SHELBY | There is a rich history that surrounds this unincorporated community that cozies up to the northern banks of the Kankakee River stretching toward the farmland surrounding it.
In its heyday, wealthy outdoorsmen from across the country came to the area to fish and hunt. Two lodges accommodated them.
By 1964, there were 400 people in unincorporated Shelby as well as a lumber yard, two grocery stores, a hardware store, a bowling alley, taverns and dining establishments.
Wayne Hayden remembers Shelby then and reflects on it now and in years to come.
Hayden, 72, was raised on a farm about a mile outside Shelby, and the riverside community was the social center for him, he said.
"When I was a kid, I set pins at the six-lane bowling alley," Hayden said.
Twenty-six years ago, Hayden returned to Shelby and now lives in a tidy, white home in the community center next door to the house in which Whiteco CEO and Forbes 400 list member Dean White was raised.
The grade school he attended has since been torn down, Hayden said, and White's business is no longer there, although the facility now houses a small manufacturer, Pro Edge.
Today, Shelby's social life centers on the volunteer fire department and the Shelby Lions Club where Hayden is president, he said.
It remains an unincorporated bedroom community with a handful of businesses and independent residents who like life away from the busier world, Hayden said.
As is true every year, the annual Memorial Day Ceremony and Picnic is the highlight of the community, Hayden said. It is held at the Shelby War Memorial, where its parklike setting is lovingly maintained by Shelby Lions members.
"It's always well attended. It's a nice service," Hayden said. "I can't say how many are there, maybe 100. (State Rep.) Rick Niemeyer and (Lake County Commissioner) Gerry Scheub come and say a few words. The VFW from Lowell comes. Then, there's a picnic at the fire department. Everyone brings something and the officials come, too. Everyone visits. It's a nice day," he said.
Last year was a good year for Shelby with the defeat of a Lowell-based fire territory, the notion of which drew strong, emotional opposition, Hayden said.
"The community was totally against it," Hayden said. He said residents didn't want another layer of tax nor outsiders telling them what to do.
Hayden recalled a public forum which filled the Shelby Lions Club with folks who felt their fire department and way of life were being threatened.
"The fire department is, you might say, the hub of Shelby," Hayden said. The volunteers host regular pork chop dinners and chili suppers, he said.
In the past five years, Hayden said, several new homes have been added to Shelby. Growth will continue to trickle in, he predicts.
For the immediate future, Hayden said, his personal goal is to build up the Shelby Lions Club, which, like many other such organizations, is suffering from an aging membership.
"Shelby needs young blood, but it's hard," Hayden said. Despite low membership, though, he said community volunteers, not members, step up and help out for events such as a recent fish fry.
Unlike many other clubs, Shelby Lions have their own building, a decades-long mainstay of the community. Hayden said local organizations such as the local 4-H club and a recently formed sewing club meet there.
The building is unique in that it houses indoor horseshoe pits and tournament play year-round.
Starting at 6 p.m. every Monday and Tuesday, "shoers" converge to play. Every other Sunday, an open horseshoes tournament is held. State tournaments are hosted about once a month.
"We get them from southern Indiana, Danville, west of Chicago," Hayden said of the tourney players. "There's no place like ours around," he said.
Hayden said he hopes to use the horseshoes and reasonably-priced fundraising meals to pull folks in from surrounding areas and convince them to join the Shelby Lions.
Beyond that, Hayden expects Shelby will remain unincorporated and relatively unchanged in its future.
"We'll just keep on going like we've been going," he said.