Recorded on July 13, 2012. Length: 29 Minutes.
LB: Good morning and welcome to Northrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored jointly by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. This morning our interviewee is Debbie Bojan Figge who has lived and worked in Northbrook most of her life. Can you tell us a little about how you came to live in Northbrook?
DF: Well, my parents moved to Northbrook in the 50s before I was born. They moved from Chicago and came to Northbrook because it reminded my father of coming out of the city to Dam No. 1 to play in the country. They chose Northbrook because it was very rural so I grew up in Northbrook and watched Northbrook grow up as I was growing up. We lived at 1460 Sanders Road just south of Walters. Our subdivision was even called Mission Hills but that was before Mission Hills was even a golf course. We were surrounded by forest preserve and a few other homes. There was no tollway then so the kids could go through the field and play in the forest preserve. My brothers do remember the tollway construction and the big culverts that they would play in as the tollway went through. I was younger than my brothers.
LB: How many brothers did you have?
DF: I have five brothers and myself, the only girl in the family with older brothers and younger brothers that I had to help babysit and care for. Northbrook was very laid back then. Lots of farms in the area and open spaces. I watched the subdivisions get built around us and played in the empty houses as they were being built. We used to take bike rides through the new neighborhoods and try to get lost in the streets they were building.
LB: So your family grew up there. How long were your parents in that house?
LB: I’m not sure when they moved out, probably in 1990 so they lived there almost 40 years before they moved on to another project. My father had a garage in Northbrook, Bojan’s Auto Repair, and it became Bojan’s Auto Body. That is where he worked and two of my brothers run it now. My parents moved to Ottawa, Illinois, and started a campground to keep with the ruralness that my father enjoyed.
LB: What school did you and your brothers attend?
DF: We started out at St. Norbert’s and by junior high transferred to the public schools. I went to Grove and Shabonee, there was no Wood Oaks at that time. My one younger brother during the time that Grove became very crowded and they were building Indian Ridge and Hickory Point was bused to some of the other schools. He was bused to Greenbriar for a while.
LB: You were living about at Sanders and Walters so that was some distance from Grove School.
DF: Yes, we rode our bikes in good weather and occasionally walked home if we were driven in the morning and it turned nice. We didn’t have the luxury of all the car pools and buses. There were some buses but our parents told us to walk. We were a hardy group.
LB: I think kids did more walking in those days.
DF: Yes, we did. They didn’t have many sidewalks but I think they expanded a little portion of Walters Road on the side, like on Techny near the ballparks where there is a little bike lane.
LB: Was it pretty much farmland in that area?
DF: When I was very little, it was farmland on the corner of Sanders and Walters which is now Sutton Point Subdivision. But then they began building it up. Where Wood Oaks Park is now, it was just tall weeds back then and we would walk down to the corner store which was at Dundee and Sanders. Along the way we would collect coke bottles to turn in for the deposit to buy penny candy. If we didn’t find any along the road we would run into the area where the pond is now. There were dirt tire tracks where maybe teens or others would pull in. We could always find bottles there to take to Olson’s so we could buy penny candy.
LB: So there was a pond there at that time?
DF: Yes, it was back from the road and there were lots of tall weeds, not trees, just weeds. A lot of those brown punks, tall grass, cattails. It was all the way up to Dacoma Daycamp on the extension of Walters (Little Walters we called it) west of Sanders. We used to play there after the campers went home. There was a swing set and good climbing trees. We would find the arrows the kids would shoot at targets and play with them. On weekends companies would rent the camp for parties and as kids we would go and join the party. I didn’t know I was crashing a party back then. We were just kids so we went and joined the games, had some ice cream and made new friends.
LB: Jumping ahead a bit, you went to Glenbrook North. What year did you graduate?
DF: I graduated in 1974.
LB: What did you do after graduation?
DF: I then went to college. I became a family and consumer science teacher and presently teach in Highland Park. In between I got married and have four children, 3 boys and a girl. My children went to District 30 schools and Glenbrook North. We live in the Southbridge Commons area, which is an excellent area for raising kids because the kids can walk to grammar school, junior high and high school. The education I received was excellent and I chose to raise my family in the same environment that I grew up in. It is a great community which I saw develop from a little farm community to a nice suburb.
LB: Yes, it is a great community. And who is your husband?
