Yearlong delay doesn’t dampen Grayslake spirit as village celebrates 125th birthday

Variety of events help residents old and new mark milestone for town

GRAYSLAKE – Delayed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grayslake’s 125th birthday celebration took on added meaning this year.

Village pride has been on full display this summer during a series of Celebrate Grayslake 125+1 events.

From a street party to a history trail to a living history presentation to the village’s Summer Days and Color Aloft Balloon festivities, celebration after celebration took on a happy birthday theme.

All created that feeling of community that longtime residents say thrives in Grayslake.

“Especially after it being canceled in 2020, we almost appreciated it more,” said Steve Lawrence, president of the Grayslake Chamber of Commerce. “It just made everything really special.”

Community leaders and staff from the village, Chamber, Heritage Center and Museum and the Grayslake Historical Society and Museum, as well as longtime and new residents, all came together in celebration of a village they call home.

Born and raised in Grayslake, Lawrence said each event has been well-attended, with the village’s unique downtown serving as a central gathering point.

One of the final events for Celebrate Grayslake 125+1 is the Grayslake Craft Beer Festival, scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 18 in the village’s downtown. Tickets purchased for the canceled 2020 festival can be used for this year’s event. Along with a sampling of craft beers, the festival features live music and food. For tickets and information, visit

Two years in the making, Celebrate Grayslake 125+1 was highly anticipated and has involved businesses and restaurants throughout the village, said Michelle Anderson, engagement and promotions coordinator for the village of Grayslake.

“People have been very excited about it,” she said. “I think now more than ever it means even more to the community. … Everybody has been really great at being able to pivot.”

The name for Celebrate Grayslake 125+1 kind of started as a joke, said Michelle Poe, executive director of the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum.

When events were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, community leaders joked that they should write “+1” on a Post-it and put it on top of Celebrate 125. The suggestion actually was incorporated into the design of the celebration’s logo this year, Poe said.

“We had all of these plans for last year,” she said. “It’s been so great to get the opportunity to celebrate this year.”

Along with the festivities, organizers asked residents to make suggestions on how they think Grayslake will look in 25 or 50 years. Ideas included everything from flying cars to ensuring that The Freeze [a fast-food restaurant] is still around, Poe said.

For Poe and others involved in the village’s history, the celebration has represented more than just festivities.

“It’s an opportunity to look at our past and look at our present and think about what we’re going to look like in the future,” she said.

On Aug. 17, the late Doug Rockenbach was recognized as the recipient of the first History Maker Award sponsored by the Heritage Center Foundation. Rockenbach was owner of Rockenbach Chevrolet for more than 50 years and served as commander of the American Legion Post 659. Rockenbach Chevrolet was founded in 1925.

At an Aug. 19 official Celebrate Grayslake 125+1 kickoff, costumed actors from the Grayslake Historical Society put on a living history presentation. Community leaders raised a newly designed village of Grayslake flag and opened a time capsule that was sealed during Grayslake’s centennial in 1995.

Community leaders asked for donations for a new time capsule and received items such as the 2020 Little Miss Village of Grayslake’s sash, information from PFLAG, a Grayslake Exchange Club yo-yo, a Celebrate Grayslake 125 hat, a mug, T-shirt and more.

The time capsule will feature Grayslake’s new flag, designed this year to better reflect the village, Poe said. Once featuring a man on a horse, the new flag contains an outline of the village hall, the smokestack from the now-defunct gelatin factory and a water tower. A symbolic line on the flag contains a silhouette of some of the buildings on Center Street in downtown Grayslake.

The celebration of Grayslake has touched on every aspect of the village, from downtown businesses to the people shaping its history.

A Grayslake history trail invited residents to celebrate the anniversary with a stroll or bike ride to 25 buildings and landmarks. Those who visited all 25 locations on the trail earned $100 in Chamber Bucks, money that can be used at any Grayslake business.

A book published by the Grayslake Historical Society, “Stories of Grayslake,” features 126 stories told by former and current Grayslake residents and a few black-and-white historical photographs.

“I just think Grayslake residents should be proud the village was able to pull together a celebration during these trying times,” said Charlotte Renehan, president of the Grayslake Historical Society. “I have had the opportunity to experience three historic celebrations in the village of Grayslake, the Golden Jubilee, the Centennial and now 125+1. Each one had a different flavor. The flavors seem to change as the demographics of Grayslake change. To me, the celebrations are helping the newer residents of the village understand the past that has been created.”