Ken Behles Named Winnetka Man of the Year

Gazette Article by: Nan Greenough
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2009

For his exceptional volunteer work over many years, Ken Behles has been named Man of the Year by the Winnetka Chamber of Commerce. The Historical Society was proud to nominate Ken for this honor based on his service to the community and his irreplaceable role helping to move and restore the Log House and to renovate 411 Linden into a museum.

For more than two decades, Ken has volunteered extraordinary amounts of time on behalf of the Village and its not-for-profit organizations. As a practicing architect, Ken has contributed designs, creative solutions, technical drawings, professional expertise, informed public dvocacy and superb supervision of projects that benefit Winnetka residents.

A former board member of the Winnetka Historical Society, Ken acted as its pro bono architect for years beyond his board service. As it became clear that the museum would lose its location at The Skokie School, Ken helped the Society analyze its space needs and various options for housing, including construction of a new building and retrofitting existing sites as they were identified.
The Historical Society’s needs for Ken’s skill doubled when it became clear that the c. 1837 Schmidt-Burnham Log House would be donated to the Society. Years of careful planning, highly dependent on Ken’s professional analysis and supervision, culminated in the famous Log House move in 2003, witnessed by hundreds of school children as the building rolled west on Tower, down Forest Way and east on Willow to Crow Island Woods. This public event was only the tip of the iceberg, as it symbolized thousands of hours of evaluating contractors, overseeing the complex permitting process, supervising the restoration, updating the building sensitively to meet public building code requirements and, most importantly, siting the Log House in a way that reflects its original location on a pioneer trail.

Ken’s efforts for the Historical Society ramped up further as the need for museum space became ever more dire. After proposals for various locations were abandoned, he began the hard work of rehabilitating into a museum the c.1859 residence at 411 Linden. This required designing an architecturally sympathetic “garage” to store part of the collection, supervising the analysis of and construction of structural supports for the basement, bringing the building sensitively up to code in all areas including alarms and sprinklers, evaluating contractors and supervising their progress. In his public advocacy role, as well as that of pro bono architect, Ken attended every Village meeting (and there were scores of them) that dealt with the future of 411 Linden.

You can fill large volumes with the numbers of drawings that Ken generated for these Historical Society projects. On a degree of difficulty scale from one to 10, with 10 being the most difficult, the Log House and 411 Linden projects were each an 11. Neither project could have been completed without the professional expertise Ken brought to the table.

In 2005 Ken was elected to the Village Board as a trustee. This followed a more than 20-year career of active volunteer contribution to Village government as a member of early streetscape and commercial area planning committees, as well the Design Review Board and Plan Commission.

In his two terms as Village Trustee, just now ending, he has served on the Business Community Development Committee, chaired the Streetscape Committee, and served as the Village liaison for both the Martin Luther King Memorial and the cenotaph restoration on the Village Green. Ken has worked tirelessly to promote plans for renovation of the Elm Street train station, submitted plans to sensitively rehabilitate the historically significant Village Hall, reformatted the Village’s newsletter, The Winnetka Report, and represented the Village’s interests on the Willow Road Improvement Committee. He has also served as President Pro Tem of the Village. Ken’s service on the Village Council, as well as his service to the Historical Society and other organizations, has marked Winnetka indelibly for the better.

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