My Territory Story

Sold on Shenandoah

Welcome to My Territory Story, a regular feature that highlights people who make The Galena Territory a great place to live, work, and play.

Maybe it’s the beauty, sense of community, or simplicity of life that draws people to The Galena Territory.

For Jane West and Tom Nagel, the Shenandoah Riding Center and the charm of The Galena Territory made an immediate impression.

They first discovered The Territory in 1981 while celebrating their second wedding anniversary at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, then named Eagle Ridge Inn. So enamored with The Territory’s picturesque vistas, the next morning they purchased their first lot.


“We just loved the whole rural aspect,” Jane said. “It’s always felt like home.”

After purchasing the lot, the couple spent several years renting homes periodically in different sections of The Territory.

Then in 1997, they built a home in The Territory and moved from Arlington Heights.

Jane and Tom chose to first rent the house, but its most frequent tenant was Jane herself.

“We couldn’t rent it, Jane was always there, like a squatter,” Tom said.

Later, they moved to rural Elizabeth to accommodate Tom’s new business before returning to The Territory permanently in 2017.

A love for horses

Shenandoah, The Territory’s first amenity, and a love for horses cemented Tom and Jane’s commitment to the community.

“It’s always been a passion for me,” Jane said. “Now, he shares the same passion.”

In fact, Tom has held riding clinics —that started at the Shenandoah— for the last 20 years throughout the nation and world, including England, Austria, and the Netherlands. His most recent was at the Riding Center in late 2019 before COVID-19.

Shenandoah is also where the couple boards Tucker, a registered Palomino quarter horse, and Chloe, a standard-bred harness racer who spent her previous days in an Amish community.

“If you have horses around here and you’re in a barn, you have to have trails to ride,” Tom said. “We don’t own a truck, a trailer, we don’t have to. We just get on a horse and ride. How many people can do that anymore?”

Shenandoah is a second home for Jane and Tom. They spend countless hours inside the Riding Center and traverse its 24 miles of trails through The Territory’s countryside.

“We just really love it,” Jane said. “Really, all of Jo Daviess County is great for horse-minded people.”

Not surprisingly, their home borders a horse trail.

“The trails in The Territory are phenomenal, and not just for horses,” Jane said.

There are more than 32 miles of trails within The Galena Territory, owned and maintained by The Galena Territory Association (25.4 miles), Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa (5.18 miles), and townhouse and condo associations (0.85 miles). The trails navigate hills, ravines, and ridge tops.

“Our focus has always been Shenandoah, but it’s nice to have other opportunities available,” Tom said. “Lake Galena is a jewel.”

Located in the heart of The Galena Territory, the tranquil 225-acre Lake is perfect for anglers and boaters who enjoy observing nature on leisurely cruises. It boasts some of the best fishing in the area and is frequented by eagles, ospreys, blue herons, whitetail deer, red foxes, and otters.

Fun facts

  • Both Tom and Jane were flight attendants when they met. Tom worked as a steward with United Airlines for 13 years and Jane flew with United for 30 years before she retired.
  • Tom later delved into the computer industry before training horse riders.
  • Tom has sold more than 10,000 copies of his book “Zen & Horseback Riding.”

my forever home

Family finds peace in The Galena Territory

Home means many things to many people.

Sometimes it’s a destination, a specific house or just being content.

For Apryl Gates and her family, it’s The Galena Territory.

“This is the first place that has ever felt like home, one hundred percent,” Apryl said. “We weren’t even unpacked and it felt like home.”

Apryl and her husband, Stephen, have two sons, Hayden, who just turned 9 years old, and Hudson, nearly 8. The couple has also adopted nine “children:” Moocow, Damsel, Dandelion, Meatball, Dotti Mae, Shadow, Patrick, Turbo. Number nine, Bavaro, came from the beaches of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

“I literally like dogs more than humans,” Apryl said. “I feel like I empathize knowing that they can’t tell us how they feel.”

The move to The Territory

The family moved from the outskirts of Dubuque to The Territory about a year ago after flooding tore into their house repeatedly. The family once had to be evacuated from the rising waters.

