This article originally appeared in Trib Local.
The Glen Ellyn Village Board honored local resident and member of the Glen Ellyn Historical Society Dan Anderson who received the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award from the Illinois Humanities Council Dec. 14.
Triblocal.com spoke with Anderson to ask him about his reaction to the award, his interest in local history and what the future holds for him and the society.
Q—Congratulations on winning the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award. What was your reaction when you heard you would be a recipient?
A—It came as a surprise mainly because my involvement with the Glen Ellyn Historical Society only goes back about five years now. The philanthropic work that [my wife] Midge Anderson and I have done, however, does go back farther than that.
Q—Village President Mark Pfefferman nominated you in part because of your involvement in the Glen Ellyn History Park, which is slated to be built at North Main Street and Geneva Road. What has it been like to undertake such a big project? What developments have been made thus far?
A—The Glen Ellyn History Park project was initiated about 2001, several years before I became involved, so I’m not sure how it was perceived by those who first drafted the plans. The current climate for raising funds to finance the project is making it seem big, but compared to what other communities have done to preserve and present their local history—towns like Geneva, Lisle and Naperville—our history park is quite modest.
Most of the progress we’ve made is not that visible yet. We’ve paid the village about $2.2 million to acquire property, but still owe $1.4 million to complete the land acquisition phase. The property at the southwest corner of Geneva Road and Main Street is ready to be landscaped as soon as we can raise $200,000 for that work. The plaza there will provide a “walk through Glen Ellyn history.”
Our history center at 800 N. Main St. is in phase one of a three-phase remodeling effort. The mural depicting scenes from old Glen Ellyn that soon will be going on the exterior of that building will be a very visible sign of progress.
Q—What first ignited your passion for local history?
A—My maternal grandmother was much involved in my growing up years. Her family had been among the very early settlers in southwestern Michigan and she told wonderful stories about that era.
My wife was born and raised in Glen Ellyn and remembers when her family routinely referred to the Five Corners area as Stacy’s Corners. My efforts to raise funds on behalf of the History Park led to preparing a talk on Glen Ellyn’s early history. The more I learned about the history of the village, the more I came to realize what a wealth of information the historical society has in its archives and how valuable it is for a community to have that kind of institutional memory.
Q—You’re the author of “Stories from Glen Ellyn’s Past, Vol. 1” What have you learned about Glen Ellyn in its earlier days that surprised you?
A—At least three things immediately come to mind. First, Glen Ellyn—then known as Danby—was hugely involved in sending its young men to fight in the Civil War. Almost 20 percent of the town’s total population enlisted in the Union Army, and the first shot fired at the Battle of Gettysburg was fired by a young man from Danby.
Second, in the early days it definitely was not the charming community that it is today. In fact, it had a rather bad reputation as a farm town with lots of saloons and houses of ill repute.
Third, that last statement notwithstanding, Glen Ellyn’s most famous madam, Emily Rieck, made a major contribution to the growth and gentrification of Glen Ellyn in the early 1900s.
Q—Aside from writing and working with the Glen Ellyn Historical Society, how do you like to spend your time?
A—Nothing all that special. I enjoy playing golf, doing some woodworking, traveling and gardening with my wife, bragging on our grandchildren, stuff like that. Music is special for me. I used to play the piano and the banjo—from Bach to bluegrass—but haven’t had enough time to stay good at either one anymore.