Mel’s Gas Info-Station

Long Grove resident Randy Towner, carrying on the family gas station at the crossroads, Mel's.

Randy Towner helps carry on his father’s business, Mel’s Marathon Mini Mart, at the crossroads in downtown Long Grove.

Every small town has a “hub” from which all real information flows. In my central Illinois hometown, circa 1970’s, it was the local diner, Kathy’s Kitchen. The grain elevator was another hotspot for local news, and I got to witness this firsthand during the summers when I worked for my Dad, who managed the elevator, and my cousin Rita, who managed the office help. Farmers would come in every day to “check the grain prices” but I suspected another reason they stayed and visited with each other so long was the desire to “check the latest chatter” going on around town.

In Long Grove, the undisputed central source of information is Mel’s, our crossroads gas station. Originally owned by long-time residents Mel and Dee Towner, the station is built on family property that dates back to the 1920’s and includes the open area now known as Towner Green. The station is currently managed by Mel’s sons Randy and Wendall, who run a mini mart in addition to the traditional gas pumps. Nothing much happens in Long Grove that Randy has not caught wind of almost immediately. When I truly want to find out what is going on in town, I go fill the car up, or better yet…send my husband to find out the latest report. Aaron loves to come home and inform the Village President what information hasn’t yet made it to Village Hall. And if I ever feel the need to verify the advance intelligence, it always checks out.

It helps that Mel’s also provides a tow truck for use in emergencies, so communications with the Lake County Sheriff officers are frequent. Case in point:  recently a local youth drove a car into a neighborhood pond, and one of my Trustees happened by the scene as the rescue was in process and phoned me. I felt like I had some breaking-news information to tell my husband as he walked in the door, only to have him fill me in with even more details gleaned as he was getting gas for the lawnmower.

The Towner family has long held a role in helping our community prosper. Mel Towner served 44 years as a volunteer fire fighter, and Dee Towner’s father donated the land to build our first fire department. The gas station today is a touchstone to our roots as a rural community. If a business in the historic downtown is closing, or a new store opening up, 9 times out of 10 I will hear the news from Randy first. I think it is great that we have a hometown merchant who provides a place to check in and take the pulse of the community; a place where you can experience both a friendly greeting and some local flavor. Mel’s is located at the heart of our crossroads and is in a variety of ways the center of what keeps many of us in Long Grove connected.

Penny Carnival

Girl Scouts and Historical Society volunteers prepare to run the games for the younger kids at the Penny Carnival.

Girl Scouts and Historical Society volunteers prepare to run the games for the younger kids at the Penny Carnival.

As part of the Vintage Days festivities last weekend, the Long Grove Historical Society hosted a Penny Carnival on the grounds of their restored 1860’s farmhouse. This was not a fundraiser, but rather an event to connect with the community in a family friendly way and participate with the downtown merchants in a lower-key, local festival. It was a huge success and a perfect result of residents coming together to make something special happen.

First off, you could not have asked for a more beautiful summer day–cool, clear, and comfortable. The girl scouts and Historical Society volunteers were ready and waiting, after spending the previous weeks concocting games to entertain our local families. For example, my household was home to the creation and construction of both the “More Cowbell, Baby” bag toss, and the “NASA Frog Launcher” game. Other vintage-inspired games included the penny toss, bottle rings, duck pond, and tin can knock-over. The cost to play was one penny, and the kids received tickets which could be redeemed at the end for prizes such as penny-candy, trinkets, and small stuffed animals.

As this was a first-time event, nobody knew just how many families to expect, if any. We were pleasantly overwhelmed with nearly 150 families spending their Sunday afternoon having old-fashioned fun on the farmhouse lawn. I was supposed to conduct tours of the museum, but instead was assigned to pitch in running a game and I served a constant line of happy children for two hours straight! I don’t know whether to blame Mike Dvorak, our “carnival barker” or John Kopecky, our “wagon driver” for bringing in the crowds, but at one point I looked up to a line of 30 strollers parked all in a row and knew our expectations had been exceeded. In a wonderful way!

