By Steve Robinson | July 10, 2018 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON — Food conservation during World War I was among the chief reasons McLean County found itself with a Home Improvement Association. That was among the seeds that once planted and nurtured over the decades has, helped homemakers, students, and others become self-sufficient and learn many new skills over the last century. Today, the group is known as McLean County Association For Home and Community Education, or McLean HCE.

In 1915, the Household Sciences Department at University of Illinois made sure to have an extension office for education programs to be provided to schools as the war effort for the U.S. got underway. By 1917, Lena Ewing, wife of Spencer Ewing of Bloomington , was appointed food chairman for McLean County . From humble beginnings which began a year earlier, what is known now as McLean County HCE developed and took shape. Incidentally, Lena’s sister-in-law, Hazel Ewing, was responsible for getting planning for Ewing Castle underway, according to Don Meyer, who had a nearly 30-year career, serving as extension advisor for agriculture in the county and retiring in 2010 as extension director. He also had practical experience having grown up on a farm in Gridley.

That history was part of a presentation made to county HCE members at the group’s 100th anniversary celebration which took place inside the Mini-Expo Building at the McLean County Fairgrounds on July 10. In addition to the historic recap which included numerous photos and press clippings from the group’s past, the event included a “Through The Years” style show, a silent auction, and a light plate lunch.

McLean County HCE members were guided through the pictorial history by Meyer, who had a nearly 30-year career, serving as extension advisor for agriculture in the county and retiring in 2010 as extension director. The current extension director is Bobbie Lewis-Sibley.

To get the group started, Meyer said, “The work began in 1917 and the founding was in 1918 and it began because we wanted to get women in the country connected to the war effort.” At that time, Meyer said, McLean County had a population of just 68,000 people, 43,000 of which lived in the country. Also at that time, the Red Cross was the only humanitarian group in operation in the county.

Although the war ended in 1918, Meyer said, McLean HCE almost disbanded except that there were concerns at the time that children needed nutritious lunches when they were in school. Because of that, he said, the group turned their attention to that, and in addition, addressed other matters such as sanitation. As a result of that, he said, the group managed to eradicate 40,000 mice in a year once that was up and running.

“People saw the effects of what the group and Ewing were providing, and so it stuck around for a hundred years,” Meyer said.

It may have started with health, Meyer said, but the group behind Ewing , began tackling other issues as years passed such as health, childcare, family issues, and nutrition.

Meyer said the group “wasn’t militant, but it wanted to make change.” One of the largest changes at that time came in 1920 when American women got the right for the first time to vote.

The era of the Great Depression had HCE members delving into matters such as how to maintain a house budget and how to grow their own food, Meyer added. “They had a program called ‘How To Make A $1 Dress,’ among others to show how to make clothing for your family,” he said. The 1940s and World War II ushered in a need for conservation, including rationing of food, he said. It also included so-called “ Victory Gardens ” being started within communities. Food rationing spawned a need for recipe exchanges, too, he said. He reminded that women needed to take responsibility for family farms when sons and husbands went into the war effort, which added to their knowledge.

Changes in the 1950s and 1960s, Meyer said, “were probably more about women getting into the workplace and wondering how they would balance they would balance family and job responsibilities. He said as appliances became more sophisticated over time, there was education needed to be provided for that aspect of life. “’How do you operate a microwave?’ and other such conveniences needed to be addressed,” he said.

Meyer said that with each decade and the improvements that came with it, either socially or in terms of conveniences, there were naysayers who questioned the need for McLean HCE to stay in operation. He said funding from one source or another, be it federal, local, or State, was always in question from time to time.

He added young people today, in spite of what the older generation might say about all the technology and conveniences at their disposal, are continuing to benefit from McLean HCE if they belong to 4H because 4H is a branch of McLean HCE.

To put some perspective on how long such training has been part of every HCE, Meyer said, some of what was taught by HCEs preceded things that were later taught a community college level.

Current Membership Stats: There are 213 members of McLean County HCE, and roughly 175 of them were in attendance for the group’s 100th anniversary celebration which took place at the Mini Expo Building at the McLean County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, July 10.

There are a total of 10 individual groups scattered throughout towns in McLean County , explained Betty Ohlenkamp, one of two 2nd Vice Presidents sworn in at the function.

There are 213 members of McLean County Association For Home and Community Education, and roughly 175 of them were in attendance for the group’s 100th anniversary celebration which took place at the Mini Expo Building at the McLean County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, July 10.

There are a total of 10 individual groups scattered throughout towns in McLean County , explained Betty Ohlenkamp, one of two 2nd Vice Presidents sworn in at the function.

Long Time Members: As part of the program audience members received at the event, one page was dedicated to those women who had been a part of McLean HCE for many decades. That would include ladies like Eleanor Crego and Shirley Wilz, who say they are both proud to be part of the group for 72 years, and 62 years, respectfully.

Crego, 95, said her father was in charge of Will County ’s farm bureau and was raised on a farm, and later married one, Thomas Crego, where their farm was in Wheatland Township , near Naperville . As part of McLean County HCE, she said she helped with numerous programs the group was undertaking.

Wilz, 84, has been a member of HCE for 62 years, getting her start when she lived in Indiana . “When our family moved over here, I called HCE to find it and asked, ‘where can I go to continue membership?’ It was that important to get back into a unit like this. I would like to say I met and still have lifelong friends that I met in this organization, and my hat’s off to University of Illinois Extension for this, and thanks for the memories. You can’t take those away.”

To show how McLean HCE has changed with the changing times, Wilz explained, “When I first belonged, you had lessons on how to cut up a chicken. We had also seen latch key children which led to different organizations we had not been part of before.”

Wilz had advice for current and incoming members. “You have to bend with the times or you’ll get left behind,” she said, adding she is continuing to do just that still today.

New Officers Installed: New officers who will oversee McLean County HCE were sworn in during a ceremony which was part of the luncheon. Becky Toohill was introduced as the group’s new president. Kathleen Emery was sworn in as 1st Vice President, with Karen Crull and Ohlenkamp sharing 2nd Vice President responsibilities. Nancy O’Neill was sworn in as the group’s secretary, and Fran Burns was sworn in as treasurer.

In addition to her duties as an officer, Ohlenkamp will continue to oversee a program which she refers to as a “sustaining program” which helps members who aren’t able to attend meetings informed with what’s going on with the group. She said she sees to it that those members who may not use computers regularly receive a hard copy edition of information McLean HCE wants to get out to its membership. That group is populated by 37 members.

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