They were childhood friends – growing up in the 500 and 400 blocks of South Elgin Avenue. They all came from big families of seven children, and most importantly, they all worked as newsboys.
Mayor Anthony Calderone, Village Administrator Tim Gillian and former school board member Bob Cox shared some of their memories at a special kickoff for the Forest Park Historical Society’s new oral history project, April 26.
“[Two days] after the blizzard of ’67, at age 11, I had to deliver the Tribune,” said Calderone. “I’m not tall now, but I was quite small then and the snow drifts on Madison Street seemed 8 feet tall.”
The historical society and the Forest Park Public Library are partners in a new project, inspired by Storycorps, a national oral history organization.
“We’re hoping that other people in Forest Park will record their oral histories after they see the mayor and his friends do it,” said Historical Society President Augie Aleksy. Librarian Ben Haines has organized an oral history kit for residents who can either record at the library or check out a portable device. Haines said Storycorps provides sample questions and conversation starters, as well as recording tips. If patrons record an oral history, the library will copy it onto a CD for them.
Clustered around a microphone in the basement meeting room, the three old-timers reminisced about building forts in the vacant lot in front of Cox’s house with empty boxes from Trage’s Appliances.
“We were ready for combat. We re-played every war,” said Cox, whose parents owned a bakery. “If you had a German last name, you got to be the Germans,” he said later.
Mayor Calderone spoke of his grandfather who came to Forest Park in 1912 from Termini, Sicily and opened a Centrella Food store at 7413 W. Madison St. His father delivered milk for Borden and his mother organized Girl Scouts and arranged for private gymnastic lessons for her kids and tap dance lessons for the young Calderone.
The three friends delivered for the Tribune, pulling wagons of newspapers up and down the streets. They also worked for a local news agent, Jack Costello, delivering specialty German papers to the Altenheim on Sunday, including the Abendpost and the Sonntagpost.
“Any address in the village I feel like I’ve delivered a paper there at some point in my life,” joked Gillian. He mentioned his fourth-grade teacher at St. Bernardine’s who “squared me away when I was a bit of a hell-raiser.”
The three reminisced about local convenience stores, Patty’s Place and Poncho’s, where they spent their paper route earnings. They remembered you could get a meal any time of day at Bud’s Grill and the Deluxe Grill, whose phone number Gillian could rattle off decades later.
Calderone said he learned a lot washing glasses as a teenager at the bar after his father bought the Shortstop Lounge. “I’ve always been a good listener and I learned so much listening to those blue collar people having conversations with other adults about arguments with their wives, or trouble with their kids. A lot of Forest Park people worked in Cicero at Hotpoint and other industrial companies.”
At the time he never would have dreamed that he’d be mayor some day. “I remember my first election [in 1995] on the second floor of Doc Ryan’s and my mother was there, and she started crying. I said, ‘Ma, why are you bawling?’ and she said, ‘I thought you’d lose.'”
Aleksy said he had the forethought to record some of his mother’s memories on tape before she died. “She became wrapped up in telling stories about living on Chicago’s Taylor Street during the Depression and Prohibition, when her family ran a distillery in secret,” he said. “The recording of my mother’s voice became a gift that I will always have. I possess a shadow of her spirit.”
The library has four recorders to check out and hopes to build the program to include schools as well, said youth outreach librarian Regina Townshend, who recorded her grandmother when she was in school.
“Making an oral history,” she said, “gives you more pride and a sense of who you are.”