DOWNERS GROVE – When Tom Nybo was an elementary school student at St. Joseph School in Downers Grove, he watched in disbelief as the historic 1908 St. Joseph Church was being demolished, grabbing as many clay roof tiles and bricks as he could handle on his bike.
Later, as a high school student, Nybo got his friends who were voting age to vote in a referendum to preserve the historic Mayslake site in Oak Brook. The mansion and surrounding property were eventually saved from becoming a 90-acre housing development. The mansion was restored and the property turned into a forest preserve.
Those early forays into historic preservation wouldn’t be Nybo’s last.
Fast forward to 2014 when Nybo learned the historic Edwards House on Maple Avenue was for sale and in danger of being torn down. He mobilized like-minded residents, and the group formed the Downers Grove preservation group Friends of the Edwards House, with Nybo as chairman.
“I had moved to Joliet and back to Downers Grove,” Nybo said. “I saw a 'for sale' sign in front of the Edwards House on Maple Avenue. We found people who were interested in moving it, but things fell through and they couldn’t meet the deadline. It was a fully restored, 4,000-square-foot home with a 250-year-old oak tree in front.”
The house, and the tree, were demolished, but the Friends of the Edwards House lived on. At age 40, he still keeps the artifacts from St. Joe’s in his home where he lives with his wife, Sheri, their newborn son, Christian, and three cats.
Nybo is one of the recipients of Suburban Life Media's Everyday Heroes awards.
“Finding old things that are out of the ordinary is always an adventure,” Nybo said. “They need to live on so other generations can appreciate and understand where they come from. We don’t need to save everything, but we need to save certain pieces of the community, and that’s where Friends of the Edwards House comes into play. I know we’re not going to save every house in Downers Grove, but let’s try to save some. When people come back to visit they can remember something and relate to something.”
Since 2015, the group has worked to help the village of Downers Grove change its historic preservation ordinance to make it easier for people to landmark their homes.
“It’s more property rights-friendly,” Nybo said. “It’s less restrictive.”
In less than two years, 15 houses have been landmarked. Under the old ordinance, only two homes had been landmarked from 2008 to 2015.
“There have been some improvements in historical preservation in the last 14 months and more are coming,” Nybo said.
The Friends of the Edwards House has its own website and a Facebook page with more than 2,000 followers. The page features historic houses, including some that aren’t landmarked yet.
“I just look forward to landmarking more houses in the future,” Nybo said. “That’s our ultimate goal. This is a great community, and historic buildings add to a community. People often just don’t know what they’ve got until it’s gone.”