Rod Sellers
Southeast Chicago
Historical Society

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Southeast Chicago Historical Society

July, 2006                                                                                                                 Volume XX No. 3

A Few Words From the President:
           It has been a busy three months since the April newsletter for our organization.  See the article on the next page which summarizes some of these activities.
          Our Twenty-Third Annual Installation Dinner was a huge success due to the efforts of many individuals.  Thanks to our emcee, Al Lerch and to Luci D’Mari for leading us in the singing of “God Bless America.”  Thanks to Rev. Robert Hempel, Pastor of St. Petri United Church of Christ for his invocation and to Maggie Kramer our installing officer.  Special thanks to your officers who handled the organization of this gala event.  Thanks to Gloria Novak who designed our program brochure and wrote the bios for the “Local Notables” who were recognized this year for their musical talents.  Gloria also handled arrangements with the Crow Bar and with our entertainment which all enjoyed greatly.   Thanks to Kevin Murphy and Joann Podkul who dealt with ticket sales, raffle donations, the teacher recognition awards, and historical markers project.  They also designed the Joe Mulac book marks which were distributed at the dinner.  Thanks to Carolyn for handling all the financial details and for paying our bills on time.  And thanks to Barney Janecki for helping with the displays and for his remarks about the museum.  Thanks to all the donors, including Lorraine Finlon (who was inadvertently left off the list of donors in the program), who make our raffle such a huge success.  Special thanks to David and Chris Gomez for the beautiful table decorations.              
          At this year's annual installation dinner, SCHS's first Lawrence McBride Memorial Awards were given to three Jane Addams Elementary School teachers, Robert DiPrima, Kathleen Grannan and Janie Hernandez, for fostering their students' interest in local history by creating projects for the Chicago Metro History Fair. Projects completed by more than 200 students lined Addams classroom and corridor walls. In addition to the award, named in honor of Lawrence McBride, who had a powerful influence on both Rod Sellers and Joann Podkul in their understanding of local history, the three teachers received $50 gift certificates.
        Once again we need to update our mailing list and remove those whose dues have not been paid.  This is not something we enjoy doing but we really cannot afford to duplicate and mail newsletters to those who are not paying dues.  If your dues have not been paid beyond 2004 you will receive an insert in your newsletter.  Please read it carefully.  Our dues are really a bargain at $5 per year and $75 for a lifetime membership.  If you become a life member you will never have to remember to renew your dues again.  Many members have taken advantage of our very reasonably priced life membership.  I would like to welcome the  following new life members: Frank Beberdick, William Finlon, Patricia Fisher, Michael King, Reuben Rios, and Sharon Rolek.   Also let me make a correction from the last newsletter.  I welcomed Grace Sowa as a new life member in the April newsletter.  Grace has been a life member for quite some time.  The new life member is Fran Sowa.  Sorry for the confusion.  We would also like to recognize a generous donation by member Gabrielle Lyon.  Thank you!
        SECHS former President and museum volunteer Alex Savastano was honored recently at a “Secrets of Living Longer” luncheon sponsored by Metropolitan Family Services South Chicago Center.  Alex was born on February 16, 1910 and has 2 children, 8 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.  He worked at Wisconsin Steel for 46 years and attributes his longevity to a daily glass of wine.  Congratulations Alex and pass the wine!
        If you have any suggestions for projects or programs that you would like to see us undertake, please let us know.  Stop by the museum or e-mail
Rod Sellers      President / Newsletter Editor
Industrial Museum / Steel Museum
            The Steel Heritage Project, which has been trying to establish a steel museum at the abandoned Acme Coke Plant site has lost the rights to the structures on site.  They are in negotiations with the new salvage company, which will be demolishing the structures, to obtain items of historical significance  from the plant.  The rescued items will be transported to the Pullman State Historic Site and stored there until a determination is made regarding their ultimate fate.  One possibility is that the Pullman site might become the location of an industrial history exhibit or even museum.  Among the items saved from the coke plant are site plans, equipment drawings, plant ledgers, photographs, hard hats, safety shoes and more.   Hopefully some larger items can be saved.

Important Announcement
             Due to the Labor Day holiday weekend the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum will not be open on Sunday, September 3.  This gives our volunteers an opportunity to enjoy the last holiday weekend of summer with their families. We apologize for any inconvenience.  

