Recorded on November 8, 2013. Length: 32 Minutes.
A.C. Buhler has served as a Village Trustee for 19 years after living in Northbrook for over 50 years. He talks about growing up in Northbrook and his involvement in swimming as he worked his way through the school system. A.C. has been very involved in the growth of Northbrook through out his time on the Board. Prior to being a Trustee, he was involved in the Plan Commission of Northbrook that helped zone land here for use. A.C. discusses what being a Village Trustee has meant to him as a way to give back to the community of Northbrook and how he believes that service is the best way to strengthen the community.
JH: Good afternoon and welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Public Library. Today is Friday, November 8th, 2013. My name is Judy Hughes and I am pleased to welcome A.C. Buehler III,
who has lived and worked in Northbrook for at least 55 years. Welcome A.C.
AC: Nice to see you, too.
JH: I want to start by asking, you were just a little person when you first came to Northbrook with your family. Do you know what brought your family to Northbrook?
AC: I do. Mom and dad were both raised in Kenilworth. I was actually born in Kenilworth, they rented a house there for a couple years just as I was born, actually just through when my sister was born. They were looking for a place to build a house, they were looking for a place that looked like it was going to be growing, had good schools that were coming. They looked in Northbrook. They actually had a piece of land that they looked at out in Inverness and decided what they really wanted to do was they liked the opportunities that looked like they would be coming forth in Northbrook and built a house in the east side of Northbrook, on Bridlewood actually, in 1959. That’s sort of how we got to Northbrook and basically been here since. We moved in, of course it was all dirt around there. I believe we were the third or fourth house that was built on Bridlewood, so there really was nobody around there. Didn’t have a lot of friends nearby, so my sister and I had a lot of fun there. We got a little bit older and went into preschool and went to an interesting preschool in Northbrook. It was out at the fringe of it. It was on Sanders Road, south of Willow Road. It was Dietrich’s Farm Nursery School. It’s west of where some of the Allstate campus was. You can look at some of the old pictures and there was a toboggan slide, there was an actual farm there, and there was a barn that had some farm animals and all. There was a workshop area. The girls would go do their little Home Ec. type stuff and the guys would go and learn how to wield a hammer. I actually built a toolbox that I still happen to have. I’m not exactly sure how much of the toolbox I actually built or how much was sort of prompted through. When you’re three and four it’s sort of hard to tell how the workmanship can be so good. Definitely learned some things there.
JH: You called it Dietrich’s?
AC: Farm Nursery School.
JH: Farm Nursery School. Do you remember the name of the people who ran it?
AC: It was Hank and I can’t remember his wife’s name. I think it was Didi. I believe that’s correct. All three of us went there. They had a little suburban step-van kind of thing. They would go around and pick you up and then take you home when you were done with your half a day or whatever it was. It was a lot of fun. We even had a little graduation complete with white mortar boards made out of cardboard. I’ve still got some pictures around from that. As I drive down that part of Sanders, I always have little memories of that going through.
JH: Where did you go to elementary school?
AC: Went to Meadowbrook. Tom Delvecchio was principle there at the time when I started. His son actually was in my class also. In fact, he is now in Muncie, I believe, where the Delvecchio family originally came from before they came to Northbrook. Went through all the way until I think fifth grade with Tom and the others. The teachers at Meadowbrook were always good. You talk to anyone who’s been through Meadowbrook, everyone remembers the kindergarten room with the benches that run around the whole room. That time, the little play area between the kindergarten and the other classroom there, that was all sand. They had a cover over the center, there was a drain. It seems like invariably, whether it was my year or another one, some kid ended up opening it and getting stuck down there. Eventually they put concrete around and put a more permanent cover on it.
JH: The Northbrook of your youth is different than the Northbrook of today. Can you describe what it was like to grow up here?
