Tag Archives: Helen Johnson


‘Carrie’s going to be missed’

Photo: Longtime Elburn resident Carrie Petrie (pictured with her daughter, Cara, and granddaughter, Abby) passed away on Jan. 9. Petrie was involved with the Elburn American Legion’s Women’s Auxiliary, played an active role in the Elburn Memorial Day ceremony for many years and helped run the Elburn Community Blood Drive. Her absence has been felt by many in the community. Photo submitted by Cara Bartel to info@elburnherald.com

Community mourns passing of longtime Elburn resident
ELBURN—The passing of lifelong resident Carrie Petrie on Jan. 9 has left a hole in the community of Elburn.

“You never replace someone like Carrie,” Village President Dave Anderson said. “You can get someone to take over her responsibilities, but you never replace her. Carrie’s going to be missed.”

Anderson said his first experience with Petrie was years ago when he and a date stopped in at Robert’s Drive-In in Geneva to get a bite to eat. The restaurant was two-thirds full, and Petrie was not only the waitress who took their order and served them, but the cook who made their meal, as well as the cashier who took their money.

That take-charge, “let’s get it done” kind of attitude has defined her throughout her life, whether she was helping out on the family farm, placing flags on the graves of the veterans for Memorial Day, cooking spaghetti dinners at the American Legion, or managing the Elburn Community Blood Drive every year.

Carrie was the oldest girl in her family. According to her sister Cecelia, Carrie could run a tractor at an early age. During the war, when so many of the men were overseas, she said Carrie was a big help around the family farm. She could drive the horses as well as a set of mules.

“Dad said she was the best hired man he ever had,” Cecelia said.

Carrie, like many of the young girls in her day, wrote to the soldiers fighting overseas during World War II to keep them from being lonely. Grover Petrie from Sycamore was her choice of a pen pal because she thought he had nice handwriting.

When Grover came home from the war, and he and Carrie met, courted and married. They remained committed to caring for the men and women who had served their country.

Grover joined the Elburn American Legion, and Carrie became a charter member of the Women’s Auxiliary. She and the other wives were actively involved in the current American Legion building.

“That kitchen didn’t magically appear,” said Kay Swift, the Petrie’s neighbor. “There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into that building. The ladies were there right beside the men, holding lunches and catering dinners to raise the money.”

The Legion’s spaghetti dinners featuring Carrie’s “private (sauce) recipe,” became an annual event. Swift, who helped out with the dinners, said Carrie had everything so well organized, it didn’t seem to be such a big chore.

Carrie had initially set up the kitchen with a place for everything and everything in its place. Village attorney and Vietnam veteran Bob Britz said that Carrie held everything together.

“I don’t think she was ever in the service, but she would have made a good drill Sergeant,” he said with a laugh.

Together with Britz, Carrie played an active role in the Elburn Memorial Day ceremony for many years. Carrie would read the names of each veteran who had passed away, as well as reciting the poem “Flanders Field” each year. Until several years ago, when the Boy Scouts took over the job, Carrie and a crew of volunteers during the week prior to the service would place flags at the gravesite of every veteran buried in Elburn.

Her dedication and service to veterans included weekly trips to Elgin Mental Health Center, where the 30 or so veterans there would receive packets of gum, cookies, hot chocolate or coffee and other treats that Carrie and other Legion members assembled.

She always felt that no matter what their circumstances were, the veterans deserved the respect and gratitude for the service they gave to their country, Kay Swift said.

“She was a very good motivator,” said Swift, who for the past eight years had helped Carrie run the Elburn Community Blood Drive.

Swift said that when she could no longer donate blood due to a heart condition, she asked Carrie what she could do instead.

“Have I got a job for you,” Carrie responded. And Swift became the blood drive coordinator.

Helen Johnson has known Carrie and her sisters since they were little girls. She said her dad would take the “Gum girls” along with them to basketball games and county fairs, and to Maple Park to make cider.

When Carrie married Grover, they were the first ones to travel to Hackensack, Minn., for their honeymoon, Johnson said. That first trip was the beginning of 40 years of summer fun with family and friends.

“We all cooked together and the guys went fishing,” Johnson said.

Carrie continued to make the drive up to their cabin after Grover passed away. As recently as this past summer, she made the long trip herself, even though her son, Neal, had also passed away, and it was getting harder for her to get in and out of her car.

On her way home, Carrie met her sister Cecelia and her husband Norbert Lund for dinner. Cecelia recalled the numerous nice things that Carrie has done for others.

She used to pick up Cecelia’s daughters and drive them to work at the restaurant in Wasco where she worked, so they could experience what it was like to have a real job. They were able to work their way through college, she said.

“We’re all very proud of her, and all her years of hard work and dedication,” Cecelia said.

Headstones honor World War vets

Photos: Two of the recently installed tombstones on formerly unmarked graves at Blackberry Cemetery. All Photos by Sandy Kaczmarski

Graves of two veterans no longer unmarked after two-year effort
by Sandy Kaczmarski
ELBURN—“I still have 42 people that I know are buried in the cemetery, but I don’t know where,” Fred Dornback said.

