Life Story: ‘Caring,’ charitable woman had passion for New Lenox history
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org September 27, 2013 8:04PM
Diane Batson with her brother Mark Batson Sun-Times Media 2008 file photo
Updated: October 30, 2013 6:20AM
Thanks to the research of Diane Batson, the Francis-Walker home on Francis Road in New Lenox is expected to soon become the area’s 10th historic landmark.
It would be a fitting tribute to the woman who made landmarks her legacy.
Ms. Batson died Sept. 5 of cancer. She was 75. Her life and her life’s work are to be celebrated in an 11 a.m. service Oct. 5 at the United Methodist Church of New Lenox, 339 W. Haven Ave.
A retired teacher and librarian, she was remembered as a “great lady,” who was “so intelligent” and “so caring” and never wanted any recognition for herself as she worked tirelessly to landmark many New Lenox-area buildings while also giving charitably and anonymously to those in need, her friends said.
Born and raised in New Lenox, she was passionate about preserving as much of its history as she could.
Through her research efforts, sites that have been designated as Will County landmarks include Schmuhl School, Marshall Cemetery, Francis 4-H Field, the Boy Scout log cabin and Haven School, where she attended grade school.
“Even though she struggled with it for many years, she said, ‘Cancer does not define me.’ She wanted people to remember her landmarks,” said Lori Lindberg, chairman of the New Lenox Area Historical Society.
“She was so passionate about this. She felt it was important to teach children where the town came from,” Lindberg said. “Her memory was unbelievable.
“She was a lifelong lover of literature and history.”
Ms. Batson graduated from Lincoln-Way High School in 1956, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Northwestern University, a master’s degree in Latin from DePaul University, and a master’s degree in library science from Indiana University, according to her brother and sole survivor Mark Batson.
She first taught at Morton East High School in Cicero, and later at Lockport West High School, and was librarian at Wheaton Central and Wheaton-Warrenville high schools.
Mark Batson said they often visited historic sites on family vacations. She and her brother, who is on the Will County Historic Preservation Commission, often worked together researching potential landmarks.
“She was so knowledgeable,” said Virginia Ferry, chairman of the Will County Historic Preservation Commission. “She and Mark would take our rural structure survey (of potentially historic sites) and ride around visiting people, and talk to them about landmarking their building. They knew a lot of people.
“Once you gave Diane an assignment, she did it remarkably well. It was beautifully researched,” she said.
“I met Diane nine years ago, and she was a ‘Joy’ to know,” Ferry said, referring to Ms. Batson’s middle name. “I appreciated her love of preservation. I will certainly miss her.”
Even sites that weren’t landmarked still were significant to Ms. Batson, according to Ron Whitaker, president of the New Lenox Area Historical Society.
Another one of her projects was to create photo/poster displays, entitled “This Place Matters,” which are on display at the New Lenox village hall and the New Lenox Township hall. They also will be displayed at her memorial service.
“She would create one every year, but this year she did two. She must have had a premonition,” Whitaker said.
She also teamed up with Pam Bloom to research the history of the United Methodist Church, and together they were able to document that it was 175 years old, earning it an award from the state of Illinois for churches more than 150 years old.
“The two of them really worked a long time on that,” Whitaker said. “She was a very active and dedicated member of the historical society.”
“Diane was an incredibly generous person. In her own quiet way, she was always thinking of how to help others. You would never know when a gift or donation would arrive,” Bloom said. “That was just the way she was, contributing in whatever way she could.
“Diane’s foresight was amazing; she always knew what someone needed before they even needed it. She never wanted recognition; she just wanted the people around her and the places she loved to be taken care of. The way Diane cared about people was silent but strong. She never wanted to call attention to herself,” Bloom said.
Ms. Batson also was a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Donations in her name may be made to Kids Hope USA at United Methodist Church.