THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Fifty-Three

No. 4

 


November, 2012

Class of 1955

by Sammi King

 

 

Some classes who graduated from Batavia High School have difficulty getting people to come back for reunions every five years. The class of 1955 doesn’t have that problem.

They meet on a regular basis each year, in fact, multiple times during the year. They have even marched in the homecoming parade.

 

Eleven members of the class came to my home to talk about their class and growing up in Batavia. Because so many in the the class showed up, it was impossible to quote individuals.

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Growing up in Batavia during the forties and fifties was all about playing outside until the street lights went on. Whether playing “kick the can” or chasing fireflies, kids in the forties spent their free time playing outside. Summer days were spent at the quarry. Special days would be spent at Wrigley Field or Riverview.

 

Boys played baseball on teams organized by Roger Beales. Most felt that Beales didn’t get enough credit for his contribution to youth baseball in Batavia, since he was the one who organized teams and tournaments for kids to play in. Most felt that he was Batavia Youth Baseball for boys who grew up in the forties.

 

The class members also felt fortunate to have been in school when school spirit was at an all time high, with homecoming, the snake dance, and the bonfire. While they were in school the district added track, enabling some to letter in three sports. During their sophomore year, the old high school welcomed a new addition of a gymnasium, music room cafeteria and classrooms.

 

Memories included thumping the desks in study had when Mr. (Jim) Schneider walked by, gradually scooting chairs up in Miss Peterson’s class until the entire class was next to her desk, stopping typing in typing class and staring at the teacher, resulting in a lecture from the principal, Mr. Schneider. There were also fond memories of hanging out at the popcorn stand and going to the Capital Movie Theater on Friday nights.

 

The group spoke highly of former class president, Bob Buckner, who was African American. They were quick to point out that Buckner, who passed away in 1991 from cancer, was an integral part of the class. They also didn’t feel that there were any racial issues, acceptance was the norm.

 

I mentioned that I had done an interview with Buckner’s sister, Ruth Buckner Tousana. She had told me that she hadn’t been allowed to swim at the quarry and that she had to wait on the school bus when her class went on field trips while the teacher went in to check whether or not they would allow a black child to come in. She remembered waiting in fear for the teacher to come out.

 

One member of the class of ’55 recalled going for a haircut and Buckner mentioned that he couldn’t go to a barber in Batavia. He had to go to Aurora for a haircut. Another mentioned going into a place in town with Buckner and after Buckner left the proprietor threw away the glass that he had used. They admitted that there were issues that Bob Buckner had to deal with, but there was nondoubt that the class loved Bob Buckner. He was a star athlete, especially in basketball. Ruth Tousana recalled the basketball team going to the Twin Elms before a game and the people there refused to serve her brother. When he left, the entire team left with him.

 

All eleven members agreed that he was a friend and was dearly missed by the class. Richard Hansen pointed out that$5000 Scholarship is awarded each year, in Robert Buckner’s name, to an African American student from Batavia HighSchool through the Hansen Furnas Foundation.

 

The class of 1955 had 65 students who graduated. At commencement, Ann Cole, the valedictorian, gave a speech on mentalstimulation; Sandra Pierce, the salutatorian, gave a speech on physical growth. A speech on character development waspresented by Robert Riesling and one on social adaptation by Barbara Wallace.

 

Why was this class so close? Perhaps it was because of all they had been through. They were born out of the depressionand had a childhood that included World War II and the Korean War. They lived through a time that saw neighbors and relativesnot return from war. They lived with the simplicities of life, because for many that was all they had. They found joy inbeing together in 1955 and being together today.

 

(The following class members contributed to this story: Pat Bowren Finn, Gary Anderson, Gail Peterson Wilke, SandyPierce Chalupa, Nan Glos Cobb, Lois Montgomery Kraft, Tom Johnson, Warren Patzer and Dick Hanson.)

