How I Became Grandpa Don

 
Chapter 10

Years of Growth and Change
 1963 - 1969
 

Recorded by Donald J Plefka (Grandpa Don) September - October, 2002
A year has gone by since my last chapter was recorded.
2002  has been a busy year.

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In the fall of 1963 we (actually, Anne) and our little daughter, Anne Marie had a problem. For a week, Anne Marie was dragged to kindergarten. The teacher would take her by the hand and tell Anne to leave. Did our daughter have a fear of school, or the teacher? No! We found out that Anne Marie felt that mom could not handle baby Tom by herself and she needed to stay home to take care of him.  Some months later we found out that while all the other kids were sitting in a circle on the floor, our daughter would stand. After a while, the teacher let her bring a chair to the circle. Again, after much interrogation, it was found that she had been told not to get her dress dirty. She was just trying to be obedient without getting mom in trouble with the teacher.

After getting through these rough spots, Anne Marie did very well. They had instituted an "un-graded" period covering what should have been 1st through 3rd grades and she completed the subjects in two years. For a while she was called "Ree" at home. When Tom finally started to talk he could not say "Anne Marie".  So, she became "Ree". We always blamed our daughter for Tom's late start in talking. She anticipated his every need and took care of it. He didn't need to say anything.

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The homes across the street were still under construction in the Fall of 63. .

Anne Marie's expression reflects the feelings of all of us during this time.

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Tom is enjoying our first "pool".

On November 22, 1963 we were shocked by the assignation of President John F. Kennedy. Two days later Anne and I witnessed, via television, Jack Ruby shoot and mortally wound Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of the President. This was an event that was imprinted in our minds. Nothing like that had ever been seen on live television before. We knew we were in the "Information Age".

In 1964, we purchased a "package" of materials for a garage. Everything was included including nails and roofing paper. I remember going to the Gedney's next door to see how a garage was built in order to put it together. A friend knew a carpenter who cut a template for the roof joists so we could get the slope and the angles right.

The materials were delivered on a Friday and I started framing the back wall when I came home from work. Anne's dad was very handy and a great help and her brother, Harry, pitched in too. Between the three of us we had it framed on Saturday and almost finished Sunday. I worked on it in the evenings after work to complete it.

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We added roll up awnings to the house, front and back, and an aluminum canopy over the back door. We put up a swing set near the back fence and then a pool that the older kids could enjoy. Several families with children now lived on the block and they all became playmates. Tom was the youngest but was always accepted by the older boys. 

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This picture was one of many taken at the McCormick Museum at Cantigney in 1964. Kids always enjoy running down a hill.

Dan, Anne Marie and her friend Ellen 
enjoy the "big" pool as Tom looks on.

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Since we had the pool and swings, our place became the gathering place which was fine with us. Early on, Anne set up rules, one of which was, "You could not swim unless one of your parents was present". That way, Anne was not the neighborhood baby sitter and a bonus was that we got to know the neighbors quite well. We all agreed not to get involved with the disputes between the kids that arose from time to time. That only serves to get neighbors mad at each other and the kids would be playing together the next day anyway. 

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Dan Made his First Holy Communion in Nov 1964 .

Grandma Plefka and Grandma Lawler look on as Grandpa Lawler holds Tom and his cousin Chris on his lap.

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The occasion was Dan's birthday 

In the spring of '65 Dan said he wanted to try out for Little League. Anne and I had heard the stories of problems with these programs with untrained coaches and unreasonable parents and replied with a resounding NO! But, all his friends were doing it and we came to an agreement. If nothing else, Dan would realize that life wasn't fair. He could play baseball but he could not complain about the coaches or umpires. What he perceived as unfair treatment may be fair in the eyes of others and even if it wasn't, they were in charge. It worked, and although I had never been interested in sports of any kind, we became avid fans. Since that time, our summers revolved around baseball schedules. In addition our circle of friends was enlarged. Besides the camaraderie at the games, there were the work details to maintain the ball fields and sell refreshments to support the program. These friendships led to the formation of a pinochle club for us and a bowling league for Anne that lasted long after the boys stopped playing baseball. She was in the bowling league with some of the original members in 2000, the year she was born to Eternal Life.

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1966
Dan and his friends on Kurt Berg's front porch. Most of them lived on the block. 
First row (L-R) - Tom McNeil, Dan, Kurt Berg
Behind - The three Sheridan brothers,  Rick Schroeder and two friends from off the block.
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To this day, Dan, Tom and their friends from Drake Ave. get together at least once a year. 

In 1966 Anne Marie made 
her First Communion.

