The Downers Grove community is mourning the loss of a woman who was one of the village’s biggest cheerleaders and actively campaigned to preserve its history.
Kathy Nybo, a founding member of The Friends of the Edwards House, died July 28.
While the preservation group’s initial efforts to prevent the demolition of the renowned 1892 Queen Anne-style Edwards House on historic Maple Avenue for a condominium development were unsuccessful, today, because of Nybo and The Friends, 27 structures in Downers Grove have been designated as landmarks. They include dozens of homes, two train stations and a cemetery.
“The Edwards House was quite a big issue in Downers Grove and it was Kathy and her son, Tommy, who got everyone together and said, ‘Don’t tear that house down,’ ” said Christine Martin, who co-chairs the Friends of the Edwards House with fellow resident Irene Hogstrom. “We were up against a lot of big money and did lose that house, but the silver lining is that because of what Kathy and Tommy did, we stuck together. And we named it The Friends of the Edwards House because we all were actually friends.”
In 2024, the nonprofit will celebrate a decade of existence.
“Kathy was part of the glue that held us together,” Martin said. “And she’s just missed so dearly.”
Over the years, The Friends has received numerous accolades for its work, including landing the Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Award for advocacy in 2017.
Martin lauded Nybo’s passion.
“I met Kathy at one of those first meetings for the Edwards House and I liked her right away because she was confident and seemed to know the right thing to do,” she said. “I respected her immediately. The village has, as all towns do, expanded, but when that happens, you can also lose sight of the core of what a village was and its history and beautiful architecture and then it becomes just another town that looks like the next town. Kathy was a big proponent of at least saving a significant amount of homes in the village.”
She affectionately referred to Nybo as “my Pollyanna.”
“She was a beautiful person and optimistic and always looked for the positive side of life,” Martin said. “I’m a realist and I learned from Kathy to try and look on the bright side of things.”
Hogstrom echoed that sentiment.
“Kathy was always so upbeat,” Hogstrom said. “I think what I miss most is her can-do attitude about things. After we lost the Edwards House, Kathy said, ‘Let’s try and landmark the other houses and buildings and preserve what we can. Let’s not give up.’ She and Tommy were always talking about what could be saved next.”
Nybo’s passions weren’t limited to historic preservation. She doted on her family, which includes her husband of 52 years, Tom Nybo; their three children and spouses, Tina and Spike Welch, Tommy and Sheri Nybo, and John and Sarah Tafoya Nybo; and their four grandchildren, Jake and Lily Welch and Christian and Jack Nybo.
“She basically supported any ideas and hobbies me, my sister and brother were into growing up,” Tommy Nybo said. “And she was like a mom to everybody. If you didn’t have a mom, my mom was there.”
“You never knew who was going to be sleeping on our porch in the morning,” Tom Nybo said. “She took people in if they needed help and let them live with us.”
“If there was something anyone needed, she was there,” Tina Welch said. “And she was absolutely devoted to her grandchildren. This is a huge loss for our family.”
Tommy Nybo is grateful to his mother for sparking his interest in preservation.
“We used to do architectural tours, so she got me into historical preservation at a young age,” he said. “She definitely drove us all to appreciate architecture, the arts and music. We are very much an artsy kind of family because of her.”
Nybo, who had lived in Downers Grove since 1973, also volunteered with the Downers Grove Historical Society, was an avid quilter and decorated member of the Faithful Circle Quilters Guild. She also worked for the village of Downes Grove planning community events.
Her family said she especially enjoyed organizing the annual Heritage Fest and Fourth of July parade.
“Her focus for the parade was to bring as many bands in to participate that the budget would allow,” Tommy Nybo said. “She’d find bands from other states to come in. She loved bagpipes, so one year there were five or six bagpipe bands in the parade because of how many she got to come.”
“She loved Downers Grove and wanted the town to have the best parades and the best festivals,” Welch said.
During her time as treasurer for the Faithful Circle Quilters Guild, Nybo researched and procured tax-exempt status that still is in place today. Nybo also spearheaded the group’s involvement in the Illinois Quilt Research Project, which registered quilts owned and made by Illinoisans.
Many who knew Nybo also knew of her reverence for one rock band in particular.
“She loved The Beatles,” Tom Nybo said.
“She knew all about them,” Martin said. “She told me she had gone to a few Beatles concerts in the 1960s and at one she was in the fourth row and John Lennon winked at her. Kathy said it was weeks before she could stop talking about it.”
Nybo also loved making photo albums and helping customers at her daughter’s business, D’Lara Photography, a downtown Downers Grove staple for more than a decade, according to her obituary.
Growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago, she was the oldest of 10 siblings.
“When she moved to Downers Grove, she really embraced it and I think that’s why she really wanted to kind of preserve it,” Hogstrom said. “She just really loved Downers Grove.”
A celebration of life is being held for Nybo this month. In lieu of flowers, those who knew her are encouraged to plant a maple tree on their property in remembrance as she eagerly awaited the changing of colors each fall.