The history of our two ‘Gesangvereine’ and the city of Elmhurst has been intertwined for more than a century. As early as the mid 1830’s, settlers from Europe, many of them from Germany, started a new life a few miles west of the big city on the lake. The small community, called Cottage Hill, was incorporated as a village in June of 1882 and became Elmhurst. The names of the community leaders back then read like a German phone book: Henry L. Glos, grandson of settlers from Bavaria, was the first Village President (1882); followed by Peter Wolf (1887-1902), Edwin Heidemann (1902) and C. J. Albert (1908). In 1910, Elmhurst achieved city rank and Henry Schumacher became its first Mayor, followed by F.W.M. Hammerschmidt (1912) and Otto Balgemann (1919) – who also happened to be President of the Elmhurst Männerchor
at the time.
While we are proud of the fact that the Männerchor of 1907, to this day, is the oldest organization of Elmhurst – the history of the chorus actually goes back much further. In JUNE OF 1894, Hermann Krüger initiated the first ELMHURST MÄNNERCHOR, founded with a total of twelve singers at Fred Schwass’s Beer Hall on Addison & First Street. Max Wilde was named President, Hermann Krüger Vice President and Fred Schwass was in charge of the finances (and provider of beer, no doubt). Gustav Ehrhorn, director of the Vereinigte Männerchöre, became their first director and accompanied the chorus with his violin.
By Christmas that year they held their first ball, followed by a ‘Maskenball’ in March 1895 and a formal ball the following year. However, the depression and aftermath of the devastating Pullman Strike of 1894 cost many of the members their jobs and forced them to move. The chorus lost most of its singers and was dissolved in 1897.
Ten years later, several German immigrants joined the ‘Plattdeutsche Gilde’ of Chicago & suburbs, a German Life & Health Insurance union. It was Elmhurst College Professor Oskar Irion who proposed to start another choral group, originally just among members of the guild. But they branched out and soon found a hand ful of singers who were enthusiastic about the idea.
In FEBRUARY 1907, once again, the ELMHURST MÄNNERCHOR was alive and well, counting a total of thirteen Founding Fathers. Dettlef Germand was History of the Elmhurst Harmonie elected chairman, Hermann Krüger was still an active member and Carl Lorenz its new director – only to be fired four months later and replaced by Peter Gerdes.
Meetings and rehearsals were held at the now historic Mahler Building on Park Avenue across from the train station. In 1912, the members participated in the Song Festival in St. Paul/Minnesota, held by the North West Singers Association. Indeed, the Elmhurst Männerchor was here to stay!
World War I almost brought the group to its knees. But at the end of the 1920’s, a young music professor arrived from Germany: in 1931 the charismatic LUDWIG LOHMILLER took over the chorus. He should be their director – as well as for a dozen or more Chicago area ‘Gesangvereine’ – until 1981!
While their husbands were rehearsing a few blocks over with the Männerchor, a few young women gathered at Ella Drecoll’s on Haven Road on Monday nights. The ladies had grown tired of waiting at home alone and often sang the tunes they remembered and loved. They made a decision – and our next chapter was about to begin:
Ludwig Lohmiller agreed to take eighteen enthusiastic young ladies under his wings, as well – and in JANUARY 1936 the ELMHURST DAMENCHOR was born. That same year they held their very own concert, already. As can be expected, times got tough again during World War II, but the singers did not give up. The 1950’s and 1960’s brought new immigrants, people who had lost everything but wanted to keep their language and their culture alive and enjoy each other’s company and, before long, the choruses were thriving.
They joined the United German American Choruses of Chicago and the North American Singing Organization as well as the German Singers Association. In 1956, the Männerchor and Damenchor went to Stuttgart/Germany for the International Song Festival.
n the late 1960s, while the men were doing well under President Hans Moser (1953-1961), the membership of the Damenchor went down dramatically. But thanks to some determined singers and the unfailing support of the Männerchor, the Damenchor eventually recovered. In 1976, under the leadership of Lilo Cronenberg, some very enthusiastic new ladies joined the chorus and in 1979, after a 13 year hiatus, they held their first Spring Concert again.
A year later in 1980, their beloved director Ludwig Lohmiller retired. What followed was a succession of directors who, each and every one in his own way, brought something special to the repertoire and performing style of the groups: John Olivo, Dr. Jim Lucas, Jim Goodrich, David Crane, Dr. Alfred Gras, Alan Wellman, Catherine Wendt, Glen Sorgatz, Philipp Rudd, Laura Susanne Schmuldt – and since 2022 once again Glen Sorgatz.
The past decades have been spectacular, the ladies have been featured in local newspapers, have published a cook book and, together with the Men’s Chorus, released two CDs. Participation in the Elmhurst Country Fair, cooperation with the Historical Society, appearances at the Elmhurst Oktoberfest as well as their annual Advent Bazaar strengthened their ties to the local community. The men were well known for their picnics at Joe Wagner’s Mink Farm (York Furrier), attracting many local and national politicians in the 70’s and 80’s, especially during election years; the picnic later moved to Herman Pigors’ Oak Hill Gardens in W. Dundee. They hosted Santa Claus at Christmas Parties for their extended families and friends, walked in the Memorial Day Parade, threw Fourth of July parties – and in 1989 started their monthly ‘Stammtisch’ – still going strong in its 30th year now.
Gone are the glory days from the 1980’s in the upper ballroom of the former Elk’s Lodge with its cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows, where meetings and annual spring and fall concerts were held, where the men became regulars at the 35 foot well-stocked bar, and the ladies intensely rehearsed with Hollywood’s Kenny Ortega for a dance number in ‘Ferris Buehler’s Day Off ’ – only to become victims of the final cut. Ah, the pitfalls of fame!
Ella Drecoll, the ladies’ beloved founder and talented soprano, active well into her 80s, is still remembered today with quiet visits to a wrought-iron bench at Wilder Park Memorial Garden, dedicated to her in 2003, right next to the maple tree planted in memory of the men’s late president Klaus Schmidt in 2000.
Thanks to the leadership of many dedicated presidents over the years, Lilo Cronenberg, Gerda Pilz, Brigitte Lenke, Uschi Kundmann, Brigitte Lenke & Petra Hentzel for the Damenchor, Gerhard Henke, Wolfgang Bergmann, Hans Neufeld, Klaus Schmidt, Rolf Frueh, Stuart Holtz, Hermann Pigors & Bruce Sanfilippo for the Männerchor, the Chorus has withstood the downwards trend so many other German groups have experienced.
While the Inaugural Concert of our now COMBINED CHORUS in JUNE 2019, exactly 125 years after its humble beginnings, signaled a great new adventure, our enthusiasm was cut short by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and in March of 2020 we had to cancel all further activities. During the next two years, however, the members of our chorus met each month, weather permitting, at the Biergarten and Garage Bar of one of our member, enjoying the great outdoors, social distancing, beer and pizza – and walks around her neighboring pond, park and Great Western Trail. In short, we stayed together and kept singing together – drinking songs, that is!
This past October, we were able to hold our first concert under the leadership of our new President Jerry Palmer. Despite eleven of our singers still recovering from an outbreak of Covid at the time, it was very well attended and a great success. These days you’ll find us more actively than ever working together; this upcoming June we will participate at the National Song Festival in Madison, WI. Most of all, however, it’s the friendships and memories that have been formed over the years which are the lasting accomplishments of the chorus. and we are determined for the tradition to continue. Stay tuned for more musical memories to be made – and please, if you love to sing, join us!