Hawk-Eyed

We have a feathered friend who has taken up residence in our yard this summer.

Pictured above is the feathered friend who has taken up residence in our yard this spring and summer.

There are few things that I find more peaceful than spending time in nature. Luckily for me, I live in a place where it is possible to do that on a daily basis. But like so many of us, I get busy and over-booked and forget to really pay attention sometimes. This week however, I finally took a cue from a very observant creature.

We often have hawks visit our yard, the adjoining prairie lot, and the creek and conservancy that border it. They can be spotted circling overhead or perched in nearby trees at all times of the year. Besides being majestic to behold, we love the hawks because they help keep down the local field mice population. And while I appreciate all of God’s creatures, every rodent snack a hawk snatches from my yard is one less rodent to keep out of my basement this fall. Happy hunting, hawk-eyed friends!

This spring, my husband and I first noticed one particular hawk who seems to visit our yard more frequently, and who has a favorite perch on the top of a large evergreen tree at the back edge of our lot. It has been fun to watch her (I’m deeming it a her although I really have no clue) all summer long from the back windows and outside deck. Seeing her fly over the prairie or spotting her perched on a limb in vigilant watchfulness has been a happy reminder that we share our little corner of Long Grove with wildlife free to come and go. Or is she really as wild as we think?

A couple of days ago we realized that nearly every morning around 8:00 am she is there, perched on top of the evergreen. Aaron goes out and fires up the John Deere for his 3 minute commute across the prairie path to his office. The hawk flies over him and perches on a tree in the hedgerow between the lots, then she hunts in the prairie after Aaron has effectively “scared up” her breakfast. It has not only been us who have been watching the hawk. She has been watching us, using her keen eyesight to observe our routines and patterns and learn just when to wait for her most opportune hunting moment. The hawk helps us to keep the mice population under control, but we help her to feed her family. How many weeks has it taken me to notice the connection? The hawk had it figured out months ago!

There are so many lessons to be found in nature, sometimes we just have to take the time to really look.

Remembering Lee

Lee Bassett was my favorite docent to partner with at the Ruth Barn. Here he is pictured with one of the pitchforks he loved to showcase.

Lee Bassett was my favorite docent to partner with at the Ruth Barn. Here he is pictured with one of the pitchforks he loved to showcase.

Every community has those unique individuals who seem to pop up everywhere that help is needed; who simply have a heart for public service. Long Grove lost one of these treasures yesterday, with the passing of Lee Bassett. Lee was a compact dynamo, tireless in his dedication to our Village and generous with his time and passion. Lee was responsible for calling me up and asking me to serve on the Historical Society board way back in 1999. He was the kind of volunteer we all look up to as a role model of servant leadership.

One of his biggest contributions to Long Grove was serving as President of the Long Grove Park District. Lee donated countless hours as a local environmentalist and caretaker of his own heavily wooded property and various public open spaces throughout the village. I loved seeing Lee and his good friend Bob Borg out in my neighborhood every May, sporting backpacks and sprayers in their never-ending battle against invasive teasel. Lee also served for many years as our Long Grove Historical Society Vice-President, and as a docent for thousands of children who have participated in our Archer School and Ruth Barn field trip programs. Some of Lee’s favorite items to show and tell were the pitchforks in our collection, and how they each had a varied and specific use. His infectious enthusiasm would get the kids wound up, then I had the challenge of making them sit still and practice their penmanship in the schoolhouse! Lee loved to entertain as well as educate, and was a fellow castmate in our “Long Grove Lurid Legends” Halloween show a decade ago. He got such a kick out of playing a member of the real life “Newton Gang,” who robbed a train right here in Lake County. Both kids and adults delighted in his presence.

LeeBassett-Pitchfork

Lee will be remembered at a “Casual Gathering of the Friends of Lee” next Wednesday, July 25th, from 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon at Reed-Turner Woodland Nature Center. He will certainly be missed by all those that he has touched during his years here in Long Grove. He was a friend and an inspiration.

LeeBassett-Stone

Why History Matters

Members of the 2018-2019 Long Grove Historical Society Board of Directors at the Annual Meeting on  April 25, 2018.

