Recorded on February 8, 2013. Length: 29 Minutes.
DG: Welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project jointly sponsored by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. Today is February 8, 2013. My name is Donna Lee Gulley and we are talking with Beth Bassler who has lived and worked in Northbrook since 1963 as she will tell us. A very special thing about her is her relationship with Glenbrook High School. Beth will tell us about being a student, a teacher, a parent and now a Foundation member. I am so glad to have you. Welcome, Beth.
BB: Thank you.
DG: So, what brought you to Northbrook in 1963?
BB: My parents lived in a home on the north side of Chicago and it was too small so we started looking for a larger home. My mom read about a little red farmhouse on Pfingsten Road, however the street before it was Shannon Road with a new development by the Kennedy Brothers. We saw all the models and when we saw the little red farmhouse my mom decide it wasn’t what we wanted so we bought a home built on spec.
DG: So, you were the first family to live in that house.
BB: We were and now my husband and I live in that house so it has been in the same family since we purchased it.
DG: So, in 1963, you were a student?
BB: I came here in January of 1963. I was 12 ½ so I was enrolled at Grove School when there was only kindergarten through 8th grade. That was the only school in District 27. It was a little bit farmish around here, in fact, we didn’t even have police. We had a service.
DG: That was very different from where you lived in the city.
BB: It was amazingly different because every teacher I had in my previous school was about 100. My first teacher when I walked in the door at Grove was the Chicago Bears quarterback. His name was Rudy Bukich and he was our Core Teacher. He taught history, English and geography and things like that. He was about 30, tall, handsome and I thought “Wow!” There wasn’t a girl in my class who wasn’t in love. It was a wonderful beginning to living in Northbrook. I was extremely fortuitous to have him as a teacher. He was quite a guy.
DG: That is really something. So, you finished at Grove and then went to Glenbrook? Place us in history for our listeners. At that time was it Glenbrook North, South – what name?
BB: The school was called Glenbrook North by that time. The school had gotten too big so they built Glenbrook South. However, when I came in 1964, Glenbrook South was too small, so all the Glenview freshman class came to Glenbrook North. So, our class had 800 compared to 200 in each of the other classes. We were everywhere, swarming like ants. They didn’t quite know what to do with us. So, we became friendly with the people from South and I still have some friends from Glenview that I met at that time.
DG: Was your class an anomaly?
BB: I think it was the trend as people started discovering that Northbrook was a great little place with train service and a location between the Edens Expressway and the Tri-State. Like – “this is a great place.” Good park district as we have now and great schools, although we didn’t know it at the time.
DG: Sounds wonderful. So, you went to Glenbrook North for four years and in addition to taking classes, what were you active in?
BB: I thought I wanted to be on the Aquinas Swim team but I didn’t make it which was okay. I became a cheerleader because at that time it wasn’t possible for girls to participate in sports. I was in the Girls’ Athletic Association and in the choirs. That was about all I had time to do once I became a cheerleader because we cheered in the fall and the winter.
DG: So, you finished at Glenbrook North and then I imagine you left the community for a while?
BB: I went to college at Southern Illinois University and married when I was a senior and had a son. I quit school for awhile and then I went back and finished up with a degree in Spanish and a minor in music. I started looking around for jobs. My first job was a Libertyville High School. I taught there for three years and then I had another child and a couple years later I had another child. A few years after that I unfortunately got divorced and through the benevolence of my parents they let me move back home with my three children and my dog. I started looking for a job and put my name in as a substitute teacher at Glenbrook North and South and started doing some substitute work there but most everybody was healthy that year so I didn’t get much work but they remembered me. In the spring of 1983, they called me in and offered me a position teaching Spanish. I was beside myself with excitement was I was offered the job after an interview. I started teaching there in the fall of 1983.
DG: You must have a guardian angel.