Apryl and Stephen’s house hunting technically began with five showings but it didn’t last long after she saw the house at 98 Shenandoah Drive. Built around a spiral staircase, the house is shaped almost like a round barn with rooms separated like pieces of a pie and a round silo-like skylight.

“That day I said ‘this is my house; my forever home,’” Apryl said. “We went home, canceled the rest of the showings, and put in an offer the next day.”

The family, and their canines, settled in mid-November of last year and hosted Thanksgiving.


“The country setting and wildlife blow my mind every single day,” Apryl said. 

Days are often spent gazing upon vast open acres in the morning and stunning sunsets over the Shenandoah Riding Center at night.

“I’ve been in heaven every day since we came here,” Apryl said. “I enjoy the rain now.”

The many family-focused amenities found in The Territory are a bonus, especially the indoor pool, game room, trails, and children programs hosted by The Galena Territory Association (GTA) Recreation Department.

“I love living here,” Hayden said.

Doggone, The Territory is a caring community

The pastoral setting of their home ranks second only to the sense of community the Gates find in The Territory.

“It’s almost like you’re in a small community because everybody knows each other,” Stephen said.

Apryl held a driveway birthday party for Hudson in April, amid the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and was humbled by seeing more than 50 cars, pickups, fire trucks, and even horses parade by her driveway. Drivers waved signs, honked horns, and offered gifts.

“I bet I cried half a dozen times that day because of the way the community came together,” Apryl said.

Early in their arrival to The Territory, the Gates had nine dogs. That’s down from an all-time high of 12 at one time.

The Gates have been a surrogate family for at-risk canines for many years. Their generosity recently eased concerns of friends and family of a Territory property owner who passed away and left three longtime four-legged companions behind.

“If it’s a big dog and it needs a home, I’m taking it,” Apryl said.

The Gates fostered Clifford, Mack, and Seven, for a month. Sadly, Clifford passed away, but the other two found new homes in Savanah.

At the outset of taking each dog in, Apryl intends to just ensure each is healthy and find them a new home. But that doesn’t always happen.

“Some of them catch our hearts,” she said. “So they become a permanent family member until their time comes.”

Right now Apryl and Stephen are focused on their boys, who are more involved in sports and school, and the current “herd.” Because of that, they have taken a break from actively rescuing and fostering dogs.

“Maybe someday we’ll get back into it, but for now, it will just be the thirteen of us!”


Each day is Saturday

tranquility in The Galena Territory

On a sticky summer day in 1976, Mary and David Foote trekked in a car with no air conditioning to a family wedding.

By happenstance, the travelers, including Dave’s brother-in-law, Bill, stopped for lunch on U.S. 20 amongst a heavily wooded, picturesque area that only three years earlier was christened The Galena Territory.

Bill fell in love with The Territory during that drive in 1976 and began bringing his children twice a year. That tradition lasted for 20 years before he purchased a weekend home in The Territory in 2007.

“We had no idea he bought that house,” David said.

The Footes, their children, and other members of the family received keys to the new house.

Soon Mary and Dave were making regular weekend visits to The Territory. As time went on, they extended their stay to three to four days as The Territory continued to tempt them back.

“It was like waking up every day to Saturday morning,” Mary said. 

A shift in life

Mary and Dave pondered purchasing property in The Territory as they drew closer to retirement. Now instead of fighting traffic, they marvel at Thunder Bay Falls as they drive by.

“Nothing beats the ambiance of The Territory," Mary said.

The Footes started living full-time in The Territory in 2019 after three years of searching for their perfect home on Harbor Drive that their children affectionately call Tranquility Harbor. A rafter of turkeys welcomed them on their first morning.

“We have a beautiful setting,” Mary said. “It’s gorgeous. Our views are spectacular!”


More home than any other place

Many days, and especially nights, the Footes can now be found in their sunroom admiring nature’s beauty and listening to Thunder Bay Falls in the distance.

The couple, Mary said, has also been blessed with fun and caring neighbors since settling down in The Territory.