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Christmas, 1966

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Dan on the floor, Tom on Grandpa's lap, 
"Big Grandma" and Anne Marie

The three kids gather around
"Little Grandma" (Plefka)

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We decided to 'finish' the basement so there would be a separate laundry room and the kids would have a place to play. At first the foundation walls would be painted and an asbestos tile floor put down. Well, a bathroom with a shower was added and walls enclosed the boiler and water heater. With all that, we decided to panel all the walls and put in a tile ceiling. I had started raising tropical fish so four fish tanks were built into the wall with access to them from the boiler room. An "all purpose" bar was also built. A plumber was hired (on the side) for the bathroom but I broke up the concrete for the ejection pump and drains. Other than that, I did most of the work with the help of Anne's dad and Harry. Dan was a big help putting down the floor tiles. 

In order to make ends meet, Anne's dad had arranged for me to get a side job working with him in the evenings at Signal Delivery Co. We unloaded semi-trailers and sorted packages into bins for delivery the next day for Sears. It was usually 2-3 hours work each night but we were paid for 4 hours. At Christmas time it became 6 hours or more of work. After several years of this, my Kelso-Burnett job paid enough so I could give up this side job. Besides, The K-B job was demanding more of my time.

My K-B job was going well. When I began to visit project sites I needed to get business cards and asked VP Ed Flanagan what my title was. He said I was a "Junior, Assistant, Contract Manager, Trainee", but I should just put "Contract Manager" on the card. Soon I was handling projects on my own. Ed Flanagan had left the company and "Sig" Hollenger was my new VP. At one time I asked him what my title was and he asked what Ed told me. When I replied, he said I wasn't a trainee any more. My immediate boss and mentor, Harold Roberts, would always check my estimates. One day, he was particularly busy and when I brought an estimate to him he just looked up and asked, "Is it right?" I said, "Yes!", and Harold replied with, "Well, what the hell are you bringing it to me for?" Any time I would write a "bill of material" for a project, Harold would initial it before it went to purchasing. After an occasion where there was a delay in getting material to a job because he was out of town and the paperwork had to wait for his initials he took me to the purchasing manager an told him that his initials were no longer required. Henry Ulrich, the PM, said, "So, your going to let him hang himself!" I was no longer a junior, assistant

In 1966 I was introduced to Computerized Estimating. The company had purchased a computer and a program was written to apply labor hours and material pricing to quantities of materials based on our own estimating manuals. The company had entered the computer age long before most contractors. (see K-B Computer History

When one of the senior Contract Managers left the company, A couple of his old accounts were assigned to me. A major one was the Corn Products plant at Argo, Il. We had just completed a very large project there which was so profitable that we reduced our bill to them for a substantial savings to them on the contract. They were so impressed by the company's generosity that for many years we did work in the plant without competitive bidding. It was also that year that the president of KB instituted a formula on which bonuses were based for contract managers. As a result, At the end of that fiscal year in March, '67 I got a completely undeserved bonus of $7,000. We blew the whole thing and more on a Mercury Marquee. We loved that car, our first luxury automobile. The bonus formula was thrown out and reverted to an arbitrary system. There are too many variables in the construction industry that effect the profits of a project and I always preferred the judgment of management as the determining factor in paying bonuses. 

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February of '67
The BIG snow hit Chicago

Dan, Anne Marie and Tom loved it.
Nobody had snow blowers so just a path the width of a shovel was cleared on the walks.

 

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Easter wasn't far behind and the snow was long gone. Anne took the photo.

Anne also took a picture of me.
For some reason she didn't get her picture taken.

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The Drake Ave Parents gathered 
before the Little League games.

Dan was on the mound, 
a pretty good pitcher.

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The ball fields were at 115th St and Homan Ave. in the village of Marionette Park. There were two for Little League, One Pony League and one Babe Ruth League. The leagues operated under Greater Mount Greenwood Youth Baseball, Inc. The property was owned by the Cemetery at 119th and Kedzie which generously allowed the baseball organization to use it. A small refreshment stand was the main source of income used to support the program. 
Dan's 11th Birthday
Tom, John Lawler, Anne Marie, Dan, & Chris Lawler

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Looking on are the two Grandmas and Grandpa

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Anne had a problem with heights and was very upset with the kids so close to the edge at Starved Rock State Park.

In 1968, Tom started kindergarten. We had all three in grade school. Anne took care of the PTA duties and for a while was one of the officers. We had good teachers at the school and good cooperation from most parents. Our neighborhood, the 19th ward in Chicago, was populated with a large number of city workers including firemen and policemen. It was as far away from the inner city as one could be and still be in Chicago.  Whenever a home went up for sale, it was sold by word-of-mouth to others who fit in perfectly. It was a "White" neighborhood bordered by "White" suburbs on three sides. While the country was rocking with discord and upheaval, we were snug in our little world. We didn't consider ourselves bigoted, as a mater of fact we gave lip service to racial equality. I did, however admit to being an economic bigot, believing that people of like economic means should live together. I didn't see anything wrong with that.