 


 

Batavians in the Civil War: The Battle of Antietam 1862

By Dan Hoefler

 

 

 

“The roar of the infantry was beyond anything conceivable to the uninitiated wrote a Union officer who fought at Antietam. “If all the stone and brick houses of Broadway should tumble at once the roar and rattle could hardly be greater amidst this hundreds of pieces of artillery, right and left, were thundering as a sort of bass to the internal music.” (1)

 

On September 17th, 1862 the single greatest loss of life in a single day of battle in American History would take place near Sharpsburg Maryland. In fact, more casualties on this day than in all of the Revolutionary War totaling 22, 700 killed, wounded or listed as missing.

 

Eight Batavians either were or may have been present on the single bloodiest day of the Civil War. Referencing the 8th Illinois Calvary Website the eight names are Alonzo Hall, John Smidt, Jacob Wagner, John L. Brown, George Corwin, Davis Gillott, Charles H. Kidder and David McGuire. The most interesting fact about the 8th Calvary Regiment was that it was the only volunteer regiment that served for the duration of the war in the Army of the Potomac. Unlike at Shiloh and other battlefields there is no monument toIllinois at Antietam. However, there is a marker on the battlefield located on the south side of Boonsboro Pike west of Rodman Avenue: U.S.A.

 

Second Brigade, Cavalry Division

Col. John F. Farnsworth, 8th Illinois Cavalry,

Commanding.

 

Organization.

8th Illinois, 3d Indiana, 1st Massachusetts, and

8th Pennsylvania Cavalry

 

 

The Second Brigade crossed the Middle Bridge under a severe fire of the Confederate Artillery posted on Cemetery Hill. The 8th Pennsylvania was thrown to the right to support the Artillery north of this road. The remaining Regiments took position in the ravine on the left between this point and the Antietam, where, in support to the Batteries in front, they remained until relieved by the advance of the Regular Infantry, when the entire Brigade was withdrawn. The 8th Illinois and 3d Indiana moved up the west bank of the creek and bivouacked in rear of the right wing of the Infantry line.

 

The 8th Illinois was made up of volunteers from many walks of life and from many communities not just from the Fox Valley alone. The regiment was commissioned on August 11, 1861 for service in St. Charles on land donated by Colonel Farnsworth called Camp Kane. The regiment was favored by Abraham Lincoln who gave them the nickname of “Farnsworth’s Abolitionists Regiment.” Other noteworthy facts about the 8th were that they aided in the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and were one of the honor guards as Lincoln lay in state at the Capitol rotunda. Colonel Farnsworth would not finish out the war with his cavalry regiment.

 

After being awarded his star to rise to the rank of Brigadier General he resigned his commission to return to Congress where he would serve until 1873. General Farnsworth is buried in North Cemetery in St. Charles. The war is not done with Batavia, Illinois, or the Farnsworth family during the remaining three years of the Civil War. In future episodes of the Batavia Historian we will turn our attention to the year of 1863 and the momentous battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

 

(Thanks to American Heritage Stephen Sears (1) and the 8th Illinois Website for information used in this article.)

 

 

 


 

War Time Halloween Story

By Richard J. Johnson

 

As Halloween eve approached, that beautiful October during the war, several boys, myself included, bored with the prospect of trick or treating, conspired to do something special that year; something so audacious that people would be impressed and would remember for a long time.

 

After tossing around a few possibilities, we decided that we would burn the huge, newly created, straw stack located on Mooseheart land, just a short distance from town on the South side of Main Street Road. It had just been made that summer when Mooseheart threshed out a large field of wheat and it was big: a worthy target for our Grand Plan!

 

Planning began as soon as the decision was made to burn the stack, about a week before Halloween. Since the stack was well within the boundaries of the field and some distance from any private property, we were confident that no buildings would be burned. We made sure that the stack was straw and not hay so we felt that nothing of value would be destroyed; ignoring completely the fact that the straw would be used as bedding for Mooseheart’s pampered, prize winning herd of Holstein milk cows, so we were OK on that. Assured that nothing of value would be burned, we turned our thoughts from the ethics and morality of the plan to its logistics: how to do the prank without getting caught.

