As she always did on New Year’s Eve, Fern Campbell invited her friends and neighbors to her second-floor flat on Elgin for a Brandy Alexander stiff enough to make you hold the railing on your way out the door. A longtime neighbor, Pat Petrey remembers that night as a testament to Campbell’s longevity.
Petrey marveled that at the age of 101 Campbell was still able to pour drinks and socialize late into the night. It was also one of the few times Petrey can remember Campbell making any sort of fuss at all about her age.
“I’m 101-and-a-half,” was Campbell’s response, said Petrey.
Born in July of 1907, Campbell may have been Forest Park’s oldest resident. She died Feb. 5 of complications from pneumonia. A memorial service was held Friday, Feb. 13.
The day before Campbell’s memorial service, Petrey stood on her front porch with an unobstructed view of her friend’s home.
“She was a wonderful woman and lived to be 101-and-a-half,” Petrey said.
In 1974, Campbell moved into the upstairs portion of a two-flat in the 400 block of Elgin. On the first floor lived Lin Scollard and her husband. Their friendship was forged in part by proximity, but Scollard said she doesn’t think she’ll ever meet another woman like “Fernie.”
Scollard’s father-in-law and Campbell both worked for a railroad company in Chicago. Through that connection, the families developed a kinship that stayed with them when they headed to the suburbs.
To say that Campbell lived every day as though it might be her last would be an understatement. As a teenager living in Chicago, her mother forced her into a marriage because she thought it might help Campbell calm down a bit, according to Scollard. So, at the age of 16, she was married. That union ended in divorce after only about a year and Campbell remained single until she was 37.
She smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes and drank beer, even into her last years. Campbell finally gave up driving at the age of 92 when she was involved in a serious car accident that put her in the hospital for a month. Pins and plates were inserted into her leg, said Scollard, and then it was off to an in-patient rehabilitation facility in Westmont. While there, Campbell stuck to her physical therapy and avoided mingling with the other elderly patients.
“I’m not sitting out there with them old people,” Campbell would say, according to Scollard. She was simply determined to return to her life.
Several years later when she was 97 or 98, a friend asked how Campbell’s leg was faring. Scollard laughed with the memory and said Campbell swung her leg onto the dining room table to show off her surgical scars.
“There was nothing you couldn’t like about her,” Scollard said.
Campbell was an avid bingo player, according to Sue Bothie, another friend. Bothie met Campbell through a local Moose organization with her mother and was on-hand in July when Campbell celebrated her 101st. Campbell never lost her mental acuity, said Bothie and was a bit of a news hound with an opinion on most every issue.
“She was just one hell of a lady,” Bothie said. “She did everything she wanted to in her life.”
As she grew older, she gave up driving and her eyesight began to fail her. Campbell slowed, but did not stop, according to friends and neighbors. Every day she walked Scollard’s two dogs, which combined, may have outweighed her. She relied on Petrey for rides to see her optometrist and the two would go out for dinner.
It was mid January when Campbell was admitted to a nearby hospital for pneumonia and doctors said there was reason to worry. She held on for several weeks but didn’t return home to play bingo or walk the dogs. For the first time in more than a century, Fern Campbell won’t be there for New Year’s.