manifested eminent ability. He was principal of the grammar schools of Peoria, Illinois, in 860 and of the high school in Marengo, Illinois, from 1861 until 1865. He was also superintendent of public instruction in McHenry county, Illinois, from 1863 until 1865, and in the succeeding year was elected president of the North Missouri Collegiate Institute in Louisiana, Missouri. He acted as principal of the high school at Evanston, Illinois, in the school year of 1867, which terminated his active connection with the profession, although he remained throughout his entire life a stalwart champion of the cause of education and a warm friend of the teacher. He was ever appreciative of the service and sacrifice which the teacher renders the state and could find no language too choice and too courteous to express his unfailing esteem for those whom he often characterized as "the crown jewels of the republic."
Mr. Ercanbrack, however, determined to devote his life to the practice of law and in 1867, was graduated from the law department of the Iowa State University and in January, 1868, located for practice in Anamosa. Here he established his home, having in December, 1863, in Marengo, Illinois, wedded Miss Harriet A. Boyce, with whom he traveled life's journey happily for thirty-eight years. No closer tie of companionship and love perhaps has ever existed between husband and wife, for they were as one in all of their interests, activities and ideals. Mrs. Ercanbrack was born in Brockville in the province of Ontario, Canada, in 1839. Her father, David G. Boyce, was a native of Connecticut and removed with his parents to Canada, where he engaged in farming and merchandising. At the time of his death he was a money broker. He had returned to the United States and died in Illinois in 1853, when about fifty-seven years of age. He held membership in the Methodist Episcopal church and gave his political allegiance to the republican party. His wife, who bore the maiden name of Delilah Booth, was born in New York and died in 1877, at the age of seventy-six years. She, too, was an earnest Christian, identified with the Methodist Episcopal church. In their family were five children, of whom Mrs. Ercanbrack was the fourth in order of birth.
Soon after coming to Anamosa Mr. Ercanbrack entered into partnership with Judge C. R. Scott, now deceased, and later for twenty years was connected with Judge H. M. Remley, the association being maintained until Judge Remley was elected to the bench, about four years before the death of Mr. Ercanbrack. In the latter part of 1806 he formed a partnership with Ex-Senator F. 0. Ellison, being a member of the firm of Ellison & Ercanbrack until the death of the latter. He was an industrious and able lawyer, well known to a large number of the members of the bar throughout the state.
Following his demise, when the Jones County Bar Association met to give expression of their regard for Mr. Ercanbrack, M. W. Herrick said: "In all of his dealings with his brother attorneys he never violated his word or the obligations of a gentleman. His life is a magnificent example to the young attorneys now entering the profession." Judge Thompson on the same occasion said: "For a quarter of a century I have known and appreciated Mr. Ercanbrack. I have tried cases with him and against him. The facts were always well presented. He was always honest and always opposed to pettifogging and hypocrisy." As the years passed Mr. Ercanbrack built up an extensive practice, being always connected with the most important litigation tried in the courts of the district' He was always careful to conform his practice to a high standard of, professional ethics. He never sought to lead the court astray in a matter of fact or law. Calm, dignified, self-controlled, free from passion or prejudice and overflowing with kindness, he gave to his client the service of great talent, unwearied industry and rare learning, but be never forgot that there were certain things due to the court, to his own self-respect and, above all, to justice and a righteous administration of the law which neither the zeal of an advocate nor the pleasure of success would permit him to disregard. He was an able, faithful and conscientious minister in the temple of justice and be was endeared in private life to all who knew him by the simple nobility of his character. He continued in active practice up to the time of his death, which occurred in August, 1901.
