Writing this weekly column for the past five years has allowed me to take an incredible journey around DeKalb County. But I feel it is time to conclude this chapter in my writing career and spend more time on unfinished projects and other priorities.
This was not my first go-round at producing a personal column. When I was editor of the Daily Chronicle in the early 1970s, I penned one titled “Barbed Wires.” Next, while editing newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, I wrote a weekly column for several years.
When retirement came and we returned to our roots in DeKalb County, I approached the Chronicle with the idea for a column about people, places and events that make our county special.
Titled “DeKalb County Life” it has taken me to all 19 townships and into countless homes, farms, businesses, and places I otherwise would never have visited. People have welcomed me into their living rooms, basements, barns and workshops to share their life stories, their hobbies, and their family scrapbooks.
I learned fascinating things about the origin of the Kishwaukee River from Al Roloff, life on a dairy farm from Otto Heisner, the discovery of an 1835 log cabin inside the walls of an old farmhouse near Kingston, a basement newspaper printshop in Shabbona, and a rare photo thought to be of Abraham Lincoln in the Marie Louise Olmstead Memorial Museum in Somonauk.
Then there was the restoration of a Pullman dining car of former President Teddy Roosevelt in Sandwich, childhood memories of Christmas past that filled the DeKalb home of David Miner, and even a gathering of a modern-day witches coven to write about.
Along the way, I became acquainted with several of the county’s centenarians, among them Charlie Bradt, Francis Stroup and Hazel Swanberg. Being a history buff, it was fascinating to delve into the story of a heroic Civil War horse named Old Charley and his owner Deck Wesson near Waterman. I have Ivan Williams and the late Al Golden to thank for suggesting that story, as well as several others they shared over many lunches.
Then there were the fun events that provided lots of column material – the Sycamore Steam Power Show, Sandwich Fair, Waterman Tractor Show, Genoa Pioneer Days, Sycamore Pumpkin Festival, Kingston Picnic, the Northern Illinois Farm Show and the Regional History Fair. Talking with organizers at each location made me realize the amount of effort expended to keep these traditions alive year after year.
Probably more than anything, I relish the friendships formed with people who would call or email me or stop to talk wherever we crossed paths. Thanks to all the readers who took the time to join me as I covered life around DeKalb County. It has been a rewarding five years.
• Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-1972. Past columns can be found on his website at www.dekalbcountylife.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.