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.