Continued from last week, this is a portion of a biography, written by William Merkle. The book is about his parents and is titled Frank and Leona. It is a portion from the chapter he wrote about their family’s ownership of an 80-acre parcel in Schaumburg Township. That parcel is now part of the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary.
“Mom was like Killer Joe Garson behind the wheel. We would race against the clock to get from Leicester Road to the farm. The roads were not great, mostly two lanes, but not cluttered with traffic or stoplights. Mom took a slide-through approach to stop signs and barely skipped a beat. Our best time was twenty-two minutes, and we rarely needed more than a half hour. Today, even with a network of throughways and four lanes, it takes more than forty-five minutes.
I was eager to learn to drive. Dad taught me and let me practice on the farm lanes. He let me lean in front of him and steer to begin with. My driving had a practical side; it became possible for me to operate the tractor. I soon became the undisputed master of the lawn cutting operation using the big sicklebar attachment on the side. Though big for my age, it was all I could do to pull up the bar to avoid rocks and stumps. At the ripe old age of eleven, Mom would let me drive her to Schaumburg on errands.
Because no one lived full time at the farm during those early years, we kept no animals there. However, a set of three white geese were purchased and they lived independently on the large pond and gave a lovely smooth paddling touch to the place. We learned quickly that they were not pets, rather that they could chase after us and snap. To be admired from a distance. On the other hand, Leona loved them and brought them corn to eat at the edge of the pond. When they saw her coming, they’d skim over to her, honk happily, and get to work on the corn.
One year while burning off the peony fields in the Fall, a strong wind came up, and started blowing sparks to threaten nearby fields. Dad raced into the house, called the Roselle Fire Department, and within an amazingly few minutes, about fifteen men showed up in cars and a firetruck. The Chief approached Dad with a clipboard and offered on of the most convincing sales pitches we ever heard. With the fire tearing through a nearby oat field, and the embers heating the soles of our shoes, Dad was asked: “Would you like to join the Fireman’s Association? We can’t offer our help unless you sign this application form.” Dad couldn’t grab that pen fast enough. After a hasty signature, the Chief nodded and those mostly volunteer firement unbundled from their vehicles and began beating the flames with thirty inch square rubber flaps mounted on broomsticks. Working systematically and a bit furiously, they had the fire out in just a few minutes. Sheer relief after imagining the whole county going up in the Great Merkle Fire.
Mom and Dad wanted to live full time at the farm. They hired an architect friend to draw up plans to add wings onto the cabin–one for bedrooms and baths, and one for kitchen, utilities, and garage. The design was creative and charming, very much in keeping with the cabin and its setting. Sadly, these hopes were destined not to be fulfilled. In 1946, Dad built the bare boned kitchen and bath brick addition, which served his needs but was a far cry from what they had planned together.
The eighty acre farm was taken by eminent domain by the Town of Schaumburg and is now the largest section, over 60%, of the new ‘Spring Valley Nature Center.’ It was a real loss to the family, which might have, for example, developed the land into fifteen 4 acres luxury building lots. For the family it will remain a great Memorial to Frank and Leona Merkle.”
Excerpted from Frank and Leona by William Merkle. 2012. Reprinted here with his gracious permission.
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library