Members of the 2018-2019 Long Grove Historical Society Board of Directors at the Annual Meeting on April 25, 2018.

The Long Grove Historical Society has a website, and we are contacted fairly often by people all over the country with inquiries relating to our Village, past and present. I would like to share with you an email that we recently received, because it underscores the importance of remembering and honoring our history. I read this correspondence at our Board meeting last month so that all those who work so hard to preserve our past know that their efforts really do matter. Last week I paid a visit to Barbara Turner who will turn 99 next month, and had the pleasure of sharing these fond remembrances with her:

“We raised our three sons on Old McHenry Road in Long Grove until the 1970’s. When they went off to college, my husband John and I moved to Oregon in 1976.

Looking back, those were the years where we really matured. I worked closely with Barbara Turner to turn the local school library at Kildeer Countryside into a vibrant and relevant school library. My husband John was one of the first volunteer firemen who took the paramedic training. We really became contributing adults there. It was a wonderful learning experience.

Now I am living in a high rise retirement home in Portland, Oregon. I had dinner tonight with a couple who I knew but had no idea her family was originally from Buffalo Grove. We had a nice time exchanging reminiscences, so I came up after dinner and reread Virginia Park’s book on the area, Long Grove Lore and Legend. I had kept it all these years–I am so glad I did! For some reason, it made more sense tonight than when I was active living among the people mentioned in the book.

These days I am pretty ancient. I suspect Barbara and Virginia are long gone. But I wanted to make sure that their descendants, and you who are working to ensure that history is not forgotten realize that your work is SO worthwhile. I will now share this material with my Buffalo Grove friend. Who would have imagined?

If any of you are still in contact with the Turner and Park descendants, let them know. Even after all of these years, they will never be forgotten. If it had not been for Barbara, she and I would never have decided to pursue our advanced degrees in library science–and I would never have received a lifetime achievement award in the field. She was an amazing leader and loved Long Grove.”

Sincerely,

Sybilla Cook

On May 29th, while vacationing Greece, I got a personal tour of the local history museum in Kaloxylos, on the island of Naxos. I'm pictured here with museum founder Flourios Horianopoulos who gave me a personal tour and some awesome lemonade he makes from his lemon trees. Hats off to local historians world wide. Opa!

On May 29th, 2018 while vacationing in Greece, I got a personal tour of the local history museum in Kaloxylos, on the island of Naxos. I’m pictured here with museum founder Flourios Horianopoulos who gave me a personal tour and some awesome homemade lemonade he makes from his trees. Hats off to all of us world-wide with a passion for saving local history. Opa!

Gridley Pioneer Cemetery

Sharon Gridley paid a recent visit to see the spot where her pioneer ancestors are buried.

Sharon Gridley (left) paid an April 21st visit to see the spot where her pioneer ancestors are buried.

Long Grove has two cemeteries, one well-known and one a bit off the beaten path. The cemetery next to the Long Grove Community Church, with it’s distinctive iron work fence and gate, has graves dating back to the 1800’s. Many prominent early citizens of our Village are eternally resting in this historic spot. But perhaps Long Grove’s oldest pioneer settlers, the Gridley family, are buried amongst the oaks in a small, private cemetery on land that was part of their homestead back in the mid-1830’s. The Long Grove Historical Society maintains this cemetery, and we were recently paid a visit by Sharon Gridley of Atlanta, a direct descendant of original pioneers John and Nancy Gridley.

I had not been to the cemetery for a few years, and it was a pleasure to guide Sharon back to this hidden spot. While paying her respects and snapping photos of the weathered grave markers, I got the chance to think about how different it must have been when the Gridleys first arrived. No paved roads, no traffic, just woods and prairie as far as the eye could see. I am always struck by the young ages on many of the tombstones, children who only lived a few short years or months, and the mothers who died way too early. Pioneers enjoyed the peaceful untouched natural beauty and resources that we find scarce today, but it was sure a hard life. Several curious deer emerged from the woods as we concluded our visit, bridging the past and present with their quiet watchfulness.

