Recorded on January 10, 2014. Length: 32 Minutes.
JH: Good afternoon and welcome to Northbrook voices in oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook historical society and the Northbrook Public Library. Today is Friday, January 10th, 2014. My name is Judy Hughes and I’m pleased to welcome Ginnie Gillis here. Ginnie has lived in Northbrook all but two years of her life and worked here for many years as a teacher. Welcome, Ginnie.
GT: I’m glad to be here.
JH: Do you know what it was that brought your family to Northbrook?
GT: Actually, they were newly married, needed a house to live in… my grandfather on my mother’s side was a carpenter, and so he found these two plots of land on Keystone road off of Pfingsten, and he built a little home from self and his wife. And then he built with my father’s help, a house for us. A bigger house next door. And it’s still is in our family, thanks to ??? when when my parents didn’t need the big house anymore, and my grandparents died, my parents wanted to move in the little house and they thought they’d sell the big house. And so they call ..??? and said, “Would you come over and evaluate it” and he looked at it and he heard the story of how they put the house together themselves, how they planted every blade of grass, every bush, every tree. He said, “don’t sell it, you’ll regret it, you’ll regret it, you’ll be very unhappy living next door, someone might come and treat it with disrespect or paint it purple or something and he said keep it, and so they did and then shortly after that, my sister, my baby sister, was married, and she moved in and it’s still a very charming house and her husband redid parts of it and she’s still there today. However, right now she’s in her house in Arizona, but then she comes in this summer and enjoys my parents house.
JH: How fun
GT: And it was very, very special having my grandparents next door. I could always go over there when I didn’t feel totally appreciated or overworked or something at my house and I could always go over there and be treated queen for a day.
JH: Oh how fun. So what was Northbrook like growing up?
GT: Well, my Well, before my earliest memories, there’s a picture on page 40 of your, of our images of America in Northbrook. But my earliest memories are road was Keystone road between Landwehr and pfingsten. My grandparents house and our house and maybe two other houses were on the road, and it was gravel, and very little traffic. One of the things I remember so well in comparison to now, I would ride my bike down Pfingsten road and I could do tricks, I could put my feet on the handlebar, pull my arms out and balance. I wouldn’t see another car for 20 to 30 minutes.
JH: Very different.
GT: Yes, very different.
JH: Very different.
GT: So it was — we had open metals on either side of our house. We had — we had neighbors straight through behind us but our — our lot was very deep. So we’re Keystone is two streets north of sports center, which of course wasn’t there then, we didn’t have organized sports. We just — I learned — I escaped on a little pond out in the middle. In fact, I just noticed a couple of days ago that the ??? cows on Landwher was just torn down. That was quartic??? electric and Marilyn Quartic was our friend, she had a kind of a biggest pond in her field, so we used to go over there and I escaped.
JH: Was that the one that was just north of the sports center?
GT: It’s on Landwher on the west side of Landwher kind of just a little bit south of the end of Keystone.
GT: It was — to me it was a mansion in those days, and I felt sad to see it go. Well, we and — we bicycle — we — I to this day, I think my most relaxing and most pleasant experience was to go for a walk in the woods or in the fields because I did a lot of that. My friends were the grasshoppers and the ants and the bugs, and another wonderful memory of mine was when my mom said I can have the whole bit of soil next to the garage, and I could plant whatever I wanted there and I went to the seed store and I bought some poppy seeds and planted them and they came up in pinks and whites and reds and they were just so beautiful to this day. I love those poppies. So my — and my mom and dad were gardeners and they were workers, my dad, we never hired anyone to come and fix anything. My dad did the paint while he helped my grandfather build the house. He painted everything. They planted every bush and tree. He — he did all the plumbing, the electricity, he fixed everything and he was a mechanic a car mechanic so he — he was the owner of one of the first Model T’s and — and was always in love with cars and now I have a grandson who’s so in love with cars. But — so he worked in Highland Park, he was the service manager for many years at Brunel and Wilson in Highland Park so often we went shopping in Highland Park because my dad was there. It was always fun to go to work with him, but I thought it was kind of smelly with all that exhaust.
JH: So me about some of your shopping experiences both here in Northbrook and in Highland Park.
