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On Community: Dr. John Hallwas Addresses Hancock County Historical Society

-photo and story by Deb Olson-The Quill

Dr. John Hallwas, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Western Illinois University addressed the Annual Meeting Saturday, of the Hancock County Historical Society (HCHS) on the subject of "Community". His remarks were made based on his latest book "On Community: A Crucial Issue, a Small Town and a Writer's Experience" which contains a series of articles the author wrote for his column of the same name in the McDonough County Voice.

Prior to the introduction of the speaker, HCHS President Keith Bruns took a few minutes to describe some of the society's activities over the past year.

The society has 237 members for 2016. They have processed 97 research requests from 23 states and from Canada and Ireland. The society's library has had 229 visitors from out of state and Canada. In addition, there have been 87 visitors from Illinois with about half of that number consisting of researchers from Hancock County.

HCHS had published 4 twenty page newsletter this year, which were sent out to members.

HCHS provided four quarterly programs over the past year including: "The New Philadelphia Settlement" by Heather Bangert in Oct 2015; "Illinois Railroads" by Dr. Simon Cordery in Feb 2016; "The Panama Canal, Present and Future" by Carol and Dennis Rankin in April 2016; and "Hancock County War of 1812 Veterans" by HCHS Board Member Deb Olson.

In addition, HCHS members have given programs for other groups, Keith Bruns presented the program "HCHS and Genealogy" to the Golden Historical Society while Joyce Buckert spoke to the Hickory Grove facility on "The Orphan Train".

The society set up booths at the Western Illinois Threshers, Plymouth Old Settler's Hancock County Fair and at the Family Fair at the Extension Center in Carthage.

HCHS also raised funds for grave markers at the burial places of Lincoln relatives Thomas Lincoln and Emma Lincoln Nelson.

Hallwas began his presentation by citing past connection with Hancock County in the form of local historians Bob Cochran of Hamilton, Mary and Buck Siegfried in Denver and Don Parker who was raised in the Chili area. He cited a need to carry on the local history tradition today, so the present generation can reflect on heritage and community.

Since the early 1900's small town populations have decreased. The advent of cars and the coming of the hard, paved roads helped the decline. With the rise of non-local forces small towns have lost their economic and cultural base. Small town businesses have struggled, many have closed. Young people have left to find other opportunities in urban areas.

Hallwas cited his home town of Antioch, IL located near the Wisconsin border where there were once 1050 family farms as an example of the loss of community. As the Chicago suburbs absorbed many rural areas, there are now only 3 family farms left in the Antioch area.

How do we reclaim this lost sense of community?

Emphasize the importance of community traditions. Support local historical organizations that preserve the past. Participate in town festivals that highlight local people places and events. Help to preserve older buildings.

We must emphasize the power of the past. We must promote local history to our children. It is important for children to understand that they belong to a community, to a local tradition.

Children can learn from the personal reminiscences of elderly and develop a feel for the culture that led to them. The past can then become a shared awareness with the elderly who remember the past and share their experiences with those younger than themselves giving continuity to the children.

Hallwas suggested that as the bicentennial of Illinois statehood approaches in 2018 that local historians and historical societies concentrate efforts by collecting stories of those who grew up in the 1940's through the 1960's so this period of time is documented and the stories of our communities continue to enrich our future.