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Celebrating the Barn: It’s About Youth and Community, Past, Present and Future

On Saturday, June 4 everyone is invited to a farewell celebration at the Barn Recreation Center. Guests will experience some of the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Barn’s past.  They also will hear some of today’s young performers and have a chance to connect with neighbors and meet new friends, all as part of the Naperville community that built the Barn and that cares about kids.

Barn Recreation Center 2016

Page from Naperville Central High School Yearbook, 1966.

(Photo from 2015 Battle of the Bands. The 2016 second place winner
will open at the Barn Farewell Event on June 4.)

Over the past month I have been asking people about their stories and memories of the Barn. Some of the individuals who shared their stories still live in Naperville and some have moved away. Even those who left Naperville many years ago still have fond and vivid memories of their life in this community and of the Barn’s early days.

The stories included here are only a few of many shared memories in the community. The Park District will continue collecting photos, stories and memories of the Barn, which will be part of “Memory Lane” at the event on June 4. If you have a story or photo that you would like to share, please email it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Additionally, some of the Barn memorabilia and history will be displayed in the new maintenance center at Knoch Park, opening in 2017.

Barn Beginnings

In the mid-1960s Naperville was a community of approximately 18,000 people, surrounded by farmland, with one high school and a small downtown business district. As Joni Hirsch Blackman recounted in a recent article in the Naperville Sun, the idea to build the Barn as a youth recreation center came from a high school student, Diana Mayes, who recruited a small group of other students, who in turn, involved their parents and the community in a monumental effort of fundraising and then barn raising to open the Barn on December 4, 1965.

The Barn was built mainly through volunteer labor. Al Carr, father of one of the students on the steering committee, served as general contractor and coordinated much of the volunteer work in his spare time. Carr’s generosity in donating his time reflected his character, still remembered by long-time Naperville residents Tom and Barbara Burken, who met Carr when he built their home in 1971. The Burkens stopped in at the Park District offices to tell us about Carr and his community spirit that spilled over into activities such as hosting weekly potlucks for their neighborhood in the 1970s.


Sue Montgomery wrote about her family’s experience as Naperville residents from 1961-1978. Al Carr built their home/office complex on Triton Lane, where they raised their family and where her husband, Dr. Robb Montgomery worked as a podiatrist.  Beth, one of their daughters, remembers her dad coming home from an evening of working on the Barn with the smell of sawdust on his clothes.  “I have lots of good memories of times spent with good friends at the Barn that was built with the help of my father, a kind, helpful and talented man, a gentle physician who loved to help his town,” said Beth.

George Bussey, Naperville Community High School class of 1967 and Barn youth board president, dove into the planning, fundraising and physical labor of building the Barn with a passion that he said shaped his adult life.  He has shared his story here and is traveling from his home in Hawaii to attend the June 4 Barn celebration. George remembers laying the cornerstone and placing a time capsule behind it in 1965.  He will help open the time capsule 51 years later during the June 4 event.

George Bussey and City Councilman Owen Beidelman set the cornerstone for the Barn dedication in 1965.



Music and Dancing at the Barn: 1965-1975

First dance at the Barn on opening night Dec. 4, 1965

 The Barn was designed to host teen dances, with a raised, tongue-and-groove oak dance floor, a large stage for rock bands, and a loft with a concession stand and booths for conversation, snacks and games.  Donna DeFalco, Naperville resident since 1962 and public relations and social media coordinator for Naper Settlement, remembers the Barn from her high school days at Naperville Central High School, where she wrote for the school newspaper with Steve Lord, now a reporter for the Aurora Beacon-News, and Dave Hoekstra, author, journalist and host of the radio show, Nocturnal Journal, on WGN.

 “The first dance I ever attended was at the Barn,” recalled Donna. “It was Naperville Central High School’s Sadie Hawkins Day Dance, where the girls could ask the boys, so I asked my very cute neighbor and he said yes! I remember dressing up in overalls and a plaid shirt and the Barn was decorated with hay bales, in keeping with the farming theme.”

Excerpt from the 1970 Naperville Central High School Yearbook, p. 25.

Steve Lord remembers attending an event at the Barn as part of an ensemble of the Naperville Central High School band. “There was more music afterward. And a girl in the band taught me how to polka there!”

 Beth Montgomery Hand, daughter of Dr. Robb and Sue Montgomery, also recalled fond memories of dances at the Barn.

“One was the Sadie Hawkins dance, complete with bales of hay, and the other was a Christmas dance, with the theme being ‘Nights in White Satin,’” said Beth. “There were white and green satin bows on a few evergreen trees set around the Barn, very pretty.”   

