Rod Sellers
Southeast Chicago
Historical Society

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Southeast Chicago Historical Society
Oct, 2006                                                                                        Volume XX No. 4

A Few Words From the President:
    It is an interesting and busy time in our area and for our organization.  After a long wait, the new Vodak East Side Library is open and will be having Grand Opening festivities on October 14.  I encourage our members to attend and remember that many current and former members of our historical society were instrumental in obtaining this new library for the community.  While you are there be sure to see the historical exhibit in the beautiful wooden cabinets in the entry hallway.  The materials came from our museum and the exhibit was set up by museum volunteers.   The exhibit includes several East Side scenes created by our former president and favorite artist, Joe Mulac.      
    Thanks to the many individuals who renewed their memberships.  As a non profit organization this is one of our primary sources of funding.  It enables us to duplicate and mail our newsletter and maintain our museum.  Also special thanks to the following new life members: Glenn Dawson, Holly Headland, Janet Hurwitz, John Battista, Gabriel Lyon and Trudy Miller.  These members will never again have to remember to pay their annual dues.  And let me make just one last membership plug.  Christmas is coming.  What do you get that person who has everything?  How about a life membership in our historical society?  And how about getting your children, grandchildren, or friends interested in the history of Chicago’s wonderful and interesting Southeast Side.   Give them a membership to the Southeast Chicago Historical Society as a gift.  
    On a more personal note we all want to wish Alex Savastano a speedy recovery from some recent medical problems.  Alex has had a couple of hospital stays in the past few months and he tells us that this is the first time in his life that he has been hospitalized.  For those of you who do not know Alex, he is a former president of our historical society, a volunteer at the museum for as long as any current volunteers can remember, and in February he celebrated his 96th birthday.  He is undergoing rehabilitation therapy and anticipates returning home shortly.  Get well Alex!
         Royal Bank recently opened new branches in Frankfort Illinois and Schererville Indiana.  I enjoyed watching a presentation about the history of the bank and the southeast side community which made use of numerous images from our photo collections.  Royal opened its doors in 1887 in the South Chicago community.  It began as Royal and is still Royal.  Who says that banks have to change their name to stay in business?  
    I recently attended the grand reopening of the Chicago History Museum (formerly known as the Chicago Historical Society).  They have, in addition to changing their name, expanded and reorganized their exhibit space and have opened several new exhibits.  One of their temporary exhibitions is “Colonia to Community: The Southeast Side” and it tells the story of Chicago’s first Mexican-American community in South Chicago.  The exhibit has several pictures from our photo collection as well as materials donated by area families including, among others, the Castro, Valadez, and Corona families.  The exhibit will run until  May 20, 2007.  Be sure to see it while you can.   The museum and this exhibit are not to be missed.  
       If any questions or comments stop by the museum or e-mail
    .  And check out our web site at:
Rod Sellers      President / Newsletter Editor
South Lakefront Public Meeting
         Chicago’s publicly owned lakefront is one of the City’s most important civic assets.  However, two stretches, totaling approximately 4 miles of Chicago’s 30 mile-long lakefront, are not public parks, but remain in private or quasi-governmental ownership.  On the north side the undeveloped park system includes nearly two miles from Hollywood Avenue to the Evanston Border.   On the South side approximately 2 miles of the lakefront are not public parkland, including the segment from 71st to 75th Streets, the former USX steel site, and Iroquois landing from the Calumet River to 95th Street. 
          Friends of the Parks has undertaken a new initiative to work with citizens, park advisory councils, community groups and government representatives to envision a plan to complete Chicago’s lakefront park system.   On May 13, we began with a community design charrette for the south lakefront at Calumet Park. Ten architects, landscape architects and planners assisted community participants in drawing up their ideas and concept plans, which were then reviewed at a follow-up meeting June 21. Now we need to broaden the community’s response to these draft designs for the completion of the south lakefront park system. Your additional comments and proposals will be integrated into the final design plan to be released in December.  Please attend the public meeting Wednesday, October 25, 7:00pm at The Zone and help us plan for more parkland, more beaches, more access to Lake Michigan, and more greenways on the south lakefront.  Contact Eleanor Roemer, Friends of the Parks, 312-857-2757 #12, if you have any further questions or concerns.
SECHS Recent Activites
       A number of groups and individuals have taken advantage of our tours and exhibits.  On August 17 Barney Janecki, Jim Ostarello, and Joann Podkul hosted a group of students at our museum.  The students were participating in a summer community service orientation program. 
     On August 14 a group of students, on a field trip from Illiana Christian High School of Lansing, took a brief tour of Calumet Park, the  Commercial Avenue shopping district and the South Works property.  And a small group of walkers took a tour of Calumet Park and the residential area just outside the park on Sunday, September 17.   A slide presentation about Chicago’s  Southeast Side was made to the Whiting Historical Society on September 28.  And members of CEPA were treated to a “virtual helicopter ride” over the Calumet River at their October monthly meeting.  Rod Sellers showed footage shot from a helicopter for the recently released video documentary of the region.  (See story on p 3).  If you are interested in seeing the area from a different perspective consider taking the October 22 boat tour of the Calumet River and Chicago waterways.  The tour is sponsored by the Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) and will be narrated by Rod Sellers.  Call 312-642-4600 for information or to sign up for the tour. 

