Born in Decatur to Fred and Audrey Hamberg, Shirley had an
opportunity to attend several of the now-gone one-room schoolhouses
that were in our area. They included Bluegrass, Deercreek, Lakeview
As a graduate of Beason High School, Shirley began working for
Avery & Comstock as their accountant. That work lead to her creating
a career and a business helping other area businesses and
individuals with their bookwork. At first, with three small children
-- Frank Jr., Tami and Tanya -- she couldn't afford a baby sitter,
so she operated out of the basement in the home she shared with
her husband, Jack. As her business grew and the children became
older, she opened a storefront and operated an accounting firm for
38 years in Lincoln.
Shirley has always been active in the community. She is a member
of the National Accountants Association, was a 25-year member of
Zonta, is treasurer of the Lincoln Emblem Club and the tourism
board, and serves on the Route 66 Heritage Foundation board as well.
She has been active for decades in the Lincoln/Logan Chamber of
Commerce and has been a chamber ambassador since day one of that
group being formed. Shirley also holds the distinction of being the
first woman director placed on the chamber board.
Perhaps it was chance, but right after Shirley sold her business
and then had a little more free time, she was asked to attend a
meeting regarding the fate of the Postville Courthouse State
Historic Site. Bob Coomer, Illinois Historic Preservation director,
met with 15 local citizens in 1999 to explain that state funding
under then-Gov. George Ryan would no longer be available to keep the
Shirley had not been active in historic preservation but felt
that the site should stay open.
It was through this meeting that Shirley became chairman of a
group of volunteers to man the facility, with the state's only help
being in paying the utilities.
Shirley was quick to state, and said again several times during
the interview, that the 40 volunteers who help man the site should
receive all the credit. But it was, and is, Shirley's organizational
skills and desire to make sure the facility is manned and open as
promised that brings us back to giving her measurable credit for
keeping the site from closing.
Noted Lincoln historian Paul Beaver doesn't feel any need to
hedge on his words. "Shirley Bartelmay saved Postville Courthouse,"
he said. "It's as simple as that."
Tourism director Geoff Ladd said that Shirley and her volunteers
saved the site again just recently by having an organized and
reliable volunteer group in place. "Shirley is the reason that we
were fortunate in keeping Postville Courthouse open when the
governor announced several historic site closings earlier this
year," said Ladd. "I am grateful to her, and our community should be
As Bartelmay talks, her enthusiasm for Postville is catching. "If
we lost the courthouse, I believe it would have a big impact on our
community," she says. "It's a chance for people to enjoy the
history, but not just people from here. We had visitors from 25
foreign countries last year visit us." Shirley says that the foreign
visitors, even if their English isn't that good, are enthused about
Lincoln, and when they visit they want to see and hear everything.
She's also seen that the historic Route 66 revival has helped
Postville. She says that many of those coming in are driving the
When Shirley isn't stressing how important the volunteers are to
the historic site, she spends time giving accolades to the city and
county, as well as the tourism bureau, for their help in keeping the
site attractive and presentable.
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There have been many important additions to the grounds since local
control was turned over by the state. The split rails at the corners
of the grounds were donated by Rotary. There is an 1850s garden out
front that was done by the Lincoln chapter of Master Gardeners.
"Besides being beautiful, those plants actually have a medicinal
value. Back then there were no drugstores and people used plants as
medicine," Shirley explained. It is obvious as she talks about the
garden that she knows every one of the plants and what it was used
She also knows as much about Postville as many a local historian.
And she is the trainer for new volunteers to make sure when visitors
come that they receive the full knowledge of what the site offers.
In their long-term plan the volunteers intend to replace old or
damaged trees with trees that would have been on the grounds in the
1850s, thus adding to the realism of the courthouse grounds.
The best example of Shirley's love and enthusiasm for Postville
is perhaps the story of the rocking chair that is now prominently
displayed on the first floor. It was owned by Illinois state Sen.
Maldon Jones, who was good friends with Lincoln. Often, Lincoln
would stay at Jones' home, and Abe enjoyed the oversized rocker that
made allowance for his long legs.
For two years, Shirley and the great-great-grandson of the
senator were in communication about Postville obtaining the rocker.
"But I had to explain to him that we had no funds and couldn't pay
for it," she said. "Then one day he called and said they had moved
to Missouri, had no room for the chair and no one in the family
asked for it. He said we could have it if we wanted it. So Jack and
I got in the truck and went and got it, and now it's ours forever."
Although Shirley's office on Kickapoo Street has a volunteer
calendar that shows who works what day for the next several months,
it is obvious from the conversation that when someone can't keep
their date, which is often, Shirley fills the void. She also handles
many of the groups that come to see Postville and mentioned that
this week a group from Peoria and another from Indiana were coming
Shirley explained the philosophy of the volunteer group clearly.
"We need to have a positive attitude with visitors. We tell the
story of Postville and stay away from state issues. That (the
state's problems) isn't what we are there for. Our compensation is
the satisfaction of giving a good tour and people leaving feeling
happy that they stopped."
Shirley Bartelmay and volunteers have now saved Postville
Courthouse -- twice.
As some compensation for all their time and labor, LDN names
Shirley Bartelmay and all those who help keep Postville Courthouse
open as our Personalities of the Week.