 

First, we needed a “starter”, something that would make the fire take off fast: gasoline. However, during these days of rationing “A” stickers, gasoline might be hard to find. Maybe kerosene would do; there was plenty of that. Next we made sure that we had matches, lots of matches, perhaps a whole box of “farmer’s matches” that had blue heads tipped with red that would strike anywhere, even on the seat of your pants, if you knew how to do it. I never did and never knew anyone who could. Maybe it took a pair of sandpaper britches for that to happen! That, and my inept attempts of doing the standard tricks with a yoyo, remain among the biggest disappointments of my youth. (I wasn’t so “handy” with the girls either, but that’s another story; one better left undisturbed.)

 

Halloween Eve arrived right on time and we were ready, even to the can of gasoline that came from somewhere, probably siphoned out of dad’s car a little at a time so dad wouldn’t miss it. Our carefully thought out plan started a little after sundown and as darkness settled in, we put it into motion. Skipping the part of how we got there, we got there, and over or under the barbed wire fence we went. It’s strange how we approached the stack: slowly, at a crouch and almost on tiptoe, like it might suddenly see us and get up and run. Carefully, we snuck up on it, gasoline and matches ready, but without sandpaper britches, and got to within about 100-150 feet, when something happened that we simply had not anticipated.

 

It stopped us dead in our tracks, stunned us as you might say! There, on the other side of the stack, was a wisp of smoke and fire just beginning to leap into the air; someone had beat us to it and the stack was burning. Somebody, we never knew who, had beat us to it! We couldn’t believe it. But we did have sense enough to know that we had better quit the scene, quickly.

 

Well, you just have to admire how well the human body works in times of emergency. In a split second we all did an about face and beat the record for the 100-yard dash back to the fence and the road to town. Fortunately there was no traffic on Main Street Road at the time and no one to witness our retreat from the stack, now in full flame, outlining our fleeing bodies, fleeing like the criminals we had almost become. So, we got away with it.

 

The police and the fire truck went by us, lights flashing and sirens at full blast, but by this time we were safe. Next day we went back out there just to see the damage. The stack was gone. In its place was a low mound of still smoldering ashes. Talking about it later, when we had each gained back a little common sense, I think we each felt a little relief that it was not us that had done it, I know I did, but there was also a feeling of disappointment that someone else had beat us to it.

 

Later in life, and to this day, I remember that straw stack and can still see the smoke and flames in the air as it burned. Also, I wonder how it was possible that some normally well behaved boys could even think about doing something that stupid, but we did, and fortunately we failed. Sooner or later, the “who and how” of activities like that soon leak out. But this time it didn’t. We never did know who burned the stack and didn’t make much of an effort to find out. I have forgotten the names of my partners in crime and just how many there were. But it is history now and has been for a very long time. At age 84, I no longer hide behind trees when a squad car goes by. That stopped soon after I left Illinois for “bigger and better” in the form of a university degree.

 

As I recall, the next Halloween, I was back knocking on doors hollering “trick or treat” with the rest of the kids, and it was still fun!

 


 

LEW’S DRIVE-IN

By Marj Holbrook

 

 

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For almost three decades, beginning in 1974, Lew’s Drive-In was one of the most popular casual restaurants in Batavia. From its opening on June 1, the driveup window became a magnet for customers who were hungry for tasty burgers and soft-serve ice

cream.

 

A few months before he became the owner, Lew Girmscheid, had never heard of Batavia and didn’t even know where it was. He was visiting his brother who lived in Lombard who suggested they drive out and look around. Lew had been thinking about buying a restaurant and moving from a South Chicago suburb, but when his brother said they’d drive to Geneva, “I thought he meant Geneva, Wisconsin,” Lew says with a chuckle. “I’d never been in the Fox Valley.”

