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2022 Best of Illinois History Awards

2022 Best of Illinois History Awards
Elaine Evans
/ Categories: General News

2022 Best of Illinois History Awards

The Illinois State Historical Society (ISHS) revealed the 2022 “Best of Illinois History” award winners on Saturday, April 9, at 11:30 at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield. This year’s award recipients traveled across the state and the nation to accept their awards, which celebrate the best Illinois history books and authors, exhibits and exhibitors, filmmakers, playwrights, and over-achievers who make the Prairie State an outstanding place “to foster awareness, understanding, research, preservation, and recognition of history in Illinois.”

“After two years of hibernating from the pandemic, Illinois historians have unveiled what they’ve been up to for the last twenty-odd months, and last Saturday we had an in-person opportunity to celebrate their achievements,” said William Furry, executive director of the 123-year-old Society. “Nominations poured in from all over the state and the breadth and scope of the entries is encouraging for the future of Illinois history,” he noted. “Now it's time to share them with the public.”

The Society presented more than 35 awards at the annual luncheon, including three “Lifetime Achievement Awards” to citizens who have made lasting contributions in the communities. Mary Barringer, who was nominated by her friends and colleagues in Springfield, has been a genealogist, cemetery plotter and researcher for most of her adult life, seeking out and identifying the graves of central Illinois veterans who fought in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Black Hawk War. Larry McClellan of Crete has been researching and writing about stations on the Underground Railroad in northeastern Illinois for decades, and has helped tell the story of Freedom Seekers, earning him a nomination. Dr. Mark Wyman of Bloomington-Normal taught history at Illinois State University to hundreds of students, served on numerous local history boards and citizens advisory panels and, since retiring has found new ways to raise community awareness about the twin cities and their Jim Crow past. His work sets a standard for other communities to come to terms with their segregation history.

The “Best of Illinois History” awards also recognize the works of university presses, historical societies and museums, independently produced films and videos, websites, and more. In addition, the Society also recognized this year’s Olive Foster “History/Social Studies Teacher of the Year" (Jodi Mitts of Lincoln Magnet School), the winner of the Verna Ross Orndorff Student Scholarship (Olivia Campbell), the Russell L. Lewis Jr. Young Museum Professional award winner (Veronica Featherston, Kankakee), and the Russell P. Strange ISHS Book of the Year award recipient (Jonathan Wright and Dawson Barrett).


Mary Barringer, Springfield.
Larry McClellan, Crete.
Mark Wyman, Bloomington-Normal.

Olive Foster Teacher of the Year Award

      Jodi Mitts, Lincoln Magnet School, Springfield

Russell L. Lewis Jr. Young Museum Professional Award

      Veronica Featherston, Kankakee County Museum.

Verna Ross Orndorff Scholarship Award

Olivia Campbell, for her essay, “Battle of Antietam: How the Single Bloodiest Day in American History Paved the Way for Public Support for the Union”

Russell P. Strange Memorial Book of the Year Award

Punks in Peoria: Making a Scene in the American Heartland, by Jonathan Wright and Dawson Barrett
Judge’s Comment: “An excellent exploration of how place impacts culture, and how a subculture arises. Compellingly shows how subculture functions internally and in conversation and in opposition to the mainstream. Excellent use of primary sources.” “A surprisingly solid study, offering multitudinous perspectives on music, class, economics, culture, politics, and urban history as well in 20th century Illinois. While not necessarily a scholarly tome, it nevertheless surpasses all other books submitted this year.”



The Bonds of War: A Study of Immigrants and Esprit de Corps in Company C, 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, by Diane L. Dretske.
Certificate of Excellence
Judges’ Comments: “An informative, well-organized examination of immigrant soldiers in Company C, 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, providing a new prospect on the service of volunteers who did not necessarily have to serve but chose to, and the hardships and suffering they endured. A good addition to understanding the Civil War from the participants’ perspectives.”
“Dretske explores intimate experiences in the epic conflict.”

