Dave Nanninga was born in Mineral (population: 275), a one-time coal-mining community about four miles east of Annawan, just a long field goal south of I-80. Because Mineral's high school had closed in 1961, he attended nearby Annawan. The circumstances triggered a curiosity that has led to a fascinating hobby.
Nanninga, now an Illinois State policeman, began to do some research on his old high school. It had produced six district basketball champions. Even though the school never had more than 53 students, it once won 30 of 39 games--with only 15 boys in the school. He was bit by a bug. What about other schools that no longer existed?
In 2005, Nanninga founded his Website, "Illinois High School Glory Days." "I saw the reaction in my own community. If Mineral liked it so much, what about others? For alumni, it is a devastating thing when your school closes. I didn't want them to be forgotten," he said.
Nanninga started with Mineral and began to add other schools...Arlington, Ashkum, Barry, Biggsville, Brookport, Buckley-Loda, Morton West, Maine North, New Trier West, Waukegan West, Lockport West, Forest View, Brooklyn, Beason, Alto Pass, Rollo, Bellflower, Aviston, Aledo, Westmer, Chicago Harrison, Chicago Cregier, Chicago Mendel Catholic, Chicago Weber, Chicago Cooley and Buda Western.
People have discovered the Website. It now features 1,026 schools that have closed. More than 147,000 people have viewed the site, an average of 75 to 100 daily. After an segment on WGN's mid-day news program, Nanninga reported 5,000 hits.
"How do you explain this to your wife?" he said. "Well, some guys like to golf and gamble and go out at night. My passion is this. I get real excitement out of getting information. I get 3 to 5 e-mails a day from people seeking information about a school or telling me about another school that I wasn't aware of."
Nanninga said he learned of 500 closed schools from the Illinois High School Assocation and 500 others by word-of-mouth. He has answered 6,000 e-mails that he has received regarding his site.
"Just recently, I got information from someone from Potomac, near Danville, about a Mary Judy school that closed in the early 1940s," he said. "It was a school for girls whose parents had passed. Addison Driscoll is a recent addition. Arlington is the biggest school with the longest tradition that has closed."
Nanninga and his staff, including Kevin Varney, Cody Cutter, Richard Soseman and Beau Spencer, have uncovered some fascinating information. For example, Kaskaskia, Illinois' state capitol from 1800 to 1820, had a high school from 1833 to 1840.
"From 1920 to 1949, almost every town or hamlet had its own school," Nanninga said. "A lot of Catholic schools have closed, too. I got lost twice trying to find Rollo, located near Earlville. It closed in 1954. I took backroads and finally found the town...one house, a church, a township building, six grain elevators and an empty store front.
"As long as people have interest, they'll keep sending information and I'll keep adding to the Website."