NORMAL - For his 200th birthday, Jesse Fell received an 8-foot, four-sided brick monument in Fell Park in Normal Sunday.
A month before the Nov. 10 anniversary of Fell's birth, the Fell Park Neighborhood Association unveiled the monument that they spent a year planning.
A brief dedication ceremony took place on the warm, sunny, day at the park which is bordered by Willow, Oak, Cypress and Walnut streets.
Adrienne Simms, who was assigned to research the history of the Fell family, told the assembled group that her research was a "labor of love" and that she "didn't even begin to scratch the surface of all the wonderful things the family was and did."
Chris Koos, mayor of Normal, Myra Gordon, executive director of the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, which managed the fund to which donors contributed for the monument, Tim Ives, great-great-great grandson of Jesse Fell, and his mother, Adrienne Ives, each unveiled one of the plaques on the monument.
One plaque contains the images of Jesse Fell, who platted the first addition to Normal in 1857 where the park sits, and his wife, Hester Fell, who required the town to forever keep the land a park when she deeded it in 1898. The plaque contains the Jesse Fell quotes, "To each generation, all things are new," and, "The man that plants a tree does something for posterity."
The plaque testifies that Fell planted 25,000 to 30,000 trees. It also lists an excerpt from a letter Fell wrote to his friend, Abraham Lincoln, praising him for issuing the emancipation proclamation.
A plaque on another side of the monument lists the more than 100 parties who contributed $22,000 for the monument. Another plaque tells the history of the park's water tower. The fourth plaque recognizes the Women's Improvement League, which created and staffed a summer playground program at the park from 1922 to 1955.
Gordon said after the ceremony that the Fell Park neighbors worked to raise the funds for the monument in the Fell family spirit of accomplishment.
"It's in the spirit of Jesse Fell because he was obviously a doer, and the Fell Park Neighborhood Association is a doer to get this done in a little over a year," she said.
After a year of work, Judy Scott, president of the neighborhood association breathed a heavy sigh as neighbors gathered around the monument.
"It's good to see people enjoying each other in the park with the music. The interest they have in this is tremendous. It really makes the park unique and makes it stand out from other parks, I feel."
Reggie Whittaker, 83, who has lived in the Fell Park neighborhood his entire life, expressed happiness about he monument.
"I feel wonderful about it," he said. "I'm so glad the park has been renovated to what it is now. It's close to me. I played here."
Whittaker recalled ice skating during the winter when water would emerge from the water tower's spout and form ice all the way to Willow Street.
The park is used not only by families in the neighborhood, but also by students of Illinois State University, which Fell founded as Illinois State Normal University.
Mayor Chris Koos also expressed satisfaction with the monument.
"This (park) is a jewel to the community," he said. "I hope more people will come and take a look at it now."