Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Notable Naperville Women -- Peg Price

Her place in history books and trivia quizzes is forever ensured:  Margaret “Peg” Price was Naperville’s first female mayor. So far, she is also Naperville’s only female mayor, but she probably counts on that record being broken.

Peg Price served two terms as mayor, from 1983 until 1991, which represents only a portion of her time in public office. Over a thirty year career, Price was also a City Council member for two terms, served as city plan commissioner and held positions on boards such as the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission. 

Rather than a born-and-bred Napervillian, Price arrived in 1967 with husband Charles and two sons as part of the great mid-sixties influx when subdivisions were popping up all around town. 

By 1969 Price was deep into local politics and part of the referendum campaign that brought about our current Council-Manager form of government. Originally with four councilors, in 1984 then-Mayor Price oversaw the number of councilors grow from four to six. 

Other changes during Price’s watch included the planning and building of today’s Municipal Center. City Hall used to be in the stone building on Jefferson Street that now houses La Sorella di Francesca. Although she was instrumental in keeping the Municipal Center downtown, by the time it opened in 1992, Price's term as mayor had ended. 

Another innovation under her leadership is the annual State of the City address. Price gave the first “state” speech in 1991 in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to associate the objectives of government with those of the business community. Price continues to attend the annual address and you may have seen her with Mayor Chirico and Mayor Emeritus Pradel last spring. 

Another place to see her is on the Community Concert Center door in Central Park. The First National Bank purchased space to depict four mayors in the art on the door:  Chester Rybicki, Price, Sam Macrane and George Pradel. The painting is called The Great Concerto and features a number of  notable Napervillians. You can see it just before the door raises and the Naperville Municipal Band begins a summer concert.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Notable Naperville Women -- Jane Sindt

Newer and younger residents of Naperville may not be familiar with Jane Sindt as a person, but if you’ve ever strolled the Riverwalk, attended an event at the Grand Pavilion or gone swimming at the beach, you are probably familiar with her name. The drive there was designated “Honorary Sindt Memorial Court” in 2002.

Older residents with a longer history in Naperville knew Jane as a person, or more precisely, knew her as a tornado of convictions and activity. 

Caroline Martin Mitchell left her family home to the city in 1936 to become Naperville’s historical museum. But it was Jane who first moved buildings onto the property and started the Heritage Society in 1969 to do so. Century Memorial Chapel was the first building to be carefully secured, raised and rolled through the streets to what we now call Naper Settlement.

The venture was not completely popular at the time, but when Jane took on a project, she completed it well and with flair. 

Jane’s interest was not because she was a fourth generation Napervillian. In fact, she attended 23 elementary schools and five high schools while growing up as her father worked in locations across the country, taking the family along. 

Jane arrived in Naperville as an adult in 1957 with her husband Gus and two children, Susan and Tobey. 

During that time, she was a stage actress at local theaters as well as appearing in TV commercials and Chicago-filmed movies, but she also developed a fierce love for her adopted community. She is quoted as saying: “When I first moved to Naperville, so many important historic places were being torn down. People in the midwest seemed to think they didn't have anything worth saving.” Jane thought differently.

In addition to serving as the first leader of the Heritage Society from 1969-1976, Jane also started the Farmers Market at Fifth Avenue Station and worked closely with May Watts to create the Prairie Path. 

The Sindt family home was nestled among the trees at the very end of Honorary Sindt Memorial Court and she lived there until she died on Christmas Eve in 1995. By agreement, the land became a Naperville Parks property. Part of it is a maintenance facility, but some of land is a public trail. When you’re strolling that section, take a moment to remember Jane and her dedication to her adopted community.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - Peg Yonker

Margaret Barnes Yonker, otherwise known as “Peg,” passed away in fall of 2016 at the age of 93. While not a Naperville native with family stretching back to the 1800s, Peg devoted more than half of her life to preserving this city’s history. 

Like many mid-century women, Peg went where her husband’s career took him and they wound up in Naperville in 1959, just as the town started booming.

Smart and energetic, Peg put her efforts toward local philanthropic enterprises both big and small. She was among those who established Summer Place Theatre in 1967 and was a co-founder of TAG, Naperville’s first foster home for teenage girls in 1970. 

Those were busy years for the city and foundations were laid for many of the programs and amenities we enjoy today. The Naperville Heritage Society was formed in 1969 by volunteers like Peg, among others, who wanted to save St. John's Episcopal Church from being leveled by development. They raised money and interest enough to move the church onto the Martin Mitchell property which launched the Naper Settlement we enjoy today.

Peg spent more than 30 years with the Heritage Society in many and various roles including volunteer, fund-raising chairperson, president and director. Probably her favorite way to serve however was as a costumed interpreter. 