BB: It did help that my father had been on the parent advisory board and the principal remembered him. The department chair remembered me as a substitute teacher and my mom had a very good friend who was good friends with Jean McGrew, the superintendent. I think all those people had nice things to say about me and that is how I got the job.
DG: So, you started teaching when?
BB: The fall of 1983.
DG: How many years did you teach at Glenbrook North?
BB: I taught 26 years, teaching all levels of Spanish.
DG: Did they get you back into cheerleading or music?
BB: I was offered the job of Assistant Cheerleading Sponsor, which meant I worked with the Freshmen as they decided to expand cheerleading to that class. The principal thought it was a good idea to let any girl who wanted to be a cheerleader be one so that year 110 girls came out for the squad and I was the sponsor by myself of 110 girls who all needed uniforms. We had squads of 18-20 girls and we had them cheering for football, freshman soccer A, B, C. I went to a jillion games. Then we had a bunch of sports and we had to go cheer for that. I about lost my mind.
DG: I am sure you did. What were your own children doing then?
BB: My children when I got divorced were 3, 5 and 10 and my mother hustled the little ones off to preschool and my son went to Shabonee. I was sort of the afternoon mom. My mother would get them off to school and after school I would come home and together we would cook meals and get ready for the next day but they started getting into activities so I was going to their ball games as well as every game I could for the freshman cheerleaders so I was a very busy person. On the weekends I waitressed.
DG: When did you find time to plan lessons and grade papers?
BB: Late at night. I have a feeling that all of us who were single moms had to do a lot of things after the children went to bed.
DG: Did your children go to Glenbrook North?
BB: The two younger ones went to Grove and through the District 27 schools as did my older child. Then all three of them came through Glenbrook North and didn’t die by having their mother be a teacher there although when we met in the halls, we didn’t always know how to act. There was only one regret in that I never made it to any of their teacher conferences because I was doing parent/teacher conferences myself.
DG: So, your kids went to North starting what year?
BB: My oldest son graduated in 1990 so he started in 1986; my daughter graduated in 1995 and my younger son graduated in 1998.
DG: So, there is a 20 year difference between when you were in high school and when they were in the same school. Can you tell us some differences?
BB: Glenbrook got much bigger, the physical plant. They added a CPA, field house, etc. It made it an absolutely amazing place to attend and to teach.
DG: Did your kids follow in your footsteps and do music and cheerleading?
BB: No, my two oldest children went to Knox College and became Spanish majors which I was thrilled about but not teachers. My youngest started at Knox but transferred to Lake Forest and is a history major. None of them are teachers and none are singers. They say that it skipped a generation. My mother and father are both singers. All my children are doing remarkably well and I am very proud of them. And I am a grandmother which is even more wonderful.
DG: Do they live in Northbrook?
BB: My older son lives here and has three children. My daughter is expecting her first and she will be moving to Northbrook this summer. I am thrilled that we have some new Spartans moving into the area which will make generation number 3 going through Glenbrook.
DG: That is amazing. I wonder how many people in Northbrook have that experience. Do you have some classmates who are still here?
BB: I do have some classmates and I am on the Class of ’68 committee for planning our 45th reunion which will be occurring in September. Some of my classmates had children who went to Glenbrook. I actually had some of my classmates’ children in my classes as students.
DG: That must have been interesting. You mentioned before we started the interview that you were a foundation member.
BB: I believe all of us are aware of financial constraints coming on the horizon, not only those of us who are former teachers concerned about our pensions but we see less and less funding from the government. We are conscientious enough to realize that we may have to do something to help enhance our educational system in the future. So like many schools around here we have a foundation and are starting to find moneys from alumni and businesses to assure that the quality education that we have had at Glenbrook North and South will continue in the future.
DG: So, the foundation is a fund raising organization?
BB: At the moment we looking to raise funds but we are also dispersing funds. We are providing grants so that if teachers have ideas not necessarily budgeted for, we can help. We have an evening school and in the past the foundation has helped underwrite their prom. One particular grant we made was to the Debate Club. They were trying to go paperless and we helped them so they could travel to their various meets and not have to bring huge cartons and piles of paper. This idea has caught and been copied by many other schools. We were probably the first to go paperless. We are very proud of these accomplishments although they are small steps.
