She's history

  • Written by Bob Rakow


Her broken down car leads to curator’s love of Worth history

Colleen McElroy had never heard of Pag1-1-3-col-Coleen-for-Aug-14Colleen McElroy, shown at an outdoor board meeting earlier this summer in which board members dressed up in period pieces, has been synonymous with Worth history for years. Photo by Jeff Vorva.Worth until her car broke down in the Friendly Village 14 years ago.

“My ‘check engine’ light’ went,” recalls McElroy, who was returning home to Chicago from Orland Park, where she and her husband, Mike, had visited relatives.
McElroy and her young family lived on the Southwest Side of Chicago at the time, but less than a year after her car broke down, they bought a home in Worth.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“Things happen for a reason,” said McElroy, a member of the village board and the curator of the Worth Park District Historical Museum.
McElroy immediately got involved in her new community by joining the library board. She volunteered at the Worth Park District, where she oversaw programming. She moved to the museum when the curator position opened up five years ago.
McElroy, the mother of four, has a degree in history from Northern Illinois University and a passion for small town history, she said.
Overseeing the Worth Historical Museum fits the bill.
“I am very proud of where the museum is at today,” said McElroy, who spends about 22 hours week at the facility, which is located inside the Terrace Centre, 11500 S. Beloit Ave.

The museum is home to thousands of photos and artifacts that chronicle the village’s history, but McElroy says its ultimate goal is “preserving the legacy of a very giving community.”
One of McElroy’s primary objectives is to preserve the recollections of lifelong residents and those who were intimately involved in the community over the years.
She has conducted “oral history” interviews with several residents, including former mayor Dan Kumingo, who died earlier this year. Capturing the memories of community leaders, such as Kumingo, who took a significant interest in the museum, cannot be replaced.
She has a list of several other residents she’d like to sit down with in the near future, she said.
McElroy has spent considerable time chronicling Worth’s history during the 1940s and 1950s. Now she’d like to shift her focus to researching the town’s original families, who settled the area in the late 1800s, long before incorporation in 1914.
McElroy’s work as curator involves myriad tasks including research, answering residents’ queries and genealogy work. She’s willing to research the history of any home in the village, she said.
“I know people look at me and think, ‘What does she have next?’ ” McElroy said. “There is always something new to learn.”
The village’s yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary has kept McElroy busy as she oversaw the work of the centennial committee and the many events it sponsored.
“This is a collaborative effort from many different people in the community,” she said.
The museum was established by the park district in 1994 and opened in April 1995. It was originally located in the teacher’s lounge of the former Worth Terrace School. A state grant obtained in 2004 allowed for expansion.
The museum holds more than 2,000 photos and artifacts related to the history of Worth and organizations that make up the community.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and curator hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. For information, call 708-448-7080 or visit the park district