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A History of the Barrington Area Council of Governments

Prepared for and presented at the Barrington Area Development Council Annual Meeting, May 13, 2003

By Barbara L. Benson


As so many of you know, any aspect of the history of the Barrington area provides me with a labor of love. But as I set about preparing this program, I began to wonder if it isn't easier to research the 19th and early 20th century story of Barrington than to gather facts and perspective about a period that is, to quote the last chapter title in my book, "Within Living Memory". But inspiration was to come from a number of sources including a paperweight in the Fields catalogue with the inscription "the ultimate inspiration is the deadline".

Actually, I had become more aware of the equal importance of recent local history before being asked to do this program, by some comments that Carol Beese {Former Executive Director of the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce} made at the Leadership Academy. Carol reflected on the changes, most for the better, that had taken place since she and her husband Ron had first arrived in Barrington in 1958. The thing that really struck me was when Carol said, "Just think, the ER was in Elgin in those days". And, we should note, the Chamber of Commerce had yet to receive the leadership that has made it one of the largest and most successful chambers in the state.

That there is so much history in terms of community progress in these last 40 plus years, indeed is of equal importance to the history of those pioneering days on an empty prairie. There is one major difference about tonight's presentation. As I said, "within living memory", and that means the possibility of comment from those who were participants, sometimes protagonists in the story. There are many of you who may have differing perspectives about the events, actions and decision making process that is part of this Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) history. Let us therefore look at tonight's program as a framework from which we can later do a more in-depth project to record those opinions, perspectives and stories that are part of a movement that sought to bring a unique quality of life to a region that had somewhat of a reputation as a backwater-the boonies.

I am taking us back almost forty years, because to understand the history of BACOG, we must first recall the circumstances in which the Barrington Area Development Council (BADC) itself was created in 1966. A local effort to organize an area-wide planning program based upon citizen involvement and intergovernmental cooperation was first initiated in 1965 when the area school districts met with a small group of concerned citizens to review a range of topics dealing with the quality of life within the area.

Out of those early discussions, in which the League of Women Voters played a significant steering role, the Barrington Area Development Council was formed in 1966. This new organization soon got down to work, sponsoring a series of studies to identify area-wide planning issues, and to evaluate future growth and governmental alternatives. Out of those early studies, two of them done by Barton Aschman Associates, came a number of recommendations for immediate local action, among them, the creation of a council of governments, a single area-wide decision making body representing all local elected bodies, and an area-wide environmental group-Citizens for Conservation.

But the creation of a Barrington Area Council of Governments was not to be easy. There were four options at the time: do nothing, annex, combine or cooperate. Cooperation was chosen. The several quite recently incorporated villages, Barrington Hills and Deer Park in 1957, and Lake Barrington, North Barrington and South Barrington in 1959, each had a great sense of autonomy, and the idea of belonging to a council and working under an umbrella to establish area-wide land use policies, and common goals to sustain those policies, was an idea that had to be nurtured into the convictions of several village leaderships.

But there were catalysts. In 1969, some 7,000 housing units were proposed for communities and unincorporated areas in and around the Barrington area. Of the 7,000, 1,800 were being proposed for a 500-acre site that now includes South Barrington Lakes. This was the Centex development. Also in 1969, state enabling legislation, the Intergovernmental Relations Act, provided the legal basis for the establishment of councils of government or COGs.

On April 25th 1970, the Village of Barrington, Barrington Hills, North Barrington, South Barrington, Tower Lakes and Deer Park met for the first time as BACOG. Lake Barrington, the seventh member joined in 1987 and for some years, the Village of Inverness was also a member. The executive board consists of the elected presidents from all member villages, or their appointed representatives. The original executive board and signers of the original agreement forming BACOG were: Fred Voss, Barrington; Cy Wagner, Tower Lakes; the senior Thomas Hayward, Barrington Hills; Robert Skamfer, Deer Park; Elwood Caldwell, North Barrington; and Arthur Hogfelt, South Barrington.

The search began for an executive director, someone who could take this regional idea, give it a policy structure and keep everyone on the same wavelength about the increasing pressures for development, as suburbia pushed on into the exurbs, and exurbs into the boonies, as people fled the city to find better and more affordable housing, and corporations and industry followed, to begin swallowing up the increasingly available farmland. This executive director had to take from each of the villages their nascent sense of place, and then give back a vision of a unified sense of place and history, to preserve, in a 90-square mile area, planning and environmental policies that would protect the unique natural resources that defined the area.