GT: Well, I remember that the stores in Northbrook. I remember the ANP but that wasn’t right away, that was a little later and so it’s a little more grown, I think and I think it was where yogin freeze is now. And I remember the ??? meat market, and Mr. Happ ??? used to always ask me if the cat got my tongue. I guess I was shy and I never wanted to talk. And — oh, Landwher’s general store at the corner of all right — right on the west side of the railroad tracks west — southwest corner of the railroad tracks and I can remember what they — they were like an old fashioned general store and you would walk in and you’d hear the wide boards creaking under your feet and you could buy anything there, from a pair of shoes to a sack of flour. It was dark and sort of mysterious to me very old then. Then I know a lot of people remember Melsers? but I remember what was their name, the — the — that was the hardware store that was on Bernhardt. It was the hardware store that was on metal road when there was no metal road and one of the ??? would — in the summer would always be sitting out in the steps soaking up the sun and I used to always think he was a bit pickled, and — and he was, I think, and so I would always cross the street and walk on the other side of the street I was a little afraid of him. I was also afraid of the geese that my neighbor saw when we lived on Keystone road. My — well there was my parent — my our house, my grandparents house and on the other side of our house, there was a big metal where now there are probably four or five houses and then where are these people live — they were — I think they were from Russia. They didn’t speak English. They had a big child dog and they had — they had lots of chickens and they used to sell eggs and at the end of the street at Pfingsten in Keystone, they used to put up a sign “eegs for sale” and I was always embarrassed that I had neighbors that didn’t know how to spell eggs who was “eegs for sale”. And, well they didn’t speak English and so we — we didn’t really know them but we knew their child dog because if we got too close to the house, he’d come barking and he was always tied up, but one day I think our little toy terrier Susie bark too much at him and they unleashed him and Susie came running home through the field with one quarter of her body dragging behind her and that was very, very sad. Those are my memories. Some strange little memories but — anyway –, oh. Back to the shop. Oh, I was gonna say about our neigh- — that we had neighbors behind us that the Bankston family and he owned a carpet business in Northbrook on Waukegan road and Connie was my age and we had a path worn through the metal from her house to my house and we — but we didn’t have we didn’t have organized play. We just made our own which was fun. We used to pretend — we used to pick the berries off of the honeysuckle bushes and make jam out of it and when we used to crazy little things like that. It would it was creative though I have to say. Other shopping. While I remember Bankston’s??? carpet store, oh and Ben’s shoe store. He was amazing. He — He never — he was the most disorganized man as far as his arrangement of shoes went but he always knew where your shoes were. He just — you walk in there with just piles of shoes and you’d say “I came from my shoes” and he’d find them. He was — he was quite an interesting memory too.
JH: Before we began the interview, you mentioned something about garnets up in Highland Park.
GT: Oh yes. Yes. Well, we used to go to Highland Park often to visit my dad I don’t know if I mentioned that he — that he — his lifetime job was a mechanic, a Ford mechanic, and he for most of his life he was a service manager for nellen?? Wilson and Highland Park. So we used to often go there because we knew Highland Park because of him and we often shopped at garnets??? because my mother sewed most all our clothes — and, — and she also upholstered our furniture and made slipcovers and drapes and everything and so we used to go there for materials a lot of times and — but the thing I remember so much was when you pay down on the first floor, garnets???, they put your money in your receipt in a little capsule that was attached to a wire and then they press something and then it would zip up this wire up to the second floor. They’d make the change in zip it back down. I don’t–
JH: Very different than today
GT: Yes, very different than today. But in those days, if you worked at a cash register, you had to know how to make change. You had to know your math because I did that at Adams drugstore when I was in high school and worked at Adams drugstore.
JH: Tell me about Adams drugstore.
