Sycamore is the best home that Chris Collins has ever known.
His father served in the military when Collins was growing up, so his family moved often.
Collins would later serve nine years in the Army and 11 years in the National Guard, going on more than 190 missions and being stationed in places like Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, Korea and Afghanistan.
When he retired from the military, he settled in Sycamore with his wife and children. His wife worked in DeKalb, and he had attended Northern Illinois University.
Deciding to stay in Sycamore, where they’ve now been for more than 10 years, was an easy choice.
“Sycamore is home,” Collins said with a tear in his eye. “It’s normal, it’s comforting. I never had that as a kid.”
Although Collins is a newer resident of Sycamore, he embodies the spirit of the community, which is why he’s highlighted in the Sycamore History Museum’s latest exhibit, the Faces of Sycamore.
The exhibit, which runs for the next year at the museum at 1730 N. Main St., tells the story of more than 50 unsung heroes and familiar faces who have shaped the city.
Museum board member Jayne Wiese Higgins says the collection of people is just a drop in the bucket.
“This exhibit features unsung heroes past and present,” Higgins said. “These people, and so many others, are the spirit of Sycamore. It’s the people that make [Sycamore] special.”
The exhibit features a variety of categories including athletes, artists, farmers, first responders and non-profit organizations. Featured locals include longtime educator Yvonne Johnson, mayors Ken Mundy and Harold “Red” Johnson, and Chuck Criswell, who was the owner of Chuck’s Auto Center before he passed away in March.
Museum executive director Michelle Donahoe said the greatest aspect of the exhibit is that it not only features the “movers and shakers” of Sycamore, but ordinary people as well.
“It’s fun for people to come here and see people they know,” Donahoe said, making note of featured resident Susana Martin, a young girl who started a collection drive to get Halloween costumes for children who can’t afford them.”
Other stories include Benjamin Henderson, Jr., Sycamore’s first African American firefighter, Rupert Jordan, who started the Northern Illinois Steam Show, and former Rockford Peaches player Betty Mullins, who now resides in Sycamore.
Donahoe said the highlighted stories were chosen for their impact on the community, and the availability of photographs and artifacts relating to each person.
“It’s a great way to find out about the community,” Donahoe said. “I think people will feel inspired and realize how fortunate we all are to be in Sycamore.”
The exhibit has expanded to the web, as well. With help from video production company OC Imageworks, Donahoe’s son, 13-year-old Drew Donahoe, has been telling the stories of Sycamore’s history as his mustachioed alter ego, the Kid Historian.
His passion for history keeps him interested in the project, and he encourages people to visit the museum’s Faces of Sycamore exhibit.
“History teaches us about the past, and that’s important,” Drew said. “It’s important to learn about the past so we can do good and not repeat the bad things that have been done.”