 

The two drove west on Route 38 and then south and saw the closed drive-in. It had been the Hum- Dinger operated by Jack Brill, but had been closed for a while. (Many Batavians remember that Brill’s drive-in had carhops.) Not long after Lew purchased the building, he began the clean-up necessary to reopen it.

 

Lew grew up on the South Side of Chicago, one of seven children in his family. “We were the only Girmscheids in the Chicago phone book,” he says, grinning broadly. “We have lots of relatives in Wisconsin – aunts, uncles and cousins – in towns like Antigo, Crandon and Clintonville. Earlier generations of his family had immigrated to the United States from Koblenz, Germany.

 

As a teenager, Lew had worked in South Side restaurants. Then he served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 until Jan. 21, 1961. “I was discharged the day after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President,” he remembers. He joined the Navy Reserves and later found himself deployed to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “I was with a group sent to check freighters on the Windward Passage,” he recalls.

 

After his tour of duty, he returned to his South Side home and realized the neighborhood character had changed drastically in the years while he was away. He moved his family to a South Side suburb and became co-manager of a restaurant owned by two cousins. “It was at 76th and Vincennes,” he says, “and was the only restaurant on 76th Street between Damon Avenue and Lake Michigan; it was popular and always busy.”

 

He’d also begun to think about buying his own restaurant and started looking. When he saw the Batavia opportunity, he decided that would be the one and willingly moved his family here to open his own business. (There’s a parallel to the restaurant where he was manager on Chicago’s South Side. Lew’s Drive-In is the only restaurant on Route 25 between Aurora and South Elgin.)

 

“When I bought the drive-in, it only had a window to serve customers,” he remembers.

 

“We sold ice cream, milk shakes, hamburgers and hotdogs.” He admits that the crush of customers at the front window was sometimes confusing and difficult both to customers and to servers.

 

A few months after he opened, In October 1974, he decided to close the drive-up window and serve customers indoors. By the next spring, all the business was indoors. He also added to the menu. The first addition was a fish sandwich. Then he added fish, shrimp and chicken baskets with fries and later, during colder months, a delicious beef stew served with a chunk of French bread. The restaurant was most famous for his signature burger: The Big Lew, a large burger that was one of his best-sellers.

 

While many customers enjoyed their food at the restaurant, many also called in and picked up orders to take home. Lew says in the first few years, as much as 90 percent of his business was take-out orders.

 

1.jpgIncreased business meant a need for capable employees. One of the first was Oma Capocasa who once had had her own restaurant. “She was the best; she knew what to do,” Lew says proudly. “And there was Carol Blacksmith and her sister, Florence.” His wife, Joan, a registered nurse, worked every lunch shift before going to work at Mercy Center in Aurora. When their children were in school, they, too, helped once the school day was over.

 

Lew and Joan have a son and two daughters. Son Lew Jr. earned a doctorate in education and is principal of Hoover-Wood School in Batavia; he lives near his parents. He and wife Amy have four children: Jake, Elly, Max and Sam. Before being named principal at Hoover-Wood, Lew Jr. was an assistant principal in Oswego. Daughter and son-in-law Kathryn and Ray Bennett live in Geneva and have two children, Mitchell and McKenzie. Daughter Lisa and son-in-law John Marshall live in Carmel, Indiana, and have two children, Kyler and Treavor.

 

Lew and his family worked long hours. The restaurant was open from 10 a.m. to midnight. “Then we shortened that,” he says. “But we’d stay open later on Fridays and Saturdays; after 10 years, we began closing on Sundays.” But work hours stretched beyond the closing time. Lew says it took about 45 minutes to clean up the premises and get ready for the next day before he could go home. But he also did advance preparations throughout the day.

 

“We had good support from the neighborhood,” he remembers. “And lots of people who worked in the Industrial Park would come in for lunch or order ahead and pick up orders to take back to the office.

