Barnyard Bulletins

Professor Burke's November talk to focus on animals, prairies

Ruth Burke

Barn Keepers to host ISU professor (and Ox Drover) Ruth Burke. Come and hear professor Burke explain how animal impacts have shaped and changed our disappearing prairies.

She will speak 7 p.m.,Thursday, November 10 at  Evergreen FS Building, 402 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington.

This presentation is free and open to public!

She’s an interdisciplinary artist, from and of the Midwest, who collaborates with animals in her creative practice. She is a teamster, farm laborer, professor, equestrian, and cultural worker.
Straddling the practice of contemporary art and the field of human-animal studies, Burke has exclusively focused on human-animal relationships in her practice since 2015.
 She was a longstanding artist-in-residence at Firesign Farm (2016-2021) and mentored by farmer Ruth Ehman.
Currently an Assistant Professor of Video Art in the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, School of Art at Illinois State University.
She recently received the University-level Creative Arts Initiative Award, which recognizes scholars with exceptional promise early in their careers.
Burke owns and runs DAP STUDIOS, LLC, through which her and her animals are available for hire for public artworks, small scale agricultural cultivation, and presence at events.
Burke serves on the Board of Directors of the Midwest Ox Drovers Association.

Ag historian Meyer regales crowd with farming heritage stories

Central Illinois agriculture historian, Don Meyer, shared stories about farming heritage, and the role of the Illinois Farm Bureau in agriculture history as part of a Sept. 8 presentation to Barn Keepers of Central Illinois.

The event, at 402 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington, drew more than 30 people, according to Jack Miller, Barn Keepers board president.

“Don’s stories were very captivating, and brought back personal memories of those bygone times to many in the audience,” said Miller.

Meyer, a Lexington-based farm broker and auctioneer is co-curator of the ‘Farming’ Gallery at the McLean County History Museum in downtown Bloomington.

Illinois Farm Bureau logo

He retired in 2010 as University of Illinois Extension director, where he worked nearly 30 years.

A long-time Illinois State University faculty member, Meyer led nearly a dozen courses in ISU’s agriculture and family consumer sciences departments.

He also taught agriculture studies at Lexington High School where he was Future Farmers of America (FFA) advisor.

A man of many hats, he’s been a Lexington City Council alderman,  volunteer firefighter, pilot and 4-H leader. 

Ag historian Don Meyer speaks, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, at 402 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington. Meyer discussed farming heritage and the role of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Barn Keepers volunteers share group's mission, at county fair

The Barn Keepers had a table, in August, at the 2022 McLean County Fair.

Another McLean County Fair is now in the books! 

This year, we made a special effort to reach out McLean County youth — with the hope of sharing our passion for the rapidly disappearing barns in our area, and the need to preserve their stories for future generations.

Barn Keepers volunteers who manned our table at the fair include: Ron Ropp and Jack and Sheila Miller, Jim Hanlin, Allene Gregory, Susie Sears, Jean Cooper, Jon Stephens and Gerry Poppe.

We took time at the fair to spread the
word about our Centennial Barns of McLean County project; and we shared a lot of barn memories with the folks who stopped by our table.

We met fair attendees who share our passion for agricultural heritage, including oxen handler Ruth Burke. The lllinois State University faculty member is the featured speaker at our Nov. 10 meeting.

'Corn-Farm Boy' 1950s kids' classic focus of Barn Keepers talk

Barn Keepers’ Historian Bill Kemp led an illustrated program on Corn-Farm Boy, a 1954 work of children’s literature written by celebrated author Lois Lenski. 

llinois State University’s Special Collections at Milner Library holds Lenski’s research papers relating to the title. Kemp’s presentation made use of that treasure trove—photographs, letters, notes, original illustrations, and newspaper clips.

Corn Farm Boy, aimed at the  middle-school audience (ages 8 to 12), is a work of fiction.

The story offers a strikingly detailed and realistic look at farming in the decade after World War II—a time when the Corn Belt was undergoing rapid change due to mechanization, school consolidation, and other forces.  

It’s part of nearly 20 titles making up Lenski’s regional series. Besides Corn-Farm Boy, the series also includes the 1945 Newberry Award-winning Strawberry Girl. In all, Ohio-born Lenski published nearly 100 children’s and young adult titles.

This highly original and interesting program featured Kemp sharing a look at the post World War II era in rural America.

The Barn Keepers speakers’ program is free and open to the public. This event was May 12 at at Evergreen FS Building, 402 N. Hershey Road in Bloomington. 

Lois Lenski's book Corn-Farm Boy is the topic of Barn Keepers May talk.

Coming Soon: Book to showcase this area's centennial barns

Illinois Centennial Barn logo

The Barn Keepers organization is excited to announce the upcoming publication of a full-color book celebrating many of the county’s 100-plus year-old barns.

The project is getting some attention — Bloomington newspaper, The Pantagraph recently interviewed Barn Keepers historian Bill Kemp, and published an article about our search for the historical structures.

