Eleanor Chambers

Eleanor Chambers moved to Northbrook with her family in the early 1950s to a new house her husband, a WWII vet, had built in Countryside. She recalls the small community of that time and the changes she has witnessed including the growth of the school district where she taught after raising her four children.

Recorded on March 9, 2012. Length: 29 Minutes.


BS: Good morning.  Welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Public Library.

My name is Barbara Schultz and I am pleased to welcome Eleanor Chambers who has lived in Northbrook for many years and worked and taught here.  She has seen many changes in the Village and we would like to find out what some of those changes were.  Eleanor, we are glad to have you here.  First of all, where did you grow up?

EC: I grew up on Juneway Terrace in Rogers Park.

BS: When did you first come to Northbrook?

EC: I came to Northbrook with a sorority sister who had seen an ad in the paper for half acre lots on what had formerly been a golf course and she was interested in investing in it.  We came and looked and she bought a lot and I bought the one next to it.  Our husbands were in the service at the time and I put Vic’s paycheck that I got from the government toward the payment until my father said that he would advance the money and I could pay him back instead.  I surprised Vic when he came home and found he had a half acre lot to worry about.

BS: When did you start building your house?

EC: He decided he wanted to build the house.  He worked at Kleinschmidt’s in Deerfield.  In 1950 they excavated on August 7th and we moved in on August 7th, 1953.  He just worked on weekends and he did everything in the house except heating by himself with the help of friends, some helpful and some not so helpful.  When we moved in the walls were not in upstairs and we could see from one end to the other.  By April 1, 1954, he had finished that and my parents took over the upstairs with the girls that came eventually.  When we came to Northbrook we had two children and later had two more. 

BS: What was it like in Countryside when you first moved there?

EC: Well, I was the 18th one to buy a lot there.  It had been a golf course, the Blackheath Country Club and it went defunct during the war due to gas rationing.  Before it was Blackheath Country Club, Farmer Werhane told us it was a chicken farm so it was all country and Lake-Cook Road was a 2-lane highway  not a 4-lane.  There was nothing across the street.  Louis Werhane farmed the area that is now a shopping center.  It was all country.  There were three houses on our street before ours.  As I said, we moved in and finished the house as we could afford it.

BS: Where did your children go to school?

EC: My children went to Crestwood School.   Betsy had started kindergarten in Rogers Park at Gale where I had gone to school and she went over to Greenbriar because Crestwood was a high school then.  Two years later when Greg came along, he went to Meadowbrook which opened the year he started school there.  Eventually, they were both at Crestwood and then the Junior High.  That was the growth of District 28 schools.  It was an exciting time, it was a growing time.  There was no building on the corner.  It was country and we loved it.  It was a wonderful place to raise children.

BS: Where did you go for shopping?

EC: Well, my mother and I were used to going to a Jewel in Rogers Park.  As I remember, there was a new Jewel built on Lake Street in Wilmette and we drove all the way down there.  There was an A&P and Melzers in Northbrook and my mother liked the Jewel so that’s where we went.  Later a Jewel came to Northbrook after a Krogers came and then went out of business and the A&P also closed.  I have forgotten what year Sunset came in.  We had heard from an aunt who lived in Lake Bluff all about Sunset so we knew it was going to be a fun place to shop. 

BS: What other stores were in Northbrook then?

EC: Oh, my goodness, I can’t think of any except in the early 1960’s Sherwood’s came in – there was a dime store, Huerbinger Drug Store where Francesco’s is today.  Then the Country Maid came in and we had wonderful bakery goods.  Sunset was across the street  from where it is today.  When Sherwood’s, a children’s store, came they were about where Francesco’s is today but she needed more room and moved across the street and ended up near the current hardware store.  That’s where I went to work when we needed money to help Betsy get through college.   I worked at Sherwood’s between children.  After Steve, my youngest, was born I went to school and got my teaching certificate and Dr. Harvey hired me and I loved every minute of it.

BS: What grades did you teach?

EC: I went in as a 5th grade teacher and taught that for  1½ years, then I taught 6th grade for two years and 4th grade for 4 or 5 years.  Then I went back to teaching 6th grade which was my favorite.

BS: And what school was this at?

