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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

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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Holiday artwork sparks memories
for Genoa GTE retirees

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................December 6, 2011

Harry Felder (1910-2003) may be gone but the legendary Christmas-themed prints he created for 31 years will live on forever in the hands of those fortunate enough to have saved them.

One such Felder art fan is Bernard Boe of rural Sheridan who shared his complete 31 piece collection, all framed, with me this past week.

I found out about his collection through a mutual friend, Jim Gerlick of Somonauk, and at the same time talked with a new resident at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center, Willard Dobbeck, who was a friend of Felder. Dobbeck worked with him at Leich Electric, later called GTE Automatic Electric in Genoa.

After they both retired the two men kept in touch and Dobbeck even has two heretofore unpublished prints that Harry gave him.

Bernard Boe, owner of the complete collection of 31 annual holiday sketches by Harry Felder, shows one of the framed illustrations. Boe has lent the sketches to the Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center, 2944 Greenwood Acres Drive, for a public display, which starts Saturday. (Schrader Photo)


Dobbeck told me Harry at first used to hide a rabbit in each pencil or pen-and-ink drawing, sort of a trademark of the illustrator/artist.

Dobbeck especially liked rabbits and told him the company would not let him use their blueprint copy machine to run off as many as 5,000 copies each holiday season if he didn’t keep that rabbit in each one, so the idea caught on with Harry.

His Christmas scenes, sort of a flashback to his childhood with a touch of humor, were not only distributed to employees but mailed worldwide, going as far as Canada, Europe and even Vietnam.

He received hundreds of thank-you notes from grateful recipients and even entire grade school classes that got to see his artwork.

Dobbeck, now 99, retired from the telephone manufacturer where he was factory superintendent in 1977.

Harry had retired two years earlier but kept creating those annual holiday scenes with pen and ink at home and sending them to his old employer to be copied and given out for another seven years, submitting the final one for the 1982 holiday season.

Many of them were also published in the Leich Electric News by its editor Eleanor Sprague.

I remember them because I owned the Genoa Republican weekly newspaper and printing business where that paper was produced for many years.

I also recall that backshop foreman Bert Alsup supervised the printing and saw many of those full-page Christmas drawings run through the Little Giant press in our shop.

Before that my father Vernon worked at Leich for nearly 10 years and used to bring those drawings home when I was still in high school.

But we did not have the foresight to save them for posterity.

At different times some of the prints were produced in a looseleaf book form and given out to employees, but, as far as I know, not one includes the complete set of 31.

Now that this framed collection has been found, the Boes family has agreed to loan it to Oak Crest for display during part of December.

Dobbeck will talk about his old friend Harry and share other anecdotes about working at Leich and GTE Automatic Electric for 31 years at the artwork exhibit opening at 1 p.m. Saturday.

I will provide some historical background on the artist based on newspaper stories and his obituary at the same time and the public is invited.

It is the same weekend as the Oak Crest annual Christmas Tree Walk, which will be Sunday afternoon, so attendees on Saturday will get a preview of the 25 decorated trees throughout the complex.

It should be a fun time reminiscing with retired Leich and GTE employees who still live around the area.

Harry’s sister Arlene Hampa and her husband, Emil, plan to attend, as well as the collection owner Bernard Boe.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115