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Chester Hayes

Why was it so hard to find anything about Chester Hayes living in Spring Valley? Because that wasn’t his birth name.

Last week I wrote an article about wrestler/stuntman/actor Chester Hayes, born in Spring Valley in 1913, who had a long career playing bit roles in Hollywood — one of his most prominent being a tree monster named Tabanga in the film “From Hell It Came.”

But Hayes was really born Chester Chonowski, and some of his relatives still live in North Central Illinois today.

After the article went to print, I had a few people contact me that they knew the man as a Chonowski, including Chester’s nephew Dan, who now lives in the Peoria area. Dan said Chester was part of a family consisting of six brothers and two sisters. The 1930 U.S. Census shows the Chonowski’s lived on South Spalding Street while in Spring Valley. The family arrived in Spring Valley for the coal mining work, Dan said. But Chester ended up moving to Texas to live with his sisters.

He excelled in sports like football, boxing and wrestling at Rice University before landing in Hollywood and adopting the Hayes name.

Dan said he remembers visiting his uncle in Hollywood around the time he was in college. He said Hayes was frequently on the studio lots and had a good rapport with many of the stars at the time, such as Jack Palance.

“He got to know a lot of the stars because he was always around them just shooting the breeze out there,” Chonowski said. “I remember eating in the cafeteria right next to John Wayne.”

But Hayes did not forget his family back in North Central Illinois during his career in film. Dan said Hayes would pack up his car every summer and make the long trip back home to Spring Valley to see his mother and other family that still resided in the area.

Brett Herrmann can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com.

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NewsTribune Online Editor covering Spring Valley and Dalzell. Contact him at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com

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