Peasley: Retiring director Fike made history
As Nancy Fike moves into retirement, it’s timely to review the successes of the McHenry County Historical Society. Members were encouraged and inspired by Nancy’s leadership.
Nancy retires Aug. 31 after 31 years as director. When she started, Nancy recalls there were more members but fewer volunteers.
“The MCHS is now at a point where joining is not the option it once was because too many things take us from community building,” she said.
“When I began, we had the Gannon log cabin and the original Union School, which continue to serve as part of the museum. We had storage and display all in one. Everything was on display. For example, we had a lineup of kitchen bowls, a lineup of typewriters. That led to an addition in 1992 called the McEachren Annex. We now have 31,000 square feet of space, including all the buildings, but we are still bursting at the seams, especially for volunteers requiring workspace,” Nancy explained.
Nancy said she saw her role as trying to make the MCHS better known in the county, and that meant educational programs and historic preservation.
“This was done by leading and by showing with examples, by preserving a one-room school, the log cabin, a town hall and a country church. These buildings are samples of buildings that helped build McHenry County. The log cabin goes back to a small but essential part of the county – the Frontier,” she said.
She also cited starting library programs, lecture series, town festivals, a heritage fair and a cider festival.
Nancy’s hopes for the future of the MCHS include historical preservation as a factor in land-use planning and shifting the focus from collecting and exhibiting to service that encourages using local history to build on citizenship efforts.
“We need to make changes in attitudes of involvement in the community and respect for the built and natural environment,” she explained.
Nancy said the board is currently addressing risk management issues. They hope to maintain the property exempt status. The board used to be involved in ideas for displays. Now the board deals with insurance issues, life safety and adequate finances.
“Our board takes a real interest, and everyone brings talent to the table to make sure the organization does what it sets out to do,” she said. Nancy is pleased so many other local historical organizations have started, citing strength in numbers.
Fike added, “The research library is quite an accomplishment. I’ve always taken satisfaction in the Gannon log cabin because to have something that goes back to the frontier period and is still here, all I can say is ‘Wow!’”
• Don Peasley has been editor, columnist and historian in McHenry County since 1947. He began association with Shaw Publications in 1950. He is a frequent contributor of articles/photographs. He can be reached at 815-338-1533.