AC: It was a lot smaller. It was, I believe, less formal than things are today. There were a lot of the activities that ran, the Park District to my recollection, seemed to be sort of the facilitating agency, whether it be swimming, whether it be baseball, whether it be other types of activities. Now, different parent organizations and other specialized clubs and stuff have really gone through and, I think, taken over a lot of what was done at that point in time. You really would see the same kind of people involved in various sports. I was always involved in swimming. I ended up first in competitive swimming when I think I was seven. Jumped ahead a little bit there. When we were looking at going onto the swim team, which was at that time run by Art VanHammond (??) , and Bill Findor and Grace Findor were always involved in the teams from day one. Of course there was a Findor in my age that stayed with me all the way through Glenbrook, that was Jim. My mother was told when we were looking at that and said, ‘Well you know, they work really hard but they’re always clean’ and that’s one benefit I guess you have of being in swimming. With that, it was like in the summer you were swimming for the Park District which then became the Y (YMCA) in the winter. You would be in the Park District in the summer, and there was sort of a continuity through that even though you would continue to grow and get involved in more activities. You didn’t have to be specialized as much as I think kids have to specialize today. I think it made it a lot easier to try things out and get involved. There probably was no soccer program. I’m certain lacrosse had never been heard of in Northbrook except in context with the city in Wisconsin. That’s how I found out I was a really lousy baseball player because I had a chance to dabble into that. Swimming was fun for me. I could work hard at it and be good at it but yet have time to do other things. It is, to me, kind of fun that not only my kids- two out of my three kids swim competitively but also I can still serve as an official in the Illinois High School Association for swimming and diving. I used to be involved in USA swimming, but as the kids aged out that was then some other parent’s turn to step to the plate on that. I stay active in that both in high school and in NCAA.
JH: Outside of your sports, what did you do for entertainment?
AC: Entertainment, you would get with your friends. Be active in that. I remember when Eden’s Theater and all were available out there. You’d go there. There were a couple of bowling alleys around you’d occasionally dabble in. You’d find things to do. You’d find creative ways in using the toys that you had, the places that you had. The forest reserves were always fun to go explore through there. You had fun in that sort of a thing. At the time that I was growing up, there was really no good way to get from Voltz and Grant down to school, down to Meadowbrook then later to junior high. We ended up finding out, yes you can ride down Waukegan Road, which is sometimes a more interesting trip than you anticipate. I only had one encounter with a vehicle, probably was not the smartest thing in the world for either of us to get involved. I think that may have a little to do with my emphasis on bike safety that I’ve been working on with the board for some time now. Nothing will quite make you a supporter of finding safe ways for cyclists to get around than by getting hit. (Chuckles)
JH: Absolutely. You mentioned the board, so let’s talk about the board and your involvement in this community.
JH: You serve on the village board now.
AC: Yes I do.
JH: And how long have you been serving?
AC: I’m in my nineteenth year serving on the board. I got on the board, I’ve been on the Plan Commission for seven years prior to having an opportunity to go on the board. There was one person who was stepping down on the board and I stepped forward. I had always been interested in doing it. When I was in high school, I thought if I had the fortune of being able to live in Northbrook, that was something I’d like to do in the future. I stayed by that as time went through. I got involved in some activities with the caucus, I chaired the Selection Committee with Peter Gale, Northbrook Caucus on a couple of different occasions. I believe that you (to Judy) even spoke at one or two of those meetings that we had. As I finished up with that, I ended up having an opportunity to get on the Plan Commission. Dick Falcone appointed me with that. I stayed on that for seven years. I knew at some point in time there’d be a good time to go ahead and run.
Informally I thought, pick a dull year, when you don’t and have major issues and a dozen people going for one seat. Whether that was why I was selected by the caucus or because I’d been in town and invested time and effort in the town, I prefer to think that it’s not the former. But I’ve stayed involved with that. I’ve served with a number of different presidents. I’ve served with quite a number of different board members as well as the Plan Commission members that were active when I was on there. To me, that was a great opportunity to learn a lot of what happens in the whole development process. I think that that’s helped me in understanding what’s important when you’re looking at zoning. What you need the Plan Commission to be doing and where everything fits together in the development of our community for in the future. One of the things that they told me in the beginning was that you could do all sorts of things. You can add fire stations, you can add police officers, you can put additional capacity in the water plant, you can look at different vendors for your cable, you can look at different opportunities as far as your scavenger and refuge service is concerned but the one thing you can’t do is build land. You have to be very careful, get it under your control and then look at what you want it to be in the next fifty years. If you take the concept of when you’re zoning something, are you going to be happy with that zoning in a long period of time? Yeah, that’s what you you have to look at.