DG: When did the foundation begin?
BB: I am a little rusty on that but I think it started about four years ago.
DG: Were you a founding member?
BB: I was a founding member. I talked to my principal and suggested he was not getting any value out of the retirees which he should enlist in support for the school. He replied that he had a great idea and suggested I should start the foundation for the district schools. I responded that I would like that as I know a lot of people.
DG: So, you are the founder?
BB: I am one of the founders. I was asked to serve once the foundation became a reality and I happily do so.
DG: Are you an officer?
BB: I would not say that I am an officer. I am an Indian not a chief.
DG: I like that. Well, do you have special memories about Glenbrook high school?
BB: I think that being there in the ‘60s, I was there when they won the state baseball championship. They played Maine South. It was the first time in the history of state baseball championships that two schools from the same conference played for the championship. We were fortunate, or better, and beat Maine South 15-2. It stuck out in my mind that we annihilated them which I liked. I was also on the faculty in 1983 when Glenbrook North won its first U.S. Government best school award. I was there when they had big assemblies receiving this award. In that fall of 1983 or 1984, they won the state soccer championship. My colleague in my department was the coach so I went to those games and that was very exciting. I was there when they won the state basketball championship. I was involved in a number of variety shows and I sang with the former director Judy Moe, doing some duets.
DG: Are you still involved with the variety shows?
BB: Only as a great attender which I did last night and I saw a wonderful show last night again. I guess I should say that after about five years with cheerleading and not being home much for my children and them needing me, I went to the Student Activities Director and said I needed a different job. He asked if I would be the junior class advisor which would involve putting on a prom which I said I thought I could do. I took that job for twenty-one years and I put on twenty-one proms. That was a learning experience every year. Things crop up you can’t account for – people getting chicken pox, limos breaking down, students leaving, food not arriving. You learn to wear many hats when you are the prom sponsor.
DG: I imagine you do. So, you were the sponsor when your kids went to the prom?
BB: Yes, I was. I guess one of my biggest heartaches was when my son, a senior, asked someone to the prom and she had already accepted someone else and he did not go to prom his senior year. I was heartbroken but I got past that. Otherwise my children went to prom and stayed on the other side of the room. They would come and ask how I was doing. They were very comfortable by their senior year with my teaching at the school. I also went with James McFerrin on a number of field trips. We took trips to Europe in the spring.
DG: Where in Europe did you go?
BB: We went to Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, not the same places each time, with a wonderful group called ACIS.
DG: What a wonderful experience.
BB: I had the most wonderful time being a part of Glenbrook North and I absolutely found it so great to be a part of the foundation so I can help assure that everyone has the same terrific experience there that I knew.
DG: Hearing you tell these stories it doesn’t surprise me that yesterday’s newspaper had an article that Northbrook is one of the safest communities in the United States.
BB: I have to address that because many years ago my classroom was on the first floor near one of the front doors facing out toward Shermer. There was a terrible situation in Winnetka where a young woman entered into a school and shot several people. I had three doors into my classroom and was probably 10-20 feet from the front door and never thought about that being kind of a scary thing. Then we had Columbine and we all had to learn to keep our children safe and we practiced that. I think that Glenbrook is very much aware of all the things it needs to do to keep the children safe. I know that there are policemen and paraprofessionals that walk around the building. I think that children are a lot more aware – awareness is heightened. You have to enter through locked doors and your identity is checked with your driver’s license and you get a nametag. The students know that adults with a name tag have been checked. I like that. We all have to be mindful of our children and know not to trust people they don’t recognize.
DG: Let’s talk about some of the activities and organizations you have been involved in in Northbrook.
