The Chicago Junior School (to provide a home and education for children from broken homes and to inspire them with ideals of right living); Elgin, Illinois; 1923.
Currently on the 2012 list of Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.
This place, and the years spent here, are largely responsible for making me the person I am today.
My brother and I both started here as preschoolers. My family had a home in Elgin, IL, and we were enrolled there until we lost that house and moved for a brief time to Richmond, IL. My brother and I weren’t happy during the brief time we spent in the Richmond schools, so my mom and dad, while navigating the beginning of a messy divorce, made sacrifices to get us back to Elgin to enroll at CJS.
My mom started working at the school, and we moved in to one of the dorm rooms, which allowed my parents to keep us there. I don’t know what sort of hoops they had to jump to afford the tuition, but I am endlessly grateful to both of them for the time spent there. My mom worked as a dorm mother, preschool teacher, and after-school daycare provider all while participating in church organizations and keeping us busy and entertained.
We were the only family that lived on campus. That meant that the hours after-school, the weekends, and summers were a bit lonely, but my brother and I occupied ourselves with spending a large portion of it outdoors, exploring the woods of the campus and all the history buried in them. The time not spent on the campus was filled with driving around the greater Fox River Valley area to be with friends, family and participate in many YMCA, church and community based activities. I was in plays, took sports lessons, went to my first art classes, and spent large swaths of time with my younger brother and three younger cousins. My parents allowed us all of the opportunities we could have asked for.
I would have been called a “lifer” (enrolled pre-8th), but my dad had worked hard enough to afford a home in Lake in the Hills, IL. The summer between fifth grade and sixth grade, we moved out of our mother’s home at the school, and moved in with our dad, at which point I started at a public school. My mom continued working at the school while living in various places. We would spend many weekends there with her while she worked as the dorm mother for the students who lived there during the school year.
The love I felt for the school never went away, and I had the chance to work there for a year during the beginning of my years in college as an after-school daycare provider. I felt this sense of ownership and pride for the education the kids were getting just as I had received previously.
The school closed shortly after I worked there. My mom, brother and I went back there to visit a few times since it has closed. Most recently, we walked the campus and peeked our heads into buildings when we could, and I took some cherished photographs that I’m hoping will make their way into my work at some point.
I’ve mentioned the school before when recalling the “Character Building Qualities” that were instilled in us there. Everything about the place sunk in to me. I can’t imagine what sort of person I would be like without the years I spent there. I don’t know that I would want to.
I sincerely hope they find a good use for the campus that doesn’t include any further destruction of the campus or facilities.