Published September 11, 2008
remains the same
Over 50 years, center has
changed its approach toward the way
it educates school children
Fifty years ago
the Hinsdale Health Museum opened in Hinsdale with 13
exhibits on the human body.
Photos in a March 1959 issue of Public Health Reports show children
looking at a human skeleton, listening to a recording
about the beginning of life and operating controls on a
giant brain to discover more about the nature of nervous
energy and thought processes.
A lot has changed in health education in the past 50 years.
“Our past has been we’ve ... put 80 to 100 kids in a room for 90
minutes and we talk to them about a health subject
that’s important ... with very big, iconic kind of
exhibitry. That’s been the pattern,” said Kathleen
Burke, chief executive officer of the Robert Crown
Center for Health Education.
“That has changed completely.”
The type of programs the center teaches and where and how they are
taught all have changed since the center’s predecessor
opened in 1958 at 40 S. Clay St.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve learned how kids learn,” Burke said.
“We know more about how the brain works and how kids
learn. We are moving away from a passive experience with
the kids into interactive, discovery-type of education.”
The focus of the center’s programs has varied during the past 50
years. The rise in drug use in the 1960s, the sexual
revolution of the 1970s and the emergence of AIDS in the
1980s all influenced the curriculum at Robert Crown. New
topics such as bullying, steroid use and body image have
been added in recent years.
“We try to stay ahead of the curve, but historically we haven’t
been as quick to adapt our curriculum to new
information,” Burke said. “The last thing you want to do
is walk in a classroom and be thought of as outdated,
Even when educators are addressing subjects they’ve taught for
years, they now come at them from a different
perspective. In the past, drug education consisted of
telling kids drugs are awful and not to use them, Burke
said. Now educators talk about social and emotional
issues and the need to modify behavior.
“It’s real important we get back toward the stimulus — the thing
that’s creating the need for drugs or sex — and work in
that arena,” she said.
The center’s leaders also have found a need to take their programs
out to children rather than waiting for kids to come to
“If you want to do real prevention, if you want to do health
promotion, then we should be at the front line helping
to teach both teachers and schools as well as parents,”
Robert Crown opened its first satellite facility in 2002 on
Chicago’s West Side, and its second will open in Aurora
next month. The Chicago location also is home to
multiple social service agencies, a YMCA and a park
“Every one of those agencies works together and they work together
for the betterment of children,” Burke said. “You can’t
teach a child one piece of how they’re going to grow up
The best teachers also are people who understand the community in
which they teach. A Latina woman has been hired to head
the new Aurora facility and the staff in Chicago is
entirely African-American, Burke said.
“No matter how much people want to be empathetic and understand
people’s lives from a distance, it’s very hard to do
that,” she said.
The other big change for Robert Crown in recent years has been an
increased focus on the staff and making sure they have
the technological and professional resources they need
“Since I’ve been here, our culture is about team-building,” said
Burke, who was hired as CEO in 2005. “Every one of the
people who work here — from development through
reservations through education — contributes to helping
kids be healthy.”
One thing has not changed over the years, Burke said. Schools
continue to recognize the value of Robert Crown’s
“The schools felt sensitive topics were better handled by outside
vendors,” Burke said of the center’s early days. “That’s
still true. That still functions today.”
1958 — The generous
support of Eugene and Virginia Kettering enables the
Hinsdale Health Museum to open at 40 S. Clay St. in
Hinsdale. Valeda, the life-size talking invisible woman,
helps teach the first young visitors about the human
1972 — Paul Schwendener
donates land at 21 Salt Creek Lane in Hinsdale to the
museum. The Henry Crown family contributes a lead gift
for construction of a new facility to be named in honor
of Robert Crown.
1974 — Doors of the new
Robert Crown Center for Health Education open on Jan.
28. Schools begin to depend on its programs as an
integral part of their own curriculum.
1983 — The center
serves its 1 millionth student.
1985 — AIDS education
is introduced into center programs.
1987 — The center
begins to expand its outreach efforts by taking
instruction programs into classrooms of Chicago public
1990 — The center
serves its 2 millionth student.
1995 — The center
serves its 3 millionth student and introduces Body Trek,
a summer camp program where kids learn about the human
1996-97 — Robert
Crown’s outreach is expanded into suburban schools and
preschool/day care facilities.
1999 — Robert Crown
Center celebrates its 25th anniversary.
2001 — The center
continues to expand outreach programs as schools cut
back on field trips and travel following the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11. Within a few years, 50 percent of
programs are presented in a community setting.
2002 — Robert Crown
opens its first satellite facility at Homan Square in
Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. The campus offers
free programs to all
Chicago public schools and community
outreach to schools in the West Side neighborhood.
2005 — Using
state-of-the-art technology, Robert Crown partners with
the Museum of Science and Industry to reach more youth
with its Family Life program.
2008 — The Robert Crown
Center celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Hinsdale
Health Museum and opens a third campus in Aurora. Valeda
also turns 50 and undergoes a makeover, including a new
bilingual voice track in English and Spanish.
A special birthday bash
Forty years ago, the women planning fund-raisers to help
offer health education in Hinsdale didn’t think about
heading downtown to a five-star hotel.
“The first party was given in the basement of the Hinsdale Health
Museum,” said Hazel Barr, who organized the event. “That
had to be at least 35, 40 years ago. That was the first
real benefit we had.”
Organizers had to get a special liquor license from the village and
convince the fire department that the basement was a
safe place to have the party, Barr said. Tickets were
$35 or $50, she recalled.
“The next year I formed a women’s board and then they started
building the center where it is now and we gave a party
under a tent,” Barr said.
Barr, who coordinated the 25th anniversary party for the Robert
Crown Center for Health Education, has returned to the
role of party planner as co-chairman of the center’s
50th birthday celebration later this month.
Many of the women who worked on earlier benefits are on the
committee again this year.
“I picked all the people who were the movers and the shakers of the
period at that time,” she said. “It’s fun to say, ‘Here
we are again.’ ”
But this year’s committee is dealing with a much different venue.
“We’ve got a five-star hotel and Tom Kehoe, who is world-renowned,
is doing the decor,” she said. “Tiffany’s has donated a
$9,300 wristwatch that we’re taking chances on.”
Two New York models in Tiffany blue gowns will sell chances for
$100 apiece. At the end of the evening, the guest whose
box contains the winning number will take home the
Guests also will enjoy a live auction and dancing to music by the
Marshall Vente Band.
“Outside of that, everybody just eats and drinks and has a
marvelous time,” Barr said. “It will be a gorgeous
The party will take place Friday, Sept. 26, at The Grand Ballroom
of the Peninsula Chicago, 108 E. Superior St.
The black tie gala begins at 6:30 p.m. with cocktails. Dinner is at
The evening will include a special performance by the Holy Family
Ministries children’s choir of North Lawndale.
Tickets are $350 each or $3,500 for a table of 10. A premium table
for 10 with preferred seating is $5,000. Round-trip
transportation from the center is available for $20 a
Reservations are due by Thursday, Sept. 18. Call (630) 325-1773.
Making a Difference is a yearlong
partnership between The Hinsdalean
and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, which
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and