On Christmas Eve, 1940, Leo Burnett phoned his friend, John Olson, and said “John, I want to buy a farm for Naomi for Christmas. Do you think you can find one for me?” That started the search for a farm and house for Leo and his wife, Naomi. After eliminating 15 or 20 places, the Burnetts settled on 71 acres in Lake Zurich which they later added two additional parcels until the farm was about 130 acres. They purchased the original 71 acres on August 30, 1941. The farmhouse and the barn were 100 years old and dated back to the original setter, Dan Huntington. (With the later addition of the Kreuser property the total White Birch Lakes subdivision is approximately 180 acres.)


“The property they finally chose,” said Joe, “had the potential for building lakes on it. It was also kind of picturesque, hillier than typical of the area and was about the highest point in Lake County.” (The farm was situated atop the natural divide that separates the watersheds of the Des Plaines and Fox River Valleys.). An active spring in the upper slough inspired them with the plan to build a lake.
To Leo, the farm represented unending possibilities. He had read Louis Bromfield’s book, Malabar Far, which chronicled the amazing rehabilitation of a run-down farm property. And, as he did with any new project, Leo immersed himself in the subject. Bromfield had written that lakes helped preserve water tables; Leo decided to create a 12-acre lake out of a swamp on the back 40 acres.


Regarding Leo’s idea to build a lake, Naomi said, “It seemed to me to be a major undertaking and, being, practical, I suggested that we sell the farm and buy another with a lake already on it. He responded with that look, familiar to many who worked with him, which said he didn’t just want a lake, he wanted to build a lake.” The Burnetts needed a strip of land to the north to build the lake as they envisioned it. Their neighbors to the north were the Kreusers who owned and operated the old Graff farm. The Kreusers sold the Burnetts the acreage they needed to proceed. The sale was official through a handshake.
When the engineer came to see Leo about the details of the Lake project, he asked if Leo wanted to build the dam strong enough to withstand a flash flood, explaining that every 100 years an extraordinary amount of rain fell and the buildup of water exceeded the usual amount. Naomi, realizing the stronger dam would be more expensive, said she didn’t care what happened in 100 years. But Leo cared, and ignoring the extra cost, promptly ordered the stronger dike. And of course, said Naomi, the year after the dam was completed the 100-year flash flood came. It took every ounce of that additional strength to withstand the pressure. With a weaker foundation, we might have had a local disaster, a paved road might have been torn out, farm property damaged,” she said. But Leo had built against the flood, against possible disaster in 100 years.
His stronger dam had held. Naomi said Leo built his lake – and his company – to last. When the lake was finally finished in 1948, Leo name it “Lake Naomi”. Naomi named the new dam which made her lake possible, “Dam Leo”.
The Burnetts stocked the lake with largemouth bass and a type of blue gill known as pumpkin seed. The venture was so successful that it aroused the interest of the Fishing Tackle Association. They sent their fish experts who weighed and measured the growth of the fish population with enthusiastic approval.


The families derived so much pleasure from Lake Naomi that when the Burnetts proposed a second lake, the Kreusers backed the idea whole-heartedly. Lake Leo’s 14 acres extended onto the Kreuser farm, bridging the two properties and reflecting the link between the two families.


Leo Burnett was an American advertising executive and founder of Leo Burnett Company, Inc. He was responsible for creating some of advertising’s most well-known characters and campaigns of the 20th century, including Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, the Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Jolly Green Giant, the Maytag Repairman, United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies”, Allstate’s “Good Hands”, and for garnering relationships with multinational clients such as McDonald’s, Hallmark and Coco-Cola. In 1999, Leo Burnett was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Chicago magazine said “Leo Burnett has been to advertising what Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan were to architecture.”

Naomi Burnett once described herself as “a shadowy, somewhat veiled figure in the remote background of my husband’s ephemeral but notable career . . . I can’t shine along. I need a star to light me up.” In the company publication’s 50th anniversary issue in 1985, she wrote, “One day, when I was hoeing the garden, Leo came up and took the hoe away from me, saying “I don’t like to see a woman hoe . . . “. While I was pleasantly mulling over the fact that chivalry was not dead, he finished the sentence: “with a dull hoe.” And he sharpened it and brought it back.


While the Burnetts and Kreusers were raising their families, the community was growing up, too. Both families were instrumental in the formation and expansion of the village of Hawthorn Woods, which now encompasses White Birch Lakes. Dick Kreuser was its third president and served from 1961 to 1965.