It would not be until early 1971, that Cy Wagner would offer the job to Donald P. Klein, who although he worked in Chicago happened to be a South Barrington resident. It was a post that he held for the next thirty years, through the struggles, the outside pressures, sometimes the scorn of surrounding communities, and the successes of adhering to the planning policies that the Barrington area, through consensus, chose for itself.

There is no point in reinventing the wheel. I'll quote and paraphrase from the first section of the latest BACOG Comprehensive Plan Update, ratified by all villages in the year 2000:

"BACOG was charged with several primary functions: (1) Maintenance of a continuing land-use information system, (2) promotion of intergovernmental cooperation, (3) formulation of area-wide goals, and (4) comprehensive area-wide planning. Among its top priority items was the development of a mutually agreeable set of planning policies to guide all conservation and development within its area. These policies would provide the intitial framework for an area-wide comprehensive plan."

A preliminary comprehensive planning policies report was produced in 1971. This report, also by Barton Aschman Associates, focused on environment, land-use, transportation and housing.
It also established the groundwork for an intensive program of citizen involvement and participation which was a key factor in those early years. The planning policies report was to receive extensive review by both BACOG and local citizen groups.

With these policy guidelines, BACOG then instituted an implementation program to begin the development of an area-wide comprehensive plan. At the core of this effort, were four citizen sub-committees composed of representatives from all member villages. The progress was astounding. Initial sub-committee work began in February 1972. Planning policies and extensive technical data was made available from the Lake County Planning Department, the Soil Conservation Service and the BACOG staff as a starting point, but the sub-committees were given wide latitude to develop their own recommendations.

By September 1972, with all task force reports completed, the Executive Director began the complex work of preparing a composite report and draft comprehensive plan for the area. The draft, which was completed in January of 1973, was extensively reviewed by the Boards of Trustees and citizen groups. The BACOG Board adopted a revised plan in February 1973.

Several other programs were developed to supplement and reinforce the adopted plan. Environment and land-use ordinances were emphasized for village approval, and by April 1975, three major planning studies were completed. The existing Land-Use Survey re-evaluated BACOG planning in terms of growth and development, and examined potential land-use guidance techniques. The Natural Resource Analysis expanded information on the local ecology, and identified specific areas meriting public and private conservation action. The Open Space plan analyzed open space issues and opportunities within the area, and recommended an overall system of public and private recreation, conservation, and preservation areas.

Out of what was then an intensive effort, a comprehensive plan was completed and adopted by the BACOG Board in July, 1975. Member villages put a full range of land-use and environment ordinances into effect at the local level. Since 1975, BACOG has monitored the implementation of the Comprehensive plan, completed a five volume Land-Use Guidance Study, initiated research on lakes management, well monitoring, sole source aquifer areas, and private environment practices. That first Comprehensive Plan has provided a framework from which to evaluate land-use proposals, both within and on the periphery of the area. County functional and comprehensive planning and work of the Northeast Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) that have also been generated from BACOG are truly outstanding.

The extensive citizen input of those early years meant that groups of comparative strangers were about to become comrades-in-arms. They were encouraged, urged, cajoled by a small band of concerned citizens and officials. They were, as Don has said, neophytes with the land use battles still to come. To draw upon some more of what Don has said, in a program for the Annual Meeting of the Greater North Barrington Area Association in 1997, "They were trying to balance the conflicting philosophies which have infused this dynamic tension between those who see land, air, water and woods as valuable finite resources to be husbanded and enhanced, and those who view these ecological components as market commodities to be traded, changed and sold in terms of economic highest and best use."

How soon they were to be tested. As they went through the processes of forging a sense of area unity and purpose, they were already learning to develop testimony for public hearings, to show up at county buildings and transportation offices to present the idealistic "why it should not be" against the economic bandwagon that was devouring up land at an alarming rate.

Centex was beaten back, but by the early 1970s, another super major land use proposal called the Beverly Project surfaced for unincorporated areas between South Barrington and Hoffman Estates. A whole new city, with 6,000 housing units, and industrial and office parks along the Northwest Tollway, would be annexed into Hoffman Estates.

