When I start talking “octo” let me tell you I’m not talking about “octo-mom!” I’m talking about the wonderful and outstanding octo-genarians of Pullman Free School of Manual Training — more fondly known as Pullman Tech. The Pullman Tech Alumni Association held an All-Class Reunion Luncheon on Oct. 14 at Silver Lake Country Club in Orland Park.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to give a short presentation on the current status of Pullman as many of the graduates hadn’t been back to Pullman in many years. Frank Rossi, our well-known South Side entertainer beyond compare, provided the musical entertainment for the event. Although he and I have heard of each other for many years through our association with Traverso’s, it was the first time we actually met, and everyone was right in describing us as two true-to-our-roots, outgoing Italians.
The Pullman Tech AlumNews, which keeps everyone informed and in touch, is put out by my fellow Spaghetti-O members Carmen “Cal” Adducci and Olga Brazzale Claesson. The AlumNews is published twice annually, during the first week of June and December. It is the primary source of information concerning the past students of Pullman Tech.
Some of the topics covered are wedding anniversaries, milestones, memorials and Memories. Of these, Memories alone is well worth the $10 annual subscription cost. The AlumNews is a real labor of love that shows through in the presentation of all of its articles.
The Memories article reprises interesting incidents that occurred during the school years and afterwards as recalled by the students who actually lived the events. At the reunion luncheon, I was fortunate to hear a number of those stories told to me in person by former students. As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, these graduates were octogenarians and above. The youngest student in attendance was 83 years old and the oldest 93 years old.
When I asked if anyone had stories, someone told me to find Norma and ask her about the time she jumped into the pond in front of Pullman Tech. Well, it wasn’t long before I found myself sitting beside a very lively class of ’43 graduate with a sparkle and a smile reminiscent of a high schooler fond of making everyone laugh — and that would be Norma Van Gameron Madderom.
She happily related how she and another student accepted a dare to jump into the school pond (which may have been modeled after Pullman’s Lake Vista). Unfortunately for them, as they took their leap into the pond and waded in machine shop teacher Mr. Brubaker walked out of the school building.
He yelled at the wading students who waded as quickly as possible to the far end of the pond and ran out to their fellow students. They thought they were in the clear as they grabbed their books and ran — laughing all the way.
They were in the clear! That is, until the next day when Mr. Brubaker, who would become principal, called one of the students into the office. He never did catch Norma, but Norma thinks that he liked her spirit and didn’t call her into the office on purpose. That’s been her story for all these years and she’s sticking to it. Her little stunt did cause a sensation among the students, because after all these years, they still remember it as if it happened yesterday.
I also spoke with Eleanor Schweiger, class of 1942, who told me she worked at Pullman-Standard until the early 1950s. She was fortunate to find work with Union Pacific Railroad in 1957 and worked for them for 37 years. She retired, temporarily, at 57 and went to work again at 61 years of age for the Indiana Tollroad where she worked for ten years before finally retiring. Eleanor is still going strong at 85 years old.
Upon George Pullman’s death in 1897, he made good on his intent to train America’s youth in skillful trades that would benefit the students and the country. Through his will, Mr. Pullman left the sum of $1.2 million to begin his Pullman Free School of Manual Training. The school was offered free tuition for the children of Pullman’s workers and residents. The amount of $1.2 million in 1897 is the equivalent of about $30 million in 2016 dollars. In other words once again and true to form, George Pullman put his money behind his vision with the hopes of an improved life for his workers and their children.
The school served the Pullman and Roseland communities in auto-mechanics, architectural and mechanical drawing, electricity, machine shop work, commercial arts, and home-making. The school was successful and served its student enrollment well for thirty-five years. In 1948, due to the increased costs of education, the fact that the endowment was low on funds, and that Chicago had vocational schools offering similar courses, it was determined that the school would be closed. The school was purchased by the Archdiocese in 1951, at which time it became Mendel Catholic High School. An educational foundation was created in place of Pullman Tech.
The Pullman Foundation has existed for over 65 years and has given out over $32 million dollars in scholarships. Its current net worth has risen to be in the area of $30 million due to investments and donations. The foundation has continued to grow and improve through the years and has more than 13,000 alumni. The annual scholarship amounts have been doubled from $5,000 to $10,000.
Pullman Free School of Manual Training is now a part of the history of the Pullman National Monument which was proclaimed February 19, 2015 by President Barack Obama. As you enter the main display area of the Historic Pullman Visitor Center at 11144 S. Cottage Grove, you will find a complete wall dedicated to Pullman Tech. There are articles relating to the history of the establishment of the school and also a copy of George Pullman’s original bequest. Many Pullman Free School of Manual Training/Pullman Tech alumni have donated items for display throughout the years. There are photos on display of classes being taught and trophies that have been won. A diploma or two and an actual Pullman Tech sweater are also on exhibit along with photos of many teachers.
As a whole, Pullman Tech encompasses a good portion of the history exhibit on Pullman. Pullman Free School of Manual Training was a living manifestation of the ideals of George Pullman to help his fellow man improve their lives and their future. And those ideal are shown in the lives that the Pullman Tech Alumni have lived throughout these many years and are recalled in the Pullman Tech AlumNews.
Each Veteran’s Day Pullman resident Tom Shepherd coordinates a special ceremony of remembrance and honor for all Veterans. This year’s event took place on Veterans Day and the presentation took place in the Pullman School. In years past, the residents and attendees had to stand outside regardless of the weather, however, through Tom’s efforts, Mr. Julious Lawson, Principal of the top-rated Level 1+ Pullman School, has allowed us to use auditorium in the school for our ceremonies.
Thanks to Mr. Lawson’s kind consideration, there are always eighty to one hundred attendees. This year’s ceremony, with myself as a Vietnam Veteran giving the keynote speech, was blessed with a beautiful rendition of The National Anthem and God Bless America by Kimberly Livingstone Martire, a Pullman School graduate and St. Anthony of Padua Cantor.
The ceremony was capped off outdoors with a reading of the names of deceased Pullman Veterans of all wars listed on the community monument, and a laying of a wreath by Mr. and Mrs. Ware, parents of Pullman resident Sgt. Albert D. Ware, killed in action in Afghanistan 12/18/2009. Fellowship and dessert followed the ceremonies in the Historic Pullman Center at 614 East 113th Street.
Also in honor of Veterans Day, the Italian American Veterans Museum, located on the grounds of Casa Italia in the western suburb of Stone Park, presented Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Allen James Lynch. As a radio telephone operator on December 15, 1967, he raced through enemy fire to save the lives of three of his fellow infantrymen. Mr. Lynch who now resides in Gurnee, was raised in Northwest Indiana but was born in Roseland, where his family lived until he was 5 years old.
The Italian American Veterans Museum contains many exhibits and displays featuring Roseland, Pullman and Kensington veterans. The Avignone and Adducci families are well represented due to the generosity of their families in donating histories, uniforms, equipment, and log books regarding the military lives of their family members. The museum is open, free of charge, from 10 a.m. to w p.m. every Saturday. If you have military memorabilia that you would like to donate, bring it with you when you visit.
Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or email@example.com.