La Grange Village Council celebrated the 50th anniversary of the La Grange Area Historical Society on Monday evening with a proclamation in recognition of its service to the community.
“The Historical Society has been a great asset to the village and a true gem to the community,” Village President Mark Kuchler said after the proclamation was read by Village Clerk Paul Saladino.
The Historical Society is essentially an all-volunteer operation with a single paid staff member, and got its start in 1972 when a group of civic-minded citizens, including Caroline Gifford and other members of the Heritage Commission and of architecture, gathered at La Grange Municipal Library to develop the concept of an entity centered on the history of the La Grange district.
The group purchased the historic Vial House at 444 S. La Grange Rd. (corner of La Grange Road and 47th Street) in the mid-1980s and have used the house since for exhibits and a museum on the first floor.
Among his first achievements are the publication of the Centenary of the history of La Grange in 1979; last year, the Society recovered long-missing records of the village’s first board meetings, dating from 1879 to 1885.
Currently, the Society is served by 40 volunteers and its Executive Director Sarah Parkes, the only paid member of its staff.
The fact that an all-volunteer society was able to accomplish what it left a definite impression on the village administrators.
“I was amazed at the information I was able to see on the east side of La Grange, my family and loved ones,” said trustee Shawana McGee, born and raised in La Grange.
Trustee Beth Augustine, a descendant of La Grange founder Franklin D. Cossitt, noted the stately Vial House and the impression it makes on motorists entering the village from the south.
“It’s a great business card for the Village,” she says, while emphasizing that the most important thing is what happened inside the building. “They’re workhorses out there.”
Katherine Padgett, newly installed president of the Society, was honored with the Village’s recognition.
“It’s an amazing way to start,” she said after the proclamation was read. “I’m only 29 days into my presidency.”
Born and raised in Lemont, Padgett has lived in La Grange since 2012 and has been involved with the Historical Society for five years.
“I’ve always had a passion for it, and that’s what volunteers are like here,” she says.
Padgett said the Society is currently in the process of looking for another paid staff member, in part because it wants to keep the Vial House open more hours during the week.
Currently, the house is only open to visitors on a limited basis, but Padgett said the goal is to have opening hours Wednesday through Saturday.
“We hope to start that this summer,” she said.
Hank Beckman is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.