Sharon and I spent some time that afternoon in our Historical Society archives, where we have many photos and documents relating to her family history. It was glad for the opportunity to meet her and help with researching her ancestors. Life in Long Grove today has much more meaning when we step back to appreciate what Life in Long Grove meant for those that came before us.

How Sweet It Is

Ethel Berger (on the left) and I offered our congratulations to owner Craig Leva on the Grand Opening of the new location of the Long Grove Confectionery.

Ethel Berger (on the right) and I offered our congratulations to owner Craig Leva at the Grand Opening of the newly located Long Grove Confectionery.

Smiles abounded on a perfect springtime evening last Friday for the Grand Opening celebration at the newly renovated Long Grove Confectionery. A year in the making, our town’s namesake sweet spot has happily settled in their new location alongside Towner Green, now offering much more than delicious chocolate creations. Besides locally famous Myrtles (recently named one of “Chicago’s Best” by WGN Channel 9!) you can now also purchase Long Grove Apple Haus favorites like apple cider donuts and Uncle Johnny’s brown bag apple pies. A demonstration kitchen is part of the new retail shop, where customers can watch strawberries and other treats being created and coated in luscious chocolate. The Confectionery expanded to include the next-door Long Grove Coffee Company, which opened this past December. Already a favorite gathering spot with the locals, it features occasional weekend live music and a patio for relaxing in the warmer months to come. A chef is now on staff to create soups and fresh bakery items and coming soon, signature sandwiches.

The party was a lovely celebration of the culmination of 12 months worth of remodeling. It featured a live band, beautiful spread of appetizers, a chocolate fountain (of course!) and my favorite new discovery, apple pie pops. Several hundred people stopped by to offer Confectionery owner Craig Leva and his staff kudos on the beautiful new spaces.

As a former elected official and resident who cares deeply about our Village, it warms my heart to see the investment being made by the Long Grove Confectionery in the future of our downtown. New stores and renovated spaces bring excitement and positive energy to all. And for this chocoholic, having our hometown Confectionery up and running bigger and better than ever makes me very, very happy!

Maureen introduced me to a new  indulgence--apple pie pops. Simply Scrumptious!

Maureen introduced me to a new indulgence–apple pie pops. Simply Scrumptious!

 

On Living

While my husband Aaron and I are no Fred and Ginger, we are adding more joy to the time we have left together by learning how to dance.

While my husband Aaron and I are no Fred and Ginger, we are adding more joy to the time we have left together by learning how to dance.

If you were down to the last weeks and months of your life, what kinds of stories would you tell? Perhaps you would have regrets, or the need to release a secret held too long. Maybe you would find the strength to make amends, or the will to finally grant compassion to others, or yourself. Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain and the author of a beautiful and thoughtful book on this topic, called “On Living.” Recently recommended to me by a friend, I sat down after dinner last night to quickly skim through the 200 pages and found myself coming up for air four hours later deeply moved and in need of a tissue or two. This book was not sad. I found it to be an inspiring and sometimes humorous set of stories on how we as humans can find more meaning in our lives now, before we reach the end of our days.

By sharing many of the insights from her work counseling hospice patients, the author reveals what she has learned by listening and simply being present. I loved her chapter on “living in the gray” which dealt with judgement and the importance of kindness (which is not the same as niceness). Another section of the book that was meaningful to me detailed the contrast between toughness and strength, which are often thought of as being the same thing, but in fact are opposites. A favorite quote: “You have to be tough because you’re not strong. Being tough makes you mean. In most of life, you can be weak inside and get through by putting on a tough outer shell. But if you work in hospice, you have to stay soft on the outside. So in order to stand up straight, you have to have a spine of steel. Two ways to go through the world, two ways to deal with the loss that is an inevitable experience in life–with a hard shell or with a rock-solid backbone.”

My favorite chapter is entitled, “if I had only known, I would have danced more.” The author describes how many dying patients express regret that they had spent time hating their bodies for various reasons and wished that they had appreciated them more in the course of their lives. Egan writes, “They talk about their favorite memories of their bodies. And dancing. So many stories about dancing. I can’t count the hundreds of times people–more men than women–have closed their eyes and said, “If I had only known, I would have danced more.”

