The story behind the Claudia's Grove marker in Peck Farm Park in Geneva

  • The Claudia's Grove marker in Geneva was placed in honor of Claudia Johnson, the daughter of Wendell Johnson, who was a ranch hand at the Peck sheep farm.

    The Claudia's Grove marker in Geneva was placed in honor of Claudia Johnson, the daughter of Wendell Johnson, who was a ranch hand at the Peck sheep farm. Courtesy of Pat Heun

Posted8/23/2019 6:00 AM

It's hard to say whether not knowing a thing about the person being honored through comforting words on a plaque in a stone marker is better than knowing everything about that person.

That was the dilemma I was facing in trying to find out the story behind the heart-shaped "Claudia's Grove" marker along the Peck Farm Park walking and biking trail on Geneva's west side.


The marker sits among approximately 80 trees near the intersection of Fabyan Parkway and Kaneville Road between the Geneva Park District's Peck Farm Park site and the Mill Creek subdivision.

It's a beautiful setting, one in which the large stone and plaque stands out as a nice surprise to those who take the time to stop and read its message.

Trish Burns, manager of Peck Farm Park, helped me find out the story behind the marker in honor of Claudia Johnson, the daughter of Wendell Johnson, who was a ranch hand at the Peck sheep farm.

The Johnson family lived just east of Peck Farm, in the area that is now Sterling Manor subdivision. It turns out, Claudia had a deep love for the farm setting and surrounding trees.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

The friendships between the Johnson family, Peck family and Burgess family in Geneva ultimately led to the creation of the memorial plaque placement in 2008, not long after Claudia's passing.

The Burgess family donated the trees to create Claudia's Grove, and Burns believes the Tom & Lindsey signing off "In loving memory" on the plaque were Tom Burgess and wife Lindsey, who donated the stone and plaque in memory of a person who loved the farm site and its setting.

The plaque carries a touching message, essentially congratulating you for finding this place to represent Claudia's spirit. It encourages you to take a deep breath and enjoy the grove.

I often mention memorial plaques and don't know anything about the person or family involved. I just want those people to know we notice. But we now know a lot more about Claudia and a plaque in her memory.


Cleavers doing fine:

I wasn't sure what I would say to Jerry Mathers when meeting him last week at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, where he appeared with Tony Dow for a "Leave it to Beaver" photo-and-autograph session.

After introducing myself to Mathers, the first thing out of my mouth was, "I had a crush on Miss Landers, too."

For those maybe not familiar, Miss Landers was the lovely elementary schoolteacher whom young Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver had a crush on for a few seasons of the popular TV sitcom.

Mathers, now 71, made the role of "Beaver" famous in the late 1950s and early '60s, but Tony Dow was more than capable as his older and sometimes wiser brother "Wally."

Mathers nodded, as if to say he understood how a young kid could fall for Miss Landers, played by actress Sue Randall.

So I asked the question bothering me for a long time. Why did this actress die so young at age 49?

"Heavy smoker," Mathers said. "It was too bad."

It was great to have my photo taken with the TV brothers I grew up with, because I'm in the stage of life where that sort of thing is important. You can't pass up anything that slips you back into a far simpler time, in which your only concern was how the "Beaver" would get out of his next jam.

Miss him in crowd:

It's only been a little more than a month since longtime Geneva resident John Burns passed away, and I suppose those first weeks are the strangest in terms of no longer seeing this pleasant fellow around town.

The other factor, possibly, is that Burns, the father of Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, was a soft-spoken fellow with a good sense of humor in his public life. As such, I saw him a lot more than I talked to him.

He was the classic example of being seen, not heard, most of the time. If John Burns was at an event -- and he was at a million of them -- it was because it meant something to Geneva or a Tri-City organization.

For the most part, we simply nodded at each other when crossing paths. We had known each other since his days with the park district board, the Geneva All-Sports Boosters, the girls' softball programs and Tri-Cities Football.

But he never stopped to fill my ear about something he wanted. He never said a word to me about his son's tasks as leader of the city and what he thought about that most public of roles. After all, he had two other adult sons and one daughter making their own contributions to society as well.

And he never said a word about what I should or shouldn't write. Generally, only unsure, distracted public figures operate in that manner. He was not one of those.

It wouldn't be honest to say I'll miss talking to him, because I didn't do it that often. But I will miss seeing his smiling face. You just felt like you were doing the right thing, or were in the right place if John Burns also was hanging around.

Just a wish No. 1:

It would be a deep dive back to its roots, but I wish the Colonial restaurant sites on each side of St. Charles had drive-through or walk-up windows to pick up ice cream cones, sundaes, milk shakes or floats.

Sure, we have some options for that type of ordering of a summer treat in this area. But Colonial ice cream is a standout that has significant history behind it. So, ways to get at it easier would be fun.

Just a wish No. 2:

It's too bad that signs promoting furniture blowout sales in places like Naperville somehow clutter up the parkways and corners of the busiest intersections in the Tri-Cities.

First, it has sort of a trashy look to it, and we get enough of that sort of stuff during elections.

The general rule is that no one is allowed to place signs in the city's right of way without prior approval from the city council. A code enforcement officer has the task of yanking out violating signs.

Yet, I wish there was a way cities could at least charge a premium weekly or monthly rate, and provide the ground rules, for using those locations to promote a business.

That might be a messy process, but at least we'd get something out of it.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.