BB: I haven’t had a lot of time. I went to a million games. I used to think I had clothes in my trunk for any game. My son played football, baseball and basketball. My daughter played volleyball, basketball and soccer for a while. I went to a number of plays. I loved to sing and became interested in the Y’all Come Choir which was led by Sue Young. It has now been morphed into the Northbrook Community Choir with a new director. I have been doing that for four or five years which has been so fun.
DG: Did that group get to go to Carnegie Hall?
BB: Before I joined they did sing at Carnegie Hall. However, our last big event I was very proud to be a part of, we sang at the Techny Chapel with the Northbrook Symphony and I was privileged to solo. We sang a John Rutter number which I sang the solo for. That has been a great joy in my life. To have this outlet sponsored by the Park District is just wonderful. I wish more people would join. The members are lovely and all come with the same purpose in mind – to make beautiful music. We also sing here at the library.
DG: You just mentioned the library. Did I hear a story about your connection to the library?
BB: I guess I should say that back in 1966 my mother actually worked in the library before it was in this big, beautiful location. It was across the street from the Village church. We have been very involved in using the facilities of the library because we find it to be an amazing place.
DG: I agree and I am wondering is that building still here?
BB: The building is a little brick building that houses a lot of medical offices right on the corner. That was the original library. This is quite different with many rooms. I have even tutored students here besides taking out books. The library is remarkable. If you have lived in other communities, you would know there aren’t many comparable libraries.
DG: How would you describe Northbrook to someone looking for a community to move to?
BB: Well, I believe I could quote some of our real estate agents. Not only do we have wonderful neighborhoods and beautiful homes and schools. It is well maintained. There are so many great things. Our park district, our library, our central downtown. The public works dept. maintains our streets. Everyone cares about this place. People are well educated and hospitable. We are close to trains and expressways. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to live here once they come. I think we have a lot of surprised people who once they come here and find out about the amenities say – well, I thought it was a good place to raise children because the schools are good but there are many more things that would be a draw to people. I believe that is the reason why it was started back in the late 1800s. It was not far from Chicago or Milwaukee. And nowadays those of us traveling around like that it is close to the airport. We like that we can jump on a train to go downtown. We can drive downtown but we don’t have to. We have the Village Green and all those cute little stores. I am excited about what the Village is planning for the future to make it more lucrative for those who live here or visit or spend their money.
DG: Thank you. Let’s talk a little bit about the changes you have seen in the 50 or so years since you moved to Northbrook.
BB: Oh, my. When I moved here Northbrook had 11,000 people. There were lots of places that were just fields. When we moved in we were the second family in the development and the street they had made ended at the end of our sidewalk. It had been a farm. We could see from our house to Dundee, Landwehr, Western and Walters. And Cherry went from Landwehr to Western and it was just a big field of mud. Lots of vacant area. Where Shabonee is and Pheasant Creek, nothing. A friend I went to high school with, his parents owned Sportsman’s. It was a huge golf course and they sold off pieces at a time. There were no homes there. It is now a fine golf course but not as large. One of my friends – his family had a horse farm off of Sanders and Dundee. There weren’t sidewalks. We were in a rural area which was starting to explode. When my brother went to high school in the late 70s, I think they had 2700 students at Glenbrook. That was about the time of the big growth of Northbrook. I think there are about 2100 students now. Things have leveled off a bit, but Northbrook just exploded at that time. And everybody seems to have kept up. Everyone in village planning is very aware of what they need to do to keep up. What should be do for the future to make this a better community? When I think of the internet, we are very spoiled. We have all that.
DG: You are a wonderful spokesman for Northbrook.
BB: I love this community. I love the people in it. I love all of the things that make it charming.
DG: We have just one minute left. Is there anything you would like to add?
BB: I wish everyone could have a wonderful experiences I have had being a part of Northbrook.
DG: Northbrook is fortunate that you have been here and you feel fortunate to have lived in Northbrook.
DG: Thank you for your time today. It has been a wonderful interview, Beth. That concludes our interview for today.