JH: Andthere have been other things. You have some association with the fire department as well?
AC: Yeah I was a paid on-call fire fighter in Northbrook for a little over fifteen years. Prior to that I was fire fighter, paramedic lieutenant in Northfield. I was also active as a paramedic during my undergraduate years down in DePauw University in Greencastle (Indiana). I went off the fire department when I went on the Village Board, but now I work for the statewide intergovernmental inner-agency group called Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, commonly called MABAS. It’s active in all counties in Illinois. It’s responsible for the statewide disaster services and fire services that are used in any type of a statewide mobilization or statewide disaster. The state really doesn’t have a fire department. It doesn’t have a rescue service. They have a police department, they have a public works department, they have a health department. They have all these other functions but all the fire and rescue services are at the local level. We serve in being able to coordinate that when it’s needed on a statewide or regional level.
JH: That’s a very good explanation as to what MABAS is all about.
AC: We try. (Chuckles)
JH: Yeah. With MABAS, you’re an IT tech?
AC: Right, I’m a branch chief and IT and technical services. I work with the statewide computer aided dispatch system. I work with the personnel accountability systems, the credentialing systems that are being used, the web portals that are being used to gather information on all the fire departments and all the deployable fire fighters, hazardous materials, special teams, all located within Illinois.
JH: What got you into IT?
AC: I sort of evolved into that. After I graduated from Glenbrook North in ’74, I went to DePauw. I majored in economics. When I graduated from there, I went to Northwestern. At that time it was the Graduate School of Management. I started the Graduate School of Management and two years later graduated form Kellogg, because they sort of changed the name in the interim. I concentrated in accounting, finance, and hospital and health service management. The first part of my career was in organizations related to the health service function. I worked with a big aid accounting firm doing capital finance studies for inclusion in bond issues. Feasibility analysis, that sort of thing. I received an offer to go work with a couple of different hospitals over time, or hospital systems. When I was in there, I was doing more of a finance and accounting function. That was about the time that a lot of the computer systems were going from the very large scale systems to the much smaller microcomputer type things. I sort of ended up getting a lot of exposure and experience with that and ended up learning a lot more than the other people in the organization. I ended up getting more background and experience in the system side. As time went by, I ended up working more in systems than in finance and accounting. After that, sort of developed my own practice working with small business clients in their computer systems. That was a business located in Northbrook. I still do work with some clients on that. It’s been very interesting. Because I’ve liked seeing small business. I like working with small businesses. I’ve enjoyed having the chance to go up into a meeting with someone and say, you know, ‘You got into this business because you wanted to sell this, or you wanted to build this, or you wanted to serve this. You didn’t get into the business to run a computer shop. That’s what I can do for you.’ Trying to serve and support in that type of a role.
JH: How long ago did you move to MABAS?
AC: I’ve been with MABAS in one form or another for I think six years.
JH: Okay.Let’s go back to the Village Board.
JH: And the working of a Village Board. Was there anything that was a huge surprise to you when you first started with the board?
AC: Sure. In spite of the fact that I’d lived in Northbrook since 1958- I’ve lived here, I’ve worked on the fire department, I’ve been involved in the Plan Commission, I’ve been active in other aspects of the community -how little of what was really happening in all the components of it. Not only I was not aware of, but other people weren’t aware of. The breath of what goes into it and what happens in an organization that is committed to service the way the village of Northbrook staff is committed to it, is something that I think is a story that you can’t really tell enough of. We kind of jokingly say, everyone seems to be pretty happy as long as things are working well. Well, they don’t stay working well on their own. It takes a commitment not just at the governing board level, but a commitment at management and a commitment to have people that are there. We like to have people that are enjoying their work, understand where they fit in the scheme of things. I think it’s a good place for people to work.
