I learned a new term the other day: The Silent Generation.
According to Wikipedia—and we know everything on Wikipedia is true, right?—the Silent Generation consists of those born from the mid-1920s through the early 1940s. The name was given to that group of folks in a 1952 Time magazine article, and apparently it stuck, although it apparently didn’t stick with me.
Says the Wiki article: “…the ‘Silents’ are called that because many focused on their careers rather than on activism, and people in it were largely encouraged to conform with social norms.” Okay, so we’re talking “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” type of folks.
Then, however, they go on to list some of the Silents, a group that includes Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy and writers and artists like Gloria Steinem, Andy Warhol, Clint Eastwood, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Ray Charles, and Jimi Hendrix, a group that doesn’t seem very “silent” to me.
Granted, it was a relatively smaller generation than the Baby Boomers who followed, mostly due to the economic disaster that was the Great Depression, which led to a drop-off in birth rates. But it included many of those who fought World War II, and all of those who marched off to war again in Korea, plus a good number of those who fought during the early days in Vietnam.
Around these parts, the Silents were the young, vigorous guys who came back from World War II and Korea and proceeded to lay the foundations for modern Oswego and Kendall County.
The Silents were members of local governmental bodies, and, in fact, helped establish some of the most important—and popular—of our modern governmental agencies. They also laid the groundwork to prepare the area for the growth that many of them foresaw coming and the stresses that growth would cause.
They didn’t bat .1000, of course. But the foundations they laid are still benefiting the larger community today.
Ford Lippold was a local Silent who established Oswego’s first modern, successful weekly newspaper. The Oswego Ledger was a free-distribution paper that Lippold and his wife and kids mimeographed in his basement every week and which, starting in 1949, appeared in every Oswego mailbox come Thursday. The Ledger was the direct ancestor of today’s award-winning Ledger-Sentinel that, although the days of mimeographing it in someone’s basement are long gone, still arrives in mailboxes all over the area every Thursday.
Lippold was always a proponent of finding activities for young people to engage in, so he encouraged establishing a private recreational association in conjunction with the Oswego Lions Club to provide summer activities for local kids. That, within a few years, led to the formation of the Oswego Park District, later renamed the Oswegoland Park District, one of our area’s most popular local governmental agencies. From offering a few summer activities for a few dozen kids, the park district has grown to an agency that owns swimming pools, recreational centers, athletic fields, neighborhood parks, and extensive natural areas. In most community surveys, Lippold’s brainchild is praised as one of the area’s jewels.
And then there is the Oswego Plan Commission. Oswego was one of the first in Illinois and the smallest communities in the nation to establish a plan commission back in the mid-1950s. Lippold—again—was among the first to detect a need for community planning as he contemplated the likely effects of population growth that was beginning in the area.
On June 30, 1955, Lippold reported in the Ledger that: “Wayne Fosgett, supervisor of Oswego Township, is a member of the newly formed supervisor’s committee to develop a new zoning and building code for Oswego Township. With all the proposed new building being planned for the county and particularly Oswego Township, the county board of supervisors is greatly concerned with the zoning and building code, which at the present time is outmoded.”
Fosgett and Lippold proceeded to encourage establishing a special village commission to plan for future growth in the community. In a July Ledger comment, noting the proposed development of a number of subdivisions in and around Oswego, Lippold remarked in passing that there seemed to be a new realization among Oswego’s elected officials that some sort of formal planning was needed. “The fact that the village board is becoming cognizant of the need of planning for future expansion is heartening indeed. Oswego is a community with a future and now is the time to keep moving forward. Every new home, every improvement is a step in the right direction,” he observed.
Then came the news that a newcomer from suburban Chicago, a Pennsylvania native named Don L. Dise, was interested in developing a huge subdivision on the Bereman family’s 712 acre Boulder Hill Stock Farm. Located just north of Oswego along Ill. Route 25, the development’s initial plans were similar to the Levittown developments in New York and Dise’s native Pennsylvania. That meant it would be virtually a new town, including shopping, schools, and churches as well as more than 1,300 homes, dwarfing every municipality in Kendall County.
