Interested in genealogy? Local history? Immigration and the “melting pot”? All of these topics underlie the September exhibit at the DeKalb Area Women’s Center, formerly the 1917 Majakka Hall of the Finnish Temperance Society, 1021 State St. in DeKalb.
“A Memorial Tribute to the Pesut Family: Croatian Immigrant Experience in Finn Town, DeKalb, IL” will be on display through Sept. 28. The exhibit is open Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m. and by appointment at 815-758-1351.
Frances “Peppy” Pesut died earlier this year at age 95, the last of her siblings – four sisters and three brothers. She grew up on the East end of DeKalb known as Finn Town. She was a child of Croation immigrants who married in America and first rented, then owned their own house. In her elder years, Frances moved from the homestead after buying her own house “two steps from church.” It was only the third address of her entire life. She was a generous, thoughtful and gregarious neighbor.
The DAWC display focuses on the items that Pesut carefully kept in memory of her own family: her mother’s crocheting, legal papers, some tools and household items, service awards from employment and family photographs.
There were some challenges in assembling this exhibit according to Anna Marie Coveny, DAWC gallery director. Genealogical researchers will recognize at least five spellings of the family name – Pesut, Peshut, Peshet, Pesuit, Pesuth – and note documented dates that vary.
“I did become better at identifying people through different ages because some of the pictures were labeled on the reverse,” Coveny said in the release. “It has been interesting to see the fashion changes in hairstyles and clothing.”
Family members contributed to the DeKalb community by working at Wurlitzer, GE, Cyclone Fence, American Steel and Wire, DeKalb Ag, as well as locally owned small businesses. Signatures in funeral books revealed names of relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers who were in attendance. Newspaper obituaries provided a great deal of information for family trees, local history and geographic locations.
Commonalities in the immigrant experience, including loyalties, family, religion, home, work, language and customs, are presented in the exhibit. One of the museum cases serves in memorium for Helen Suknaich Alexander, a recently deceased member of the women’s center who also came from a Croatian immigrant family who settled just around the corner in Finn Town.
Parking for the DAWC exhibit is available in the lot off 11th Street. The accessible lift can be reached from the north alley adjacent to the building. The exhibit is free and open to the public.