Jane and Ken Wittig are shown here on October 22, 2018 at Reed Turner Nature Center with the award they were given for 20-plus years of volunteer service to the Long Grove community.
Recently, a couple of beloved and long-time residents were honored for giving over 20 years of service to the Long Grove Community. Jane and Ken Wittig are permanently retiring to their winter home in North Carolina, and a celebration was hosted by the Long Grove Park District to recognize their contributions and to give community members a chance to thank them and wish them well in their new location. Jane and Ken have been true public servants over the years and have made many lasting improvements to our Long Grove open spaces. I have been fortunate to work with them and learn from them on many occasions, and to call them friends. Below is part of an article written on the Wittigs by Gail Petersdorff, volunteer and commissioner with the Long Grove Park District, listing some of their many contributions:
“Long Grove has a long history of volunteer involvement as part of its success. Jane and Ken are important parts of that commitment of support for the community. By maintaining, improving, and publicizing the Reed-Turner Woodland Preserve, they have added to the reasons why people from other area towns come to Long Grove.
Jane’s involvement began as a volunteer helping to restore a sedge meadow ecosystem at Reed-Turner. After joining the Board of Commissioners, she eventually served as President of the Long Grove Park District, where she initiated and expanded many programs. She established sport activities, educational programs, family fun activities, as well as overseeing numerous Eagle Scout and Girl Scout Gold Award service projects along with her husband Ken. Projects ranged from creation of a butterfly garden to construction of bridges and trails. Jane served on the Village of Long Grove Pathways Committee and was a long time board member and President of the Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club. Most recently, she spearheaded teasel removal in the Village by encouraging municipal and community support to assist with this massive effort.
After retirement, Ken brought his professional skills in support of both the Park District and the Garden Club. He installed and supported computer systems, created numerous program announcements, press releases, and wrote the “Our Outdoors” monthly column for Long Grove Living magazine. Ken has always responded to “fix it” requests from the Park District and often managed contractors if the problem escalated. Ken assumed management of the summer intern program, and with chainsaw in hand he made a significant contribution to the removal of more than 300 dead ash trees. He developed an educational program on invasive teasel and how to control it, and used this to train interns and to stimulate interest in the community through workshops and presentations to local civic groups.”
Visiting the Ashuelot, New Hampshire covered bridge on October 15, 2018.
In the early 1970’s Robert Parker Coffin looked for some inspiration when designing a cover for Long Grove’s 1906 metal truss bridge over Buffalo Creek. According to the story, the covered bridge spanning the Ashuelot river in New Hampshire provided some ideas to Mr. Coffin (an architect and former Village President) who oversaw the building of what later became the iconic village symbol in Long Grove, Illinois.
This week, finding myself in New England on a vacation to enjoy the fall colors, I had to satisfy my curiosity by paying a visit to Ashuelot to view the original bridge. In addition to the beautiful autumn foliage, we spotted many wild turkeys as we made our way into the tiny town, spread along the riverside. The bridge itself is quite long, painted white with a red roof and a covered walkway on both sides. I did notice a striking similarity in the appearance of the entrance, and in the way that the posts and arches over the openings felt familiar.
Another bit of nostalgia was the warm feeling of goosebumps that I got driving underneath the wooden covering from one side to another. I can’t wait until we are able to experience that once again in Long Grove. As we concluded our visit several cars of tourists arrived with cameras in hand, verifying the attraction feature this bridge also shares with our hometown symbol back in Illinois. There is no doubt that covered bridges evoke a special kind of charm appreciated across the country.
The demolition crew started bright and early this morning on removal of the damaged wooden canopy over the Long Grove bridge.
It was a bittersweet moment today watching the remains of the covered bridge being dismantled. Feeling sad as I gathered early this morning with members of the Historical Society, Arts & Music Council, and downtown merchants, it was a comfort to see the care being taken by the demolition crew to salvage as much of the original boards as possible. Village staff has arranged for storage of the old wood and the local non-profits are hopeful that they will be allowed to re-purpose it to benefit our Village and commemorate the bridge’s historical significance.
The demolition is expected to be completed this coming Monday, September 10th. Temporary clearance bars are planned to be installed on both sides of the bridge in addition to jersey barriers. This is to keep overweight and over-height vehicles and trucks from using the bridge and causing damage to the historic metal supports and foundations. Once these measures are in place IDOT engineers will inspect the bridge and if all goes well it could be opened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic as early as next week. In the months ahead the Village Board will be considering bids for the reconstruction of the wooden covering, which is likely to occur in the spring of 2019.
To those of us that worked so hard towards getting the bridge on the National Register, it was certainly melancholy to witness our icon coming down. But when I stopped back late this afternoon to check on the progress, I began to notice something more:
With the bridge covering two-thirds removed, the historic iron truss and walkway begin to emerge and become more visible.
With the covering gone on the majority of the bridge, the original 1906 Pratt Pony truss and walkway is now fully visible and no longer partially hidden by the wooden “hat” it was given in 1972. The historical elements that qualified our bridge for federal recognition are now on glorious display. As I snapped a few additional photos I chatted with shop owners, Montessori school moms, neighbors, friends, and the Village Engineer who all joined in with me to admire the beautiful ironwork from a century past. The real treasure of our covered bridge is still intact. The wooden covering will be rebuilt in a matter of months. The demolition this morning is really just the first step towards another century in the life of our iconic covered bridge, with a special inner beauty shining most vividly today.
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.
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.
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.
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 Turnerwho 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.”
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 theground 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 thePrimrose 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.