Weather Updates

Aurora historian to be honored by community

John Jaros

When: Friday, 5 to 8 p.m.

Where: David L. Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Place, Aurora

Cost: Admission is free; donations are appreciated.

To contribute: John R. Jaros Fund for the Aurora Historical Society has been established within the Community Foundaton of the Fox River Valley. Gifts can be directed there by visiting or sent to 111 West Downer Place, Suite 312, Aurora, Il 60506

For information: contact Mary Clark Ormond at 630-306-5491

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:32AM

As executive director of the Aurora Historical Society, John Jaros has a lot of good stories to tell.

But as he is set to be honored by the city on Friday evening for his 30 years of service to this community, I’ve got a few to share about him.

Like the time he gave a child a free tour of the Tanner House Museum when he found out the boy’s family did not have enough money for admission. “I will never turn away a child who wants to learn about history,” he told Historical Society Board President Mary Clark Ormond at the time, “because that child was me.”

Or the many times Beacon reporters would call Jaros about a story they were working on, with a question about an obscure fact dating from, say, a 100 or so years ago.

Not only would Jaros have the needed details without even having to research them, he could always spew out even more information that made the story so much better.

“I’d try to stump him,” admitted former Beacon-News police reporter Matt Hanley, who now is assistant communication director for the East Aurora School District. “But I couldn’t.”

No doubt there will be plenty more tales to be told at the reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center in downtown Aurora, where Jaros will be presented with the 2014 Heart for Aurora award.

Translated: That means he’s a local gem.

Jaros’s value — and it is priceless — comes from his unique ability to make our community more vibrant, more alive, by connecting its present to its past … not to mention its future.

Ormond credits Jaros’ “fantastic memory” and “scholarly abilities” into helping him build the Historical Society into what it is today. But it’s also his “accessibility” that has made him so successful.

“Everybody likes John,” she said. “He’s got that great ability to engage with people and get them to come back again and again.”

Speaking of repeatedly returning ... as a journalist, I’ve worked with John for all but eight of those 30 years. And I can’t even begin to count how many times I gave him a call, requesting specific details or his take on some historical subject I was writing about. And in all those times, he never once treated me like the pest I most surely was.

Hanley and I both agreed: Jaros is a reporter’s dream. Not only would he take our calls immediately or get back to us within an hour or so, Jaros provided such fascinating and arcane information, that as reporters he always made us look so much better than we were.

It’s that passion for history, that love for this community that has made him such a vital part of who we all are, whether you realize it or not.

“So many stories would be lost if he were not here,” said Hanley, who also worked closely with Jaros on his 2012 book, “True Tales of Aurora, Illinois” and credits the historian with helping to revive East Aurora’s Alumni Association.

“I always wished I had the whole day to talk to him.”

With a master’s degree in history from DePaul University and internships at Garfield Farm and the Chicago Historical Society under his belt, Jaros arrived in Aurora from Chicago in February 1984 at the age of 24.

His office as executive director of the Aurora Historical Society was a pantry in the 1857 Tanner House Museum that contained a desk, manual typewriter and phone. There, he was caretaker, artifacts collector and tour guide.

Over the years, Jaros built a staff of four full-time museum professionals and returned the Tanner House on Cedar Street to its Victorian grandeur. With the help of riverboat funds and the city, he also opened the David L. Pierce Art and History Center downtown that is the epicenter for temporary and permanent exhibits as well as programs and events.

And while doing all that, Jaros became the go-to guy in Aurora on all things historical.

Trust me, there is no detail he does not know or can’t get his hands on in a matter of minutes. Want confirmation on a 1914 murder case, he can give you the name of the detective who handled it.

In looking back over 30 years, Jaros says his proudest accomplishments are the Tanner House restorations and the downtown center that, even with its 5,000 visitors a year, is under-utilized.

But he sees more work to be done. And even as I visited with him on Thursday, Jaros was jotting down ideas for more programs, more exhibits to chronicle and celebrate this community’s rich 177-year history.

The thing about history, notes Ormond, “it’s a never ending project.”

Jaros agrees. “We are making history every day … it is our responsibility to document it as it happens and to save it in perpetuity.

“Our job never ends.”

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