Eichelberger Hall dedicated at 4-H campground

Calling 4-H “the thread that holds my life together,” Lila Jeanne Eichelberger’s lifelong association with the group now includes Eichelberger Hall, a creative arts building that will serve participants of the 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello.

The 4,000-square-foot space – 3,200 square feet inside and another 800 of paved patio space outside – will be used for creative arts efforts that will include arts and crafts, STEM work, music and even some dancing.

It began as a replacement for the current arts and crafts building at the campground, but with Eichelberger’s input it has expanded with a larger vision: to allow youth to express their creativity.

“So you’re sitting in a building now that’s going to be a lot of things for a lot of groups, not just the original concept of an arts and crafts building replacement,” Camp Director Curt Sinclair told a group that gathered at the campground on Nov. 28 to dedicate the structure to Eichelberger.

“This is a place where youth have a sense of belonging, where they’re developing their independence, pursuing their passions, stretching to do things they’ve never been able to before, and they’re going with lifelong memories and lifetime friends,” added Director of Illinois 4-H Dr. Lisa Diaz. “That’s what you are enabling for us to continue as a proud tradition, and expanding our ability to open that opportunity to more youth.”

Eichelberger grew up in Mason County, attending a one-room schoolhouse in her formative years with anywhere from three to 10 students. Her parents were both involved in 4-H and got Lila Jeanne involved at a young age, something she appreciates to this day, noting that she was fairly isolated in her rural upbringing.

“So I relied on 4-H for socialization,” she said. “I would not be anything if it hadn’t been for 4-H.”

Referred to as “Shorty” by her friends, Eichelberger was in 4-H 11 years as a youth and kept going from there as a leader, later being inducted into both the Illinois and National 4-H halls of fame.

She was also on the state 4-H Foundation board from 1993 to 1998, but has far from retired from participation in the organization.

“It’s long past 1998 and she’s still serving. She still shows up to meetings, and is a member everyone really looks up to, and we value her opinion. She’s been a friend of 4-H, inducted in to the 4-H Hall of Fame, she was a 4-H House member when she was on campus, so her accolades go on and on and on,” added Angie H. Barnard, the executive director of the Illinois 4-H Foundation.

Sinclair noted that the lakeside building will not only provide opportunities for the 8,000 campers that show up each summer, but will be a focal point for donors who are needed to fund other camp improvements, from addressing old roads to the not-so-glamorous areas that include water and sewer systems.

“This is going to be the visible things that customers are going to flock to and it’s going to grow this camp in ways that other people aren’t even going to see. And it’s going to sustain this camp for a long time. This is a big deal,” said Sinclair.

At the dedication ceremony last week, two plaques were unveiled that will remind people of Eichelberger’s contributions. A long plank of black cherry wood from a tree from Allerton Park will notify those approaching the new building that it is, indeed, “Eichelberger Hall.”

Construction on the building began in 2017, and installation of heaters the day prior to the dedication spelled its completion. It includes three garage-style doors that can be opened to keep it cool during the warm summer months.

Eichelberger named 4-H as the beneficiary of her life insurance policy in order to help pay for the building, but Sinclair made sure it was constructed during her lifetime so she could help dedicate it and see it used.

She also has two degrees from the University of Illinois and was an area teacher for most of her adult life.

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