Lester: Wheaton's Cold War bunker enters final days
A Cold War bunker in Wheaton -- hailed as America's first Nuclear Age Civil Defense control center -- is scheduled to be razed in the coming months, taking with it some of the last pieces of evidence of the tense geopolitical standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The $500,000 bomb shelter, built inconspicuously underneath a one-story highway office on DuPage County's government campus, was constructed to house up to 60 civil defense workers to keep operations running for weeks post-atomic blast.
Its ribbon-cutting was held almost exactly a year after the USSR launched Sputnik, the man-made satellite that orbited the 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.
The historic structure eventually housed Du-Comm, the county's public safety communications center, but it's gone unused since 2012 and county officials have deemed it too expensive to rehab.
"The property has used up its useful life," says DuPage Commissioner Grant Eckhoff, who oversees the county's emergency management program. Eckhoff says there's "no plan to build anything on top of it at the moment."
John Nebl of DuPage County's Office of Emergency Management took me on a tour of the place, which, nearly 60 years after construction, has an eerie feel to it.
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. Moving from room to room, I found decontamination showers, a "war room" of sorts designed for tracking Soviet attacks and a secure landline, which at one point could have connected workers to the White House.
Perhaps the best preserved area is the kitchen, with yellow Formica counters and retro cabinets, where former U.S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen and his wife snacked on coffee and cookies following the bunker's dedication. In the late 1950s, Dirksen described the bunker as "point(ing) the way for the nation."
But today, Eckoff points out, "we have different ways of doing things."
If you haven't been able to tell by recent columns, I'm a bit of a history buff. So I was astounded to learn that along with the Wheaton bunker, there were nearly two dozen sites around the suburbs that housed deadly Nike missiles to protect the area from Soviet attacks. Most of them have been covered up today, including one in Arlington Heights, which is now Arlington Lakes Golf Course. Another, now a park in Addison, hints at its history -- Nike Park.
Thoughts and prayers
Thoughts are with Derril Kipp, beloved Maine West High School girls basketball coach since 1981, as he fights pancreatic cancer. Going to one of Kipp's basketball camps was practically a rite of passage when I was growing up in Des Plaines, prompting me to set up orange cones in the driveway for dribbling practice on more than one occasion. Kipp's legacy includes a 1988 state championship, nearly 800 career wins and dozens of former players who he helped attain college scholarships around the country.
(Don't) grin and bare it
Looking over the rules for the June 26th Twin Lakes Triathlon in Palatine, which I've been training for, gave me a good laugh. "Total nudity in the park will result in disqualification."
Jesse White spokesman Dave Druker tells me the secretary of state's office now owes $14 million to vendors and landlords for utilities and rent at facilities across the state. If that's the case, then why are the lights still on at places like the state Capitol, where the bills haven't been paid for months?
"The electric company has been very generous," Druker says.
Among facilities that have been affected is the driver services facility in downtown Wheaton. Earlier this spring, the owners of the building gave White's office a last-minute reprieve and decided to renew the facility's lease despite the state's inability to pay rent.
A Joliet native who built his resume trying cases across the suburbs was installed on Friday as the first black man to lead the Illinois State Bar Association. Vincent Cornelius, a founding member of the Black Bar Association of Will County, is the association's 140th president.
Cornelius, who has law offices in Joliet and Wheaton, says he plans to use his term to focus on the future of young lawyers, as well as diversity and inclusion in the profession.
Cornelius received his law degree from the Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1989. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of St. Francis in Joliet. He began his legal career as an assistant state's attorney in DuPage County before joining the law firm of James D. Montgomery and Associates in Chicago. He met his long-term goal of opening his own firm in Wheaton by age 30.