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Roseland wasn’t just Italian

Growing up in Roseland’s Kensington neighborhood, it took years before it occurred to me that Italians weren’t they only ethnic group that claimed Roseland as their beloved community. When I was growing up, there were us Italians and then there were ‘those Americans.’ In a nutshell, that is what this column is about: the Italians of Roseland have joined all the other descendants of ethnic groups in becoming ‘those Americans’ that we grew up talking about.

I was reminded of that fact recently when I received a letter from Marion Irvine Phillips of Hudson, Fla. Marion had previously written me that one of her relatives had given her a copy of Fra Noi when she visited in Oak Lawn. It excited her because she hadn’t seen or heard anything about Roseland since the ’70s when she left Roseland. To get her up to date, I sent her a copy of every column I’d written until that time.

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Marion recently wrote to tell me that she was so overjoyed after having read those columns that she’s re-read them each a number of times. She also mentioned that she’s moving back to Oak Lawn to be close to family and can’t wait to get back up here. She also had a simple request: please don’t forget those Roselandites that weren’t all Italian.

Over the past several months I have also talked with a number of readers who I’ve met at Spaghetti-Os whose ethnic background isn’t Italian. However, one of the characteristics of Roseland that we all take pride in is that we grew up in one of the friendliest communities in Chicago. All of these non-Italians had plenty of good Italian friends., And the Italians? They swear by their good friends be they Dutch, German, Swedish, Polish or Greek!

Ed Anderson is of Swedish descent and grew up in Roseland around 107th and Wentworth and his wife Eleanor (nee Bruning) at 109th and Eggleston. One common draw for many Roselandites is any discussion revolving around the schools they attended. Ed and Eleanor went to Van Vlissengen Grade School, which was replaced with a new school in 1998. Ed mentioned that they had taken a bus tour of Roseland at that time followed by a reunion luncheon at the Florence Hotel, which was probably one of the last meals ever served at the hotel. They were the last group to go through Van Vlissengen before it was torn down.

Ed and his buddies hung out at Blondie’s on 108th and Indiana when they had nothing better to do and before they would go to the local dances at Pochron’s or one of the school dances like St. Willibrord’s. One of the highlights that still makes Ed laugh is the fact that a lot of the guys used to hang around the soda fountain in Kresge’s, which is where he met Eleanor. Eleanor Poenie worked the counter with her friend Marilyn Bruning, who ended up marrying another one of the guys, Jim Newton.

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St. Willibrord ran one of the many grade schools in our community.

Jim is Dutch and attended St. Willy’s since his family lived four doors down from the church and school. It was a fact that Jim’s family kept quiet about since most of his cousins went to the Dutch Reformed Churches.

Jim and Marilyn got married and he started his own plastering business when he thought he could do better for himself rather than continue working for his dad’s plastering business. His biggest inspiration though was the thought of having a house for him and his wife so they could start a family. It proved to be a wise decision as Jim related that he earned $5,000 his last year with his dad and $17,000 his first year out on his own. That was part of the picture of Roseland as a self-sustaining community that allowed many Roselandites to begin their own successful businesses.

Jim was involved in baseball for over 50 years and one of his proudest moments was being named a playoff game MVP and receiving a beautiful gold jacket with ‘MVP 1968’ on the back of it, which he still has. Jim didn’t say so, but I know he’s also proud of the fact that the jacket still fits him.

One of his other passions gained him a number of lifelong acquaintances and that was bowling at the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl was where the high bowlers went when bowling was a serious pastime. I recall St. Anthony’s Holy Name being one of the largest sporting leagues sponsored by the parish. Jim came to know many St. Anthony parishioners and as a result knows many of the attendees at Spaghetti-Os.

Jim was an all-around athlete, and besides baseball and bowling, he played football for St. Willy’s against St. Louis Academy and Fenger. Speaking of Fenger High School, that is where Jim met his wife. Marilyn was a cheerleader that caught Jim’s eye. Although Marilyn was 16-1/2, 18-year-old Jim fell for her big time. Unfortunately, Jim got drafted and after just two weeks of basic training he called her and told her he missed her and wanted to marry her. They ended up being engaged for two years and now have been married 56 years.

Jim recalled they had their wedding reception at Pochron’s Hall, which he rented for $75. He got his liquor wholesale from Toigo’s Tap on 119th Street, and his buddies served as bartenders. The entire wedding cost less than $125, including the cost of the rental tuxes.

There are many more stories from Roselandites that cover everything from Roseland’s July 4th sidewalk sales to still seeing their names carved into their school walls. Roseland may have represented different ethnicities but there were many common stories in which all Roselandites can recognize their selves. That commonality is what keeps us attending Roseland reunion events, dinners and dances.

It is what will bring out the people to the Nov. 13, 2011, All Roseland dinner dance at the Orland Chateau, which Bonny Sandona, 773-646-1415, is coordinating. Also, a 50th anniversary reunion for St. Willibrord’s class of 1961 is being planned for the fall by Pat (Perrotta) Lange (plange@wideopenwest.com) and Linda (Fioretti) Bradley (linbradley@aol.com).

None of us are getting younger and these are perfect opportunities to relive our youth and reminisce about the good old days we all shared in Roseland.

Contact CJ Martello at 1501 W. Belmont Ave. #708, Chicago, IL 60657; 773-525-7823; or cjfranoi@yahoo.com; Online: Roseland Roundtable on Facebook

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.