Norm Skare and an oasis of wilderness

Tom McDermott

“I always wondered how a real estate man could buy up a farm and put a whole city on it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right. When we first came out here there was just one other house in the whole area. Now there is a subdivision across the street. I guess I could have gotten a good price for this place, but when I was young, I used to walk in these pretty woods along Kyte Creek with its clear water and think, ‘Someday this would make a good park.’”

So said Norman Lincoln Skare. At the end of the 1800s, John and Martha Skare moved from Norway to the United States of America. They finally settled in Rochelle where they raised their family.

John was an excavator, he dug trenches. John laid some of the first water and sewer lines in our community. John once said that he had shoveled dirt on every road in Rochelle. Norman Lincoln Skare was born on July 22, 1904 in Rochelle. Norm attended Lincoln School and often commented that his class walked down to the railroad tracks to see the Theodore Roosevelt train.

It was 1929 when John and Martha purchased their farm west of Rochelle. The farm was located along an old wagon trail that ran west from Rochelle and intersected Kyte Creek. Today the farm would be at the intersection of Flagg Road and Skare Road on the northwest corner.

The family of six (three sons and one daughter) occupied a small house on 38 acres of mostly wooded land. Martha passed in 1948, her husband John had preceded her in death as had one son and a daughter. The remaining two sons were Robert and Norman.

Robert lived in Rockford and Norm still dwelt at the family farm. Norm worked many years at Rochelle Canning. He also tended to the farm. Norm never married but his farm featured raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, plums, apples, pears and peaches. The chance to pick your own while walking through 38 wooded acres was quite the draw to Rochelle’s city folk.

As the area grew, Norm’s became a magnet for young children to explore and challenge the adventures of nature. Norm allowed young boys and girls to camp on his land, spending the night in the wilds offered by the wooded land. In the morning he might offer apple cider or some fresh honey from his bee hives.

As time passed, an aging Norm Skare lived his life as he always had. He chopped wood to heat his home in the winter, he walked outside to hand pump water for cleaning and cooking. Food was cooked on one of the two wood stoves.

Norm did allow electricity. He enjoyed listening to the radio. At one time Norm had a television but it broke down and he never had it fixed.

The white and red oaks growing on Norm’s farm made the area an oasis of wilderness in a sea of soy beans and corn. The Flagg-Rochelle Park District purchased about 280 acres from the Macklin brothers with the intention of creating a park. Norm loved the thought of a large rural park for the people of the are to enjoy for years to come.

It was in 1972 that Norm donated his 38 acres to the park district. With land in the area selling for up to $15,000 an acre, the value of the property could be more than $500,000. Norm agreed to give the land but reserved the right to live at the farm until the time of his death.

To date, Norm Skare holds the record for the largest donation ever to the park district. The park district returned the favor. As Norm aged and had more and more difficulty living on his own, the park district came to his aide. Park employees would check on Norm’s welfare and see to any needs he might have. They chopped and stacked wood while making sure he was in good health. In 1988, Norm passed, and the park district developed the area, but only minimally. In 1997, a small Norm Skare Museum was added, utilizing an existing corn shed. The trees remain with a small disc golf course threaded through the property.

Even today, when driving by or walking through the trees at Skare Park, one can almost hear Norm say, “Come again, and if you see spring, bring it along.” 

Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and Rochelle city councilman.