From the President

Vol. XX No. 2 - SUMMER 2009

By: Bob Remer

Bad News and Good News

Many of you read the front page Sun Times story (August 11) about the lawsuit against the Edgewater Historical Society and Museum (EHS) and four of our board member. The facts of the case are noted elsewhere in this newsletter. While we face troubled times ahead, fighting for our First Amendment rights to support preservation, we have received a great deal of support for our legal case. We are grateful to the many lawyers, organizations and citizens who have offered their assistance and support. We should learn soon whether the case will be dismissed or sent to trial. In any case, it could well drag on with appeals. The latter would not be good news, particularly for the four board members who face personal liabilities in this lawsuit, on top of the very real risk to the future of the museum and historical society. This would force EHS to absorb expenses that could seriously jeopardize our mission – funds that could be better spent on education, exhibits and programs.

But there is good news for the community, because of the kind of solid, lasting and dedicated leadership of your EHS board members. When I was honored to serve EHS as your President starting in March, it was with full knowledge about the lawsuit, but also about how we had an incredible array of community servants working on your behalf on the Board.

Let me start with the four board members who have been personally singled out in this lawsuit. The good news is what these four individuals have contributed to Edgewater over many years.

First, our immediate past President, Betty Mayian – who does not admire and love Betty? She has cheerfully served this community for well over two decades – as a Board Member of the Edgewater Community Council (ECC), as one of the founders of EHS and long serving President and an active board member of the “Those Were The Days” Radio Players. Betty also was instrumental in organizing the Edgewater oral history projects that will forever preserve the memories of past and present residents. Now serving as Vice President, Betty makes sure the museum is staffed with outstanding volunteers and makes sure we have enjoyable and successful fund raising events, especially the annual home tour. (By the way, we hope you will attend the tour this year in Magnolia Glen on Sunday, September 20th.) There hasn’t been a single aspect of the EHS over the years that did not benefit from Betty’s leadership and involvement.

It is fair and accurate to say that there would be no EHS or museum but for Kathy Gemperle. As our Founding President and now Vice President, she was the driving force when we first organized EHS in 1988; she personally devoted thousands of volunteer hours making sure the community had this museum. I can’t say enough about her untold contributions to Edgewater and to EHS. A teacher at St. Gregory and an accomplished artist, Kathy also served on the ECC board and was President of the North Lakeside Cultural Center. Having lived in Edgewater over 34 years, she was one of three driving forces behind the national designation of Lakewood-Balmoral as an Historic District and she has played a major role in just about every effort at preserving historic buildings and neighborhoods in Edgewater. She has been a tireless advocate for documenting and preserving history, having written scores of excellent articles on historic homes and neighborhood history in this wonderful publication which she now edits. And finally, what else could she humanly do? She also curates our terrific exhibits at the museum. The community owes an immense debt of gratitude to Kathy.

Thom Greene, besides being an extraordinarily talented architect, has done so much good for our community with his many award winning preservation projects in our neighborhoods and business districts. Again, one of our founding board members 21 years ago, Thom was responsible for the stunning design that turned a run down fire house into what is now Edgewater’s valued museum. He serves as co-chair of our Historic Preservation Committee and, more recently, has played a major role in efforts to designate Andersonville’s Clark Street as an Historic District. His sparks of creativity and devotion to a community aesthetic having designed the Historic District signs for both Bryn Mawr and Andersonville that have made Edgewater a much more attractive place to live.

LeRoy Blommaert is perhaps our most passionate and learned founding board member when it comes to Edgewater’s history and preservation. A lifelong, devoted Edgewater resident, he had ably served as President and board member of ECC for many years. Now he serves as our Treasurer and co-chairs our committees on Historic Preservation and Museum Collections. Like Kathy, LeRoy has contributed scores of well researched articles on Edgewater history. He is currently working on a book about Edgewater history. When I was honored to serve as President of ECC in 1980, the city designated Edgewater as Community Area 77, which gave a new life to efforts to celebrate our community history and revive our identity and community spirit; many attribute this designation as the decisive launching factor in Edgewater’s revival that eventually saw tens of millions of dollars invested to rehabilitate buildings and homes along Kenmore and Winthrop in the 1980s and ‘90s. While many supported that designation effort, it was LeRoy’s tireless and undaunted research and advocacy that made that designation all possible. His devotion to this community is unmatched.