DF: My husband is Kent Figge. He works for the Village of Northbrook where he is the supervisor of the vehicle maintenance – in charge of maintaining all the vehicles from the fire trucks to the police cars and the public works vehicles. He says that his men keep them running efficiently.
LB: That is a big job. There are lots of vehicles.
DF: Well, he no longer works on the vehicles. He works on the computer. Everything is kept on the computer.
LB: How many children do you have?
DF: We have four – 3 boys and a girl.
LB: What ages are they?
DF: They are 26 to 17. My youngest is graduating from high school and moving on to college. The oldest just got married last week.
LB: Congratulations. So, you and I have a bit of a tie as we worked at Sunset Foods together. Do you have any recollections about that?
DF: It was a great job for a teenager. They were friendly and accommodating. They gave us those two hour slots from 4-6 p.m. or 4-9 and then on Saturday and intermittent Sundays. They gave you enough to keep you busy but not so much you couldn’t get your homework done. I made a lot of nice connections with those I worked with some of whom went to different schools. I met Ron Bernardi and to this day you go into Sunset and he remembers you and calls you “his best checker.”
LB: Hey, that’s what he calls me too.
DF: I know.
LB: And that was in the days before bar codes. There was a pricing gun and you did pricing or shelving. If a customer asked where the pickles were you wouldn’t just wave to the location, you would name the aisle or take the customer to the shelf.
DF: It was customer service and that’s what Sunset does. I always felt that is what Northbrook does too. If you go to the library, the librarians are very helpful. At least with my kids, when they had projects for the school or questions, the librarians were most helpful. The Park District has been accommodating. My kids worked for the Park District and rode their bikes to work. My older boys had summer jobs with the village.
LB: What do your kids do now?
DF: Right now my oldest is a teacher in New Berlin, a suburb of Springfield. My second son is graduating with a masters in engineering and will be moving to Waterloo, Iowa, to work for John Deere. My third son is home from college right now. He is going to Belmont University studying music engineering and music business. My daughter is graduating high school and going on to nursing school.
LB: So let’s back up a little and talk about where you lived on Sanders. I know you touched on some things briefly but what was the area like – you mentioned that the expressway was not built?
DF: No, it was not there. I don’t remember when it was built. My parents talk of it but I have no recollection. The forest preserve stopped about where the expressway is now and then it was fields. We would play there and pick strawberries and raspberries in that field. I don’t know why they grew wild there. In the winter where there were some low spots, we would find areas for skating, and shovel the snow off. We also skated at Mission Hills before the condominiums were built. Again, we would clear the ice of snow. Another area was Indian Ridge – a water treatment facility was built there. They had dug enough to make a low point and we could skate there. Kids would just find areas to play.
LB: You were outside a lot?
DF: We didn’t have programmed play time. When I was very young, I have a faint memory of going into the pumpkin field on Sanders. My younger brother got chased out of there by the farmer who put rock salt in his shot gun and shot the boys in the behind with the rock salt. There were horses down the street. I never rode them but my cousin lived next door. She was a little older and used to take care of the horses for the farmer. I was too frightened of the big horses.
LB: So in the area you had farms, horses, areas for skating, etc.?
DF: The area did get more built up. I watched the subdivisions grow. We used to play in the houses, check out the houses and marvel at their beauty. We lived in a small ranch. These houses were all air-conditioned. Nobody chased us away.
LB: How many kids were in your group?
DF: At least 3 or 4 – a group of kids. Riding our bikes and finding places to investigate.
LB: Let’s go back to the corner of Sanders and Dundee – you mentioned a store there.
DF: There was Olson’s – a gas station with something similar to a mini-mart. They had penny candy, sodas and maybe milk. I’m not really sure. My memory of going there is very, very faint. It was just a plain old building, almost a shack. I remember being frightened because the floor was very rough boards. In back of the store was a cemetery so as a little kid I was afraid of spirits and snakes. It is a vague memory.
LB: You were just a little kid there with your older brothers?
DF: Yes, probably 4 or 5. My brothers knew where to find the bottles we turned in for the deposit and bought penny candy.
LB: Your mom basically said go out and play and I’ll see you at dinnertime?
DF: Basically. We all had different bells and they would ring a dinner bell and we knew the different pitches and came running.
LB: And what was Sanders Road like?
