Being a Black Pastor to a 99-percent White Flock

By Barry Schrader, DeKalb County Life editor

Pastor Harlene Harden at the church altar.

The Rev. Harlene Harden is a ground-breaker in many respects. Not many parishioners had even known, much less been served by, an African-American minister before she showed up at the Sycamore United Methodist Church six years ago.
We sat down for an hour after I had prepared 10 questions and given her time to look them over. (Some answers are condensed or edited due to their length.)
FIRST QUESTION: Why did you enter the ministry so late in life?
HER ANSWER: God had been working on me for some time and I really didn’t understand what was happening. But I had an insatiable desire to learn more about Scripture and I really sensed the Call after I had been reading my Bible one night and God affirmed that desire in me through Scripture—Isaiah Chapter 6—when I was nearly 40-years-old. After that I went to my job and told them that in two years I would be leaving and going to seminary. The two years would allow me time to go through the necessary application process to Garrett Theological Seminary and to save money for this. It was kind of scary for a 40-year-old who had been out of graduate school for some time. I had to move to a small on-campus apartment and get rid of a lot of belongings, which was heart rending…. My church family at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church surrounded me with love, even driving the moving van and brought food, making sure I would be able to give it may best. It took me four years to get through seminary and I only had enough savings for the first year’s tuition and rent. Then I had to become an RA (Resident Adviser) to pay my room rent, and also go on food stamps. It is humbling to go to a grocery store in upscale Wilmette and have people stare at you as you count out the stamps. After graduating, I was given a two-point charge, pastor for both the Fellowship United Methodist Church and the George Mortimer Coleman UMC. I had to preach at both places each Sunday.
QUESTION: It must have been difficult earlier in your life to raise a son as a single mother while working full-time at Com Ed?
ANSWER: I did not have a baby sitter once he was in school so when I worked overtime he had to be home alone doing his homework. He knew I would want to see his homework and go over it with him, so he worked very hard and always busied himself constructively. We would have what you might call the “Harden Talks” sitting at the dining room table and talk about life and even money and why I couldn’t always afford to buy things for him. We had a bond that was strong and I believe God was orchestrating not only my life but his life as well. When he was ready for high school I found that the school had an “open campus policy” and I was concerned about the gang bangers and so decided to send him to the Providence Catholic School in New Lennox, despite the cost. Even though we were Baptist I appreciated what  a good education can do for a young person. He did have some adjusting as a Protestant in a Catholic school. One time I got a call from the school about his behavior. At home we had studied the Bible where one of the Scriptures says “Call no man Father…” and he refused to call the priest teaching the class Father. We got through that, and then in Religion class he was probably the only student who knew his Bible so well that he and the teacher would go at it. I also got a phone call when he wouldn’t use his Rosary beads, so had to take off work again and explain to school officials that “we are not Catholic.” But I instilled in him respect for his teachers and he obeyed as best he could.
My son turned out quite well as he attended Northwestern University on a full scholarship, then went to Harvard for his Masters in Education. He has headed two foundations at Harvard and written curriculum for both Harvard and Yale. He married and they have two children, so now I am a grandmother. My daughter-in-law is a physician and they live outside Atlanta, where I plan to retire and be close to my family.
QUESTION: Sycamore must have been a culture shock for an inner city pastor to come out to farm country and serve a predominantly white congregation. What was that like?
ANSWER: Yes, it was different coming to a farming area—seeing all these wide open spaces. I did not know much about farming either. But I love the work ethic of farmers. It is hard work and you really have to be committed and disciplined because if you don’t do the work you won’t have a harvest and then cannot supply the world with food. It has been a profound learning process for me and I appreciate that it has made me a better person. I have been on a tractor, but not driven it. I hope to get into a combine some day. The excellent farm wives’ cooking has made my waist expand.… The farm people make do with what little they have, and make much out of it, which is phenomenal and is a life principle….
QUESTION: Did you find that people out here were reluctant at first to accept you as their pastor?
ANSWER: In the beginning there were some who were stand-offish because this was something totally different for them. But through interacting with many people and talking to them, they were astute enough to see whether I was for real or not. I have built wonderful relationships here and try to be as transparent as I can. I understand confidentiality as a pastor and respect people’s privacy. When you show respect, others will give it back.
