Ready for Life after Jewelry

By Brandon LaChance

Wanting to prove to his dad he could work and be useful, 8-year old Del Hancock accepted the job of raising four pigs in 1939. Hancock, who lived in Marion, took the job very seriously and his hard work was noticed. “We had the pigs at a barn outside of our subdivision. The owner of the barn saw me out there taking care of the pigs,” said Hancock. “One day we were both out there and he came to me, ‘Say, how would you like to work for me at the jewelry store?’ “He must have thought I was a good worker. I raised those pigs, butchered them, we had meat and I sold meat. I told him I wanted the job at the jewelry store.” Hancock began working at Main Bridge Jewelry Store and found an appreciation for the store’s items, especially watches. Upon graduating from Marion High School, Hancock wrote a letter to Bradley University to see if he could receive a college education in watchmaking. After being told he would have to wait three years as Bradley was leaving seats open for soldiers returning from World War II, he told his boss at the jewelry store he couldn’t get in. “I found out then, it’s not what you know but who you know,” said Hancock. “My boss told me to keep the letter there. When I came back to work, he told me I have to get ready for school because I was going to be in classes at Bradley. “He knew the dean and called in a favor for me to go to school and become a watchmaker.” His schooling led to a job with Jack Lewis in Bloomington. However, Hancock was only Lewis’ watchmaker for 1½ years because he was drafted for the Korean War. With no jewelry worn in the Army, Hancock became one of six clerk typists in the office at Fort Belvoir in Virginia (outside of Washington D.C.). Again, it wasn’t about what he knew, but who he knew. “I got to know the Colonel. He came to me and said he wanted me to type the Articles of War with no mistakes, “ said Hancock. “I ripped up several pages during the time I was doing it, but I did it. I finally got it perfect. “There were three levies I was supposed to be on to go to Korea. Each time the Colonel pulled me off. He said, ‘Hancock, you’re a good man. You’re not getting away from me.’ I liked it because I didn’t want to get killed in Korea.” Hancock’s good fortune continued in jewelry and in happiness. In 1953, he left the Army but not before meeting Docia. Del met Docia square dancing at a Methodist church in Washington D.C. and six months later they both had the last name Hancock. The Hancocks were part of the square dancing team D.C. Doers as they were on the dance floor every night but Tuesday because they couldn’t find anywhere to dance. The dancing stayed behind as the Hancocks went to Illinois and Del went back to work for Lewis. After some research, Del told Lewis there was a jewelry store in Dwight. The Hancocks bought the store on a 6-month lease with a down deposit. The owner tried to take the store away from Del after the six months, but with the help of Del’s father and lawyer, the Hancocks kept the store. The store has remained the Hancocks for 68 years. “I’ve repaired 140,000 watches there, “Del Hancock said. “I always kept my store well stocked. With diamonds, I would not stock the highest quality diamond. I would stock medium-priced diamonds and that way I could compete with big stores in big towns. “I tried to keep my prices down so I could be competitive in a small town.” In the beginning of the Hancock Jewelry Store, there was a Diamond Club. Each customer who bought an item was put in the club with a chance to win a diamond. This increased sales. His decision in 1953 to marry Docia also helped. “She is my main sales gal,” said Del. “She could sell refrigerators to Eskimos. She would sell one thing and then sell other items to go with it. She (continued on page 8) always adds volume.” (continued on page 8) However, things have changed. Running a jewelry shop in 2021 isn’t the same as it was 68, 48, 28 or even 10 years ago. “The jewelry business has really changed in 68 years,” Del Hancock said. “The shopping centers put small businesses out of business and the internet is putting shopping centers out of business.” Del, who is now 90, and Docia who has had health issues are ready for life after jewelry There is not a set date for the store to close as there are tools to be sold and the building, which the Hancocks own. Most of the merchandise has been sold and will not be replaced. The remaining items will be given to valued customers as gifts for doing business with the Hancocks for the last 68 years. Brandon LaChance can be reached at 815-876-7941, or on Twitter @LaChanceWriter.