Recorded on October 14, 2011. Length: 27 Minutes.
DG: Welcome to Northbrook Voices a joint project of the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. I am pleased to welcome Mary Rush who has been a lifelong resident of Northbrook – for how many years Mary?
MR: I have lived here all my life.
DG: We won’t ask how many years then.
DG: We are so glad to have you, Mary. Are you ready for me to ask you the first question?
MR: I am.
DG: Good. How did you come to live in the Northbrook area?
MR: Well, my grandparents came here before me obviously, and built a house. They came from Chicago. The attraction at that time was the brickyards here. My grandfather wanted to move here so he worked in the brickyards. They built their house on Church Street. The house is there. It was built in 1895 according to the tax records we have.
DG: Wow. Do you know the people who live there now?
MR: Currently it’s – one of the local dentists actually owns it and he rents to various people. I don’t believe that has changed. No, I do not know their name.
DG: Was your grandfather a brick maker?
MR: I don’t know but I think he was a farmer originally but I think the brickyard was just a job. A matter of having a job at that time.
DG: So you were born here?
MR: I was born in Highland Park Hospital but I certainly lived in Northbrook from the time I was born until I went away to college.
DG: Where did you go to college?
MR: A small liberal arts school in Canton, Missouri, – Culver Stockton.
DG: Culver Stockton – I know that school. There is a boys’ high school there too.
MR: I think it is a Catholic High School.
DG: Is it. So, in addition to the house on Church Street, did you live in some other houses?
MR: Yes, I certainly did. The house that I grew up in. My husband was in the Navy. When he got out of the Navy we moved back to Northbrook and rented a house on the west side of Church Street. From there we bought a house on Big Oak Lane and by the time our family had expanded too much to stay in Big Oak Lane, we moved to St. Stephens Green – Adelaide Lane. I currently live in The Commons. [The Commons is a complex of single-story-attached homes on Shermer Road near Techny Road]
DG: So how many houses have you lived in in Northbrook?
MR: Five total.
DG: Can you describe the favorite house that you had – number of rooms, differences in the house then and now?
MR: A favorite house. Well, I enjoyed them all. I truly did. We lived in some wonderful neighborhoods. I certainly loved and am partial to the house I grew up in – it had four bedrooms, but only one bathroom. It was a beautiful lot which went from the street all the way down to the Creek which is the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. We had a very, very deep lot. It was flat land to the back of the garage, then there was a hill and more flat lands. During the war everybody had Victory Gardens so we had a huge garden back there so there are many good memories.
DG: Did you do canning?
MR: My grandmother did. She canned everything. I will never drink grape juice again because we also had grapes and she canned so much grape juice so I don’t think I want too much more.
DG: Can you tell us about your neighborhood and your neighbors?
MR: Yes, the neighborhood was families with children and it was very, very nice. And, of course, we were so accessible to everything, meaning the two stores we had in town, the post office and the school. There was not much there at that time.
DG: What kind of games did you play when you were a child?
MR: We played a lot of outdoor games, the old fashioned hide and seek, kick the can and jacks. Mostly that kind of thing. We spent our lives out of doors literally as children.
DG: That’s wonderful and I recall you telling me before we started this interview that you enjoyed having unstructured activities.
MR: Absolutely, we had to make our own fun because there were no structured activities. Occasionally, somebody would drop into town who taught tap lessons or toe dancing but they would stay a year and two and then move on but that was the only “structured” activity we had.
DG: So you didn’t go from piano to soccer the way kids do today?
MR: No. There were piano lessons also but no we did not.
DG: Do any of the neighbors from the neighborhood still live here now?
MR: Not that I am aware of – no. It is a whole new area. In fact, just recently someone came into the Inn, our Historical Society. They had just bought a house directly across the street from where we lived on Church Street and she was so excited to ask me about my childhood and did I like it there? They thought they were going to love it for the same reasons. The availability of everything.
DG: That house is still standing – all five of your homes are still standing?
MR: I believe so, except for the one we rented. A new home is on that lot.
DG: That’s pretty amazing in a community that has so many teardowns.
MR: I thought that was what they would do to the one on Church. This woman that came to the Historical Society told me that they had recently (its stuccoed) done some repairs. They apparently were fixing it up as needed so it doesn’t sound like it is going to be torn down anytime soon.
DG: Have you been intrigued to go and knock on the door and go in?
MR: I have been. One of these days I’m going to because the mailbox we had is still up and I would love to see what they have done.
DG: That would be great fun, great fun. Did you belong to clubs and organizations when you were growing up?
MR: When I was growing up as a child?
MR: I was a Girl Scout but there really weren’t too many things to belong to.
DG: The Girl Scouts – perhaps your church?
MR: When I was a child we belonged to St. Norberts which was located at Techny. That’s where I went to grade school.
DG: At Techny, where the Divine Word is now?
MR: Yes. There were church activities but other than that and Girl Scouts, I don’t recall that there was much that you could join.
DG: What role did the Northbrook Public Library play in your life as a child?
