Fifty-one years ago, Bob Terese and Corinne Owen opened a pet shop on State Street in Chicago — the Lambs Farm Pet Shop — with the dream of giving people with developmental disabilities the chance to work and be part of society.
In May, the residents, staff and volunteers at Lambs Farm realized a new dream: the opening of a new Visitors Center that showcases the campus's history.
"It's something that has been a dream of ours for a long time, to tell people what we do and how we got started," said Jackie Rachev, communications coordinator at Lambs Farm in Libertyville.
Lambs Farm celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011, an occasion marked by the unveiling of a new branding campaign and a desire to "pull out all of our wonderful stories that had gotten lost."
The new Visitors Center, located among Lambs Farm's popular shops, features a variety of historical photos and documents that tell Lambs Farm's story. That story began with Terese and Owen who, despite having no family members with developmental disabilities, made it their mission to help such people. Initially, Terese and Owen aimed to keep the children busy making crafts with wood. Eventually, though, Terese and Owen started teaching the children about things like cooking and sports, said Rachev.
"They realized that the population can do it — you just have to teach them differently, said Rachev.
After a stint at Hull House, Terese and Owen opened the tiny Lambs Farm Pet Shop in 1961. The shop employed 12 men and women with developmental disabilities. Eight of those people still are living, Rachev said, and one of them soon will work at the new Visitors Center. The woman, Janice, "loves to talk about Lambs and she gets emotional talking about Bob and Corinne," said Rachev.
In 1965, realizing they needed to expand, Terese and Owen worked with Chicago philanthropist W. Clement Stone to move the pet shop to the land that Lambs Farm still calls home today. After initially leasing the land to Terese and Owen, Stone later gifted it to the pair.
The Lambs Farm Pet Shop is the only remaining structure on the property from that time, Rachev said, "which is fitting considering that's how we got started."
The Visitors Center delves deeper into this history and offers guests the chance to see a variety of documents and memorabilia, from books written by Terese and Owen to letters from supporters like President Ronald Reagan, Carol Burnett and Betty Ford. Rachev said Ford visited Lambs Farm numerous times.
These days, about 180 people live at Lambs Farm in apartments, group homes and a senior facility, Rachev said. There are also community homes, which house four to six people each, in Libertyville, Mundelein and Waukegan.
Lambs Farm residents volunteer and work in local communities.
"We try to get them in the community as much as possible if that's what they want," said Rachev. Residents also work on site in the shops, with the grounds crew or in the administrative offices.
Rachev said the residents live very active lifestyles. When they're not working, they're often working out in the gym, practicing any of their nine Special Olympics sports or taking classes like photography.
They also enjoy greeting the guests who stop by to shop — perhaps to buy the famous butter cookies — or enjoy at meal at the Country Inn Restaurant.
"We say once you're on our campus and meet our folks, you're hooked," said Rachev.
The Visitors Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the Lambs Farm website for more information.