Winnebago Town Historian John Rowley thanks everyone who shared good wishes and cards for his Big Birthday-No Party (yet) celebration!

Here is a brief biography of our Town Historian. John was born 80 years ago on a farm on Tate Road in Owen Township. In 1948, John’s father DeForest Rowley bought a 10-acre block bordered by Cunningham Road and Swift Street in Winnebago. DeForest subdivided the block, which soon filled with new homes.

In 1955, he built the current family home at 415 W. Cunningham Road. The home was very modern for its time, built with a system known as passive solar. John and his five siblings all attended Winnebago schools and graduated from Winnebago High School.

John went on to graduate from Rockford College and began graduate work at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY on a fellowship through the National Defense Education Act.

The fellowship was focused on neglected areas of study including Latin America. Combining his fluency in Spanish, his involvement in Christian service projects and his interest in travel, John spent time in Mexico, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico doing community development projects.

John met his wife Alice (Belden) at Cornell through participation in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. John and Alice were married in 1966. Both completed their graduate degrees, and their early years of marriage were highlighted by volunteer projects in Chile and Mexico.

In 1970, the family returned to the area and John began a teaching career at Guilford High School in Rockford. In 1973, the family moved to the Cunningham Road house in Winnebago. John and Alice’s five children all graduated from Winnebago High School.

In Winnebago, John has been involved in volunteer activities including the Village Zoning Board, the Farmer’s Market, and the Friends of the Winnebago Library. Many will remember him as an election judge for Precinct 1. His longest and most well-known volunteer position is Winnebago Town Historian.

In 1988, the new Winnebago Public Library building included space for a local history room, which John quickly filled with books, newspapers, clippings, and memorabilia documenting the history of the Winnebago area. Over the years, he has given many programs and helped many researchers. In 2019, the space was rededicated as the John D. Rowley Local Area History Room.

John has been instrumental in two significant history projects. The Winnebago History Writers began a series of publications called We Remember: People of Our Past in 1994. They completed 15 volumes covering area families A-T. In 2004, the Winnebago Sesquicentennial Book Committee prepared a detailed history of Winnebago for the Village’s 150th anniversary.

John’s wife Alice was also well-known in Winnebago. She was involved in the referendum process to create the Winnebago Public Library District, served on the board of directors, volunteered at the library, and in 1993 became Library Director.

She oversaw the building addition project completed in 2002 and served until 2007. Alice died in in 2016 after several years of illness. She and John were able to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in July of 2016 and the marriage of their youngest son later that summer.

John has recently been involved with the creation of the Winnebago Community Historical Society. He continues to collect for and organize the local history collection and to prepare and present local history programs.



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