Jennifer Hagemann Berthold remembers that the Barn was beautifully decorated for the dances.  “They made it look really pretty for the spring dance,” said Jennifer.  “There was great lighting, dimmers, and a beamed ceiling.   They had popcorn and soda and punch at the concession stand upstairs and booths like a restaurant.  On the left was a soda fountain.  Kids could talk, play cards.”

Jennifer played the organ and keyboard in Winslow Savage, one of the many rock bands that performed at the Barn in the early 1970s. Music at the Barn ranged from records played by DJs to local youth rock bands to headliner bands from Chicago, such as The Flock. Creating and performing music for their peers at the Barn impacted hundreds of young musicians in Naperville. Jennifer noted that local music teachers, including her mother, pianist Bonnie Hagemann, gave students the foundation needed for developing their skills on guitar, keyboard and drums. 

Amazingly, in 2010, more than a hundred musicians from the Barn era gathered at the Barn to play music together for their friends once again at Barnstock, a reunion event organized by Berthold, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Barn.


“Barnstock was incredible,” said Jennifer. “The timing was right. Everyone was ready to be back together for one more time. All of us old Barn musicians worked together to make it happen. People came in from all over the nation. It was like nothing I ever experienced or could begin to imagine.”

Jennifer Berthold, member of Winslow Savage and organizer of Barnstock 2010

You can read more about Barnstock by previewing the memory book from the event and the book also is available for purchase online.

Looking to the future:  A place for youth in the community

As Naperville grew, the Barn, which became part of the Naperville Park District in 1969, became more versatile in its uses, hosting preschool programs, gymnastics and ballet classes for kids of all ages, as well as providing office space. The Park District acquired more athletic fields and parks, and added a park maintenance building at Knoch Park, behind the Barn, that would support its expanding parkland.

Park District ballet classes                                                        

Central Maintenance Shop behind the Barn

As the Barn became less of a place exclusively for teens and more of a recreation center for all ages, some high school students envisioned creating a drop-in center for teens in the downtown area, as hanging out at the bridge had become an issue.  Steve Lord and Dave Hoekstra were leaders of this effort in the 1970s. “During high school,” recalled Steve, “we started a campaign to develop a Walk-In Center to give kids a place to go after school. The center eventually was developed, and had several locations. Dave became director of the Walk-In Center, and it became a part of the Lisle Township Youth Commission.”

Over the past several decades, the Park District also looked for ways to support teens in the community.  In 2000, Commissioner Steve Born helped launch Youth Ambassadors, an advisory group of high school students that works with the Park District to plan all-city events for their peers.  The group continues planning events such as Battle of the Bands and dodgeball tournaments. Additionally, the Park District offers teens opportunities to volunteer at community events, complete Eagle Scout projects, and gain employment experience as camp counselors, lifeguards, swim instructors, and more. Read more about teen involvement in the Park District here.

Student leaders at the Youth Ambassadors Leadership Conference 2016

Within the past 5 years, members of the community, including Jeff Haake, founder of NaperBridge and Kandice Henning, founder of the Alive Center, each had a vision similar to that of the Barn and the Walk-In Center, to provide a place for youth, where they could spend time, make friends, be creative, serve others, and grow in their leadership, confidence and skills. Approximately one year ago, the Alive Center/NaperBridge opened on Fifth Ave., opposite Naperville North High School and within walking distance of Naperville Central High School, Washington Junior High School, and Jefferson Junior High School. With a mission to help kids “connect with what makes them come alive,” the Alive Center’s 5,000 square feet of space includes a game room, an art room, a teaching kitchen, tutoring and study rooms, and a performance space that hosts open mic nights, jam sessions and other artistic activities.

Alive Center/NaperBridge on 5th Ave.

Alive Center's Art Room 


 Poster at the Alive Center promoting a dance at the Barn

Partnering with the Park District, the Alive Center is hosting a Park District culinary class, “Healing Cooking,” for kids 12 and up and has held dances at the Barn.  Beginning in the fall of 2016, the Park District’s new Fort Hill Activity Center will be able to host larger youth events, including dances and dodgeball or volleyball tournaments.

As the high school students of the 1960s worked together with the community to achieve their vision of a youth center, so today’s students in Naperville have the opportunity to work together to serve their community.

George Bussey, president of the Naperville Youth Organization in 1966, shared some words of wisdom for high school students in 2016. “First, you can dream big and make your dreams come true – if you are willing to work long and hard. Second, it took the whole town to raise The BARN, but it also required a core group of dedicated adults and students. And finally, sometimes the best efforts come from folks that you haven’t even noticed. (I had no idea that the students I had recruited to go out and raise money would be so successful!!)"





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