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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Shirley Hamilton Nehring moving to new challenge

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................January 10, 2012

Taking on a new challenge is not a daunting task for Shirley Hamilton Nehring, 83, who has just turned over the Erwin Perry Ellwood mansion at 417 N. First St. in DeKalb to the Ellwood House Association.

This spring she will move back to her Wisconsin home on Middle Genesee Lake near Oconomowoc, which her first husband bought for her and their four children in 1965 shortly before his death at age 39. That house was once owned by Col. Pabst, the Milwaukee beer baron.

Shirley’s first husband introduced her to Paul A. Nehring and his son, Paul M. Nehring, whom she married 22 years later after raising and educating her children. When she arrived in DeKalb, the Ellwood-Nehring house was in pretty rough shape, but Shirley had a vision of how it could look. She had left a career as a psychiatric social worker and took on a new role –
Shirley Hamilton Nehring stands beside the statue of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph in her mansion’s front yard. (Schrader photo)

renovating and restoring the 6,000-square-foot manor.

During his lifetime, Paul had collected porcelain, statues, paintings by celebrated artists, antiques, Oriental carpets, books and exotic furniture, which he stored randomly in the house. Many of these items he bought in Chicago and area house sales when the mansions were being demolished. He also bought fine furnishings from the estate of Sam Insull – the man who was Thomas Edison’s secretary and went on to build the Chicago Opera House and started ComEd.

Shirley envisioned all these artifacts in their proper places and the wonderful venue the house could provide for parties and concerts in the large music room where Mae Ellwood used to sing. Paul bought her a grand piano for their first anniversary and later their first party was given there to celebrate Paul’s 80th birthday.
After Paul’s death in 1999, Shirley donated his First National Bank building at Lincoln Highway and Second Street to the park district as a memorial to Paul A. Nehring, founder of Nehring Electrical Works. She said the father, Paul A., was a quiet but generous benefactor.

Unfortunately, the Haish/Nehring plant was torn down despite strong protests by Paul M. Nehring and local historian Steve Bigolin, and a McDonald’s now stands in its place. This demolition influenced Shirley to donate the bank and recently the historical house to be sure they would not suffer a fate like the Haish house and the landmark post office at First Street and Lincoln Highway.

The old bank now houses the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association museum, which is centered around the former DeKalb Agricultural Association collection. She says her latest gift of the Ellwood-Nehring mansion to the Ellwood House Association will assure that it will be maintained and preserved for the enjoyment of the community. So now she has decided it is time to go back and take care of the century-old Pabst farmhouse which needs renovating.

She expresses strong emotions about leaving the home and her friends after more than 20 years of involvement in the DeKalb and NIU music scene. She has hosted the Kishwaukee Symphony members at her home for yearly fundraising concerts. And she has also housed NIU foreign music students, most brought here by the Vermeer Quartet, including pianists, instrumentalists and vocalists from such countries as Poland, Taiwan, China, Spain, Turkey and Romania. But she said it was rewarding to see a house filled with talented young people appreciative of the arts.

Between now and the household antiquities sale later in the spring, Shirley will savor her final days as caretaker of this stately old landmark, which she lovingly turned into a home filled with youth and music. The community will, without a doubt, miss her presence.

• Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-1972. He and his wife, Kay, are retired and live in DeKalb. He can be reached at barry815@sbcglobal.net or by mail at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115