Southeast Chicago Historical Society
January, 2007 Volume XXI No. 1
A Few Words From the President:It is with deep sadness that I announce the death of Alex Savastano. Alex was a long time member and former vice president and president of our Southeast Chicago Historical Society. He was also one of our most reliable and dedicated museum volunteers. Alex passed away peacefully at home on Wednesday, December 20. Reflections on Alex and his life are included elsewhere in this newsletter. This is the death notice as published in local newspapers:
Alexander E. (Alex) Savastano. Born in Irondale, February 6, 1910. Late of Vets Park (Slag Valley). Husband of the late Concetta (nee DeMichael). Loving father of Lucille (John R.) Blasko, Frank (Jane) Savastano. Fond grandfather of John A. (Joan) Blasko, James A. (Sheila) Blasko, Jennifer, Rebecca, Kathleen, Anne (fiance Brian Schouten), Frank Jr. and Joseph Savastano. Great grandfather of Elizabeth, John Edward and Alayna Blasko. Kailyn and Jay Savastano. Dear son of the late Francesco and Almerinda. Dear brother of Irene (late Daniel) DiCristofano, Theresa (late Sidney) Dalzell, and the late William. Dear uncle of many nieces and nephews. Dearest friends of Kathy Midkiff, Joanne Curry, Clarence and Patricia Wigsmoen. Retired from International Harvester, (Wisconsin Steel), Last President of the original South Deering Improvement Association, President of the Roman Knights Social Club. Former President of Slag Valley Seniors Club, member of Wisconsin Steel Retirees Club, 4th District Seniors Advisory Council, Sacred Heart Church and Holy Name Society. Former President of Southeast Side Historical Society of Chicago. In May 1977 Alex was inducted in the Senior Citizens of Chicago "Hall of Fame". Visitation Friday 1 - 9 pm. Funeral Services Saturday December 23, 2006 at 8:45 am from the Elmwood Chapel, 11200 S. Ewing Ave., Chicago to St. Kevin's Church. Mass of Christian Burial 9:30 am. Interment Holy Cross Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations to American Cancer Society or Blue Skies Hospice 649 Mulberry; Hammond, IN., 46324 is preferred.
All members are urged to attend our Annual Meeting on Saturday March 24 at Calumet Park. Officers will be elected and numerous important issues will be discussed. The Executive Board will propose a dues restructuring which will be voted on at the meeting. Most importantly this will raise our annual membership dues to $10 per year and life membership to $100 per year with a few other variations. The increase would take effect in January 2008. Thanks to the many individuals who have renewed their current memberships. Welcome to the following new life members: James Halm and Bob Lalich.
Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control the museum will no longer be open on the first Sunday of the month.
If any questions or comments stop by the museum or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out our web site at: www.neiu.edu/~reseller
Rod Sellers President / Newsletter Editor
SECHS Annual MeetingThe Southeast Chicago Historical Society will conduct its Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, March 31, 2007 in the Calumet Park Field House at 9801 Avenue G at 11 AM. All members in good standing (dues up to date) are urged to attend and vote on the new slate of officers at this meeting. The officers presented by the nominating committee will be announced. Nominations may be made from the floor. Refreshments will be served and a short program will be presented. All members are urged to be sure that their dues are up to date.
AlexAlex was a very special person. He was well into his 90's and still active with a keen mind. He came in to the museum late one day because he had some problems he had to take care of. He had stopped at the post office that morning which only took a short time but when he returned to the parking lot he discovered that his car was missing. At first he thought that it had been stolen. After some inquiring he was told that his car was towed because he had parked in an unauthorized zone. He said he did not see any sign when he pulled in. Someone pointed out that there was a sign high above the normal line of sight. He went to retrieve his car and was told that he could not pay by credit card and had to pay cash. This further upset Alex. After finally getting his car back he went to see the commander at the local police station and also went to see the alderman. They told him that there was nothing that could be done to get his money back. Through this entire, very irritating experience, Alex, though upset, never lost his temper, never lost control. Soon after this incident the “No Parking” sign was lowered to eye level where it could be seen and the word spread throughout the community about the parking problem. This prevented many other people from getting their cars towed.
