Lester: Wheaton Cold War bunker to be razed this month

As U.S. relations with Russia are once again front-page news, DuPage County officials tell me they're preparing to demolish a Wheaton Cold War bunker in the coming days.

  John Nebl of the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security points out a security briefings room of a Cold War bunker that was the first A-bomb-proof command and control center in the United States. Daniel White/

John Nebl of the county's Office of Emergency Management tells me DuPage has been doing a lot of "pre-demolition work" and noted construction fencing went up last week around the $500,000 bomb shelter, built inconspicuously underneath a one-story highway office on the county's government campus. The highway office was demolished on Tuesday, with the bunker expected to follow by June 26.

Hailed as America's first Nuclear Age Civil Defense control center, the bunker opened in October 1957, just a year after the USSR launched Sputnik, the man-made satellite that orbited Earth in October 1957 and heightened fears of a Soviet attack on U.S. soil.

It was also a time when schoolchildren practiced "duck and cover" drills to protect themselves from nuclear explosions, and women's home magazines included tips for furnishing bomb shelters.

DuPage Commissioner Grant Eckhoff, who oversees the county's emergency management program, has said the property, which later housed DuComm, the county's public safety communications center, has exceeded its useful life. It's gone unused since 2012 and county officials have deemed it too expensive to rehab.

<h3 class="leadin">Time capsule

Getting to climb around in one of the last remnants from the tense geopolitical standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union was one of my coolest assignments to date.

  John Nebl of the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security shows the kitchen of a Cold War bunker that was the first A-bomb-proof command and control center in the United States. Daniel White/

An entrance can be sealed off in the event of a blast, and the bunker features a ceiling of 36-inch-thick reinforced concrete and 18-inch cinder block walls. Inside, it features decontamination showers, a "war room" of sorts designed for tracking Soviet attacks, a secure telephone landline and a yellow Formica kitchen, where U.S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen and his wife once snacked on coffee and cookies.

The experience set me on a course to watch "The Americans" and to find which suburban sites housed deadly Nike missiles to protect the area from Soviet attacks. Most of those sites have been re-purposed and covered up, including one in Arlington Heights, which is now Arlington Lakes Golf Course. Another, now a park in Addison, hints at its history ­- Nike Park.

<h3 class="leadin">'Shortsighted and self-centered'

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle sounded off Wednesday on suburban communities who've opted out of the county's minimum wage hikes - including Arlington Heights, Palatine, Western Springs and Elk Grove Village, among many others - calling them "shortsighted and self-centered." The Chicago Democrat at the same time praised communities like Des Plaines that have approved the increase, which takes effect July 1. The new county law raises the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2020 and requires five days of sick leave for full-time workers.

<h3 class="leadin">A call to Rauner

Meanwhile, Preckwinkle also told reporters that she'd placed a personal call in recent weeks to GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner asking him to be more vocal personally expressing concerns about what a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would do to Illinoisans. "There's a difference between having your minions do things and taking on things yourself," Preckwinkle said of Rauner. When the governor declined to take her advice, she said, she expressed her disappointment.

<h3 class="leadin">Cousineau moves on

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, right, and Will Cousineau, center, watch from the House floor as voting begins on a pension reform bill in 2013. Associated Press file photo/December 2013

Will Cousineau, master strategist of Democratic legislative races in the suburbs and beyond and Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan's issues and political director, has made a jump to Cornerstone Government Affairs, where he'll work as a senior vice president. It's the end of an era for the father of four who spent 18 years working under Madigan, helping the office most recently launch its most extensive social media presence to date. Expect him to keep a few irons in the fire in the upcoming election.

<h3 class="leadin">A tree, to remember

A sapling that fell from a tree in a Nazi concentration camp has been planted outside a Northbrook Junior High School to honor those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The original tree was planted by children in the Nazi camp of Terezin, located in what's now the Czech Republic. A teacher there who ran a secret school planted the tree, which the children nourished with their water rations as a way to keep hope alive.

Steen Metz as an 8-year-old boy in Denmark before being deported

Among those present for the local planting ceremony June 2 was Steen Metz of Lincolnshire, whom you've read about in this column before for his work with the interfaith coalition at St. Viator High School, where his granddaughter attends.

Metz calls it "more important than ever" in today's political environment that we not forget the Holocaust.

<h3 class="leadin">NOT stolen

The saga regarding former Gov. Pat Quinn's official portrait continues, as Arlington Heights portrait artist Bill Chambers relayed a moment of panic during a recent workout.

"I had just started exercising at the (Northwest Community Hospital's) Wellness Center and received a call from my sister, who received the wrong information from my other sister that the portrait had been stolen," he says.

"I knew that was wrong since I had the portrait. I had to stop exercising to find out what it was all about, and as you know, when people start telling other people about some news, if there are enough people involved, the news can change dramatically."

Chambers retrieved the portrait from the state Capitol just weeks after its official unveiling to make some tweaks based on light reflections in the Hall of Governors.

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