Donnelley, Elliott

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Donnelley, Elliott

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Elliott Donnelley was a third generation Chicago printer (R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company) who lived in Lake Forest from his boyhood until his death in 1975. He had a life-long enthusiasm for trains, and after studying at Dartmouth College he went into the railroad modeling business, for amateur model makers in the early 1930s. Donnelley in 1933 took over American Model Engineers, Inc. Under the corporate identity of Scale-Models, Inc. the firm created “Scale-Craft working models,” according to an ca. 1938 brochure, and his renamed Scale-Craft brand operated in Chicago, Libertyville and Round Lake until the 1950s, when the firm was sold and moved to Michigan. The model kits came with large-scaled plans with instructions for assembly and placing custom signage.
Elliott’s parents were Laura and Thomas Elliott (T.E.) Donnelley, who built their Clinola estate and country home on Green Bay Road in 1911. Second-generation, Yale-educated T.E. Donnelley grew the family business substantially from the 1890s well into the twentieth century. He also launched in 1903 the annual holiday-time gift books, the Lakeside Classics, for clients, employees and friends. In his early adult and married years Elliott Donnelley and his spouse, Ann Steinwedell Donnelley (Hardy), lived in various small houses in Lake Forest on Wildwood and Atteridge Roads. In 1934 The Donnelleys built a home, designed by architects Frazier & Raftery, on Ridge Lane in Lake Forest, originally with a train room in the basement. Donnelley’s model train set-up later moved to the nearby basement of Lake Forest’s City Hall.

Donnelley was a trustee of Lake Forest College beginning in 1942, leading to a new commitment to the College among local estate families over the next three decades. (See “Back on Track with Elliott Donnelley” in 30 Miles North…, the College’s history, 2000, p. [145]; see also the photo on p. 135.) He served as chairman of the College’s Board of Trustees from 1967 to 1971, and played key roles in the building of two major structures on campus, the Donnelley Library (1964-65, since 2004 the expanded and renovated Donnelley and Lee Library) and the Sports Center (1968). Donnelley also donated landmark rare books to the library and also funds for such purchases on an annual basis in t he 1970s. He played a crucial role in the difficult late 1960s period in student participation on campus, and personally led face-to-face, all-hours negotiations with students to resolve issues in that dynamic environment. During the interim between College presidents in 1969-70 Donnelley was active in working with troubled students, “sentenced” to Saturday mornings working with the chairman on the trains on his estate. At the end of such work sessions where nothing was said about the occasion of the visit, Donnelley is reported to have said in his characteristic stutter, “Now, you-r-‘re g-go-ing to try harder t-to g-get along t-this w-week, aren’t y-you?” His recidivism rate was remarkably low. In the 1970s he was awarded a special honorary degree by the College, and in the last Commencement Week before his death he and Mrs. Donnelley hosted all of the graduating seniors at his home for a barbecue supper and a chance to ride the trains with himself at the engine controls.


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