The lack of infrastructure and public transit, the need to change tollway ramps and the cost of these improvements, and a carefully crafted opposition by BACOG were to doom this proposal. Political connections helped too.

Meanwhile, to the east on Quentin Road stood a relic of the cold war, a Nike Atomic missile site. This threatening looking site had for a few years provided a wretched but life saving location for the Lake County Museum. I remember…………..Not a missile, but a trial balloon went up from the Lake County Board. Some aspects of this already fortified site would make it an ideal location for a juvenile prison. And so BACOG's leaders continued to cut their teeth at public hearings.

The 1970's brought more interesting proposals to challenge the area's emerging sense of place. Senator Paul Douglas proposed South Barrington as a site for a National Accelerator Research Lab. Initially, the proposal was given some favorable consideration, and congratulatory letters were sent out to local government leaders. But then Barrington Hills began to take a closer look at the size of the project, and questioned whether the area wanted such a large government facility in its midst. Gradually, a groundswell of opposition emerged, and again combined with strong political pressure, the government withdrew the proposal.

Then came the landfill proposal for part of the Klehm Nursery. Claims that the perimeter of the fill would not come close to any residences were found to be misleading, and a complicated process of collecting testimony relative to the use of local roads by an endless column of garbage trucks, the environmental and groundwater contamination issues, for communities that were dependant on individual wells served to thwart this latest proposal impacting both South Barrington and Barrington Hills.

Out of the 1970's emerged what Don has, I think, eloquently called the warp and woof of the Barrington area, because "area" became an operative word in those years. The Barrington Area Development Council (BADC) provided the impetus for the Barrington Area Council of Governments, the Barrington Area Arts Council, the Barrington Area Library, the largest library district in the state in terms of its square mile coverage, and numerous other agencies were to think of themselves as serving a regional constituency. And then of course the consolidation of Community Unit School District 220 all reinforced that those to some extent scattered villages, with still thousands of acres of land in between under county jurisdictions, and the growing acquisition of public forest preserve lands, most of those villages took their name from, and looked in towards that still charming market town at the center, born of a railroad engineers plat in 1854.

This is a good point to take a look individually at those villages that signed on in 1970 to the concept of coming together, and endorsing planning policies that would serve to protect a 90 square mile area from the urban sprawl and industrialization that was overtaking neighboring communities in all directions. If you explore the history of those BACOG member villages, you find some remarkable differences. North Barrington and Tower Lakes, for instance, while having their share of sprawling estates and farmland in the early 20th century, essentially had their nucleus as organized resort venues around their lakes. Tower Lakes was dredged out in 1923, to form the focal point for what was to be a religious camp, with a huge tabernacle, hundreds of cottages, a radio station and a 60-foot tower with a beacon. There was obviously no BACOG to evaluate this proposal, but fortunately there was a Nazareth Barsumian, who took over the failing project, and together with Alfred W. Bays, then dean of Northwestern Law School, changed the direction to that of a residential development, which grew very quickly, so that a governing agency, the Tower Lakes Improvement Association was created in 1931.

In North Barrington, Honey Lake and Grassy Lake were natural lakes set between rolling hills, but it was the sale of the William Grace Estate in 1926 that was the catalyst to the platting out of hundreds of lots for summer cottages and the creation of the Biltmore Country Club. This was to center and define the character of the village that was incorporated in 1959. It was in the mid-1930's that the Biltmore acreage was bisected by the extension of Route 59, or the Barrington to Wauconda Road as it was known, from Route 22 north to Kelsey Road. In those earlier days, you took Old Barrington Road to Kelsey, and then followed Kelsey around to Wauconda.

Barrington Hills, some may remember that there was an earlier Village of Middlebury out to the west, takes its character from the estates and gentlemen's farms that were ubiquitous in the first half of the 20th century, and the equestrian traditions and activities generated by the owners of those estates. Even as those estates began to be divided up, the philosophy was to maintain their character through large lot zoning with five-acre minimum lots, and occasional variations at the community's borders. A well-maintained system of riding trails through those old properties meant that some new lot owners were occasionally surprised early on a weekend morning by what seemed like a cavalry charge across the properties.

