It’s a good bet that not many people had been inside Chris Stach’s apartment over on DuBois Boulevard near the Congress Park train stop. But I had cause to visit him pretty often, especially in the days (prior to 2009 or so) when the Landmark had a feature section, which often was populated with well-researched, extensive looks at various aspects of Brookfield history.
There were weeks I appreciated those stories simply from the perspective of an editor needing to fill space in the newspaper. But Chris never failed to make what at first may have appeared to be a mundane topic interesting.
And he always had a pile of photos to choose from to illustrate his stories. Chris throughout the years simply would walk around town and document what was there, often taking pictures from the same perspectives through the years (and just as often those perspectives were guided by some of the very first photos taken of the village), so you could track changes.
Chris had hundreds of photos, all dated and with some sort of description written on the back. And he had hundreds more photo negatives, which were given to him, of the work of local legend Elmer Johnson, the longtime publisher of the Brookfield Enterprise.
He had old phone books, so if you knew a business existed in the village back in 1948, he could tell you what the address was. He collected mementos related to Brookfield – postcards, flags, trinkets found on eBay.
His apartment was packed with the history of Brookfield. After visiting him to collect a story (more than a decade ago, before he got email, Chris would give me a floppy disk with story files on them), I’d leave his apartment with a zip-top plastic bag containing all manner of items that might serve as art for a story. Around here, we used to call that a “Bag o’ Stach.”
After we discontinued the feature section there were fewer avenues to run Chris’ long history pieces, though we did so from time to time. His last one, just before Christmas last year, was the type of article Chris loved to write.
Part history, part nostalgia, it was a trip through the Sears toy catalog of 1962. Chris would have been 10 that year, and he brought that joy and wonder to the article. Chris never lost the ability to experience things as a child would – in the past two years he made trips by himself to Disneyland in California, a place that amazed him as a kid.
In Chris’ apartment, there was a permanent Christmas display set up by a decorative fireplace. Stories he was proud of were paper-clipped on a string along the wall, like a proud mom showing off her kid’s school work.
But in that apartment were also the resources that made him Brookfield’s Greatest Historian (he called himself that, with confidence) – the photos, the documents, the reference sources.
One fear we have is that those resources somehow get lost. Some of those photos and negatives are certain to be one of a kind, and many are vital records of Brookfield’s history.
Here’s hoping that the loss of Chris won’t also mean the loss of a portion of Brookfield’s history.
— Bob Uphues, editor