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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Thank Isaac Johnson for your recliner

By Barry Schrader.................................January 19, 2010

A favorite resting place for many in the living room is the recliner. Once an exclusive domain for the man of the house, now you find matching recliners in many families.
While enjoying a nightly snooze in front of the TV (flat panel or otherwise), people probably are unaware that they have Isaac Johnson of Sycamore to thank for their easy chair design. He obtained an early patent for the reclining rocker back in 1886.
Johnson had come to Sycamore in 1846 from New York and went into the furniture business making cabinetry at the corner of North Locust and East Exchange streets, where he also had built his house. Johnson’s machinery was first operated by horse power. Local boys made money gathering bull rushes along the banks of the Kishwaukee River and nearby sloughs that he used for weaving chair seats in his factory.
Johnson’s patent for the Johnson Reclining Rocker was granted 40 years later. It was described in the Sycamore True Republican as a “stationary chair or a rocking chair:

Tribute to late Mayor Frank Van Buer

It readily stretches into a lounge and is reconverted in an instant and without effort, into an easy chair. It has a head rest, foot rest, and if desired can be made into a writing chair.”
The paper reported various models sold for $8 to $22. The factory building was torn down in 1900, the same year that he died at age 76. I wonder if there is any furniture made by Johnson’s factory still in Sycamore homes?

Mary Beth Van Buer received a belated tribute to her late husband Mayor Frank Van Buer over the Christmas holidays.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, had delivered a eulogy before the U.S. Senate to the mayor shortly after his death in July 2008. Mary Beth Van Buer’s daughter Michelle obtained a gilt-bordered copy and presented it to her mother last month.
I had met the mayor only once after our move back to DeKalb County in 2006, so I did not know the extent of his career or public service. I was amazed when reading the tribute that he had accomplished so much in his lifetime. Mary Beth filled in more details, and it is worth sharing.
Frank Van Buer’s parents named him after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, so he was destined to be a Democrat the rest of his life. His future wife snagged him at age 16 by inviting him to a Sadie Hawkins dance, and they danced as a couple for 54 years of marriage. Joining the Air Force, Frank and Mary Beth spent time at a base in Germany. Returning home to Illinois, Frank earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Northern Illinois University, then a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois. He used these degrees to teach and consult in that field the rest of his life.
But Frank and Mary Beth were an adventurous couple, seeking new vistas and not just content to remain inside the halls of higher education. First, it was one year in Nigeria studying its tax system, then a year in Ghana, a few months in the country of Malta, two more years in Nigeria, followed by a two-year position in Kenya as adviser to the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development as part of a Harvard University development program. Then four years in Ethiopia as an economic adviser for USAID. In between all this, he taught at NIU and then moved into administration. He also managed short-term consultancies in Ghana, The Gambia, Uganda, Nepal, Pakistan, Cameroon, Thailand and Liberia. Most of us have never even heard of all those countries, much less traveled there.
Then after retirement, there was his election to the county board, then being chosen mayor of DeKalb. Mary Beth has all these fond memories and now a framed Senate tribute that tries to condense his life into one page. I think a book on his life would be an even better tribute.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115