Museum News
       Neil Bosanko obtained a large number of Bowen High School year books and donated them to our museum.  These year books filled in many of the gaps in our collection.  We are now only missing a handful of Bowen year books from 1917 to the present.  We have over 80 Bowen year books in our collection.  If you have a Bowen year book from 1921, 1926, 1940, 1946, 1947, 1958, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1980, or 1989 we would love to add them to our collection.  How many of you know that the original name of the year book was the Bowen Prep?  In February 1923, for one issue, it was named the Bowen Purple and Gold and in 1924 became the “Bowenite.”  During some years two books were published, one for the February graduating class and one for the June graduating class.  In other years both classes were included in a single volume.  There is a wealth of historical information about the school and community in the yearbooks and some wonderful pictures.  We came across a picture of the original Bowen School, a one room wooden schoolhouse, originally located at 93rd and Houston Avenue.  There are ads from area businesses in many of the books and some very  interesting historical articles. 
       Unfortunately we do not have many yearbooks from other area schools.  If you have yearbooks from Washington High School, St. Francis De Sales High School, or Chicago Vocational High School we would love to add them to our collection.  We also are interested in copies of school newspapers. 
       Frank Valadez brought in a couple of pictures of area baseball teams.  Included were Baltimore Lumber teams from 1954 and 1955.    By the way, the Valadez family was one of the area families featured in the CHM exhibit. 
    Information about the ongoing cleanup of the Wisconsin Steel site is available in the museum.  We also have a great deal of information, photos, and materials about the history of the area’s first steel mill which opened in 1875 as the Joseph H. Brown Iron and Steel Company. 

Industrial History Projects
         The Steel Heritage Project of the Calumet Heritage Partnership, which had hopes of converting the shuttered Acme Coke Plant into a steel museum, has some bad news and some good news.  The bad news is that they were unable to raise enough money and surmount other obstacles regarding the property and no longer have any rights to the structures at the coke plant.  The plant is controlled by a demolition contractor and may be torn down at any time.  The good news is that during the period that demolition was postponed many documents, architectural drawings, photographs, artifacts and other materials were salvaged from the plant and are currently stored at the Pullman State Historic Site.  There were also several photographers, (some professional, some amateur, some oriented toward history, and others oriented toward fine arts) who visited and photographed the coke plant and created a wonderful collection of pictures that document this facility even more extensively that many of the larger more famous steel facilities in the area.  It is hoped that the Calumet Heritage Partnership and Pullman State Historic Site will cooperate in developing an industrial museum on the Pullman site.  They are in the process of obtaining other items including an Acme switching locomotive for the museum.
    We recently learned that the Pullman State Historic Site, the Steel Heritage Project and the Southeast Chicago Historical Society have received a grant from the State Library to begin digitizing photos and other materials related to industries that operated on Chicago’s Southeast Side.  When finished there will be a “virtual museum” with on-line images accessible via the internet.  Soon we will begin selecting the images from our collection which will be scanned, cataloged, and uploaded.  Our part of the project will focus on Wisconsin Steel, United States Steel South Works, Republic Steel, Pressed Steel, and other southeast side industries.