EC: Greenbriar.  I did my student teaching at Crestwood under Carol Lyman which was a wonderful experience.  I retired in 1985.  I went back  and did a little substituting but that is nothing like having your own classroom so I let the younger ones take over.

BS: Who were some of the teachers that you worked with that you remember?

EC: At Greenbriar I worked with Nancy McMichaels and Carol Reagan who later became quite an artist in Northbrook broke me in.  She and Marguerite White who retired soon after.  Mrs. Keller hired me and was there two years before Mr. Peters came in as principal.  Mrs. Keller had been the kindergarten teacher at Greenbriar when it was opened and later became the principal –  a lovely lady.  Alta Thiel was there.  Barbara Meyers was my aide at one time.

BS: Are there any activities or things that stand out about your teaching career?

EC: They are my best friends today, all of them, a wonderful group of women.  The school was run as a tight ship and when the principal was absent we could run it ourselves.  JoAnn Paris Julien, Dorothy Craig were there.  When Crestwood closed and Alta Thiel came over, she and her husband traveled together with Vic and I so that was a plus.

BS: Were there any outstanding students that come to mind?

EC: Oh, my, not any that are in politics today or anything like that.  Bill Bowman comes to mind.  The Bowmans come to mind.  Janis Irvine’s two children.  Tom Clay who became a Presidential Scholar.  They were good kids.  Dr. Harvey told me I knew how to laugh with them and pull in the reins with the boys.  The girls and I didn’t always get along so well because womanly traits came up and they got to be gossipy.  The Nix boy told me one time that he thought I was deaf so when we were walking down the hall I said “Eeh?” and that broke them up.  They were not supposed to laugh and be noisy in the hall but Mrs. Chambers caused that.  We had a good time along with, I hope, teaching them a few things.  It is wonderful to see when they return.  At Shermerfest last year a young man came up and said he had me in school.  That was nice to be recognized.

BS: What were some of the activities your kids were involved in when they were growing up?

EC: Betsy was a dancer at the high school.  Greg was a runner.  Mary started to high school the first year they had open ed so she was dedicated to that and loved it.  Steven had some hyperactivity issues so we sent him to St. John to military school at the recommendation of a counselor.  He needed the structure and would have floundered with the open ed which they still had at the high school.  They all were into Little League Baseball, Indian Guides, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts – you name it.

BS: What can you remember about community activities, things in the park, Northbrook Days?

EC: Oh, heavens, Northbrook Days – we always had to go to Northbrook Days.  I don’t remember when they started Shermerfest.  I love Shermerfest and the Historical Society and wish I could have done more for them.  It is fun seeing all the oldtimers come back.  That has been an enjoyable activity.  Bowling.  Vic was in a Bowling League with the seniors. 

BS: What was Northbrook Days like when your children were young? 

EC:  Just a typical carnival as I remember with merry-go-rounds and ferris wheels.  It hadn’t expanded the way that it is now.    One year it was located on the NW corner of Shermer and Meadow.  I don’t remember just what it was but I remember the kids wanting to go over and do the rides.  There always has been a lot of good activities.  Vic was head of the Indian Guides and we were always very active in the YMCA.  Greg was a guard for the Y pool and did a lot of things there.

 BS: Were there any park activities up in Countryside?

 EC: No, not in those days.  There were oodles and oodles of kids.  They made up their own rules in baseball and got a shock when they joined the Little League and the rules were different.  They would play in the local park which had originally been the clubhouse and swimming pool of the golf course.  When we bought our lots there they were originally going to keep it for the homeowners but the homeowners found the expense of rejuvenating the swimming pool was going to be astronomical so they tore down the clubhouse and gave the park to the Northbrook Park District.  They have maintained the park beautifully.  We have our own homeowner’s association.  We get our water from Highland Park and I was told one time that we would never be incorporated into Northbrook.  Bob Weidaw told me they couldn’t make any money off of us because of our water.  We had professional people and blue collar workers.  We all seemed to get along fine.  It was a wonderful place for the kids to grow up.

BS: Have you been involved in any church activities?

EC:  About my second month out here I joined St. Giles Episcopal Church.  I was brought up an Episcopalian and transferred my membership to St. Giles.  I have been a Sunday School teacher and all those good things with the church.  I was on the board of the Diocese of Chicago before the children took over my time.   I enjoyed that work very much.

