Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Growing Up in Morton Grove

I am a baby boomer.  I grew up in Morton Grove, Illinois, a suburb due north of Chicago and about five miles in from Lake Michigan.  The village is physically much as it was when I left it for good in 1971.  Its population has fluctuated between 20 and 30 thousand people over the last 40 years, due mostly to changes in household size.  Morton Grove is probably best known for enacting a ban on handguns in 1981.   By 1986 Morton Grove reversed the ban, concerned that legal bills associated with defending the gun control ordinance would drive taxes unacceptably high and/or bankrupt the village.  The NRA used the Morton Grove experience as a cause celeb in lobbying various states to enact preemptive laws that eliminated or limited local control over gun possession and ownership.

Enough about firearms – this is a post about growing up, when the only guns in our household popped percussion caps or squirted tap water.  Here is the house I grew up in -- a resident from birth until the summer before college. 

Google Street View, Northeast Corner Of Austin & Davis, Morton Grove, IL
Half a block up and across the street was a field on the edge of the Cook County Forest Preserve, which with its bridle paths, heavily wooded areas, and riparian landscape presented all manner of opportunity for adventure and mischief.   We captured butterflies, grasshoppers and lightening bugs, hung out in a "cave" along the river, climbed trees and explored the dump once located within.   

Another half block up the street was Chick Evans Golf Course (known as Northwestern in my youth), a "muni" that had driving range mats on asphalt covered, chain-link fenced tees, nary a sand trap and clover filled, non-irrigated fairways that were indistinguishable from the rough. But the course is on a nice property, including mature trees and thick forests, crisscrossing the North Branch of the Chicago River. And one more block up the street, behind the 16th green, is a privately owned stables that was the source of most of the horse traffic which ensured the Forest Preserve bridle paths were consistently aromatic. Each of these land uses remain.
Home Sweet Home Was Left Edge of 16/Bike Circle, Bridle Paths are Dashed Yellow Lines
Green Shaded and Cross Hatched Space Are the Golf Course and Forest Preserve

Here is a view of my childhood home from the top. 
Bing 3D Top View of Childhood Home
In the intervening decades, the house has been expanded by half again, a two car garage added, and an above-ground pool installed in an area where we once hung clothes out to dry, played catch, swung on a play set and grew vegetables.  The Internet has a current continuous view of the back of the house – out of a rear facing window in another house on the corner of Mason and Davis, where the Feldman’s once lived. Check out the link. The web cam continues live into its seventh year. 

My elementary school and junior high was Park View school, about four blocks distant, an easy walk. 

Linne Woods
Adjacent to Park View
Burr Oak Leaves
I recall two incredible teachers at Park View.  My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Lagerquist, developed an outdoor, experiential, nature oriented curriculum. Each student was supplied a tree identification booklet, which to this day is a solid seller on Amazon.com. We toured neighboring Linne Woods during the fall in search of specimens. We also scoured the forest floor to uncover and identify the foundations of the greenhouses that had once covered a corner of the forest -- Poehlmann Brothers, formerly the largest greenhouse operation in America; it succumbed to the Great Depression. This research was part ecology, part economics and part anthropology. When the green leaves began to emerge in the spring we kids presented a tree tour, each student assigned a different tree to describe and explain. I remember that my tree was a Burr Oak.  It was located on a rise just beyond the bridal path and on a bank above the river. I related in my presentation that the leaf looked like a witch, with peaked hat, flowing skirt and trailing broom, as framed against the sky.
We used an early edition of this Tree Finder book in Mrs. Lagerquist's class.

In summer time Linne Woods was home to many a picnic. It also hosted the Morton Grove Days and American Legion carnivals.  

Elmer Erbe (in white shirt) with three students. 
Mr. Erbe hand stenciled our personalized gym shirts.
The boys gym teacher at Park View was Elmer Erbe.  He was a tough, barrel chested man who was said to have had a cup of tea in the NFL as a place kicker.  On the basketball court he was a skilled practitioner of the now lost art of the 30 foot two-hand, underhanded set shot – swish every time it seemed.  Mr. Erbe drilled all the guys on physical fitness tests to get them into the highest possible performance percentile.  He put on an a four-day a week intramural sports program – flag football in the fall, basketball in the winter and softball in the spring.  Mr. Erbe handed out all manner of awards and certificates for victory, achievement, participation and attendance.  All were eligible.  Everyone got something that reinforced the sheer joy of playing and competing. Elmer Erbe cared about each individual kid’s physical fitness and well being more than any adult I’ve encountered before or since.

