PREVIOUS ELGIN RECOGNITION AWARD WINNERS
(Adapted from E.C. "Mike" Alft's writings carried in The Courier News)
James Talcott Gifford (1800-1850) was the founder of Elgin and a devoutly religious man with many talents. Farmer, teacher, surveyor and mechanic, Gifford came to Elgin from New York in 1835 with the intention of establishing a town. With the help of his brother Hezekiah who came to the area to begin a farm, James located his settlement on a direct line between the little lake port of Chicago and the lead mines at Galena near the Mississippi River. He named "Elgin" after his favorite religious hymn.
After staking their claims, the Gifford brothers left for Chicago to obtain provisions. There they met Joseph Kimball and told him about the fine prospects in the valley to the west. The Kimball family joined the Giffords in their enterprise.
Gifford and his family lived in a cabin near the intersection of Prairie and Villa Streets, which also served as the site of the first school. When James received his commission as postmaster on July 19, 1837, it also became the site of Elgin's first post office.
In 1836, the Giffords and Samuel J. Kimball marked out a road from Elgin to Belvidere, which was later adopted as the post road between Chicago and Galena. That same year, Gifford helped form the town's first church, The Congregational, and was elected a justice of the peace in 1837.
Gifford applied for several different patents including one for an Elgin plough and another after discovering how to make sugar from beets.
He founded Port Ulao Wisconsin in 1846 with the intention to sell timber from the interior to lake steamers, but the enterprise did not prosper. Today Port Ulao is considered a ghost town.
Gifford returned to Elgin in 1849 and began the construction of his third home, still standing at 363-365 Prairie Street. He was working on an improved reaper when he was stricken with Asiatic cholera and died on Aug. 10, 1850.
The son of German immigrants became an Elgin icon after serving as a local Scout executive in the early 1920s and teaching youngsters intricate and symbolic Indian dances at area summer camps. But it was Elgin's Song of Hiawatha pageant that catapulted Carl H. Parlasca to local notoriety.
Parlasca first learned Indian dances from Eddie Little Chief, a Rosebud Sioux, when they were together in the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Parlasca developed those dances into what began as one of many activities for participants of Camp Big Timber which opened in 1927 just northwest of Elgin. Those dance activities grew into "The Song of Hiawatha" where campers began to play the roles of key Indian and American West personalities. National attention was focused when The Big Timber Dancers, as they were known, when they appeared at the Scout National Jamboree in 1937 at Washington D.C. After that performance, the dancers would appear at many fairs and festivals, including the Orange Bowl Parade.
As a scout leader, it's estimated that Parlasca touched the lives of more than 7,500 boys. While Parlasca retired as a Scout executive in 1948, he continued to produce, direct and narrate the annual Hiawatha pageant which continued to attract thousands until its last show in 1979. Parlasca died eight months later at the age of 97.
Trygve A. Rovelstad became the nation's first medalist sculptor for the U.S. War Department during World War II. He designed the Combat Infantryman Badge along with numerous other military, civilian and commemorative medals. He also was selected as the editor and designer of the American Roll of Honor located in St. Paul's Cathedral, London.
Rovelstad was born in 1903 in Elgin, Illinois to Norwegian immigrant parents and attended Lowrie Grade School and Elgin High School. In 1929, Mayor Earl R. Kelley suggested that the young sculpture Trygve create a statue of James T. Gifford, the founder of Elgin.
Rovelstad expanded on the concept to include a four-figure Elgin pioneer group called the Pioneer Memorial Monument and attempted to raise funds for the project. However, it was the Depression years and funding for the completion was limited. In fact, funding for that monument would be limited for another 70 years.
But that didn't stop Rovelstad from going on to become a world renowned sculptor and medalist. Rovelstad designed a host of revered military medals and awards including:
Combat Infantryman Badge, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Occupation of Germany Medal, Unit Blude Citation Badge, Women's Army Corps (WACs) medal and Insignia Lapel Pins, E-Medal, Mark Twain Medal, and Lincoln Heritage Trail Medallion.
Rovelstad died in 1990 at the age of 86, but the Pioneer Memorial Foundation continued Rovelstad's work in getting the Pioneer Memorial Monument completed. The Foundation began collecting donations again in 2001, Rovelstad's tribute to the pioneers settling the Fox River Valley was dedicated in 2001.
George P. (1819-1906) & Mary E. C. (1832-1905) Lord are best known for their contribution that founded Lord's Park and the Lord's Park Pavillion. They were community philanthropists who also funded Sherman Hospital, the YMCA, the Academy and Oak Crest Residence. George was employed as a business manager of the Elgin Watch Factory and owned a dairy farm. He served as mayor from 1879-1880, the president of the Board of Education from 1884-1889 and in 1887 was appointed to the first Board of Water Commissioners responsible for supervising the construction of the city's first water works.
Gail Borden was influential in continuing the City's dairy reputation while also becoming the founder of a condensed milk process in 1856. By 1865, Gail Borden's business had expanded beyond its eastern-based Eagle Brand Condensed Milk Company to include Elgin. Under the name Illinois Milk Condensing Company, Borden became a major consumer of the Elgin-area milk supply. His business grew steadily and for a period of time, Borden was the second largest industrial employer in Elgin, producing more canned milk than any other plant in the country. He is the namesake of Elgin's Gail Borden Public Library. He died in 1874.
David C. Cook was the founder of the nation's largest interdenominational religious publishing house based out of Elgin for over a century. His enterprise began after he organized a Sunday school in 1871 and then began publishing a pamphlet "Our Sunday School Quarterly." By 1875, Cook was also publishing a magazine entitled "Our Sunday-school Gem," before he started publishing other religious materials. By 1882, Cook's publishing business had grown so large that he needed to erect a new plant in the north end of Elgin along the east bank of the Fox River. He died in 1927.
B.W. Raymond was a Chicago capitalist instrumental in bringing the railroad and watch factory to Elgin. He rose to prominence as a merchant in Chicago before being elected mayor of Chicago in 1839 and again in 1842. As a director of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad from its inception until it merged with the Chicago & Northwestern in 1864, Raymond was instrumental in routing the line through Elgin. His crowning achievement, however, was bringing a watch factory that shaped Elgin for more than a century. Raymond never lived in Elgin, but he left an indelible imprint on this city.
William Grote was instrumental in bringing business and industry to Elgin. He persuaded industries to locate to Elgin by offering free land for a plant site and on occasion provided a factory building. He is credited with bringing such companies as D.C. Cook Publishing, the Illinois Watch Case Co., the Ludlow Shoe and the Seybold Piano and Organ to Elgin. He was also influential in organizing the Elgin City Railway Company, an electric line which replaced horse cars in 1890. He also served two successive terms as Elgin mayor in 1891-1895.
Hattie Griffin was an Elgin educator for more than 50 years. She began teaching in Elgin's Old Brick School on the northeast corner of DuPage and Chapel Streets in 1882.
In 1887, she was appointed principal of Lincoln School. Griffin studied at University of Chicago, Columbia and Harvard Universities and University of Illinois. She was instrumental in establishing music, art and physical education programs in the schools.