Steve Thoren has turned his home into a virtual museum of Elgin artifacts and other period pieces.
Decorated with old clocks, Depression glass, old phonographs, and more recently, the contents of a 1970's-era record store, the two floors and basement of his west side Elgin home are indeed one of the most unusual collections of its type in the area.
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So how does one get started with this type of collecting? "I was given a clock at age 12 from my great-grandfather," Thoren said. "Later he gave me a Tiffany lamp."
Spending considerable time with his grandmother, whom he adored and who loved antiques, nurtured the young man's interest in collecting.
About 20 years ago, Thoren set a goal of making his house look like a "step back in time" and set out in earnest visiting garage sales, flea markets and estate sales to build his collection. In more recent times, various seniors have donated items to him to use in his displays.
Among Thoren's collection are a number of older pop-up toasters as well as the "side part" variety which require the toast to be turned manually.
"I burned a lot of toast on those," some tell him.
There is also a golf section which includes displays of Thoren's father who was the city champ various times beginning in the 1940s.
"I have items in my collection which they don't have at the Elgin Country Club," he says.
Visitors to Thoren's home are also escorted to the phonograph and television section.
Thoren's bedroom is filled with genealogical documents and family photos -- a room that he says is especially important to him.
"This home originally belonged to my grandmother, Eugenie Myrtle Woanse Thoren, whom I was very close to," he says. "I even have her rock collection, which is in my aquarium.
"They're the oldest things in my collection."
Among Thoren's Elgin memorabilia are various Elgin National Watch Company items including pocket watches, wristwatches, pencils, stationery and copies of The Watch Word -- a company magazine. A particularly unique item in his collection are timers for bombs which the factory manufactured at its Plant No. 2 on Bluff City Boulevard.
Thoren's two timers, which he said he was able to attain because they didn't meet factory specifications, are rarities that are not even found at the Elgin Area Historical Society Museum.
In the kitchen are Depression glass acquired from his grandmother as well as Blue Willow china, aluminum glasses and Fiesta Ware. There is also a working GE Monitor refrigerator and a 1947 Kelvinator porcelain drinking fountain.
Thoren said he likes to conclude his tours with a trip to his basement where he has a re-creation of an Appletree Records store -- a series of stores that he managed in the 1970s and 1980s. A Beatles "Abbey Road" record or a Moody Blues song is often played for visitors to provide a certain ambience, he explains.
With "New Release" signs and bins filled with records including divider cards and band names, one feels as if they've been transported to the era when the weekly "Top 40" drew young people in droves to stop by to purchase their favorite 45 rpm record. There's even buttons, pins, T-shirts and an authentic cash register to make the trip back in time complete.
This longtime collector says he has now acquired so many items that some are stored off site. This is to say nothing of his "Model T" and "Model A" Fords which he enjoys driving about town regularly.
"While I'll always keep this house, I might move to a larger Victorian in Elgin someday," he said. With an upgraded burglar alarm system, he says his collection is quite safe.
In case you wondered if cleaning all these items is a big chore, Thoren says the answer is "yes." He regularly takes one small area of his collection down at a time to dust it. He then rearranges it and returns it to its original location in this new fashion. The process is always ongoing, he explains.
What does Thoren still want to add to his collection? A cylinder player Victrola with a horn and a key wind Victrola with a small horn would round out his phonograph collection, he says. His antique television section would be more complete if he could add a Dumont and a Predicta.
Another monitor top refrigerator, especially a 1927 cage top model, would enhance his appliance area -- "though I know I would need to defrost it," he smiled.
He's also looking for old record players and records.
Thoren's love of history and knack for collecting has led to his association with a number of seniors which redefined much of his life. He is the voice of "Senior Spotlight" heard weekly on WRMN 1410-AM radio, serves on the board of the Elgin Senior Services and "numerous senior-oriented committees and organizations," he says.
"Living in the past never seemed or felt so cool," Thoren said. "The joy of a collection is showing it to others. Life's greatest moments are reserved for those who bring joy to others."
• To arrange a private tour or to donate to his collection, contact Steve Thoren at (847) 742-7533 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org