 

” During the years, Lew faced his share of challenges. In 1979, a year of record snowfall, the canopy that covered the former drive-up window collapsed, landing on two cars. And there was one six-month period when he had six break-ins. “It was kids,” he says. “They’d hang out in the cemetery across the street and when there was no one in the restaurant, they’d break-in. When they broke the big picture window out in front, I had it replaced with smaller windows.”

 

In 1985, he remodeled and enlarged the building to serve more customers. “We’d had a walk-in cooler and took that out and changed the seating,” he explains. “A little later, we bought the vacant lot next to the building and started to fill that in to expand our parking. That included a new road down to the properties below (near the river) and having the new road dedicated.”

 

For several years, he sponsored a Boy’s Baseball Team in the Batavia League and started by giving the kids free ice cream cones when they won. “Then my wife, Joan, suggested that the kids should have free cones whether they won or not. The kids and their parents would come over after the game for the cones, and of course the parents and siblings (and sometimes the grandparents) would buy ice cream, too. It was a great suggestion.”

 

In summer 1992, Lew was the talk of Batavia. He won the Corvette being raffled by American Legion Post 504. He and son Lew had bought the ticket together. But they didn’t drive the sports car home. “We decided to take the cash instead,” headmits with a grin. Lew continues his membership not only in the American Legion but also in the Batavia VFW, the Knights of Columbus and the Batavia Lions Club. He’s active in all four organizations.

 

His good friend, Don Murphy, insists Lew is too modest. “If he’s at a meeting and they’re talking about a fund-raiser, like a meal, everyone looks at Lew, and he always says he’ll do it. No one knows how many hours he donates to make events a success: Pancake days, spaghetti dinners, steak suppers. He makes lists and says, ‘here’s what we need.’ He comes in the day before and gets things set up, and then is there getting things ready before the event.”

 

When Lew tries to avoid the praise, Murphy adds: “You give thousands of dollars’ worth of time and energy to this community to help organizations, the handicapped and others. Somebody ought to know that.”

 

In 2001, Lew sold the business to Rafael Perez who added Mexican fare to Lew’s menu. But the drivein sign still says “Lew’s Drive-In” even though the banner on the building is advertising tacos. Lew says he didn’t want to totally retire, but felt it was time for a less-strenuous lifestyle. For a couple of years, he drove a school bus and liked the contact with the kids. Then, eight years ago, he became a bailiff at the Kane County Court House. He says people often chat with him about their memories of Lew’s Drive In. “But I can’t always remember their names,” he admits. “The kids have grown up.

 

“I enjoyed the years at the drive-in,” he says. “I had good help from my workers and my family. I enjoyed the customers; I enjoy people. But the best time was when it was time to go home.” Even though he isn’t preparing food on the daily basis, Lew sometimes fixes meals for his family and friends. “All the kids were here during the summer,” he says. “The grandchildren enjoy being together and we had a feast.”

 

 


News from the Museum

by Carla Hill

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It is hard to believe that Summer is over and Fall is here. As usual Chris has prepared another wonderful exhibit, “Peek Inside Batavia History.”

 

Until flash photography became popular in the 1920”s, very few photos were taken indoors. Early interior photos required a good amount of natural sunlight in the room and a long shutter speed, making this a long tedious process. The exhibit features rare interior photos of Batavia that give insight to what daily life was like in the past and features newly acquired artifacts from the Campana Company donated by Kyle Hohmann. Stop in to see this wonderful exhibit before the end of November.

 

The museum will be open from 5:30 to 7:00 pm on Sunday evening, November 25, as part of the Batavia Park District’s Celebration of Lights event.

 

This year we will be offering the final ornament in the series of Batavia’s Historic Churches. The ornament will feature the Calvary Episcopal Church. The ornaments will be sold at the museum and the Batavia Park District, and each museum volunteer will receive an ornament as a gift.

 

Chris and I are working on plans for the Annual Volunteer Christmas Party, which will take place on December 13. The museum has a wonderful staff of volunteers, which we sincerely appreciate.

