Rochelle News-Leader | Norm Skare and an oasis of wilderness
“I always wondered how a real estate agent could buy a farm and put a whole town on it,” he said. “I don’t think that’s fair. When we got here, there was only one other house in the whole neighborhood. Now there is a subdivision across the street. I guess I could have gotten a good price for this place, but when I was young I used to walk through those lovely woods along Kyte Creek with its clear water and think, “A day, it would make a good park.”
So said Norman Lincoln Skare. In the late 1800s, John and Martha Skare left Norway for the United States of America. They finally settled in La Rochelle where they raised their family.
John was an excavator, he dug trenches. John laid some of the first water and sewer lines in our community. John once said that he shoveled dirt on all the roads in Rochelle. Norman Lincoln Skare was born on July 22, 1904 in La Rochelle. Norm attended Lincoln School and often said his class went to the train tracks to see the Theodore Roosevelt train.
It was 1929 when John and Martha bought their farm west of Rochelle. The farm was located along an old wagon trail that went west from Rochelle and crossed Kyte Creek. Today, the farm would stand at the intersection of Flagg Road and Skare Road, on the northwest corner.
The family of six (three sons and a daughter) occupied a small house on 38 acres of mostly wooded land. Martha died in 1948, her husband John had predeceased her as well as a son and a daughter. The two remaining sons were Robert and Norman.
Robert lived in Rockford and Norm still lived on the family farm. Norm worked for many years at Rochelle Canning. He also took care of the farm. Norm never married, but his farm had raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, plums, apples, pears and peaches. The ability to pick your own while strolling through 38 wooded acres has been a real draw for Rochelle city dwellers.
As the area grew, Norm’s became a magnet for young children eager to explore and challenge nature’s adventures. Norm allowed young boys and girls to camp on his land, spending the night in the wilderness provided by the wooded terrain. In the morning, he might offer apple cider or fresh honey from his hives.
Over time, an aging Norm Skare lived his life as he always had. He cut wood to heat his house in winter, he went out to pump water by hand for cleaning and cooking. The food was cooked on one of two wood stoves.
The standard allowed electricity. He liked to listen to the radio. At one point Norm had a television, but it broke down and he never got it fixed.
The white and red oaks growing on Norm’s farm have made the area an oasis of wilderness in a sea of soybeans and corn. The Flagg-Rochelle Park District purchased approximately 280 acres from the Macklin brothers with the intention of establishing a park. Norm liked the idea of a large rural park that residents could enjoy for years to come.
It was in 1972 that Norm donated his 38 acres to the park district. With land in the area selling for up to $15,000 an acre, the property value could be over $500,000. Norm agreed to donate the land but reserved the right to live on the farm until the time of his death.
To date, Norm Skare holds the record for the largest donation ever made to the park district. The park district returned the favor. As Norm grew older and found it increasingly difficult to live on his own, the Park District came to his aid. Park employees would check on Norm’s well-being and attend to all of his needs. They cut and stacked wood while making sure it was healthy. In 1988 Norm died and the Park District developed the area, but only minimally. In 1997 a small Norm Skare Museum was added, using an existing corn shed. Trees remain with a small disc golf course running through the property.
Even today, walking past or walking through the trees in Skare Park, you can almost hear Norm say, “Come back, and if you see spring, bring it.”
Tom McDermott is a historian at the Flagg Township Museum and a Rochelle town councillor.