Here’s my high school, Niles West, pictured in 1970, the year before I graduated.  In my day they were the Indians.  In today’s PC world they are Wolves.  I thought the Indian mascot majestic.  I consider wolves majestic, none more so than the one I spied this winter on the icy road down to West Yellowstone.  The addition extending out the picture’s right with a black facade was the library and a source of many encounters with card catalogs and the Dewey Decimal classification system.

Nile Township High School West, 1970 View From the East
When I started high school I was 5’10” tall and weighed 112 pounds.  My first cross country coach (Mr. Field) tried to convince me to go out for football so I would lift weights and put some meat on my bones.  I declined.  I didn’t want to get killed.  My last cross country coach (Mr. Savage) bragged how he had "run through" a broken leg.  I quit; I thought him insane.  I played some baseball and managed the freshmen and sophomore basketball teams.  By the time I graduated we had become an open campus, allowing upperclassmen to come and go as they pleased.   When I was a sophomore the administration relaxed the dress code.  We could wear sneakers, jeans and non-collared shirts.  I responded by wearing a dress shirt and (colorful paisley) tie or ascot to school each day.  I remember Niles West managed to get a computer terminal installed -- there were only 12 spaces available in the computer science class, not enough spaces for yours truly to get in.  The most important course I actually took in high school was typing; it paved the way for writing college papers in a finite interval, working in the government bureaucracy and writing on blogs today.

About four blocks opposite the direction from Park View School is Mansfield Park where we skated and played basketball, baseball and hockey.

Mansfield Park, Google Maps street view.

Kevin Roach, if you are still out there, I really didn’t mean to hit you or knock any teeth out when I recklessly swung my hockey stick.  I was negligent for sure.  I apologize.

Harrer Park is where I learned to swim.  For years I proudly carried the Beginner, Advanced Beginner and Intermediate swimmer Red Cross cards I was awarded upon the completion of swimming lessons. 

Harrer Park Pool
The Park District worked at extending the pool season.  A week or two after Labor Day they would stock the pool with perch, crappies and blue gills for an old fashioned fishing derby.  It was fun.

We snuck under the fence to play golf free at Northwestern Golf Course, even though, as I recall, the greens fee was three or four bucks.

14th Hole Bridge and Dam, Chick Evans Golf Course
This pictures the dam across and bridge over the Chicago River North Branch on the 14th hole at Chick Evans Golf Course (nee Northwestern).  There was an old guy who periodically patrolled the river wearing hip waders and donning a metal safari helmet for protection from the sun and errant golf shots; he would wade in and rake balls out of the putrid muck.  The only living things besides him that I ever saw in that river were turtles and leeches.  We called the ball mucker the River Rat and mocked him, yelling that name (and others) from a safe distance.  He would make threatening gestures.  Then he ignored us.  When I was 8 or 9 years old we’d stand outside the fence and track down stray drives hit out of bounds.  “Want to buy your ball back sir?” we would ask, pressed against the chain link fence.  The going rate for a new ball was 25 or 30 cents, 10 or 15 cents for most used.  Wilson Staff was the premium ball: Po Do's were the worst, sold at Walgreens.  When we were shagging balls, my mother thought we were at the park playing baseball, assured because I slung a baseball glove on my bike’s handlebar before heading off to the 14th hole bridge.     

We caddied at the country club on the north side of Northwestern -- Glen View Club.  Northwestern was rumored to have once been Glen View's ladies course, but I've never seen confirmation of that surmise.
18th Hole and Clubhouse, Glen View Club
There are plenty of caddie and country club stories, but we've given those sufficient coverage to this point.   Enough reminisces for now.  Cheers!

9/26/13 Note:  Received a nice email about this post as follows:

