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Catalog Number 2015.016.001
Object Name Recording
Scope & Content Oral history interview of Lewis ("Lew") Smith.

Interviewed by Darlene Greaves and Cliff Schultz, Members of the Elk Grove Historical Society, December 12, 2007. Interview conducted at the school house building of the Elk Grove Historical Museum located at 399 Biesterfield Road, Elk Grove Village, IL. Interview length 82 m 29 sec. Collection includes audio recording, transcript, and digital image.

Digital image: 2015.016.003
Collection Elk Grove Historical Museum
Notes Lew Smith Interview Part I

00:00:00 Introduction of interview

00:00:33 Move to Elk Grove. Lew moved in 1964. He was married with two children at the time. Had live in Grand Rapids, MI for 4 years prior and then southern Illinois prior to that. He was a manufacturing rep and wanted to move to northwest suburbs where housing was affordable so chose Elk Grove. Came upon Elk Grove by chance. Saw a sign on Higgins Road "Model Homes $18,500" At that time the Chicago Magnet Wire with its two smoke stacks was about all that was in the industrial park. They didn't know anybody here. Most of the original neighbors at that time have moved. Pat Smith, not his wife Pat Smith, but Pat Smith who was village clerk was a next door neighbor. They lived at 171 Shadywood. Lived there for about 15 years and then moved to Sandford Circle in the Estates.

00:06:00 Involvement with village. The master plan showed a school and a park near where they lived. The school was built but not the park so Lew got involved. 1968 or 1969 ran for Park District Board and lost. Ran again in 1971 successfully. He was on the board for 3 terms-18 years. His interest was getting a park for the northeast corner residents.

00:08:38 Started his own manufacturing company. Located in industrial park in 1972 called Premier Plastics. Lasted for 33 years and then sold out. Originally located on Bennett then built on Crossen Ave. In 1968 moved again to Lunt Ave. about a block east of Tonne. Average number of employees was about 25. Had as many as 40.

00:11:03 Park District again. How did attempt at getting a park proceed? Not difficult. Park District had eyes on land under and near the high tension power lines and purchased from ComEd. Lew went down to Springfield with Jack Claes to lobby for funds to help build Udall Park.

00:12:38 Other Park District goals. The historical society. Lew attended conference in St. Louis, MO and went to a seminar on museums and historical societies. When he returned, he recommended that Elk Grove form a historical society. He, as Park Board President, appointed Ed Hauser and Sheri Shapiro to be a study group to make a recommendation. A society was formed and Don Walker was initial chairman. Lew thinks there were 11 members at the time of formation. The museum farmhouse became available within less than a year of formation of the society and they weren't completely ready for it but fortunately had the site available for the house. It was a cold and windy day when the house was moved. ComEd had to pull down power lines.

00:18:36 Three terms of office. Crowning achievement was Fox Run Golf Course. Almost all of the land for parks at that time was from the 10% dedication to the village from Centex. Jack Claes and the Centex superintendent would meet whenever a new subdivision opened and plat out where the park land would be. Disney Park was created that way. All park land obtained during Lew's time was from the 10% dedication. After his time on the board some park land was purchased.

00:22:51 Park Board. There were the elected members and the professional staff which was headed up by Jack Claes. Most of the staff members are gone now. On the board were Marty Durkin, Ed Hauser, Dave von Schaumburg, Bart Dill, Larry Borkowski, John Brennan, Jim Cashman, Dee (can't think of last name), Jim Heffern, Pat Clifford. Obviously he's missing some people he said.

00:26:50 Time commitment. Big commitment for Lew. He was also starting a new business and had been elected to the State Board Illinois Association of Park Districts (had to resign that seat after a couple of years due to other commitments). He was a trustee with the Historical Society, was on the board of counselors of Alexian Brothers Hospital and on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Manufacturers Association. Lots of networking was an advantage.

00:31:44 Perspective from being involved near the beginning of the Park District. He came on board about 4 years after the beginning. There was tremendous growth and increase in assessed valuation in the 18 years Lew was on the board. As an avid golfer he played most courses in Chicago area and many down state. That gave him an idea of what other park districts were doing for recreation. Swimming pools were big and then the emphasis was on ice rinks. There was proposal to build one here but that did not succeed. If something doesn't fly then determine what is the next challenge. Timing is a lot of it. There are fads that come and go. Baseball, softball and golf have been pretty consistent. There was a BMX (bicycling with ramps, etc.) for a couple of years. Soccer is probably here to stay.

