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McKee House advocate fought for home of childhood memories, restoration efforts continue

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 1:24 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:53 p.m. CST

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GLEN ELLYN – Barbara Plumer spent her early years visiting her grandparents at the historic McKee House in Churchill Woods, and her later years fighting to save it.

Plumer died May 1 after a long illness at the age of 66. She is survived by her husband, Steve, and her three children and two grandchildren.

Growing up, Plumer briefly lived in Glen Ellyn and often spent time at the home, where her grandfather, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's first superintendent, Robert McKee, resided until the 1960s.

When she learned of the district's plans to demolish the house in 2006 after it fell out of use in the early 2000s she contacted Citizens for Glen Ellyn Preservation. She remained in regular communication with the group for the next eight years, following the efforts to save the building from her home in Charlotte, N.C.

“She was absolutely passionate about it,” said Citizens for Glen Ellyn Preservation board member Linda Gilbert.

Plumer tracked forest preserve district meeting agendas, contacted government and media officials and researched her family's history in relation to the forest preserve.

“It has been near and dear to her heart,” said Forest Preserve District 4 Commissioner Tim Whelan, who represents the area near the Glen Ellyn-Lombard border that includes the McKee House.

In 2013, advocates of the home saw a victory.

Funds set aside to demolish the building were used to pay for a study evaluating the viability of restoring it. The home was found structurally sound, although a new roof and utilities were needed, and the house contained mold and lead paint.

“It's a totally usable building,” Whelan said.

No timeline is in place for renovations at this point, he said.

Community advocates have been working to establish a nonprofit called McKee Preservation Group for the last six months, which would renovate, operate and preserve the house for use by county residents, Gilbert said.

The group hopes to present an introductory letter to the district Board of Commissioners in the coming weeks, she said.

“It's moving forward,” Gilbert said.

And while Plumer may be gone, another relative of Robert McKee will continue to monitor the progress.

Her cousin, Lance McKee, said he plans to remain in discussion with local advocates as restoration efforts continue.

"I'm so grateful to them for the work that they've done," he said.

Whelan said it is likely the house will be renovated as a property available to be rented as a meeting and education space.

“I think it's something that the public wants,” he said.

However, the district board is averse to using taxpayer money for the estimated $1.2 million to $2 million in desired improvements, Whelan said. This means renovations will largely be covered by fundraising and grants, although Whelan hopes the board will pay for the house's much-needed $36,000 to $60,000 roof repairs.

The board is currently updating its historical structures policy and determining its 10-year strategic plan, he said, both of which could affect prioritization of the McKee House.

Whelan would like to see renovations completed on the house in three to five years.

“It's a matter of our grandparents' legacy,” McKee said.

Plumer's family received friends May 3 at James Funeral Home in Huntersville, N.C.

In lieu of flowers, memorials were made to the Citizens for Glen Ellyn Preservation McKee House Fund.

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