DF: Well, I always remember it was busy. My mom will say that when they first moved there, the kids could play baseball on Sanders Road. In my memory there were always cars and trucks and we were not allowed to cross so I had to be crossed if I was going to play with friends on Maple and Oak and that area where I had many friends. But staying on the west side of Sanders we explored. When we were old enough to cross Sanders, it opened a whole new world. Back in the early 60s kids were allowed to roam. It was very laid back, more of a farming area. In the mid 60s when Sutton Point and Southbridge Commons and Sunset Fields all developed the area turned. We had a lot more progress and the schools became very crowded. When I was a child Indian Ridge was a grade school – we also had mobile classrooms. The baby boomers were having children and the schools were bursting. The parks were always fun to play in. My mother had to go into town to get her groceries and we would get to play in the park. The moms would often drop their kids off to play in the park while they went shopping.
LB: Oh, so she would go into the stores without the kids?
DF: There was Sunset, A&P or Jewel and she would shop and come back and pick us up after she finished the shopping. Lots of moms did that. There were no worries about kids being kidnapped and if you skinned a knee, you waited for mom to come and help you out.
LB: Did you play in Village Green Park?
DF: Yes, and when I went to St. Norbert’s we were allowed to play in Village Green Park at recess. That was the park. It had the best equipment. It was my kids favorite when they were growing up. But now we have many parks. We even have a path around the detention pond where you can ride your bike. Even my husband talks about riding minibikes in that area. We have baseball fields, soccer fields and skatepark and path going around the pond for biking or running. They would build minbikes right after spring cleanup. In spring people would clean out their garages and put everything out at the road. It was our favorite time because my brothers would garbage-pick – take lawnmower motors and tires. My brother even took two bikes, sawed them up and made a tandem bike. It was kids being kids. The Village would go around and pick up the trash. It was trash for some and a gold mine for others. They continued this for many years but no longer have that program, which is a shame. It was probably very costly and difficult to find places to dump the trash.
LB: How did you find high school?
DF: High school was a fun time. We played powderpuff in the football field. We had powderpuff t-shirts and played the night before the homecoming game. When I mention it to my children they say, “You played powderpuff?” They view it negatively. It was a fun time. Then it was GA sports. Today the girls get to compete as much as the boys which was not the case when I was in sports. We had a little gymnastics team and did a little show, no competition. Intramurals were for girls (the Girls Association). I don’t think we were as involved in sports as today’s kids. When I turned 16, I started working at Sunset and worked there through high school and even into college when I came home on breaks. I worked winter breaks and summers. We weren’t given the opportunity to do so many sports. Today the kids have so many opportunities through the Park District. My kids were involved in baseball, soccer, swimming and diving and had a healthy start before they even entered Glenbrook. Glenbrook prepared myself and the kids for college.
LB: We only have a few more minutes. You are a great testament to growing up in Northbrook and how the community has changed. Is there anything else you would like to say about Northbrook and its importance as a community in the Chicagoland area?
DF: I still feel when I take walks and go through the parks, especially off Techny, I feel it is still a small community with hometown atmosphere be it Northbrook Days, some of the Tuesday concerts in the park or just taking a walk in the fields by Anetsbergers plant where it still feels like country. My mother when she comes back can’t believe how Northbrook has changed. We have stoplights where there were stop signs and homes where there were fields. But I think there is still the feeling of a small community. I guess it is where my mindset is.
LB: I think in the 60s and 70s the population was 10-11,000 and now it is about 33,000. You lived through a big growth period which was fun.
DF: It was fun. It brought more friends. Some of my best friends came from Charlemagne and White Plains and I still keep in touch with them. They can’t believe I am still here but I feel it was a good place to grow up and to raise my family. I have no complaints as a community.
LB: It has been a good place to raise a family with good school systems.
DF: My community was great. It enabled me to work outside the home when I had young children as they could walk to the schools. They even had early morning care through the park district at the schools.I didn’t have to find a daycare center.
Everything was well thought out, even back in the 90s when women were beginning to work more. The community stayed on top of it, was very progressive, a 21st century community.
LB: Access to the commuter train attracts young families.
DF: With the train here, Northbrook will continue to be a hot spot for the young as well as the old like me.
LB: This has been wonderful. Thank you so much for participating in Northbrook Voices. I know your memories when people listen to them will be of interest and inform listeners about western Northbrook and where there were stop signs as opposed to stoplights.
DF: Yes, there were only stop signs along Sanders Road when I was growing up. Sanders and Walters only became a 4-way about the time I started driving.
LB: Again, thank you and keep on living in and enjoying Northbrook.
DF: I shall.