Musical Notables
    Concluding the brief documentary on a few local musicians who shared their talents with us, many of you may recall a male singing group who hailed from the U.S. Steel South Works in the South Chicago area. The group had its beginning in 1936 when a hand full of employees from the mill assembled in harmony. They were known as the “Calumet Industrial Glee Club” at first and later in 1943 became the “Singing Men of Steel.” They consisted of about 60 voices of management, non-management and retirees of the steel mill under the direction of Harry Walsh. According to a singer, retiree and past president of the club, Ralph Zoelllick, the group sang their last song around 1979. The Singing Men are remembered especially for their Christmas performances, dressed in nineteenth century costumes at their visits to local hospitals, high schools, banks and other community establishments singing Christmas carols.
    Another all-male singing group made its appearance in 1895 and called themselves the Gesangherein or Calumet Singing Society. It was composed of a majority of German born U.S. citizens and their sons. The singers retired in 1926.
    Turning to a more current page of musical performers we come to Val Stevens who had his own Star on a Celebrity Walkway in his home town in upstate New York. A musical maverick in his era, Val was born Nunzio Nanni. He is, perhaps, better known as the music instructor for the young and old at his Music Academy on south Ewing Avenue for over 40 years. Stevens was a veteran of WWII receiving the Jubilee of Liberty Medal for his wartime heroics and also the Bronze Star and Purple Heart from the U.S. Army for his acts of bravery. Stevens illustrious show business career took him to south Florida where he earlier hosted a radio show and interviewed celebrities such as Rudy Vallee, Gloria Jean and Ukelele Ike. He once did a movie voice-over for actor John Payne. He also organized a band and trophy business for the community. Everyone will agree that his renditions of themes by Sinatra and Como will long be remembered. Val has retired to the Holy Family Villa in Palos Park, Illinois.
    Another musical entertainer from our area is Luci D”Mari, nee Lucille Maricich , She and Val Stevens performed as duo team in past years. Luci began her singing career at the age of 10 when her mother took her to a radio station where little Lucille sang “You’ll Never Know.” Her mother always told her that she did not cry like other infants, she sang. Her upbringing in a talented Italian family instilled in her a love for her country which still finds her appearing and performing at patriotic events and fundraisers. She appeared with television host Linda Yu at a senior Citizen Day luncheon where she sang “I Live in America,” a score which she had written.. Luci fulfilled her patriots dream when she was invited to perform a song at the 200th birthday celebration of the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1986. Her name appeared in lights on Broadway and Times Square for the occasion. A subsequent highlight was to be invited to sing her song for the entire Indiana State Senate in their chambers in 2004. The Hegewisch born singer currently projects her velvet toned voice with the Jay Mau Orchestra in Cedar Lake, Indiana. She has received many awards of recognition for her music and can be checked out on her web site at:
                         by Gloria Novak

“Evolving Calumet” Video Documentary
      This professionally produced video looks at the Calumet area from historic, natural and cultural perspectives and will be distributed free to schools, libraries and other organizations by the Calumet Ecological Park Association . "The Evolving Calumet" is a journey into the past, with a look  into what is happening now, and some thoughts about the future. Many local notables have contributed to and appear in this program.  You will see the Calumet as migrating birds, Native Americans, trappers, farmers, and heavy industry have seen it change over hundreds of years. Through it all, the extensive wetlands shrunk to a mere 500 acres for the many migrations that fly through the Calumet each year. Yet you will see that the Calumet is full of promise, a promise that everyone can be a part of.  This 33-minute video was produced by VoxTV and funded by the Lannan Foundation through the Calumet Ecological Park Association.  DVD copies are available for viewing from the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum.

New Book
    Historical society life member Jim Klekowski has completed his latest book and expects it to be available from the publisher in time for the holidays.  It is entitled 1990 So Long Old Comiskey Park.  The book tells the story of the last year of the great ball park in black and white photographs, from opening day in the rain through the last film production under the fireworks.  The book is available from:
    And speaking of the holidays we have a number of books for sale at the museum.  They make great gifts for any southeast sider.

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.

October 21, 2006     Saturday             12 noon - 2 pm                     Calumet Park Tree and History Tour
Take a tour of Calumet Park with John Pastrik and Rod Sellers.  John will tell us about trees.  Rod will talk about the history of the park.  Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk a couple of miles.  Tour begins at the Calumet Park Field House at 9801 S. Avenue G in Chicago.  To register call John Pastrik at 773-991-0613.

October 22, 2006     Sunday                10 am - 2:30 pm                     Calumet River Boat Tour          
Join the Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) and Chicago from the Lake on this one-of-a-kind tour through the historic sites of industrial Chicago. Beginning at North Pier, this tour will travel through Chicago water bywys such as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the Calumet-Sag Channel, the Calumet River, and Lake Calumet before concluding at Lake Michigan. Lunch will be served en route, and tour participants will return to North Pier via bus.  Tour will be narrated by Rod Sellers.  Tour cost is $75.  Call 312-642-4600.

October 25, 2006     Wednesday             7 pm             Public Meeting: The Future of the South Lakefront
Friends of the Parks will present draft plans for completing the South Lakefront Park System.  Your comments, ideas, proposals will be integrated into the final design plan to be released in December.  Meeting will be held at The Zone, 11731 S. Avenue O.  Please attend and contribute your ideas.  For more information see article in newsletter.

Teachers' Center
National Endowment for the Humanities
Illinois University