Recorded on March 1, 2012. Length: 30 Minutes.
NB: First Ms. Gibson, I would like to talk to you about your life on this piece of land that we sitting on between Sanders and Landwehr Roads on Willow Road. Can you tell me how you came to live here and what it was like when you came to live here?
HG: My husband Roy was a pilot and instructor over at Glenview Air Station which was originally Curtis Airfield where he learned to fly and he knew about this area. At the time we needed to find a bigger place to live. He stopped by to see Finney and Ping Able who lived on the corner of Willow Rd. and Pfingsten. They said that they knew of this house. The people who had built it had just lived in it for six months when he was transferred to the East. It literally was a brand new house. That’s how we came to live here with our oldest daughter.
NB: You needed a bigger house because?
HG: Because of the addition to our family. There were seven more.
NB: Was this a working farm?
HG: It was ten acres – now 8.5 because of the highway development. When I moved here it was a two lane highway and one car an hour was rush hour.
NB: That’s quite a change.
HG: That’s right. Willow only went to Sanders Road. It was a good place to come. The children when they arrived were safe. They had plenty of space to play. The children were able to play football, baseball – Saturday nights they were here instead of off drinking, they were here playing football. The boys got a chance to have a little fun with the girls but we were always here, always.
NB: Did someone else farm the land or did you move here and then begin to farm the land?
HG: We had a farmer who lived next door, Mr. Deering, who farmed the land. Then he moved away and Mr. Giles became our farmer. Now his son is doing the farming for us. We needed to keep the weeds down and it also helped with the taxes.
NB: What kind of crops did you grow? How many acres did you actually farm?
HG: We farmed 8 acres. In the beginning it was primarily wheat, rye, oats, winter wheat and soybeans. I remember Mr. Deering out there in November when it was cold and damp and without a covered tractors he was out in the elements. I would have him come in and have a cup of coffee and get warm.
NB: Were there other farms around? How far was it to the closest neighbor?
HG: The closest neighbor was Dr. Hagen. It was probably over near the bushes. He had three little houses and eventually he built a larger house and used the other houses as chicken coups. Then he finally moved away and then the developers came. Allstate developed all the land.
NB: What year did Allstate come?
HG: That was back in the ‘80s.
NB: That must have represented a huge change for the area.
HG: Yes, because it was very rural. There were also problems with neighbors who should never have moved to the country. Living in the city is different than living in the country. I loved it. It was in some ways we didn’t have a neighborhood for the children so they played with each other. As a result they are very, very close. They are in constant contact with each other every day.
NB: That’s different than today when people arrange playdates for their children so they have companionship. Your children had ready made companionship and lots of land to play on. Did you have a garden?
HG: Yes, my husband had a garden. He was a frustrated farmer. He had quite a good sized garden and he had the children help him with it. I didn’t have time. I was doing 12 loads of wash a day.
NB: What did you use to do the wash?
HG: I had a washing machine. God bless my mother-in-law. She gave me a washer and a dryer. I was very blessed.
NB: Did you also have animals here?
HG: We had a couple of different horses at different times. There is a funny story about my son who went out to feed the horse and he didn’t keep his hand flat so the horse bit his fingers. He had a mouth full of puffed rice so when he cried the spiel came out. But I kind of lost the train of thought.
NB: We were talking about what animals you had.
HG: We had cats, lots and lots of cats. At one time we had 22 cats. Along the way I had a lovely neighbor – Vi & Bill Kolly. Vi came over and said, “You’ve got to do something about your cats.” I asked her what my cat was doing? She said the cat was coming over and urinating on her windowsill. I replied that I never thought cats had nine lives but apparently this cat does. She asked, “Why do you say that?”
I said, “The cat has been dead for six weeks.”
Then we had dogs. Lots of dogs but only one at a time. The first one we had was Jughead and he was a jughead. Unfortunately he got mixed up with the lawn mower and injured his back leg. But Jughead just got into more trouble.
NB: Did you have chickens?
HG: We had chickens, ducks, geese. We didn’t have any pigs. But there was a pig farmer who used to deposit his manure over in a corner of the yard but that only lasted a short time.
NB: Someone took care of that for you?
HG: Well, no, we realized that it was obnoxious. The idea was to plow it into the land for fertilizer. But storing it was another thing.
NB: When you had chickens, did you ever eat any of them? Who took care of all of that.
HG: Roy took care of it. But we had a chicken who used to sit here on the windowsill and look in – tapped on the window to get our attention. Well it came time to make a stewing hen. We cooked it up and the kids wouldn’t eat it. How could you do that to ______? Never let your kids name a chicken.
NB: Then it becomes to personal. Children who become attached to any kind of animal really can’t then eat it – it is too sad.
HG: Then we had ducks and geese.
NB: How did you keep all those animals in?
HG: We had a pen in the back and a stable for the horses. The stable got blown down in a cyclone.
NB: You haven’t really sold any of the acres that you had except when they built Willow Road, is that right?
HG: We haven’t sold willingly any part of our land.
NB: Do you still farm it actively? I know there is plowing that goes on in the springtime. What kinds of things are you doing to the land now ?
HG: Right now the farmer is the man who does the plowing. He has a stall at the farmer’s market in Evanston. Mr. Giles puts in a crop and when it is time to harvest he gets a group of migrant workers to come in and pick the crop. He rents the land and originally the rental fee covered our taxes. It doesn’t anymore.
NB: Taxes have a way of growing faster than almost anything else, don’t they. Now you had eight children who lived in this house, is that right? All of them went to the Northbrook schools?
HG: All of the children in grammar school went to St. Norbert’s and got a very fine education there. Then all of them went to Glenbrook North. They should have gone to Glenbrook South but at the time I was working at North and I petitioned that they be allowed to go to school at North and it worked out. My one son, when he met me in the hallway, would not say “hi, Mom.” He would say “Hey, you.”
NB: That’s the way with teenage boys. During what year did you begin to work at Glenbrook North High School?
HG: It was in the ‘70s. Dr. Sheeley hired me.
NB: I’m sure it is very different now than it was then. Tell me about what high school was like when you began working there.
HG: Just how do you mean that?
NB: Well, was it a bigger or smaller school?
HG: It was much smaller. I drive by now and I look at it. I would get lost in the school – so much bigger. It has grown tremendously. They put in the Sheeley Center.
NB: That was named for the superintendent or was he the principal?
HG: He was the superintendent who hired me. I think the reason I got the job was that he asked me if I was afraid of the children. I responded, “why would I be? I’m the adult and they are the children.” I got hired.
NB: Do you think the atmosphere changed during the years you worked at GBN in terms of discipline problems or did it remain about the same? You were there for a number of years and certainly your children were there for a number of years.
HG: I was not very happy when IL, individualized learning, came in and the children were released from study hall to just roam the hallway.
NB: Tell me about individualized learning.
HG: The concept is wonderful. The idea was to let a child to proceed at his own pace. A child could take a test four times. I had one young man come to me as say, “I finally passed after taking a test 17 times.” That to me is not learning. They needed more individualized help. I believe, don’t know whether I am wrong or right, but I think the interaction of students in a classroom is important. I remember in my own schooling thinking I understood a concept and then all of a sudden a light bulb would come on and I would realize I had missed a whole point. Of course I was in a very small class. I went to a school where there were only 8 graduates.
NB: Where was that?
HG: hat was in Crystal Lake, St. Thomas. I think there were 64 children.in the school.
NB: Was that a public school?
HG: It was a Catholic school.
NB: You benefitted from being with other students in the classroom and perhaps it taught you to be more tolerant of other people’s attitudes?
HG: I think the discipline we received was important. That’s why I kept my children in parochial grammar school. They got discipline.
NB: Now the course offerings at the high school – did they offer art and music or did those come later?
HG: They were always there. And they had a very fine program in all those areas. The art dept. did beautiful work. The music department, having lived with music all my life, I knew what was only mediocre until Mr. Herr came and he turned that whole program around.
NB: You have lived here so many years. There must have been great changes. You live quite close to both Northbrook and Glenview. There must have been many changes in both towns. Did you do most of your shopping in Northbrook or Glenview?
HG: I did all of my shopping in Northbrook at Melzers and Melzers was a delight.
NB: Tell us about Melzers.
HG: They had an old fashioned grocery store to begin with with a big oak desk. There was also a hardware store. It was a family business. I think some of them lived upstairs. Helen was wonderful to me. She knew I had a large family. When the new crop came in she would tell me it was time to order my winter supplies of fruits and vegetables and she would sell it to me by the case. She would take a small profit but not as much as she would have to take if she put it on the shelf.
NB: Helen was Mr. Melzer’s wife?
HG: No, Helen Melzer was not married. There was Helen, Ray, Dorothy was Ray’s wife, Wally, Bill. Bill was an attorney. Wally ran the hardware store. I hope I didn’t miss any of them. They were wonderful to me.
NB: Where was Melzer’s store?
HG: It was on the triangle.
NB: I don’t know what the triangle is.
HG: As you come into town, Walters comes into Shermer. It used to be that Shermer went around to Walters and also went south, but they closed that off but the triangle has been there since I moved here. Every Christmas they had a crèche but then there was an element that objected to a crèche. I was very proud of a young man who wrote to the Northbrook STAR and said, why can’t we just have all religions represented, why have this arguing? I agreed with him wholeheartedly.
NB: Was Melzer’s only in Northbrook or did they have stores in other towns?
HG: It was only in Northbrook and they had the hardware next door. An interesting thing that happened – I was stuck at home with the children who were sick. I called Helen to get a delivery of groceries. I asked if by the way she might have a spare spool of black thread as I had some mending to do. She said no problem, she would go across the street to Landwehr’s – where there is now a big huge office building. The Landwehr name is a very old name in the community. Helen would run across the street and get me the spool of thread and charge it on my bill.
NB: You don’t get that kind of service today.
HG: The Landwehrs had the finest Vale Lace, even finer than Marshall Fields. There again it was a family owned business. The Pfingstens, the Landwhers, the Melzers, the Happs were all settlers of this area. You should look around and see if you can find any of those names.
NB: What happened to Melzer’s grocery and hardware store?
HG: That is another funny story. I went on Saturday and I couldn’t find any almond extract and I asked Helen to order some. I went on Tuesday – no almond extract. I came home and I said Melzers is closing. The family said – why do you say that? I said that if I told Helen I needed almond extract on Saturday it was in the store on Tuesday so that’s what happened.
NB: Did other stores come in and take the business?
HG: We used to have National and A&P and they took some of the business and they left and Jewel came in and Sunset and Melzer’s couldn’t compete. The sad part is they had the finest meat. When they closed John the butcher asked how I would like to buy two beef tenderloins at $2/pound? I said I would take them. John said he would trim them and freezer wrap them for me. I put them in the freezer, forgot them – a year later I took them out and not knowing if they would be good or not, I cooked them up when the children were coming home but to be on the safe side I also cooked a roast. The tenderloins seemed okay so I served them. The children said that if they didn’t know Melzer’s was out of business they would say this was Melzer’s meat. You could not compare anything with their meat.
NB: And at $2/pound.
HG: Well, he wanted to get rid of them. But he would also say when I would go in on a Saturday and he would say I am a little top-heavy on pork chops or something that he would give them to me at a reduced price because he didn’t want to hold them over the weekend.
NB: You have certainly told us some interesting stories. Is there something you would like to add before we conclude our interview?
HG: I would have to think on that.
NB: Any stories about the life here on the farm or in general about the area. You have lived here a long time and it seems you have had a wonderful life here.
HG I have had a wonderful life here and my children had a wonderful life. I don’t know whether I said before but on weekends I always knew where my children were because all the kids were in my yard. The teenage years were very good because they were where I knew they were.
NB: That does make a difference.
HG: It does make a difference – a lot of peace of mind.
NB: We thank you so much for participating in Northbrook Voices. I have enjoyed talking to you very much. I think we could continue this interview all day long and you would have more interesting things to tell us about this history of Northbrook. Your stories and comments add a personal and unique perspective about the history of our Village and we appreciate it very much. Thank you.
HG: Thank you very much.