Blog Article

McLean County Museum of History – Senior Reminiscence Program

We’re excited about all the great work that our Community Grants program supports. This month, we cover the Senior Reminiscence Program at the McLean County Historical Society.


mclean-community-grants-2Does the term “lolly gagging” mean anything to you? How about “rubber necking”?

Well, both are terms that would be familiar to lots of Illinoisans, particularly those who remember the candlestick telephones of a bygone era, and the ways that listeners could secretly listen in on conversations.

And it’s folks of this generation who are the target audience of an innovative program called “Senior Reminiscence” that the McLean County Museum of History is carrying out. Though first created back in 1987, the program was restarted in 2005 and since has served some 9,000 seniors. The program helps the Museum achieve the goals of its Vision Statement by making the Museum more participatory and by helping its community be reflective of its past.

mclean-community-grants-3Here’s how it works: Staff at a local history museum, library, cultural center, senior center or other organization bring together a small group, say 15-20 folks. They then take out a number of everyday items from anywhere between the 1920s and 1960s. The program includes sessions such as “Play It Again: The Toys and Games We Remember,” “Photo Reminiscence” (discussing large photos of older institutions and activities), “Tools of the Trade” (exploring tools from the farm, kitchen, office and beyond), “Well Dressed Folks About Town” (which focuses on grooming habits of men and women from the 1920s through the 1960s) and “What’s Cooking? Gadgets from around the Kitchen.” The Senior Reminiscence Program is adaptable to a variety of settings and disciplines, including libraries, cultural centers, senior centers, or other organizations.

Typically, what happens next?

Lively conversation and memory sharing!

mclean-community-grantsWe were fortunate to attend a training that staff from the McLean County Museum of History held on Aug. 18 at Benedictine University in Lisle conducted for cultural professionals from Kane and DuPage Counties. Led by Anthony Bowman (Education Outreach Coordinator) and Candace Summers (Director of Education) of the McLean County Museum of History, the workshop laid out some of the benefits for participants: Such events are not just “feel good” events, but offer Seniors validation and an opportunity to connect with others in a safe space; allow participants to learn about art, history, and science; and help improve communication and memory recall beyond the day of the event.

The McLean County Museum of History is even finding that people living with Alzheimer’s – which number more than 5 million in the U.S. today – are particularly affected by such a program.

All of which matters significantly in a society that is growing older by the day: It is estimated that by 2030, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population will be over age 60.

Aging is “often depicted as being all about decline… with little or nothing beneficial in the equation,” says Hamish Robertson in “The Caring Museum.”

“Yet the reality is much more positive, complex, and nuanced… Aging is a success and population aging is indicative of successful societies.”

At Illinois Humanities, we’re proud to have been a supporter of this project through our Community Grants program.

If you’re interested in learning more about this program, contact Anthony Bowman at