QUESTION: What else have you learned about DeKalb County other than about farming?
ANSWER: I think the Sycamore and DeKalb areas offer diversity—farms, suburban living, the university, nice homes, but some poverty here as well. I’ve been to the trailer park (Evergreen Village) and met low income people who are shopping at our (church) food pantry. I’ve seen people from all cultures coming here for help. I had thought poverty would not be a problem here. But you have both worlds here. I have learned to treat people without being judgmental.
QUESTION: There are two African-American churches here in Sycamore. Have you interacted with them?
ANSWER: I’ve been to North Avenue Baptist Church, met their pastor and invited him over here. He has preached at our church twice and we have had dinner at my house.  I’ve not been invited to speak at the Israel of God’s church but have talked with several members there.
QUESTION: Any experience with discrimination when you arrived here?
ANSWER: I think the only surprise I had was when I first attended a clergy breakfast at Cornerstone Christian Academy and was the only female or Black pastor there. Some of the male clergy spoke to me and some didn’t. But it comes with the territory, when you are breaking new ground. I feel like that farmer plowing new ground, because when you plant that new seed, it’s got to germinate, so maybe others in the future can have a more worthwhile relationship. But I have really faced no discrimination here.
QUESTION: What do you do outside the church?
ANSWER: I have found time to meet with a group of women here for lunch, even though we call it the Breakfast Club, who come from as far away as Naperville, some Black, some Hispanic and Caucasian, and we meet once a month. I am the only pastor. We have lunch and then sometimes go to special events on Saturdays.
QUESTION: Why did you stay on another year when you could have retired at age 65?
ANSWER: Because I love this community and enjoy what I am doing so much. I didn’t feel the timing was right to leave (last June), I still have the energy and love what I do. I don’t even know if I will be ready to retire next year, but once I give notice, it will happen.
QUESTION: Some older people here have never interacted with minorities or included them in their social circle. How do you reach out to those people?
ANSWER: That is one of the things I have to realize. For example, I made myself available to conduct funerals for funeral homes when there is not a pastor designated by the family. At one such service at the Knights of Columbus Hall I could tell people were not used to having an African- American conduct a funeral service. But you just have to be yourself and if you are outgoing most people will warm up to you. I don’t think it is necessary though to force myself on other people.
QUESTION: Well then, how can people here reach out and be more accepting to minorities.
ANSWER: It starts by being yourself and choosing an occasion when you can introduce yourself to the other person. Also, reading and learning more about the history of other cultures and their issues is helpful.
QUESTION: What do you think about President Obama and how he has been received?
ANSWER: I think he has been one of the most disrespected Presidents in history. He has tried to do a variety of things, maybe too fast, but he does love this country. What he has gone through has just been ridiculous. He has been able to hold himself in a place of dignity. Obviously people of color have wanted to see him make it. I just don’t understand Congress…. These are difficult times we are living in…. As President overall, looking from the outside, I think he has done the best he could have done with the situation he has been placed in.
(FYI: Pastor Harden attended his first Inauguration and remembers it as  one of the highlights of her life.)
I wanted to go to his Inauguration because it was a watershed moment in history. I want to be able to share with my grandchildren the importance of that moment, and how important it is to do your best. It is not as much about your color, it’s about your character and your desire to be more than just another person living down the block….
(Also about the Inauguration:) I was honored to have the Daily Chronicle run my reports during my trip to DC—it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I cried for my grandmother and my great-grandparents, all of those who went through the pain, anguish and terrible racism in Mississippi. Seeing an African-American being elected to the Presidency is remarkable…and even me being the first Black pastor of this church is something to be a proud of; I hope people will remember my legacy here. From a ministerial perspective I want to encourage African- Americans to prepare themselves in such a way that they can go anywhere in life. There should not be any fear. Sometimes those in the North, even here in the Midwest, have covered up the problem (of racism) thinking it will just go away with time. But it IS still there. Our world is becoming more and more violent so we need to learn and understand more about other cultures, even though we still may not understand why things are happening. It is a very complicated world. We are a complicated people. But we have a God who loves us all. -30-


Sad Ending for a Therapy Duck Named Sydney

By Curtis Clegg, special to DeKalb County Life online

Sydney at Oak Crest

Sydney enjoying a splash in her baby pool at Oak Crest.

