Zygmund L. Stutz, known as “Zyg” to all, certainly had an impact on the town he loved. The founder of the Forest Park Liquor Association once owned Circle Inn, Mugsy’s, Forest Park Liquors and the Depot. He operated his plumbing business out of his beloved Circle Lanes. This one-of-a-kind Forest Park character died in Hollywood, Florida, on March 11, 2015, at the age of 72, after a bout with cancer.
Stutz wasn’t just a businessman; he was a sports nut and, according to his longtime employees, the best boss you could ever find.
“He gave everyone breaks,” his son Bob recalled, “He let everyone slide, except for the employee who let someone go upstairs.” The visitor fell through the ceiling of the bowling alley and a repair still marks the spot.
He was the best dad a kid could have, said Bob.
“We never had a strained relationship. It was like a fairy tale. Dad was my best friend.” He was more than a father. He was Bob’s scoutmaster. Stutz, an Eagle Scout himself, guided his son to also reach this rank. He did not give Bob any special consideration when he was learning the family business by working toward his Plumbing Merit Badge.
“I didn’t just pass,” Bob recalled. “I earned that badge! Dad said all he wanted in his death notice was that he had been president of the Thatcher Woods Council.”
Scout training helped Bob become self-reliant. His father’s leadership away from scouts also helped.
“He would tell you to paint or tile and wouldn’t tell you how to do it. He was not a micro-manager. He knew how to delegate.”
Zyg had learned the plumbing business working for his dad, Leonard. He was studying accounting at De Paul, when Leonard asked Zyg and his brother, Len, to help with the family business.
“Dad thought it was only going to be a couple of years,” Bob recalled.
Leonard B. Stutz & Sons was launched in Oak Park during the 1960s. He believed having an Oak Park address was prestigious. Zyg didn’t care about prestige. He started Stutz Plumbing Inc. in 1990 and moved its headquarters to Circle Lanes. He cared about his bowling alley so much, his driver’s license was 7244 Circle.
Stutz bought the place in 1985 with some partners. The new owner became his own best customer, bowling in two leagues, playing in two pool leagues and tossing darts twice a week. He was also known for knocking off work at 4:30 each day to hold court in the bar.
Being thrifty with money, thanks to his Polish background, he made Circle Lanes a cash-only place. This saved him credit card fees and kept prices down for customers. Where else can you get a $2 draft beer?
His philosophy was to put every dime back into the bowling alley.
“Dad knew the nuts and bolts,” Bob said. “He’d put new tile in the bathroom and install new carpeting. He tuckpointed the building and put in new lanes.”
There was only one problem too big for Stutz to fix.
“The snow load broke a truss one year. He had steel backers installed so it wouldn’t happen again.”
Circle Lanes remained a happy place. League bowling was at its peak then. Countless birthday parties were celebrated and the disabled from WSSRA bowled every Saturday. “When you see their smiles,” he would say, “you realize you don’t have any problems.”
He developed health problems, starting with a severe stroke three years ago. A few months ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. Bob was with him during his last days.
“Dad said, ‘I don’t want to wake up and you’re not here.’ I told him, ‘Just rest, Dad.’ Just before the end he asked, “Can I let go?”
Zyg Stutz was buried in a White Sox jersey. He was a rabid fan, the team’s longest-standing season ticket holder, with seats right behind the dugout. The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to White Sox Charities.
Frances McSheffrey, who has tended bar at Circle Lanes for over 20 years, was one of the rare Cubs fans Stutz would employ.
“Zyg was wickedly hilarious,” she recalled. “He was amazingly funny. If you wanted to tailor-make a boss, you wouldn’t come close. I loved coming to work. It was always a blast.”
Aside from his outrageous pranks, Stutz was generous.
“He would do something for you and you wouldn’t even know it,” McSheffrey said. “He always gave people another chance. If he loves you, he loves you. I am honored to be part of such a great family.” McSheffrey’s three sons worked at Circle Lanes. Stutz worked a miracle by turning all three boys into White Sox fans.
Marty Considine has been working the counter at the bowling alley on and off since 1988. He also commented on Stutz’s devotion to the Sox.
“During the 2005 World Series, he went to Houston for the games. He even wore a replica World Series ring. We used to have four buses going to Opening Day.”
Stutz also attended the Stanley Cup-winning game the Blackhawks played in Philadelphia. He loved the Bears but hated the Cubs.
Considine left Circle Lanes several times for other jobs, but Stutz always welcomed him back. “He followed his dad’s example,” he said referring to Leonard Stutz, who died five years ago. “Leonard did the plumbing, while his wife, Bonnie, did the office work.” Today, Bob does the plumbing, while his wife Denise takes care of the office.
Stutz’s 26 year-old grandson, Drew, works the counter with Considine.
“Granpa was there for me between the ages of 7-13. He took me to Disneyworld and the Winter Classic at Wrigley. We went to games all over the place.” Drew is in his eighth year at Circle Lanes.
Bartender Donna Atkinson has him beat by 25 years. Stutz “inherited” her at Circle Inn.
“I worked for Zyg there for five years and 28 years at Circle Lanes,” Atkinson said. “Zyg was more of a friend than a boss. We’d argue like we were married.” It would finally come down to Atkinson saying, “Either you leave, or I leave.” Stutz would always back down.
“He was my buddy for a long time,” Atkinson added. “I don’t know what the world will be without Zyg. He did so much for this town. He loved Forest Park. He loved being happy and seeing other people happy.”
Atkinson spoke to Stutz just a week and a half before he died. “He said, ‘It’s all in God’s hands.’ I told him I had never heard him use that word before.” Stutz may not have been religious, but he had a spiritual side.
Atkinson and Stutz socialized outside of work, attending Sox games and other sports events.
“We went to a wedding in October. It was the last time I saw him, but I talked to him on a regular basis.” After Stutz had his stroke, she said, he was advised to change his lifestyle. Stutz saw it as a choice. “I can live happy, or I can live unhappy.” He decided to continue partying with his countless friends.
He was loyal and thoughtful. He always called Atkinson on Dec. 1, the anniversary of the Our Lady of the Angels fire in 1958, which claimed her cousin and so many schoolmates.
Zyg Stutz is survived by his wife, Bonnie (nee Jensen); his children, Debby (Steve) Marquardt, Robert (Denise), and Vicki (Michael) Alberti; his grandchildren, Andrew Stutz, Kathleen Stutz, Molly Marquardt, Kristine Stutz, Matthew Marquardt, Alyssa Alberti and Gianna Alberti; his brother, Leonard (Gerry); his nieces, Tracy, Kelly and Cindy; and in his later life, his partner, Peggy Dalton.
Stutz was laid to rest, in his White Sox finery, in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, not far from the OLA memorial.