Generosity, Marengo Style

Our friendship began in a very casual manner .... she was the neighbor of my good friend and future husband and I was a freshman at Marengo Community High School, living on a farm in Riley Township but working after school for the McHenry County Telephone Company. I would sometimes stay at the Otis home waiting out the short period of time between school dismissal and going to work at the phone company. It was during this period that I met and got to know the Nork family a little bit better. Their home was kiddy-corner to the Otis home, the location today of a municipal parking lot. Ted and Elsie Lenz Nork had only one child, Ruth, who was about 3-4 years older that Steve and Jeanne Otis.

As the years rolled by, I remained a close friend of the Otis family and especially their son, Steve. I would occasionally see their neighbor, Ruth Nork.

Moving forward approximately 40 years, the Otis home location is now a parking lot, but Ruth still lives in her family’s home at 206 W. Washington Street. There was a “movement” among the residents for a local Marengo Society for Historic Preservation. Interested people, including Ruth, gathered and the organization was officially formed. 

Forward to 2017. Ruth went to be with her Heavenly Father toward the end of January after some years of having personal assistance in her home as well as a shorter stay at Florence Nursing Home. The Society learned that she has left all of her earthly belongings, including her historic home, to the Society whose mission includes creating a greater awareness of Marengo’s history to the community. To rest assured that the Society could maintain the home in tip-top condition, Ruth also gifted the rental home to the Society. Such wisdom and generosity is the hallmark of a truly generous person.

Those who have recently driven down W. Washington Street have likely noticed the newly revitalized exterior of the home at 206 W. Washington Street. The trees have been trimmed to allow easy visibility of this beautiful “period” home. To the best of anyone’s memory, the home and carriage house are remembered as always being painted white. Gone is the wide, aluminum siding on the home, promoted so vigorously in the 1970’s .... replaced by multiple coats of fresh white paint over the prepped and original, native wood siding. Completing this process included the reattaching of the “dental” work between the original corbels. Many, many words of appreciation from the community have been passed on to painter Larry Hutchison and his much appreciated helper, Mike Bray. Recently we’ve seen the amazing work of Phil Creasy and his crew as they appropriately replaced the eaves and downspouts. Elizabeth Henning deserves much credit and appreciation for sharing her expertise and time, working closely with the above mentioned craftsmen. It is anticipated that the Society will hold an “open house” in the spring of 2019 so that the community may tour the interior of this historic home.

Ted Nork arrived in America from Germany in 1921. He likely arrived in Marengo in the mid 1920s, working for R. M. Patrick who lived at 327 W. Prairie Street. Members of the Patrick family had arrived earlier, becoming part of the “movers and shakers” of the community. While working for the Patrick family, Ted met and married their cook, Elsie Lenz. At some point forward while Ted and Elsie were living in an apartment on W. Prairie Street with their newborn daughter, Ruth, the Hutchison family home at 206 W. Washington Street came up “for sale”. Their employer, Mr. Patrick, urged Ted and Elsie to purchase this home. With some hesitancy, they took his advice and purchased this gem of a home. To gain confidence that there would always be enough money to pay the monthly mortgage, Elsie almost immediately “let” out upstairs rooms for the newly married or unmarried individuals.

Grandmother Lenz” lived with them at that time, having her room in the “maid’s quarters” at the rear of the second story of the home. This area was heated by a little wood-burning stove.

Back in the 1850’s and forward, the Hutchison family were farmers on west River Road. They had a son, John, born during this period of time. When John reached school age, his parents brought him into the growing city of Marengo to receive his education at the Institute, located on the hill of West Prairie Street. Later, after living in California for many years, John returned to Marengo following the death of his first wife. With the completion of his training at the McCormick Theological Seminary, he was asked in 1875 to minister at the local Presbyterian Church. According to information found in the History of Homes, Volume I, this home at 206 W. Washington was built in 1872 by D. A. Steadman who also built the Marengo Opera House, now Marengo State Bank building. Was he contracted by R. M. Patrick to build this home for a member of his family or as a parsonage for the Presbyterian minister? At some point, the Hutchison family purchased the home.

If you are interested in being a part of the Marengo Society for Historic Preservation, please send a note with your name, address and phone number to Marengo Society for Historic Preservation at 633 W Grant Highway, Marengo, IL 60152. You will then be notified of the date for our spring meeting.