MR: Well, it wasn’t there the whole time, of course. But in the later years it was a great source of reference and still is. I feel everyone who lives here is very fortunate as it is a wonderful library. I had a niece who used to come out from Chicago to find something at the Northbrook Library.
DG: Wow, that is impressive. Did I hear you say there were only two stores when you were a child?
MR: Yes, there was Happ’s Grocery Store and Melzer’s which across the tracks. Later on we had an A&P but those were your choices.
DG: Were the stores open seven days a week?
MR: I’m not sure. I’m almost positive Happ’s was not open on Sunday. I don’t even know if the A&P was at that time. I’m sorry I just don’t remember.
DG: Often grocery stores would close one afternoon.
MR: Yes – Wednesday afternoon I think it was.
DG: Closed for restocking, I think. Those stores are no longer here. You have seen a lot of transition – stores leaving and new ones coming in – do you think that’s good for the community?
MR: I think change is always good. Certainly, Northbrook was such a small village. When I was in high school, I think we had 2,500 people in the town so at the high school we didn’t have a swimming pool or huge amenities they have today but we had a wonderful school. There was great student/teacher connection, they were always there for you if you needed them. I don’t think anyone who ever went there who would tell you they had any regrets.
DG: How many students were in the high school?
MR: Probably less than 300.
DG: Where was the high school located?
MR: Where Crestwood is now. That was a grade school, then it was a high school and now it is a retirement center.
DG: Was it a four year high school when you attended?
MR: Yes, there were four grades. I believe that earlier there were only two grades, way back before my time even.
DG: Yes, that was typical of high schools that started and developed into four year schools. Then you went on to college?
DG: After college you came right back to Northbrook?
MR: Well, my husband enlisted in the Navy.
DG: Did you meet him in college?
MR: Yes, it is a wonderful story. I was a cheerleader and he was a football player.
DG: Wonderful. Tell me, tell me.
MR: That is basically it. That’s how we met, but he then was stationed in the east, first at Bethesda, MD, and then Bayonne, NJ, so we lived there for three of the four years that he was in the navy.
DG: How did you convince him to come back here?
MR: I don’t think it took much convincing. When we came back he wanted to finish his education. He had not finished when he went into the Navy. So he went to Lake Forest College and we just hovered in Northbrook.
DG: Did you move in with your parents?
MR: Just briefly and then we rented a house. The house was on the east side of Church.
DG: Did he work and go to school?
MR: He did. He went to school and then he worked at the Jewel – that kind of job that he could do on his time off from school. Then he eventually went into business for himself and that’s when we were able to buy a house.
DG: What kind of business was he in?
MR: Anodizing of aluminum.
DG: Did he have a factory here?
MR: He did. He started his business where Culligan started off of Shermer in the back where the Quonset hut was. I don’t know, Donna, if you remember the Quonset hut. That’s where they started in the basement there.
DG: Shermer and what?
MR: Shermer and Walters, back near the railroad tracks. He has a picture of that now in his office.
DG: Did you work?
MR: I did not.
DG: Something kept you busy at home?
MR: Children. We had one when he was in the Navy. When we rented the house we had another. By that time we bought the house on Big Oak Lane and had two more children so we outgrew that house and moved to Adelaide.
DG: How far apart were your children?
MR: The first two were four years apart, the second two were four years apart and the last two were 18 months apart.
DG: I’m not sure what era they grew up in.
MR: My first was born in 1952 and my last in 1961.
DG: If you go back to your childhood, I want to ask you what kind of fads were around then.
MR: Fads – I don’t think we really had fads until I was in high school and then it was just saddle shoes and bobby socks. Dirndl skirts. They were gathered at the waist. We made a lot of them actually of cotton. Then we went from the long skirts to the shorter skirts and we wore the cardigans buttoned down the back, that kind of thing.
DG: Today we wear skirts with our hems all over the place, but early on your skirts all had to be the same length and when the fashion changed —-
MR: Absolutely. I think it is much better today.
DG: If there were just grocery stores in town where did you go to shop for clothes, to shop for shoes?
MR: There were none of the shopping malls at that time so we went to Evanston or took the train and went down to Chicago. Those were our choices.
DG: Where did you like to shop in Chicago?
MR: I still liked Marshall Fields, Carsons. My neighbor and I both had braces on our teeth in high school so we took that train to Chicago every Saturday morning until the braces were ready to come off so that was our adventure going into the city.
DG: So your dentist was in the city?
MR: There weren’t any orthodontists.
DG: And it was the Metra that you rode?
DG: Did it go into Union Station?
MR: Yes, it did. Union Station was far different then too.
DG: Back to fads for just a minute. You talked about clothes – what were the hairstyles?
MR: The girls’ hairstyles were pretty similar to what they are today. Long hair, but all had bangs – for whatever reason, they were really the in style. We didn’t wear make up. We wore lipstick but not make up. There wasn’t any coloring of the hair. You were au natural basically. That was it.
DG: You didn’t put curls in your hair.
MR: Yes, we used to roll it up in rags and we had pin curls, as the actresses’ hair styles changed, ours did little bit too. Those were our methods of curling our hair.
DG: Sounds good. Let’s see. Who was the pastor or priest at your church?
