Cherishing a Legacy: Volunteering at Ewing Manor
People volunteer for many reasons, some do it to make a difference in other people’s lives, and some may do it to support an organization or a cause. But for Dan Leifel, volunteering is a passion because of his love for history.
An alumnus of Illinois State University, Leifel completed his bachelor’s degree in comprehensive social science (1966), and a master’s degree in political science (1971). He also obtained a law degree from the University of Illinois. While in graduate school, Leifel was a fascinated learner of the past and developed an interest in history. “I entered to become a teacher.
I never did,” he said. “The ’50s and ’60s had a very severe shortage of teachers. And so basically, that was, from my perspective, an excellent job to strive for.”
Leifel spent his graduate years studying the pre-Second World War period, and he was drawn to the life and times of the military. Yet an advertisement for volunteers at the historic Ewing Manor drew him. The owners of the castle, Hazle and Davis Ewing, were born in the Gilded Age in the 1880s, and came from an era consisting of inherited wealth, parties, and vacations. “The historic manor offers an opportunity for the community to discover a lifestyle that no longer exists,” said Leifel, who added his favorite part of the talk is the world tour the Ewing’s took in 1924 and 1925.
Hazle Ewing was known for her active dedication to the community, and to striving for world peace after World War I. “I’m a military historian,” said Leifel with a laugh. “I cannot imagine studying something more opposite than what Mrs. Ewing believed.” No matter a person’s views,
Leifel said visiting the castle is an inspirational and educational process that can benefit all of Bloomington-Normal.
Like Leifel, Ewing Manor has other volunteers that have dedicated time to preserve the rich history of the manor. Sue and Jay Edmondson have been serving the manor as archivists since 2013. Most of their work consists of archiving letters, pictures, newspaper articles, and artifacts related to the manor and the Ewing family.
The Edmondson’s believe that their knowledge about the Ewings was limited prior to volunteering for the manor. Working as archivists, they uncovered the many causes that the Ewings worked for—and the rich heritage of the family. “We have learned that Mrs. Ewing felt strongly about various causes—and about her involvement in the community. I hadn’t realized the extent of her participation in civic life before I started volunteering for the manor,” said Jay.
With the 90th anniversary just around the corner, the couple feels that the event will serve as an occasion to appreciate the importance of this historic site. “This celebration gives us an opportunity to recognize the family and the Ewing’s contributions” said Jay. They were interesting people — interesting and concerned. This anniversary gives Bloomington-Normal the opportunity to recognize their contributions, added Sue.