JH: Good afternoon. Today is March 9, 2012. Welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Public Library. My name is Judy Hughes and I am pleased to welcome Bud Smith. Bud’s family has an interesting relationship to Northbrook businesses.
Bud, I am so glad to have you here. I have always heard people call you Bud but I know that is not your given name. Do you want to tell me your given name.
BS: Edward H. Smith, Jr. They called me Bud so that when my Dad was called Ed, we both would not come running. I have always been called Bud or Buddy.
JH: Can you tell us when you first came to Northbrook?
BS: 1938. I was born in 1935 and my family moved here in 1938. My grandparents has moved here in the 1920’s to operate a peony farm .and we moved in with them. We were there until approximately 1948. At that time the peony farm was sold so we had to move. My father and grandfather bought approximately four acres on Pfingsten Road and he moved some of the prized peonies to that location. Actually that operation was started in about 1945.
JH: You talk about a peony farm. This is not something that most people connect with Northbrook – that we had many acres here devoted to flower growing. Tell us a little about the peony farm. Where was it?
BS: It was a 20 acre section of what used to be Sky Harbor Airport. The airport was “L” shaped and the farm was in the middle of the “L” so we had airplanes all around. It was a very large farm. There was a lot of hands on work which flowers require. My grandfather didn’t own the property. He was one of the foremost horticulturists in the country, actually in the world and people would come to him with problems. He was the secretary for 20 some years, actually for years he was president. What he didn’t know about flowers and peonies, there wasn’t anybody around to tell him. He was well renowned. He propagated a number of peonies – one bears my mother’s name and another is called Victory. He used to develop different varieties. He used to sell them on the highway. We had a stand across the street from a vegetable stand in what we called the “ice house” as it was cool. He would cut the buds early to extend the flowers. Peonies have a very short blooming season. He also had what he called an exhibition garden which contained all kinds of flowers but mainly peonies.
JH: What was the name of the group he was secretary and president of?
BS: The American Peony Society.
JH: Are his varieties of peonies still being sold?
BS: Yes, oh, yes. Not being an expert on peonies I’ve got some. He could tell you everything about every peony he developed. Not being an expert I can’t name the varieties although I could tell you if it is a double, a single or a Japanese.
JH: Did he work at the end with Brother Charles over a Techny?
BS: Yes, he was approached by Brother Charles to get his expertise over at Mission Gardens. He was the only Protestant there. He and Brother Charles were very tight and my grandfather was there until he passed.
JH: You talked about buying an old farmhouse from Pfingsten Road and moving it. Can you tell us about that? Do you remember that experience at all?
BS: Yes, I do. I don’t remember the actual address but it was located where the Waller Subdivision is, approximately across from where the Legion was. The farmhouse dated back to the 1800s and Fred Pfingsten was the one who actually moved it from there to where we are now.
JH: Would that be the Pfingsten that Pfingsten Road is named after?
BS: Yes, the Pfingsten Farm was across the street from where we lived. It was a long process that started in 1945 and we didn’t move in until 1948 as it took quite awhile to get it remodeled. We had to have a little addition to the house. When you go into the basement, it still has the timbers with the bark on them so it is very old.
JH: Do you still live in that house?
BS: No. In 1958 we got married. My Dad had originally intended to build a house on the front of the property. That is why this old house is way in the back. In fact, we had our well dug up there and piped the water back to the old house. A new house was never built there until we got married in 1958. A house was built on the front, a little brick house so there are two houses on that property.
JH: Can you tell me a little about what life was like on the peony farm?
BS: Being an only child, my grandfather and grandmother kind of doted on me probably since their one son, my uncle Billy, was killed in an auto accident on Techny and Shermer. I don’t really remember Billy as much as I remember the pictures of the car he was in. Losing a son at the age of 17, he had just graduated from high school, and was killed two days after Pearl Harbor. When you have a young kid, you do kind of dote on him. My grandfather was my hero. My whole family was super to me.
JH: Today everyone signs their kids up for all kinds of classes. What did you do for fun?
BS: As an only child you pretty much make your own fun. The M_________ had some kids approximately my age so I played some with them. There weren’t many kids in the area where I lived. When I was in 1st grade I was at the old Grove School on Dundee Road but in 2nd grade my Dad moved me to Crestwood School. Elementary School was downstairs and you moved upstairs to the high school. I closed down the high school in 1952. That’s how bad I was.
