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Editorials

Schrader: Story behind the house at Fairview Cemetery

This photo shows the front side and entry of the 1970s Dura-Plex model home now used as an office at Fairview Cemetery in DeKalb.
This photo shows the front side and entry of the 1970s Dura-Plex model home now used as an office at Fairview Cemetery in DeKalb.

If you drive down South First Street to the entrance of Fairview Cemetery in DeKalb you may notice a building near the entrance with a two-car garage attached.

It is the cemetery office, but originally it was a display model for a new concept in building construction, later occupied by the caretaker.

In the early 1970s, Dura-Plex Industries of Peoria announced a low-cost modular house, probably best known by most people as a prefab. This unit was made with fiberglass panels with a core of polyurethane foam sandwiched in between. The Crusader model at the cemetery is a three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot building with 29 sandwich panels glued together and a roof attached. The foundation is a poured cement slab that overlaps notches in the panels to anchor it in place.

The electrical wiring and PVC plumbing were built into the panels and cutouts for aluminum windows and door frames were pre-cut. The house has remained on the site for more than 40 years and has needed only minor repairs and a new roof, plus a garage was added later. It was a bargain at $9,000 plus the cost of the lot.

The first model was erected at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in 1971 and then a few others around the state, including Marengo and Belvidere, according to newspaper accounts from the time. A second home also was reportedly built somewhere south of DeKalb, but I drove around Gurler and Keslinger roads and could not locate it this past weekend. Three DeKalb men were named as distributors, Simon Schafer, Donald J. Kohler and Lloyd E. Cooper. Cooper, now deceased, was a cousin of mine, and his daughter, Carol Prentice, told me she recalled her father’s involvement.

Coincidentally, a member of the Dura-Plex board of directors, Donald R. Grubb, was my college adviser as chairman of the NIU journalism department. He also handled public relations for the company on the side.

Lisa Larson, the cemetery administrator, said the cemetery office structure was built in the summer of 1975. Grubb’s widow, Ruby, and daughter, Karen, said the house was a display model for showing prospective buyers and investors, and later was turned over to the cemetery association for its use.

Unfortunately for the stockholders and company officials, they were not successful in marketing the prefab units. Dura-Plex was absorbed by another company and the stock is now valueless. I also heard that the trades unions were adamantly opposed to these prebuilt homes because of the loss of work that would result for their members. One of the stockholders from Sycamore told me he sold 300 of his shares for a profit when the stock split, but still has the other 300 shares with no value.

According to an announcement in the Daily Chronicle in May 1972, about 1.4 million shares were being offered for sale at $2 each. A meeting was held at the local Holiday Inn where prospective stockholders were given the sales pitch.

If anyone knows the whereabouts of that Dura-Plex house south of DeKalb please let me know. I would like to find out how it has held up 40-plus years.

• Barry Schrader can be reached by email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.

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