The Village of South Barrington, also with its earlier share of estate properties, was more oriented to productive farmland until quite recent times. Established in 1957 as a strictly residential community of 1 and 2-acre lots, many of its lakes are man-made. As we have noted, the presence of the tollway, and then hundreds of acres of unincorporated land to its east, north and west, have to this day provided a need for strength of character by village leaders to maintain the original vision for the community.

The Village of Deer Park, again a predominance of small farms, wedged between Barrington and Lake Zurich, and bounded on the east by an old-established route northwards all the way to the Wisconsin line and Lake Geneva. It has created its character more recently, with the Town Center, and through the preservation of the historic Vehe Farm. With its pressure from the east along that Route 12 corridor, Deer Park finds itself with an emerging sense of place.

Lake Barrington has spread out through fields and fens, through woods and wetlands, towards the Fox River, absorbed 1,100 or so housing units in a gated community surrounding a golf course and a manmade lake, created an industrial and retail area adjacent to a major highway, and become home to the region's major medical center. The beauty, environmental value, and passive recreational value of its rolling landscapes are being preserved by major acquisitions of the Lake County Forest Preserve District in the last 15 years. Many of us will remember that it was only in 1988, that Alan Pesman, a developer from the North Shore, was proposing a massive hotel and resort complex for what is now the Fox River Preserve. BACOG, CFC, GNBAA all mobilized to fight this proposal, which included seeking sewer connection from the Island Lake Facilities Planning area, and offering the residents of Fox River Valley Gardens, now I believe Port Barrington, cheap connections to that new sewer line.

And the Village of Barrington. While neighboring communities have siphoned off some shopping opportunities, it is really still "our" small town, rather like an English market town, that got its character from the railroad depot, and the blacksmith shops, and the harness and wagon makers that served the countryside. The traffic may pour through in all directions, there may be frustration at finding parking, but essentially the center of that warp and woof is here, besides all that we have mentioned already, many churches are here, the high school, an old movie house that is not dead yet, banks and brokers and real estate agents, and the area post office, not to mention the Jewel, sooner or later we are all in downtown Barrington. Sometimes grumbling, but never mind, it will all come right one of these days!

We perhaps have tended to think in terms of a group of homogenous communities, but in my interpretation, this was by no means the case. However, remarkably, individual identity and character was to have so many parallels in the different villages, that through BACOG, this area was to present a unified image of itself as a controlled growth, pastoral oasis, determined to retain the quality of life that represented, against the world.

The late 1970s and 1980s brought more focus to the Lake County part of the Barrington area. Louis Draper looked at the land north of Fox Point, Fox Point itself representing significant growth for the Village of Barrington, beginning in the mid-nineteen sixties, and what Draper saw was ripe for development. Housing units, an industrial complex would fit nicely on these several hundred acres. But BACOG, Citizens for Conservation and the Greater North Barrington Area Association saw it differently, as did Fox Point residents. The resulting strength of all these groups, the interest of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, and the discovery of significant plant, bird and animal communities, with buckthorn strangling the pre-settlement ecology, carried the day. In recent years, as funds became available, the Forest Preserve, working with Citizens for Conservation, has cleared brush, restored the wetlands and upland grasses, and put in a trail system that offers a place for walking, and bird watching. Even dogs are allowed there-on the leash of course!

Draper was not done with our area, and went to North Barrington with a high-density proposal of townhouses and single-family homes for the Clement Stone property. This would have required sewer service from Lake Zurich, which, because of its high-density residential and commercial growth, already had overload on its sewer system. This overload was beginning to seep into the north branch of Flint Creek, which flows through North Barrington and on through Grassy Lake to the Fox River. Draper was eventually turned down, even though he threatened to try and cross Route 12 to annex into Lake Zurich. However, BACOG and the Greater North Barrington Area Association were not as successful in preventing the Braemer development on Cuba and Ela Roads. Even though our legislators and the Army Corps were brought into assess the potential damage to Cuba Marsh, Lake Zurich approved the development, which does incidentally have a Barrington postal address. Later, of course, North Barrington would work its way through to approval of the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course community - Wynstone.