JH: In the nineteen years you’ve been on the board, you certainly have seen a huge change in the technology available to our community. Do you want to talk about that for just a minute?
AC: Yeah- it’s changed not just though the Village but through everything. No one would have dreamed that at some point you’d be able to get online and pay your water bill. No one would have dreamed that the people who are- that you work through, initially when we put up the cable infrastructure, that that would be bringing so many things, whether it be telephone, whether it be internet. Internet? What’s that? The level of communication and support within the Village staff for what happens and how we go through, our process of analyzing issues. When we were on the Plan Commission before, the total input we would sometimes get, when the board took a look at something, was a half a page note written in Bob Widaw handwriting saying ‘the board would like to look at this’ rather than a lot more of the formal procedure that has gone into place. I think that that’s good. I think it’s a lot more information. I think that helps along the way. The Village is doing a lot right now in trying to improve the quality of technology within the community. What technology does to support what’s needed. A few months ago, they put a system in where you can take your smart phone, put an app on, if you see a pothole you can take a picture of it and forward it on to the right department. Or if there’s a problem or an issue, it’s a drop down for type of issue or type of trouble, ticket that you’re trying to open and send that off and it all starts coming through electronically. It’s one other way that we’ve got that we can improve the communication with the residents. I think what that does is also makes them more aware of the level of service that they’re getting. You know we talked about service a little bit. To me, one of the things that I say to people when I’m talking about different things the Village does. We can talk about what the fire department does very easily, we can talk about what public works does and that sort of thing. The police department never seems to get the information out as to how good of a job they are doing because a lot of it, because of the nature of investigations, they just can’t talk about it. I understand that and I understand why. When I talk to some people informally I keep saying it’s real easy to say the really good things about what so many of these aspects of Village government does but I can’t tell you a lot of them, but I can tell you it’s really neat stuff. It’s a high quality of service, and service is what it’s all about in this.
JH: I gather you like your job as a Village Trustee.
AC: Yes I do. Yes I do. I’ve had a lot of fun with it. I like to think I’ve contributed something to the community. I’ve always thought that was important. My folks were very involved in parts of the community as I was growing up. Back in the early ’60s my dad was involved in Northbrook Caucus. In the later part of the ’60s he then was president of the Y (YMCA), was that for a couple of terms. My mother was involved in the usual Room Mother thing and those sorts of activities. She did some girl scouts activities with my sister. But she was also very involved with the Northbrook Volunteer Pool which was an organization that was set up in the ’60s to go into the schools and offer the talents and experiences of those people living in the communities. If they were looking for someone to come and talk about a particular type of activity, there was a couple of people who in their military service had been involved in various battles and various experiences. Then when the junior high students would be studying that in their literature, then they would be able to get someone who was actually there and be able to come in and talk about that. Sort of warehousing that type of resource within the community and find a way to communicate that out to the various schools within the districts that we had. I do believe you were involved in it with my mother too Judy.
JH: I was, I was. It was a great program. Offering a lot of resources to the schools that the schools wouldn’t of had and learning experiences for the children. When you think of Northbrook, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
AC: The people. The people growing up, the friends that I had here through schools, through the activities, through swimming. When I was at Meadowbrook I started playing trumpet and I continue to play today. Played all the way through DePauw and beyond. I’ve been involved in a number of musicals and I still play at church periodically. It’s the things that I’ve gotten involved with that I continue with. Once upon a time, someone in my family said you know, ‘When you were growing up you played in the band and you swam. You were also involved in the student government at Glenbrook North. Now you are still playing trumpet and you’re a swimming official, and you’re involved in the local government.’ I say, ‘Well, maybe I nailed it.’ Maybe I got those things right the first time.
JH: There’s been a couple of other things that I know you’ve been involved in. You’ve helped at the high school when they celebrated there 50th anniversary.