I lived at the corner of Mango and Davis about 4 blocks from you. We were ... 9 kids. When I saw the house in your blog, I instantly recognized it at the Foster's house. 
I believe that you have a brother named Scott that I used to hang with. If I am not mistaken, we were cub scouts together and met at your house. And in thinking about it, I remember that your Dad was big into the cub scouts and boy scouts as a leader.  I do remember coming to your house and listening to Jack Brickhouse and the cubs with Scott. 
I actually came across your blog when I did a search for Mrs. Lagerquist. She was an exceptional teacher and one that I fondly remember. Do you have any additional information about her? 
As I read your blog about Morton Grove, it was almost as if I had written it about myself. We had very similar experiences growing up. I too got chased by the pickers and river rats and selling golf balls back to the golfers. I also spent a great deal of time hanging around the stables and getting chased from there as well. Also played hockey, baseball and football at Mansfield and Harrer parks and spent summers at the pool. And when the carnivals cam to town, I worked in various booths.  
What I remember especially well was Halloween and beggars night. Great area for trick or treating. 
When I was in the 6th grade, we moved to the western side of Morton Grove over by Waukegan road and I went to Niles North and graduated from there in 1968.  
I am sure that I knew you and remember that you had a sister or two as well. Morton Grove in the 50's and 60's was a great place to grow up and live

My father was active in the scouts. I remember how he was instrumental in creating a new troop that met in the public school when there was push back about welcoming Jewish kids in the troop at our local church. My dad wouldn't stand for any of that muff.


  1. Sharon Burke ElkinsMarch 26, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    Thanks for the tour. I left Morton Grove when I got married in 1967. Forgotten a lot of the history that you provided.

  2. Thank you, Grady! Somewhat my experience in growing up in Morton Grove, but also very different in some ways!

  3. Enjoyed your account of growing up in MG !

  4. Living close by and attending school with your older brother all those years, I can totally relate with the generalities, but not the "guy" stuff you did!

  5. Steven L. SchneiderMarch 27, 2013 at 6:26 PM

    Just a Hi from your childhood neighbor on the north.
    Hi to your sister, Joanne also.

    1. Hi Steve! I recall how gracious your parents were all those years, allowing Santa to store his presents for the Foster family in your garage. Cheers!

  6. I enjoyed that. Thanks for linking to my post. I also had Mr. Savage, some 20 years after you. He taught my typing course. And I believe he was still the track coach in the 90's. / Best, Elliott

  7. I lived in Morton Grove from 1959 to 1968. 8941 Mason, one house south from the
    corner of Mason and Lake, east side of the street. Graduated form Park View in 1963, Niles West in 1967. Most of my friends, Devine, McCauley, Kengott, McNichols, went to Notre Dame. Caddied at Glen View Club from 1961 to 1968, snuck under the fence behind the 15 tee at Northwestern (as it was known then),
    stood on the bridle path along the fairway of the 12th hole to shag balls that went OB. Brother Gary, sister Dyann. We used to walk to Sun Drugs for the 5 cent ice cream cones. My Mom, Irene, was the hostess, first at Val's, then the Morton House, working for the Hoffman brothers. My Dad was President of the Little League in 62&63. Thanks for sharing some memories.

  8. Hey Grady. I got your blog looking for Mrs. Lagerquist. I had her for 3rd grade as well and she was a huge reason I got into science. I lived across Marmora from Mansfield Park and was class of '73 from Niles West. Also agree that Mr. Erbe was a great gym teacher (did you ever experience the paddle Mr. East made for him?) and Pat Savage was on the edge. Thanks for the memories!

  9. I grew up at 8931 Mansfield, St. Martha and Niles West-class of 1975. Kevin Roach lived across the stret from us!!!

    1. DAVID! Hey old neighbor!! It's chrissy Leininger (now chris Jasser) this post was so crazy to read! brings back memories!! ( oved Mr. East & Mr & MRS Erbie!! What was the name of that Home Ec teacher with the bad breath? ... I live in Glenview now- married with 5 kids , hope you are well!
      We need a Morton Grove reunion!!
      Thanks for posting!!

    2. Mr. East was the boy's shop teacher. When I fixed up our home for resale a couple of winters back I used many of the woodworking and carpentry lessons from his class. Mr. Erbe married the girl's gym teacher whose maiden name from my days escapes me.

  10. Grady, Thank you for your posts, it was GREAT taking a trip down memory lane

  11. Thank you!! Brought back memories as a child growing up in Morton Grove and playing in the woods. My father was chief of police at the time when they banned hand guns.

  12. Thank you!! Brought back memories as a child growing up in Morton Grove and playing in the woods. My father was chief of police at that time when they banned hand guns.

  13. The girls' gym teacher was Miss Gross before she married! I grew up at 9008 Meade, attended Park View and then Niles West '79. Thanks for the lovely reminiscences! And regarding your final comment about your dad and the scouts: he must have been a fine man. Jews were not always made to feel welcome in Morton Grove in the '60s & '70s.

  14. I grew up in Morton Grove, left in '74 and went to Park View, nice to read your stories