Helen Casey, 100, made sure Libertyville property was preserved
Funeral services for Helen Casey will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 21, at the First Presbyterian Church, 219 W. Maple St., Libertyville. Burial will follow at Lakeside Cemetery, Libertyville. Memorial contributions to the First Presbyterian Church Music Department are welcome.
Updated: July 23, 2012 4:12PM
It was a gut-wrenching decision — parting with the Libertyville land that had been in her husband’s family for 140 years.
But the day arrived in 2006 when Helen Morse Casey and her attorney sat down at the Liberty Prairie Conservancy, now Preserve Lake County, to sign a letter of intent to sell.
Casey had been a new bride in the circa 1863 farmhouse that still sits on the west side of Milwaukee Avenue, north of Route 137. She raised her only child there, welcomed her seven grandchildren there every summer to explore the 34-acre property, its timber-frame barn, fields, ancient oaks, and a gurgling stream called Bulls Brook after the brothers who built the place. Her late husband, the highly respected school finance expert, A.B. Casey, had been born and raised and lived out his days there.
“God bless her, she couldn’t sign,” recalled Steve Barg, Preserve Lake County executive director.
Casey, who died July 8 at age 100, did sign a year later, but under the agreement, she enjoyed access to the land until her death. She lived in the Civil War-era farmhouse for another year and a-half and visited each year after she moved to Florida in 2008 to live near her daughter, Dr. Annette Barnes.
Last winter, Barnes called Barg to tell him that Helen would not be returning to the farm. She called once more, last week.
“I get emotional talking about it,” Barg said. “As hard as it was for Helen to sell, and there was certainly no pressure on her to sell, in the end she felt good it wasn’t going to be a bunch of houses or a shopping mall.”
The Caseys were one of about a dozen longtime landholding, farm families in central Lake County that Barg and his agency have sought to sway toward preservation.
“It’s such a special area,” Barg said. “It’s a very hilly area, a blend of really beautiful natural areas and farmland.”
Preserve Lake County has been successful in protecting nearly 3,400 acres, all interconnected, through partnerships with the Lake County Forest Preserve District, Libertyville Township Open Space and the conservation group Openlands.
The Casey Farm, which originally included more than 100 acres, was a strategic parcel. Its location on Milwaukee Avenue makes it a gateway to other preserved areas. It also filled the gap in a 72-mile regional trail system.
Conserve Lake County is working with a Wadsworth farmer who is growing hay on surrounding fields. Next year it will transition to local food production. It sold a portion of the land to the forest preserve for the trail connection and a portion to Libertyville Township. Last spring, it tuckpointed the field-stone foundation on the barn and the farmhouse is under restoration.
“This land truly represents the public-private partnership that Preserve Lake County is,” Barg said.
Helen Casey was a vital force well into her 90s, driving antique tractors and tugging trash receptacles up and down a sleep slope on her property. Following her husband’s death in 1978, she took over his work as treasurer for numerous school districts in the Libertyville/Mundelein area.
Barg said the basement of the farmhouse still holds meticulous records of that work. Casey sang in her church choir and volunteered for several community groups. She loved opera and played the cello. A generous friend and proud mother, she was also known for her homemade grape jelly — and her pie.
“We discovered we both loved pie,” Barg said. “Baking them and eating them.”
Barg made Casey apple. She made him cherry.
“The land stories and the human stories are so intertwined,” Barg said. “People of Helen’s generation really had a connection with the land, because they worked it for so many years.”