Historical society turns down offer to acquire old church

PAXTON — The Ford County Historical Society met May 18 at the Water Tower Museum in Paxton with 35 members and guests present.

President Judith Jepsen-Popel updated the group on several matters. She said the Illinois Central Railroad museum in downtown Paxton is being dismantled and its items are being taken to a museum in Monticello. She was asked if the historical society wanted its arrival/departure board returned. Jepsen-Popel told the railroad group that the board belonged with the other train-related items.

She also said the historical society and Paxton Foundation had been offered the Pleasant Grove Methodist Church and surrounding 40 acres in rural Paxton. The congregation was down to seven members and held its last service in June. Jepsen-Popel  turned down the offer, citing problems with financing improvements, security and other responsibilities.

Jepsen-Popel also talked about the special movie showing July 27 at the Harvest Moon Drive-In in Gibson City that will be a fund-raiser for the historical society. She said the renovation of old sheriff’s residence in Paxton is largely complete now and that a group of paranormal believers stayed the night there along with the great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Hollman, the only man to be hanged at the Ford County jail.

Also, Jepsen-Popel announced Ellie Nielson’s resignation from putting together the newsletter. Jean Watson will take her place.

Judith Ondercho presented the program. Ondercho was the administrator of the Ford County Nursing Home from 1981 to 1999. This year marks the 120th anniversary of the groundbreaking for what began as the Ford County Almshouse. Ondercho used material for her talk from long-time dietary manager Frances Dunlap, who wrote down her experiences at the home where she worked from 1955 to 1999.

Ondercho shared historical photos and other memorabilia from the nursing home. Some of the items had been rescued from the trash at the time of the switch-over from public to private ownership. Ondercho said only 20 nursing homes in Illinois remain under county ownership.

It was not until 1945 that the site became a nursing home. A bond issue was passed in 1970 to add a new building to the facility. In 1991 the original building was demolished after a service addition was built.

Ondercho introduced Linda Lavoie, who works for Paxton HealthCare & Rehab LLC, a family-owned company governed by Bradley Alter, the chief executive officer and vice president.  Lavoie expressed an interest in creating a spot in the facility to display historical items.


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