MR: Father Stohl was our first pastor in Techny and while I was in school there. He came along when the church moved to Northbrook. After that they started establishing term limits for the pastors so he left and we had many after that.
DG: Did you have a church youth group when you were in high school?
DG: So there were just adult and whole family activities?
MR: There were and I do believe that the boys could go over – there was just a chapel at first and when they started expanding they had the gym and the boys would go over at night and play basketball and do things like that but that was really toward the end of my high school .
DG: Mary, something just crossed my mind. Don’t I recall that you and your mother were born in the same house?
DG: How many generations lived in that house?
MR: My grandfather died at a very young age just after moving and building the house so my grandmother was left with two children and eventually, during the depression time. My parents had actually bought a house on Angle Avenue when they were married and my father’s family owned a dairy in the city of Chicago so once things started failing they moved in with my maternal grandparents as did half the people on Church Street. There were at least two families in many houses.
DG: That was pretty common – similar to where we are headed right now.
MR: Umm- I’m afraid so.
DG: So three generations lived in the house?
DG: What was it like living with your grandmother?
MR: Oh, she was delightful. She was wonderful. She was a marvelous baker and did all this canning. We just adored her. Saturday morning was the morning she baked and we would smell all these marvelous fragrances.
DG: Did your friends come over and knock on the door?
MR: Sometimes. My neighbor next door, Joann ________, her grandparents were the McLachlan, he was the blacksmith in town, Jock McLachlan.
DG: A blacksmith – does that mean there were horses?
MR: There were some.
DG: Were there cars?
MR: There were cars.
DG: What was the biggest form of transportation? How did people get around?
MR: Walked. A lot of them walked. I think they did a lot of bike riding back then.
DG: Did you have a bicycle?
MR: I did. But that was later. There were cars. My parents had a car.
DG: Did you have a horse?
MR: No, I didn’t have a horse. I think a lot of the people on the outskirts of town did though. Basically, we lived very simple lives but we didn’t know any differently so it was perfectly fine with us.
DG: The train was so convenient so you could get where you need to go. When you went to Evanston did you take a train?
MR: We would take a bus. There was a bus from Northbrook because at time we couldn’t drive so we would hop on the bus and spend the day in Evanston.
DG: Now I want to come back to Northbrook for just a minute. I enjoy the Village Green so much, was it there when you were growing up?
MR: It was there but it was not referred to as the Village Green, it was Bannockburn’s land or something.
DG: Was it a park, was there a gazebo, was there music?
MR: It was – no gazebo – in the winter they would flood part of it to make a skating pond and there was a building that held various and assorted shops – an archery shop, I guess there was a little tavern there – that was about it.
DG: The historical society/museum wasn’t there; it was someplace else and it was something else?
MR: Yes, it was a restaurant and tavern. Bartleme’s up on Waukegan Road.
DG: Was it one that your family frequented?
MR: We did go there for dinner.
DG: What was your favorite meal?
MR: Who the chicken was everybody’s favorite meal but they had these delightful little chocolate covered mice with little pink eyes.
DG: You’re kidding – I thought it was apple pie for dessert.
MR: No, the children all got these little chocolate mice.
DG: How wonderful. How about music and songs – what were the songs of the day?
MR: When I was in high school, it was all the big bands. Our high school had a wonderful band – played a lot of Tex Beneke and Glen Miller. We did have the youth center by then which was next to where the Historical Society is now. We would go up there on Friday and Saturday nights and dance to the juke box. The people didn’t go places like they do today.
DG: That sounds wonderful. What was 4th of July like?
MR: 4th of July was a parade but minimal. Nothing like they do today.
DG: Were there fireworks?
MR: There were but we were so cautious with them. People mostly had limited fireworks displays at their homes. We didn’t have a huge town display the way we do now.
DG: Are there special events or people you remember dearly?
MR: Northbrook Days was our special event. That had moved various places too. Not a lot of special events. It was just kind of homey and pick up whatever happened. People – special people – I adored my high school principal. I worked for him one summer in Chicago. He was with the County school system. That was nice. I can’t think of anyone else.
DG: Mary, there is probably something I didn’t ask you that you would like to tell about.
MR: ou have pretty much covered the territory. Just that we so much enjoyed our childhood here in small town Northbrook. Of course, it was Shermerville when my grandparents moved here and my parents’ early days. My father was from Lake Forest. We were just so grateful to have what we had – we knew no differently, of course. We had a 50th class reunion and as small as the class was, we had 100% attendance. They came from Florida, Ohio, California, Washington State, which showed the pride that they had in that school. It was so delightful. Everybody had a story to tell about having gone to school here – a small school.
DG: A wonderful school, wonderful people and wonderful community. All of us who have moved here can be fortunate to get to share some of the experiences.
MR: It is different today. I’m sure they are very proud of Glenbrook North which is also a wonderful school but it is a completely different atmosphere than what we experienced.
DG: I want to thank you so much for doing this interview with me. It has been a delight to get to know you better. I am so glad I moved to Northbrook and get to know people like you and the wonderful Village that we live in.
MR: We are certainly glad we have you, Donna.
DG: Thank you so much.