MONTICELLO — When Joe Noecker was a kid living in Monticello, playing at Allerton Park was just a part of growing up.
“We’d bike four miles out there, play football at the Sun Singer, hike the trails, pack lunches and eat out there,” Noecker said. “Being at Allerton was like a Huck Finn experience for me.
But it wasn’t until adulthood that he found how strong the ties were between the Noeckers and Allerton Park. His grandparents — Ray and Vera Noecker — lived in the House In the Woods and were caretakers at the Allerton estate. His parents also lived in the home for a year after they were married.
In the 1940s, aunts Marilyn Sago and Carolyn Joanne Shaffer grew up in the two-story brick home that went up in 1917, about 17 years after the Allerton Mansion. They also worked on the estate for many years.
So Noecker decided it would be good to give back and made a donation that will help in the restoration of Room 1 at House in the Woods, one of its seven bedrooms.
“It meant a lot to the Noecker side of my family,” Noecker said of the stately home. “This is a great cause to give to. Allerton wins, my family wins, and the University of Illinois wins. It just feels like a really good fit.
He added the donation was made to “bring life back to the House in the Woods, which meant so much to my family.”
An open house to celebrate the gift was held at the House in the Woods on Nov. 11. Among those attending was Marilyn Sago, who said that, despite no electricity in the home when she lived there, “it was home.”
“It seems like yesterday or a few years ago that I lived there,” she said.
Sago also remembered how committed Robert Allerton, the owner of the estate until he donated it to the University of Illinois in 1946, was to keeping the forest pristine.
“He said that anything that fell was a virgin timber; you do not touch it, it stays where it falls,” Sago said.
Park Director Derek Peterson worked with Shaffer and said, “I still have conference guests who ask about her. She always had a great smile and greeted everybody. So, thank you.”
He also said he wants people to appreciate the history of Allerton Park by using it.
“I want to appreciate the history that has been so apparent in this facility and this park and mansion, but I want people to be using it while they’re appreciating that history. So, gifts like this to bring up accommodations so that people can stay here — and hear the history while they are here — will have a profound impact on future generations as well.”
Noecker agreed, commenting that “Allerton is a treasure.”