At the January general membership meeting, North Shore Chapter, NSDAR recognized chapter member Donna Fitzgerald with the DAR Historical Preservation Recognition Award for her transformative efforts to establish Fort Sheridan Historical Society and advance the creation of a permanent museum about Fort Sheridan. Her vision, organization, dedication and enthusiasm embody the very essence of the tripartite DAR mission -- historic preservation, education and patriotism.
Fort Sheridan was originally developed as a US Army installation in the late 1800s, consisting of ninety-four historic buildings on 640 acres of prime Lake Michigan property. Fort Sheridan is where great Americans lived and worked in service to the nation. In 1984 parts of Fort Sheridan were designated a National Historic Landmark District by the National Park Service, which deemed that the site "possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America." Upon its decommissioning, significant portions of Fort Sheridan were redeveloped as a residential community, while other areas became protected under the ownership of the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Beginning in July of 2016, Fitzgerald agreed to serve on the Fort's Master Homeowners Association and the Historical Preservation Commission on the condition that the Association would cooperate with her efforts to establish a Fort Sheridan Historical Society and eventually, a museum in the Fort's historic tower building.
No red tape could hold back Fitzgerald's enthusiasm! In true DAR fashion, Fort Sheridan Historical Society has progressed rapidly as initial organization goals were completed in half the timeframe proposed. It has adopted bylaws, achieved 501(c)(3) status, and secured key leadership for the Society's Fundraising, Social Activities, Historic Exploration and Education & Acquisitions committees. The Society's mission is to honor, support, educate and promote the Fort's importance in military and local history from the late 1880s to the present.
In a few short months, Fort Sheridan Historical Society enlisted scores of dues paying members. Members meet regularly to hear excellent educational programs given by historians, archivists, authors, editorial cartoonists and even a practicing lawyer with a fascinating historical story to share. Member committees have organized events and fundraisers to educate, sustain interest and develop pride in the history of Fort Sheridan. Events included: ghost storytelling at
Halloween, partnering with MHA for sleigh rides in December, summer movies on the parade grounds, an Italian dinner, a walking tour of Fort Sheridan's historic homes and an accompanying program booklet.
Fitzgerald's enthusiasm has not gone unnoticed. Letters started to arrive from people formerly associated with the Fort, and it seems nearly everyone has a friend or relative who passed through Fort Sheridan during WWI, WWII, the Korean conflict or the Vietnam War. Historic memorabilia and oral histories from past residents or their associates are being assembled. Once archival plans are formalized, these acquisitions will become the foundation for the future museum. Fort Sheridan Historical Society has quickly begun moving into its mid-range goals with growing emphasis on raising funds, collecting artifacts and memorializing the stories of the people who spent time at Fort Sheridan - both past and present. The Society has elicited a national response for families to share their stories, photographs and artifacts associated with the Fort.
Donna Fitzgerald's vision for Fort Sheridan Historical Society and her tenacious leadership was the spark that attracted the many volunteers who have joined in the effort to educate, inform and engage. Her DAR spirit, shared with so many, will allow current Fort Sheridan residents, interested North Shore residents and descendants of former military personnel who were attached to the Fort to appreciate and learn in perpetuity about the US history that was shaped by Fort Sheridan. Under her leadership, Fort Sheridan Historical Society has rallied to memorialize Fort Sheridan's rich history of people, architecture, service and mission committed to our national defense. Donna Fitzgerald is most deserving of recognition for her historic preservation endeavors.
In her acceptance remarks, Donna said: "I am so honored to be recognized and am ever thankful to North Shore Chapter for this award and for their phenomenal support. Fort Sheridan Historical Society's schedule has varied programs, including upcoming presentations by Will Tippens on "History and Transformation: Fort Sheridan Renewed" in February and landscape designer Nancy Hannick speaking on "Architectural Landscape of Fort Sheridan." In May, the Historical Society will present our annual home tour, showcasing the wonderful homes that make our living history! Details can be found online: www.fortsheridanhistoricalsociety.org. "
North Shore Chapter, Lake Forest, Illinois was founded in 1893 as a non-profit, non-political volunteer women's service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, historic preservation and education. For more information, go to www.dar.org.