Wheaton’s Centennial Celebration – August 20-29, 1959
By Anita Warren
Photos courtesy of Center for History
Photo 1: If you didn't grow a beard, you could end up in the stocks. Photo 2: A meeting of the Brothers of the Brush.
It was 1959 and Wheaton was all abuzz. After all, you’re only 100 once and Wheaton was planning to celebrate its incorporation as a village, February 24, 1859, in grand style. The event was even marked by a special note of congratulations from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Local businessman Owen Hocker, president of the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce was appointed president of the Wheaton Centennial Corporation and made no small plans. Steering Committee members included Ralph Weisse, treasurer; Mrs. Charles E. Gates, secretary; Dr. Donald H. Hockman, active general chair; Henry Burt, headquarters chair; and Mrs. Fay H. Squire, special events chair.
Civic pride, enthusiasm and the spirit of volunteerism burst forth with an army of 600 residents volunteering for six divisions and sub-committees to create and produce an ambitious array of activities for the August 20-29, 1959 Centennial Week.
Each day of Centennial Week had a special theme with the Old-Fashioned Bargain Days kicking off the week-long celebration, followed by Centennial Day, Day of Worship, Gay Nineties Day, Youth Day and Wheaton Day.
Grange Field and the Wheaton Community High School Gymnasium were the key sites for the major events including concerts by the Centennial Orchestra comprised of the Wheaton Municipal Band, the DuPage Symphony and the Wheaton Summer Symphony; performances of the historical play “The Wheaton Story – Little Town Grows Up,” with 400 cast members; the coronation of the Centennial Queen; the Anniversary Ball and nightly fireworks spectacles.
Additional Wheaton locations teemed with activities including Whittier School, Memorial Park, Adams Park, Gary Memorial Methodist Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Michael’s Church and North Side Park and of course the streets of downtown Wheaton. Among the many family-friendly events were: model airplane competitions, carnivals, the Centennial Parade, a youth parade, a Centennial baby contest, cake walks, street dancing, square dancing, art shows, ice cream socials, fashion shows, sports exhibitions, family picnics, garden walks, hobby and flower shows, teen talent show and two city-wide Centennial Community services. And in a nod to the rather substantial beards of the founding fathers, a “Brothers of the Brush “Shave-Off,” found many willing participants. In short, Wheaton had pulled out the stops to celebrate its first 100 years.
But, what about its second 100 years? Daily Journal managing editor William E. Scrivo decided to look to Wheaton’s future in 2059. In that distant time period, Wheaton is a domed city providing 365 days of a pleasant climate for its 100,000 residents. Transportation is monorails, underground tubes, police jetcopters, and residential air cars also perfect for getaways to the planet Mars. Downtown businesses have branches in commerce districts to the north, south, east and west. Massive green swaths of nature, at Wheaton’s south and north borders are campuses for Midwest industrial giants producing hydroatomic jet cars, home solar heating systems, the decancitometer to destroy cancer cells and the "wonder" metal, Wheatonium. Industry taxes keep Wheaton’s tax rate one of the lowest in DuPage County. Schools and churches are still central to the fabric of life in Wheaton. Wheaton College is now Wheaton University with 25,000 students. All clergymen have “graduate degrees in psychological sciences to answer the complex problems facing the individual.” Family values are still important as is family dinnertime. But now those dinner steaks are vitasteaks and not real beef. Cattle disappeared from the earth 75 years prior.
The Centennial Celebration was all about fun and community whether looking back or looking forward. It was a total success and clearly set the bar high for Wheaton’s future milestone celebrations.