Roger Steimel has learned more about his ancestors in the past year than he has in his entire lifetime.
Steimel, a member of DeKalb’s Faivre family, knew his family was rooted deep in agriculture, but he didn’t know just how significant a role they played in DeKalb’s agricultural development until recently.
When the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association approached Steimel’s family about featuring their ancestors in a local exhibit, the family wasn’t sure where to start.
“The cousins looked at each other and thought we better learn more about our family history,” Steimel said.
The Faivre family is currently featured in one of DAAHA’s three new exhibits at the Nehring Gallery, located at 111 S. Second St. in DeKalb. The organization, which aims to preserve and share the history of agriculture, also has put together a photographic display of the major droughts in the U.S. and DeKalb County, as well as an object-based exhibit of agricultural hats and their uses in the industry.
Ann Koski, vice president of DAAHA and chairwoman of the museum’s operations committee, said each exhibit tells a story about prominent people and innovations in farming, such as the development of the DeKalb corn logo and other marketing techniques among farmers and dealers.
The Faivre’s exhibit tells the story of Joseph and Mary Ann (Montavon) Faivre through photos, which were gathered by their 75 grandchildren, including Steimel.
The couple, who moved to DeKalb in 1922, have left a major impact on the DeKalb farming community with their large family, said DAAHA curator and educator Donna Langford.
“The Faivre family exhibit explores the journey the family has made in agriculture, their successes, their failures,” she said.
One of the family’s successes include grandson Steve Faivre’s development of a GPS positioning system for planters to use while in their tractors. Faivre’s technology allowed farmers to plot the maximum amount of land planted, Koski said.
While the Faivre family was in the process of collecting these photos, Steimel said they got the idea to turn their family’s history into a book.
After a year of gathering information and about 500 photos, “The Family History of Joseph and Mary Ann Faivre,” was published. A copy of the 200-page book is now available at the DeKalb and Sycamore libraries and the DAAHA gallery.
“We were pleased to put this all together,” Steimel said. “It really benefits us, too, because now we have a history to our family that these people (DAAHA) are passing on.”
Steimel’s late mother, Madeline, was one of the couple’s nine children and was a devoted farmwife. She was one of the eight children who carried on the family’s farming way of life in the DeKalb area.
Steimel also has continued his family’s work on his farmland south of Cortland, which his father bought in 1947. Steimel is now retired, but his son still farms on the land.
“We’re proud of our ancestors and we are thankful for the opportunity that DeKalb County has given us,” he said.
Langford said she hopes the Faivre’s exhibit is the first of many in a series of families featured throughout the DAAHA gallery. She encourages other local farming families to share their stories, too.
Koski said the area, especially DeKalb, is rich in agricultural history, which is what visitors to the exhibits will discover.
“Everyone likes a great story,” Koski said. “We have some great ones in northern Illinois and we’re going to have fun telling them.”
The gallery is open to the public from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays until Memorial Day. It is open throughout the summer by appointment; call 815-756-8737.
If you go
What: DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association's farming exhibits featuring droughts, hats and the Faivre family
Where: Nehring Gallery, 111 S. Second St., DeKalb
When: 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays through Memorial Day. Tours available by appointment through summer; call 815-756-8737.