Reconstructing an Eighteenth Century Village: Chartres in the Illinois, by Margaret Kimball Brown.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “This book is exceptional in method, sources, form, and conclusion. It brings 19th century Fort Chartres to life, creating a vivid picture from the source material.”
“An ambitious work, Brown offers a multi-varied survey of early European history in Illinois. Using archaeological and narrative sources, the author offers a comprehensive view of her subject.”

An Open Secret: The Family Story of Robert and John Gregg Allerton, by Nicholas L. Syrett.
Superior Achievement
Judge’s Comment: “This is a well-researched and often surprising account of the relationship between art collector and notable philanthropist Robert Allerton and his adoptive son, John Gregg Allerton. Syrett persuasively argues the two men had a queer relationship that they legalized via adoption before same-sex marriage become an option. The author makes the most of the many surviving sources on the Allertons using the couple as a lens into wider histories even as he remains mindful of the particular privileges available to Euro-American men of great means and the limits of the Allertons’ radicalism.”

Dangerous Ideas on Campus: Sex, Conspiracy, and Academic Freedom in the Age of JFK, by Matthew C. Ehrlich.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “An excellent and engaging look at issues of academic freedom at the University of Illinois during a period when many people overlook the simmering discontent on college campuses. Well-written and engaging, Ehrlich’s book is of interest to scholars of the Cold War, the 1960s, higher educations, and to a general public seeking to understand issues of free speech we still grapple with today.”
“In our fraught times, this well-argued book presents a case study that has much to say about the ‘culture wars’ on campus then and now.”

The Irish in Illinois, Mathieu Billing and Sean Farrell.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “From canal workers to politicians, reformers to gang leaders, and the complicated and tragic story of the relations between Irish Americans and Black Americans, the authors do not flinch from telling the story—progress, violence, and coalition building. This is one of the best, broad-based treatments of Illinois history it has been my pleasure to read.”
“The book is well-researched and provides a great overview of Irish immigration and Irish immigrants, not just in Illinois but throughout the country.”

Lincoln and Citizenship, by Mark E. Steiner. Concise Lincoln Library.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “Exceptionally well-written and researched and, despite its size, the book provides just enough context to illuminate the analysis the author provides to reveal how Lincoln understood the question of citizenship in a rapidly changing America. This is a valuable addition to Lincoln studies, raising the questions likely to confront students, admirers, and critics of the Civil War president in the coming decades. Overall, I was impressed by the author’s writing style and scholarship.”
“Steiner, a law professor, argues his case well, and his summary is spot on.”

Stephen A Douglas, Western Man: The Early Years in Congress, 1844-1850, by Reg Ankrom.
Certificate of Excellence
Judge’s Comment: “This is a very good, well-researched and footnoted book with an index and strong bibliography. The author’s thesis is good and has an excellent prose style, and readers will come away with a good sense of the “Little Giant” and his boundless energy and ambition. Mr. Ankrom deserves great credit for doing a vast amount of research and clearly making his citations. His writing is clear and I learned a great amount of detail about the actions of Congress in this era.”

Abraham Lincoln and the Heritage of Illinois State University, by Tom Emery, Foreword and Afterword by Carl Kasten.
Award of Merit
Judges’ Comments: “This book presents a detailed look at the history of today’s Illinois State University and its connection to Abraham Lincoln. Exploring nook and crannies rarely seen, the authors include short biographies of various figures mentioned in the story, helping the reader fill out a mental picture of often obscure personages.”
“Provides a worthwhile encyclopedic cache of ISU’s and Normal’s connections to Illinois’ most famous citizen, and the early history of public education.”

Exploring the Land of Lincoln: The Essential Guide to Illinois Historic Sites, by Charles Titus.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “Charles Titus explores the geographic history of Illinois from pre-Columbian to modern history. While not a comprehensive history, the volume offers a learned and useful survey of historical travel in the Prairie State.”
“An easy-to-use travel guide, with mile markers and maps, both well-written and informative. Much more than a travel book!”


