The Story of The Big Barn Preschool
The Big Barn Preschool, located at 888 S. Roselle Road in Schaumburg, IL, was begun in 2007, but it has a history that goes back many years. Before the building housed a church and preschool, it housed cattle and other animals. It was an actual barn on a working farm. Although it is not clear exactly when the farm first started, it is known to have existed before 1913. At that time it was home to Guernsey dairy cows. It was around that time that a man named Levy Mayer bought the farm. Mr. Meyer was a prominent Chicago attorney and real estate mogul. Most notably he was part owner of the Stratford Hotel in Chicago. It was from that hotel that came the inspiration for the rural property’s new name, “Stratford Farm”. These two properties shared more than just their names. They also had a unique reciprocal relationship. Each day food waste from the hotel would be sent via train the farm to feed the pigs. Likewise, chicken, eggs, and milk from the farm would be sent to the hotel to be used in their kitchen.
Levy Mayer was not the only famous Chicagoan to own the Stratford Farm. After having been sold two more times, it had a new life as a ranch to the famous big band leader and television personality Wayne King (known as America’s Waltz King) who bought it in 1951. He built the sprawling ranch house in front of the barn which now contains the Gifts of the World gift shop and Transitions Counseling Center. During those years the area was still rural, believe it or not, and this was Mr. King’s country retreat. It was here he rehearsed with his band in the house’s large living room and here, it is said, that he even recorded some of his records. He used the barn for a different kind of cattle called Black Angus which are bred for beef. The stalls for these massive animals were in the section of the barn that is now the preschool and the upper level, in what is now the church sanctuary, was the haymow where hay was stored to feed them.
Years later, in 1988, the house was being used as a home and chiropractor’s office and the barn was neglected and deteriorating when the property was purchased by Christ Community Mennonite Church. For over 10 years, the house served as the church building, but this young small congregation hoped that something could be made of the historic barn, one of only a couple left in the community that had been settled long ago by farmers from Schaumburg, Germany. The church had several engineering studies done to determine if the barn was structurally sound enough to be renovated. The good news came back that the project was plausible and in 2000 the renovations began.
The vision for what could be grew out of Mennonite beliefs. In addition to providing a place for worship and Sunday school, it was also important to serve the community in whatever ways the church could. Because the need for safe, wholesome, and affordable preschools is always a concern and because there is nothing more precious than our children, the choice was made. The idea for The Big Barn Preschool was born.
But first there was a barn to renovate. Architect Jeff Whyte of Schaumburg created for us a design that was not only good and practical, but also beautiful. A call for help went out and, in true Mennonite fashion, people came together to “raise a barn”. A Mennonite men’s organization awarded $50,000 to the church to help with the building project. A Semi-retired Mennonite building contractor in Albany, Oregon volunteered to come to Schaumburg to be the Project Manager. He spent nearly three years supervising the work. And then there were more volunteers. People from the local community as well as others from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Kansas came to help as well. It was a big job, but in 2005 our doors opened and a very old barn had a new lease on life.
Now we could get down to organizing a preschool. A board was formed of persons who shared the vision. I was important that this non-profit enterprise would be affordable for families and that our staff would be outstanding. We looked forward to welcoming children from all religious, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. We would treat them and teach them to treat others with respect and caring, and how to resolve conflicts with peaceful solutions, as is the Mennonite way. All the children would be given a head start in life both academically and socially in a nurturing environment to help them ultimately achieve their full potential. As we approach our 10th anniversary, we are blessed to say that The Big Barn Preschool is everything we had hoped it to be and more. We thank God for blessing the development of The Big Barn and for all the persons: staff, board, and volunteers, who have helped to make it such a wonderful place for children.