Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
Ellen Oderkirk Froelich turns 84 years old next week, is
sharp as a tack, and spent some time reminiscing with me on the
weekend of her 65th DeKalb High School class reunion recently.
She and her husband, Dean, had driven here from their Ohio
home and were given a tour through her childhood home on the
NIU campus by Vice President of Operations Bill Nicklas and his
staff. It was a sentimental journey back to the "old home
place," where she and her two sisters were raised by Burt
and Allene Odekirk beginning in the 1930s during the Great Depression
She remained in that home (now known as 253 North Annie
Glidden Road) until marrying her sweetheart Dean in 1950, when
they moved into the nearby carriage house that had once served
as a barn for Annie Glidden.
Ellen was born Oct. 5, 1931, in Oak Park when her folks
were living in LaGrange. Soon after that they bought Annie Glidden's
farm houseand about six acres in DeKalb, where Mr. Odekirk had
been hired to help purchase and manage the farms of the Babson
Brothers. He set up an office in the corner of the carriage house,
which was heated by a wood stove at that time. He conducted the
Babson's business there for several years before moving to a
downtown DeKalb location.
.As a child, Ellen remembers every foot of that property
and buildings, even an old barn that sat out
Dean and Ellen Oderkirk Froelich stand in front of the
carriage house, next to the Barsema Alumni & Visitors Center
on Annie Glidden Road, where they lived as newlyweds in the early
1950s. (Schrader photo)Dean and Ellen Oderkirk Froelich returned to DeKalbfor
a visit recently, and relived their newlywed years together when
they lived in Annie Gliddens carriage house after Ellen
had spent her childhood in the adjacent farm home. Here they
sit on the playhouse porch where Dean proposed to Ellen 64 years
ago. The playhouse is now back at the Ellwood Mansion and Museum
grounds in DeKalb. (Photo courtesy of Roger Keys)
back with a basement that had a ramp up to ground level for the
horses. It was torn down when she was quite young. Then there
were the pine trees at the back of the property from which her
family selected their Christmas tree each year to place in the
front window of the living room. The three girls stockings
were hung on the fireplace mantle and usually held fruit, nuts,
some hard candy and maybe a doll for each of them. The familys
andirons still remain with the fireplace today, she noticed.
Then she told about the animals they raised, including
sheep, goats and a pig named Sausage, that were kept in the big
fenced yard that ran around the property.
One time while their parents were away, the girls brought
their black and white pony named Billy into the house and up
the stairs to their front bedroom. They had quite the time getting
that pony to walk back down the stairs. But they did it with
no damage to rug or walls, just before their mother returned.
She also mentioned that their father bought a Jersey milk
cow with the intention of teaching his daughters how to milk,
just in case they married a farmer, I suspect. Ellen said the
finest horse she ever owned was Mister Copper King that came
to them from the Ellwood family. After graduation she attended
Northern for two years. But since her father had just died, the
family needed to regroup, and she had to go to work.
Soon after, her suitor Dean (an NIU Huskies lineman and
basketball player) proposed to her. They were married nine days
before he went off to war in Korea.
The proposal was steeped in local history. They were sitting
on the little porch of the playhouse (now back at the Ellwood
Mansion where it had been originally) and he asked for her hand
in marriage. She said yes.
The family converted the carriage house into an apartment
for the newlyweds. The first floor was an open living area with
a small kitchen, which remains today, and a large bedroom upstairs
plus a closet and small bathroom with shower. That bedroom is
where they placed the cribs for their first two sons Kevin
and Keith. Dean remembers the French doors on the back (west
side) of the apartment opened out onto a cement patio that had
an overhead trellis with vines growing over it. The doors are
still there, but the exit is boarded up for now.
One final question for her: How did it feel returning to
her childhood home? A real joy to visit the old house and
feel its warmth. It has such good bones, she added.