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updated: 8/31/2011 9:32 AM

Naperville family shares legacy of tractors, learning

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  • Carolyn Kuhn of Naperville holds the diploma of her great-grandfather Al Lisson Sr., who was part of the class of 1901 North Central College. The institution was called North Western College when Lisson attended.

      Carolyn Kuhn of Naperville holds the diploma of her great-grandfather Al Lisson Sr., who was part of the class of 1901 North Central College. The institution was called North Western College when Lisson attended.
    Courtesy of North Central College

  • After Carolyn Kuhn's grandfather Al Lisson Jr. died in 1989, her father, Tom, set out to restore his beloved 1951 John Deere tractor. Kuhn will drive the refurbished tractor Monday in the Last Fling Labor Day Parade.

      After Carolyn Kuhn's grandfather Al Lisson Jr. died in 1989, her father, Tom, set out to restore his beloved 1951 John Deere tractor. Kuhn will drive the refurbished tractor Monday in the Last Fling Labor Day Parade.
    Courtesy of North Central College

 
By Megan Bannister
mbannister@dailyherald.com

Naperville resident Carolyn Kuhn and her younger sister grew up the way many suburban kids did.

With one notable exception.

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"When other kids were getting ribbons from soccer and swimming, we were spitting watermelon seeds," she said.

On any given weekend Kuhn and her sister could be found at an event for Good Old Toys, an antique tractor club founded by the girls' father.

While she has since outgrown many of the group's events, this year it is Kuhn's turn to drive her grandfather's refurbished 1951 John Deere tractor in the annual Last Fling Labor Day Parade.

This year's parade theme, "A College in its Community," honors Naperville's North Central College as it celebrates its sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary.

The parade beings at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 5, at Naperville North High School, 899 N. Mill St., and follows Mill to Jefferson Avenue, east to Main Street and south to Porter Avenue, ending at Naperville Central High School, 440 W. Aurora Ave.

North Central College President Harold Wilde will be the grand marshal for the 2011 Naperville Jaycees' Labor Day Parade.

Kuhn's family has a long-standing tradition not only with antique farm equipment but also with the Naperville-based college.

A family legacy

In 1901, Al Lisson Sr. graduated alongside 15 other students from what was then North Western Business College.

Lisson pursued higher education to learn how to manage his own farm, located in what is now southeast Naperville.

Exactly 105 years later, his great-granddaughter Carolyn graduated from North Central College with a degree in psychology.

The family's history is a perfect addition to the start of the college's 150th anniversary celebration.

An unconventional heirloom

While Kuhn's grandfather, Al Lisson Jr., did not pursue an education at North Central, he kept the expanse of land once part of the farm in the family.

"My grandfather grew up on the same farm, but he didn't become a farmer," Kuhn said. "He was a tinkerer and he liked to have stuff."

Among the "stuff" Kuhn's grandfather collected was his pride and joy: a 1951 John Deere Model B.

After the younger Lisson died in 1989, Kuhn's father salvaged the tractor from the estate and took it apart piece by piece.

"As kids, my sister and I would sit out in the garage and hand him wrenches," Kuhn said. "Helping my dad in the garage was one of our favorite kid activities."

Kuhn's father completely refurbished the antique vehicle, even building a custom "buddy seat" so the girls could help drive the tractor.

"My sister and I were kind of the sons he always wanted," she said.

While Naperville largely has moved beyond its agricultural past, tractor culture is not as forgotten as one might think.

"You would be shocked by how many people are collecting antique tractors" Kuhn said. "It's totally impractical."

She says "the antique tractor underground world is kind of a big thing," though in recent years it has become more difficult for the family to share their interest publicly.

"There's not a ton of events in Naperville that it's really appropriate to have the tractors at anymore," Kuhn said.

In past years the family would display their antique tractor at Naperville's annual Ribfest, but Kuhn says the event has gotten "very, very big and super-organized."

"There's not a lot of places you can remind people that this used to be a farm town," she said.

Kuhn believes that it is important for "tractors that have been in Naperville for 40 or 50 years get to roam the streets again."

And if the Kuhn sisters have a say, there are sure to be a few treasured tractors left in town.

"My sister and I are going to have to arm wrestle when it comes time to pass it down," she said of the tractor. "It's definitely a family treasure."

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