Legends – Winter in DeKalb

Posted: December 16, 2020

There is nothing that brings back fond memories of winter in DeKalb more than ice skating on the college lagoon.

Growing up in DeKalb, the lagoon was the place to “network” in the winter. We were practicing social distancing way ahead of COVID-19 when playing Crack the Whip. This was a game where one person was chosen as the “head” of the whip and would run around in random directions. The other players were in a line, holding on to the hand of the previous player in the line. When the “head” would suddenly change direction the players, usually at the end of the line, would lose their balance or let go, the whip would be “cracked” and the game would start again. 

Lagoon activities are portrayed in this print by local artist Carol Schmidt.

We spent many hours playing Crack the Whip at the lagoon. Hockey was also a popular game for all ages on the perfect ice of the pond. In between all of the games were people who just wanted to skate, trying to dodge the whip or hockey pucks. 

The lagoon started out as a pond, more like a swamp. Then in the Spring of 1934, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) undertook an ambitious project to landscape the lagoon area. The northern portion of the lagoon was widened and deepened to six feet after being drained and the banks were reinforced. 

Playing hockey on the lagoon is eight-year-old Jim Feyerherm, circa 1970.

At the peak, the CWA project employed 167 men. The project was eventually abandoned but then resumed under the control of the Works Progress Administration. The south end was drained and local farmers worked with animal teams and trucks to excavate the area. Through their work the farmers were helping to pay back crop loans that had been made to them by the government. 

By 1936 the work still had not been completed on the “lower lake.” It took an article in the student newspaper, The Northern Illinois, to reignite the work progress and the project was completed later that year. 

Call it the lake, pond, or lagoon, today, you can still find people ice skating there and creating memories that will last forever.

Information provided by Sue Breese