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Local News

Downers Grove Historical Society celebrates 50th anniversary

Members of the Downers Grove Historical Society celebrate the organization's 50th anniversary Nov. 3 at a party at Alter Brewing Co. in Downers Grove.
Members of the Downers Grove Historical Society celebrate the organization's 50th anniversary Nov. 3 at a party at Alter Brewing Co. in Downers Grove.

DOWNERS GROVE – The Downers Grove Historical Society celebrated some history of its own Nov. 3 when it commemorated its 50th anniversary.

Members of the organization and guests gathered at Alter Brewing Co. to reminisce about the society's rise from humble beginnings to its current role chronicling the extensive history of a community founded in 1832 by Pierce Downer.

The historical society, which obtained its charter on May 16, 1968, was started after an editorial that appeared in the Downers Grove Reporter – now the Downers Grove Suburban Life – expressed the importance of documenting the community's history, said Liz Chalberg, president of the organization.

Two women responded to the editorial: Pauline Wandschneider and Edythe Goding. Their early efforts are largely responsible for the society's growth and success, said Chalberg, who provided an extensive slideshow presentation at the party outlining the society's history.

"They got together and decided to have a meeting," she said.

That meeting was held Oct. 17, 1966, and many more followed.

"The first two years was just having meetings," Chalberg said. "They met in people's homes."

Eventually, the historical society found a home – the first of many – when it secured space at Downers Grove Village Hall. It eventually outgrew that space and moved to various locations throughout the village. The moves were necessary to acquire space to house a growing number of artifacts.

"Pauline Wandschneider wrote article after article about the museum," Chalberg said. "The museum became a place where things got preserved."

Wandschneider "dedicated her life to collecting, preserving, displaying and interpreting the history of Downers Grove," according to the Downers Grove Park District website, and worked to find a permanent home for all of the historical artifacts collected during the society's early days.

Storage at the museum's various locations was always at a premium, as residents routinely donated artifacts discoverd in their homes.

"At that point, people were donating organs, kitchen equipment, old toys," Chalberg said.

In 1973, the historical society entered into a partnership with the Park District that included a location for the museum on district property. The district named the site Wandschneider Park in 1977.

Today, the historical society is a separate entity but works with the district on various programs designed to highlight the village's unique history.

"I think as an organization, we've contributed a lot," Chalberg said. "We've created a number of programs. It's really due to the dedication of the board members and the membership."

While the society has much to celebrate, it has much to look forward to as well, she said.

"We're kind of having a good time with it now," Chalberg said. "What else can we do? What else should we be doing? We're going to be adding additional programming."

She added the group hopes to leverage technology to promote the village's history.

"You can do so much online now. You don't have to have a big event," Chalberg said.

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