Literary Ladies: The First 130 Years of the Wednesday Class, by Cathy Green, Linda Ryan, EdD., and Suzanne Verticchio.
Certificate of Excellence
Judges’ Comments: “More than the formal history of a local club, this book provides insights into the lives of a small portion of Jacksonville women for 130 years. It illuminates the activities and aspirations of generations of women, revealing an often but overlooked facet of community life.”
Literary Ladies fills a void in the historical record of Jacksonville by providing an exhaustive study of one of the city’s cultural institutions.”

Western Kankakee County, by Jim Ridings. Arcadia Images of America series.
Award of Merit
Judge’s Comment: “A well-research, clearly focused history of a neglected part of the state, Western Kankakee County has much to offer the casual student of local history, and is recommended reading for those who have no remembrance what the region once offered. The book is comprehensive given its narrow focus, and offers an extensive narrative, clear vintage photos of the churches, businesses, school houses, rural scenes, and railroads that made this a hub for local businesses.”

The Illustrated History of the Ottawa Tent Colony, by Jim Ridings.
Award of Merit
Judge’s Comment: “A great topic that merits more than a picture book. That said, the author has a great deal of good information about the Ottawa Tent Colony, how it operated, who it served, what the conditions were like, and what outcomes were expected. Ridings’ book is the first historical account of an overlooked part of Illinois history, and an important addition to the study and treatment of tuberculosis in the state. Tents and sanitariums ended in the 1950s, but this book examines how the scourge was handled before there were proper drugs to cure the disease.”

A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden World of Tallgrass and Wildflowers, by Fred Delcomyn and James L. Ells.
Award of Merit
Judge’s Comment: "This colorful, informative, and delightful little book, written by two curious men who planted a two and a-half acre prairie in a backyard and then observed and photographed it over seventeen years, is an excellent addition to any library where there is a pedestrian interest in Illinois natural and cultural history. It fills a need for an instructive primer for those curious about what the ancient prairies of Illinois were like, and an easy-to-read factual text with colorful illustrations of the flora and fauna of this experimental prairie."

Snake Road: A Field Guide to the Snakes of Larue-Pine Hills, by Joshua J. Vossler.
Certificate of Excellence
Judges’ Comments: “I regard this as a valuable contribution to Illinois historical studies. In addition to the important bio-history on serpentine Illinois and brilliant photography, the author retells the challenges of environmental perspective in the Prairie State.”
“This entry is more natural history than what we usual think of as ‘history,’ but it represents a good deal of scholarship and study augmented by excellent photographs, explanations, and a reading list concerning a nice ecological area in southern Illinois.”

A Deeper Dive into the Good Government Council of Logan County 1950s Lincoln, Illinois, by John E. Fuller.
Award of Merit
Judges’ Comments: “Though essentially a ‘scrapbook’ approach to the topic, this volume serves a valuable purpose in examining a small but important portion of Logan County’s history—the struggles against illegal gambling, corruption, and sometimes lackadaisical government practices. Fuller is to be commended for shedding light on these events, which defined what type of government Logan County residents wanted in the 1950s.”
“This is a surprisingly interesting and very well done book.”

Lincoln in Springfield, Jan Jacobi.
Certificate of Excellence
Judge’s Comment: “Lincoln in Springfield is well-researched historical fiction geared to the Young Adult market. It spans the years between Lincoln leaving New Salem and about 1850, when he returns to Springfield from Congress. The author does a good job of making Lincoln’s early years come alive, so long as young readers understand that the conversations and other details are speculation. There is plenty of creative conjecture, but not contradiction to known history. This should help young readers understand Lincoln, the man.”

Pullman: The Man, the Company, the Historical Park, by Kenneth J. Schoon.
Certificate of Excellence
Judge’s Comment: “Schoon’s book excels at giving the non-academic reader—perhaps someone just interested in a general background on Pullman—the town and the significant events occurring within and around it. The pictures and illustrations are good. The book is well researched and offers an excellent description of what happened to the town after Pullman’s death. The book also explores the story of historic preservation that is part of the community’s rebirth in recent years.”

