Interview with Jean and Wayne Wuebbels — Owners of the Illinois Highpoint

Illinois 2003 Convention Chairman John Mitchler presents an aerial photo of the Wuebbels farm to Wayne and Jean Wuebbels. Jean Trousdale coordinated getting the photo.

By Roger Rowlett
Apex to Zenith #62 – Third Quarter 2003

Jean and Wayne Wuebbels, the first highpoint private property owners to attend and host a Highpointers convention, put on a memorable show that drew standing ovations in Illinois.

Just a few days before the convention started, they announced severe access restrictions to the summit in their front yard to just the first weekends of summer months because of problems with non-club members coming at all hours and stealing things.

Jean (the “talkative half” while she says Wayne is the silent “brainy half” of the couple) delivered the news at the Galena Convention Center along with a recommendation to vote Republican.  She got playful boos along with hearty laughter.

The Wuebbels are only the third family to own the highpoint since President Polk made it a land grant in 1848 (Elijah Charles for whom the mound is named never actually owned it).

The Chicago accountants weren’t looking for owning a highpoint when they planned to move to the country in trendy, un-glacier flattened Jo Daviess County in 1994.  They just wanted a place with a view and room to snowmobile.

Illinois didn’t want to buy one of the few hills in the state (a place where late-melting snow drifts cause the flowers bloom a week later than nearby Scales Mound) and the Wuebbels got a good price, built a home and got commanding views of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.  They jumped on the novelty of owning a highpoint and did away with earlier severe access restrictions (and gate fee) until the accumulating problems prompted the latest restrictions.  Neighboring residents much preferred the Wuebbels to proposals for a revolving restaurant on the summit.

I personally had a wonderful evening talking to both Jean and Wayne during the convention banquet.  Wayne is not nearly as quiet or reserved as he conveys in public.  Below are answers to questions that I put to them (which arrived after the August 15 tax extension deadline).

What’s your background?
Wayne was born and bred in McLeansboro, Illinois, and Jean, in Dayton, Ohio. We have one son (Scott), who is lives with his wife and baby daughter in Freeport, Illinois. As of July 1, 2003, we will have been married 25 years.

Why did you move to the Charles Mound area? 
We looked all over this part of Illinois, and thought Jo Daviess county was the most beautiful part of the state. It also gets a lot of snow, and we love to snowmobile!

How why and when did you buy  the highpoint?
We bought the property nine years ago. We were looking for a small farm  with a lot of privacy and with a good view and some woods.  The farm turned out to be quite a bit bigger than what we were actually looking for. We had absolutely no interest in owning the Illinois highpoint and, in all honesty, did not realize that anyone really cared.  Ouch!

I understand the previous owner Gladys Steifel died last year.  Did she give you any advice on the highpoint?  
We visited Gladys often while she was in the nursing home for the few years before her death.  We talked a lot about the property- she was so very interested in the natural beauty of it, but never got the idea that the “high point” status was important to her. However, we have since talked with her daughter, who said it was very important to Gladys that Charles Mound be given due recognition for being Illinois’ highpoint. Gladys had at one time worked to try to get the state to purchase the property, but they were not interested. 

She wanted the property to be an Illinois landmark- and always to be kept as a nature reserve. The children of Gladys did not care so much about the highpoint. The property was their home. They all grew up in the old farm house at the base of the mound, and it holds the same sentimental values to them as any of our homes might to us.

Charles Mound was named after Elijah Charles (from Pennsylvania) who settled there in 1827. He built a home on the south base of the mound, be he never owned the property.  This land was not yet open for sale by the government.

In 1848 Charles Mound was given as a land grant by President Polk to Mr. Richard Magoon. He wasn’t particularly interested in Illinois, and the property was purchased in 1868 by Mr. and Mrs. Glanville.  Glady’s Steifel was a descendent of Seth. The Glanville family owned the land for nearly 150 years.  We purchased the property from the Glanville estate in 1994.

Did you get many people who are interested in the geology the region  (the “Driftless Region”) and lead mines.
Not really.

Do you get many people who think it’s an Indian burial ground?

You did away with the restrictions and fees for accessing the highpoint right away plus added chairs and signs making it a sort of part.  What did you  originally envision the highpoint and visitors to be?
We didn’t. We just didn’t know there was such an animal as a “Highpointer.” you know, we are not really the minority. Stop the average person on the street, and ask him what a Highpointer is. He will  say “a high what??” stop anyone in downtown Chicago and ask him what Charles Mound is? They will think it is a candy bar!