Lest we think that South Barrington was going to be forgotten, yet another mammoth proposal came in for all of that land-in-waiting along the tollway. This time it was an almost Pentagon-sized World Exposition Center on 1,100 acres with the requisite hotels and support facilities and the need for transportation improvements. Again, this would have been annexed to Hoffman Estates, but it was not until recently that an amended agreement, taking into account the changes and developments of recent years, was signed between the two municipalities. The World Expo Center was almost certainly economically unfeasible from the beginning, and this latest attempt to turn our southern borders into a new metropolis failed.

Barrington Hills also faced its challenges in these years, with issues of dis-annexation and the failure of legislation to create a set of legal guidelines for municipalities and developers to follow, thus removing many of the loopholes for litigation. The proposed Fox Valley Freeway, which would have cut through the western part of Barrington Hills had languished on the transportation drawing board since the 1960s, I believe. This resurfaced as development spread out west of Route 25, on through Algonquin to that sea of roofs which is Lake in the Hills, and now of course beyond Randall Road to Route 47. Again, an organized effort seemed at the time to send this proposal back to the archives.

The Poplar Creek Music Theatre was another contentious issue, where not only land use and the provision of sewer and water, but also matters of noise, traffic and overall negative impact were raised in a suit brought against the Nederlander Corporation by Barrington Hills and South Barrington. The theater eventually opened, and was operated for a number of years until the company went bankrupt, as I recall.

Another proposal of the 1980s came from the Chicago Farmers and special interest in the Cook County Forest Preserve District for a Living History Farm in the Spring Creek Forest Preserve designed to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. An outstanding political effort took care of this one. Part of the southern land use issues was to be answered by the Prairie Stone Business Park and the move from Chicago of the Sears Headquarters.

With significantly changing demographic forecasts and some changes in sub-regional land-use and local planning initiatives, meaning updating of local comprehensive plans, the BACOG Board decided that it was time for an extensive update of the 1975 Comprehensive Plan. Again, the Board turned to citizen committees and the BACOG staff to do the bulk of the research, review and recommendation. The 1983 update was a product of that effort. About 50 BACOG-area citizens served on the 1983 Update Committees. These committees were Land Use, Environment, Transportation, and Special Studies. After almost a year of work, the updated plan was finished and presented to BACOG-area citizens and the BACOG Board.

That Plan, adopted in 1984, provided the planning guideline for the BACOG area for almost 12 years. It was also the last time that there was to be such a large citizen input in the process. In the late 1990s, few people, outside of Village Plan Commissions and Boards could be found to participate in the process.

The 1984 Plan had only minor changes in land use policies and zoning, primarily in South Barrington, but the plan again reflected area consensus in a countryside environment, and the continuation of the Village of Barrington's function and historical role as the hub of the 90-square mile area.

Towards the end of the 1990s, there was a definite need for change in how area issues needed to be approached from planning and policy perspective. First of all, the villages had perhaps started to curve back to that earlier sense of their autonomy and individual identities. Our villages acquired professional staffs and new, impressive village halls were built. Consultants were called in to keep village comprehensive plans updated, albeit dovetailed with BACOG's Comprehensive Plan, which I should also note, dovetailed with Lake County's Framework Plans for the southwestern part of the county. But there was also a changing constituency, more affluent, busier at every level with work, school, charities, but less inclined to citizen involvement in issues where it was perceived that local government was providing adequate management. Certainly there were the NIMBY situations which would fire up local constituencies from time to time. Sometimes, as in the case of the Taubman (as Harry liked to say) super regional mall proposal, these local citizen movements had staggering success, and the effort mounted by the ACRE organization and other groups have become a classic case history of what a grassroots movement can accomplish.

Incidentally this was probably the first time that BACOG as a board did not bring regional pressure to bear on such a large development proposal, and neither did BACOG later participate as a board when the Deer Park mall was proposed.

In fact, as the 1990s came to an end, and Don Klein's retirement became mandated, the future of BACOG itself came into question. Was there still enough individual will on the part of the villages to keep themselves in this COG? Certainly, another update of the Comprehensive Plan was completed by 1998, but it was to be a difficult process. However, it was clear that while the villages had their individual development issues, there were still enough regional issues to keep that old warp and woof from fraying. Transportation initiatives such as the EJ&E, and SRAs (or strategic regional arterials) are not on our periphery, they cross through our area like the proposed widening of Routes 22 and 59. There are new development pressures on countryside villages, and there are fiscal imperatives as the cost of village governments rise and traditional revenue resources dwindle. There are recent indications at the state level, that changes could be made in facilities planning area policies, thus affecting the availability of sewers-remember that lack of sewer availability has been a key factor in keeping our large lot zoning-the hospital is sewered from Fox River Gove-the Deer Park Town Center is sewered Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Lake Barrington Shores and Wynstone both have their own waste disposal facilities, not available to other than their developments.

