New books dive into local history

Barry Schrader was disappointed.

Fifty years ago, as a student at Northern Illinois University, Schrader wrote a chapter on local media for “From Oxen to Jets,” a book about the history of DeKalb County.

“I wrote eight pages, but they chopped it in half,” he said. “I spent a whole summer working on it.”

Today, Schrader is one of 18 volunteer authors to write the book’s sequel, “Acres of Change: A History of DeKalb County, IL, 1963-2012.” He co-wrote the new book’s chapter on media with Jerry Smith, once the editor of a competing newspaper.

“The first time I was flying blind,” said Schrader, the only person to have written for both books. “This time I had more direction.”

“Acres of Change” is one of two local history books published this fall. The other, “Why Sycamore Works: An Oral History,” was released in September by the Sycamore History Museum.

History museum executive director Michelle Donahoe said the museum’s first book was inspired by an exhibit on local industry the museum hosted in 2011-12.

Robert Glover, the author of the 98-page book focusing on Sycamore manufacturing from 1950 to 1980, said a professor in a class he was taking for his master’s degree suggested he contact Donahoe.

“It was my first time with oral history,” Glover said. “I learned as I went.”

Glover interviewed six residents with long-standing ties to Sycamore manufacturing. Glover, a former employee at Ideal Industries and a volunteer archivist with the museum, said the best thing for him was building relationships with those he interviewed.

According to “Acres of Change” chairman Terry Martin, the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society came up with the idea for the book about three years ago. He said it was easier than he expected to find volunteer authors and financial donors.

“People came forward,” he said.

Marcia Wilson helped to write the religion chapter, then volunteered to help with the government chapter, mainly because lead author Bob Hutcheson needed a co-author.

“The religion chapter was going good so I could help out with that,” she said. “Some (of the authors) are experts and some are just interested (in their subjects). Some wrote from experience and others had to do more research.”

“It was such a fun learning experience,” author Sue Breese said. She laughed as she recalled how surprised she was when she got back her first draft – which she thought thoroughly explained everything – only to find it full of red marks indicating needed corrections.

Author Joan Hardekopf said she learned a lot about local history through working on the book. In 1963, for instance, she said there were nine nonprofits in DeKalb County. Today, there are more than 600.

“There were stories that people wanted to tell us, but they didn’t want them in the book,” said Sherrie Martin, who co-wrote a chapter on education with her husband, one of the original staff at Kishwaukee College.

In searching for a title, Breese said the committee entertained several suggestions, including at least 40 by the late Al Golden, before finally settling on “Acres of Change.”

“It just kind of hit home,” she said. The most exciting aspect, Wilson said, is finally seeing her ideas in print.

The committee originally hoped to have the book in print in time for the Sandwich Fair. The 1,500-copy first run is now expected to be available in early December, Terry Martin said.

“This is just something we want to give back to the community,” he said.

Virginia Poust Wirsing, whose mother, Doris Poust, wrote a chapter for “From Oxen to Jets,” said she is looking forward to reading “Acres of Change.” Wirsing said she would have contributed to the new book but no one asked her.

A book signing is planned once the book comes out.

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