The motive spring of his conduct and of his relations with his fellowman was to be found in his Christian belief. He was a faithful follower of the Methodist Episcopal church, in which he long served as an officer and also as superintendent of the Sunday-school. He took the greatest delight in the work of the church and did everything in his power to further its interests and extend its influence. He was also prominent as a Mason and was in fullest sympathy with its basic principles concerning the fatherhood and the brotherhood of man. He was accorded the highest honors within the gift of the order in the state. He was grand high priest of the Grand Chapter of Iowa in 1886-7 and grand commander of the Knight Templars of Iowa in 1896. He was also grand patron of the Order of the Eastern Star from 1882 until 1886 inclusive. He had attended seven conclaves of the Knight Templars, was for many years a thirty-second degree member of the Iowa Consistory at Cedar Rapids and belonged to El Kahir Temple of the Mystic Shrine. On the occasion of his death W. H. Norris, grand commander of the Grand Commandery of Iowa said that Mr. Ercanbrack's demise was a great loss to the Masonic fraternity and especially to the order of Christian knighthood. He continued: "His life has been such as to command the respect of all Masons. None can truthfully write the history of Masonry in Iowa without devoting much time and space to his life. For a long period he has been the committee on fraternal correspondence and his work has been thoroughly appreciated by his brethren. He has been promoted again and again in the performance of the high duties and responsibilities of Masonry. He was one of the originators of the grand chapter charity fund of so much value to our order." In local connections Mr. Ercanbrack was equally active in behalf of Masonry. Soon after his arrival in Anamosa he was elected master of the lodge and served for four or five years, and at the organization of the Royal Arch chapter he acted as high priest for twenty-seven years. He also became the first eminent commander of the Knight Templars, performing an immense amount of work and was retained in that position for five or six years. On the occasion of his funeral many of the leading representatives of Masonry in Iowa gathered to pay their last tribute of respect to the departed brother. Mr. Ercanbrack also belonged to the Odd Fellows fraternity.
In his political allegiance he was a republican and was often called to represent his ward in the city council. He also was active in count politics and many times served as a member of the county central committee and as its chairman. He also kept informed on the questions and issues of the day, political and otherwise, was an omnivorous reader, a close and discriminating student and possessed a remarkable memory. He was, moreover, an eloquent speaker and left the impress of his individuality upon the public thought and action. He strove to promote the mental activity of the city and stood at all times for those things which are highest and best in life.
In the absence of his pastor, Rev. J. F. Black of the Methodist Episcopal church, Rev. W. E. Glanville, of the Baptist church at the funeral services said: "During my residence in Anamosa I have been somewhat closely associated with Mr. Ercanbrack in promoting the literary welfare of the community. First as one of the organizers and most active and prominent members of the Cosmopolitan Club, and more recently as one of the organizers and presidents of the University Extension Club, our friend rendered valuable service. At a time of life when many are seeking an easy chair and dismissing mental activity from their attention, Mr. Ercanbrack displayed unusual intellectual vigor. Especially during the past two years he manifested a remarkable grasp of economy and of the causes and conditions governing these problems, which was a surprising revelation to his fellow members. The varied and accurate information he possessed charmed and edified his hearers. He was a gifted conversationalist. When in the mood he would pour forth reminiscence after reminiscence with a flow and a freedom, a lucidity and a dignity of language that was delightful. In the later years of his life those who were in close contact with him failed not to discern a mellowing process going forward in his soul which regarded with charitable tendencies the failings and infirmities of others. To his friends he was stanch and loyal. Concerning one of them he made the remark a year or two since, 'I would do anything for that man; yes, anything.' As a citizen, a man of affairs, a counsellor and a friend, Mr. Ercanbrack stood as a unique personality in our community. His life, reaching nearly three score years and ten, was filled with intelligence and industry even on to its latest moment."
Mrs. Ercanbrack is also a member of the Methodist Episcopal church and loyal to its teachings and active in its work. At the time of her husband's death he was possessed of a set of abstract records and his widow has retained these and has since engaged in the abstract business, in which she has been successful. She was also in full sympathy with her husband's activity in Masonry and belonged to the ladies' auxiliary of the order. She became a member of the Order of the Eastern Star in 1881 and served as worthy matron of the chapter of her own town for fifteen years. In 1886 she was elected worthy grand matron of the state and filled that position for five years. In 1889 she was elected right worthy grand treasurer of the General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star of the world and is still holding the office, having served therein for twenty years. She has also been active in other societies and is a lady of broad general culture and intelligence, well fitted for the position of leadership which has been accorded her in connection with the Eastern Star.

Source: History of Jones County, Iowa, Past and Present, R. M. Corbitt, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1910, p. 30.


© Copyright 1997-2013, The Art Department, © Copyright 2014-2020, Richard Harrison.
Last updated on Friday, 16-Apr-2021 16:53:24 MST