BS: Who were some of the pastors of the church?

EC: Father Badger was the pastor when I moved in.  Then there was Father Moore and Jay Risk, Marian Mehle, Virgil was assistant for awhile.  Now we have Cynthia Hales as our lady priest.  We are not as big a church as we used to be but we have the activities going.  We have a Victory Garden in the summer.  To this day we have gardens there.   They send food to the Food Bank in the summer and have a community banquet in the fall so it is interesting how everybody shows up for those things.

BS: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in Northbrook over the years?

EC: The population.  When we started building, I know there weren’t 3,000 people.  Now it is something over 30,000.  The style of architecture of the homes strikes me.  I don’t like it.  When we built our house, a Cape Cod 1.5 stories, bi-levels were very popular.  Now they are filling up the lot with these large houses instead of gardens.

BS: Did your husband Vic design the house himself?

EC: No, we bought the plans from Better Homes & Gardens.  Vic was a perfectionist so our house was built like a bastion.  They are going to have trouble tearing it down some day.

BS: Did you know about Northbrook before you bought your lot our here?

EC: I grew up in the city but we didn’t own a car; it was during the depression.  We had a neighbor, the athletic director at DePaul Univ. and he would take us for rides.  We thought we were really traveling when we came out as far as Commonwealth Edison and then he would turn around and go back.  Probably Northbrook was still Shermerville then.  No, I knew nothing about Northbrook until my friend suggested we come out and look at those lots.  However, my dad had played golf with this same neighbor at Techny Fields.  We would take rides while they were playing their “Twilight Golf.”  I always knew about Techny as I loved looking at that building.  I knew about Glenview when I was in high school because we came out there to bowl but I never got as far north as Northbrook.

BS: You mentioned Louis Werhane and the farm earlier.  What do you remember about the Werhanes?

EC: A wonderful Grandma.  My mother and Grandma used to sit under the tree and talk and compare notes.  My children loved Grandma.  Louis came along when we were building our house.  He and Vic got along fine.  He used to cut all the lawns on the empty lots in our subdivision.  I remember the vegetables they sold.  If Grandma didn’t like the corn, she would not sell it to you.  She was a character.  Louis and Olive had two sons.  Billy was younger than my Greg who envied Billy being out in the field driving the tractor.  When they sold the farm, we really felt very bad.  However, Grandma had died and Louis was past the age when he wanted to farm any more. They were great friends to us and many others.  They were wonderful people.

BS: Phil Johnson’s was near you on the corner.   Tell us about that.

EC: Well, it was a favorite place for our friends to come and have dinner and come over and see how we were progressing with our house.  We would celebrate certain things by having dinner at Phil Johnsons.  They had great coleslaw in my opinion and certain other foods too.  Dad and Phil Johnson, Sr., would get to talking.  I didn’t know any of them personally but the food was always good and the service was good.  A lot of the people in our subdivision got part time work there.  They were all very cordial.  I often wonder what is going on there.  My understanding is that Phil, Jr., gave Borders a 99 year lease and now that Borders is gone, I wonder how that works out.  Carol was Betsy’s age and Phil was older, in his 70s now.

BS: Did you have another favorite restaurant in town?

EC: Oh, let me tell you about Tonelli’s.  Yes, my husband until two weeks before he died wanted to go to Tonelli’s.  Ray Tonelli and Betsy were in school together and Greg and Tony Tonelli were in school together.  That was our favorite restaurant. 

BS: What was so special about it?

EC: Well, you would always meet somebody you knew there.  The food was exceptionally good.  The workers were all friendly.  There was just a special aura there.  We used to go there for lunch.  Ray told us one time he was getting a little tired.  He started in 4th grade working at Tonelli’s at the job of cleaning the bathrooms.  He was a wonderful host.  Now Oliverii’s has some of the people who worked at Ray’s.  He worked hard for a long time.

BS: Is there anything else you would tell us about Northbrook?

EC: Only that it has become home to me and I feel blessed that I discovered it.

BS: You have added a lot to the community over the years with your teaching and your activities.  We thank you for sharing your memories with us.

EC: Thank you.  It was an honor to participate in this project.

BS: Thank you participating in Northbrook Voices.  Your memories of life in Northbrook will add a nice personal perspective.  Thank you very much, Eleanor.