Curtis Clegg -

Oak Crest resident meets Sydney being held by her owner Sally Clegg.

SYCAMORE – One of the DeKalb area’s most unique therapy animals met a perilous end over Halloween weekend when Sydney the Pekin duck and her companion duck Chuck were killed by a predator.
“I was devastated,” said Sally Clegg of Sycamore, founder of the SydneySmiles duck therapy program. “It was Halloween weekend so we thought some neighborhood kids might have been involved.”
Clegg called the police on Sunday, Nov. 1 to report the disappearance of the ducks, and later discovered Chuck dead in a neighbor’s yard. It had clearly been attacked by a predator, most likely a raccoon. Clegg is still not sure if humans let the ducks out of their duck house and re-closed the door, or if the predator climbed in and out of an open window four feet off the ground. Several red-tailed hawks also live in the area.
Clegg, her neighbors and friends searched for Sydney for weeks in neighbors’ yards and nearby ponds to no avail, and have given up hope of finding the duck alive. Pekin ducks cannot fly and are not capable of surviving in the wild. Clegg’s Facebook status about Sydney’s disappearance was shared 2,068 times.
“It blew me away,” Clegg said. “I still have people asking about her.”
Clegg started the SydneySmiles program in 2012 after raising Sydney from a day-old duckling she purchased at Farm & Fleet in 2011. Sydney had an attitude, or “quackatude” as Clegg calls it, that made her so well-suited to be a therapy animal who visited retirement communities like Oak Crest in DeKalb.
“She seemed to know what she was doing,” Clegg said. “She seemed to know why she was there, and she would just waddle down the hall and into people’s rooms. That’s what would make (the residents) smile.”
At Oak Crest, Sydney would splash and swim in a portable wading pool and visit with residents who gathered in the courtyard.
Clegg said that she hopes to re-establish the program next year, and to eventually expand the program to include a series of children,s books. Clegg misses her trips to area retirement homes.
“I wanted to start the (therapy duck) program because I knew from personal experience that there was a problem with depression among the elderly,” Clegg said. “In this country, people don’t always respect the elderly the way they should.”
“She made people smile,” Clegg continued. “Sydney had a way of connecting to people either by making them smile with her antics or by bringing them back to a point in their childhoods when they had farm animals that made them happy.” -30-