Within the past year Alex had several articles printed in the Daily Southtown giving his opinions about several different issues. The best, written just a month before he died, stated “God bless the nurses! I’m 96 years old, second time in the hospital. Politicians get millions of dollars for sitting on their behinds while the nurses get peanuts for wiping their behinds” Vintage Alex!
Yes, Alex was very special.
by Barney Janecki
A Doubly Lamentable LossDecember 20, 2006:
A negative feature of the graying of society is that the frequency of departures seems to be increasing noticeably. For example, yesterday’s news carried the notice that Joseph Barbera--co-founder of the Hanna-Barbera Studios, and co-creator of some of the most popular cartoon characters of the 20th century--had died at age 95. To those of us who, as children, had delighted in their earlier “Tom & Jerry” cartoons, then as young adults had been immersed in their landmark creation, “The Flintstones,” while our then-toddler children bathed in “Huckleberry Hound” and “Yogi Bear,” Barbera was a hero--albeit an invisible one. As we loved his creations so, by extension, did we love him. So, we regret his loss, although we smile with delight at the fact that he made his on-screen debut as an actor in 1994, at age 83, in a live motion picture version of “The Flintstones.” As we approach our own sunset years, such role models are inspiring, to say the least.
And then, today, we learned that a nearer and even dearer role model, Alexander Savastano, also died yesterday--at age 96. Alex was a gentleman and a gentle man, whose dedication to the Southeast Chicago Historical Society, of which he had been a member for most of its 30-year existence, was an inspiration. In fact, one of my favorite memories of Alex is of the time when, as the longest-tenured president of the society, he declined another nomination at an annual membership meeting, saying “I have enjoyed serving as president of the society for these past several years but, you see, I have to get on with my life.” He was 90 at the time. And he did get on with his life.
No longer than 3 or 4 months ago, Alex was still present at our society’s “James Fitzgibbons Historical Museum,” where people visited regularly to learn of the early days of our community as Alex had witnessed and participated in them, and to identify places and things in old photos, because Alex had seen them and knew what and where they had been. They also visited just for the pure enjoyment of spending time with Alex, for he was, truly, “a Prince among men.”
Alex also possessed an impish sense of humor. Most years, it was Alex who performed as the comedian at our annual gatherings, and he did it in the lowest-keyed manner, usually setting us up and dropping the bomb before anyone had the slightest clue that we were being teased.
Alex always dressed up for the historical society dinner. As part of his ensemble, he wore a Derby hat that he had purchased perhaps 75 years earlier--which still looked as if it had just come off the retailer’s shelf, he kept it so well. He wore it equally well.
Until a year or two ago, Alex still drove his own car--and competently. That fact led to one of my favorite memories of Alex when, about 5 or 6 years ago, I drove to a nearby post office after a heavy snowfall had made the entire area icy and unfriendly to pedestrians, especially those of us who no longer count our years in the teens.
I was forced to park about half a block from the entrance to the post office, and began to pick my way carefully through the icy patches, in what I think of as my “old man’s winter walk.” As I approached the entrance, I noticed what I unkindly labeled mentally as “a punk kid,” racing up the far-from-friendly stairway and into the post office. I was still grumbling about teenagers and their lack of awareness of the harsh realities of winter when I ran into the “kid” again inside the post office--it was Alex Naturally, I felt ashamed, not because of my mental rant against the young, but because this guy--decades older than I--had made it look so easy.
So, when Alex announced that he had other worlds to conquer, I knew that it was true. Thus, we were not surprised when he periodically zipped off to Oklahoma to work in his son’s new “Chicago-style Pizzeria and Restaurant,” which was fast becoming a favored watering hole in that frontier land.