SECHS Recent Activites
         On April 21, I and several members of our society attended the rededication ceremony for the Leonard Syler gravesite at Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond.  The event was a spectacular success thanks to the efforts of Bonnie Syler, family historian, and Ernie Dillon, Veterans Services Officer for Lake County Indiana.  Bonnie researched the history of Leonard, a former East Side resident and a wounded Civil War veteran and POW.  She documented his service and obtained a Civil War veterans headstone from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Ernie made arrangements with many of the groups and individuals which made the ceremony a most memorable occasion.  A member of the Syler family, a minister, read the opening prayer.  I read a biography of Leonard’s life  (see SECHS April Newletter page 3).  This was followed by presentations to the Syler family of an American flag by Indiana Congressman Visclosky, an Indiana state flag by State Senator Frank Mrvan, and a POW flag by an American Legion representative.  A proclamation by the Mayor of Hammond was read.  Alderman Pope read a proclamation from the City Council of Chicago.  The new headstone was unveiled by the Syler family and Bonnie Syler then spoke about Leonard’s legacy.  An honor guard from the Hammond Police Department fired a 21 gun salute, a musical group sang “My Buddy”, and taps were played.  During the entire proceedings two Civil War reenactors stood at attention at the gravesite.  It was a moving and respectful ceremony, well attended by family and friends and covered by the media.  Channels 2 and 7 did stories on the evening news.  Several newspapers also covered the event.  After the ceremony the Syler family donated the flags to our museum and we have set up a Syler file with information about Leonard and other family members and information, including news stories about this event.  We also have a videotape of the program.  Visit the museum to see these items.  
         On April 29 the SECHS sponsored a tour of the Coast Guard station at Calumet Park.  A large group enjoyed the tour given by CWO Herbert “Jim” Harmon, station commanding officer.  Jim’s hospitality and expertise were greatly appreciated.  On a sad note, Jim’s tour of duty at Calumet Park ended June 23.  I attended the Change of Command Ceremony at the Coast Guard station that day and had an interesting experience.  During Jim’s remarks to the crowd he was talking about various individuals  that he had worked with during his four year tour of duty.  I did not know most of the people he spoke about, but he mentioned one individual who impressed him by always responding to the usual “How are you doing?’ with the response “I never had a bad day in my life”.  While sitting on an outside aisle at the ceremony, a man in a motorized wheel chair with obvious physical problems pulled up next to me.  At the end of the festivities, as the crowd was dispersing, someone walked up to him and said “How are you doing?”  His response was, “Never had a bad day in my life”.  It made an impression on me.  Best wishes to Jim Harmon in his new assignment in Corpus Christi Texas.  Also we would like to welcome incoming Calumet Station commander CWO Stephen Cabral who is returning to the station after a four year absence. 
         Thanks to Barney and Joann for staying to help host a tour of our museum and the Field House led by renowned Chicago tour guide Bill Hinchliff on the afternoon of April 29.  Thanks also to Bill for his generous donation to the museum. 
         On May 10 we participated in the annual CSI (Calumet Stewardship Initiative) Day at Wolf Lake for area students.  Several hundred students attended the day long activities.  In the morning we displayed maps and materials and did a presentation on how the landscape changed over time with the development of the community.  In the afternoon we took a group of students on a walk of the two areas at Wolf Lake which were the locations for the Nike Missile Base that was located there in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The students also dropped in on a pair of swans who were nesting in a small wetland, a group of turtles sunning themselves on a log, and a beaver lodge on the Ave.  K Channel of Wolf Lake. 
         On May 13 we participated in “The Last Four Miles South Lakefront Charette” sponsored by the Friends of the Parks at Calumet Park.  The program is part of an initiative to develop plans for the conversion of the four miles of Chicago’s lakefront that are not currently public lands.  On the south side this includes three segments of land: 71st to 75th Streets between former South Shore Country Club and Rainbow Beach, the US Steel South Works site between 79th Street and the mouth of the Calumet River, and the Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) located on the Lake Michigan side of the Iroquois Landing Port District facility.  Architects and city planners took the ideas generated at the charette and made some very interesting conceptual drawings of potential park development in the above areas.  A followup meeting on June 21 reported the results of the charette to the community. 
         Among other activities were the Memorial Day Massacre commemoration on May 20, the Wetland Festival at Wolf Lake on May 28, and a walking tour of Commercial Avenue on June 11.  And the Committee on Chicago Landmarks is scheduled to approve landmark designation for the Calumet Park Field House at its July meeting. 

CEPA Documentary
(note changed dates)
       The Calumet Ecological Park Association premiered AThe Evolving Calumet: A Journey@ a documentary program focusing on the history, present condition, and potential of the main branch of the Calumet River.  The well attended event was held on June 23 at The Zone.  The program will be duplicated and distributed on DVD to schools, organizations and libraries.  It may also be viewed at our museum.  A program will be shown on Chicago Cable TV during a talk show directed by SECHS member Martha Wilson.  It will air on Friday, July 21, at 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 23, at 12 p.m. on CAN-TV Channel 19, which is a Senior Network production.  The show will feature a panel discussion by the CEPA Video Committee, Judy Lihota, Grace Sowa, and Rod Sellers as well as the video production team Chris Boebel and Chris Walley.  The documentary will also be shown in its entirety during the program.    

