Honoring Dorothy Dean

By Larry Atseff

Since March is National Women’s History Month, and spring is approaching, we thought we would honor one of Oak Brook’s most important women from the early days, Dorothy Dean, for her contributions to nature, and in turn, all of us. She and her husband Sam Dean were very active in both the social and political life of early Oak Brook. The Deans were involved in the creation of the village and Mr. Dean held a number of official positions, including village president, and he was very helpful to Paul Butler in creating what ultimately became Oak Brook. Not so incidentally, he also became President of Dean Foods. Dorothy Dean was co-founder of the Oak Brook Woman’s Republican Club and the Cultural Guild of the College of DuPage. She was also a member of the Oak Brook Historical Society and Civic Association. However, her most lasting legacy is the Samuel and Dorothy Dean Sanctuary, which is now part of the Oak Brook Park District. In 1939, Dorothy and Sam purchased a 40-acre property just a few hundred yards north of Graue Mill, at the intersection of York Road and east onto Canterberry Lane. In an interview, Mrs. Dean once said that the name “Canterberry Lane”, was chosen because people used to ride their horses and pick berries that grew at the end of the lane.

Though Dorothy was active in both politics and the arts, her passion was the environment, and that is where she left her most enduring mark, family members say. “She had all kinds of troughs in her back yard filled with feed for the wildlife,” said her nephew, Howard Dean. You’d look out her kitchen window and see deer, geese, raccoons, and sometimes, even a fox come together at the same time to feast. It was an exciting thing to watch.” After her husband’s death in 1976, Mrs. Dean chose to remain on the property that she thoroughly loved. She used to comment that she had no desire to travel in that she had everything she would want to see on her property. The Village of Oak Brook continued to be developed through the years until there was no more property available to build upon. Noting the size and beauty of Mrs. Dean’s home and estate, she began to be approached by developers looking to purchase it. The number of inquiries continued to increase every year. Not wanting to see the property developed and wishing to keep it for wildlife and open, natural spaces, Mrs.Dean took steps in 1995 to set up a living trust for her property with the assistance of the Conservation Foundation in which the Park District purchased the property. The Conservation Foundation’s Life Trust is a legal process for landowners to determine and assure that their property will always remain as open space. The property was transferred in January 2005 to the Oak Brook Park District. Dorothy Dean died Friday, December 28, 2007.

Dorothy Dean is pictured with her cat at The Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary, a 40-acre property at 405 Canterberry Lane in Oak Brook, IL

“Dorothy was a beautiful person both inside and out,” said Brook McDonald, president, and chief executive officer of the Conservation Foundation. “She was warm and caring, with a smile that could just light up the earth.” The Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary is dedicated to the preservation of the natural flora and fauna of the Oak Brook area. The beautiful 40 acres of this property will remain in a natural state. An abundance of wildlife can be viewed including deer, foxes, raccoons, possums, and turtles. The variety of ecosystems is especially unique; wetlands, forests, and prairies exist in close proximity. In 2009, the Oak Brook Park District completed the ecological restoration of the 40 acres through a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). In recognition of the uniqueness of the Dean Nature Sanctuary and the variety of ecosystems living in very close proximity on the property (oak savannah, wetland, pond, and prairie), the IDNR awarded the Oak Brook Park District an OSLAD Grant, (Open Space Land Acquisition and Development,) for the Dean Nature Sanctuary improvements project. The Project entailed the ecological restoration of the prairie and the development of recreational amenities that include the construction of rock fishing platforms, ADA accessible fishing pier on the pond, installation of a canoe launch on the Salt Creek, an education meeting pavilion, walking trails, and an eco-friendly parking lot.

The Dean Nature Sanctuary walking trails connect with the DuPage County Regional Bikeway trails and also to the Cook County Trails at the Bemis Woods Trails underpass of the IL Toll Road 294, near the eastern property line of the Dean Nature Sanctuary. In short, the Dean Nature Sanctuary is an important recreational and ecological component in this region. And will forever be a “passive park” meaning the property will not house athletic fields, traditional playgrounds or recreational facilities. “This is an opportunity that not many communities have,” said Tom Truedson, Oak Brook Park District Board Commissioner and personal friend of the Dean family. “Mrs. Dean had the wisdom and the foresight to see that open land is just as important, if not more important, than having it developed. Open space is a finite resource in Oak Brook, so Mrs. Dean’s gift has great value in maintaining the natural beauty of the area. In a number of ways, it’s the end of an era. The Deans are one of the last of the village’s founding families. They were instrumental in the creation of the village as well as creating the mystique of Oak Brook.” “We can assure the community that the charm and natural beauty of the property will remain as Mrs. Dean envisioned it,” said Commissioner Truedson, “We are all beneficiaries of the wonderful foresight of Dorothy Dean.”

*Photos provided by the Oak Brook Park District

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