Winnetka Way: Pete Henderson

Gazette Article by: Pete Henderson
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2001

Winnetka Way articles are written by guest columnists who have been asked to share their memories of an aspect of Winnetka that they remember fondly. Winnetka Way articles debuted in 1994 and continue to the present.

The Winnetka Congregational Church churchyard, down the Pine Street hill behind the church, is one of the most beautiful spots in the village. And the low, curving walls that wind around its sloping lawn describe an important part of Winnetka’s history. Etched into memorial plaques mounted there are the names of dozens of Winnetkans who helped to make the village the special place that it is.

My parents, Kenneth and Marie Henderson, are buried there. Dad was one of a small group of church members whose vision created the churchyard in 1956. Along with Raleigh Warner and Lem Hunter, he devised a plan to “transform the present unkempt slope” east of the church and engaged Ralph Root, a noted landscape architect who had earlier designed the Christ Church churchyard, to plan the new area.

My mother, an avid gardener, was part of a small group that oversaw the plantings. (She was a Winnetka Weeder for as long as I can remember. The lovely copper beech tree in Maple Street Park was planted by the Winnetka Garden Club in her memory.)

I love to stroll around the churchyard and reminisce about the loyal and generous Winnetkans whose names are inscribed on its walls. They were my parents’ friends and I knew many of them as I was growing up in Winnetka in the ’30s and ’40s. Among the early village leaders resting there, I count five village presidents: Eugene Rummler, Bill Warfield, Carl Lloyd, Vernon Welsh and my father. (If you haven’t taken the time to see the gallery of photographs of former village presidents on the second floor of the Village Hall, it’s a great place to learn about some of the people who helped to build Winnetka.)

Ed Bullard, Ruth Wooden, Bill Doughty, Fred Steadry, Jack Montgomery, Hildegarde Warfield, Florence McDonald and Don Williamson were giants on the Winnetka School Board during and immediately following the Carleton Washburne era. Betty Doughty was president of the New Trier School Board.

Park Board presidents from the church included William Rothermel, Calvin Selfridge, Walt Cherry and Jack Beierwaltes. Lamson Date chaired the Library Board (Carrie Burr Prouty, another member of the church, held that job for 39 years!). And Bob Burrows and Bob Humphrey served as presidents of the Historical Society.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Countless others made less visible but no less vital contributions as volunteers in our village.

It would be fun to read the reminiscences of a Winnetka neighbor who has the same fondness for the lovely Christ Church churchyard that I have for ours. It too is full of reminders of the builders of our village. Together, they make clear how lucky we are to live in a place like this where people of talent and conviction and generosity, no matter how busy, take their turns as volunteers and tackle the tough village issues on our behalf. Because of them, and many others like them, there’s no place I’d rather live!

Pete Henderson is a lifetime Winnetka resident. He has served as School Board president and on the Board of Governors of the Winnetka Community House: he was named Man of the Year for his outstanding service to the community.

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