Volunteers are a particularly important part of the life at Hegeler Carus Mansion “Foundation”. We posed three questions to 3 of our volunteers to explore the impact the Foundation has made in their lives. Ken Ficek, who has been with the Foundation from the very beginning; Cheryl Benkse, who has been with us 13 years; and Lydia Skerston, a newer recruit.
In 1995 an announcement came that The Hegeler Carus Mansion was forming a Foundation to preserve the Mansion and preserve the history the families built with the community of La Salle. The Foundation invited the community to learn more about her history but also invited the community to add and include their history as well. During the original orientation taught by John Thorpe an architect and preservationist, 30 volunteers signed up to take a 6-month course on various aspects of the Mansion; from the people, to the businesses (Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc, Carus Chemical, LS & BC Railroad, and Open Court Publishing), architecture, and related topics.
Ken Ficek and his wife Barbara were among the very first volunteers who became docents. The Mansion was opened to the public on the 1st and 3rd Sunday’s from 1 to 3 pm over 25 years ago. (Today the dates and times have changed. For more information please visit this page.)
Ken has been associated with and known the Carus Family for more than 75 years. His father started working at Carus Chemical in 1944 and he followed in his father’s footsteps. Later in life he served on the Hegeler Carus Foundation board.
Ken said, “The Mansion programs allowed for Barbara and me to expand our knowledge of the people and businesses that made it all possible as well as learning to appreciate the building itself”. He also stated, “I also had the chance to take on the persona of various characters who were associated with the Mansion,” in Christmas and other fundraising presentations.
For the future, Ken hopes, “The Mansion…will continue to be the center of interest in La Salle and the Illinois Valley.”
Cheryl Benkse was introduced to the Foundation about 13 years ago. Her husband is a docent/tour guide. She would help at the Mansion here and there as needed, but about two years ago she felt the Gift Shop needed some added attention on a regular basis. That is how she became an active volunteer at the Mansion.
When asked what she enjoyed about being a volunteer her response was, “I enjoy the visitors I meet from all over the world that come for tours.” She states, “I also find satisfaction in arranging shelves in the Gift Shop, as it gives me a chance to get a bit creative.”
As for looking to the future, she said, “I would hope that…we forge on with educating our visitors about the family that had such an impact on La Salle’s history. In this way, we can preserve this beautiful building for future generations.”
Lydia Skerston became a volunteer through her stepmom Jennifer. One summer Jennifer was looking for something that would engage Lydia, help her come out of her shell and encourage her career interests. She found an article on Facebook and signed Lydia up to volunteer at the Mansion and the rest became “history”. Lydia is currently an Architecture student and volunteers part-time during her school breaks.
What she enjoys about being a volunteer are the connections she has created with the staff and visitors. She said her goal, “is to make guests enjoy the Mansion even just a fraction of how much I do.” While for the future she states, “What really matters are the people that will remember it and all of the good times that they had there.”
There are many benefits for being a volunteer. It gives you purpose, builds community and connections, stimulates endorphins that promote positive mood, inspires creativity that can expose hidden talents along with expanding knowledge. So, when we are finally able to step outside from the solace of the Covid-19 and reenter the world. Consider contacting The Hegeler Carus Foundation and inquire about the ways you can help further the mission of the Foundation.