I’m Scott LaMorte, Major Gifts Officer here at The Conservation Foundation, and I get to meet some of the most interesting people in my work. They’re the people who keep the mission of The Conservation Foundation moving forward through their financial support, and every so often I’d like to share their stories with you. Today I’d like to tell you about Bob Jacobsen.
Bob Jacobsen knows history.
Bob. Jacobsen. Knows. History.
It’s that simple. Bob is a history buff, he will talk to anyone about anything related to the history of the United States. His wife, Caroline, has owned the Sign of the Whale in Glen Ellyn, Illinois for 35 years.
Bob has taken his passion for history and put it to good use by helping to preserve three pioneer cemeteries in the western suburbs: Jewell Cemetery in Wheaton (ca. 1852), Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Wheaton (ca. 1845), and St. Stephen Cemetery in Carol Stream (ca. 1852). Bob is the Chairman of the Milton Township Cemeteries Authority, and more importantly he is the driving force behind restoring these historical cemeteries to their former glory. He has created The Friends of Pioneer Cemeteries organization to encourage people to help him.
All three of these cemeteries are wonderful properties with an abundance of trees and wildflowers. Jewell Cemetery, for example, is located on what was once Champion Forest in Wheaton. Now a subdivision with the same name, the cemetery provides the last linkage to the forest. Presently, you can see where buckthorn and honeysuckle were removed and the area had recently been planted with native hazelnut and high bush cranberry shrubs. The site also boasts huge bur and white oak trees, as well as hickory and cherry trees, and an array of wildflowers.
The most unique site, however, is St. Stephen. It was created in Gretna, which we now know as Carol Stream. The cemetery runs right along the Great Western Trail, just north of St. Charles Road and west of Schmale Road. The trail was created from the old CGW railroad corridor, and is now used by running, hiking and biking enthusiasts.
According to internet research, the adjacent St. Stephen Church was gone by 1889 and the cemetery was closed by 1910. Thanks largely to Bob Jacobsen and other volunteers, the cemetery was restored. Headstones were repaired and replaced. Vandalized objects were removed. A fence was put up to protect the gravesites from further damage. In 2010, the cemetery was rededicated. It is now back to being a fitting place to remember our local settlers.
So, exactly what does St. Stephen have to do with nature or with conservation?
Well, let me tell you. The St. Stephen property includes an untouched prairie adjacent to the cemetery area. Bob also makes sure that the prairie is properly burned, and he bears the burden of making sure proper ecological management is done to maintain the prairie area.
I walked this property with Brook McDonald just a few days after Bob had conducted a prairie burn. It was a dark, drizzly day, but the prairie still stood out like a beacon. It must be a welcomed site for runners who use the Great Western Trail. In a fully developed industrial area, there is small sliver of heaven for them to see as they go by. It is not something that you can see from the roadway- it takes some effort to park nearby and walk over to it. Which might be why the prairie still exists there.
A “Family Remembrance Day” ceremony will be held at St. Stephen on Saturday, August 23, at 1 p.m. It is an annual event that provides a chance to learn about the history of our area, and catch a glimpse of early American settler life. Plus, it is an opportunity to meet Bob Jacobsen and friends. Bob will tell you all about St. Stephen, including the prairie.
Because Bob Jacobsen knows history.
Written by Scott LaMorte