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Barry Schrader


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

The Articles started December 2007.


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Somonauk museum gets a big boost

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................Tuesday March 17, 2015

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “DeKalb County Life” column will appear every other Tuesday.

It has taken several years, but the upstairs Marie Louise Olmstead Memorial Museum in Somonauk has finally solved a major problem—access for senior citizens and those with a disability who cannot climb stairs.

I first wrote a column about this eclectic museum hidden away on the second floor in downtown Somonauk back in 2011, exclaiming it to be not only the finest museum in two counties, but also the oldest and having the largest numbers of artifacts.

One big drawback: the only access is via old wooden stairs with 21 steps, prohibiting most senior citizens and even some school groups from visiting. In fact some of their older volunteers can’t even climb those stairs anymore.

But a local farmer Don Riemensnider has come to their rescue, providing the funds to buy the recently-vacated Nel’s Catering business building next door, thus paving the way for the eventual installation of an elevator to the adjoining second floor and also allowing for the expansion of exhibit space into the second building, bringing hundreds more artifacts on public display for the first time. It will also encourage other Somonauk area residents to add their personal collections and memorabilia to the museum’s inventory.

Visiting Don in his Somonauk home on DeKalb Street recently, I learned of his lifelong love affair with Somonauk, having been born on a nearby farm just over the line in LaSalle County, going through a tough period when his father died and he had to take charge of the farm operation at age 15, then his success in both farming and investments in the downtown.

Somonauk farmer Don Riemensnider, at right, stands in front of the Nel’s Catering building on South Depot Street that he bought for the museum, which adjoins it at the second floor level. This will allow elevator access to the museum and an expansion of exhibit space over the years. With him at left is board member Jim Gerlick. (Barry Schrader photos)

The Depot Street buildings show Nel’s Catering at left, then above the Tattoo parlor and home care business is the Olmstead museum. At lower right on first floor is a restaurant, with the museum also above it.

A family friend and museum board member Margaret Hardekopf had contacted me to share their good fortune regarding Don’s donation. Coincidentally, she and another board member Jim Gerlick also had my mother as a teacher in first grade, at the same time I attended that Somonauk elementary school.

So we all sat down in Don’s living room, joined by the museum board president Brad Meyer, so I could learn about this latest development. The museum had been moved from the home of its founder attorney L.B. Olmstead in 1947 when the collection got too voluminous for his house and outbuilding on the west side of town. Somehow the bank building below it got sold but the second floor remained the property of the museum, so that is how it ended up with no street access, except for the one stairwell. When Olmstead died in 1951 a community non-profit board took over its care and has continued to do so to this day.

Don has stepped forward to help the community more than once during his 91 years. Sometime ago the village library needed a home and he donated the property where his daughter once operated a children’s clothing store. This was used for many years until the library decided to move into a new facility, using some of the money from the sale of his store building to finance the move.

Don’s latest act of generosity will allow so many more people to see the exhibits, ranging from Native American artifacts dating back hundreds of years, Colonial American and Civil War era objects, up through World Wars I and II. Now with the expansion even more artifacts can be included.

But as Jim Gerlick and Brad Meyer explained to me, fundraising for the renovation of the Nel’s Catering building and a new or used elevator has to take place before the museum can be fully utilized. They are counting on Somonauk area folks to make this happen in the not-too-distant future.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115