With a giant magnifying glass in one hand, Rose Micatka hunched over her Bingo playing card and scoured the chart for the right numbers. As one of her friends flipped through a deck of cards, another friend periodically reached over to help place chips on the squares Micatka missed.
“I’m blind as a bat, my legs are wobbly, but what the hell,” Micatka said. “My mouth sure is good.”
Micatka and her friends like to “shoot the breeze” as they sit around a cafeteria table at St. Bernardine Catholic School for their Monday night tradition: B-I-N-G-O!
But it wasn’t Bingo time quite yet. The ladies were warming up with a casual game of Pokeno.
“I don’t like your cards,” Eleanor Konkowski told Micatka as the pot, full of nickels, was building steadily. “I’m bringing my own next week.”
“They always complain about my cards!” said Micatka, an 83-year-old from Berwyn, just as she filled her last empty square with a chip.
“Rose, you won!” Konkowski, 87, suddenly yelled. She dumped a plastic cup full of nickels into Micatka’s sandwich bag full of coins.
“And I had to get nickels beforehand because I didn’t have any!” Micatka laughed.
“You can make a lot of money,” said another player, Ann Lemongelli, 82. “She had at least five bucks in that last pot. Those nickels add up quickly.”
This group of friends rarely misses a week of Bingo at St. Bernardine, 815 S. Elgin Ave., even with the snowstorm brewing on that cold Monday night.
“It’s something to do instead of sitting at home and twiddling your thumbs, kid,” Micatka said.
“We talk, we gossip,” Konkowski said. “We laugh, we enjoy each other. And we like winning.”
“You don’t have to cook dinner either,” Lemongelli added.
This year St. Bernardine’s is celebrating 45 years of Bingo, which has always been the largest fundraiser for the school. In recent years, though, the event has been struggling. Last year, $40,000 was budgeted for the cost of running Bingo nights, and they ended up bringing in about $36,000. This year, their goal is to make about $1,000 a week. In order to break even, they need about 80 people each night, and they have been getting “somewhere under 100” people on average, according to Deb Michalak the program’s coordinator.
Bingo nights throughout the area are hurting now, Michalak said. The rough economy has caused some to tighten their belts and shave their entertainment expenses. The smoking ban from a few years ago has also lowered attendance, as did the gambling boats that opened in Aurora and Indiana.
But Michalak said St. Bernardine’s offers reasonable prices compared to other Bingo nights. That, combined with an easy-going atmosphere, is how they try “to get the people in the door.”
“We’ve got a reputation of being a friendly, more relaxed form of Bingo,” she said. “Some are all business. You come in, you sit down, you play your game. We tend to be more laid back, more relaxed and friendlier.”
Joan Preiwisch can attest to that.
The 74-year-old drives to Bingo every week from Bartlett “like a crazy fool.” She has been playing ever since the game was founded at St. Bernardine, so she has made many friends through the program.
“Everybody knows Joan, that’s for sure,” she said, “whether they like it or not.”
Preiwisch, born and raised in Forest Park, remembers when they celebrated Mass at a bowling alley at Harlem and Harrison while the church was under construction. She attended St. Bernardine School and got married at St. Bernardine Church.
“It’s my second home,” she said. “My entire life was here.” Especially now that her husband has passed away, she enjoys attending Bingo for the company.
“They are so nice to me, I just like coming,” she said. “Bingo draws people together.”
Of course, she does like winning, too.
“I have been quite fortunate in winning a number of times,” said Preiwisch, who claims to have won something every week. “I’m addicted. What can I say?”
When the Bingo games do finally begin in Fearon Hall, everyone quietly takes their places – same spots every week – lines up their good luck trinkets on the table and concentrates on the numbers being called over the loud speaker.
Sure enough, Preiwisch claims the first Bingo game played that night, winning $100.
No good luck charms for her, though.
“I just pray a lot,” she said with a grin.