In an age of “Cloud” computing, the village of Brookfield is operating its many and disparate systems on a 30-year-old IBM Unix mainframe. Yes, we said a mainframe. Brings to mind scenes from old movies with keypunch cards, flashing lights and cool whirring sounds. Something always went haywire in the movies we recall, and that is sort of the scenario playing out at Brookfield’s village hall.

The mainframe is “very stable” says Keith Sbiral, assistant village manager and IT guy.  But one day, he knows, catastrophe will come, the system will close down and Brookfield staffers will be looking in closets for electric typewriters.

To avert that dire consequence, the village board is about ready to sign off on a near half-million dollar investment in a wholly new computer system. It can’t come soon enough, for us.

The lack of investment in technology, the piecing together, the odd pride in running an actively backwards village hall has long seemed to us to be an apt metaphor for the previous administration of the village. In those thankfully long gone days, hiring marginally qualified people, and lots of them was the game plan. You didn’t need to be efficient; you just needed a lot of clerks, not making much, but friends with someone or another to make village government hum along in neutral.

That the current administration – elected and appointed – had the patience and the duct tape to hold the obsolete technology together for six years while they remade other aspects of local government is a credit to all involved.

The preparation for this major investment has been painstaking as all quarters of village hall have been involved in the planning. While we are sure there will be hiccups in the installation and the early operation, we are optimistic that the new system will allow the already lean village staff to take on more work and better serve residents.

History face-to-face

When you are a kid in grade school, history can seem pretty dry. Charlemagne, Hannibal and a bunch of kings named Henry, may not convince you that history is about real people. But what happens when a real person, a classmate’s great-grandmother, at that, walks into your classroom and starts talking about a person who previously was just grey photos and windy phrases.

That’s what happened last seek at Riverside’s Blythe Park School when Eleanor Pasquale Petersen walked in the door and made the legend of Jane Addams real to a group of third, fourth and fifth graders. These kids have been studying the remarkable Addams and her Hull House, its Depression-era links to the history of our own city, the start of so many aspects of progressive social work.

But Mrs. Petersen, 81 and a resident of North Riverside, had met Addams, attended pre-school at Hull House and, actually was the white-frocked, hair-ribboned little girl in an iconic photograph the kids had seen as part of their studies.

Petersen recalled Addams “roaming the halls” of Hull House but disabused the Blythe Park students of rumors that the settlement house was haunted. This was history at first hand. Powerful and immediate and filled with the reality of a singular person touching and shaping lives.  What a wonderful moment in time.