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Mundelein: A history. Part six: Recessions and recoveries, 2002-2017.

Welcome back to the last installment of my series on the history of Mundelein. I usually would have ended my series with my last post, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned while writing these, our present will eventually be someone’s past, so why not make the lives of those future local historians a bit easier? We’ve got just two decades left to cover, so let’s see how Mundelein endured the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis, got a new village hall, celebrated the town’s centennial anniversary, and opened, closed, and re-opened Lincoln Elementary School.

Speaking of Lincoln Elementary School, one can imagine that on the morning of April 1, 2003, when teachers and parents of students attending Lincoln Elementary School woke up to the news that the school was on fire, they must have thought it was a joke. Unfortunately for them, it was not. Starting in a kiln located in the school’s art room around 4:20 a.m., the fire lasted for three hours and resulted in an estimated $500,000 in damage, with six classrooms, including the art room, being rendered uninhabitable. Luckily, there were no injuries and repairs began immediately, although students returning to classes located on the second floor found themselves bused to Mundelein Elementary District 75 headquarters, where makeshift classrooms were set up.

While the students were getting used to their new accommodations, the Village Board’s efforts, in cooperation with Mundelein Mainstreet, to cultivate a “small-town” atmosphere to attract new business continued to meet with mixed results. The streetscape program aimed at improving the look of the downtown with sidewalk accents and new landscaping was beset by cost overruns and delays, with trustees voting in 2002 to end the program after spending an estimated $2 million. Despite this, at a meeting on June 24, 2003, village trustees approved plans to annex 120 acres on the northwest corner of routes 60 and 83 for the construction of a SuperTarget (2004) and Home Depot (2005) along with other stores. Even as these new businesses brought in badly needed revenue, Mundelein’s efforts to cultivate its small town charm were undermined when on October 30, 2005, Quig’s Orchard, a mom-and-pop restaurant, store, and orchard, where generations of area students had gone on apple picking field trips, went out of business. So, while residents might not be able to make their annual trek to Quigs for their fall homemade apple donuts, they could at least count on some additional funding as they began to prepare for the village’s centennial celebration.

Postcard for Quig’s Apple Orchard. Courtesy of the Lake County Discovery Museum.

Then, just as the Great Depression had derailed Mundelein’s plans for development some 78 years before, in December 2007 the great recession hit. As the stock market plummeted and television news anchors began talking about bailouts, village trustees in Mundelein met to discuss the budget for the next fiscal year. Concerned about steadily decreased revenue streams, the village began to reduce hours of operation, slash salaries, and eventually was forced to lay off employees. Despite these cost-saving measures, Mundelein continued to struggle financially as businesses went bankrupt and were replaced with empty storefronts. Between 2008 and 2009, the percentage of low-income students attending Mundelein High School rose from 5.4% to 24.2% leading to many more students to visit the school’s food pantry. By March 2010, residents of Mundelein were beginning to feel the full effects of the great recession, with the unemployment rate in Mundelein hit 12.9%. Due to the economic recession and declining enrollment, Lincoln Elementary School closed on February 2011 yet again.

Despite the increasingly harsh economic environment, the village’s centennial was coming up, and as then-mayor Kenneth Kessler noted. “It’s only once that the town is 100 years old,” so plans for the village’s centennial celebrations went ahead (Daily Herald 2008, p. 91). On September 22, 2008, the Village Board authorized the purchase of Mundelein’s historic firetruck, Old #1, for $11,000 and formed the Old Number One Preservation Committee, which spent $70,000 on restoring the truck to its original condition. With the preservation committee busily working on Old Number One, the Village Board set up a website that included photos from Mundelein’s history, a forum for residents to share their memories of growing up in Mundelein, and a calendar of upcoming activities. In January 2009, banners bearing the village’s centennial logo were hung throughout the town, followed by historical presentations by the Historical Society of the Fort Hill Country and Lake County Discovery Museum. Topping off the festivities, a concert was held at the University of St. Mary of the Lake on October 15. A month later on November 1, 2009, Mundelein by Shawn Killackey was published, which included a number of photographs from throughout Mundelein’s history.


With the celebrations over, residents went back to their lives. By September 2012 the economy was beginning to recover as the unemployment rate in Mundelein fell to 6.7%. As Mundelein’s economic situation improved, the Village Board restarted work on the Downtown Master Redevelopment Plan, which had been put on hold during the recession. The first part of the village’s plan was the construction of a new village hall, which planners envisioned sitting at the heart of this newly reinvigorated downtown. Coming after years of public hearings and planning committees, work finally began on on April 5, 2013. While the Village Board waited for construction to finish so they could move into their offices, they continued with their rebranding efforts. At a meeting on April 28, 2014, the Board approved a new village logo comprised of a star with red, blue, gold and green points. Work on the new village hall was finished in late May the following year, with the ribbon cutting ceremony following on June 23, 2014. Located just down the street from the original village hall at 300 Plaza Circle and costing $10.2 million, the new village hall dwarfed the village’s old Alpine-style hall. Although a number possible new uses for the old village hall were discussed, including turning it into a restaurant, and as of this writing it was recently put up for sale.


By 2015, the median household income for residents had risen to $76,750, with the unemployment rate resting at a comfortable 4.6%. As if to confirm that the worst of the recession was really over, Lincoln Elementary School was reopened (again), this time as the Lincoln Early Childhood Center, which provided pre-kindergarten programs to children from school districts 73, 75, and 79. Around this same time, students at Mundelein High School were able to watch as bulldozers began digging up trees (and at the request of the school, looking for a buried time capsule they had misplaced) in the school’s courtyard in preparation for the construction of a new science wing. Costing $23.7 million, with state grants covering $8.3 million (35% of the project’s total cost), the new wing provided dedicated lab space for students to gain hands-on experience in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Completed the following year on-time and on-budget, the three story, glass and steel wing had its grand-opening ceremony on September 10, 2016, garnering rave reviews from students and staff alike.

stem wing at MHS
Mundelein High School STEM wing, November 2016. Courtesy of the Mundelein High School.