When I look back at my years as Village President, there are some days and experiences that will be remembered as pure joy.

I had a blast helping families and kids with the bean bag toss game!

I had a blast helping families and kids with the bean bag toss game!

Fantastic Fannie Farmer

John Kopecky (seated) introduces Aaron Underwood to Fannie, pictured outside of John's store The Country House.

John Kopecky (seated) introduces Historical Society President Aaron Underwood to Fannie, pictured outside of John’s store The Country House.

It seems we have a lady-about-town causing quite a sensation. Meet Fannie Farmer, the newest addition to our Historic Downtown Long Grove Association. Born in 1942, Fannie is a vintage McCormick Farmall tractor in a flashy shade of red, fully restored and operational. Downtown merchants John Kopecky and Matt Potempa recently acquired Fannie from a farm sale up in Woodstock, Illinois and introduced her to to her new home in Long Grove where she will strut her stuff during the various festivals. Fannie’s inaugural debut will be escorting visitors around town on wagon rides during our upcoming Vintage Days Festival, August 20th and 21st.

New this year, Vintage Days will feature music, shopping, and assorted vendors with a flavor of the past. The Long Grove Community Church is offering an old fashioned ice cream social and outdoor services near the Sunset Gazebo on Fountain Square. The Historical Society is participating with a family oriented Penny Carnival on the grounds of the Farmhouse, and historical wagon tours of the downtown (here is where Fannie gets in on the action!) Come check it out–Vintage Days is a free local festival that will appeal to all ages.

A Visit with Marcie and Blondie


Hi!! My name is Marcie and Village President Underwood (pictured with me above) has invited me to be her very first guest blogger on “Life In Long Grove.”  How did this happen? Well, we became friends when I visited Mangel’s gift shop this past weekend with Blondie, another puppy up for adoption, and our volunteer buddies from Save-A-Pet (pictured below.)


We love Long Grove!! Merchants here provide water for us and sometimes treats! And the wildlife smells are captivating–so many squirrels! But I’m getting distracted…you probably want to know why we were in Mangel’s lovely shop today.

You see, Blondie and I are looking for a forever home. The nice people at Mangel’s were giving a portion of their proceeds today to support our no-kill shelter, Save-A-Pet. This is a great place in nearby Grayslake that serves as a safe haven for abused, neglected, injured or lost animals. They help give dogs and cats a second chance and serve to foster young kittens and puppies until we are old enough to be adopted. Blondie and I are old enough now!! Village President Underwood adopted her cat from our shelter many years ago, so she can vouch for the care we receive. But as nice as the folks are at Save-A-Pet, what we are really wishing for is to be part of a loving family. You can find out more about us, and about other ways of supporting our non-profit organization by visiting our website at Come visit our adoption center at 31664 N. Fairfield Road in Grayslake.

It was so much fun spending the day in Long Grove and making a whole bunch of new friends. We discovered lots of reasons to bark less and wag more! Blondie and I really like this town and could be very happy living here…

Irish Heritage

Members of the McNulty Irish Dancers get ready to perform today at Paddy's on the Square.

Members of the McNulty Irish Dancers get ready to perform on March 12th at Paddy’s on the Square.

It seems that everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. This weekend the Chicago river was once again dyed an emerald shade of green and parades were enjoyed by those of true Irish heritage as well as those who were simply Irish for the day. Here in Long Grove, we hosted a performance of the McNulty Irish Dancers, courtesy of Paddy’s on the Square. The party continued with live music at the Village Tavern and traditional corned beef and cabbage, washed down of course, with green beer. The weather was perfect on Saturday for the dance performance, and their lively routines and colorful costumes really brightened up Fountain Square.

