Early records of the Lake County Chapter are almost non-existent. It was reported Lake County engineers first began meeting between 1924 and 1926. These meetings, mostly social events where stories were swapped and business contacts were made, were held informally about once a month at various places around Lake County. This was the era of prohibition and the meetings were sometimes held in speakeasies. Minutes of these meetings were not kept.
Professor H. E. Babbit, of the University of Illinois, attended some of the meetings and was a key figure in establishing a formal organization of the Lake County Chapter of the ISPE. The following article appeared in the January 1931 issue of the “Illinois Engineer”.
“Lake County Organizes a Chapter”
“Organization of the Lake County Chapter of the ISPE and the adoption of a Constitution, which will be presented at the Annual Meeting, is the best news of the month. W. D. Gerber, representing the Board of Direction of the Society, was present at the organization meeting in Waukegan, at which the Chapter was formally organized, and B. P. Thacker was elected President, and Joseph Biagi was elected Secretary. It is expected that news items of Waukegan will be frequent and will keep our other Chapters busy maintaining the pace of activities.”
Nothing can be found to show when the Constitution and By-Laws Committee made its report and when formal action was taken to issue a Charter. At the January 1931 Annual Meeting, B. P. Thacker was listed as a member of the State Board of Direction, by virtue of being the President of themLake County Chapter. The same listing for Mr. Thacker appears for the 1932 Board. The Charter members of the new chapter were as follows:
News of the Chapter next appears in the April 1932 issue of the “Illinois Engineer”. “The past month’s most significant event was the perfection of the organization of the Lake County Chapter. The Chapter was duly installed by President Fixmer and Secretary Babbit, on the evening of March 26th, before a brilliant gathering of Lake County engineers, their friends and wives. Presidents Fixmer and Thacker spoke on the condition of the Chapter, the Society, and the welfare of Illinois engineers. The prospects for a live and effective Chapter in Lake County promised no good for the continued existence of incompetents in public office, and promised much for the welfare of engineers. The entertainment of the evening was furnished by Secretary Babbit who spoke on the subject of modern Manchuria.”
Early meetings were held at the Waukegan City Hall, located in the Higley Building, which was at the site of the present City Hall. A new mayor was elected who moved the City Hall to the second floor of a building, which he owned, on the southwest corner of Washington Street and Utica Street(now known as Martin Luther King Avenue). The Chapter meetings were then held in these second floor offices because the first floor contained a printing establishment. As members became more affluent, they met at the Waukegan Hotel and at the Karcher Hotel. During the late 1940’s and until the early 1960’s, the monthly meetings were held at the Swedish Glee Club, then at Hank’s Supper Club on Skokie Highway, and finally at the Parkway Restaurant. By this time, the membership had grown to over 100. It is unknown when McHenry County was included in the Chapter boundaries. Prior to 1955, local chapters did not have chapter membership dues. Consequently, officers and Board of Directors were elected from engineering firm owners who supplied the services required to maintain the Chapter needs. The assessment of $1.00 per year dues, to pay expenses, enabled younger more aggressive members to serve as leaders in the chapter. They soon gained a reputation in the ISPE and were referred to as the “Young Turks of Lake County”.
A cast iron podium, used by speakers at the Chapter functions, was made at the North Chicago Foundry by a Chapter member, who was employed at the firm. The ISPE and the NSPE shields, as well as “Lake County Chapter” are cast into its face. The State Society office also was given a similar casting containing the ISPE and the NSPE shields. It was displayed on the front entrance of the ISPE office, in the College of Engineering, at the University of Illinois, and again on the front entrance of the ISPE office in Springfield, from 1957 until 2004, when the building was sold.
During this period of time, one of the members was appointed to the task of obtaining a Lake County Chapter banner. This member, (rumored to be John Hooper), selected the purple and white colors of his alma mater, Northwestern, as a coup over the members who were graduates of other schools and especially over the graduates of the University of Illinois. All the other Chapters in Illinois have banners reflecting the navy blue and gold colors of the ISPE.
The Lake County Chapter hosted the 1956 Annual Meeting of the ISPE at the Moraine Hotel in Highland Park. This meeting marked the first time the State Society was not required to substantially subsidize the meeting. The Chapter sold advertising space in the program and invited venders to set up booths and exhibit their products. Expenses were high ($1,200) but a net profit of $2,600 was generated and retained by the Chapter. In 1957, the ISPE offices were moved from the University of Illinois, to Springfield, and profits from the Annual Meeting, from that point on, were used to cover expenses of the State Society.
Events and traditions have changed over the years. A Golf Outing and Steak Fry was first held at Foss Park in 1961. From 1965 through 1986, it was held at Irwin “Irv” Lietzke’s home, on Bonnie Brook Lane, near the Bonnie Brook Golf Course, in Waukegan. The Vice President was responsible for planning the menu and obtaining the aged 16 oz steaks. The President grilled the steaks and awarded the prizes. Prizes for outstanding player performance were awarded: Low Score, Longest Drive, Longest Putt, and Nearest To The Pin. The membership realized there was more than one way for a player to stand out and added the Most Honest Golfer Award – High Score. The Golf Outing was then held at other places around the county but has not been an annual event since 2000. An Interprofessional Meeting of engineers, doctors, nurses, and lawyers, was held from 1960 through 1978. A Children’s Party, for the member’s families, was held in December each year until 1982. The Chapter had an Engineering Information Booth at the Lake County Fair from 1979 until 1983. It was replaced by participation in the Career Fair, at the College of Lake County. In 1979, the Lake County Chapter changed the beginning of the fiscal year from January 1st to June 1st to coincide with the ISPE fiscal year.
A committee was formed in 1984 to host the 1988 ISPE AnnualConference in Lake County. After four years of planning, the Chapter hosted an exceptional Conference at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Resort. The theme was “Class of 88”, and featured a classroom atmosphere for the seminars, a cafeteria style dinner, a “50’s” style sock hop with a disc jockey, the ISPE’s first Talent Show, and a Prom Night to remember.
The Lake County Chapter has been particularly active in the area of scholarships, having established the Melvin E. Amstutz Memorial Award in 1972 and the Melvin E. Luke Scholarship Award in 1982. The Amstutz Award, administrated by the ISPE, is given annually to an outstanding junior in an Illinois engineering college. The Luke Award, administered by the Lake County Chapter, is given to an outstanding high school graduate, from Lake or McHenry Counties, who will be entering an engineering college. Over the years, the Chapter has promoted programs and organizations such as the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS), the Test of Engineering Aptitude in Mathematics and Science (TEAMS), for high school students; a NSPE Student Chapter for College of Lake County students; and MATHCOUNTS, a program for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. Much of the success of these programs can be attributed to the College of Lake County and its staff, who have supported the Chapter activities. The Lake Michigan Post of the Society of American Military Engineers has volunteered their support for the MATHCOUNTS programs at the Chapter and State Competitions since 2002.
We are proud of the traditional involvement that our Chapter has in community activities, particularly those that encourage students of all ages to enter the engineering profession. The Lake County Chapter was the first in Illinois to welcome a woman into their membership. In 1990 we were pleased to elect a woman as the 60th President of the Chapter. In 2005, a woman from Illinois became the President of the National Society of Professional Engineers. Over the decades, we have adapted to meet the needs of our membership and of the public welfare. Communication to the membership and to the public has evolved from word of mouth, brochures, newsletters, telephone, and fax, to e-mail and web sites. We have embraced, and welcomed new technology, new ideas, and a new diversified membership, which have all combined to create a better world for everyone.