Recorded on April 12, 2013. Length: 29 Minutes.
DG: Good morning and welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored jointly by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. My name is Donna Gulley and I am pleased to welcome Tony Dussel, born here in Northbrook, who has some fond memories and interesting stories to tell us. Welcome, Tony.
TD: Thank you.
DG: I’m glad that you are here with us today. You were born here in Northbrook.
TD: Actually born at Evanston Hospital and brought here to live in Northbrook when I was three days old.
DG: And how long had your family lived in Northbrook when you were born?
TD: 17 years.
DG: Are you from a big family?
TD: Yes, I have five brothers.
DG: Are you the youngest?
DG: Could you tell us a little bit about your family?
TD: I have five great brothers. All kind of doted on me – me being the youngest. Now they are spread over the country. One is all the way out in Oregon. My closest in age to me lives in Schaumburg and I see him a lot. It was a unique childhood as I was shown a lot by my brothers. I almost had five fathers.
DG: That would be unique. Where did you go to school?
TD: Went to St. Norberts for grade school and then to Loyola Academy for high school.
DG: Tell us about being a kid going to school in Northbrook.
TD: It was wonderful. I remember being a kid and either walking to school, it was only a couple of blocks, or bicycling to school. I remember recess, like any kid, more than the stuff I learned. I wish I had those great stories – oh I remember my 4th grade English teacher and remember her name and she inspired me to write a great American novel but I don’t have those stories.
DG: But you do remember it being a safe community?
TD: Yes, I do. There were no thoughts of the dangers, dangerous people, trouble with strangers; you could go to a park whenever you wanted and throw around a basketball or baseball. It could be getting dark out and you weren’t thinking of any dangers.
DG: So your parents didn’t drive you door to door?
DG: How did you get around?
TD: Mostly a lot of bike riding. I didn’t drive until I was 17. Kind of fudged my birth certificate to start working at 14 so for three years I rode my bike to work.
DG: Where did you work? Tell us about that.
TD: My first job was at Strike ‘n Spare Lanes. It was on Skokie Blvd., a big bowling center. It was probably about 4-5 miles from home. I biked over there every day. It was a great job, a great experience.
DG: At 14, what kind of things did they have you do?
TD: I was the low rung on the ladder. I was actually stripping the old oil off the lanes by hand. I was cleaning tables, mopping floors. I was what they called a porter so emptying drink glasses, wiping down tables, vacuuming – that’s what we did.
DG: Did you get paid?
TD: It was minimum wage which was $3.65/hr at that time.
DG: How do you think the jobs that teenagers have today compare to the job you had at 14?
TD: I don’t think there is a huge difference. They are still expected to “toe the line” because they are low rung. The pay scale is a big difference but it reflects the economy. Gas doesn’t get any cheaper.
DG: When you think about school and being a child, do you remember activities and games that you played?
TD: Yes, the Cubs Scouts was a time of fond memories. I loved the Pinewood Derby because I kind of have an affinity for woodworking – more of a tinkerer than a fine woodworker. I wish I had gone on into Boy Scouts but unfortunately it stopped with Cub Scouts.
DG: Was that pack sponsored by St. Norberts?
DG: How many pinewood derbys were you in?
TD: I was in four.
DG: Did you win?
TD: Yes, I won the little Parish-type sectional but I never went to a state meet.
DG: So you went to the parochial school system – St. Norberts and then Loyola. Did you wear a uniform at Loyola?
TD: No. It was no jeans. You had to have nice pants and usually a polo shirt. Long gone was the button down collar and tie that my brothers wore when they went to Loyola.
DG: I am curious as to what made your parents choose Northbrook to raise you boys.
TD: I think – well they came here in 1947, newly married and found a little house on Church Street with a one-car garage. I think that Northbrook seemed like a little pastoral spot.
DG: And where did they come from?
TD: My mom grew up in Chicago in the Logan Square neighborhood and my dad was from New York.
DG: So your family was well settled in Northbrook by the time you were born. Can you tell us a little bit about the stores?
TD: Well, as a kid, one of my favorite stores was Melzers. One of my brothers actually worked there.
DG: For our younger audience, what was Melzers?
TD: Melzers was a little “Mom & Pop” grocery store on Shermer, about 100 feet west of the railroad tracks. The building is still there. It was a grocery store/hardware store. It was a great place.
DG: Were any of the chain grocery stores here then?
TD: Yes, actually Jewel was just starting but I think Melzers and the Jewel were about 50-50 in the market. The Jewel had more the east side of the tracks and Melzers had the west side.
DG: This is before Sunset Foods?
TD: I believe so, yes.
DG: How about some of the other stores. Was downtown the place to go shopping?
TD: Yes, it was great. A little pharmacy called Huerbingers. That was a great place.
DG: Now, why would a kid find a pharmacy a great place?
TD: Well, they had penny candy, they had little erasers shaped like race cars and a bunch of stuff. Right next door was a five and dime called Ben Franklin. That was another great place.
DG: What made Ben Franklin a great place?
TD: They had more of the toys, whiffle bats and whiffle balls, bouncing balls and baseballs and little trucks and cars. It was a great place.
DG: What happened to all those places?
TD: The buildings are still there – right on Cherry. The stores are long gone unfortunately, replaced by restaurants mostly. Huerbingers became an Italian restaurant. Chicken Charlies is now where Ben Franklin was. Another great place was Country Maid Bakery. That was by the Ben Franklin and is currently the breakfast restaurant. I don’t remember the name.
DG: So we eat more than we play?
TD: It would seem so.
DG: Well, let’s go back to your teenage years – what are some of the fads that you remember?
TD: Well, I think that in my early teenage years, skate boarding was becoming very big – early 70s. I remember most everyone wanted to skate board. There were people making their skate boards at home. Then there were things like pet rocks.
DG: You will have to explain what a pet rock is?
TD: People just found rocks that you could find anywhere, put them in a cardboard rocks and call them your pet rocks. It was just a rock in a box but somehow it was a pet.
DG: Seriously. And how did you care or feed a pet rock?
TD: I forget but they had all these weird instructions just like you were owning a pet.
DG: And you paid money for this? You didn’t just go and find a rock?
TD: They actually had little boxed rocks.
DG: What did you think of that?
TD: Brilliant. It wasn’t a huge amount of money – a couple of dollars. And the guy sold, from what I understand, he sold billions.
DG: What were some of the other fads?
TD: One of the interesting things was the cube puzzle called Rubik’s cube. Everyone seemed to want to figure out how to solve it and solve it the fastest. What’s interesting is that the computer age wasn’t even being thought of even when I was a teenager.
DG: Really. I wonder if some of our younger listeners can even imagine a world without computers?
TD: Even when I was in high school – I was class of ’83. If you had a computer at home, your family was incredibly well heeled. Your average home computer in the early 80s was probably $5,000.
DG: How would you do your homework?
TD: Come to the library, do all your research. Any papers, doing any report, you would come to the library, look up in the card file and find any books with info on the subject.
DG: If you couldn’t input into the computer and print it, what did you do?
TD: Lot of use of the typewriter.
DG: Describe a typewriter for our younger listeners.
TD: It is basically like a computer keyboard but you have an inked ribbon and every letter was on a metal rod which struck the ink ribbon and put an impression on the paper. If you made a mistake you had to either erase it or start again.
DG: Much easier today, right?
TD: Yes, much, much easier.
DG: You were telling me as we were getting ready that Northbrook is the home to some wonderful companies.
TD: Yes, I think, what is incredible is that some international companies started here. Culligan began here; Allstate Insurance; the Nielsen ratings; It is a unique history.
DG: I heard recently that Northbrook has a larger daytime population than nighttime population. What you are saying about these companies explains that. Didn’t you also mention that some sports figures started in Northbrook?
TD: As a kid I remember that Tony Espisito, goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks, actually lived in Northbrook and practiced with the team at the Northbrook Sports Complex rink. I remember meeting him many, many times.
DG: How did you come to meet him?
TD: He literally lived about 2 blocks away from me. I also went to many, many practices. I wish I had kept up with my hockey fandom but that went by the wayside.
DG: How did you get permission to go to the practices?
TD: They weren’t closed. You could just walk into the building, go into the stands and sit and watch them shoot the puck around.
DG: You can’t do that today, can you?
TD: I’m not sure. Most of the teams are very security conscious and also they don’t want any kind of plays to get out to the general public so most of their practices are closed.
DG: So hockey was a big thing in Northbrook – any other sports?
TD: I know that speedskating was huge here. We were once known as the speedskating capital of the world. I don’t remember her name but I know we had a gold and silver medalist in speedskating that came from Northbrook. Another great thing that happened here was that they had the barrel jumping competition. That was actually on ABC Sports. It started out on the open ice rink, right by the Library here, and then eventually moved indoors to the Sports Complex. For probably 30 plus years barrel jumpers from around the world came to Northbrook.
DG: What about basketball?
TD: It’s amazing that Michael Jordan’s first address was Northbrook. He lived right near Sportsman’s Country Club, right off of the 10th hole was his house. You could literally see his house. If he was home and in his backyard you could be on the green and Michael Jordan would be 50 ft. away from you. Scottie Pippen’s first address was near Northbrook Court. I remember seeing him in Blockbuster Video many times. He was hard to miss. He towered over the racks.
DG: Well, let’s get back to talking about Tony. I get the idea that sports are important to you, that bowling is perhaps your best sport?
TD: Yes, I would say it is a passion. I have met some of the iconic bowlers of history. One can say I actually am employed by one of the iconic bowlers. His bowling record is leaps and bounds beyond the average. His name is Les Sykes. He is a remarkable champion. He is in five Hall of Fames.
DG: Did you start working in a bowling alley because you liked to bowl or did you become a bowler because you got a job in a bowling alley?
TD: I think I have always – at nine years old I was bitten by the bowling bug and it has been a unique infection.
DG: Are there any other sports that you enjoy?
TD: I enjoy baseball. I am a huge White Sox fan even though living on the north side of the city, I am supposed to be a Cubs fan and being a Sox fan probably has my grandfather spinning in his grave because my grandmother literally had to plan meals around a Cubs game in the summer months. Only one other brother is a Sox fan. Incredibly that brother saw the Beatles at Sox Park in their final appearance in Chicago.
DG: In the few minutes we have left, what else would you like to share with our audience about Northbrook, about special things?
TD: I would say that what was great about Northbrook was that it was a pastoral childhood. I was extremely safe. It was a great time. Fourth of July celebrations were wonderful – the fireworks, the parades.
DG: We have some changes coming with the 4th.
TD: I hope they are for the better. I still love them. It is a great time and it was a unique place.
DG: Do you think Northbrook is still a unique place?
TD: Yes, it still is extremely safe, extremely children friendly. Change is inevitable, it is a constant. I would love to have seen Tonellis remain, the Cypress remain. Those were iconic things even in my adult years.
DG: What made them special?
TD: They were homey feeling. They were not a cookie cutter type chain. There was only one Cypress. No Cypress in New York City. The same with Tonellis. You couldn’t go to Cincinnati and get a Tonellis pizza. No, it was uniquely Northbrook. Growing up there wasn’t Dominos or Pizza Hut on every corner. If a town had a pizza parlor that was a unique deal.
DG: Would you encourage people to move to Northbrook today?
TD: Yes. I think it still continues to be a great place. There are many nice homes, good subdivisions and good communities.
DG: As you have said, changes are inevitable – what changes would you like to see come to Northbrook?
TD: Well, there is no going home. Unfortunately I can’t say I would like to see a return to simpler times. Technology kind of prevents that. I think I would like to see a little bit more physical type activities, like the return of bike races or barrel jumping.
DG: Sounds like fun. I thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. I appreciate it very much.