Regardless of life’s journey, Elburn is always home

By on October 16, 2011

Photo: Larry Martin, who turned 90 last month, holds a key to the city given to him by former mayor Jim Willey. With him is wife Beatrice, 86. Photo by Sandy Kaczmarski

by Sandy Kaczmarski
ELBURN—No matter where life took him, Larry Martin always ended up back in Elburn.

Martin celebrated his 90th birthday last month. He was born in Hinckley in 1921 when horses were the mode of transportation and Main Street was nothing more than an unpaved, muddy road. He became an Elburn resident only a few months after entering the world, living in a house on North and Gates streets. It was the first of several addresses he would have around town, and the world.

His father, Claude, was a barber with a shop in the building on Main Street that is now home to The Elburn Herald. He also had a pool hall.

“He (his father) had a woman working with him as a hairdresser,” Martin said. “Later on, we moved across the street to where Dave’s barbershop is now, and lived upstairs.”

His mother was a housewife tasked with raising Martin and his three brothers.

Martin’s wife Beatrice, 86, recalls that each of the area’s small towns were fairly self-sufficient. Elburn had three grocery stores, a clothing store and a hardware store.

“I can remember on Saturday night, the barber shop would be filled with people,” Larry said. “It was probably the only free time they had.”

Larry recalls the elementary school on the northwest corner of South Street. He graduated in 1939 from Elburn High School, built in 1929, which is now the Elburn Community Center. There were 10 people in his class.

After graduating from Northern Illinois University, he studied for a master’s degree in history at the University of Wisconsin and taught history at Greenwood High School in Wisconsin. And that’s when he met Beatrice, who was working as a nurse.

One of her friends was married to a teacher who worked with Larry. They dated for about a year, until Larry got a letter from the superintendent at Elburn High School asking him to come back. Larry and Bea corresponded for a while, but then life took each of them in opposite directions.

“I was the first principal that had graduated from Elburn High School,” Larry said. “But that didn’t work out very well. You had to have a master’s degree in education.”

His degree was in history. So when an opportunity came up for him to teach in France at a school for children of servicemen, he went abroad and stayed for two years. By that time there was an opening at the high school, and Larry came back to Elburn—again.

Meanwhile, Beatrice went to Denver and then to Minneapolis at a clinic. The two had not heard from each other in five years.

Larry had some friends in St. Paul, so a year after returning from France, he visited them. But he hadn’t forgotten about Beatrice, and after a few inquiries, he stopped by the clinic where she worked. They started a long-distance relationship and were married the next summer, in 1958, the same year the old high school closed down and Kaneland opened.

Both were “late bloomers”—being in their 30s, considered rather old for the time—and they had a family right away. Larry was 39 when Bea gave birth to daughter Sarah, now 52. Their son Jay arrived 15 months later.

“Just look, here he’s 90 now and I still have him,” Bea said.

By this time, Larry had yet another Elburn address, this one at 420 N. Main St., where they lived for about three years before building a house at 410 Reader St. They stayed there for 11 years, until Larry heard that a house he’d always admired was for sale on Pierce Street.

So they moved again, to 220 E. Pierce, which was built in 1890.

Larry went back to NIU for a master’s degree in education and helped create Kaneland’s guidance department, where he worked for the next 20 years. He was also the first director of athletics.

“When I was growing up, Elburn had about 550 people, mostly farmers,” Larry said. “On Saturday night, it was a big night, because the farmers all came to town. There was a place out in Kaneville called Long’s Barn, a dance hall. That’s where a lot of people would go.”

Bea said there’s no resemblance now to the old Elburn.

“When the kids were small, we could buy everything in Elburn,” she said. “You could get everything here in town.”

Larry said he’s seen Elburn grow to about 1,200 people, and then the north and south parts of town were developed. The 2010 census shows the population over 5,000.

“Main Street was gravel until I was about 10 or 12 years old,” he said.

Larry never fully recovered from a fall a few years ago, and uses a walker to get around yet another Elburn address, this time on west South Street. The bookcases contain numerous awards he’s received over the years. He was village treasurer under two mayors and was on the library board for 13 years. He also received a key to the city from former mayor Jim Willey.

Larry remembers playing pick up games as a kid, growing up on the streets of Elburn. It’s a place he’s called home, again and again.