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As we reflect on the December holidays this year, we will surely remember things were different: shopping, dining out, maybe even gathering with family all have a different flavor.

And when we tell the story, years from now, we will hope that it is useful to future generations.

That’s why the Museum of the Grand Prairie has been collecting Champaign County cultural and natural history for 52 years: to make connections between past and present, to tell the story from multiple local viewpoints and to help future generations understand the present through the lens of those stories.

The Museum of the Grand Prairie began with around 2,500 objects donated by William Redhed, son of the first grocer in Tolono, in 1968, and we now house over 25,000 artifacts and archival materials.

Over the years, we’ve collected agricultural tools from the University of Illinois, an entire blacksmith shop from the Chesebro family and Samuel Busey’s (founder of the bank) Civil War sword.

Our collection stretches to every corner of the county, from a sleigh donated by Swedish immigrants in Broadlands to a quilt from a family in Foosland.

We’ve been entrusted with the stories of the East Frisian immigrants who tamed the northeast quadrant of Champaign County around Flatville, Gifford and Penfield. And we’ve protected the stories of more than 200 veterans of World War II from throughout central Illinois.

One of our greatest assets is the Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive for Cultural Diversity, left in her

will in 2006.

Doris Hoskins knew the power of the story. She saved the stories of hundreds of her friends and neighbors, along with their photographs, newspaper clippings, books, cards and scrapbooks — particularly those of the African American community in Champaign County.

Did you know that Frances Nelson brought Black children into her home and provided them food and shelter when Cunningham Children’s Home had no room?

Did you know that William Earnest, for whom American Legion Post 559 was named, was the first African American from Champaign County to die in World War I?

Did you know that most eateries on campus didn’t serve African Americans until the 1960s, or that it was hard for Blacks to find housing at university dorms, so they lived with families in the twin cities?

Or maybe you forgot that the Douglass Center began as a place where young Black servicemen from Chanute Air Force Base could have a place to socialize.

These and so many valuable stories can be found in the Hoskins archive. These stories of generosity, courage and conviction inspire us. Let’s remember them when we are telling pandemic stories years from now.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, museums in Illinois are currently closed to the public. However, this year has been an amazingly innovative year for us.

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, we’ve been able to reach folks from around the country with powerful stories of resilience from East Central Illinois.

Join us there!

Barb Oehlschlaeger-Garvey is director of the museum and Education Department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.

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