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Local Column

Schrader: New DeKalb County History Center is dream come true

DeKalb County History Center board member Bill Lenschow speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday. At back from left are U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Naperville), former State Rep. Bob Pritchard, and Orrin Merritt from the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society in Genoa.
DeKalb County History Center board member Bill Lenschow speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday. At back from left are U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Naperville), former State Rep. Bob Pritchard, and Orrin Merritt from the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society in Genoa.

DeKalb County has needed a countywide history center for decades, and the dream finally became a reality with the opening of the new $1.5 million, 7,600-square-foot complex last weekend.

More than 300 people attended the donors’ night preview and then the grand opening Saturday.

“There is so much to see you can’t possibly do it in an hour,” said Michelle Donahoe, executive director and the driving force behind the project. She and County Historian Sue Breese, who heads the Joiner History Room that also relocated there, have spent countless hours over many months pulling this all together and the result is a dream come true. With so many small museums and local historical attractions disappearing because of economic reasons or lack of support, building this new center is a real boost for DeKalb County.

Meshing the local history component with the Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” provides the depth to the history of small communities and farm life you wouldn’t see in one part alone.

The standalone exhibit in the center of the room is all Smithsonian, while the display cases and wall mountings are those done locally. People should realize this exhibit will be open for viewing here for only a little more than 30 days before it moves out June 22. At that time, the local exhibit will expand to fill the space left in the center of the room. Michelle already has those plans in place so artifacts from around the county will be brought in at that time.

That will be a good reason to return for another tour later in the summer. The local exhibit will remain in place until the end of March 2020.

Besides the big display area and the Joiner History Room for research and genealogy, there is a meeting room at the other end of the building where clubs and other groups can rent space for meetings and receptions. This should attract even more attention to the center.

Center board member and longtime farmer Bill Lenschow said it so well at the ribbon-cutting when he commented he has “never seen a county with so much foresight and willingness to work on a project together like DeKalb County. It’s more than the fertility of the land and farming that makes people want to raise their families here.”

Just a thought: Bill and wife Kathy would make great figures to pose for a sculpture of the Great American Farm Couple. Sycamore High School already has the Great American Coach statue of Pete Johnson and downtown boasts one of the Great Mr. Pumpkin, Wally Thurow. So why not another statue at the history center?

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns are archived on his website www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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