GT: Oh, well, I worked there — I worked with Richard Atherton and pat Atherton, son and daughter of Mr. Atherton, who was the principal of Northbrook High School and we became good friends, Pat Nye???, in fact, and well then we got married, she moved to Connecticut, and then we kind of lost touch and then one day I received an invitation in the mail to attend the Atherton 75th wedding anniversary. Not many people are that privileged and so I didn’t miss a chance to go and Pat and I reunited and then I attended Pat’s 50th wedding anniversary in Florida where she lives now. We happen to be in Florida at the time, near fairly nearby and we went there and stayed overnight for her and I had been in her wedding. So it was really fun to meet her children and it was it’s really special to have old friends like that. So Adams drugstore. Mr. Adams, I think owned half of Northbrook at that time, and what I remember is he was a good boss. See, we worked hard for me kept us busy, but we always had a job and I can remember one Easter I had to work on Easter Sunday and I was like oh darn but when I got there, he pinned an orchid corsage on my — on my sweater and I thought that was really nice and another — another interesting thing was he raised canaries and he always had the canary cages over the — the counter where he mixed the pills. I always wondered if anyone got any birdseed in their in their pills, but then I was kind of a crazy kid with a lot of crazy things.
JH: What was — what was the — what was the drugstore like inside?
GT: Um, well it was where allavaries???. It’s a well I would know it was — it was where — it was that whole section where allavaries is and then where the what’s there and where the other drugstore was and so oh, it was — it was actually quite large and it was kind of the place to be at times like especially after school when I went to the parochial school, I went to the Catholic school and but I knew all the kids from the public school because Northbrook was small and you knew most all the families and all the kids who have school would come there in high school after school to have a soda because they had a soda fountain, and all that’s more memories. Mr. Lawrence — Herman Lawrence would come in every day. He ran the automobile shop and he would come in every day and when I — when I worked behind the soda fountain, he’d come in and he’d sit down in a swamp and if he said, “mhmm” it meant of chocolate soda and if he went “mm hmm”, it meant a cup of coffee. And he came in every Sunday and bought his wife a box of candy.
JH: How nice.
GT: Yeah, it was — he was a nice man and she used to do people’s hair in her home. She was very pretty lady. I thought she deserved chocolates every Sunday. I don’t think she ate them, though, because it didn’t show. Yes. You know, you saw everybody when you worked in the drugstore. So it wasn’t bad. You saw everybody from town and it was fun.
JH: And you — you said you went to the parochial school at St. Norbert?
GT:Yes. And —
JH: Where was —
GT: Well actually, when I started, I never went to kindergarten. They didn’t have a kindergarten, but the school was on Waukegan road and Techny, next to the seminary, and it’s the building that now is their gift shop and that was a big red brick building. They changed the front of it, but it wasn’t that large, but we had all eight grades in that building. But I had first and second grade together, third, fourth and fifth in one room and sixth and seventh in one room and then eighth grade. Well, I mean, I don’t remember being mixed with anyone else, but there were only five of us in the eighth grade. My mother used to say I was the smartest one in the class and I’d say well, mom really wasn’t that difficult.
JH: Where’d you go to high school?
GT: And then I went to mallinckrodt??? in Wilmette and we used to — it was hanklesonlicemburg??? bus company that they were from Northbrook and they used to drive us for an hour and a half I think because we go — we’d go to Deerfield, to Glenview you know, all over picking people up and finally get to Melaka???. But on the way home, if we were really good and charming girls to the bus driver, he would let us stop in Glenview and we would go in and get a sweet roll or something and, and then we buy one for him and we’d all have a little party on the bus, and it was just different than everybody knew everybody, and you didn’t really get into trouble very easily that way, because there’ll be a lot of people reporting on you if you did. It was fun. It was fun knowing everyone. And —
JH: Is there any specific memory that stands out when you’re growing up? I know you said you’ve been thinking a lot about memories.
GT: Yes, well about how I really came to love nature because a lot of times that’s just what I was experiencing, was being — without the organized sports, which now I — I envy all the choices that the kids at Glenbrook have and I wonder what I would have wanted to do probably all of it, but I’d have to settle down to something, and — but special memories. Well, having my grandparents next door was really very special, and my grandfather was a carpenter, but he was a very intelligent man, and he followed politics, and he followed the news very closely, and when he was in his 80s, he was going blind and deaf, and he would — I would come home from school and I would bring the newspaper in for him, and I would read, he would read the headlines with a magnifying glass and then I would read the article he wanted to him, and he listened to the radio in need of his — his ear press against the radio and he’d say “watch out for those Russians, watch out for those Russians” and I was like, what does that mean? And then later, I remembered he was saying watch out for those Russians.
JH: Well war times.
