Tricia Spiroff's first visit to Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton, where she is now education site manager, occurred years before the property was owned by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.
As a young girl growing up in Lombard in the 1960s, Spiroff and a girlfriend were exploring the area on their ponies when they ended up at what was then Danada Farm. A woman greeted the girls, asked if they would like some lemonade and sat on the patio talking horses with them.
Only later would Spiroff learn the woman was Ada Rice, wife of millionaire Dan Rice and his partner in breeding horse-racing champions and extending Chicago-area philanthropy.
Both Rices passed away in the mid-1970s, but visitors can glimpse what their life was like at the 783-acre Danada Forest Preserve along Naperville Road in Wheaton. Encompassing more than half of the couple's 1,350-acre estate, the preserve features the Equestrian Center housed in the Kentucky-style stable the Rices had built; their 19-room Danada House mansion, which is now the site of weddings and special events; and a 1950s-era model farm that carries on the agricultural operations that were part of the estate.
Some visitors have memories of Danada before it became a forest preserve just as Spiroff does. The Equestrian Center and Friends of Danada, a nonprofit volunteer group, are urging members of the public to share those memories.
"We would love to tap into those people," Spiroff said.
The two groups are reaching out for help as part of a multiyear project to research the Rices and the estate.
"We hope to document the history of Dan and Ada, the Danada Farm, the Danada House and landscaping, the Ada L. Rice Stables, and the many contributions (of the Rices) to DuPage County and the Chicago community," wrote Don Nash, president of Friends of Danada, in an e-mail.
Beth Sexton, committee chairman for the research project, said many of the people who had personal connections with the Rices and the property are now elderly.
"Time is of the essence," she said. "We should have started this 20 years ago."
The volunteers would like to store the information at Danada House. The historical background also could be used to augment barn tours visitors can now take, Spiroff said.
A country estate
Daniel F. Rice, born in Chicago in 1896, made his fortune in the commodities market after learning his trade as a teenager. In 1919, he formed his own commodities and security firm called Daniel F. Rice and Company, which he operated until it merged with Hayden Stone, Inc. in 1960.
When Daniel Rice was 23, he married Ada Bousman of Danville and the couple began to look for a country home some years later. They purchased several hundred acres in Wheaton in 1929 and christened their farm "Danada," a combination of their names "Dan" and "Ada."
After 10 years, their Wheaton holdings had grown to more than 1,350 acres and they commissioned a 19-room mansion to be constructed, complete with servants' quarters and a wine cellar. A greenhouse, employee boardinghouse, storage sheds, barn additions, swimming pool, formal garden consisting primarily of roses and peonies, and a skeet range were added later.
The Rices became known for posh parties held year round for up to 200 guests. Guests included international celebrities such as pianist Liberace, actor Don Ameche, and comedian, actor and singer Jimmy Durante.
Ada Rice became interested in horse racing and established the Ada L. Rice Racing Stable after Dan bought her eight yearlings in 1942. As the couple's involvement in racing grew, they purchased a second farm in Lexington, Ky., in 1947, which they also named Danada.
Horse racing was a hobby for the Rices, but they took it seriously. Ada Rice was known to walk through the stable in the morning to check on the horses, with her long fur coat trailing in the dirt.
To familiarize the horses with the atmosphere and sounds of commercial racing, they built a regulation racetrack complete with buzzer and bell on the west side of Naperville Road. After one horse was killed by a vehicle while crossing the road to the racetrack, the Rices built a passage beneath the road.
Wearing cerise and white colors, their thoroughbreds raced and won at nearly every famous racetrack in the country. Their finest moment in racing came in 1965 when Lucky Debonair, who trained at their Wheaton farm, won the Santa Anita Derby and went on to win the 91st Kentucky Derby.
The Rices reaped $8.9 million in winners' purses from 1944 to 1975, according to a fall 1997 article published in the DuPage Conservationist.
After Dan Rice died in 1975, Ada auctioned off the horses for a reported $5.5 million. She passed away in 1977 following a lengthy illness.
Danada and the Rices' names can be found throughout the Chicago area thanks to their land holdings and widespread philanthropy.
The Danada East and West Shopping Centers, Danada subdivisions, Rice Pool and Water Park in Wheaton, Rice Lake Square shopping center, and the Illinois Institute of Technology's Rice Campus are located on the land that was part of Danada Farm.
Dan Rice left a large part of his estate to be distributed among five medical schools to establish scholarships for needy students. The Rice Foundation continues to donate to causes benefiting natural resources, medical research and the community.
Institutions that have benefited include Benedictine University in Lisle, where the Dan and Ada Rice Center is used for indoor athletic events. The center's Trophy Room contains honors and awards won by the Rices, including the victory racing plates worn by Lucky Debonair, the 1965 Kentucky Derby winner.
The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Building is part of the Art Institute of Chicago. Other Chicago-area institutions bearing witness to the benefits they have received from the Rice fortune include the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Chicago History Museum, the Children's Home and Aid Society of Illinois, Brookfield Zoo, the Field Museum, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
People who have memories to share about the Rices and Danada may contact email@example.com or (630) 668-5392.