I have known these four as friends and neighbors for over two decades now. They have made your community a much better place for all of us to enjoy our homes and lives. They deserve laudatory acclaim, and not lawsuits.

The board is made up of several others who have made and continue to make substantial contributions to EHS and the community. Although more brief in the following words, their contributions are many:

Sandee Remis: founding Board Member, Vice President and past editor for many years of this newsletter; she organizes our lovely and evocative window displays and chairs the garden committee, which has produced an indescribably beautiful garden and landscaping for the museum. Please come and enjoy the garden before the summer’s end.

Linda Komosa: Vice President and long time board member; she has been involved in so many EHS activities and events. She is often the friendly face you see and greet when you come to our wonderful events.

Tom Murphy: Longtime Edgewater resident and retired DePaul professor; he was one of the founders of Operation Lakewatch in the 1970s along with Kathy Osterman, Mary Ann Smith and others, as a community initiative to promote the timely testing of water on our lakefront when the city was failing to do so in advance of beach closings. Their efforts resulted in something we now take for granted from our government agencies – the early preventive testing of water before contaminants reach dangerous levels. Now, Tom serves as our Property Chair and makes sure that the museum facility is in tip top shape; we are very proud of and grateful for the many hours he has devoted to this task. He also does a humdinger of a great Abe Lincoln re-enactment in our Lincoln bicentennial programs.

Reginald Griffin: “Reggie,” as he is affectionately known throughout Edgewater, is another long time board member; he is also serving his second continuous stint as President of ECC, where has been a continuous board member for over 30 years. As chair of our Board Development committee, and past recording secretary, he has helped us to bring a community focus to our work.

Jim Pletz: A former executive with the Chicago Public Library, Jim has lived in Edgewater well over two decades; he has been an invaluable and sensible contributor to many of our deliberations, programs and plans for the society and the museum. He is also pretty good at helping us become more technologically focused (and figuring out how to work those darned “techy” things before our programs start).

Nancy Schroeder: Nancy is another longtime resident and former President of ECC; she serves as our Recording Secretary and has provided us with a lot of sensible and experienced guidance and advice. She has been a prodigious volunteer and we are glad she joined the board during the past two years.

Jim Puralewski: Jim comes to us from the business and banking world and now chairs our Finance Committee and long range planning efforts. He is helping us become more focused on our long term goals and to be more deliberative in those efforts. Also a long time Edgewater resident and family man, he joined the board during the past two years and has had a very positive impact.

Jean Dufresne: Jean is a very accomplished architect who recently completed an important historic restoration project in Uptown. He is new to our board but, as our Corresponding Secretary, he has had an immediate and positive impact on our administrative organization efforts.

Kate Welborn: As a new addition to our board, we are pleased that she brings her professional marketing skills and dedication to the community into our long range planning efforts.

Over our 21 years, there have been scores of other community members who served ably on the board and have provided sober and dedicated guidance and governance. We also honor them for giving Edgewater such a wonderful organization and museum.

Reflecting on my 33+ years in Edgewater and as a proud founding board member of EHS, I am struck by intense irony. When first I served as President of ECC starting in 1978, the community was at a crossroads in its history. Decay and decline were threatening urban communities, particularly Edgewater and its surrounding communities. At that time, the entire community made a significant strategic decision committed to “Reversing Urban Decline” (the title of the late Ed Marciniak’s important book about Edgewater). Edgewater decided to not tear down buildings, but to preserve them. That was the secret to success.

Edgewater and all the local major institutions and organizations embarked on a multi year program to rehabilitate housing that resulted in tens of millions of dollars of investment, particularly on Kenmore and Winthrop. As a result, Edgewater’s revival has far surpassed our neighboring communities, and property owners experienced substantially enhanced values.

But we are also victims of that success. We have seen the vast majority of single family homes in the area east of Broadway (the very first Edgewater settlements) destroyed for development in just the past 15-20 years. And, in the process, we have lost much of our history and much of our soul.

Preservation is not just about pretty or famous buildings; it is also about a community’s soul, its architecture, history and its essential beginnings. And that is why your Board of Directors is so devoted to your Society and museum – lawsuit or not. That is good news.