GT: Oh, that’s a big memory. I can still remember I can see the wooden, curved radio that we listened to when they announced the beginning of the war when they announced that we were attacked, and I think I was seven years old and — and I was just so puzzled. I know it was it was just very puzzling to me, and frightening because I knew everyone was very serious about it, but that was my first experience with war, and then I remember When — when — when we — when the Japanese gave up. What was that VJ Day? I was — I had — I had cousins who all lived in the city, we were the only country people, and being that my grandparents lived next door, my cousins would all want and my aunts would all want to come out and visit all the time, and they did. They always came out to the country loved coming out to the country and I to this day, I think my poor Mom, I didn’t realize at the time how hard she worked because she always made all the food for everyone, and you know, but — but it was really fun. So I had a cousin Sheila who lived in the city. It’s 63rd and Halston, around there, and I was– we would — she would come to the country and she couldn’t sleep because the cicadas and the — everything were making too much noise, and — and the leaves were rustling and that kept her awake and I couldn’t sleep when I went to her house because there was a gangway. We slept right next to the gangway at a little bay window, and — and well they had four children and two bedrooms, so Sheila and I slept in the dining room, Charlie slept in the living room. The other two boys slept in the one bedroom and then the parents. But we’d sleep. We’d hear people walking in this gangway in between the buildings, and then I happened to be there and VJ Day and oh what a — what a time that was. People were just walking the streets and singing and hugging and throwing confetti and — and my aunt allowed us to climb on the roof of a store on Halston Street and we were throwing confetti down and looking at the crowds, and it was — everyone was dancing in the streets and celebrating it was really — it was good — it was a fun time to be in the city.
JH: Yeah, that was a very different time than it is now. With that — that war was touched almost everybody almost every family in one way or another. So after your high school days, you went on to college?
GT: Yes, I did. I went to Mundelein College in Chicago, which is now what was right next to Loyola University on lake shore at — on Sheridan Road near Broadway, and it’s now part of Loyola a few years ago, it was taken over by Loyola, and now I have a granddaughter who lives in Colorado but is considering coming to Loyola University next year as a freshman and I — she’s recently been accepted and received a big scholarship and I’m hoping she decides but she said a lot of acceptances so I — I can’t count my chickens before they hatch, but it would be a good place.
JH: And how did you get to Mudelien College?
GT: Oh, I. Half of the time I boarded and a half of the time I lived at home. I can’t remember which years. Freshman year I think I lived there. Senior year I lived there. In between I think I went home, but I would take the Skokie valley train which there were tracks near just west of Sangler’s??? Cleaners, and my father would, he was a saint, he would take me. I was always late. He would wait for me. He would take me on his way to work and I would catch the Skokie valley train and go down — and then change to the L and get off at a change at Howard, and — and then on the way back you know carrying all my books on my piles and piles of books, and then I on the way home I would wait for him until he got off work and he picked me up. But that’s why I remember Mrs. Abag??? who had there was a little home there and she– it — the person who was the office or the ticket master lived in that home and Mrs. aibek??? was the one who was the ticket masters, and she had I think two children and lived in that house and it was right at the — at the train — and that was the train station, and at Christmas to my surprise the first Christmas I couldn’t believe it she had every day she had all these homemade baked cookies and coffee and tea for everyone, and she was like another mother you know, she would have them hold the train if I can remember being like the gates would go down and we’re like the 10th car back and I jumped out of the car ??? waving “wait for me”, dropping my books picking them up running down Dundee road, and Mrs. Abag??? is holding the tray for me. I don’t think that happened too many times but I do remember that.
JH: What was Dundee road like that?
GT: Not like it is now. It was just — it was just two lanes and not that much traffic. Not that much traffic at all.
JH: Well, we’re almost — we’re getting close to the end of this interview and we have to talk about what you did. When you moved back to Northbrook.
GT: Oh, yes.
JH: You got married?