I am personally taking this last lesson to heart. I have always regretted not knowing how to dance. Six months ago, my husband Aaron and I started taking ballroom dancing lessons at the new Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Long Grove, and we have added one more joyful thing to our lives because of it. As a result of reading “On Living” I am also inspired to bring more peace into my life right now by working harder on forgiveness and compassion. My hope is to die with few regrets and I wish the same for you.

Award Winning Excellence

Left to Right: Citizen of the Year John Kopecky celebrates with fellow award winners Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School of Long Grove, Best New Business.

Left to Right: Citizen of the Year John Kopecky celebrates with fellow award winners Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School of Long Grove, Best New Business.

Don’t you just love it on those rare occasions when the stars align and good things happen to truly deserving people? Long Grove was shining bright last night at the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Evening of Excellence event. What a thrill it was to celebrate John Kopecky as he was presented with the Citizen of the Year Award, and to cheer the success of Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School as they were recognized as the Best New Business. In addition to awards, the night was filled with friends, good food, dancing, and pride in our community.

It is a generally held opinion in town that John Kopecky is an amazing volunteer who helps out anyone and anywhere he sees a need. It is impossible to list all the wonderful ways in which John has helped our village over the many years he has owned his downtown business, The Country House, and even prior to that growing up in the Long Grove area. Need a dozen or so creative mini golf holes for the Lions putt-putt fundraiser? John will design and build them. Clever marketing ideas and a giant teddy bear to promote the downtown festivals? Done. How about acquiring a historic tractor (or two) and wagon, then tirelessly driving loads upon loads of visitors throughout the historic downtown for Vintage Days, on your birthday? His pleasure. Emergency repairs to brewery equipment? Just call him MacGuyver. Another truck has hit and damaged the covered bridge? John is getting out the ladder and paint bucket as we speak. Need someone to portray “crazy” Jake Eisler or Mrs. Bigfoot in the annual Ghostwalk? Say no more. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture of just how indispensable John is to the fiber of our village. And beloved. Several of us from the community were moved to nominated John for this award and it is so richly deserved. Congratulations!

Jenny and Rich Wierzchon have parlayed their passion for early childhood education into the creation and establishment of the Primrose School of Long Grove. I was there for the ground breaking in October of 2015, and have been delighted to watch this new business grow into a real asset for our community. See my earlier post here about the Primrose Promise. Here’s to many more years of success!

While it is exciting to be recognized with an award, the real prize for our community is having John, Jenny and Rich giving every day in their own winning ways to make Long Grove such a great place to live. We salute you! Check out a short clip of the awards presentations below:

 

Attendees at the Evening of Excellence (L to R): Angie Underwood, John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood, Amy Gayton, and Vicki Kopecky.

Attendees at the Evening of Excellence (L to R): Angie Underwood, John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood, Amy Gayton, and Vicki Kopecky.

Let it Snow!

The elves at the Long Grove Historical Society decorated this downtown holiday tree at the farmhouse.

The elves at the Long Grove Historical Society decorated this downtown holiday tree outside the farmhouse.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know a number of things that I love about Long Grove. Add to that list, the positive odds of experiencing a white Christmas. When I peered out the window this morning, my heart skipped a beat. To those of us enjoying the holiday in Long Grove this year, we are in luck!

With a snowfall, our open spaces and wooded preserves such as Reed-Turner suddenly transform into a winter wonderland. The beautiful holiday lights and decorations at the historical crossroads look so much more magical with a dusting of snow, as do the 80 outdoor fresh Christmas trees decorated in festive splendor by our merchants and business owners. I missed the tractor rides yesterday due to a family gathering, but I’ve spent the past week finishing up the gift list by shopping in some of my favorite stores. One Long Grove shop owner mentioned that sales are up 10 percent for the year and 25 percent for the holiday season. Two more indicated that things are going so well this year, they are close to running out of Christmas themed merchandise. Not to worry…orders have already been placed for additional new and exciting inventory in the year ahead! Being warmly greeted by smiling faces in our downtown shops and restaurants has truly helped make my holiday season extra merry and bright. There is just something so special about a small-town at Christmastime.

And even though the fluffy white flakes that lift my spirits can dampen the joy for those who have to travel, for all of us celebrating the holiday in Long Grove…let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

What to Keep

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area, in April of this year.