From the Doug-out

By Doug Olseson, veteran columnist

I like to make people cry – in a good way.
I don’t know what it is but something about Christmas brings out the best in me. In the true spirit of the holiday season, I love giving. In fact, for many years I was known for the gifts I gave. I didn’t wait until the last minute, then rush into the nearest store and grab the first thing on a shelf I could get my hands on.
Instead, I used to put a lot of time and thought into my gifts.
One year, when my best friend was coaching a local high school football team (which I was also covering for the newspaper I was working for at the time) I secretly snapped a picture of him standing on the sideline, standing next to the little ball boy who was twirling a ball. The two of them were both staring in the same direction, at something that was happening out on the field. I framed it and gave it to him for Christmas. His wife later told me it was probably the nicest present he had ever gotten up until then.
Another time I found a bootleg CD of a concert another friend went to, the first she had ever been to, so that meant a lot to her. She broke into tears when I gave it to her.
Then, a few years ago, I gave my mother a framed copy of a poster Norman Rockwell painted of a group of men playing cards in the back of an old-time barber shop. My mother, whose father was a barber in Lee when she was growing up, also broke into tears when she opened it.
Like the old saying goes, seeing those reactions meant more to me than anything I could get myself.
Today, my family doesn’t go to that extreme. Basically what we do now is draw up a list of what we would like, just like kids writing a letter to Santa, with the understanding you’re not going to get everything on it. In the end, you’ll be getting something you want, it’s just that you don’t know exactly what it will be, so there’s a little element of surprise to it.
One of the problems with gift giving is – no matter your intentions – it’s hard to get the right present for someone, their tastes are so much different from your own. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on clothes or something that they may not want or won’t wear but are too polite to return because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
The way we do it no, kind of avoids all of that.
Of course, the one gift I think most people would be glad to get is a brand new car. I’ve noticed an awful lot of tempting deals for cars this season.
One dealership, for instance, is offering a deal were they would give you a free turkey if you bought a new car; another dealership is offering to donate $250 to charity for every new car purchase you make. I don’t know about you, but if I could afford a new car I’m pretty sure I can afford my own turkey and a charitable donation.
The most intriguing car offer I saw was from Lou Bachrodt Auto Mall in Rockford last month. Anyone who bought a Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra could get a free Volkswagen Passat or Jetta at no cost. I’m sure there was a catch, but I don’t know what it was.
Finally, the one that got me the most was an offer I got in the mail from Country Auto Group, located in Oregon, Morrison and Mt. Carroll. If you bought a new car from them Nov. 27 or 28, and if it should snow on Christmas Eve, you’ll get the car for free.
Of course, it came with the following: “Any vehicle purchase completed on Friday, Nov. 27, or Saturday, Nov. 28, will be paid for in full if there is a verified, measurable snowfall of five inches or more occurring on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015 between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. Snowfall must occur in the zip code of the store where the sale was completed and be verified by Cox Weather Service.”
Trust me, if I had taken them up on their offer, I would have done everything I could have to see that they got their five inches of snow.
So, yes, I guess I do like to make people cry – sometimes in a bad way.
—Doug Oleson



Steve Bigolin leading downtown DeKalb walking tour.

This and that in downtown DeKalb

(We welcome Steve Bigolin as a columnist on this blog site. The photo shows him [at center in cap] with part of his October tour group standing in front of Jim Hovis’s Hearing Help Express building, formerly the Elks Lodge at First and Lincoln Highway.)
By Steve Bigolin, unofficial city historian

This past October I led an historical walking tour of Downtown DeKalb, as a fundraiser for DeKalb Public Library.  I had not conducted such an excursion since 1999, and needed to update my material.  My purpose here is to point out some lesser known things about the downtown business district.
The former Ducky’s Formal Wear building at 112 East Lincoln Highway, and Otto’s Nightclub at 118, continue to set uninhabitable.  Ducky’s dates from 1917, when it started life as Fisk Motors, an early car dealership.  Years later it housed Montgomery Ward’s Department Store.  Otto’s is from 1923, and originally was the DeKalb Theatre.  It was later taken over by Ward’s, which unified its facade around 1958.  The theatre was replaced in 1929 by the Egyptian.
Attached to the front corner next to123 East Lincoln Highway is a green and yellow painted wrought iron gate.  According to the late C. Edward Raymond, whose family had owned the DeKalb Chronicle from 1909-1968, it is there as a result of “an old, unsettled boundary dispute.”  The cornice at the top of 123 East Lincoln Highway contains a Masonic emblem; but why?  The building’s third floor held the Masonic Lodge Hall for years after it was constructed in 1889.
The double store front at 132-134 East Lincoln Highway has a stone block over the doorway to the upper floors, with the words “DeKalb Council” carved in it. I have been asked occasionally if this was the City Hall, which it was not.  The cornice atop the structure bears another stone block with the actual name – “Knights of Columbus” building.
Four downtown buildings have tile work in the pavement leading into them with the name of the original business that occupied each.  At 153 East Lincoln Highway for many decades was “The Reliable,” owned by the Iskowich family.  235 East Lincoln was once “B.C. Knodle” Hardware.  323 East Lincoln’s tile work has the name “McCabe’s,” though the tavern has only been there since the early 1970’s.  At 621-644 East Lincoln was the historic “Fargo Theatre” from 1929.
The brick-fronted building with stone wall facing North Fourth Street, at 325 East Lincoln, has an real horseshoe imbedded in the sidewalk leading into it.  Back in 1876 and later this was Phineas Vaughn’s Blacksmith Shop.  In the early 20th Century the business relocated to Grove Street, when the city decided it no longer wanted such places or livery stables on main street.  The horseshoe is upwards of 120 years old.  —-Steve Bigolin


KauffmanFamily turkey

Robert Kauffman family with their flock.     Our family turkey ready to carve.

