The Oswegoland Heritage Association Board of Directors honored Bob Stekl with the association’s highest honor, the Mary Cutter Bickford Award for Excellence in Local History at their May 27 meeting.
Stekl retired from the board in 2019 after more than 18 years’ service, and as a museum volunteer in 2020 after 20 years’ service.
The award, named for lifelong Oswego resident and local historian, the late Mary Cutter Bickford, is presented to recognize truly outstanding efforts to preserve Oswego area history. Mary Bickford’s collection of hundreds of photographs, documents, and books and ledgers formed the basis for the Little White School Museum’s archival collection that currently stands at more than 31,000 items.
Stekl is the seventh winner of the heritage association’s most prestigious award. Previous winners wereJohn Hafenrichter, Ted Clauser, Helen Zamata, Stephanie “Stevie” Todd, Glenn Young, and Cathi Mundsinger.
Even before joining the board, Stekl worked as a volunteer, helping catalog the museum’s collections, entering his first item in the museum’s database in September 2000.
He was elected to the Oswegoland Heritage Association Board of Directors in May 2001, and served until he decided not to seek reelection in 2019. He was appointed assistant museum director shortly after he began volunteering, a position he held until 2020. In addition, he served as heritage association treasurer from 2015 to 2019.
As one of the museum’s key volunteers, Stekl was responsible for cataloging 56 percent of its collection, which currently stands at 31,877 artifacts, archival items, and photographs.
During his 18 years on the board, Stekl was responsible for obtaining two major grants for the OHA that provided funds to safely store our huge textile collection. Stekl not only applied for and was responsible for obtaining the grant funds, but he also coordinated the purchase of the textile shelving, disassembled the old shelving, erected the new shelving and moved the collection to its new home.
Stekl was also responsible for initiating and gradually expanding the museum’s annual “Remembering our Veterans” exhibit. The exhibit started small, with just a single day devoted to it and Stekl coordinating with various reenactment groups who enlivened the exhibit for the first few years. By his last year as exhibit organizer and coordinator, he was spending uncounted hours overseeing staff and volunteers as they assembled the exhibit, organizing special events such as an Oswego Chamber of Commerce coffee to introduce them to the museum and the exhibit, and greeting guests.
He was also responsible for urging area veterans to donate their uniforms, photos, and other military memorabilia to the museum’s collections leading to what is today arguably the largest such collection at a small museum in Illinois.
When the OHA Board voted to undertake a major renovation and re-imagining of the Little White School Museum’s exhibit gallery in 2017, Stekl played a major role in helping plan the new exhibit space, and then spent hours helping select and collect artifacts and other materials used to create the exhibit.
“During the past 20 years, Bob’s done it all, from leading youth field trips through the museum to curating and mounting exhibits, to maintaining and maximizing the museum’s storage areas,” noted Roger Matile, museum director. “Bob’s legacy in assuring the preservation of Oswegoland’s rich history will be visible to everyone who visits the Little White School Museum for decades to come.”