As my maiden name is Killian, you can correctly assume that I love St. Patrick’s Day. In an earlier blog post I talked about my heritage on my mother’s side, including an ancestor who served as Mayor of Bloomington, Illinois. On my Dad’s side I also have many relatives who were and are public servants. Several McLean County, Illinois townships, municipalities, and school boards have been blessed over the years with Killian wit and wisdom. But the trait that I mostly blame on my Irish genes is my curly brown hair and green eyes!

We are lucky to have two Irish shops here in Long Grove, both owned for many years by the same family. They are go-to spots for me when I need something beautiful for a wedding, birthday, or special occasion gift. If you’ve ever traveled to Ireland, one step inside Paddy’s or the Irish Boutique will bring back a flood of vacation memories. Stores like these and the Village Tavern are what make our historical downtown unique, and what makes St. Patrick’s Day special in Long Grove. This week, and every week of the year.

Ghost Walk 2015

Getting ready to haunt the downtown with merchant Meghan Mariani.

Getting ready to haunt the downtown with merchant Meghan Mariani.

It’s the season for all things creepy and spooky. Last night the Long Grove Historical Society joined forces with approx. 50 other merchants, community groups, and resident volunteers to create the 3rd Annual Ghost Walk, and it was a supernatural success! Our historic downtown was overtaken by dancing zombies, living scarecrows, ghosts, ghouls, and several former members of our community who materialized for one night to tell the living their haunted stories of times past. Over 250 members of Long Grove and the surrounding area were scared silly and speaking as one of the ones doing the terrorizing, it was great fun. One cute little three-year-old declared his bravery at the beginning of my first tour of the night, only to grab hold of my hand as soon as we encountered spooky storyteller Tobin Fraley, who told us of the gruesome demise of “Gus” the mechanic. We heard about the flagpole on Towner Green used by real-life gangster Terry Drugan, and “crazy Jake Eisler” appeared once again this year from beyond the grave to menace us with his stick of dynamite. As we made our way to the Long Grove Church’s 1800’s cemetery, the Gravedigger and his “client” warned us of the perils ahead. Across the covered bridge to safety, we made a detour through the haunted trail along the creek, featuring over 50 carved pumpkins and a few demons, zombies, and hockey masked characters brandishing chainsaws. A trip past the spooks at the haunted Historical Society farmhouse, and it was back to the comfort of toasting marshmallows over the fire pit. We even had a “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” join us–don’t worry, he did keep a safe distance from the flames! My three-year-old victim had a great time (as did so many families who participated) and he did admit that he was “a little bit scared” but could he do it again? Happy Halloween!


Starting another tour with willing “victims”


Invasion of the Scarecrows

The Gayton family had fun creating one of the scarecrows currently standing guard in our downtown.

The Gayton family had fun creating one of the scarecrows currently standing guard in our downtown.

Several weeks ago the Long Grove Business and Community Partners Organization sponsored a fun family event on Towner Green. With the help of handy volunteers such as John Kopecky and Ryan Messner, adults and kids alike created several dozen unique and creative scarecrows who now stand at watch in our historic downtown. Some have heads made out of gourds, some of plastic pumpkins, others are completely original like the frankenstein face painted on a recycled milk jug. When my husband and I happened on to the stuffing and decorating festivities, one clever young resident suggested that we need a “Village President” scarecrow. Next year I really want to participate in this–ideas are already swirling in my head on what my alter ego should wear and how scary her face will be! These watchful guardians are also going to add some spooky ambiance to the Historical Society’s Ghost Walk this coming Friday night. In the meantime, these temporary harvest-time sentinels bring a smile to my face every time I pass by Towner Green, and are a reminder of Long Grove’s farming past. Will any of these scarecrows come alive during the Ghost Walk? Stay tuned to find out!


Fire District Open House

Members of the Long Grove Fire Protection District teach a young recruit how to handle the fire hose.

Members of the Long Grove Fire Protection District teach a young recruit how to handle the fire hose.