Don Klein did retire, in the Fall of 2000, and BACOG reaffirmed that there are still the ties that bind, still a regional identity, by selecting Janet Agnoletti as their second executive director to carry forward the stewardship over regional issues, and implementation of regional policies that still make this BACOG sum greater than its parts.

I would like to include a personal note here…

At the Leadership Academy, Janet put something in terms that really clarified for me how important BACOG is for our continued regional quality of life. She said that the BACOG Comprehensive Plan, and its regular updating, dovetailed with their own regularly updated comprehensive plans and ratified by the villages-sets out policies for the area as a whole, and any component of that plan which might be challenged in one village, is defensible under the umbrella of the whole.

Janet is carrying BACOG forward through the opening of a new century. Already the Development Impact Fee Task Force, to implement uniform developer impact fees in all of the BACOG member villages has completed its work with the drafting of an Ordinance that has now been adopted by North Barrington, Lake Barrington and Deer Park. (As of 2004, six of seven BACOG member-villages have adopted the model ordinance.)

The Water Resources Initiative now has interns funded by the townships, working on collecting data to determine how finite our water resources are, especially in the shallow aquifer, and how much development that depends on individual wells can be sustained in the future.

The Barrington Area Geographic Information System, or BAGIS, is a computer mapping and data management system. The Village of Barrington, under the auspices of BACOG, applied for and received a $100,000 grant to purchase the software for seven villages and the services of a consultant. The BACOG GIS Committee was formed to assist in setting policies on data distribution and privacy issues. Boundary agreements, census information and water resources data can all be incorporated into BAGIS. Legislative issues must be constantly monitored for their impact on the Barrington area, and BACOG now publishes a newsletter.

After 911, a regional conference was organized on security and emergency response capabilities and communications. Recently BACOG organized a workshop for local elected and appointed officials, covering legal issues and the functions of the various boards and commissions.

There are still mighty issues of land-use, both within and on the periphery of the region. We must continue to be vigilant if we are to preserve all that has been accomplished over there now 33 years of BACOG. Other COGs have come and gone, but Don made a key point to us, that many of them were dependent on outside funding, whereas the basic functions and staff of BACOG have always been funded from within.

But I do want to close with what was yes, an emotional reminiscence, but an eloquent one by Don Klein at that 1997 presentation. He was speaking of course, of the early years:

"There are images from that time still fixed, we were so full of ourselves it seemed, I see Bill Miller and Frank Spreyer cleaning recycling bins, Ruth Moor breaking her leg at the first blood drive, the crude oil cloth signs Sam Oliver and I hung to advertise the Folk Festival, Bill Brough and Al Borah testifying at the Centex hearing, Cy Wagner everywhere it seemed, Nelson Forrest almost as ubiquitous. The ladies at Lake Barrington Shores with their signs, "Save the Deer" and many of you at the Draper hearing on Cuba Marsh, at the Draper hearing on the Stone property, the Smith Clinic debate, Match Point tennis complex, and later the hospital. We rehashed our successes and failures at the Bank Tavern, those it seems now, were heady times, all of us were new to the fight-little did we know, how long battles would last."

Later he went on:

"The entire BACOG experience is more than happy fish and contented cows. More than the camp song of some wild-eyed environmentalists-27 years (as it was when he spoke) of tradition and conscience, more than elitism, us against them. We have staked our principles on human scale and sense of place, on good design, we have struggled to achieve some rapport between the built and natural environments. We also know that the issues which infuse this debate and process will not disappear. We are not done-all is not historical perspective. We will not prevail if we are inactive or afraid. We must continue to do the right thing for the right reasons."


Barbara L. Benson, Local Historian, first came to Barrington in 1980 as Director of the Barrington Area Historical Society, a position she held for 10 years, afterwards serving as a trustee for 3 years. She is currently the Village Historian for the Village of North Barrington.