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Glen Ellyn celebrates history with founders weekend

Published: Thursday, July 10, 2014 6:30 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Lorae Mundt for Shaw Media)
Descendants of Glen Ellyn's founding families help decorate a wagon before participating in the Glen Ellyn Fourth of July Parade.

GLEN ELLYN – The theme of Glen Ellyn's 2014 Fourth of July festivities was "Remember the Past, Imagine the Future," and the Glen Ellyn Historical Society made sure the first part happened in a big way.

Descendants of the village's founding families were invited back for an Independence Day celebration. The event was a chance to fact-check the village's history, said society Executive Director Jan Shupert-Arick, bringing several different versions of Glen Ellyn's history together, making sure they match and broadening Glen Ellyn's story.

"It's awareness. It's sharing. It's all the best things we do rolled into one," Shupert-Arick said.

The gathering was held during the Fourth of July because it had the greatest chance for a public reception and community interaction, Shupert-Arick said.

This year is the 180th anniversary of the founding of Glen Ellyn, she said. The founding families got together during the 150th anniversary and had been requesting another reunion for some time. 

The event is an opportunity to connect the past with the present, Shupert-Arick said.

"I think it's really good for the village residents to connect with their roots and understand where they live," she said.

The Churchill family moved to the area that would become Glen Ellyn in 1834, followed quickly by 28 other families, Shupert-Arick said. More people – mostly New Englanders – followed their lead, settling in the new community.

In all, there were about 30 founding family members in attendance last weekend.

The founders weekend gave families a chance to bring in artifacts that may have been unique to the village, Shupert-Arick said. One such artifact is an 1836 letter that refers to Babcock's Grove – one of the original names of the village. Another is a China coffee pot that matched a set of plates and cups that had been donated earlier.

The descendants rode a trolley in the Independence Day Parade on Friday and held a meet-and-greet at Lake Ellyn. They also got a tour of the Forest Hill Cemetery to allow the families to look at graves belonging to their ancestors. On Saturday, they gathered together for a group picture commemorating the event and went on a tour of Stacy's Tavern Museum.

Visitors came from across the country, although some were local residents. The farthest anyone traveled from was Arizona.

Among those in attendance was Phyllis Wagner Lang, who came from North Liberty, Ind.

Lang's father grew up in Glen Ellyn, but moved away after his parents died. She has visited the village before, but this trip carried a special meaning.

"I was able to get some obituaries and some information I didn't have," Lang said of her visit.

She took pictures of the houses where her grandparents and great-grandparents lived. She walked in the parade and went on a tour of the cemetery where her family members are buried.

"It was mainly just a weekend of reconnecting," said Lang, who called the trip a "great experience."

Laurie Gornik, who grew up in Glen Ellyn, but now lives in Wheaton, also attended the get-together. She's a descendant of the Churchill family.

Gornik took part in the festivities with her parents, two of her kids and two of her cousins. She said she enjoyed marching in the parade and seeing people make a connection between the names of those attending and the village's history.

"I just think it made me even more proud of my forebearers," she said.

Gornik said everyone who attended became friends by the end of the weekend.

"It was great," she said. "The people who came were just so thrilled."

Terry Johnson, a descendant of the Johnson and Churchill families, was another attendee of the weekend celebration. Johnson lives in Fishers, Ind.

His father and grandfather were both born in Glen Ellyn, but his father moved to Aurora as a child. Johnson said he has never lived in Glen Ellyn, but loves visiting.

"If I had a choice, I'd move to Glen Ellyn," he said.

He received a letter about the village's 180th birthday, and knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. He said he was excited about showing his wife the community where his father and grandfather grew up. The house where they lived is still on Hill Avenue.

"For me to go back to something like that, it was really touching," he said.

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