Ask Richard Uebele why he likes architecture so much and he can’t give an exact answer. But, when Uebele was 12, his fascination with Frank Lloyd Wright and architecture was born.
His love of architecture has allowed Uebele to take a step back in time to the turn of the century as an interpreter at the Naper Settlement’s Martin Mitchell Mansion and in Oak Park at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.
At the , Uebele dresses in period costume when he gives tours of the mansion.
“I was a member of the Naperville Heritage Society for years and I grew up here. I thought I should do more,” he said.
In January 2006, he retired from his job as a mental health counselor. In the back of his mind, he had always thought he might volunteer once he retired. He had prior experience volunteering back when his son was in school, where he volunteered for about five or six years sharing artistic painting with students.
With time on his hands, he began volunteering with both of the historic sites.
As a costumed interpreter at the Naper Settlement and an interpreter at the Frank Lloyd Write Home and Studio, he said he thought the volunteering experiences would be interesting and he would be able to help people learn more about history.
“My wife would say, I like to talk,” he said.
Teaching and learning
Through his tours, he said he hopes he is doing some teaching and that visitors walk away knowing more about the homes and those that lived there.
Many of the visitors he takes on tours at the Martin Mitchell Mansion are students on field trips. He remembers taking the tour himself back when he was in grade school and knows he wasn’t the most attentive student.
While some of the students taking the tour seem uninterested, he said the interpreters try and keep the children involved by giving them things to look for while on the tour.
One question he gets a lot from the kids: “Is it haunted?”
No, the mansion is not haunted, he said.
Though it can be a bit of a zoo when kids visit the settlement, particularly at lunch, Uebele said he really enjoys working with the school groups.
Along with the school groups, he also gives tours to visitors on weekends. He will be giving tours over later this month.
“I enjoy people who notice new things I never noticed,” he said. “They are interested and so they are paying attention.”
Before he began giving the tours at the Naper Settlement, Uebele didn’t know that much about it.
“I think if you live somewhere you should learn something about it,” he said. “As a kid I wasn’t too interested, which is why I think I hope the kids learn something.”
Volunteering his time at the mansion and in Oak Park offers an interesting view into architecture and lifestyle.
At the Frank Lloyd Wright house, visitors can see the change in Wright’s design from his early career to the development of his Prairie Style. While at the Martin Mitchell Mansion and the Naper Settlement, visitors can learn not only what is was like to live in the early 19th century, but the type of new inventions people with money were able to purchase.
Another benefit of volunteering at both places is the people. Uebele gets to meet visitors from around the world. The Naper Settlement gets some international visitors, but at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, there are an even larger number of international visitors.
“I often wonder what they are thinking when they see the Naper Settlement and our idea of old,” he said.
He does offer some advice for visitors who may take a tour of the Naper Settlement.
“When you go to the Naper Settlement or a historic home, know what you are interested in, but also pay attention to what the docent or interpreters is telling you,” he said. “Be open minded and don’t go in with blinders on.”