JH: After that graduating year, all the students dispersed to various schools while they were building Glenbrook North.
Tell us about going to that school which is now Crestwood Place, senior citizen housing.
BS: We had some excellent teachers. My family was real close to Norman Watson who is pretty well known in the high schools now days. I wasn’t an outstanding student by any means – B or C in that area. But I did graduate. I went to Illinois until I didn’t have enough money to continue. I wanted to take agriculture. My father being a printer never tried to get me to go into printing. When I got to Illinois I found out I would never be able to go into farming. It requires such a large expenditure. So that is when I went into public service with Commonwealth Edison.
JH: Commonwealth Edison had its headquarters here in Northbrook?
BS: That is correct.
JH: You said your father was a printer. Where did he work?
BS: Originally when we came from Minneapolis, he worked with Pioneer Press in Highland Park but he had a chance to go into partnership with Mr. Urban which was located by the Triangle on the southeast corner, approximately where the parking lot is now. My mother helped dad a lot but also worked at the dry cleaners right next door.
JH: Do you remember the name of the dry cleaners?
BS: It’s the one that is on Dundee Road now – Zengler Cleaners. They have been in town for some time.
JH: You mentioned the “triangle” but many don’t know what that was. Can you explain it a little?
BS: It was where Walters and Shermer kind of intersect. It was kind of a weird design, a unique intersection, that everyone knew where it was. At that time it was in the heart of Northbrook. It was supposed to handle the traffic which we didn’t have much of.
JH: What was Dundee Road like? Paved?
BS: It was two-lane and paved. The main thing I remember is riding on the side of Dundee Road and got hit by a car, broke my fingers and did a number on the bike. The lady driver was very unhappy about it.
JH: You mentioned your church and Bill Lutz being a member. Bill worked at the high school?
BS: Bill was football coach and also coached other things. Gallagher was also a teacher and Etherton was another coach.
JH: Tell me about your church.
BS: I joined the church when we moved here and it has been a part of my life and my family’s life all these years. Now it is called St. Peter Community Church. Earlier names: St. Peter United Church of Christ and St. Peter Evangelical Church. The pastor that was with us the longest was Rev. Bitzer. I consider him a saint. He was very instrumental in development of the church to a very large membership. He was very forward looking, building the community center in the 20s which served the entire community with a basketball court, bowling alley, Sunday School rooms and kitchen. It was about the only thing in Northbrook at the time.
I have a list here of the things I did there if you don’t mind my reading it: for many years I cut the grass at the church; was on the cemetery board from 1980 to the present which may sound morbid but is very interesting; was on the church council from 1994 to 2000; was president from 1995 to 2000; 1995 was our 150th anniversary (the church dates to 1845); I was a part of Operation ___________ where Franklin Grain collects shoe boxes for children all over the world; I’ve been on the blanket drive, mitten tree, pantries, turkey dinner, bazaar, altar team, Cub Scouts, Cub Master even before we had Brian and then as he went through scouts I worked with them and still do.
JH: Tell me about St. Peter’s Cemetery.
BS: Well, for those who aren’t familiar, it probably sounds very morbid but when you start looking into the history of those buried there, people have asked me about genealogy. When you start to study the history, I feel like they are family – you feel empathy towards the families as you learn the history of them.
JH: Those buried in your cemetery are truly reflective of the history of our community.
BS: Yes, when you review the names of those buried you are reading the names of many of the streets in our town – Landwehr, Shermer, Pfingsten.
JH: In the Northbrook of your childhood, where did your Mom shop; what did you do for family entertainment?
BS: There wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment – in the summertime you are working and in the winter, there isn’t much you can do outside. I don’t remember much entertainment other than going on a few trips. As an only child, I pretty much had to make up games to play on my own. We did have a pond on the peony farm with a bunch of trees around it. I used to go back there to play and pretend I was in the wilderness – there were snakes and turtle and crayfish. I used to chop down a few trees and make a raft and try to float it out in the pond. It was a pretty good sized pond.
JH: So where did your Mom shop?
