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Village of Tiskilwa Wins 2020 Governor’s Hometown Award

In a virtual ceremony originating in Springfield on April 20, Tiskilwa received recognition as a community “where the ethic of service and the positive actions of volunteers has improved the town’s quality of life.” The Governor’s Hometown Award commission sent word on March 25 that Tiskilwa’s project titled “Restoration of the American Legion Hall” was named as a Project Winner in the category of Veterans and Military Families.

Within a few weeks, Village of Tiskilwa will be displaying a GHTA road sign as well as a walnut plaque to honor the volunteers who strengthen and enrich the community with their service.

To win recognition, projects were required to demonstrate strong volunteer support, meet a need, and make a definite impact generating a positive outcome for the community and by extension, the state.

The Village of Tiskilwa recently received recognition as a project winner in the 2020 Governor’s Hometown Award.On behalf of all volunteers of the community, the Tiskilwa Historical Society entered details of a project of transforming the former Legion Hall into the Gallery on Galena.

Tiskilwa was one of 22 municipalities throughout the state to receive the 2020 Governor’s Hometown Award. All entries were divided into four different population divisions with six categories in each division. The overall 2020 project winner “Young Leaders in Action” of Decatur received the Governor’s Cup award. Because of the onset of the pandemic, this year’s award eligibility extended from the beginning of 2019 through the end of 2020.

Tiskilwa’s quest for the GHTA began in February when, on behalf of all volunteers of its community, Tiskilwa Historical Society board members completed the 8-page application. Then in March, they developed and presented a 15-minute project overview to a panel of state judges.

In his letter of support for the GHTA, Tiskilwa Mayor Randy Philhower said, “The Village of Tiskilwa recognizes and supports the efforts of the Tiskilwa Historical Society . . . Their ability to utilize “Vision” to secure landmark structures, fill them with local history and then interest the public to witness these attractions is a true success story.” He added, “The more amazing story is how they have accomplished these tasks through true volunteerism and paid for them with voluntary donation of funding, labor, materials and local artifacts.”

The transformation of the former Legion Hall into the current Gallery on Galena was accomplished in a three-year effort, beginning with obtaining legal ownership of the property, then continually raising sufficient funds to begin it and see it through, and finally completing most of the renovation between January and November of 2019.

The building itself was a gift from the American Legion and the underlying property was donated by the Princeton Elementary Schools, District 115, School Board. Tim Smith, superintendent of PES, said in his letter of support: “Tiskilwa is a strong town with citizens who have a passion for action and growth. The residents of Tiskilwa truly love their community . . . The Princeton Elementary Board of Education and I are honored to contribute to this project to maintain their heritage and tradition.”

By the time the Gallery’s Grand Opening occurred on November 11, 2019, volunteers had achieved their goal of creating a pleasant venue with the dual purpose of educating the public and paying tribute to the past.

On the main level, half of the floorspace is dedicated to veterans and their auxiliary organizations; the other half depicts a facsimile of a country classroom to honor the memory of Tiskilwa’s fifteen country schools as well as their teachers and school boards who served the community for many decades. The lower level of the Gallery is now a clean, well-lighted place for accessible storage of the overflow of archives from the historical society’s other venue, the Museum on Main.

With historical society board member Bill Wendle serving as project manager, most of the renovation work was completed by members. Well over 900 volunteer hours were recorded for the initial clean-up followed by re-plumbing, re-wiring, ceiling and bathroom replacements, and countless other tasks for the structure, its displays, and landscaping. Contractors were hired to install a new roof, windows, insulation, a heating and air conditioning system, vinyl siding and gutters.

To complete the project, the historical society raised $45,900 in donations and obtained free or discounted contractor work valued at $6,500. Contractors were paid $43,200. However, adding in the estimated monetary worth of the skilled and unskilled labor by volunteers, the total cost of restoration was closer to $80,000. A $2,700 surplus remains to complete sidewalks and fund general maintenance.

In the March 15 presentation to GHTA judges, museum director Cecille Gerber noted, “We are proud to represent a community where volunteerism by people of all ages seems to be a way of life. There are several active volunteer groups who organize seasonal festivals, recognize veterans with Quilts of Honor, plant flowers, host monthly programs, help maintain the town cemetery and its historic steps, and donate play equipment in parks and sidewalks on Main Street. I read somewhere that ‘Sometimes the only mode of transportation is a leap of faith.’ We were confident that if we started this project with a good vision, our neighbors and long-distance friends would see the value and step up to help see it through. And they did.”

The Gallery on Galena at 550 North Galena Street, Tiskilwa, welcomes the public every first Saturday of the month. Those who would like to visit the Gallery on a different Saturday may stop by the Museum on Main between 9:00 and 2:00, and a staffer will take them over to the Gallery. On non-Saturdays, visitors may call Ed Waca at 815.646.4016 for a tour by appointment.

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