FARM lost another beloved member of our community when, Juel Ulven passed away, August 19, 2022. Many aren’t aware that Juel is one of FARM’s founding members. He was one of the initial instigators in creating a Midwest Folk Alliance, there at the very first gathering. The video above honoring him was provided by Cheryl Joyal of the Fox Valley Folklore Society and Carol Obertubessing (via Joanne Murdock) shared this lovely write-up. 

Founder of Geneva’s Folk Festival Juel Ulven dies at 75

By Brenda Schory, September 01, 2022

“No one is going to be able to replicate Juel’s work and knowledge. There is no one human being who can do what Juel did,” Murdock said. “We will continue as an organization. … We’ll be carrying the torch.

Juel Ulven of North Aurora, organizer of the annual Fox Valley Folk Music Festival in Geneva, died Aug. 19.

If you’ve ever dropped by Island Park in Geneva over Labor Day weekend and been entertained by storytellers, banjo pickers or guitarists singing folk songs or people performing folk dances, it was because of Juel Ulven’s vision.
For most of its 46 years, the Fox Valley Folk Festival was held at Island Park, a modest beginning that grew into two all-day events on the island’s 13 acres.

A North Aurora resident, Ulven died Aug. 19 at 75 of mantle cell lymphoma, a type of cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure during his time in the Vietnam War.

Juel was a very inclusive person. He loved to share his love of music with everyone and anyone who wanted to listen,” said member Joann Murdock of St. Charles. “He really had a passion for traditional and folk music from the early 1960s and 1970s when he was in the Navy and traveling all around the world.

Folk music is kind of a noncommercial type of music that speaks to the common person’s feelings, views and experiences toward the world, she said.

It’s usually not an educated type of music,” Murdock said, though the late Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax were educated and trained musicians. “They were fascinated by this type of music.

They were country people who had none of that fine training,” Murdock said. “And they were making such amazing music. … Folk music really means something to people. It’s about struggles with the union or unfair work situations. It may be a love song or a dance song or about a farmer.

After moving to the Chicago area to follow a career as a Bell Labs engineer, Ulven founded the Fox Valley Folklore Society in 1975 to support and perpetuate folk music.

The festival was an extension of that passion – to give a venue for performing and to provide those performances to the public.

The first festival in 1977 was in Aurora, and Murdock and her husband, Lee Murdock, walked by and were completely taken.

We decided to live in the Fox Valley and be part of that,” Murdock said.

With input and organizing from the Murdocks and Phil Cooper – Cooper and Lee Murdock also are performers – the second festival was moved to Island Park.

It was a very small festival that first year, but each year, it kind of grew a little bit,” Murdock said. “That was because of Juel’s love of music and his love of everyone that he included in the folk music organization.”

Folk organizations from Lake County and Downers Grove and other areas participated. In the late 1980s, storytelling became part of the festival, she said.

About 10 years in, a bike trail was put in on the island along the river and suddenly all the people out for a ride on a holiday weekend were taken in by the performances.

We were just amazed and overwhelmed,” Murdock said. “There were no gates around the festival. … They came and stayed. And we started getting bigger tents and banners and things to invite people.

At that time, there was only a main stage. Now, there’s multiple stages all going at once.

We were trying to be open for everyone,” Murdock said.

Ulven had a vision of sharing the music with people who had never heard it before. And because Island Park is public, they could not set up gates for admission anyway.

Instead, they set up welcome booths at both ends and asked for donations. It began to require the work of 150 volunteers to put the festival together – everything from setting up the tents to wiring them for electricity to taking it all down at the end.

We had a suggested donation amount. Some people gave that amount or they gave what they could – $3 or $5. Some would throw $100 in the pot. And that’s still the case.”

This year’s live concert portion of the festival took place in Hinsdale.

We’ll work to have it back in Geneva next year, Murdock said.

We were gearing up [for Geneva], but when Juel started to get sick, it was so hard to know all the contacts he had,” Murdock said.

The challenge will be keeping Ulven’s memory and spirit alive going forward.

“No one is going to be able to replicate Juel’s work and knowledge. There is no one human being who can do what Juel did,” Murdock said. “We will continue as an organization. … We’ll be carrying the torch.

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