Recorded on October 12, 2012. Length: 32 Minutes.
Judy: Today is Friday, October 12, 2012. Good afternoon and welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history program sponsored jointly the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. My name is Judy Hughes and I am happy to welcome Jim Hoover who has lived and worked in Northbrook since 1954. Jim, we are so glad to have you here. First, I would like to ask you what brought your parents to Northbrook as you were a young boy when they moved here?
Jim: In 1950 when we lived in Glenview and I went to kindergarten my dad worked for Illinois Bell as an engineer. He was offered a job with AT&T in New York. He was transferred and we spent four years on the east coast living in Radburn, New Jersey. After that dad wanted to return to the Midwest where his brothers lived and my grandfather Hoover was getting sick. My mother’s parents lived in Evanston and dad thought it would be better if we moved back so he accepted a job with Illinois Bell. He looked at returning to Glenview where he had built our first house just off of Wagner Road but that didn’t work. He looked at a subdivision in Northbrook just off of Lee Road built by Jacobs and he picked the third house on the right as you would start up the hill. That summer we moved back to Illinois and to Northbrook.
Judy: And you have been here ever since.
Jim: Yes, I have.
Judy: Tell me what Northbrook was like when you moved here.
Jim: Well, it was very fascinating because basically we had the forest preserve just across Lee Road with all kinds of forest and fields to play in. I had functional activities such as Little League which we signed up for as soon as we could figure out where to do so. We took a trip to the library which was small at that time. We also made trips to the shopping center downtown and to places like Melzers. For me as a train lover the railroad crossing and train station were fascinating. Basically, a lot of things were going on. They were talking about building a high school which my mom as a teacher was excited about. My uncle Bruce was thinking about moving back to Northbrook with my cousin Susie. They were living in Glenview and moved to Northbrook on Blackthorn so Uncle Bruce was around. My Uncle Woody with my cousin Woody who is five days younger than me were in Wauconda so we were reunited. My dad’s sister Sis lived in Evanston so we had family in the area and celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving together. Compared to the four years in the East this was a real change.
Judy: You mentioned the library and said it was small. Where was that library?
Jim: What I can remember is the building on the corner of Shermer and Church was under construction and that is the library I remember going to. I’m not sure if we went to another location. Even the shopping along Shermer before you got to the railroad was interesting. Bakeries and my favorite place was the toy store Fun for All run by Mr. Barkley whose son was in my class. Little League was fascinating to me because my coach was George Rennicks who turned out to be an NFL official. Mr. Rennicks had young sons one of which I observed at high school. Everything that went on here seemed to interconnect somehow.
Judy: Where did you go to school?
Jim: Dad put us in the ’54 Buick and drove me to Crestwood which was off Waukegan Road. We went all around Crestwood including the cinder track. We looked in the windows and saw that they had a wood shop and dad told us this was where we would be going to school. I think my brother about that point was ready to start kindergarten or first grade but I am not sure he went to Crestwood. He may have gone to Meadowbrook.
Judy: You mentioned living near the forest preserve. Tell me what you did when you played there.
Jim: Well, dad was a great hiker and we would go off on walks. My mother and brother didn’t join us. I was always dad’s buddy so we would go off and take walks to what was known as Black Bridge, the Chicago & Northwestern metal railroad bridge across the North Branch of the Chicago River in the Skokie Blvd. and Lee Road area. We would go there and watch trains. There were still steam locomotives chugging up and down the tracks. For me any opportunity to go back into the woods was exciting. The forest preserve also maintained some terrific trails about 8-10 feet wide with branches trimmed back so the horseback riders would not be injured. There were jumps periodically placed so that those wanting to jump a horse could go over a 3-4 foot high section of fence that was set there. It was fascinating when you would come across riders. Appleton’s had their horse barn on Grant Road before Voltz Road. You would often see people out riding in attire I thought was pretty spiffy. I didn’t know why they had to dress up to go horseback riding. Later I would learn when dad would take me on rides that a lot of people dressed that way when they rode in Northbrook. Compared to the trails in the forest preserve today, these were very different. They were cinder and well maintained. You would often see workers in trimming them up and taking good care of the forest preserve. As years would go by, dad was always military functional and when they decided to bring the cornerstone of the old armory out from the city, we went across and were at the ceremony. Anytime they would have a military group in there, he was always there. He was always talking about his comrades in the war.
Judy: For those who don’t know, where is that cornerstone located?
Jim: It is in the field at the corner of Grant and Lee. Dad said they should never have named the road Ridge but should have named it Appomattox because Lee and Grant met at Appomattox Courthouse.
Judy: You said your dad took you riding. Did you have your own horse?
