The Sycamore History Museum held its 23rd annual Elmwood
Cemetery Walk last Sunday and presenters highlighted the life
stories of several residents buried there. Six of the talks were
about people and the other two covered the Veterans Memorial
with bricks listing 210 military personnel, living and dead,
who resided in Sycamore, then the Garden of the Good Shepherd
constructed in 1965, one of six around the cemetery grounds.
For me, the most fascinating was the story told by Nathan
Thomas about the founder of the Israel of God Church, Apostle
George Flowers. Born into slavery, he was free after the Civil
War and went to Africa. He returned to the U.S. and came to Chicago
in 1887 where he had a vision. He then traveled the world for
10 years preaching.
He came to Sycamore in 1907 where there was only a small
number of African Americans. They asked him to stay and build
a church here. He bought three lots on North Avenue, plus a house
Representing the Israel of God Church, Nathan Thomas
stood at the grave site of Apostle George Flowers, sharing his
life story with those attending the Elmwood Cemetery walk Oct.
3. (Barry Schrader photo for Shaw Media)
street to house the elderly. He obtained the wood to build
the church from a farmer east of town and completed it in 1909.
It stood until 1952, when it was torn down and replaced by the
Apostle Flowers spread the gospel into several states and
founded Israel of God congregations in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin,
Arkansas, and California, in addition to five cities in Illinois.
Sycamore remains the headquarters of the Church.
Talking with Thomas after the walk, I learned that his
own father entered the ministry and heard about his life as well.
He has so much history to share he should write a book. I also
suggested he speak at a DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical
Society meeting about the founding of this local church. Thomas
is retired from teaching, having taught history at Sycamore High
School and in Detroit.
I should mention the other speakers last Sunday as they
also shared interesting biographies of residents buried at Elmwood.
Joe McCormick talked about Leonard Linden (1912-1992), a World
War II Army veteran who worked as a carpenter and painter.
JoAnn Minter told the story of Martha Millett Wygant Walker
who lived from 1867 to 1936. She has a unique hand-crafted headstone
and is the only one of her family buried in that plot.
Dick Stipher talked about Oscar Westergren (1856-1933)
who was the cemetery's assistant sexton for years and dug the
graves by hand.
Next was Sidney Johnson, a World War II veteran who owned
Johnson's Sheet Metal in town. His story was told by Kevin Sargent.
The last grave visited was that of Rev. Paul Daughtery Emenheiser
(1911-1969), longtime pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church. That
presenter was Karen Paulson.
For anyone who finds local history fascinating this tour
should go on your calendar for October 2017.