My wife, Joann, and I visited Alex for the last time (although we certainly would not have guessed it then) a few days ago at a nearby nursing home where he was experiencing very painful problems with his feet, as the result of bone cancer. It was quite a gathering for such an intimate space, with three past presidents (counting Alex, of course) of our historical society, their wives, and several of Alex’s family, including his daughter, Lucille, a granddaughter, sisters, and a nephew, just during the time we visited. Alex was bright, alert, and looking forward to the future as he planned to return to his home, with some medical support. I hope that I will always be able to remember how delighted he seemed when I finally shared with him the two stories about him that I have recounted here.
The Wisconsin Steel plant on Chicago’s southeast side closed its doors for the last time a couple of years before I moved into the neighborhood, so I never knew what Alex did when he worked there--and I believe, retired prior to its closing. But there was an element of steel to Alex--a flexible steel of the highest quality. Bombast was not his style, but solidity was his essence, tact his forte. My life, and I’m sure the lives of many, have been enriched from knowing Alex, and from being accepted as a friend by Alex.
I am deeply saddened by his death, but mighty grateful that he lived.
Thank you, Alex.
by Kevin P. Murphy
My Friend AlexAlex was one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was truly a “nice guy.” I cannot remember him ever saying anything negative about anyone. And I never heard anyone say anything negative about Alex.
Born on Sunday February 6, 1910, his life spanned most of the 20th Century. In the same year that he was born Dizzy Dean, David Niven, Artie Shaw, and Mother Teresa were born. Yet Alex seemed so much younger than those folks. In 1910, first class postage was 2 cents, the Mexican Revolution occurred, Comiskey Park opened and the Chicago Cubs lost the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s (some things never change). When Alex was born Russia was ruled by a czar, and women in this country could not vote. It was about this time that the Drake Fountain, more commonly known as the Columbus Monument, was moved from outside City Hall to South Chicago. Alex always had a strong interest in the Columbus Monument and was instrumental in having it declared an official City of Chicago landmark just a few years ago. During his lifetime Alex witnessed 2 World Wars, Prohibition, the Great Depression, the New Deal, the Cold War, the first man on the moon, the terms of 17 American presidents and more. He witnessed the development of radio, television, and the internet.
In many ways his story is typical of so many southeast siders. Born in the United States of immigrant parents, Alex always said he was “imported” because his mother was pregnant with him when his parents left Italy for the United States. He lived his entire life in South Deering or, as he always said, “Irondale” or “Slag Valley”. He worked at Wisconsin Steel for 46 years. He was active in numerous community organizations. His obit showed how special Alex was when it listed some of his organizational ties:
“Retired from International Harvester, (Wisconsin Steel), Last President of the original South Deering Improvement Association, President of the Roman Knights Social Club, Former President of Slag Valley Seniors Club, member of Wisconsin Steel Retirees Club, 4th District Seniors Advisory Council, Sacred Heart Church and Holy Name Society, and Former President of the Southeast Chicago Historical Society. Also, in May of 1997 Alex was inducted in the Senior Citizens of Chicago "Hall of Fame".“
Father Alfredo of St. Kevin’s summed it up best during his homily when he said that Alex outlived most of the organizations he belonged to.