Looking for Cornbread: Coming of Age in Small-Town America, Circa 1950s-‘60s. Jim Paradis.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “Paradis shows life as it was—and all too often still is. He addresses the issues of race, gender, and male violence in ways that make it easy for a reader to envision these incidents and increase their own awareness of the deep roots of these problems. This is a fine book, and if nothing else, demonstrates the contradictions and complications of small-town life in what some try to view as America’s ‘Golden Age.’”
“In my years of judging this competition, this is one of the finest books I’ve seen.”

Have Violin, Will Travel: The Louis Persinger Story, Raymond Bruzan.
Certificate of Excellence
Judge’s Comment: “Bruzan’s book demonstrates what important, impassioned, carefully-researched history writing can be. Its scope is admirably vast—from descriptions of tiny Illinois and Midwest villages to the internationally music sense of the early twentieth century. Not just for the music buffs, Have Violin Will Travel: The Louis Persinger Story is for all those who seek to understand how Illinois' creative individuals transformed the culture of this nation.”

Richard Haas Murals in Homewood, Illinois, by Kristine M. Condon, Ph.D.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “This is a beautiful volume celebrating the outdoor work of the artist Richard Haas. It memorializes the historic architecture and streetscapes of Homewood. There is commentary by the artist explaining why he did certain works in a particular way, and the historic photos help dramatize the final mural created. The publication is enhanced by the choice of heavy glossy paper and the very special photographs. An outstanding contribution to Illinois historical material.”
“Well researched and handsomely printed. I’ve never been to Homewood and now I want to go.”

Special Project

Immaculate Conception Historical Sign Project, by Ian Huebner.
Award of Merit
Judge’s Comment: Ian Huebner is an Eagle Scout who loves helping people, so creating a historical marker and revitalizing the landscaping of Immaculate Conception Church in Madonnaville seemed like the perfect fit for this seveteen-year-old's Eagle Scout project. “This is a well-designed interpretive sign that presents a significant community history, as evidenced by the contributions of the former parish, the nomination of the village mayor, and the recognition of the American Legion Auxiliary. It is wonderful to see young people exploring local history and finding ways to make it resonate in their own lives.”

Non-Book Materials
On-going Periodicals

“Law and Public Policy: Three Columns from the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, by Ann M. Lousin.
Certificate of Excellence
Judges’ Comments: “Interesting and timely columns illuminating important implications of issues in the news or likely to be in the future.”
“Ann Lousin is one of Illinois’ treasures, bringing a wealth of experience, perspective, and knowledge to every subject she throws her spotlight on. These model editorials are excellent entrées for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of Illinois governance, not just from a historical perspective, but with an eye on how policies of the past will shape—and sometimes bend—the future of the Prairie State.


The Mysterious Bard of Sangamo, written by John Hallwas and featuring Victor Holstein.
Superior Achievement
Judge’s Comment: “With high production values, a strong script by John Hallwas, and a tour-de-force of acting by Victor Holstein, this film reveals a largely unknown piece of Illinois history. John Hancock, an English immigrant who clerked in a liquor-dealing store, regularly contributed poetry to the Sangamo Journal newspaper. As Hallwas notes in the film’s concluding discussion, Hancock was decades ahead of poetry’s move toward self-examination and the sharing of innermost thoughts, troubles, hopes, and disappointment. Its seamless exposition shares many insights and lessons about early 19th century life on the prairie and, especially, in Springfield.”

Leclaire: Model Village to Modern Village, Madison County Historical Society Online Speaker Series, and Robert Gill.
Certificate of Excellence
Judges’ Comments: “Nice production values, great use of the 1990s interviews, historic photos, news clippings, and shots of modern-day Leclaire. This is a very interesting topic and I imagine one that is not widely known outside the Edwardsville area.”
“A positive story about the idealistic goals of Leclaire founder N.O. Nelson, who, at the end of the 19th century, left the negative working conditions in St. Louis to build a better environment for his employees across the river in Illinois. This is a special history, the counterpoint to the legacy of Pullman.”

