Jerry DeMaagd

Structures from Great Depression tell a story of Rockford today

April 5, 2012 // 0 Comments

by BETH ALTENA Take a look at some of Rockford’s buildings today and you will find a history lesson about a time when jobs were scarce, the economy was terrible and people were unemployed in record numbers. Many structures dating from the Great Depression years are still in use today and tell a story about public works and community spirit during those hard times. Former Rockford resident Jerry DeMaagd was the speaker at the February 2 meeting of the Rockford Area Historical Society on what was happening in our town during the decade of 1930 to 1940. “I was born in 1936 so I wasn’t around to see most of it myself,” he stated at the meeting’s start. He said he researched the issues of The Rockford Register (now The Rockford Squire) on microfilm at the library to find information. “It was a big job” he noted. A hobby photographer and “aesthetic archeologist,” DeMaagd’s interest in architecture provided a base for this study. Also, the pictures are “a noticing choice”; what to photograph is a personal choice as well as a historical record. The first image is probably something every Rockford resident has probably driven past without a second thought: the classical detailing on the former Kent County “Barn” (Road Commission Garage on Northland Drive), built when Warren Townsend was chairman of the Kent County Road Commission (Townsend Park is named after him) and is now owned by Wolverine World Wide. That structure reflects the influence of the day, showing classical detailing on the columns did not add to the functionality of the building, but common to architects who were classically trained. To set the atmosphere of the times behind his discussion, DeMaagd spoke of his father, Gerald DeMaagd M.D., who had his first office over the Kimm furniture store and rented a room in the building now occupied by the Pederson Funeral Home. He held up the doctor’s books from that time—literally a book where the doctor’s income and expenses were handwritten. “The average cost of a call to a doctor’s office at that time was $1.50,” he said. DeMaagd said his father married and the couple’s first child was stillborn on May 16, 1935. That baby girl, who would have been his oldest […]