Alex took an active role in creating the history of our community. But Alex not only made history, he made sure it was preserved for later generations. Alex often told the story of being one of the first individuals from “across the river” to join the East Side Historical Society. It was his wish to change the name of the organization to more accurately reflect its mission of saving and commemorating the history of all of the southeast side neighborhoods. The name change was accomplished during his term as president of our organization.. He was active with the Southeast Chicago Historical Project in the early 1980s. He was interviewed for the “Wrapped in Steel” documentary that the project produced. Over the years Alex participated in numerous interviews about community history. The Southeast Chicago Historical Museum has several interviews with Alex in its collections where he talks about various aspects of the history of South Deering. In one of the interviews Alex talked about being a newly married employee of Wisconsin Steel receiving a paycheck for a 48 hour work week. Straight time, no overtime and the check amounted to $24.24. The museum also has videos from several of our annual dinners which contain numerous jokes delivered by Alex in his own inimitable style. Alex was an avid photographer and many of his pictures helped capture the history of our community and are in various displays at the museum. Over the years he has made numerous donations of historical materials to the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum. Alex was a regular contributor to our newsletter. His articles often highlighted the accomplishments of members of his family and of local residents. He created several exhibits and displays at the museum. He was a dedicated and active volunteer until his very recent health problems. One cannot visit the museum without being reminded of Alex’s many contributions and missing his presence, although in a certain sense he will always be present at the museum which was so important to him.
I remember my last visit with Alex shortly before his death. He was frail and weak but his mind was sharp as always. He asked how things were at the museum. He again expressed his desire to have an Italian flag flying at the Columbus Monument. He was looking forward to a visit from his family. He said to me the same words his daughter Lucille said he spoke to his doctors. "I'm 96 years old and I don't expect miracles. I don't have to break any records and reach 100 years old." Alex faced the inevitable with the grace and dignity with which he had lived his life.
Alex was blessed with good health for most of his long life. At a recent “Secrets of Living Longer” luncheon Alex attributed his longevity in part to a daily glass of wine. However we should remember Alex not for the length of his life but for the quality of his life. He was blessed with a loving family. He was blessed with good friends. And we were blessed with Alex.
We will miss you Alex but will never forget you. Salute!
by Rod Sellers
Museum NewsWe are very busy, as always, at the museum and managing (barely) to keep our heads above water. Recent researchers at the museum include a professor from Nova Scotia, Canada who is working on a book about the Little Steel Strike and Memorial Day Massacre. Rod Sellers gave him a tour of the area with a visit to the massacre site and he spent several hours at the museum poring through our collection of materials on local labor history and the Memorial Day Massacre. Another post graduate student has been a recent regular visitor to the museum looking at our Environmental History Collection. He is doing research for his doctoral thesis and finding many materials of interest to his area of study. A student from Columbia College in Chicago visited the museum looking for information for a documentary film project about the steel industry and its demise.
Area elementary and high school students are using our resources to prepare for this year’s Metro History Fair.
We have begun selecting images and completing “metadata” sheets for submission to the Industrial History Archives project. In a few months many of our images will be accessible on the internet. Stay tuned for more information. This project is a collaborative effort with the Pullman State Historical Site and the Calumet Heritage Partnership. In addition to the digital project, plans are moving ahead for creation of an industrial history collection and display at the Pullman site as well. The proposed museum at the Acme Coke Plant site has failed to materialize and this endeavor will hopefully save materials that commemorate the history of heavy industry in the Calumet region. Demolition at the Acme Coke Plant has started and once this facility is razed the only major steel related facilities that remain in the area are the Republic / LTV coke plant and the Hulett iron ore unloaders on the Calumet River. The Hulett iron ore unloaders are the only 2 surviving examples of this type of machine in the country. They are currently “parked” on the east side of the Calumet River at approximately 114th Street.
We recently completed scanning some very interesting images which were not usable in their original state. Several sets of oversized slides form East Side Labor Day Celebrations of the mid 1960s were scanned. Over 100 interesting images of the parades, Miss East Side contests, and other Labor Day activities are now available for viewing. We also scanned fifteen 4x5 black and white glass plate negatives probably from the early 1900s. The photos were original taken by Dr. Titzel, a local doctor (who delivered over 4000 babies during his career) and were unidentified. Perhaps some of our readers would like to help identify these mystery images?