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area in April of this year.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of simplifying. It all started this spring, when I retired from the Village Board and found myself cleaning out six years worth of job related clutter–physical, mental, and the electronic variety. I’ve moved on now to closets, and in a five-bedroom house we have more than a few. With three children now grown and living on their own, I’m pretty sure we can live without the Middle School fashion statements and treasures hauled home from numerous college apartments. Fat clothes? If I haven’t worn them in five years, why in God’s name am I hanging on to them? Yes, the charity pickup trucks have been welcome at my doorstep this summer.

All this purging has gotten me thinking about scaling back my life in other ways. I am volunteering a little bit less these days, while still focusing my leadership efforts on causes and groups that I’m most passionate about. As empty nesters, my husband and I regularly discuss the pros and cons of downsizing our properties now that it’s just the two of us at the dinner table. But as we talk about what to get rid of, it always leads us back to what we want to keep.

We do have an affection for our house where we have raised our family, but the happy memories from the last nineteen years are what we will cherish. Houses come and go. Yet, it is the intangible part of Long Grove that has gotten hold of our hearts and keeps us rooted to this land and this community. Our neighbors have been a blessing, and although I know they too are having similar downsizing thoughts, collectively we love and have been loved by too many individuals in this community to be able to give that up anytime soon. Even though it is part of a larger suburban area, Long Grove has the soul of a small town, and my husband and I feel a very part of that fiber.

Besides our human ties, the other tether holding us to this particular spot on the globe is the beautiful nature that we are fortunate to be a part of on a daily basis. We are the lucky recipients and stewards of the majestic open spaces strewn throughout our Village, set aside by prior neighbors so that native flora and fauna could co-exist with us for years to come. Sightings of coyotes, fawns, monarchs and prairie orchid bring peacefulness and serenity, when we really take the time to notice it. As our future days unfold, this is the richness that we want to remain.

The opportunity to be up close with nature, coupled with small town charm and neighborly kindness is what drew us to Long Grove in the first place. It’s what we choose to keep.

Open space in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

Our backyard view in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

 

A “Mayberry” Moment

Longtime resident Barbara Turner, pictured in December of 2014.

Longtime resident Barbara Turner, pictured in December of 2014.

When you are a genuinely good person and live to be 98 years old, that in itself is a blessing. An additional result of having endeared yourself to so many people over the years is that you acquire many, many friends. A whole community of them, actually. And in a time of need, those friends can come together in the best sort of way. Recently, Long Grove experienced one such moment, in which citizens randomly pitched in to help longtime resident Barbara Turner enjoy her beloved Woodland again.

Barbara and her family are best known in Long Grove for the donation of the Reed-Turner Woodland, a 36 acre nature preserve just north of our historic downtown on Old McHenry Road. In the last year Barbara’s health has not allowed her to get outside and enjoy the beautiful open spaces right outside her home; even the porch has not been accessible due to a large step down. All that has been recently remedied, when a crew of local businessmen and resident volunteers showed up to build Barbara a ramp out to her screened-in area. Today, she is once again enjoying the bird songs and wildflowers. And despite the current heat & humidity–who doesn’t just crave a little fresh air now and then?

All this came about when several of Barbara’s friends tried coming up with ideas to get her back outside. The porch presented a challenge regarding the ramp design, which was finally solved by a local builder and contractor. Past and current elected officials helped design and organize the project, and waived the building fees. The local Lions Club helped out with building materials and labor, with assistance from a few handy members of the Historical Downtown Merchants Association and Historical Society. All of this could not have been done without the cooperation of the Long Grove Park District, which owns and maintains Barbara’s home as well as the entire Woodland preserve.

In our fast -paced modern world, it is easy to get caught up in the negative headlines and news feeds. It can seem discouraging that we live in a time and place where civility and human kindness take a back seat to being right and being in control. Witnessing everyone collaborate to help a beloved neighbor is an important reminder that by working jointly with others, great things can happen. Small town spirit is still alive in Long Grove! When we labor together, it’s a “win” for all of us.

Ramp construction underway!

Ramp construction underway!