Wednesday, June 15, 2016

50 Years Ago — Summer Place Theatre

In 1966, North Central College started a  community theatre tradition. Enthusiastic drama students appealed to professor Don Shanower for opportunities beyond the school year. Shanower enlisted the help of part-time faculty member Don Jamison and together they launched Summer Place Theatre. 

Jamison’s career was at Western Electric Co. but he also founded amateur drama clubs and appeared in live WMAQ-TV productions. Teacher Shanower worked with student John Belushi at NCC, but Belushi was fired from his only Summer Place role for absenteeism.

Shanower got permission to use a storefront on Washington and Porter that once housed a Chevy dealer and SPT performed five shows that first season. 

For the next several years, productions were held under tents that were erected on the NCC campus. Torrential rainstorms in 1969 and again in 1973 destroyed the tents, as well as the shows being performed there.

Around the same time, the barn where props were stored was burned to the ground, but SPT still didn’t give up. 
A metal-roofed pavilion was built to replace the tent. Unfortunately, it was soon crushed by the Great Blizzard of 1979, but a second pavilion lasted for a decade. For many years, SPT hoped to raise enough money to erect a permanent home, but shows instead have been held at North Central High School.  

Competition is fierce today for people’s time and it’s hard to find both volunteers to prepare the shows and an audience to watch them, but tough little Summer Place Theatre is already looking forward to the next 50 years. See to learn more about this season’s  shows. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Naperville's Lantern Bar and Grill Celebrates 50 Years

The Lantern Bar and Grill in downtown Naperville is also celebrating a 50th anniversary this year.

Originally it was known as the Rainbow Café, established by Amanda Webb in 1940 and later purchased by Joe and Jenny Fessler. Following Joe’s death, Bob Marwitz bought the tavern. He updated the décor with some antique lanterns and changed the name to reflect the new look.

The father of a young family in the early 1960s, Don Feldott was an employee of Moser Lumber but picked up extra cash working for Marwitz. In 1966, Don and his wife Pat decided to buy The Lantern and started a 50 year family tradition.

Don and Pat’s children grew up at The Lantern, helping sweep the floor before school in the morning and walking back from SS. Peter & Paul to eat lunch there.

The Lantern was also a popular lunch spot in the 1970s for Bell Labs and Amoco employees since there were far fewer restaurant options then.

The Lantern has been remodeled over the past 50 years. The old horseshoe-shaped bar is gone and a back room was enclosed to make space for a few more tables. The façade has been updated, too, including the Century Walk mural, “A City in Transit” on the Washington Street wall.

Pat passed on in 2007 and Don has let the next generation take charge. If you stop in for a beer or a bowl of their famous chili, you may run into son Bill, daughter-in-law Teri or grand-daughter Kalie.

Some regulars have been hanging around the entire 50 years, too. “So many people tell me they met their husband or wife here,” Teri said. “This place is important to people.” The Lantern has even hosted a few engagement and wedding photo sessions.

The Lantern is planning a 50th anniversary bash for later in the summer so watch for details and help them celebrate!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New Naperville Area Schools in 1966

With Naperville’s population booming in the 1960’s, it soon became obvious that the current schools would not be sufficient for educating the children of all these new families.

In 1966, the city was educating 6,267 students, but they were already running out of room even though  several new schools and additions to older schools were being built. Voters okayed a $1,049,375 referendum to build Mill Street Elementary School which broke ground in 1966. Mill welcomed its first students in the fall of 1967 even though it wasn’t yet completed.
Mill Street School of course is named after Mill Street which in turn was named after Joseph Naper’s mill on the banks of the DuPage River. It was originally a saw mill to build the city Naper envisioned, but it was later a grist mill for grinding flour.

While the school took the Mill Street name, it was dedicated to Edna C. Wunder who was a student in Naperville as well as a teacher and principal. Her 45 year career started in 1896 when she was hired as a Naperville teacher for $35 per month. Later, she was principal at Naper Academy and Ellsworth school before retiring in 1941.

Local higher education also got a boost in 1966 with both College of DuPage and Waubonsee Community College launching that year.

Neither school held classes until 1967, but they were pulling together staff and resources that first year.

The Waubonsee name was chosen from 600 entries in a “name the school” contest. It means “early day” and was the name of a local Pottawatomie chief.

Rodney K. Berg was the first president of COD, overseeing the early years and the establishment of the Glen Ellyn campus. Before then, classes were held in various rented spaces and students had to run all over town to attend class. Which is why the COD mascot is a roadrunner!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Naperville 50 Years Ago — Joining the Police Force

There were fewer Naperville citizens in 1966 and a much smaller police force of about a dozen, but a very familiar face started his career that year.

While he later he served as our long-time mayor, Arthur George Pradel became a Naperville police officer on June 1, 1966.

He very nearly didn’t make it. At five foot two, George was not tall enough to meet the height requirement. But Harold Moser, who served on the Police Board, made an exception. Moser said:  “If he’s tall enough for the Marine Corp, he’s tall enough for me.”

Already a family man, George and Pat were living in Naperville while George traveled into Chicago to work at a Texaco warehouse every day and then volunteered at night for the Oak Park Terrace police department.

When one night a week became three, Pat told him “If you love this so much, why don’t you apply to the Naperville police department which is closer?” George completed law enforcement classes at College of DuPage and then applied for the job.

The first month was a probationary period so he continued his “day job” while patrolling at night.

At that time, the Police Department was housed in part of the Fire Department building on Jefferson Avenue, where Lou Malnati’s is. It was a fairly new building having been completed in 1957 after three years of construction. There was a gun range in the basement and the Naperville Chamber had offices there at one time as well. 

Like many officers at the time, George worked extra jobs to support his family such as making donuts at Tasty Bakery before his shift and delivering flowers for Trudy’s during the holidays.

George served 29 years as a Naperville Police Officer. When he retired, he asked the man who gave him his start “How’d I do?” Moser replied: “I never had a doubt.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Naperville 50 Years Ago — The Park District


Dr. Robert Steunenberg1966 was also the year our Park District was born. Park districts weren’t a novel idea — Chicago launched it’s first incarnations in the 1850’s. While a little rural town didn’t need a park district in the nineteenth century, as Naperville became more suburban, visionaries started considering ways to preserve parkland for the citizens.

Dr. Robert Steunenberg was one of those visionaries. A WWII vet who was marooned for 30 days after his ship LST 808 sank, he later became  a research chemist at Argonne. After initiating studies in 1964, he was instrumental in forming the Park District and also served as commissioner.

Ernest NanceA referendum passed in December of 1966 to establish a Naperville Park District, but the first 31 programs weren’t offered until 1968. That first year, 3,000 people participated at a time when Naperville’s population was about 18,000.

In 1967, the Park District purchased it’s first property, the Fraley farm, which later became Springbrook Golf Course. Frank Fraley was a long-time Wheatland Township farmer who passed away that same year. He and his wife Jenny were among those who organized the Naperville Rural Life Progress Club in 1917.

Naperville Board of Park CommissionersErnie Nance was our first Director with a newly-minted Masters degree in Park and Recreation Administration and previous experience in the Mundelein Park District. He later moved on to other park districts across the country, winning numerous awards. In his last years, he was Executive Director of the Illinois Conservation, Park and Recreation Foundation.

Dorthea Weigand was the  sole woman on the first Board of Park Commissioners and was re-elected for a second six-year term in 1971. Enthusiastically committed to the Naperville Park District, Weigand has lovely park named after her on south Washington Street near Ring Road.

The Naperville Park District has big plans for their anniversary year from selling wine at the Riverwalk Café to the completion of the Fort Hill Activity Center.