“If you’re willing to be open and talk to people, they’re here for you,” Mary said.

Both are also active in several activities, including women’s coffee, water aerobics, and Just Show Up on Fridays.

“We have met and socialized with more people than in the 20 years combined before moving here from our old neighborhood in the Naperville and Aurora area,” Dave said.

He still keeps busy as a real estate photographer after being in residential selling for 28 years. Dave often finds himself in metro areas and is always anxious to come home.

“Once I get just outside of Rockford from the city of Chicago, I feel the tension lift from my shoulders,” he said. “This is more home to us than any other place.”

As an avid nature photographer, Dave loves the colorful canvas of Territory mornings.

Mary was part of a physician’s group and worked in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago.

“This is paradise for me,” she said. “There’s a peacefulness here and you can be one with nature.”

Their advice to potential property owners:

“Be prepared to unwind. Whatever you think is a vacation, it’s here.”


Water at dusk

Meet Denise and Frank Sedlak

Sitting in the home on Augusta Drive you get the feeling you’ve been here before. The warmth of the nearby crackling fire is only bested by the comfort of the conversation.

Denise and Frank Sedlaks’ Territory Story began in 1992 when they rented a weekender place on Creekwood Lane to attend the Chicago Bears training camp at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

“We instantly fell in love with The Territory,” Denise said. “I still wake up and taken aback by it all.”

They made the annual journey from their home in Villa Park located in the western suburbs of Chicago. During each trip, they spent more time in The Territory.

Frank taught history while Denise was a principal. As educators, the school calendar provided several opportunities, especially holidays, to enjoy time with their children inside The Territory.

Frank retired in 2003 after 34 years while Denise retired in 2010 after 31 years.

A little apprehension

Denise comes from a large family and was somewhat hesitant to commit to The Territory at first. She worried the distance would be too far for their two children Jennifer and Brian, who still live in the Chicago suburbs, and other family to travel.

To quell some of that uncertainty, the Sedlaks rented a house in Elmhurst until they grew more comfortable with the transition. But it didn’t take long before they called The Territory home.

“It became very clear that we loved it here,” Denise said.

Settling down

The couple became property owners in 2001, purchased their retirement home in 2005, and called The Territory home permanently in 2012. Their four grandchildren visit often.

“The pace, peacefulness, and serenity of life slow down enough to enjoy each day,” Frank said. “It’s completely different from the hustle and bustle of a city.”

The Sedlaks found a welcoming and friendly community once they settled in.

“You meet the nicest people out here,” Denise said. “They’re all very down to earth.”

Drawn to the Driftless Area

The Territory, located in the Driftless Area, offers breathtaking sunrises and stunning sunsets. It’s one of the first things that plucked the Sedlaks out of their suburban trappings.

Their living room and kitchen now overlook rolling hills and an endless skyline.

“The natural beauty is mind-boggling,” Denise said. “Sometimes you have to pinch yourself.”

Loving the lifestyle

Both Denise and Frank volunteer for or host several GTA events, including Territory Trivia which has become an entertainment staple.

“You can be as busy as you want or just relax,” Denise said.

Both use many GTA amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, and myriad social events. As boat owners, you’ll often find them traversing Lake Galena. Frank has a garage full of trophy catches mounted on the walls.

“Our favorite place to be is on the water at dusk,” he said.

Location, location, location

Besides being nestled in amongst one of the most scenic places in the Midwest, The Territory is about 20 minutes away from renowned restaurants, crowd-pleasing performing arts, and specialty shops in Galena.

Such rich experiences are normally reserved for metropolitan areas.

“You get the country flavor, but you have everything you need or want in a community,” Denise said. “We never felt like we lost something. There’s nothing lacking.”

A secret no more

Once a best-kept secret, The Territory is garnering attention from younger families and individuals who work from home or commute.

“They’re finding it really an easy place to live and be able to raise a family,” Frank said.

The Sedlaks expect their love of The Territory to spread across generations as they pass their home onto their children who will, in turn, leave it for their children.

“We have no intention of selling,” Denise said. “We love it here too much.”