MATTOON, Ill. (WAND) - Keeping track of history is often left to museum employees or a historical society. But in Mattoon, two volunteers have turned a love of the past, into a past time.
They’re headquartered inside the Mattoon Public Library. The outside of the building has its own stories to tell. There’s an addition specifically designed to preserve the building's architecture, a mountain lion statue that adorned a resident's yard for decades, as well as a replica flag pole like the one at Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Military Post. Though in the building's basement, below the rows of books, the stories are limitless.
“I average about eight hours a day, each day, Monday through Friday,” said Mattoon Public Library Volunteer, Barbara Krehbiel. She's been working in genealogy for 56 years. Between newspaper clippings and old city directories, she’s pieced together some sensational stories.
“I had one lady that got in touch with me, she didn’t tell me about the murder of the relative and that the story about the relative had already been on a particular T.V. show,” Krehbiel explained. “Then I learned more about her story, and I was able to find her relative had attended high school here in Mattoon and learned a great deal more about the family, again thanks to the fact that we have a good collection of city directories.”
But Barbara doesn't work alone. While she sifts through old records, her cohort Chris Suerdieck is sifting through old relics.
"I tell all my friends I’ve turned into a picker. At one point or another everyone’s watched American pickers. When I get time I either go to antique shop,” Suerdieck said. “I can tell a flea market from an antique shop now!"
The local history room has become Chris' pet project in retirement. He’s a Volunteer Local History Curator. He's dedicated his time and to collecting all sorts of things that make Mattoon, Mattoon.
"I love the telephones but I think probably I had no idea about the history of the dairies and I’ve almost become a bottle collector,” Suerdieck shared. “I’m really most passionate about overall is telling the stories of all the industries in Mattoon from the early years, forward."
From businesses past, the 1917 tornado, yearbooks, telephones, milk bottles, Chris has compiled a wide variety of items. He’s even poured in thousands of his own dollars to make it happen.
"It’ll never be finished because I keep finding new stuff. I keep finding new avenues to go down.” He shared. “I tell everyone I’ve got more ideas than I’ve got walls. I think we’re getting to the point where in the next several months we’ll have these walls filled up with these displays but the challenge is gonna be finding space for everything we uncover."
Bringing the past to the future generations, one record and one relic, at a time. If someone has ideas of what Chris should include in the local history room, or if someone would like to donate items, contact the Mattoon Public Library. The email address is: Localhistory@matoonlibrary.org .
The local history room is taking visitors now, and is typically open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Suerdieck says he is also open to accommodating special tours on the weekend, however arrangements need to be made ahead of time.