We are smack dab in the middle of National Fire Prevention Week, so in honor of that I would like to give a shout out today to our local firefighters here in Long Grove. Our community is actually served by two separate districts that respond to emergencies in the area:  Long Grove Fire Protection District and Countryside Fire Protection District. A community Open House was held this past Saturday at the fire station in downtown Long Grove, and it was a delight to be on hand to see the local kids having fun while learning about fire safety. In my mind, there is no truck more colorful or fascinating than a firetruck. Many years ago, I was even lucky enough to get to ride atop one once in a homecoming parade–what a thrill! This weekend a large number of families took the opportunity to enjoy hot dogs, station tours, demonstrations, and kids activities while meeting staff and checking out the awesome trucks. I was very, very tempted to take a turn with the kids sliding down the fire pole, and only the threat of being caught in a picture and subsequently mocked on social media kept me at bay. One thing that I did thoroughly enjoy was watching the little ones tackle the firefighter’s obstacle course, complete with hosing down a pretend house of flames. I even got to handle a real fire axe–could this be what I really need to keep my Trustees in line? My gavel seems rather wimpy by comparison!

Visiting with Fire Chief Robert Turpel during the Open House.

Visiting with Long Grove Fire Chief Robert Turpel during the Open House.

Countdown to the Haunting of Downtown

Our lost cat, answering to the name of Bones, has not been seen since the 2014 Ghost Walk. Will he materialize again this year?

Our lost cat, answering to the name of Bones, has not been seen since the 2014 Ghost Walk. Will he materialize again this year?

This week I attended a planning meeting for the Historical Society’s 3rd Annual Ghost Walk, and the spooks are psyched for another fantastic event this year. When you gather together a group of creative locals who have a love of all things scary and creepy, the Halloween spirit truly comes alive! What started out several years ago as a “Long Grove Lurid Legends” storytelling performance, has evolved into a hauntingly fun family fundraiser involving many diverse community groups. The Ghost Walk features short tales of history and mystery presented by costumed docents and community volunteers. Various historic buildings and locations in our crossroads business district serve as backdrops for the scenes.

As an actor in the skits for the past two years, I can attest to the fun to be had for volunteers and participants alike. The families love the frightful but safe encounters, and we get a kick out of scaring the kids silly. But what I think is truly special about the Ghost Walk is the way the Long Grove community has come together to support and build an event that is a win-win for all. We have more merchants than ever participating this year, and “Crazy Jake Eisler” is materializing again to blow things up in his own special way. In Motion dance studio has a thrilling performance in the works. And rumor has it that the youth group of the Long Grove Community Church has got something spooky planned in front of their atmospheric 1800’s era cemetery. I can’t wait for the haunting to begin!

The Ghost Walk is set for Friday night, October 30th beginning at 7:00 pm in historic downtown Long Grove. To make reservations and for more information (and a hilarious FAQ page) please visit the Long Grove Historical Society website at

A Family Trait

Mr. and Mrs. Alex G. Erickson

Alex G. Erickson with his wife Maria, circa 1884

My husband Aaron has turned his hobby of genealogy into a business, so I do know a bit about my family tree.  In a recent conversation with my Mom, she reminded me that I have inherited the characteristic for leadership from her side of the family.  And in fact, I do have an ancestor that served as the Mayor of Bloomington, Illinois from 1906 to 1907, my great-great-grandfather Alex Gustof Erickson.  A.G. (as he was known to friends and family) was a grocer and dealer in meats, who was born in Sweden in 1863 and emigrated to Illinois in 1869.  Before he became a prominent businessman, he worked as a mail carrier and in the coal mines, and served as the President of the local Coal Miners Union.  He took a leading part in the politics in his home city, and was elected as a 7th Ward Alderman before he was elected to fill the unexpired term of the previous mayor who died in office.   In 1915 he was still active in government as the City Commissioner of Public Health and Safety.  Many times I am asked the question, “What made you decide to run for Village President?”  And frankly, I ponder the answer to this quite often myself!  I guess the simple truth is this:  it runs in the family.