Visit Spark! in Durand
Durand Charm’s mural is displayed on the Center Street Creamery’s building in downtown Durand
By Matt Meacham, Program Manager
Read Time 5 minutes
November 30, 2023
In the title of the Smithsonian-produced Museum on Main Street exhibition currently touring our state under the auspices of Illinois Humanities, “spark” refers metaphorically to an impetus for innovation. The impetus behind the innovation for which Durand (population: 1,350), located near the Wisconsin state line in northwestern Winnebago County, is best-known, however, was literally a spark.
Responding to several late-19th and early-20th-century fires that destroyed a school, a grain elevator, a hotel, two doctors’ offices, and multiple businesses in Durand, local civic leaders founded Illinois’s first publicly funded volunteer fire department in 1925. The Durand Fire Department will be featured in a locally produced companion exhibition when Durand Charm hosts Spark! Places of Innovation from December 2, 2023, through January 6, 2024.
Conveniently, the department’s headquarters is located just behind the exhibition’s venue, Durand Masonic Lodge #302, so after perusing Spark!, visitors will be able to proceed to the fire station and view historical information and artifacts, notably including an impressively restored 1926 Peter Pirsch fire engine. The department purchased the engine in Rockford several years ago for use in parades and special events, not realizing until later that it had been Durand’s own first fire engine.
Durand continues to charm
Officially known since 1981 as “The Village of Volunteers,” the community has demonstrated a spirit of entrepreneurship and civic engagement throughout its history.
That spirit manifested itself in 2013 when Durand participated in MAPPING the Future of Your Community, offered by Western Illinois University’s Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. Residents involved in that program recognized a need for more centralized coordination among the village’s volunteers and organizations, so they founded Durand Charm, a multipurpose community and economic development entity.
“Durand Charm’s always involved in a lot of different things, and usually several things at once,” said Kelly Giovanine, the organization’s executive director, who’s coordinating plans for Spark! and related activities in Durand. “We like to host events that bring people into our community.”
When people visit Durand to attend those events—ranging from Candy Cane Lane, an annual holiday craft and merchandise fair that involves dozens of vendors and hundreds of attendees, to rubber duck races in Otter Creek Park on July 4, and now, Spark!—they’ll encounter a newly renovated downtown, including the section of Center Street along which the Masonic Lodge is located.
“That came to fruition just this last summer. We have all new roads in our downtown district, new sidewalks that are fully handicapped accessible, and several of our storefronts have been revitalized,” Kelly explained.
It is full to capacity over the weekends at our eateries and our stores, so we’re very proud of that and glad that the community has embraced it and that the state has helped us in that effort. It’s just a beautiful thing to see.” -Kelly Giovanine, Executive Director, Durand Charm
Empowering the next generation
To sustain the trajectory of progress, Durand Charm is collaborating with Durand High School to conduct a “Youth and Innovation” program in conjunction with Spark! With support from the Smithsonian Institution and Illinois Humanities, students in the junior English and government classes are undertaking co-curricular projects that could enhance not only the students’ knowledge and skills but also the community’s future.
“They’ve been learning about innovation throughout the country and examples including our Constitution and how that was an innovative document,” Kelly noted.
The students are developing innovative, research-based proposals for community improvements. They’re invited to enter their proposals in a competition in which winners, selected by local “celebrity” judges, will receive cash prizes during an event at the school on December 7. Displays representing the winning entries will be exhibited in the Masonic Lodge alongside Spark! Later, the participants will gather to discuss how their projects might be implemented (and to eat some well-earned pizza).
“Most of the innovative ideas that we’re highlighting in the exhibit are things that have happened in the past, so we want to show our youth that they’ll actually be the ones that will be our innovators for the next generation,” said Kelly.
Spark! Comes to "The Village of Volunteers”
Preparing to host Spark! has become a truly community-wide endeavor. Those who have contributed substantially to various aspects of the project include Faith Ackerman, vice president for consumer and small business lending at Solutions Bank, and even the mayor, Sheila Hoffman.
“Durand has always been a community that loves to pull together, that loves to educate itself. They love to be involved,” said Kelly. “I knew [the exhibition] would be well-received. I knew our community would enjoy being part of it.”
Additional events associated with Spark! in Durand include presentations by two Illinois Humanities Road Scholars: “A Quality Place on the Map: The Goal of Small Towns” by Norm Moline on December 5 and “How Corn Changed Itself and Then Changed Everything Else” by Cynthia Clampitt on December 12.
Kelly added, “There’s been a lot of positive buzz in the community about it. We’ve had no shortage of people willing to lend a hand”—apropos of the “Village of Volunteers” and a place of innovation.
About Spark! Places of Innovation
Spark! Places of Innovation, the newest Museum on Main Street exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Illinois Humanities, will tour Illinois from June 17, 2023, to March 29, 2024. Organizations in seven communities statewide will host the exhibition and will produce companion exhibitions and public programs relating the subject matter of Spark! to their own local history and culture. Visit Spark! in a town near you!