00:40:17 Dealing wanting more and more. Managed to get all activities under the umbrella of the Park District, e.g., there used to be two football leagues-one emphasized education, the other competition. They finally merged. All sports now under the wing of Park District which also coordinates and schedules facilities. While there is competition, the emphasis is on letting the kids play the game.

00:42:38 Impact of age on sports. T -ball allows younger participants.

00:44:40 Peaks and valleys while on the board. Big brouhaha when senior center was in its early stages. One commissioner even resigned over it. The Board learned from the experience to govern rather than to run things (micromanaging). Another incident involved a federal agency providing a free hot meal once a week at the senior center; however, this was nixed as part of a power play. There was no cost to the village for this program. Getting Fox Run Golf Course started was a contentious time. A couple of board members thought it cost too much money. Centex donated about 121 acres to the Park District to build a golf course on. All the land around that was saved for townhouses and all the drainage around the townhouses drained into the golf course which is a flood control area. This issue involved a number of government agencies so a lot of coordination plus the Park District could not accept land. It had to go through the Village and then be given to the Park District. About 2 ½ years of negotiations and 2 years for construction completed the project in 1984.

00:52:28 End of Part I

Lew Smith Interview Part II

00:00:00 Continuation of Fox Run Golf Course. Once the construction began things went well. However something seemed to come up at each board meeting along the way. There had to be contingencies. The cost of just the donated land at that time could have ranged from $10,000-$25,000 per acre, but difficult to say because some was flood plain, some unbuildable land, etc. Initially there was a plan to build a golf course along Salt Creek starting with the old library area. But that didn't fly. The houses on the 18th green are the only ones in Elk Grove Park District. With the course practically completed Lew decided not to run for another term. The Park District served as its own general contractor for the course saving the village about $1 million.

00:07:52 Thinking back things involved in. He can't remember dates any more. He was involved in first Salt Creek clean up and the first Arbor Day event at the park next to the library. They planted a number of small species trees like crabapple. However, unintentionally they encroached a few feet onto library property and that created a brew ha ha at a public meeting.

00:11:25 Do you enjoy these challenges? Yes. We did lots of good things. One regret was that a big fund was not built up. We didn't get a big parcel of land. We were happy with small neighborhood parks. We leased land from Forest Preserve District along Rohlwing Road just west of expressway. Arlington Heights Rd. was widened and cut Hoskins Chevrolet showroom in half because you touch Forest Preserve land but you can tear up businesses to widen a road. He was not in favor of the Park District doing banqueting because that is competing with private enterprise. He did hold his company's annual Christmas party at Fox Run.

00:16:29 Family. Both of his children still live in Elk Grove. They were involved in his business. Son is Jeff and daughter is Lynne. Bryan is 3-year old grandson. Lynne started at Rupley because Mark Hopkins wasn't built yet but ended up there. Jeff started at Hopkins. There were lots of kids on the street back then. Both children still live here and utilize park district facilities. Lew coached Little League for 3 years when his son was in it. Lew's wife was a nurse at Northwest Community Hospital. She's been involved in a number of Village activities. She was president of the women's golf league. She was initially involved in starting the museum but then dropped out. She was involved with a municipal committee for Alexian Brothers.

00:22:15 Other reminisces. First Elk Grove Park District Salt Creek Clean-up: He came out and waded in Levi's and boots in waist -deep water with big heavy gloves. Bart Dill showed up in white pants.

00:24:22 Another Bart Dill story: The owner of the Tennis Club building over on Busse Road wasn't making money. He had the building up for sale for a long time with no takers. He offered it to the Park District. Bart hesitated because it would need a new roof but Lew said the building is free! Martin envisioned 8 tennis courts but Lew envisioned a fitness center. However, by the time they got back to the owner the building a plastics manufacturer bought it.

00:26:23 Elk Grove Theater. Originally Jerry Lewis Theater. Arlington Heights Road was torn up to rebuild it. Didn't make a go of it. It was offered to the Park District. Jack Claes had all kinds of ideas. Perhaps show old time movies once a week and sell popcorn. The available movies were so controlled by the union that they said what you could show. No first run movies were available. Movies were so controlled that you couldn't begin to put on what you wanted. So we backed out of that deal.

00:28:45 Mud Road. Rudy's Tavern west of pump. People would pump water for medicinal purposes.

00:30:00 End of Interview

Source Elk Grove Historical Museum