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Lombard Man Helps Breathe Life into Kline Creek Farm

Image © Daniel White, Daily Herald

By Robert Sanchez
The Daily Herald 

Keith McClow's job title is education site manager of Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago. But it may as well be time traveler.

Because each morning, he dons a costume and assumes the role of an 1890s farmer at the living-history museum in the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve.

McClow is one of six full-time employees who -- along with the help of about 90 volunteers -- operate the working farm while educating roughly 70,000 visitors a year about DuPage County's agricultural roots.

"I very much like museums," the 49-year-old Lombard resident said. "I also like people being able to get involved. Kline Creek combines the two."

Purchased by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District in 1969, the Kline Creek site has original and reproduction structures to create a realistic turn-of-the-century farm. The farmhouse, for example, was built in the 1880s.

Wearing button-fly pants, suspenders, a linen shirt, a wool vest, reproduction boots and a wide-brim straw hat, McClow looks every bit the 1890s farmer.

As part of his job, he must do all the same tasks those farmers did, including working the fields and helping to care for horses, sheep and other animals.

Not bad for a self-described third generation suburbanite who started as a volunteer about 20 years ago with no farming experience.

"It has been a real treat to learn everything that I've learned," McClow said. "I have a history background by education. But it's very different to read something in the book than to actually get out there when it's 95 degrees and make it happen."

After serving as director of the Glen Ellyn Historical Society, McClow joined the Kline Creek staff as a naturalist about 15 years ago.

He says he enjoys working in a forest preserve and helping people understand where our food supply comes from. "They can learn about something that they're losing touch with," he said.

While staff members and volunteers have chores around the farm, McClow said they're always willing to stop and chat with visitors.

"What we do first is we try to engage them in whatever we're doing," McClow said. "We try to get them interested or involved. Once they get a taste, they come back with lots of questions."

One question kids frequently ask is if the various animals on the farm have names.

"We do name our horses because we need to communicate with them as we're working," McClow said. "But we don't name our other animals because they're here for a purpose. They're not pets."

See Daily Herald video on McClow.

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