Old vs. New - Wonder Lake, Greenwood: Towns face changes

Drive into Greenwood, a small town a stone’s throw from Wonder Lake, and you’ll pass Aavang Road, where Libbie Aavang used to live.

Continue on through the downtown, and you’ll see Barber Lane. Barber is Libbie’s maiden name.

That’s no coincidence. The streets are named after her family.

“I was born in this house,” Aavang, 75, said of her current home on Barber Lane.

Aavang’s house faces farm land and a conservation district, something Aavang said she never wants to see change.

“Why do we want to be a suburb of Chicago?” she said. “I’d like it to stay the way it is.”

In fact, she’s so committed to the area that she and fellow Greenwood native Norine Mathey, 77, have written “The Greenwood Book” on its history.

Mathey now lives down the road closer to Woodstock, but both have a special place in their heart for the Greenwood of the past.

“People are still moving to Greenwood because it’s a much smaller community,” Mathey said.

Those people include Mary O’Toole and her husband, Jack, who recently bought what she thought was going to be a summer house in nearby Wonder Lake, but have since found themselves spending most of their time there.

“We had always dreamed of finding a summer home, but Door County was too far, and Lake Geneva was too crowded,” said Mary O’Toole, 51. “We had two friends who told us about Wonder Lake ... and we’ve loved it. We’ve got great neighbors and this gorgeous house with a patio on top.”

O’Toole said her family is becoming acclimated to the smaller community.

“It is so relaxing to come and drive and come to this lake,” she said. “We just love it.”

Her husband agreed.

“It’s a great place for my grandkids to come and they feel like they’re on vacation all the time,” said Jack O’Toole, 60.

The area faces massive changes in the future, though, with the recently approved Thatcher Meadows, a 3,700-home subdivision. With it could come more retail and traffic.

Mathey said even the smaller-scale, relatively recent subdivisions such as Deer Path and Thoroughbred Estates already have changed the feel of the community.

“It’s a real revelation once a subdivision changes a countryside,” she said. “There is just nothing there that is the same anymore.”

Aavang and Mathey said they believe the area’s farming history is too precious to dismiss, but they understand why people choose to sell land to developers to build their retirement funds.

“You can’t blame them,” Mathey said. “But it’s the best land in the U.S. for farming.”

O’Toole agrees that the area is nice now, but understands change is inevitable.

“I like it now,” O’Toole said. “I do want to make sure that there’s a strong economy in Wonder Lake and McHenry, though, and if part of that means development comes, I get that.”

Mathey said she just doesn’t want change to come without careful thought.

“You can’t really go back,” she said.

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