Museum News

Guy Fraker -- 2023 History Maker

March 30th, 2023

Central Illinois roots and Abraham Lincoln tugged at Guy Fraker, bringing this Missouri-born, suburban New York City youth to a long-time Bloomington career.

Guy’s family had deep roots in central Illinois and the University of Illinois. When Guy was a child, the family visited his grandmother Lela Holliday and her twin sister, Lola Kucher, who lived together in Peoria. Lola took the impressionable grade schooler to the Springfield Lincoln sites, where he was introduced to the State Historian, Harry Pratt, and the longtime Lincoln Tomb curator, Herbert Fay. Soon Guy was spending his spare change on Lincoln books, devouring the topic.

Many of his White Plains High School (New York) classmates were off to the Ivy League, but Guy “came home” to his parents’ alma mater, the University of Illinois. There he majored in history and then completed law school, where he was the president of his senior class. Later, Guy was honored when he received the prestigious William Winter Award from the University Foundation in 2005 for Outstanding Leadership Advocacy. He was recruited by the Costigan and Wollrab firm to Bloomington in 1962.

From his Mother, Guy was attuned to community involvement. He soon was involved in the Jaycees and both Bill Costigan and Jim Wollrab were significant community leaders, who encouraged Guy to deepen his local connections. As the ParkLands Foundation was being developed, Pantagraph publisher Loring Merwin asked the young attorney to volunteer his time to draw up the various documents in founding the new preservation organization. It now maintains more than 3,600 acres. He served on the Board for many years, including several terms as President.

Although not a naturalist, the ParkLands work awakened Guy to preservation of such areas. At the time, Illinois was ranked near the bottom in natural area preservation. Governor Jim Edgar appointed Guy to a statewide task force to study the issues and make recommendations. These were followed and under Edgar’s leadership the state purchased over 16,000 acres to create Panther Creek Conservation area in west central Illinois. This led Guy to the Nature Conservancy, where after many years, including a term as Chairman of the Board, he then joined the Conservancy as Director of Land Protection. In that capacity he negotiated more than 20 acquisitions, totaling more than 10,000 acres all over the State. Guy considers this work “a holy mission; God created this world and it is our sacred obligation to maintain it.” Guy is also an active member of Second Presbyterian Church.

Guy never lost his fascination with the Prairie State’s most famous attorney. He studied Abraham Lincoln avidly for many years and served on the Board of Directors, including two years as Chair, of the Abraham Lincoln Heritage Area’s Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition. This program developed the Looking for Lincoln markers and promoted the Lincoln story across the state. 

Consulting with Lincoln scholars, Guy realized that Lincoln’s formative years on the Eighth Judicial Circuit had never been deeply explored.  This led him to the counties of the circuit, examining the nature of his cases, the identity of his clients, opponents, associates, and the towns to which he regularly traveled. From this came his Southern Illinois University Press 2012 book, Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit. Five years later he followed it with Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: A Guide to Lincoln’s Eighth Judicial Circuit, again from the Southern Illinois University Press. He has otherwise written extensively and spoken around the country about Lincoln in central Illinois and has led over 15 tours of portions of Lincoln’s Eighth Circuit. These were the cornerstones for the WILL-TV PBS show, Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency, which has been carried by PBS stations nationwide. For Bloomington’s David Davis Mansion he co-curated an exhibit, Prologue to the Presidency:  Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit. His research and guidance was important to the Museum of History’s Abraham Lincoln in McLean County permanent exhibit. He served on the board of the McLean County Historical Society for over nine years.

Guy is a life-long, common sense Republican, who values his friendship with former Governor Jim Edgar and the late Congressman Edward Madigan. He and his wife Ruth Ann enjoy traveling and community involvement. His sons Guy IV and Matthew enrich his life, as do Ruth Ann’s daughters, Julie and Lisa. Guy and Ruth Ann share seven grandchildren.

Norris Porter

Director of Development

Contact Norris