Village's vintage side captivates youth

Hinsdale Historical Society Junior Board helps nonprofit reach multiple generations

Series: Battle of the boards | Story 5

History is not just the domain of those with extensive histories of their own. Young people are making their mark in helping preserve local heritage through the Hinsdale Historical Society Junior Board.

Sarah Jane Nicholson, a junior at Hinsdale Central, helped launch the junior board last year, motivated by her interest in exploring the past and working to safeguard its treasures for posterity. The pandemic hit as she was trying to shape the board's mission and recruit peers to join her. Nicholson knew she had her work cut out for her.

"There's a stereotype of history being boring, but I don't think that's true at all," she said while sitting outside the Hinsdale History Museum at 15 S. Clay St.

Thankfully, Ann Hepp didn't buy into that stigma, either, and stepped forward to become a board member last July.

"We were all at home and I wanted something to do," she said. "I realized that there was a volunteer opportunity at the museum, and I thought it would that it would be a really interesting opportunity to learn about history and contribute to something that was focused on teaching people about it."

Since then the board has added two more members. The museum has been closed in recent months due to the pandemic, but prior to that volunteers spent considerable time cataloging pieces of the historical society's collection.

"We take items that aren't on display anymore, so the archived items, and we go through them and write down their number, write a little description and just make sure they're all organized," Nicholson explained. "We've been working on photographing them and then converting all the information into a Google doc."

A fitting task, perhaps, for digitally proficient teens - though not without hurdles.

"It actually was a little bit of work to figure out how to use the cameras, because they're the fancy cameras," she related.

Hepp, a Hinsdale Central sophomore, said the endeavor has been rewarding.

"I really appreciate local history because it's the basis for everything that our daily lives are about," she commented. "Understanding history can help us understand the present, and that's especially true for local history."

Kristen Laakso, president of the historical society's board of trustees, said the junior board has been a valued addition to the organization.

"It's great to have young people interested in local history and how it's recorded. They have learned about and assisted with accessioning items for the Hinsdale History Museum," Laakso said. "And our junior board helps host our events and promote the love of local history."

One of those events took place in October at the R. Harold Zook Home & Studio at Katherine Legge Park.

"We all worked together for a couple weeks to create a scavenger hunt around the Zook house designed for children," Nicholson said. "We wanted to make sure that it was educational and that children came away learning something new about (Zook's) architectural style.

"I learned a lot by doing it," she added.

Junior board members, who meet monthly (via Zoom during the pandemic) also lent their decorating talents to decking the museum's halls for the holiday season, and they are studying the history museum guide so they can serve as docents for museum visitors once it opens again to the public. Hepp relished leading a few tours for the historical society's 35th anniversary celebration last summer.

"It was really cool to see people be interested in the museum and be interested in the history of Hinsdale," she said. "They always left asking questions, and it was cool to be the person answering them."

Additionally, the society has been collecting residents' accounts of the pandemic for an effort called Project 2020. Hepp and Nicholson look forward to helping facilitate the Project 2020 exhibit when it's safe to do so.

"I do feel good that I'm working to help the historical society because I know that what I'm doing right now, 20 or 30 years from now, they'll look at the records that I created and say, 'Oh, I'm glad this is organized," Nicholson said.

As part of a larger community service project, the junior board will be collecting food items from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday and Sunday at the museum in conjunction with the Battle of the Boards project. Preferred items are pasta, peanut butter, toilet paper, rice and canned veggies.

Nicholson is gratified that others have come along on the junior board journey with her to lay a foundation for what is hoped to be a enduring dimension of the historical society.

"It's really cool to have more people who are interested in the same sort of thing," she said. "I'm glad that I've been able to find other teens that share my passion for history and want to contribute to the community."

- Seven junior boards in Hinsdale are currently working in partnership with The Hinsdalean on a seven-week food drive to benefit HCS Family Services (see the ad on Page 19)

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean