Morris (Mo) Anderson

Mo Anderson was born and raised in Northbrook. In this interview he talks about growing up and watching Northbrook develop throughout the years. He also shares his memories of going to St. Norbert's Catholic School and details his family's contribution to the building of Orchard Lane and his property.

Recorded on November 13, 2015. Length: 31 Minutes.



Mo Anderson was born and raised in Northbrook. In this interview he talks about growing up and watching Northbrook develop throughout the years. He also shares his memories of going to St. Norbert’s Catholic School and details his family’s contribution to the building of Orchard Lane and his property.

JH: Good afternoon, and welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Public Library. Today is Friday, November 13, 2015. My name is Judy Hughes and I’m pleased to welcome Morris “Mo” Anderson, who’s lived and worked in Northbrook all of his life. Welcome, Mo.

MA: Hi, nice to be here.

JH: Your family has a long history in the community.

MA: We do. My grandparents settled here in 1921. They bought eight acres that had a shed and they moved here, had a house built and they moved here in 1922. On that property, when they passed, they passed it down to their heirs. It’s the area, that’s where Orchard Lane is sandwiched between Sycamore Lane and Elm Street.

Those were tough times for the people, and some of the people were able to develop it, some of my relatives, and rent to live there. Some were not, some had to sell. But it’s kind of interesting, my dad, when he made it out of the war, he became a carpenter, and he worked in Glencoe most of his life. My mom was a housekeeper, we had seven kids. Prior to that, she was a housekeeper on the North Shore, for the wealthy people, and she kept their houses and made her money that way.

JH: Now, was it your mom’s parents or your dad’s parents?

MA: It was my mom’s parents.

JH: And what were their names?

MA: It was John and Anna Schmidt. They settled here, they had immigrated from Germany. By way of Chicago they came to Northbrook and they had a house built here. And I presently live in that house.

JH: And you said they passed their land on to their heirs. How many children did they have?

MA: Well, they had 13 children, nine survived. Four of them died at young ages. The nine that survived, when my grandparents passed, the land was passed to the nine survivors. And some of them, as I said, developed it, built their houses on it and lived in them, and some of them had to sell. And some of them lived out for awhile and then sold and moved out.

JH: So it was sort of like a family complex?

MA: Well, I guess my mom would call it, you could call it a tribe or you could call it a clan. Growing up in an area, that you’re surrounded by a lot of my mother’s family, was a blessing and a curse. If you were a kid trying to get away with something, there was always a set of eyes on you somewhere. And it was a blessing because the family was close together and was able to help each other.

JH: Now, the Northbrook that you came to as an infant is very different than the Northbrook today. Describe what it was like growing up, and what surrounded where you lived.

MA: Well, where we grew up, not only was my grandparents land, there was a nursery that bordered Waukegan Road and Walters Avenue that was all … At one time it was nursery and another time it was just overgrown woods that was undeveloped. And then next to that was property that the junior high and the park district are on. And that pretty much was, I don’t know what the exact arrangements were, but there were cows and there were pastures there that came up to our property on Maple. That property stayed opened for a long time, probably because of the economy and what have you. I was witness to watching it be developed. Bittersweet is the word that comes to mind. It was interesting to watch it be developed and how it developed, but in the end you’ve lost all that open land. Open land is hard to replace.

JH: That’s very true. That subdivision that is there at Waukegan and Walters has a name, you’d mentioned it in what you filled out. The Heart of Northbrook?

MA: It was called The Heart of Northbrook when they were promoting it. I think the developer was serious, but I’m not sure. We watched all these beautiful trees come down and we would build our forts in these big piles of trees. Then they had to take the trees down, they had to take the stumps out, they had to put the roads in. It was just an enormous project, and I think I was probably ten years old maybe, watching all this happen to the place that I had grown up next to as the woods. Kind of traumatic, but kind of cool. As I say, bittersweet. Watching it be developed, it was developed very nicely, and a lot of the families there became my schoolmates at St. Norbert’s. So it was okay.

JH: So, you’d mentioned there was an orchard. Is that why Orchard Lane is called Orchard Lane?

MA: Well, Orchard Lane, when I was growing up, it was just a dirt path. But my family owned a property that Orchard Lane was on. If you take Orchard Lane from Walters back to Illinois, you’ll notice at Maple there’s a jog. Orchard Lane was developed in two parts. The first part was developed … My family had to dedicate half of Orchard Lane to the village so that they could put the street through in the subdivision, put in the other half of the property. That’s why you see a jog there at the part of Orchard Lane that my family put in.

That’s kind of interesting because the story I heard, after the fact because I was just a kid, was that the contractor that put the road in went bankrupt because they hit what was called running sand. And that there was so much, I guess the speculation is it used to be a river bed or something like that, and as they dug down to get good dirt to put in their road, the soil just kept washing away and washing away. They kept having to bring in more limestone fill and dig out more sand, and I guess it was just a real chore to get that done. I don’t know if that’s the only part of Northbrook that’s like that, but that’s what happened there.

JH: I think that’s quite common in that area of Northbrook.

MA: Okay.

JH: Coming right down from off of (_________???) at Waukegan Road.

MA: Okay.

JH: I know they’ve faced some of those problems by the junior high when they’ve added additions as well.

MA: I mentioned Orchard Lane, the second part of Orchard Lane that was developed was developed by my family. And I’m not certain which family members participated in that development because I was too little at the time. But members of my family paid to have Orchard Lane, the cement part of Orchard Lane from Maple south to Illinois, they put that in. Initially I think they were hoping to possibly have that be a private road and develop that privately, but I don’t know what happened to those plans. Probably the economy, probably the marketplace, I don’t know.

But it was kind of interesting because each member of the family got their plot of land, and my dad, being a carpenter when he got out of the service in 1945, he was in World War II. He wanted to build his home on that property. He had property, he was working in Glencoe in the area, and he wanted to build his home. But the family didn’t have the money to put Orchard Lane through. So he got together with a couple of my aunts and himself, they took the three pieces of property that they had, and they subdivided it so that they could work in that small bend in street at Maple Avenue, coming in of off Sycamore. So they brought the street off of Sycamore. My dad, being in the trades, he knew people that had bulldozers, that had the fill, that could help him get that short dead end street in. He put in the dead end street to his house, which dead ended at Orchard and Maple, and that allowed my aunt across the street, she was a spinster, and that allowed her to make some money by selling off part of her lot and having a small lot and a small house. The other lot, on that would be the southeast corner, that stayed vacant for years and years because it was such a small lot. It was almost considered not worth building on. It’s built on now.

It’s interesting, my dad and my mom. My mom had the lot and my dad had the skills. Being executor of their estate, I went through some of my dad’s, he kept all of the receipts from when he built the house. He traded a lot of favors. You could see a lot of material bills because he had friends or he traded labor. And I think that was pretty common back in those days, and his house was well built, a well built house. My parents raised seven kids in that little three bedroom house. So when you see some of the houses in Northbrook nowadays, in the house that I’m living in, of course I had to put an addition on it to raise my three kids. They raised nine kids there, and that was only a three bedroom farmhouse. That was nine, were raised there. And very little closets because people didn’t have anything. So we really see how prosperous we’ve become, maybe too prosperous in some ways.

JH: So you watched the Junior High and Meadowhill Pool and Park being built?

MA: The Velodrome, also. I mean, it was a crazy time, really. I was little, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought. But there was always something being built. The ball fields, the pool, the Velodrome, the Junior High. It was just something to see. I tell people, because I grew up in such a prosperous age, what it was like growing up in Mayberry. You know, it’s probably a corny phrase, but it was like Mayberry. It was the small town feel, there were still plenty of farms and cows in the neighborhood, in the area. Judy and I discussed earlier, this was considered so far out in the country, that with the air base and the weekend warriors, my house would get strafed every Saturday with the weekend warriors flying their jets, what seemed like they were going to land on the roof of your house. I mean, can you imagine that nowadays? People wouldn’t stand for it.

JH: No.

MA: But people might have a better idea of what a war plane is like if they had to experience that like we did. The terror of it, really.

JH: I remember when we first moved to town in the 60s, we were also on the flight pattern for Glenview, and our younger son got to the point where he could identify the incoming plane by the sound of it’s motor.

MA: Yeah.

JH: Which was something that people did in the 40s all the time, but it’s a skill that’s gone, that people don’t have anymore.

MA: Yeah.

JH: Well, you mentioned that you went to St. Norbert’s. Was it on Walter’s Avenue that you went to school?

MA: It was at Walter’s. At that time, it was overflowing, as were the public schools. Everybody was raising their family, it was the baby boom years. We had a minimum of 40 kids in each class. My parents were devout Catholics, my mom especially. She wanted all of her kids to have

a Catholic education. During that time it was just bursting, and they were having the masses in the gym because the original church was just too small. So they were having mass in the gym-

JH: And where was the original church?

MA: From what I understand, the church, now they have the new … It was on Walters, but it was just a small, they converted it into a classroom when they moved the church into the gym. They call it the … I can’t think of the word …

JH: Yeah. That’s not …

MA: But they call it, they have a name for it now where it is. But it was right on Walters, but it was just small. So then they made the gym into a church, where up on the stage was where they had the mass, and they had pews in there. They had a huge fundraiser to make money to build the new church, so I watched the new church being built, and was able to be some of the first to attend mass at St. Norbert’s church. As I say, it was mind boggling how much building was going on and how busy it was.

JH: Right. Before the church was built on Walters, the church met in Techny, is that right?

MA: Yeah.

JH: So that must have been the church where your parents attended.

MA: Yeah, that’s where … My parents attended there, my grandparents did. My mom always said that they gave some seed money to help move St. Norbert’s there. I don’t know how much. But I guess St. Norbert’s was pretty grateful for that help. You see it today and you think it’s just that way, you don’t really understand how this whole thing developed. It’s just like watching the inn being moved down the street to where it’s at, the Northfield Inn. I mean, it’s just unbelievable how it is.

JH: Right.

MA: It’s mind boggling, it really is.

JH: Do you have any memories of the farm at Techny?

MA: I have memories of the farm because that’s pretty much where you weren’t supposed to go. There was wire fence around it, barbed wire across, and it was maybe three or four foot high. There were always places you could slip through, and you had to watch out. Not for the cows, but you had to watch out for the bull. And so we would sneak into those cow pastures, and we pretty much knew when the cows were out, when they weren’t out. We would explore Techny because it was just wonderful farmland. There was always a little danger involved, because if you got caught there you were scolded and sent on your way.

We would travel through the pastures, we’d travel up through, the railroad spur would run through there, and there were hobo camps there. And occasionally you’d meet a hobo. A hobo’s not a homeless person, a hobo was a person that travels the rails and travels the country. You’d see their camps, you’d see where they had their fires along the camp, campfires. That added a little bit of danger, too, because you didn’t know what kind of characters you might run into by the tracks. Not only the tracks, you weren’t supposed to be by the tracks.

JH: That’s what I was going to say.

MA: Don’t go by the tracks, and especially don’t go by the trestle. Because if you were on the trestle when a train’s coming, you’ve got nowhere to go. But of course that didn’t stop us. That didn’t stop any of my-

JH: Your generation?

MA: My group, my group that I hung out with. But no, Techny had an orchard there that had beautiful apples in it. They raised hay for the cows. It was wonderful. We would skate on the creek in the winter when it froze over, we would dip our toes in the creek to cross the creek if we had to get across. We made tree forts back in that area there. It was just pretty remote.

And also people might not remember, but Anetsberger’s Factory was back there too, on the other side of the creek. Anetsberger’s was a factory that made restaurant equipment, and they had a dumping area that used to dump their trash and burn their trash. So we’d go back there, because that was another place you’re not supposed to go. They had a trap shooting range back there, which, how cool is that? Trap shooting in Northbrook? They didn’t have anything like that. But they had a trap shooting area back there for the employees, apparently. They had their little golf course and their little … You know my dad, being in a legion, the legion would have their picnics there at the pond there. Not everybody really had access to Anetsberger’s, it was more of a private area. Now it’s a park, which is wonderful, I think. I golf there, I enjoy walking through there. But it didn’t get developed, back then it was a private area, and then an industrial area, which I don’t think people can even imagine that.

JH: No. And I imagine as you walk through, the Trail Through Time, particularly if you started over by the railroad, Railroad Avenue, now Lorenz Drive, and you start down that trail and you see all that prairie, it must have been very much like the land when your grandparents first came here.

MA: Yeah.

JH: Open prairie and …

MA: Yeah, there was a lot of open land. Although where the Trail Through Time was, was actually, I remember that more as farmland. That was farmed out by the Techny fathers, and it was beautiful. A little side story, Railroad Avenue used to go through to Techny, and it wasn’t very smooth, but you could go through there. And speaking of industrial, there was a place you could buy your gasoline and oil. It was called Cooksey Oil, and I remember as a teenager, if you went there, which I would often do, I would drive my beater car and fill up. You couldn’t pump your own gas in those days, that was illegal. The attendant would come out and he would put it on auto fill, and if it clicked off and all the numbers matched, you got a free tank of gas. I got one free tank of gas, but maybe that was three dollars? Three or four dollars to fill your tank, because gas was anywhere from 23 to 33 cents a gallon. I mean, prices are down now, but they’re not that cheap.

JH: Did you stay at St. Norbert through junior high?

MA: Yeah, I went all the way through grade school.

JH: Okay.

MA: And I’m kind of an interesting case because I had pneumonia when I was in first grade, and I missed 60 days of school. So the sisters said to my parents, “We think it would be a good idea for him to repeat first grade. Here’s the pluses, here’s the minuses.” Well, the pluses are, it’s a lot easier the second time through it. The pluses are, you have friends in both classes. The minuses are, you have kind of a stigma attached to it. I think, for me, it was all a positive because I think I made more friends in both classes. I think it only helped me, but it was tough at the time. I don’t know if they do that anymore.

JH: I don’t know.

MA: But the sisters were pretty straightforward. They laid it out.

JH: Do you have any special memories of going to school at St. Norbert?

MA: I just remember the frugality of it. I just remember that at lunchtime they would shut off the lights, because you don’t need lights to find your mouth. You eat everything that’s given to you. The temperatures were turned down. There were a lot of kids there. You learned to … Discipline was a big factor. I think it was a good basic education. Maybe it could have been better, but for me, it served me well. The nuns were tough, I mean that. But everything was tough, and life can be tough. I don’t know, I think sometimes now, maybe we’re a little bit too soft. But I’ll keep those opinions to myself.

JH: So then you went on to Glenbrook as a high school?

MA: Yeah, then I went on to Glenbrook, and Glenbrook back then … You picture it’s the … I graduated in ’69 from grade school and then moved on to Glenbrook. The Vietnam War was kind of winding down, it was still a draft. They had, they called it open campus. If you had your parents sign it, you could go out for lunch. There was a lot of freedom. It was a time where they were experimenting with letting people have more freedoms in their life. They lowered the drinking age down to 19 for beer and wine in Illinois. They just thought, if you can go fight in the war, because it was mandatory service, then you should be able to make some decisions for yourself.

I watched a lot of people … Coming from St. Norbert’s which was highly disciplined, then going to public school, especially during a time of great liberal freedom, it was different. I have to thank goodness that I probably had those nuns speaking into my ear, and maybe my mom and my aunts, telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. Because with so much freedom, it’s hard to know what the right thing is sometimes.

Glenbrook North, it suited me to a T really. I was not college material. I liked working with my hands, I liked building things. I really was not a book person, and so Glenbrook North at the time, they had a Diversified Cooperative Education program. Probably comparable to what they have as night school now, but back then, you could work a half day in school and then they would try to help you find a job after school if you couldn’t find your own job. That was only open to you as a junior or a senior, so I did my studious work my first two years, and then after that, then I got out of school early.

At first I worked at a restaurant, which I don’t know if anybody would remember Hewrici’s —(??) Restaurant. I worked there from the bottom up. I started as a dishwasher, a busboy, then became a cook, then became the head cook on Sundays to close it. That taught me a lot. I got all my friends, all my friends from the wrestling team, I got them all jobs as busboys there. It was fun. Most of them didn’t last a long time because it was hard work, but it was a fun time. Everybody had to work, everybody’s (___________???).

JH: We are, I think very close to 30 minutes, and I don’t want … You’ve got so many stories that I want to hear them all. I don’t want to skip over two things. Number one is that you took your high school education and your diversified education and you made a career out of it.

MA: I made a career out of it. I was working at the restaurant at the time, and they had a job opening at the city garage, The Village Garage in Northbrook. I interviewed for that job, and I got that job. That was really my love, working on cars, and working on go karts. Anything with an engine was my love. So I went to work at The Village Garage, and I worked for a wonderful man, Dave Medow —–(??) was my mentor there. Ralph Pfeifer was the director, Jim Reynolds was the assistant director. They hired me after, I think I’d worked there about a year, and I graduated. It was time to move on, and luckily there was a full time position there that they gave me. I made my career there 32 years. Wonderful, really wonderful job, wonderful career. Couldn’t have asked for more, really.

JH: And you went on to head of …

MA: Well, then I went … Then it was, my boss had retired, and there was an opportunity to become, to run the shop in Northbrook, and I didn’t get that job. But then there was an opportunity to be the fleet superintendent for the city of Wheaton, and I got that job. I worked there for almost ten years before I retired. So local government’s been my passion and my thing my whole life, but growing up in Northbrook, working in Northbrook, the people here, Judy, all the guys at the Historical Society … It doesn’t get any better, really. It’s kind of a storybook, really, for me.

JH: And the other thing I didn’t want to forget, is I didn’t want to forget talking about your dad and his connection to the Historical Society.

MA: Well, Dad had a good friend, Harry Dernberger. And Harry was quite active … He was the Judy Hughes back in the 50s, I think. He was very active in different social things, and Harry thought it would be a great idea to start the Historical Society and preserve part of the museum. He kind of talked my dad, and there were others, I don’t know all the names, Don Hance and Louis Werhawe and a few others. They were all like-minded people, they thought that history was important, and they put together, they managed to save the inn. They raised the money, they saved the inn, they moved the inn. My dad became … My dad was a very quiet man, but he spoke with his actions. He was always up at the inn fixing and working. He just loved the people at the inn and he loved working there with his hands. It was really, for his retirement, it kept him busy. That and the American Legion post, those were his two passions.

To have my dad around, to grow up in Northbrook, I could go on and on about my kids, their life here. It couldn’t get any better, so I hope it stays as good as it was, because it was great.

JH: Well, we’re out of time, so thank you so much for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook will add unique and personal perspective about the history of our village.

MA: Thanks for the opportunity, and thanks for all of your hard work.

JH: You’re very welcome.