 

We will once again be hosting the Lincoln Dinner Theater at the Lincoln Inn on Sunday, February 24 and we will also be sponsoring a program for Women’s History Month which will take place on March 17. Registration for both programs will take place starting in January.

 

1.jpgThe museum will close for the winter season on November 21, but will continue to schedule tours. The Gustafson Research Center will also be open for research by appointment until the museum re-opens in March.

 

We are always looking for new volunteers Anyone who would be interested in volunteering at the museum or the research center can call Lois Benson at 879-1080 or Chris and Carla at the museum.

 

George H. Scheetz and Stacey Peterson, director and Adult Services manager, respectively, at Batavia Public Library, accepted the Reference Services Award October 9 during the 2012 Illinois Library Association’s annual conference in Peoria.

 

The Library was recognized for its partnership with the Batavia Historical Society in creating BataviaHistory.org, a website that provides catalogs and indexes of local history materials owned by the library and the Batavia Depot Museum including documents, images and the The Batavia Historian from 1960 to date in a searchable full-text.

 

The website, launched in 2011, is hosted and maintained by the Library, and is available free of charge to researchers worldwide. Congratulations to Batavia Public library and thank you to Gary King for his work on this project!

 

 

 

 


 

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From the President

by Bob Peterson

 

We welcome the following new members and give many thanks for the donations we have received since our last newsletter.

Linda Carlstedt Johannes

Jerry & Marjorie Branson Craig Molander

Adam & Juli Eggleston Bill Skea

Laura S. Lundgren Pauline Augsburger

Kathy & Brian Byrne Susan Schmidt Robertson

Adelia M. Ottinger Showers Millar Dan Isell

 

At the annual meeting on September 30th, the following were elected to the Board:

 

Bob Nelson Vice President

Ralph Fisher Treasurer

Kyle Hohmann Director

Jerry Miller Director

Terry Taylor Director

We especially thank Ralph Fisher, our new Treasurer, who joins us with an extensive accounting background with Sears. Thanks also to Jon Habegger for his past service as Treasurer and to Chris Winter for her many years as a Director on the Board.

 

An outstanding program was presented at the annual meeting. Trevor Steinbach, a life member of The Batavia Historical Society and a Civil War re-enactor, portrayed Civil War surgeon Charles Bucher. Trevor spent fifteen years researching this project and donated all of his valuable research material to our Society.

 

We are looking forward to seeing all of our members at the annual Christmas potluck at Bethany Lutheran Church beginning at 5:30 on December 2.

 

 


 

From the mailroom:

 

More memories from Richard Johnson about the stories in August edition of The Batavia Historian.

Thanks Richard for the memories.

 

Regarding Mrs. Wayne Westrope, director of the Huddle:

“I first knew Mrs. Westrope in about 1938 when, as kids, my friends and I were often in her house. She had two tan English bulldogs that we would ‘help’ her walk. She was a very nice lady and very much oriented towards kids. At that time her husband was a traveling salesman for Abbott Laboratories and was seldom home. Mrs. Westrope would let us see his ‘den’ which was very masculine and had two animal hides for rugs. One was a horse and the other a cow.”

 

Additions to Batavia Barbers:

“Smitty was my barber. Shave and a haircut, 6 bits; only I was too young for the shave so it was only 2 bits. He loved kids and would often go to the Quarry pool and throw change in the water for us to dive after.” “My dad used to take me to Mr. Hendrickson during the period of 1937-1945 so he was in business at least that early. Yes, he was crippled but always did a good job.” “Schomig’s shop was for the ‘elite’. He was expensive and one always had to make an appointment.”

 

 


 

From the editor:

 

Do you enjoy reading these remembrances of Batavians? I am sure you also have some and readers would enjoy reading them as well. Either mail your remembrances to the Society through the post office or email them to bataviahistorian@gmail.com. You don’t write? Then call 630 406 5274 and someone will come to record your memories.