GT: Oh, yes. Before I was married, I taught in Park Ridge for three years, and then I got married to Frank Finish??? who grew up in Skokie, and he had a job in Cleveland. So we moved to Cleveland, which I thought would be like Chicago, wrong. There’s nothing like Chicago, nothing like Chicago. But — but it was, it was a nice place to be, and we came back two years later, with two babies. My mother said I left with a husband, a suitcase came back with two babies and all these recipes, because I didn’t know how to cook when I got married, but came back, and then when I — youngest was in fifth grade, I was missing my kids and just was dying to start teaching again. and I’d see these kids in my neighborhood walking off to school, and I go, I’d love to be gone with them, and so one, I was — I was doing some substitute teaching, and they interviewed me because someone took off for surgery and they interviewed me, and then she decided she didn’t want to come back until the year was over. So they interviewed me to — to teach a third grade. But then they decided to leave the substitute that was in the classroom with — for the rest of the year. So — so to my surprise, the next fall, I get a call on a Friday evening from a man I’d never met named Mr. Peters, and he said, “Mrs. Thinnes, how would you like to teach kindergarten?”, and I went, “you’re kidding me?, you’re kidding me”. You know, because school started on Tuesday, and he said, “No, I’m not kidding you” with his southern drawl, and he said, “Come over and meet me”. So I went over and met him, and he interviewed me. I had been interviewed by Dr. Harvey previously, and so I had the job, and I was very excited. But we had just moved into our new house on Blackthorn. Oh, I know. I wanted to mention if I can still squeeze this in our first house in Northbrook was on Redwood lane, and no — yes, our first house was on Redwood lane and oh but the funny part is we rented where Mr. Peters rented after we did. So when he interviewed me, he said I’ve already checked you out and I talked to my landlady Mrs. Miller and she said you were very good housekeeper and kept the house very clean. So you have to be careful about your reputation. It follows you. You never know when it’s going to pop up. So that’s what got me the job at district 28, and — but when we lived in Redwood lane, oh, I had been a campfire girl, and Mrs. Werhane whose husband became president of collagens, where I worked in the summers, was my camphor girl leader. and we used to camp out just north of the shopping center, which was Bill’s realty area. Then later they built homes there one street was Thornwood. One was Lincoln, where you live one was Redwood lane. Well, I lived in Redwood lane and I used to remember when I used to camp out as a campfire girl there. I thought it was probably right in this very spot. So what were we saying before that I get off?
JH: Teaching at Greenbriar.
GT: Ah, Yes. So I was there for 18 years, and it was probably some of the best memories of my whole life. I — I just absolutely loved it, and I — Iwas so fortunate because I walked into a well run school and a beautiful district with wonderful parents, interested parents, educated parents, supportive parents, it was just great and wonderful kids, wonderful kids. So I was very lucky, and I started in kindergarten half day, and then the second year Mr. Peters had
offered me. They’ve split a first grade into two, two rooms of 13 apiece, and I would have had 13 or 14 first graders, and I said, yes, and then my husband said, well do what you want to do, but I say don’t do it. What he was afraid things would fall apart at home. So I started packing up to move to first grade, and then I just heard his voice and couldn’t do it. Mr. Peters wasn’t very pleased with me, but I just had to do what I had to do and then I thought I’d really blown it, but I enjoyed kindergarten very much, and I enjoyed teaching it the second year, and then he offered me a third grade full time, and I took it and the next year, they needed a fifth grade opened and you remember open ad???, which would last about 10 years, I think. It was a phase, an idea which worked beautifully, but for some and not for all, I think it was where everyone worked at their own pace, so not having been a fifth grade teacher before I took that job. I took one little course in the summer finding out what open ed??? was and talk to a few of the open ed??? teachers. But this was the first fifth grade open ed??? and I worked harder than I ever worked in my life that year. But it well — I just had such great kids and such cooperative kids and they were used to going at their own pace, I was just not used to keeping up with them. But they allowed me to and — and there was a lot of room for creativity and you know, not in — even in a traditional classroom, there was more or less time restrictions, things weren’t quite as run to the computer lab or run to the science lab you know, if it left a lot of room for enjoyable teaching really was great.
JH: Well, we’ve gone over, can you believe this?
GT: Yes, and I probably — and I never looked at my notes I probably miss — we’ll have to do another chat.
JH: We will.
GT: It was so much fun remembering with you.
JH: We’ll have to get you to write it down so that we have those memories.
GT: I will, I promise because it was really fun. I’m glad you got me to do this because it was more fun than anything.
JH: Well, thank you so very much for participating in Northbrook voices your memories of life in Northbrook. We’ll add a unique and personal perspective about the history of our village