DOWNERS GROVE – As the longest proprietor of the hardware store that bore his family’s name, John Mochel has a place in village history. This month, the Downers Grove Historical Society named him the historian of the year for his knowledge and work to bring the past of other parts of downtown to light.
Mochel helped organize an August 2013 photo tour in which historical photos of downtown buildings were matched to their current locations and given to businesses owners for temporary display.
The society will honor Mochel with the designation at 10:30 a.m. May 17 when it also recognizes the former hardware building’s 130th year with a plaque. The foundation also hosted a half dozen events this past weekend in recognition of Founders Day, including the dedication of the Blodgett house.
Mochel, 88, began working at the former Mochel Hardware at 5122 Main St. as a boy in the 1930s. His grandfather opened the business in 1884.
“I stared when I was old enough to start counting nuts and bolts and screws for inventory,” he remembered during an interview April 30. “When I started at the store, Downers Grove was pretty much a farm community.
“Back when I started, we still sold cattle feed and pig feed and fencing, and other farm related articles. And we delivered. We started out delivering with horses, by the time I came on the scene we had trucks.”
Mochel continued to work in the store throughout high school, and then during summers in college. After serving in the Navy for two years, he returned to work in the store full time. The business had been passed from his grandfather to his father, and then his father made him partner three years before dying from a heart attack in 1960. John Mochel ran the store as sole proprietor from 1960 to 1995. When he retired, the business closed.
The 130-year-old, wood-frame building still sits on its stone foundation, and is now the home to Dream Interiors and other businesses.
Being personally familiar with nearly a century of downtown Downers Grove business, his knowledge and memory was key to matching the photographs to the current sites.
Another downtown building that is of particular interest to Mochel is at the southwest corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue that housed a blacksmith shop before he was born.
“It’s possibly the oldest building on Main Street and ours could be next,” he said.
Mochel also was named historian of the year this spring by the DuPage County Historical Museum.
“When his name was brought up, it was unanimous to choose him for historian of the year,” said Bruce Swanson, a director with the Downers Grove Historical Society.