An Eagle on His Button, Lawrence County Historical Society.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “Very impressive research, writing/scripting with lots of historic context, plus the involvement of diverse talent in production. This 23-minute video, now screening on YouTube is well worth promoting and sharing.”
“This is a fine program by a local historical society, one willing to use its position to help citizens understand the harsh realities behind our nation’s history, particularly regarding Black Americans. While acknowledging these faults and tragedies, the presentation also honors the patriotism and heroism of a member of that oppressed community, who demonstrated a deep love of his country and a willingness to risk his life to preserve it.”

Our Cause is Just: The Hawes Family in the Civil War, Lincoln College TV studio and the Lincoln Heritage Museum.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “Well done 50-minute video based on letters to and from the Hawes Family in Logan County to their Union soldier sons George, James, and Henry during the Civil War. Good editing and pacing, good use of general archival war images and talking heads and actual letters, with excellent narration by Steve Young."
“The various commentators, especially Anne Moseley, clarify and contextualize key points raised by the correspondence. The postwar paths of the brothers bring the story to a thought-provoking end. An excellent program.”


Illinois High School Glory Days, Website, Dave Nanninga
Certificate of Excellence
Judge’s Comment: “The beauty of a website is that it needn’t—and shouldn't—be fixed in time; it can be fluid as time itself. The Illinois High School Glory Days website is self-described as the ‘best site for information regarding closed, consolidated, deactivated, and defunct high schools in Illinois’ storied history.’ We can only say that for the past 16 years it has been becoming that website, and its growth is a testament to the commitment of Dave Nanninga and the people who help him sustain it. If there is any site better than this one for presenting information about forgotten high schools in Illinois, we’d love to see it. Meanwhile, check this site out. And if you have new info, please share it.”

"A Guide to Chicago City Government Records.” Joshua Salzmann and Edward Remue.
Superior Achievement
Judges’ Comments: “This website addresses the specific problem of the city of Chicago’s government and public official records being scattered among the many brick and mortar sites and the internet. It was quite interesting and informative for me, a member of the general public, to explore this website and follow the links to wonderful resources. The internet would be a much better place with more websites like this one!”
“Using archivists/librarians from many of the Chicago institutions to explain how to find and use their records was a good idea, and not just for History Fair hopefuls.”


Lincoln and Douglas: Touring Illinois in Turbulent Times, by Graham Peck.
Certificate of Excellence
Judge’s Comment: “In July 2020, the producers interviewed and recorded timely excerpts from four Lincoln re-enactors and two Douglas re-enactors, as well as two noted African American women from Springfield. The title turns out to be at least a triple entendre, as the Lincoln-Douglas debates took place in turbulent times, the film explores the turbulence of contemporary racism and how it relates to controversial monuments, and the turbulence and politicalization of the COVID pandemic. The editing is excellent and the pulsating ‘rock’ music is a big change from mournful violins. I can think of many uses and a wide audience for this video.”


Juneteenth, Lake County, Illinois, Juneteenth Journey, Sylvia England.
Superior Achievement
Judge’s Comment: “The Juneteenth Celebration in Lake County impressed me as no other project I’ve witnessed in all my years involved in the ISHS. The booklet explained the history of the holiday, involved multiple organizations, allowed people to participate in various ways, encouraged interaction, introduced participants to places they might not have been aware of, encouraged exploration to unique locations, and so much more. Although the COVID pandemic interfered, the organizers found a way to celebrate the Juneteenth Journey with a drive-by tour. This was an excellent effort that will continue to grow.”

Celebrate 125+1: Grayslake History Trail, Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum, and Grayslake Historical Society.
Certificate of Excellence
Judge’s Comment: “This special program was canceled a year and a half ago due to COVID. It was cleverly resurrected this past summer. The format was altered from the original to accommodate health restrictions. The content of the accompanying activity booklet gives participants a good overview of Grayslake history and architecture, allowing them to experience the growth of the region from farmland to commuter community.”

Congratulations to all!

Photos of award recipients can be viewed in our Photo Gallery.

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