Who made the signs you originally placed on the summit?
We had a professional sign painter from Plattville, Wisconsin make our signs.

What do you do with the log books?
We keep the originals in a book in our family room for friends and family to browse through. The ones on the high point are copies.(we do this because poeple have destroyed and stolen the pages we keep on the mound)

What’s the name of your dog and cats?
Our dog’s name is “Dixon”.  Our cats names are “Friendly”,”Jason”, “Joni”,and “O.J.”(not for Simpson but for the Juice!). however, we don’t see our cats much anymore since Dixon moved in.

Do you have weather that is different from the surrounding area (e.g., more snow or lightening)?
Our weather is not really different.but we do have much higher winds.  It is really something watching a front come in from the Mound. And we have much drifting of snow. All our plants and flowers are always at least a week behind Scales Mound!

What prompted you to gradually begin reducing access so that currently it is accessible only during the first weekend of June, July, August and September?
We were having so many problems.  People were roaming around all times of the day and night.  We had lost our “peace and quite”, as well as our “privacy”. We worry about the safety of our grandchild.  We want her to be able to run around and play without worrying who she might be bumping into!  We might add, that it is our firm belief that it wasn’t members of your club that were the problem.  The real problem was the “tourist” and the occasional highpointer. We had two men in our office the other day, really rather obnoxious, demanding to go up there. I said it was too bad they weren’t here for the Highpointers convention.  they asked me what the heck  a Highpointer was?  What else can I say??

Do you have unannounced visitors in the night?

What do your neighbors think of your owning the highpoint? 
I think our neighbors would have loved to have the state buy the property.  But since Illinois didn’t want it, they are happy with us.  There was a buyer interested in the property that wanted to build a revolving restaurant on top- and, boy, they didn’t want that.  Most of them are happy with the improvements we have made to the property.

How many highpoints have you visited?  
None, other than Charles Mound.

Have you traveled in the vicinity of other highpoints? 
We don’t travel very much. we own our own business, and getting away is difficult.  and, honestly, Jean is afraid of heights!

What was your opinion of the convention?
We thought the convention was fabulous!!  We just couldn’t get over how organized everything was. we were treated like royalty by all of those attending.  We just never expected anything like that. we thought the ceremony at the summit for Jack was very moving.  and it was a thrill to have Paul Zumwalt there! 

Did your neighbors say anything about it? 
Most of the folks in Scales Mound mentioned how courteous and friendly all those crazy Highpointers were!  

What was money raised at the Lions Club Breakfast used for?
I am not sure, but be assured it will go to a worthwhile cause!

There was a sign by a latrine saying “Better than the Bush.”  Does that  reflect your politics? 
Absolutely not! We are die-hard republicans, with a picture of G.W. hanging in our office! 

Was the latrine there before? 
Oh, yes!

The picnic tables? 
No, we brought those in –borrowed from neighbors and the Lions club.  The neighbors helped lug them in and out.

What are the pet causes you mentioned at the Highpointers banquet?
Please don’t smoke. 
Please neuter your pets
Donate generously to your local hospices 
Vote Republican!

Who painted the signs for the convention and came up with the names?
I wish i could say that my 6-year old granddaughter painted the signs- but since she is only 6-month old, I doubt I can get away with it!  I (Jean) made the signs.  Believe it or not, they were the best I could do. As I said at the convention, I am an accountant, not an artist!  Wayne thought of “steep, steeper, steepest.”. He started last summer clearing three trails of different grades. He spent so many hours in the woods clearing trails, i was afraid we wouldn’t have any trees left!

You mentioned you were considering selling the property to provide for  retirement and your heirs.  Would you consider selling it to the State or Nature Conservancy? 
I think I was misunderstood. we are not actively selling our property. but if the right price was offered, we would probably let it go.  our son never lived there, so has no real interest in it.  Many people would love to see the state  own it. personally, we think that is what should happen.but the state is doesn’t have any money!

Has the state contacted you?

How big is the property? 
210 acres- with about 50 acres of woods.

Can I ask the asking price?
You can ask.

If you can’t get your asking price, what alternatives are you considering?
We hold on to the property until we get what we feel is a just price. We are in no hurry. We love living at the top, and never tire of the beautiful views we get from every window in our home.

Is there anything the Highpointers Club or its members can do to help you?
Just please ask members to adhere to the rules. we are offering 8 days, where we guarantee to be there…all we ask is that you plan your trips accordingly.  We have never allowed visitors at night, and we have never allowed pets.  Pets are a big problem  for us. We can’t seem to get people to leave their dogs at home.

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