Vodak East Side Branch LibraryThe East Side outpost of the Chicago Public Library System has had almost as many name changes as our historical society. Known as the Calumet Sub-Branch when it was located in a tiny storefront at 104th and Ewing, the name was changed to East Side Branch when it relocated to a larger storefront at 106th and Ewing. In 1994, the name Vodak was added to the branch name in honor of James F. Vodak (1910-1991), long-time community leader, ombudsman for senior citizens, and Executive Secretary and President of the East Side Chamber of Commerce. October 14, 2006 saw the long-awaited dedication of the new Vodak/East Side Branch located at 3710 East 106th Street. Mayor Daley, former Governor Jim Thompson, community leaders and residents, city, state and library dignitaries and members of the Vodak family were in attendance on that windy, sunny Saturday morning. The new library has 14,000 square feet and a multipurpose room with a seating capacity of 125. The historical exhibit in the entry hallway features materials from our museum, including several East Side scenes created by our former president and favorite artist, Joseph A. Mulac. The library’s opening day collection includes books, audiobooks, newspapers and magazines for children, teens and adults. There are a number of special collections featuring Spanish language materials, Chicago history, small businesses, jobs and careers. Educational and entertainment DVDs and music CDs are also available for borrowing. Local borrowers have access to all the circulating collections of the Chicago Public Library System and may request items not held at the branch. Ask Branch Manager (and SECHS member) Rich McClellan or members of the reference staff for assistance. The branch also has public computers with Internet access. With a Chicago Public Library Card, you also have access to a number of databases (some only at the library and many remotely) helpful for research. Those of you with long memories may recall that the branch was originally located in the Calumet Park Field house, now the location of our Museum.
by Carolyn M. Mulac
“Evolving Calumet: A Journey”Copies of the documentary program “Evolving Calumet: A Journey” are available for loan from local Chicago public libraries and from our museum. The video was produced by VoxTV and is distributed by the Calumet Ecological Park Association. The 33 minute program looks at the natural, historic and cultural aspects of the Calumet region and includes interviews with many area residents and experts as well as interesting aerial views of the Calumet River.
Calumet Park History and Tree Walking TourBeyond the continuous rounds of athletic events from the field house to the far-reaches of the park’s boundaries, to the ever-changing beauty of the lake and its surrounds, Calumet Park holds even more wonders. These were captured delightfully for those who participated in the October 21st Park History and Tree Walk Tour conducted by Rod Sellers and John Pastrick.
While Rod detailed the park in the larger historical context of neighboring industries past, present and perhaps yet to come, John focused the group’s attention on a myriad of trees, some pre-dating the park and others brought in to enhance its beauty.
Not only did John identify common (poplars, locust, basswood) and not so common (Ash, Gingko, Kentucky Coffee, Burr Oak) trees in the park, but he took pains to compare varieties within species – black and honey locust, sugar, stripe and Norway maples. When in doubt, he applied the taste test to distinguish between hawthorn and crab apple.
Historically, in the early 1900’s, 40 acres were designated for the park’s development. The northeast corner of the park at 95th and Avenue J was once the lake shore but with the gradual addition of berms of slag fill, the park grew to 190 acres. Recently awarded city landmark status, the park field house, dating from 1924, matches the description provided by Rod of a Neo-Classic Beaux Arts building right down (or up) to its eyebrow windows. Chicago’s oldest landmark, the Indiana/Illinois State Boundary line marker, dating back to the early 1830’s, stands at the far south end of the park in the shadow of the Commonwealth Edison power plant, currently owned by Old Dominion. The plant itself rests on land fill along Lake Michigan in Indiana but over the years has served Illinois. To the north of the park along the mouth of the Calumet River are the ghosts of adjacent industry - Iroquois Steel, Youngstown Sheet and Tube along with the Contained Disposal Facility, holding pollutants from industries in other parts of the city. Iroquois Landing, the inland container port located along the river, which once held great promise as an international link for ocean-going vessels, has been undone by ships now built too big to enter the St. Lawrence Seaway, but remains an active part of the maritime industry of the area. Viewed from the shoreline, the horizon of Lake Michigan reveals the last large (perhaps the world’s largest) existing steel mill complex at Inland/US X Gary Works.