This book project will complement the Barn Keepers ongoing Centennial Barn program, which in the past several years has officially recognized nearly 50 barns in the McLean County area.

Do you know anyone with a centennial barn? How cool would it be to showcase such a barn in this professionally designed book celebrating Central Illinois farm heritage?

For more information, contact Barn Keeper board members Bill Kemp at or Ron Ropp at

Historic barn calendar featuring timeless photos goes digital

Photo courtesy of Ken Kashian, of Illinois Farm Bureau

Take a trip back in time with Barn Keepers — to revisit our origins as the McLean County Barn Group.In 2004, The Barn Group published the “Pride of McLean County:” Barn Calendar.

While it may be 18 years old, the wonderful photos are, indeed, timeless. The  calendar showcases historical Corn Belt barns, and additional information about their architecture. The cover photo, seen here, is a 1925 Chenoa Township barn, featuring glazed bricks, and roof dormers.

Jim Williams,  the late Barn Keepers board member (see remembrance below) led this project. He was joined by several others on the calendar committee including Jean Cooper, Erma and Harlan Kahle,  Carolyn Loeb, Carmen Schnitker, and Wally Yoder.

Download the calendar by clicking on this link:

(NOTE: Download times vary, based on Internet bandwidth.)

In Memoriam: Jim Williams

Barn Keepers board member Jim Williams passed away Sept. 30, 2021, at the age of 87. Jim was well-known, and well-liked by all who knew him. He was a dear friend and colleague of Barn Keepers, and he will be missed.

Born and raised on a farm in the southern Illinois community of Galatia, Jim settled in Bloomington — spending more than 40 years at Country Financial, with much of that time devoted to automobile, fire, and agriculture safety.

He helped establish the International Society for Agriculture Safety and Health (ISASH), and he worked with the University of Illinois Extension on AgrAbility, a project that, among other things, helps farmers with disabilities be able to continue to farm.

Long associated with Barn Keepers, Jim’s ties go all the way back to our beginnings. That was nearly 20 years ago, when he served on the steering committee of the McLean County Barn Group, this organization’s original name. In addition, he served as chairperson of the Barn Group’s 2004 calendar committee.

With his innumerable connections, Jim was expert in securing advertisers for our annual Barn Tour, helping underwrite the cost of printing the booklets, and staging the event.

“He had a special gift for fund raising, and was a strong voice for barn-related issues and programs,” reflected Barn Keepers board member Ron Ropp.

Jim’s wife of 62 years, Madge Reid Williams, survives. Their children, daughter Lori Williams and son Brad Williams, also survive. Memorials can be made to ISASH, AgrAbility, or Eastview Christian Church.

Jim Williams
The Barn Keepers September 9 public meeting at the FS Evergreen Building in Bloomington was a great success! We were thrilled with the nice turnout for our illustrated talk on the Centennial Barn book project. Speakers included board members Ron Ropp and Bill Kemp, and Illinois State University intern Emma Pfeiffer, an undergraduate history major who is assisting Barn Keepers with the book project.
Barn Keepers intern Emma Pffeifer presents a program about the upcoming Centennial Barn book, as board member Ron Ropp looks on.

Illustrated program focused on Centennial Barn book a big hit

The Barn Keepers September 9 public meeting at the FS Evergreen Building in Bloomington was a great success! We were thrilled with the nice turnout for our illustrated talk on the Centennial Barn book project.

Speakers included board members Ron Ropp and Bill Kemp, and Illinois State University intern Emma Pfeiffer, an undergraduate history major who is assisting Barn Keepers with the book project. 

Dave Ashbrook memorial gift supports preserving Davis barn

Following the August 9, 2020, passing of our friend Dave Ashbrook, a substantial memorial gift to Barn Keepers was made in his name. After consulting with family members, it was agreed the Dave Ashbrook Memorial gift will go to the David Davis Mansion Foundation of Bloomington.

The State Historic Site grounds include a circa 1856 stable/barn, and the Ashbrook gift will go to the upkeep and preservation of this historic barn. The Bloomington Preservation Commission recognized the Davis Mansion Foundation’s efforts to preserve this barn with a 2020 Heritage Award.

David Ashbrook
Dave Ashbrook memorial donation will support the barn preservation at David Davis Mansion in Bloomington.
David Davis Historic Site barn, Aug. 10, 2021

Need assistance restoring a barn? This group offers ideas

Here at Barn Keepers, we get asked this vital question all the time.

Unfortunately, we’re a small not-for-profit that emphasizes barn education in McLean County. We simply do not have the technical or financical resources to support a grant program or similar efforts.

And there is precious little assistance when it comes to the government — be it federal, state or local levels. A federal tax credit is available for owners of barns which are on the National Register of Historic Places, but few barns are eligible for such designation. 

That said, there is some help out there. The National Barn Alliance has some suggestions as to what to do and where to go. To visit that website, click here.  

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