Say it isn’t so: Waterman turkeys cannot have sex?

This story  started out Thanksgiving Day when we sat down to enjoy the 18-pound fresh-baked turkey from Ho-Ka (pronounced OK) turkey farm near Waterman.
I mentioned that as a child I lived at the north end of Cedar Street in Waterman and the Kaufmann family had the impressive stone house down the street just north of the Waterman Methodist Church. Then we talked about how Howard Kaufmann came home after graduating from the U of I in 1933 and talked his father into letting him raise turkeys, some 300 the first year. That evolved into one of the largest turkey farms in the Midwest with 70,000  being produced for Thanksgiving, Christmas and many other weeks of the year.
I even heard their turkey was chosen as the White House bird one year, but could not verify that by going onto their website. But I did find some scintillating facts on their FAQ page. (Go to
It seems that commercially bred turkeys are produced with enlarged breasts so consumers get more white meat than from a wild turkey. It also stated that due to the enlarged breasts, natural mating is not possible (no sex) so have to be artificially inseminated. Now that is a bummer for these poor Toms who only have short lives of 4 to 5 months anyway, due to the need for them to be on our tables by November or December each year. They must envy the wild fowl that roam the woodlands and have free reign in regards to sexual encounters. But the wild gobblers also risk the danger of a hunter shortening their lives and ending up in someone’s oven as well.
Their FAQ page does not say that turkeys have such a pea brain that they are the dumbest bird on the planet, but I have heard they are. Their website does dispel the notion that a turkey is so dumb that, when outside during a rain storm, it opens its mouth to look up and swallows so much water it often drowns. So much for that false urban legend.
Getting back to today’s turkey (now all consumed by ravenous Schraders and our relatives) it cost $2.99 a pound dressed (even though they look naked), and took nearly seven hours to cook in the oven.
As an aside, when I see these pesky Canada geese hanging around the local retention ponds all winter, instead of flying south like any other intelligent migratory bird, I wonder if any of them wind up in someone’s cooking pot? Probably not legal to catch and kill a wild goose, but they do need to be thinned out or kept from messing on our sidewalks somehow. I am particularly upset when the windshield of my car is a target for low-flying geese…
I copied a nice posed photo of Robert Howard with his family and turkeys from their webpage and included it here. I’m sure he won’t mind the free publicity….
By Barry Schrader, blog food critic

History Mystery Photos for November 30, 2015

LookoutTower Kallich-
These two photos involve current people and past history. This former English teacher blowing out her birthday candle was well known at DeKalb High School. The other photo shows a lookout tower that is no longer there. See answers at bottom of blog this week

ANSWERS to History Mystery photos above

The woman celebrating her 92nd birthday last summer in Portland, Maine, shown with her son Joel, is Harriett Kallich, a longtime DeKalb teacher and former resident of Oak Crest Retirement Center. She moved away to California around 2010 and then got moved to Maine where her son now works. Her other son John still lives in DeKalb. Joel asked for help in locating an old schoolmate of his, Sally Hakala (married name unknown), who was two years ahead of him at DHS, probably Class of 1970. If you know her whereabouts you can contact Joel at
Harriett is missed at Oak Crest as she led the team that won the Altrusa’s county spelling bee in  2009. I was one of her teammates. She can be reached via email at if you want to send her a message.

The lookout tower was on Route 20 in the northwest part of the state as you drive toward Galena. It had become unsafe and was fenced off for several years, then eventually town down by the state. We had fun climbing part way up for a grand view of the countryside from that lofty elevation in the years it was functioning.

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