On Sept. 15 the crowd that gathered at the Golden Steer Restaurant after the Memorial Mass for John Booth was so large that tables had to be placed outside and the adjoining street closed. More than 100 people gathered to pay respects, share memories, tell stories and watch a slide show of photos from Booth’s life. People talked of how generous he was, how caring, passionate, and funny.
And in a fitting tribute to the man they had come to honor, Booth’s posterior was carved in ice for everyone to see.
A resident of Forest Park for 40 years, Booth’s generosity was legendary, and rivaled only by his wildly amusing personality. The same man who made anonymous donations to the village, the Loyola Burn Center and the Wisconsin Center for the Blind also found bliss in dropping his pants to expose a full moon.
At a surprise party for Booth’s 69th birthday, his grandson Mike Booth remembers this very stunt.
“He looked at all of us there, dropped his trousers and did a cannonball into the pool,” Mike Booth said. “He was old school and you really wanted to be a part of his crew.”
Booth had a wide variety of friends. He rubbed elbows with judges and plumbers, police officers and guys from the Southside. Known for an irreverent take on life, Booth once advised his close friend, Fr. Frank Grady, that he could increase attendance by serving salsa along with communion.
Grady passed on the suggestion.
“He had a zest for life,” said his wife of 24 years, Maureen Booth. “He lit up a room when he entered it. People gravitated to him, and not just because he was buying drinks; although quite often that was the case. He was the light of my life.”
Booth fought back courageously after a nearly fatal fire in January, 2001. He and his wife were trapped in their home and were rescued by the Forest Park Fire Department. Both husband and wife sustained injuries and John Booth was in a coma for 20 days suffering from smoke inhalation.
True to form, he recovered and taught himself to breathe, swallow and talk all over again. The fire devastated the home on Taylor Street, but the Booths rebuilt. On a recommendation from Judge Jim O’Malley in 2004, the village designated the 7700 block of Taylor Street as Booth Drive, in appreciation for all of Booth’s humanitarian efforts.
Booth served in the Navy from 1942 to 1946, and according to friends, he lied about his age to enlist. After being discharged, he started a 50 year career in the printing industry. He died at the age of 82 on Sept 12.
Longtime friend Barry Schaffner said Booth had “more life in him than 100 people put together.”
At the Golden Steer, bartender Alba Caragher is privy to many tales about Booth.
“Everyone knew him,” Caragher said. “He was so supportive.”
Granddaughter Michelle Hayes said her grandfather introduced her to people who will continue to improve her life for years.
“We were blessed to be his grandchildren and proud to be his friends,” Hayes said.
Sally Cody, an administrative assistant at village hall, remembers discussing music with Booth and casually mentioning she had always wanted a Bose Wave radio. On her birthday that very same radio system was sitting on her doorstep.
“He was that kind of guy,” Cody said.
Former mayor Lorraine Popelka knew Booth as well, and is fond of one story in particular. Several years ago Booth and a friend walked into a Cicero bar and Booth tossed his car keys to a kid standing at the door. A couple of hours later, he asked the bartender where the valet was. The bartender informed him that they didn’t have a valet service, Popelka said.
Booth dialed the number for his car phone and after a brief but intense conversation, the young man realized it would be in his best interests to return the car, Popelka said.
Booth was so pleased to see his car that he gave the kid $50 with a stern warning never to take his car again.
Along with legions of friends, Booth is survived by five children from a previous marriage, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.