In 2002, the DeKalb Alumni Association (DAA), a social organization made up of past DeKalb Agricultural Association employees, was approached by Monsanto regarding items related to the DeKalb Agricultural Association (DeKalb Ag)/DeKalb Genetics Corporation. These items, stored in outbuildings in Sycamore, included over 300 boxes of documents, original artwork, and DeKalb Ag memorabilia dating from 1912 through 1980. Monsanto informed the DAA that the buildings were to be destroyed along with the records. Recognizing the importance of these materials, Emerson Wells (DAA President) and Al Ratfield (DAA Vice-President) rounded up a group to rescue the items. The DAA moved the materials to a temporary storage facility while they looked for a more permanent solution.
The group pursued the idea of forming a museum to house their new collection and commissioned a feasibility study. The projected cost to build such a museum was out of scope for the small social organization and they began to talk with local museums and archive repositories. In addition, the DAA decided it wanted to remain a social organization and did not want to get into the museum business. Eventually, the Regional History Center (RHC) at Northern Illinois University (NIU) agreed to house all documents and archival materials. Objects and artifacts were kept with the DAA until a proper home was found. Monsanto made a formal deed of gift to the RHC in early 2007 and all of the materials were delivered. The RHC returned duplicate documents that they could not properly store to the DAA.
During this time, a few members of the DAA and others interested in preserving and promoting agricultural history, were busy forming a non-profit organization to find a permanent home for the rest of the material. This non-profit organization was the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, Inc. (DAAHA) was officially incorporated on September 25, 2010 with a mission of collecting, preserving and sharing with people of all ages the storied history of agriculture and its innovators in northern Illinois.
In the spring of 2009, the DeKalb Park District contacted the DAA and asked if there was an interest in using the Nehring Gallery for an exhibit showcasing the DeKalb Ag Items. Their answer was a resounding, "Yes!" The exhibit ran from February 7, 2010 to May 29, 2011 as "DeKalb Ag Memories." The first sixty hours the exhibit was open, the gallery hosted over 900 people from nine different states and three foreign countries!
Pleased with the response, the DeKalb Park District, which is responsible for the Nehring Gallery, has entered into agreements with DAAHA for their continued use of the Gallery.
We are currently in the process of cataloging the remaining documents and objects returned by the RHC at NIU as well as new donations that have been made since September of 2010.
We now have exhibits showcasing the historical aspects of farming and agricultural in the area as well as our DeKalb Ag memorabilia. We have also built an education program including educational materials for the classroom as well as additional programs for the museum. We look forward to bringing the community an understanding and appreciation of the innovations in agriculture that have shaped northern Illinois.