Note to readers: Barry Schraders 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
problemaccess 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
cant even climb those stairs anymore.
But a local farmer Don Riemensnider has come to their rescue,
providing the funds to buy the recently-vacated Nels 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 museums 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 Nels 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 Nels 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 Dons
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 Dons 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 childrens 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
Dons 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 Nels 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.