It was March, not quite winter, but not yet spring. The winter winds had been brutal as they swept in across the open farm fields, but the sturdy log cabin had kept out all but the worst of it. In spite of the dawning of the new season, all that lived in the home were not filled with the new hope associated with the first rays of warm sun because they had been standing watch as the family patriarch struggled with his last breaths as “lung fever” stole his life away from him. He was only 56 years old.
His young wife and his children caringly dressed him in his best clothes and slipped him into the simple wooden coffin which they loaded into the farm wagon for the two mile ride to the German Evangelical Church where his friends would gather together to bury his body and pay homage to his spirit as it ascended into the great beyond.
They laid him into the untilled ground just feet away from his first wife and two of his infant children. Without a minister they each took a turn to pay their individual respects before withdrawing and leaving the family to their own thoughts at the graveside.
Barely 17 years earlier, this man had brought his wife, eldest son and newborn daughter to this barely-tamed land where he literally worked himself to death to break the ground and establish a new home for his family. His dream would be that his heirs would be able to live a life that, in the old world, would not have been any reality. His dream had been that his family would be able to make their way in the world and not be tied to the rigid structures of the past.
That was 1860 and that man was Gottleib (George) Schoenleber (Schinleber) and that land was here in what we now refer to as Northbrook. His farm is now reduced to a simple lot with a house built by his youngest son in the 1870’s and the graveyard he is buried in, which has lain unmarked and abandoned for over a hundred years.
In 1978 my mother passed away. My father, struggling with the loss of my mother and the recent loss of both of his parents, sought out a way that succeeding generations would know them, even if they had never had them in their lives. He joined the fledgling Northbrook Historical Society and made it his mission to do whatever he could to create a living history of my mother, his parents, his extended family and the community in which he and they had grown up in and helped to build into what it is today.
My father’s research has led to the Society’s photo collection and some of the early collections of both oral and written histories of families and of early happenings in the community. Not happy with just that, he also helped as the Society building was moved to its current location, and was made into the building it is today.
I guess I was just born to be a part of the Historical Society. The lives of my family are so intertwined with that of the Village, how could it be any other way? While I may not be the collector of history like my father was, my contribution lives on with my willingness to become one of our community’s founders in the annual cemetery walks, living history presentations, and historical events put on by the Society. I only hope that what I do is carried on by our following generations.