ROCHELLE — The Vagabond was a place like no other in Rochelle, known to attract people from miles away for its resort-like atmosphere and music scene.
A special event, “Remembering the Vagabond,” will be held on Saturday, April 21 at Hickory Grove at 6:30 p.m. where guests can share stories and memories of an era gone by. The evening will also include the Big Band sound of “Class Act II,” a 19-piece band reminiscent of the music played at The Vagabond in its hey day.
The event is also a fundraiser with the proceeds benefiting the curb appeal renovations at Hickory Grove.
Guests are welcome to bring pictures and memorabilia and to share in the nostalgia.
Robin Gounaris, event organizer, said several years ago she established a social media page and people quickly started sharing their stories. Many were former employees while others talked about the pools and the fun atmosphere.
“The Vagabond was a big deal back then. It was a resort…people came from Chicago to be out here,” Gounaris said. “There were a lot of different people…it was the place to be. Everybody came here to dance.”
Gounaris, along with co-organizer Naomi Baldwin, said many people have expressed an interest in an event where people can gather and share stories. Gounaris also said one of the first things everyone remembers is the big band sound, dressing up, and going dancing.
“There’s so many people that worked at the Vagabond at one point,” Baldwin said. “I’ve had people talk to me about it before, and a couple friends kept saying we should plan an event. It’s going to be fun…we started talking to people about it and they are getting excited. People have bought tickets, some from Chicago, Wisconsin, and Rockford too as well as the local area.”
The “Return to Vagabond” Facebook page is a testament to the memories of days gone by. Di Swanson said she worked at the front desk in the early 70s, and also as hostess for special events. “So many great memories,” she said.
“1976 through 1980 were hopping at the bar and the dance floor. Lots of great memories,” said Kathy Askvig Prideaux.
“Loved working at the Vagabond! Worked hard and have lots of good memories!! Worked with a great group of people!!” said Kathy Esposito Gates.
The memories continued to flow, not only about the Vagabond but also about the band, “Dave Major and the Minors,” which provided the music many enjoyed for years.
“So many worked here, whether as a bartender, waitress, cook, busboy, or maid,” Gounaris said. “I think it’s so cool to see in all of the pictures how it looked back then compared to how it is now.”
Gounaris has many memories swimming in the pools during her high school years. She owns Abraham’s Bar and Grille and began assembling the history of the building a few years ago, and has pictures displayed in the lobby area in Hickory Grove.
“Because it was a big resort, everybody has memories. The community could sign up and be a member of the indoor and outdoor pool. I have a lot of memories in high school swimming in the outdoor pool,” Gounaris said. “The building’s history has always intrigued me…I hung out here as a kid and now I’m here with the restaurant. Sometimes I’ll try and remember where things were, but it has been remodeled and rooms have been moved around.”
History of the Vagabond Inn
John Tilton purchased the 5-acre property for $80,000 in 1954 when it was a motel and a separate restaurant. Tilton constructed a building over the two to connect them but in 1970 a fire destroyed the restaurant. In 1982 the building had another fire, which started in the attic area that quickly spread through the roof and ceilings. After the second fire, the insurance company reportedly wouldn’t insure if it were rebuilt using wood. Tilton had the building constructed with thick concrete walls several feet thick.
Some of names of the rooms people might remember are the Concord Room, New Orleans Room, Fiesta Room, Kanaka Room, and the wine cellar.
The “Remembering the Vagabond” will be held on Saturday, April 21 at Hickory Grove at 6:30 p.m., starting with Hors d’oeuvres. There will also be a champagne fountain. Music by “Class Act” begins at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $30, and a table for 8 is $240. Tickets are available at Abraham’s and at Colonial Flowers. Tickets at the door are $35. For more information, please call 815-562-5668.
Gounaris said everyone is welcome to share in the memories.
“We would like to invite people to come and remember, come for conversation,” Gounaris said. “Bring your pictures and your stories. Come out for a night, dress up and come out and dance. We will have champagne and appetizers.”
Baldwin also said it will be a night to share stories and reminisce.
“Things that bring back memories…people like that. It’s nostalgic, reminiscing…the whole evening is going to be all about that. Everybody’s going to have fun doing it,” she added.