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Dan's Confirmation 1968

Proud Grandpa and Dan


Here we find (L - R) Carroll, Harry, Anne, 'Big' Grandma, 'Little' Grandma, & Grandpa all gathered at the bar.
Wigs were fashionable for the ladies.

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The basement rec' room was the family gathering place.

During the "Sixties" along with the anti-war protests and the racial protests,  women were demanding equality with men. Most women, that is. Anne was not participating. She said that she would have to come down off the pedestal that I had her on. It would mean lowering herself and she did not want to be "equal". Anne wasn't "just a housewife". She was a mother and that was not only the most important occupation in the world, it was a major responsibility. I agreed. I always felt that marriage was a partnership but acknowledged that I had the better of the deal. I also felt that women should always be treated with great respect and given every consideration. So, Anne was placed on her pedestal, to be honored and admired and she wasn't about to come down. We had disagreements but the thing that upset Anne most was that I would not fight with her. That was especially true in front of the kids. I tried to avoid that. I also had the attitude that it was better to have peace than to be right. When a disagreement arose I would always ask myself, "How important is it for me to win this argument?" The answer usually was, "Not very."

The Church was in a period of change. In 1966 we were told we could eat meat on Friday without going to hell. I wondered about all those in hell because they had in the past. But I was glad that a lot of those silly rules were falling. The Mass was now in English, not Latin, and the railing between the Alter and the people disappeared. The Alter  moved closer and the priest was facing us, not with his back to us. And, there were more  readings from the scriptures. Many people didn't understand the changes and were disturbed by them. I don't remember any explanations for them but I suspected that the local pastors didn't want to change but were farced to do it. Maybe they didn't understand any more than we did. We were going to church every Sunday and I liked the changes but I still didn't see the need for religion except as a means to enforce a moral code of ethics on the populace. Couldn't people be moral without it? Many were. Did people have a soul? Maybe.

A great relationship had developed between our family and Anne's folks. Her dad and I working nights together helped a lot and Anne always got along well with her mother. When Anne's birthday and Christmas came around, I would ask her mom what she thought Anne would like for a gift. She would make a suggestion and I would pay her for it. Usually, they had already been shopping together and the gift was at her mom's already wrapped. There was still friction with my mom. We finally broke the "dinner every Sunday' habit and things were a little better. I felt bad about not seeing mom that often but understood the situation. It was more important to have Anne satisfied than to force the situation. I remembered the discord caused by my dad's mother when I was a kid. Besides, mom was safe and sound in her little apartment in her brother's two-flat building and spent a lot of time with him and Ault Ella.

There was time for a few vacation trips and also a couple trips to Anne's Aunt Marge and Uncle Tony's place near Galena. They had been fishing and mentioned to a local fisherman that it would be a great place to retire. He said he knew of a farmer that was going to sell a plot of land in a nice spot and took them to see it. When they arrived, the farmer was putting up the "for Sale" sign. It was a beautiful spot on the second highest point in Illinois. They made an offer and when turned down gave the farmer their number and left. The day they returned home, the farmer called and they came to terms.  Uncle Tony spent several years of weekends building a house and improving the lot. When we were there, it was about 90% finished.

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The kids at White Pines State Park in 1969

Anne Marie was Confirmed in 1969
Pictured here with "Little Grandma"
A couple of my 'paint by number' pictures are on the wall.

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Uncle Tony's
near Galena

The Mississippi and Iowa in the background.

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It is getting dark but it was Tom's turn to drive Uncle Tony's tractor.

I tried to get back into HO gage railroading. 
The kids weren't interested and this layout was never finished because I made the curves too tight.

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Christmas 1969

 

The Christmas traditions continue. Every Christmas morning the kids came one at a time to see the gifts under the tree and a picture was taken.

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Anne looks on as the kids open gifts.
(Remember, ... wigs are "in")

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Happy kids ... and 
a very proud and happy dad.

When the Galena house was finished and Uncle Tony was ready to sell the store in Crystal Lake, he was found in front of the TV. 
A heart attack prevented him from attaining his dream. Aunt Marge sold the Galena place which was close to Chestnut Mountain Resort.

For us, life was humming along. We were pleased with life and it was good to us. Marriage and family were just as I imagined it would be. Our children were growing and changing along with the world around us.

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What was happening in the world
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

For more of this period see the
Time Line of the Twentieth Century

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