He ought to know. He’s the sexton of Blackberry Township Cemetery at the corner of Keslinger Road and Main Street.

As he put it, “that’s a story by itself.”

But Dornback was successful in locating two soldiers who were previously buried in unmarked graves and got headstones installed just in time for Veteran’s Day. The grave sites of military veterans Oscar E. Lundblad and Frank L. Wilson now are marked with white marble stones.

“They’re beautiful,” Dornback said of the stones that are similar to those at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He purposefully chose a little different marker since most of the military markers are bronzed.

“These stand out beautifully, just like I wanted them to,” Dornback said.

The search took nearly two years to complete.

“We had a (burial) permit for these two gentlemen from way back when, but didn’t know where they were buried at that time,” he said.

Dornback, with the help of local historian Helen Johnson, 83, poured through old issues of The Elburn Herald searching for some clues. They also worked closely with the Kane County Genealogical Society, and they even use a lot of online sources these days, too.

One obstacle was a major fire in 1973 at the National Archives and Records Administration in St. Louis, where all military records were stored. There were no duplicates, no microfilm copies, no indexes. About 80 percent of the information on veterans discharged between November 1912 and January 1960 were simply gone.

Dornback said he at least had the service numbers, which are equivalent to a military dog tag, so he was able to verify their service.

“I found his (Lundblad’s) obituary in the paper,” Johnson said. “I went through The Elburn Herald because we knew the year he died, but there was no family. He came from Sweden.”

Local historian Helen Johnson (right), joins friends at the Kountry Kettle every morning to catch up on news. This morning she chats with Bill Mack of Elburn (left to right), Cindy Clausen of Maple Park, Gene Godfrey of St. Charles, Fred Proctor and Lois Mack, both of Elburn.

With almost 3,000 people buried in the cemetery, Dornback and Johnson have been trying to categorize each grave since taking over in 2007. Dornback suggested they take photographs of each grave so they could continue their research using the computer when the weather doesn’t cooperate, but it also provides a visual record of each grave site.

The cemetery originally was established in 1860, but Johnson said some people were buried there before then. The earliest “born” date is 1772. Johnson said they have three veterans buried there listed as far back as the War of 1812.

Dornback is very pleased that the graves of veterans Lundblad and Wilson are finallly properly marked.

“They’re beautiful markers,” he said again. “I’m sure they’ll get a little more attention next Memorial Day when we have the ceremony at the cemetery.”

History Detectives: Where is the body buried?

Pair try to unravel a century of history at Blackberry Cemetery
by Lynn Meredith
Elburn—On any given day you’ll find real life History Detectives hard at work, looking for where the bodies are buried. From discovering that one woman was issued two burial certificates 10 years apart—only to uncover that one certificate was for her amputated leg—to finding records from early years of unidentified bodies being pushed out of the train and crushed, Fred Dornback and Helen Johnson find it all a great challenge.

“We took it on with the intention to bring order to the records. Our goal was to create a database and who was buried where,” said Dornback, sexton of Blackberry Cemetery in Elburn. “That’s the way it started, but it soon got a wee bit more complex. It got exciting and overwhelming.”

The confusion began with the way the records had been kept. From 1905 to 2007, when the Blackberry Cemetery Association surrendered responsibility to the township, the numbering and system of recording who is buried where varied by the person keeping the records.

“Sometimes they recorded who paid the bill. Sometimes it was who owned the grave site. Sometimes it was the name of the person who died,” Dornback said. “You don’t know.”

At present, Dornback and Johnson have 41 “unknowns.” One veteran of both World War I and II is known to be buried in the cemetery, but they cannot find a marker for him. Other people are listed on FindaGrave.com as being buried here, but someone with that name is not on any records.

“We start hunting down a name: ‘Do we have this person? ‘You get excited because it looks like you have them. The dates match. Then it says, ‘location unknown.’ This is the confusion we have. You don’t know until you match it with the obituary,” Dornback said.

Searching obituaries and genealogical resources isn’t the only way the pair have hunted down who’s buried where: they have walked the cemetery and taken a picture of each of the 2,700 graves.

“We used shaving cream when we were walking the cemetery. It would go in the creases and make the marker more readable,” Johnson said. “We had to remember to wash it off.”

Add to that the sorting-out process of old ledgers, envelopes, scraps of paper that fill several attache cases, along with three maps-each with different and conflicting information. They might work six months hunting down one name.

“We started to sort by decades—from 150 years-before we looked at individual stuff,” Dornback said. “We could have enjoyed ourselves, but we had to be prepared to sell grave sites in the meantime.”

Radar used by University of Illinois archeologists indicate that bodies may be buried underneath what are now paths. With not all graves marked, it’s not always clear what spots are safe to sell. On the site of the Memorial Day service, they think it is actually a “Potter’s Field” for the poor or those passing through who died.

Since 2010, the state of Illinois requires that 10 days after a person is buried, their name must be registered in the state database, including the location of the burial.

“We hope this will help future generations,” Dornback said.