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- Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life
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A new career in history for John Weck
By Barry Schrader.................................May
John Weck, who just completed his two-year presidency of
the Illinois State Historical Society in April, stopped in Sycamore
recently to talk about his lifelong interest in history and his
decision to leave banking and make history his new career.
Weck is no stranger to the Sycamore area, having served with
the late Tom Woodstrup and Dan Gustafson on the board of the
local historical society during its formative years. But he now
resides in Springfield and has his small farm near the Kane-DeKalb
county line up for sale.
Some two years ago Weck made a life-changing move, deciding to
take the top job at the state historical society, an unpaid position,
and leaving a 30-year career in banking.
He has no regrets and now that his term has ended, he plans to
use his two masters degrees, one in American History from
Northern Illinois University and a second in Historical Administration
from Eastern Illinois University to teach. He earned his bachelors
degree in American History from St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
While he is pursuing a teaching position at the community college
or university level, his wife fortunately has a good job in a
Springfield hospital where she is a registered nurse. And their
two daughters are on their own one in Vienna, Austria,
and the other in Fargo, N.D.
John Weck stops to see the largest Lincoln statue in
DeKalb County, located at the Sycamore Midddle School, but originally
housed at the old Sycamore High School.
Weck said he has been enthralled with history since age 7 when
he was sick at home and his mother brought him a copy of American
Heritage magazine that featured the American Civil War. He became
fascinated with 19th century America and never gave up his avocation
of immersing himself in the study of history and historical projects.
He is currently working on a project to accumulate as much as
he can on German immigration to Illinois, an area he feels needs
a lot more study.
Becoming president of the state society was not something that
happened overnight. He volunteered to serve on its advisory board
more than 10 years ago, moved up to a directorship and headed
several committees, then was asked to take the presidency in
2007. He realizes now that this was one of the busiest and most
significant periods in the societys history, being both
the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the
bicentennial of Abraham Lincolns birth. He has crisscrossed
the state many times for significant historic events and re-enactments.
He remembers one week in the Springfield area alone when there
were 50 events involving the Lincoln Bicentennial. He and his
staff could only make it to a fraction of them.
He sees the role of the state historical group as complementary
to the local historical societies and museum associations. They
take a broader perspective on Illinois rich heritage and
historical resources, while the local groups preserve and promote
their specific areas. The state society is involved in many landmark
and historic site dedications, having placed some 440 markers
around Illinois. They partner with local groups to assure the
historical accuracy of the marker and then ask the locals to
fund the costly plaques (around $3,000 each) and they then conduct
a joint ceremony. Another of the groups major thrusts is
publications a scholarly Journal four times a year and
the society magazine six times annually. Weck is particularly
proud of the recent Journal issue which covers the Lincoln Bicentennial
and runs 424 pages.
The society also interacts with school districts and teachers
around the state and offers paid scholarships to teachers at
the elementary, middle and high school levels as well as some
student grants and internships.
Since the group is a nonprofit, not a state agency, funding is
from memberships and donations. Weck plans to devote some time
following his presidency as a fundraiser, seeking to enhance
its planned giving program and finding additional sources of
income. He also is excited about the upcoming sesquicentennial
of the Civil War and a statewide committee has already been formed
to plan that observance.
His parting comments: History is always in danger of being
eroded, especially in difficult economic times. People seem to
feel the urgency of everyday living and too often our past is
devalued ... Historic sites seem too expensive to preserve, repair
and maintain. You saw that happen most recently at the state
level ... We really rob future generations of knowledge about
themselves, who they are and where they need to go, if we take
away their (ties to the) past. We get too caught up in the present
to really appreciate the fact that we need to know what happened
how choices were made and how they affect the future.
He added though, the encouraging part of all this is that
there is still interest (in history) among young people.
He explained that when teaching at Harper College he gave the
usual academic history lessons, but told them the current history
they and their families will see 15 and 25 years hence also is
important the historic homes, monuments, battlefields
and other sites they visit will keep history alive for them as
they go through life.
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DeKalb, Ill 60115