The next year was an election year, and the race began early when on July 2, 2016 Village Trustee Holly Kim announced her mayoral run in a speech at Mundelein’s Community Days Festival. After a particularly contentious election, in which both candidates attacked each other over past statements while trying to prove their credentials as “job creators,” residents went to the polls on April 5…and then had to wait over a month to find out who had won, due to calls for a recount. Finally, on May 11, 2017 incumbent Mayor Steve Lentz was declared the winner, narrowly winning re-election by 5 votes.

Two months later, starting on the evening July 11, the Lake County area was hit with a series of major storms. Torrential rain inundated Mundelein with nearly 5 1/2 inches of rain in less than seven hours, overloading the municipal sewer system and leading to some of the worst flooding in eighty years, while high winds downed tree limbs and powerlines. One of the worst-hit areas was at the intersection of North Lincoln Avenue and West Division Street. Around 3:30am 18 residents of a senior living apartment complex located at (the appropriately named) 200 N. Lake Street, had to evacuate by boat. As the day wore on, many residents found themselves trying to salvage what they could from their flooded basements, some of which had water up to 6 feet deep, while others helped fill sandbags to try and stem the quickly rising water. The rainwater would eventually recede and residents would get back to their lives (although not before an angry, standing-room-only meeting where they demanded answers from the Village Board).

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And…that’s pretty much it. Starting as the small settlement of Mechnics Grove, growing into the up-and-coming rail town of Rockefeller, all the way to modern day Mundelein, the people of my hometown have been through it all. They’ve gone through World Wars, floods, the Krispy Kreme donut store closing, and throughout it all have always retained that small-town spirit and an eye to the future. So, I hope you’ve enjoyed my series on the history of Libertyville’s nextdoor neighbor, and I look forward to you joining me next time when I cover the Lake County poor farm.

Abderholden, Frank S., and Emily K. Coleman. “‘It just didn’t stop’ — flooding sweeps Lake County during series of storms.” Chicago Tribune, July 12, 2017. Accessed September 14, 2017.

Downtown North Implementation Plan. By Farr Associates, Business Districts, Inc., Sam Schwartz Engineering, and Village of Mundelein. September 20, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2017.

“The end of an era: Quig’s orchard to close this month.” Mundelein Review, October 7, 2005.

Filas, Lee. “Fire hits Lincoln School.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), April 2, 2003. Accessed August 25, 2017.

Kambic, Rick. “Kim announces Mundelein mayoral bid; Lentz to seek reelection.” Chicago Tribune, July 2, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2017.

Lest, Kerry. “How schools help families with less.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), December 23, 2009. Accessed September 8, 2017. recession&rtserp=tags/mundelein?pep=recession&page=5&psi=37&pci=7&ndt=by&py=2007&pey=2009.

Lissau, Russell. “Angry about flood, Mundelein residents pack board meeting.” Daily Herald, July 24, 2017. Accessed September 14, 2017.

Lissau, Russell. “Fire truck restoration under way.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), January 14, 2009. Accessed September 8, 2017. centennial&rtserp=tags/mundelein?psi=37&pci=7&ndt=by&py=2009&pey=2010&pep=centennial&psb=relavance.

Lissau, Russell. “Home Depot to open doors in Mundelein.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), October 10, 2005. Accessed September 7, 2017. supertarget&rtserp=tags/mundelein?psi=37&pci=7&ndt=by&py=2000&pey=2009&pep=supertarget&psb=date.

Lissau, Russell. “Mundelein begins new village hall construction.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), April 6, 2013. Accessed September 11, 2017. village hall&rtserp=tags/mundelein?pep=village-hall&ndt=by&py=2010&pey=2019&pci=7&psi=37.

Lissau, Russell. “Mundelein High students, staff impressed by new STEM wing.” Daily Herald, September 8, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2017.

Lissau, Russell. “Mundelein set to trim its budget.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), April 21, 2008. Accessed August 25, 2017.

Lissau, Russell. “Mundelein’s downtown vision changing.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), February 19, 2007. Accessed September 7, 2017. streetscape&rtserp=tags/mundelein?pep=streetscape&page=2&psi=37&pci=7&ndt=by&py=2000&pey=2009.

Lissau, Russell. “Web Site promotes 100th.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), October 7, 2008. Accessed September 11, 2017. site promotes 100th&rtserp=tags/web-site-promotes-100th?psb=relavance.

Lissau, Russell. “Work begins on $23.7 million Mundelein High School expansion project.” Daily Herald, April 16, 2015. Accessed September 12, 2017.

Pierri, Vincent. “Vacant storefronts a picture of the times.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights,), February 24, 2009. Accessed August 25, 2017.

Photos courtesy of the Village of Mundelein, Mundelein High School, Google Earth, and the Lake County Discovery Museum.

“Quig’s auction marks end of business.” Mundelein Review, November 4, 2005.

Susnjara, Bob. “Mundelein OKs two big stores.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), June 24, 2003. Accessed September 7, 2017. supertarget&rtserp=tags/mundelein?psi=37&pci=7&ndt=by&py=2000&pey=2009&pep=supertarget&psb=relavance.

Video courtesy of Erich Schwenk.

Zawislak, Mick. “Lincoln students adjust after fire.” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), April 9, 2003. Accessed August 25, 2017.

Categories: Local History

Tags: Local History

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