AC: Got involved in that. That was a lot of fun. Going through that and trying to find the best way to showcase the history of Glenbrook North from it’s beginning as Glenbrook High School progressing through to what they are now. The changes in the place but also how much fun it’s been to know a lot of the people that were there in the beginning. When the kids go and they go into the CPA, which was the Sheely Auditorium. Well, to have known and worked with Forrest Sheely when he was superintendent at 225. And then Jim Duffy, who was principle then, to have been involved with him. When he retired, he then got involved in some Village work. Homer Harvey was a good friend. These are the kinds of people that knowing them has made the job as Village Trustee to be a lot of fun. For example, when one of the land developers was in the process of trying to figure out, were they going to be donating land for a new school, or were they going to be doing payment in kind, or however they were trying to work out the arrangement. Well, I called Harv, I said, “What happened when Westmore was built? How did you come up with that? Did the money come from the developer? Did you get land from the developer?” Those sorts of things. I’ve enjoyed being involved in the various educators in the community. In fact, for awhile, I think it was said that if you’re an educator and A.C.’s been involved with you and the phone rings, you better check your schedule. Three different- two- Jim Rohrabaugh who had been a superintendent, Jim Duffy who was principal, and Homer Harvey who was a superintendent; Jim Rohrabaugh ended up on the Plan Commission, Jim Duffy ended up on community relations and Homer Harvey ended up on the police and fire commissions. Not just those, but the other ones that were there. Walt Sherman who was the first football coach of Glenbrook High School, who actually went to Northbrook High School then progressed through his collegiate education and was teaching down at Hinsdale, he was brought up. Hearing some of the stories on that. Playing for (Harold) “Sam” Samorian, swimming for Art VanHammond (??) A lot of the other; Marion Gerlach who was in the original group. Of course Bill Lutz and Esther Lutz. It’s all these names in the past and you look at the stadium and say, “well yeah, Bill Lutz, William Lutz Stadium, well yeah that was Bill Lutz”. What do you mean? Well, he was the golf coach, he was the first one in on this. Here’s what he did, here’s how he did it, here’s what happened and the growth of the school and how it all worked out.
JH: Well A.C. we’re almost at the end of our interview. Thirty minutes has almost gone by. I also wanted to touch a little bit about the youth because I know you’ve worked with the Boy Scouts. You want to talk about that for just a minute?
AC: Yeah. I’ve been an adult leader in Troop 64. My son was a member of Troop 64, and finished out his senior year as an Eagle. I was very proud of him to be able to do that. Both my daughters were, like I said, involved in swimming but they were very involved in school. They were various functions on whether it be clothing drives or other types of philanthropy, always they were involved in it. Getting involved and being active in your youth, I think, helps let you understand where volunteerism and where a commitment to your community can help build a community such as Northbrook. And I think that’s one of the things that’s been important to me and I hope that the lessons have been understood not just by my kids, but also by the other members of the community. Scouts have been great for that. You go into scouts and you understand that you are part of a community and you understand the way that the government works within it. You understand how to make changes in the government. You understand how to work as a team. You understand and learn how to get along with other people and how to set goals and achieve goals. Now, you’re not going to go out and tell them that’s one of the things that they’re going to be learning, but clearly that’s one of the benefits of it. I do hope that- Northbrook has been very involved in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We’re blessed by having a many troops as we do. I think that will continue, I hope it will continue. The idea that that’s one of the things that the community has, opportunities to serve, not just in the scouting organization, opportunities to serve in the various houses of worship we have. Coming up in a few weeks we have the interfaith service that is conducted by the Northbrook Clergy Association. I’ve had the pleasure to be able to speak at that several times. To me, having roughly twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, religious leaders all decked out in their various robes, vestments, whatever, to all appear marching in together for a joint community services is something that I think is unique to Northbrook and it’s certainly been special in the Northbrook, to me, and to others. It’s opportunities to serve, we’re all serving the community and serving together.
JH: Well thank you.And thank you for your service to our community.
AC: You’re very welcome, it’s a pleasure.
JH: Thank you for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook will add a unique and personal perspective about the history of our village. Thanks.