The Friends of the Parks “Last Four Miles” project may lead to a refashioning of the north end of the park by adding new beachfront, parking and picnic facilities and possibly relocating the 95th Street boat ramps to a location farther south.
The day was enlightening for all who attended and was especially productive for a young student who came along to collect 12 varieties of leaves required for his Science class. At day’s end he smiled broadly and was careful to include in his ample number of specimens a “mystery plant” for his teacher to identify.
Look for a repeat of this tour, now referred to by its guides as the “His-Tree Tour,” in up-coming Calumet Stewardship Initiative newsletters as well as the Southeast Chicago Historical Society Newsletter. It will be time well-spent.
by Joann Podkul
New Life MemberWe recently were recipients of correspondence from a former southeast resident, Dr. James Halm who grew up in South Chicago. He submitted interesting and historical documents of his past associations with our area. He recounted being a Phil Sheridan Grade school and Bowen High graduate where he made his home with his parents at 8709 Escanaba Avenue, two door away from the Fire Station on 87th and Escanaba. Halm relates, “My Dad worked at the Ford Plant on Torrence Avenue and I spent many boyhood fun times, fishing and playing in Calumet Park. Part of the fun was walking there from 87th street across the bridge and in the Eastside. Some of my relatives lived on the Eastside and we visited Frank and Agnes Casey and their boys Henry and Francis. I was also influenced by the grounds and activities at Bessemer Park. Commercial Avenue was our shopping haven, and I was always in awe of the statuary of the Drake Foundation at Columbus Square.” Dr. Halm captured in poetry several rhythmical compositions of his southeast side memories including Calumet Park and Bowen High School. Our Historical Society has his collections for public viewing. Dr. Halm”s name inspired the interest of our President , Rod Sellers, to the point that he seems to associate Dr. Halm as a leaf on his own family tree.
by Gloria Novak
Small World StoryThe letter from Dr. Halm raised some interesting connections. He is a former southeast sider, currently living in North Carolina, and learned of our historical society from another former southeast sider now living in Missouri. I vaguely recognized the name and believe that he is my mother’s cousin. I am attempting to verify this and also to obtain his permission to include some of his writings in future newsletters.
by Rod Sellers
Thursdays 1:00-4:00pm Southeast Chicago Historical Museum
SE Chicago Historical Society Calendar
Regular hours of the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum. Collections and exhibits focus on the history of Chicago’s Southeast Side including the communities of South Chicago, South Deering, the East Side, and Hegewisch. Museum is located in the Calumet Park Field House at 9801 S. Avenue G in Chicago.
Due to circumstances beyond our control the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum will no longer be open on the first Sunday of the month.
January 20 to March 10, 2007 Public Exhibit: Envisioning a Completed South Lakefront Park System
Calumet Park Fld. Hse. (9801 Ave G) Rainbow Beach Fld. Hse. (3111 E. 77th)Vodak Library (3710 E.106th)
Friends of the Parks will present a vision for completing the south lakefront park system. Come view the displays developed in partnership with local residents and groups and complete a survey to submit your opinions.
March 31, 2007 Saturday 11:00 am Calumet Park Field House
The Southeast Historical Society will conduct its annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, March 31, 2007 at the Calumet Park Field House at 9801 Avenue G at 11 AM. All members are urged to attend and vote on the new slate of officers at this meeting. Nominations may be made from the floor. The officers presented by the nominating committee will be announced. Refreshments will be served.
May 20, 2007 Sunday 12:30 pm Crow Bar Restaurant
Southeast Chicago Historical Society Annual Installation Dinner
24th Annual Dinner of the Southeast Historical Society will be held at the Crow Bar Restaurant. Social hour begins at 12:30 pm. and dinner will be served at 1:30 pm. Please reserve this date on your calendars.