Reviving past with heirlooms

KANKAKEE (AP) – A few years ago, you might have found Jim Paul dressed in historic costume, portraying Martin Luther, Napoleon, Karl Marx or Friedrich Nietzsche in his Kankakee Community College western civilization or philosophy classes.

These days, you occasionally will find him grubbing in the dirt of the garden at the George Letourneau Home in Bourbonnais, tending the flowers and the garden.

Paul and other volunteers from the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society recently were doing spring cleaning in the garden and planting flowers at the historic home on Stratford Drive, in the Adrian Richard Heritage Preserve, named for the founder of the historical society.

After retiring from KCC in 2006, Paul became a student again, taking classes to become a “master gardener” through the Kankakee County unit of the University of Illinois Extension Service.

He also serves on the board of the historical society, so he got Bourbonnais Grove volunteers together with Master Gardeners to put a historic emphasis on the landscape of the historic home. They’ve been at it since 2008.

On their recent work day, they planted 10 varieties of heirloom annual flowers, some dating back to the early 1800s and the latest from the 1930s. Some of them might date back to when George LeTourneau, the first mayor of Bourbonnais, owned the home in the 1850s.

Before the upcoming Bourbonnais Friendship Festival, July 25-29, the volunteers will place signs on stakes so visitors can identify the zinnias, petunias, calendula, blue woodruff, foxglove, nasturtiums, holly hocks and more.

“The flowers will bloom this summer, and some of them will reseed,” Paul said. “We’re trying to encourage the community to stroll around the garden and enjoy it, maybe have a picnic.”