It is common for staff at Allerton Park and Retreat Center to hear stories from visitors who have fond memories of the 1,500-acre park, which was donated to the University of Illinois by Robert Allerton in 1946. But a history like that of the late Jane Gregg Schowalter is not one they hear very often.
Donations made to Allerton in memory of Jane have been used to restore the former bedroom of her uncle, John Gregg Allerton, the decades-long companion and legally adopted son of Robert Allerton. John Gregg’s brother Scranton was Jane’s dad, making Jane one of the only direct family members of John and Robert Allerton.
Allerton’s Associate Director of Advancement Bridget Frerichs recalls visiting with Jane and her husband Bill Schowalter in November 2019, when Jane lived in a memory care facility near the Schowalter’s home in Princeton, NJ.
“Honestly, it was kind of like meeting a celebrity,” recalls Frerichs. “I was so thankful to be able to sit and talk with Jane. It was amazing to hear her and Bill reminisce not only about her uncle John, but about her time volunteering at Allerton and role in starting the Holiday Showcase in the 90s.”
The later Allerton connection occurred when Bill Schowalter returned to his alma mater, University of Illinois, to serve as the Dean of Engineering (1989-2001), and Jane’s family ties naturally led her to the Monticello-area park.
The Allerton connection was present even when the Schowalters were living in Princeton, where Bill had become an assistant professor in 1957. Bill fondly remembered a visit from John and Robert in the early 1960’s, recalling that the visitors were formal but quite cordial, even fun-loving.
“They drive into our little driveway, these two gentlemen, with the top down on a convertible, looking like they were having a great time,” said Schowalter, noting that John had once given him some opera LPs/albums that he has to this day. John also gifted Bill and Jane two of his original watercolors, which are now displayed in his restored room.
When Jane passed away in April 2020, the family asked that memorial gifts be made to Allerton to help renovate John’s room, which now serves as one of the 17 hotel rooms in the 1900-era Mansion. The donations from friends and family helped start the restoration process, and prompted Bill and children Katherine, David, and Mary to plan a trip to Allerton in November 2021 to see the progress. While visiting, the family met with volunteer designer Anne Carlson and Allerton staff, who outlined the vision and budget for the full renovation.
“This was just a no-brainer if we could find the funds to do it,” said Bill. “We enjoy natural beauty. Jane enjoyed Allerton and got a thrill every time she went there because of the connection to her uncle.”
The Schowalter family made an additional gift to complete the restoration, as well as an endowment to support the historic space in perpetuity. They will return to Allerton this spring to officially dedicate the room in Jane’s memory at an open house on April 20 (10 – 11:30 a.m.). The public is invited to see the updates, which include more historically accurate furniture, window coverings, and décor, a complete bathroom remodel, and fresh robin egg blue paint. (The event is free, but registration is appreciated for planning purposes at https://go.illinois.edu/Room4 by April 19.)
Allerton Executive Director Derek Peterson is pleased with the work, saying Room 4 “became one of my favorite rooms in the Mansion.”
Peterson explained that Gregg’s room is the latest to be updated in the multi-year plan to restore all rooms in the Mansion. In the past four years, five guestrooms and three common areas have been renovated, with two more guestrooms scheduled for completion by July.
“We hope to restore two to three rooms every year until the entire Mansion is complete,” Peterson said.
It is also significant that the family of John Gregg Allerton made it possible, he added.
“This is truly a family project that an entire community gets to enjoy and appreciate. Through that legacy we are thankful for — and can feel the spirit of — John Gregg as it is returned to the house he loved.”