UTICA, Ill. — The barn on the Ron and Linda Chalus farm has
been used for a variety of activities since it was built in 1937.
“This was a dairy barn, and my dad milked cows here until
the early 1950s,” said Ron Chalus, who farms near Utica. “I remodeled the barn,
put in this metal ceiling, installed rows of farrowing crates and raised baby
pigs in this barn until 2003.”
The farrow-to-finish swine operation produced from 400 to
500 pigs per year.
“Now we farm a little over 1,000 acres and we switched to
all crops and we raise corn and soybeans,” Chalus said.
The barn mostly was empty for more than 10 years, which
probably was a good thing when a tornado roared through the Utica area on April
The farmers were away from the farm when the storm ripped
through their farmstead.
“I was doing some fieldwork that day, and then I quit since
it started to rain,” Linda Chalus said. “At that time, Ron was recovering from a
seizure that he had about a month before.”
The couple decided to go to Ottawa, and while they were
eating dinner, their daughter, who lives in Chicago, called because she heard a
tornado had hit Utica.
“Ron walked out to the parking lot, and he didn’t see
anything,” his wife recalled. “But then Ron’s sister called, and we decided we
should check our farm.”
As the couple approached the farmstead, the damage from the
tornado became apparent.
“The barn door was blown out, there was roof damage and
eight buildings on our farm were damaged,” Ron Chalus said.
“It was unbelievable how many people came out to help clean
up,” Linda Chalus said.
“There were 50 people here that night,” her husband
As they checked out the damage to the large barn, the couple
saw quite a sight in the hay loft.
“All the boards from the door were scattered except those
two pieces of wood that form a cross,” the farmer said. “The rope and chain on
those boards are part of the hay track that has a trolley. A claw picked up
eight bales, and you could drop the hay or straw anywhere up here. We haven’t
touched those boards since the day of the tornado.”
Three days after the tornado power was restored to the
“There was another sign that God was here that day,” Linda
“It was toward evening, and Ron asked our granddaughters if
they wanted to see what the tornado left in the barn,” she said. “As they headed
to the barn, they saw a ring of fire in the house. When the power was turned
back on, the damaged electricity wires were rubbing against the wood frame of
the house and started the fire. If they hadn’t seen it, our house would have
After repairing the damage left by the tornado, the Chalus
barn didn’t see much activity until about a year ago.
“We were talking to our good friends, Gary and Louise
Harmon, and Gary mentioned that he had the bar from the Lone Tree in a barn,”
Ron Chalus said. “He said he had to get the bar out because the farm was sold,
and he asked me if I wanted it.”
The Lone Tree was located just down the road from the Chalus
“My dad and grandmother built the Lone Tree in 1927, which
was a gas station and they served food,” the farmer said. “I remember going
there on Saturday nights when I was 10 years old for chicken and spaghetti, and
then they showed outdoor movies.”
Chalus wasn’t looking for the bar. He actually had no clue
what happened to the bar after it was removed by the current owner of the
“I figured it was gone,” he said. “But when Gary said it was
in a barn, I said don’t throw it away.”
“Ron brought the bar home on a flatbed trailer, and it was
all in pieces,” his wife recalled. “I asked him if it was really a bar.”
“The bar was so dirty, so I cleaned it up and put on a
couple coats of polyethylene,” Ron Chalus said.
“Our carpenter came and helped Ron put the bar together,”
Linda Chalus said.
“I probably measured it 10 times to see if it would fit in
the barn,” the farmer said. “But I didn’t have to cut it down. This is the exact
size it was at the Lone Tree, just like it was made to be here.”
Once the bar was installed in the dairy barn, events began
to snowball for the Lone Tree Barn.
“Our granddaughters painted the walls,” Ron Chalus said.
“And the red boards over there came from the crib that was on my uncle’s farm
down the road. I only cut the boards to size. They weren’t painted.”
June 1, 2013, marked the 50th wedding anniversary for Ron and
Linda Chalus, who are the parents of three daughters, Robin, Debra and Melissa,
and seven grandchildren.
“We were still in the fields in June, so our anniversary
party was on Aug. 3,” Linda Chalus said. “It was going to be a party for family,
people who were in our wedding and close neighbors, but from 75 to 80 people
“We opened our barn with the party,” Ron Chalus said.
On Dec. 1, 2013, about 300 more people visited the
“Christmas Under the Cross” barn during the Holiday House Walk that was held to
support the Cops 4 Cancer program. In addition to the Chalus barn, this daylong
event included five houses and a remodeled church in the LaSalle-Peru area all
decorated for the holidays.
“That day went so well. The walk made over $7,000,” Linda
Chalus said. “The money went to three local families that applied for
“We’ve probably had another 125 people visit since then,”
Ron Chalus said. “And we had three or four more people this week.”
With the help of many friends and family members, the main
floor and the loft of the barn were decorated over about a three-week period.
“About two-thirds of the decorations downstairs belong to
us,” Linda Chalus said.
“We decided to carry out the Cops 4 Cancer theme by
decorating trees to depict different types of cancer,” she said.
“We have about 60 trees counting all sizes throughout the
barn,” she noted.
Although all the Christmas decorations remain in the Chalus
barn, some of these trees soon will be moving to a local banquet hall as part of
the kickoff program for the Relay for Life.
“We have to take it down?” Ron Chalus asked with a chuckle.
Plans already are in progress for additional events at this
“In September, we’re planning to host my 55th class reunion,” the Ottawa High
School graduate said. “There will probably be from 40 to 50 people attending.”