Dise’s Boulder Hill announcement was a shock to the area, and after digesting the implications, Lippold editorialized in the Aug. 6 Ledger under the headline “Village Planning Commission Needed?” that starkly laid out what he saw was vital for the Oswego area’s future: “It is time to wake up and recognize the fact that Oswego and adjoining territory is growing and at an accelerated pace…Many communities faced with like problems have formed a planning committee to prepare for a systematic and orderly growth…Now is the time! Oswego is growing! Let’s keep it growing! Tomorrow may be too late!”
At the time, the concept of plan commissions for small villages like Oswego (1950 population, 1,220) and small rural townships like Oswego (1950 population, 2,433) was a new one. Big cities had engaged in planning for years, but small communities avoided the whole idea—telling someone what they could or could not do with their own property was not popular. But with a lot of persuasion, not to mention the fear of the existing community being submerged by a flood of newcomers, eventually created an atmosphere where planning was considered the lesser of many other evils.
The formal genesis of the plan commission idea was the result of an August 1955 gathering called to discuss several Oswego Township developments then in the planning stages. As Lippold reported in the Aug. 18 Ledger: “A public meeting in the community room at Oswego High School was attended by area civic group leaders and representatives of the school, park, and fire district boards plus Oswego Village Board and Oswego Township Board members to discuss the incoming Western Electric Company plant and projected new subdivisions and their impact on the community. A committee consisting of John Carr, Dr. M.R. Saxon, Mrs. Homer Brown, Charles Lippincott, and Jerome Nelson was appointed to talk with Western Electric personnel officers concerning the likely needs of workers at the new plant. It was also recommended that this same committee talk with representatives of the building contractors who are to develop the subdivision of the Bereman property of some 600 to 700 homes in order that preliminary planning on schools, parks, fire protection, etc. can be discussed.”
This was pretty new territory for all of these folks, the majority of whom were Silents. And it wasn’t just these few motivated folks, either. At the Oswego Village Board’s September meeting, Lippold reported, “…the Oswego Village Board accepted a petition signed by 220 Oswego registered voters requesting the formation of a plan commission ‘To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities a comprehensive plan of public improvement looking forward to the present and future development of the municipality.’”
When the commission was formally established in January 1956, the majority of its members were “Silents,” most either World War II vets or their wives—because the commission included, interestingly enough, two women, not exactly a common occurrence for the era.
Eventually, the planning process was combined with Oswego Township’s, thanks to Wayne Fosgett’s initiative. When the commission finally produced their comprehensive plan in February 1957, drawn by Everett Kincaid and Associates of Chicago, it was hailed as a remarkable achievement for a rural community. And not only did the process result in Oswego’s first comprehensive plan, but it also resulted in the village’s first zoning ordinance, which, in turn led to hiring their first zoning and building inspector (another Silent named Dick Young), and which also prodded Kendall County to establish their own building and zoning department.
“Planning is a sign that a community is growing up. It is a sign that a community is up on its toes and ready to go forward,” Lippold told his readers in a Ledger editorial.
Those once-young men and women who gave so much thought to what their community ought to become have largely passed away today. Most would probably be astonished at what their community has become. Oswego, then a village of 1,200 souls, is now home to more than 30,000 suburbanites. Oswego Township, once an overwhelmingly rural area, is now home to more than 50,000 people, and still growing.
But thanks to those Silents, we enjoy a vigorous park district, an effective and popular library district, a forest preserve district that does its best to save the county’s remaining natural areas from being paved over, and a host of other amenities that make it such a nice area in which to raise families. So, no, I don’t think I’d necessarily call those folks Silents. They seem to have made their voices heard 50 years ago and, in fact, are still being heard today.