Peg was frequently invited to schools, churches and other community groups to give her presentations on early Naperville history. She made her own costumes and wrote her own scripts for the three personalities she spoke as: Hannah Ditzler, Almeda Naper and Lone Feather, a composite character representing the original inhabitants of the area. 

In celebration of the city's sesquicentennial, a group of folks recreated the settlers’ journey from Naper’s ship in Lake Michigan to the arrival at the DuPage River. Peg was among those who took part in the the three-day event that started with horse-drawn wagons through Chicago’s downtown and ended with a parade through Naperville’s. 

No longer performing her character sketches, Peg committed her presentations to paper for the 175th anniversary celebration in 2006. Her book “Lone Feather and the Settlers” preserves Peg’s enthusiasm for her adopted town for future generations. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - Genevieve Towsley

If you’ve ever walked or driven by the Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the corner of Washington Street and Chicago Avenue, no doubt you’ve seen the bronze statue of Genevieve Towsley sitting near the door. 

Part of the Century Walk public art initiative, the statue shows Genevieve much as she was when she passed away in 1996 at the age of 88. Commemorating her nearly 50 years of writing for Naperville newspapers, she’s holding the familiar notepad and pencil.

Naperville became Genevieve’s “home town” in a round-about way. She was born in Oak Park, but spent many years on an Idaho farm when her family moved there when she was eight.  They returned to Illinois in 1924 so she could attend her chosen college, North Central, at that time still known as Northwestern. 

Genevieve stayed on at North Central College as a teacher until 1932 when she left to raise her family. By 1948 she was writing for The Clarion, a local newspaper. 

One of her former NCC students, Harold White, Jr., bought the Naperville Sun and convinced Genevieve to write for him starting in 1954. She wrote two columns for the Sun over the years:  The Grapevine and Sky-Lines. The Grapevine dealt with local news and issues in the Naperville community. Her column was influential in the desegregation of Centennial Beach and when the Naperville Heritage Society was formed in 1969, she was a charter member. Her writing helped generate interest moving Century Memorial Chapel to the grounds of the Martin Mitchell Mansion, becoming the first addition to Naper Settlement.

Sky-Lines had more of a historical tone. Genevieve re-told local legends, interviewed long-time residents and waded through old books as research. Because of her work, the Sky-Lines articles are a major resource of local history. A selection of columns was gathered up in 1975 under the title A View of Historic Naperville and has been through several printings.

Daughter Dr. Caryl Towsley Moy, a professor, a clinical therapist and many other distinguished things, wrote a book of her own to honor her mother, Genevieve.

When the statue was first installed, Genevieve was wearing her customary glasses, but unfortunately those have disappeared. Still, it’s a pretty faithful depiction of a lovely and smart writer who probably loves sitting outside a bookstore and is happy to share her bench with you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Notable Naperville Women -- Named "Naper"

Gravestone of Almeda Naper, wife of Joseph
Traditionally May is Heritage Month in Naperville, including Civil War Days which is May 20 and 21. So let’s take a look at the women who were here at the beginning. 

It’s Joseph Naper’s bigger-than-life statue in the park on Mill Street and Jefferson Avenue, but he certainly didn’t found this town without some help.The first settlers included his brother John Naper, his brother-in-law John Murray and their pretty remarkable wives.

When these three families arrived 1831, this land was the western frontier with a just a couple of families, such as the Hobsons, in the area.


Joseph and John Naper were in their early 30s, experienced and in the prime of their lives. Joseph’s wife Almeda was a thirty-one-year-old mother with three young children. John’s wife Betsy was even younger, just twenty-three, with a couple of preschoolers in tow. Both women would more than double the size of their families in Naperville. 

Gravestone of Amy Naper Murray,
wife of John Murray
and sister of Joseph and John Naper
The Murray family was of a slightly older generation. Amy Naper was probably a half sister of Joseph and John from a previous marriage of their father. She was keeping house for another brother, Benjamin, in the earliest days of Ashtabula, Ohio when Joey and Johnny were just tykes. That’s where she met John Murray who was a school teacher in the newly-settled town. Naperville wasn’t the Murray’s first pioneering gig.

The Murrays already had a married daughter whose husband, child and in-laws were also among the earliest Naperville inhabitants.

Robert Naper, the father of Joseph, John and Amy died in Ohio before the family relocated to Illinois, but his wife Sarah is buried in the Naperville Cemetery. She would have been in her mid-sixties when she helped hack a settlement out of the prairie. 

With only each other to rely on, it’s remarkable that these women fed and clothed their families, gave birth and tended illnesses and injuries in this isolated wilderness. 

1874 map of Naperville showing
Betsy Naper's land
Almeda and Betsy both outlived their spouses by decades, although Amy predeceased her husband. The Naper bloodline apparently burned bright rather than long.