Fithian couple to be honored for work preserving Vermilion County history

Fithian couple to be honored for work preserving Vermilion County history

DANVILLE — A Fithian couple will be honored next week for their "significant" contributions in preserving local history.

The Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society Foundation will present its second annual historic preservation award to Don and Sue Richter at a banquet April 25 at Turtle Run Banquet Center in Danville.

"Don and Sue Richter's contributions in the area have been integrated with their decades-long involvement as tireless advocates for the Vermilion County Museum Society," said Mark Denman, the foundation's president. "For over 30 years, they have actively researched our history, made it accessible to the community, provided award-winning educational and cultural historical programming and preserved Vermilion County history for generations to come."

An Oakwood native, Don Richter has had a strong interest in local history since he was young. Growing up, he enjoyed talking to older people in the neighborhood, interviewing them about when they were younger and recording their stories in a diary, which he maintains to this day.

He wrote about these conversations from his youth in articles in "The Heritage," the museum society's quarterly publication, as well as a recurring column in an area newspaper.

Don Richter has been a member of the museum society's board of directors since 1976 and served as its president from 1987 to 2018. In addition to writing many articles, he — along with his wife — have co-edited "The Heritage" for 37 years.

Don Richter has also written four local historical books: "Greetings from Danville, Illinois" (1997), a picture book of Danville postcards over the years; "Here Stands the Law" (2001), the story of Sheriff Hardy Whitlock's defense of the Vermilion County Jail in 1903 after a mob lynched and burned a man forcibly seized from it; "Lincoln: Twenty Years on the Eastern Prairie" (2001), detailing Lincoln's time as a circuit lawyer; and "Vermilion County in the Civil War."

Sue Richter has also had a lifelong interest in history. The Cincinnati native, who worked for NATO in Moens, Belgium, for four years, moved to the area to attend the University of Illinois and settled in Vermilion County after marrying Don.

She started working in the museum's gift shop in 1976 and was appointed curator in 1990 and then director in 1991, overseeing the "engaging programming and vibrant displays" that have drawn many visitors. In 1996, she penned the history of the Fithian home, part of the museum complex, as a Victorian melodrama for a museum event.

In the mid-1990s, the board president saw the need for the museum to earn a special designation related to Lincoln to continue to be viable as a historical destination, Denman said.

"Sue has earned and maintained the museum's accreditation as a Looking for Lincoln site, a daunting, time-consuming process," he said.

Denman also said the couple saw the limitations of the Fithian home for archiving ever-growing historical collections and hosting large public events and led the society's fundraising efforts for the $1.3 million annex, designed to resemble the 1832 Vermilion County Courthouse, on the museum grounds.

Sue Richter also established the Historical School Program, which includes a local history curriculum, box of teaching aides and free tours of the museum complex, in which nearly every school district in the county has been involved.

"With the Richters' selfless devotion, the Vermilion County Museum Society has continued to thrive and fulfill its mission," Denman said. "Through their insightful and thoughtful stewardship, the society — along with its valuable buildings, artifacts and programming — remain a vital part of Danville and Vermilion County."

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