Musical Notes
       The theme for our 2006 Installation Dinner on May 21st was “MUSIC.” The program included a brief historical background of a few southeast side musicians. For those who were not at the dinner, we would like to bring back a few interesting chapters in their history.
Turning back the pages of time, we find Gene Krupa, born the youngest of nine in 1909 of Slovak immigrants in the South Chicago area. In his early years, he worked for the Brown Music Company just off Commercial Avenue where he managed to put aside a small portion of his salary to buy a musical instrument . The cheapest available were the drums. His career began in 1929 when he went to New York where along with Benny Goodman and Glen Miller played in the pit band of George Gershwin’s musical “Strike Up The Band.” Gene formed his own band in 1938 which survived through the 1950’s .  His health became a problem and he was forced to retire from entertaining in 1967. Gene’s final public appearance was in a reunion of the old Goodman quartet in 1973. Later that same year he laid down his drumsticks and was put to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City.
       Jazz singer Gloria Van, nee Lucille Fanalla in 1920, moved to the East Side as a youngster after the death of her mother. She worked at Goldblatts in South Chicago behind the cookie counter. Her musical career encompassed jobs in her early years at Siegels Barbeque and Knowles Café in Hyde Park. A story was related that her father was a baker who sold yeast to two gangs who used the yeast to make beer. Al Capone told him not to sell to any other gang but his. Not heeding this advice, he was killed in 1929. Ms Van took the stage name of Gloria, touring the country , singing with Johnny “Scat” Davis , Hal McIntyre and Gene Krupa. She married Lynn Allison, big band singer and Music Shop owner. Hoagie Carmichael requested her to sing “Stardust” at the 1960 Chicago Music Festival at Soldier Field. She joined the heavenly choir in 2002 at age 82.
       Another south sider, Joni James, was born in 1930 as Joan Babo. She enjoyed dancing and joined a local group on a tour to Canada, and later as a; chorus girl at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. She changed her career to singing and was spotted by MGM and signed up in 1952. Her first hit “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” sold over a million copies . She was reported to be the first American to record at London’s Abby Road Studios.  After her first husbands death she began touring again in the mid-1990’s. She married Air Force General Bernard Schriever in 1997, who was an important figure in the ballistic missile development, and was widowed in 2005. For her contribution to the recording industry, she has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.     
(to be continued next issue)                                                                                                                                             by Gloria Novak

    Museum News
       Photos and other items from our collections continue to appear in exhibits, documentaries and on television.  The exhibit on Chicago neighborhood sports, which has several artifacts from our museum,  continues until October at the Harold Washington Library Special Collections on the ninth floor. 
       "Edens Lost and Found" a four hour / four city PBS series highlights practical solutions to improve the environment and quality of life in cities.  Several pictures from our collections were used in the Chicago segment of this production which aired on Channel 11 on May 18. 
       We are currently in discussion with the Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) regarding use of pictures from our collections for an exhibit on the Mexican community in Chicago.  They are interested in several images.
       We have provided a copy of an image of a woman waiting for a train at the East Side train station at 100th Street to the Sagamore Institute of the Adirondacks (a National Historic Landmark) for an exhibit they are planning. 
       Pictures from our collections were also used by the Illinois Labor History Society in a exhibit about Chicago's labor history.  The exhibit was displayed in the Daley Center Concourse in the Pedway. 
       Thanks to Victor Storino for his donation of several large aerial photographs of Republic Steel in its heyday.  We are in the process of mounting 4 of these photographs which provide a fascinating panorama of Republic Steel, the Calumet River, and Avenue O from about 107th Street to 132nd street. 

SE Chicago Historical Society Calendar

Thursdays                                 1:00-4:00pm                           Southeast Chicago Historical Museum
First Sunday of the month        12 noon - 3:00pm                   Southeast Chicago Historical Museum
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 the Labor Day holiday weekend the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum will not be open on Sunday, September 3.

July 21, 2006           Friday        5:00 pm                               Chicago Cable Television - Channel 19
July 23, 2006          Sunday        12 Noon                             Chicago Cable Television - Channel 19
Panel discussion and showing of “The Evolving Calumet: A Journey” a documentary film about the history, present condition, and potential of the main branch of the Calumet River.  The panel consists of the CEPA Video Committee, Judy Lihota, Grace Sowa, and Rod Sellers as well as the video production team Chris Boebel and Chris Walley.  

September 17, 2006     Sunday                1:00 - 2:30 pm                     East Side Walking Tour          
Join local historian Rod Sellers for a walking tour of the residential area near Calumet Park .  The tour begins and ends at the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum. The tour will last approximately 90 minutes.  Wear comfortable walking shoes.   

Teachers' Center
National Endowment for the Humanities
Illinois University