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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 01:22 pm

My mother, the columnist, journalist and historian

Springfield author remembers a Naperville icon

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Naperville’s Genevieve, A Daughter’s Memoir By Caryl Towsley Moy, Authorhouse, 2008. 234 pages

Why would Naperville commission a life-size bronze statue of an elderly woman in a cardigan, place it on a downtown stone bench, and have a city ceremony in 1999 in her honor? Why, in a 2005 article by Susan Frick Carlman, is this woman described, "her pen eternally poised above an open tablet, she gazes steadily toward the Riverwalk, her expression forever thoughtful?" Dr. Moy's loving but non-sentimental memoir tells why.

Genevieve Brayton, born in Oak Park, Ill., in 1907, as a child moved to Idaho — her father had bought land — and lived there till her senior year in high school, when the family returned to Illinois and Naperville where Genevieve could attend college at North Western, now North Central, College. At our nation's Bicentennial, Genevieve Towsley, who had become a journalist and historian, wrote of her pioneer childhood, an account that makes a lively and fascinating start to this book, introducing us to Genevieve and her life in her own words. Indeed, there is another book, now in its sixth printing, A View of Historic Naperville, published in 1975, a collection of many of Towsley's well-researched historic articles, written over the years for the Naperville Sun and the earlier Clarion.

And what a journalist and historian Towsley was! Through her weekly columns she chronicled and influenced the changes in Naperville from a rural community to a major, prosperous suburb. Moy's well-written and organized chapters give the details, such as Towsley's feature on the community's Centennial Beach, which resulted in its becoming integrated well before the '60s; her championing of an historic church which spearheaded its saving — and caused the establishment of the Naperville Heritage Society.

Towsley welcomed all diversity, and praised the nearby Argonne Laboratory. Of one of its first scientists, Dr. Jeffrey Chu, she wrote, "Naperville is indeed fortunate that such an outstanding scientist and his family should choose our town in which to live." And Moy writes, "Hardly a month went by without one of Mother's columns featuring a new family, originally from a different country, which had chosen to live in Naperville. The columns celebrated the enrichment of the community and encouraged others to live here, too."

This review cannot begin to include all of Towsley's influences and honors. Her daughter does this clearly, briskly, and with humor. It is not an encomium — she includes the family's warts and problems, as does Genevieve herself, in her Idaho writings. It would help to have a family tree, and many a reader will appreciate Genevieve's recipes that are added at the end.

Moy acknowledges the help of many people, including able editorial assistance from Donna DeFalco, an alumna of Sangamon State University (now UIS) and a professional writer for the Naper Settlement, a "prairie village museum," who confesses her role model was Genevieve Towsley.

Moy's words on A View of Historic Naperville make a fitting sum up: "The impact Mother's articles have had on the community is immeasurable. They have provided a wealth of information about the history of Naperville that, otherwise, would have vanished with the deaths of the longtime residents she interviewed, who would have carried the town's history with them to their graves. A wonderful resource for genealogists, journalists and those who want to learn more about the history of Naperville, the meticulously written and edited book is a tribute to Mother's writing skills and her love of her adopted hometown."

This book is also a template for all of us: we too have stories that need recording, oldsters who should be interviewed, wrongs that should be righted, accomplishments that should be praised. We may not end up memorialized as friendly bronze statues, or in books that tell of our labors for the good of others, but our influences will be felt, within and beyond our families. Caryl Moy, herself an influence for good in our Springfield area, is to be commended for writing this book.

Caryl Towsley Moy PhD, of Springfield, is Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois at Springfield, which is planning a signing event 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the UIS Public Affairs Center building. All proceeds will go to the Naperville Heritage Society. Moy was recently honored as one of 12 women who have changed Springfield.

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