BS: Usually Melzer’s. There weren’t too many places around. Primarily it was Northbrook or Glenview. Once as a kid I took my bike and rode to Glenview. I was very tired so I called my parents and told them I was at Nicker-Nackers – do you remember Rennecker’s which I referred to by that name.
Going back to the church, I have so many memories, but one related to my Dad’s job as a printer. He used to give me leading from the linotype letters and I would make little lead soldiers. I had my pockets jammed full of this leading and went to church with the leading in my pockets. If you remember the old church had balconies in the back and on both sides with the wood floor. I used to go up in the balcony to get a good view of everyone on the main floor. Right during Rev. Bitzer’s sermon when it was real quiet, I moved a little and the lead started spilling out of my pockets to the floor and reverberated. He stopped speaking and looked right at me and I just kind of melted. I’ll never forget that moment, that’s for sure.
JH: You said the old church – where was that old church?
BS: Right on Shermer Road which is just about a block south of Willow Road, just past the railroad underpass, where the cemetery is now and where the old church was when it burned down back in 1961. We designed a Memorial Garden so we can place ashes there. Actually the original church was on Dundee Road.
JH: The original church was on Dundee Road where the Union Cemetery is now.
BS: That’s right.
JH: Why did they move from Dundee Road to Shermer Road? What is the story on that?
BS: Well if you know the history, there was really nothing but German farmers in the area. At the Dundee Road location they could handle the people from Northbrook, but Glenview people had to travel all the way to Niles Center in Skokie to go to church. They got together with people from Glenview and decided to move to a new location in the middle of Northbrook and Glenview. I think they were located on Dundee Road for about 10 years or so.
JH: Tell me about Sky Harbor Airport.
BS: That was located around our peony farm. I remember it always being there during my youth. I remember the biplanes being parked there. I used to go and climb into the cockpits which were open and imagine flying the planes. The family talked about how Billy went back there and made friends with one of the pilots who took him up. Grandpa asked him how it went. Billy said it was “three loops and three pukes.” From everything I have heard about Billy, he was something special.
JH: Was it a busy airport?
BS: Not particularly busy. I do remember waking up one morning after a real foggy night and a B26 was parked at the airport, the result of a forced landing. The tail was sticking up above the small planes there. During the day there were a few planes coming and going there throughout the day.
JH: When you first came here, this was a very small village –
BS: There were only about 1,300 people.
JH: And now we are a Village of over 30,000, 33,000 people. What are the changes you have seen that you would like people to know have made a real impact on this community?
BS: You mean for the better or for the worse?
JH: Either one.
BS: Well, there are so many more opportunities for people. There is so much that you can do. There is no comparison between what it used to be and how it is now. I still long for the old days when you didn’t have to lock your doors and knew just about everybody. If you saw someone you didn’t know walking down the street you kind of looked at them crosseyed wondering “what are you doing here.” It seemed like it was much friendlier back then, perhaps because you knew everyone. It is harder to be friendly when you don’t know everyone.
JH: You mentioned your son Brian. Tell us a little bit about your family.
BS: Well, Brian was born in 1969 so we had been married about 10 years, we were married in 1958. He and his sister have been the light of my life. I don’t know what I would do without them. He is a whiz on computers and has been trying to teach me about computers which may be a lost cause. I was more into electrical things. He worked for ComED for 10 years but got laid off. He has been employed in several different jobs and seems to land on his feet. In fact, he has met a girl from Downer’s Grove and will be married in June on the 2nd. She was married previously and has a son Joe who graduated last year from GBN.
JH: Bud, can you believe our 30 minutes are up. Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you want people to know about you or your Northbrook?
BS: Not really. I have been involved in things other than the church. I have been involved with John Deere tractors since I was a boy, in fact, I talked my grandpa into buying a John Deere which I am still using. I just got a second John Deere which as you know was at Shermerfest the last couple of years. Also since my youth I’ve been a member of the Sheridan Rifle & Pistol Club, a member of the National Rifle Assoc. and the Illinois Rifle Assoc. I’ve been president of the Sheridan Rifle Club for many years, just keep getting reelected.
JH: Thank you for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook will add a unique perspective to the history of our Village. Thank you.
BS: Thank you. Anytime.