Perhaps you thought that Naper Settlement only collected the history of the 19th century because the 12-acre museum campus is populated with 19th century homes and businesses. But 20 community members learned otherwise during a behind-the-scenes tour Aug. 24 at Naper Settlement’s Collections Care and Storage facility, located in the Department of Public Works Building in Naperville. They heard stories about and saw artifacts and objects about World War I, Kroehler Manufacturing Company, which closed in 1978, and Naperville’s fair housing group of the 1960s, in addition to learning more about Naperville's beloved, longest-serving Mayor Emeritus A. George Pradel.
Chief Curator Louise Howard displayed the recently acquired records of the Naperville Human Relations Council Fair Housing Act that tells the story of the fight for fair housing in Naperville and the support for the Civil Rights Movement.
“In January 1964, a Human Relations Study Group was created to investigate and make recommendations to the Naperville Community Council, a non-program coordination body for Naperville organizations,” Howard said.
Members of the study group included Dick and Phyllis Tholin, the Rev. George and Betty St. Angelo and Richard Eastman. Tholin was a faculty member of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Naperville; the Rev. St. Angelo was the North Central College chaplain and was responsible for bringing speakers on Civil Rights to the college, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1960; and Eastman taught in the college’s English Department.
George and Betty St. Angelo’s daughters, Tina Wetzel and Becky McCabe, attended the tour and saw the records of the Fair Housing Committee, for which their mother was the secretary.
“We are very proud and very humbled by what they accomplished,” Tina said. “They changed people’s lives and they changed how people think. It is an amazing legacy that they contributed.”
“Knowing that both Mom and Dad were passionate about equality and fairness for all, it is an honor to hear about their work for social justice through the lens of Naperville's history,” Becky said. “They stood up to controversy and ignorance with love and persistence. They lived what they believed - and they made their community a better place. ‘We the People’ has captured the Civil Rights history through the work of strong, passionate people who included Betty and George St. Angelo. Many thanks for this honor - it is quite moving.”
Kroehler Manufacturing Company and its predecessor, the Naperville Lounge Company, was a major employer in Naperville for almost 100 years. Curator of Research Bryan Ogg talked about Peter Kroehler, who rose from a secretary and a salesman to become president of the company. Under his leadership, Kroehler Manufacturing became the world’s largest furniture manufacturer.
“We preserve these artifacts, the tools, the records, the photographs and the furniture so that we can tell the story of a man and a company who so profoundly influenced Naperville,” Ogg said.
A recognizable and much-loved figure in Naperville is Mayor Emeritus A. George Pradel. Registrar Sarah Buhlig showed several objects from the collection, including the famous bobblehead. The former United States Marine was also a Naperville police officer for 29 years.
Another soldier who served his country honorably was Oliver Julian “Judd” Kendall. Curator of Exhibits and Interpretation Jennifer Bridge showed uniforms and mementoes from Naperville men who served in World War I. She told the story of how Judd Kendall’s bravery and ultimate sacrifice saved thousands of lives during the Battle of Cantigny in May 1918.
At a reception after the tour, Tamayo-Calabrese unveiled four of the themes that were reflected in the artifacts and stories – Tranquility, Defense, Welfare and Liberty – all based on the Preamble of the Constitution.
“These artifacts are the evidence of compelling stories of people and a time that define us, but also inspire future generations by showing them that that impossible has been done over and over and over again,” Tamayo-Calabrese said. “Each of us stands firmly on the horizons others have brought to light for us. We are responsible for setting the course for the ‘We the People’ of tomorrow.”
- By Donna DeFalco