AUBURN – The William H. Willennar Genealogy Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary and a host of activities are planned for Friday to mark the occasion.

Ray Boomhower, author and editor of Indiana Historical Society Press, will discuss his latest book, “Richard Tregaskis: Reporting Under Fire from Guadalcanal to Vietnam,” beginning at 9:30 a.m. The seats are limited. Register by calling 925-2414, ext. 420, or email [email protected]

Throughout the day there will be self-guided tours of the Eckhart Public Library Art Collection and exhibits at the Genealogy Center highlighting special collections. Brochures for self-guided tours will be available.

Also on Friday, the Friends of Eckhart Public Library will host Strawberries in the Park. All proceeds from the event will go towards the purchase of books for children and teenagers.

The event is divided into two parts. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., those who purchased presale tickets can pick up their Strawberry Shortcake curbside at the Deli at Sixth & Main, 115 N. Main St. Strawberries in the Park shortcake presale tickets are sold out during opening hours at the Main Library main office, as well as the Deli at Sixth & Main and Carbaugh Jewelers. Tickets are $10. Patrons can pay by cash or check, payable to The Friends of Eckhart Public Library. Tickets can also be purchased online at

From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., strawberry shortcakes will be sold, first come, first served in the library grounds.

The shortcakes will include handmade cookies from the Deli at Sixth & Main, artisan ice cream from The Brown House, strawberries and whipped cream.

There will be free hot dogs and water. Other activities at the park will include story time, live music, games, face painting, chalk art and a special sale of books from the Friends of Eckhart Public Library. The DeKalb County Riders Association will be running wagon rides from downtown to the library, in conjunction with Auburn Main Street First Fridays. Live music will be presented by Josh Ayers and the Main Street Porch Band.

In the event of inclement weather, the event will take place in the McKenney-Harrison Elementary School gymnasium.

Plans to build a new genealogy center on the South Jackson Street property were drawn up in 2001, when the library’s Indiana Room had become too large.

The building project was funded courtesy of the Willennar Foundation of Auburn. The foundation was named after William H. Willennar, a prominent figure in Auburn history.

During his lifetime, Willennar took an active interest in local civic and charitable organizations. He served on the board of Souder Hospital and later was a key supporter of efforts to build DeKalb Memorial Hospital. He also served as county chairman for the Republican Party and ran as the GOP candidate for state representative. In 1964, a foundation bearing his name was created, as provided for in his will.

Over the years, the Willennar Foundation has donated more than $7 million to organizations such as DeKalb Central Schools, Heimach Center, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, Children First Center, and Auburn Community Band.

The library is another beneficiary of the foundation. In 1996, the foundation helped fund the expansion and renovation of the library, followed by the restoration of the park and fountain in 1997. In 2001, the foundation planned to fund the construction of the genealogy center.

Construction of the genealogy center began in August 2001. In May 2002, “Tree of Life”, a 20-foot sculpture by Indian artist Dale Enochs, was installed. Sculpted from Indiana limestone, the sculpture weighs two tons and depicts a huge tree whose roots curve around the Earth.

The genealogy center was inaugurated on June 22, 2002, with renowned children’s author Patricia Polacco as keynote speaker. The center opened to the public on September 3, 2002.