Jim: No. Dad decided in about 56 or 57 that I was big enough to stay on a horse by myself. We got in the car and drove up to Lake-Cook and Lee and went to a stable just south of Lake-Cook.. We inquired about renting horses to ride. We got two horses and dad was given an idea of the trails there. As I recall, the Tollway Spur was under construction at that time. We went under the Tollway by the river and proceeded on the trails to make almost a loop going toward Waukegan and then back to Lee Road and Dundee. We got off the horses and walked them across Dundee and then across Shermer Road. There was a jump right there at Lee & Shermer. We proceeded on the trails and came out through the field by our house at Grant and Lee. We went through the field and ended up in our front yard on Ridge Road where we have home movies a couple of times of the trip. We got back on the horses went down Grant Road to the corner by the railroad bridge; went underneath the bridge all the way over to the corner of Voltz Road and then to Dundee Road where we walked the horses across Dundee, then got back on and went back to the stable. We did this numerous times and I learned to ride a horse and hold the reins military style.
Judy: As you grew up here in town, tell me a little bit about what it was like for a boy in this town and about your friends.
Jim: Oh, my friends were fantastic. We bonded very, very quickly. One of my friends was Mike Mastrogany who lived on Shermer. Mike’s dad was Gus. He and Mike’s mom were great people. Gus asked me one time if I would like to go to a football game because he knew I liked football. Come to find out, Gus Mastrogany played for the Chicago Bears out of the University of Iowa. So Mike and I had a fantastic time. We went to see Bears v. Colts. Johnny Unitas was the quarterback. Just phenomenal. Went also another time with John Killum. He was one of my buddies who lived in Northbrook East so I would hike through the woods and across the stream to go to visit John. There was no fear most days of going into the woods. I went to school and had friends like Kenny Holms on Timber Lane, Fred Schroeder who lived on Shermer. I got into the news business delivering newspapers. Northbrook was just one great experience.
Judy: How was it delivering newspapers?
Jim: It was different. First of all, when we got home from school the big pile of newspapers would be out on the street.
Judy: So you were delivering the afternoon paper, not the morning paper?
Jim: hat’s right. I would take the papers into the garage where dad had a chair for me. I would sit and roll the papers and band them. I delivered the Chicago American and the Daily News. Later I also delivered the Tribune. I had a big bag that they gave me which I put over my shoulder. I delivered the papers to my area on Ridge Road, then to Lee Road and down Walters. There I went driveway to driveway. I always tried to toss the paper as close to the front porch as I could. My first complaint was from a guy named Elmer Turner. Elmer Turner was on the radio. He came out and said – “Young man, if you are going to do this news business, you better get it right.” So I apologized, as the paper was 3 feet off his porch. I never missed his porch after that. I was always impressed that when you rolled and banded the paper, your hands would be totally black.
Judy: After you finished Crestwood, did you go on to Glenbrook?
Jim: Let me tell you a story about Crestwood first. One day I was being conned by some friends. I went out on the fire escape which was a big No-No. The teacher came and got me and sent me to the principal’s office. There was a very tall, thin man there. He took one look at me, crossed his arms and said – “Mr. Hoover, we need to talk” whereupon we left his office went across the hall. Dr. Harvey had a room that was underneath the staircase. He said we are going into my room. There was a small desk and a chair. He put his back against one wall and his feet against the other. In this chamber, he very calmly told me that what I did was no longer acceptable and that as a youth I would do it the correct way or I would be in more trouble. He made his point. The way he did it, he moved you to think his way.
Judy: Ok – Dr. Harvey was setting you on the road to doing things the right way. Tell me about your experiences at Glenbrook.
Jim: It was kind of an interesting experience. All the freshmen went a day early. I knew some of those who came from Glenview as I had gone to kindergarten with them. I was amazed that some of them remembered me. That made it fascinating. We all bonded as a student body – no anti-Glenview or anti-Northbrook feeling at all. We had freshman initiation day where we had to wear diapers and bibs and carry a sign that said – “I’m Baby Jim.” We had to polish the seniors’ shoes and sing the fight song. We all made it through. We were the only class to win the “ugly man” contest for four straight years. I knew them all.
Judy: What was the Ugly Man Contest?
Jim: That was where you voted a guy in – it had nothing to do with being ugly – you voted with pennies and other coins, and ironically we won four years in a row along with all the other things that went on, choosing your member to the homecoming, etc. I played football so high school meant more to me.
As a freshman I had a interesting experience. I went to summer school between my freshman and sophomore year. I had played some as a freshman but had been hurt some so didn’t exactly have a star season. I was offered a job to work in the concession stand. We would sell soda in cups. The person in charge was Walt Sherman and he was watching me and I don’t know whether I was lethargic or what. There are some people in the world who care and they do something about it. He said to me – “Mr. Hoover, why are your shoes untied? If you are going to play football for me you are going to dress, stand straight and look like a man.” I was stunned and I guess I wasn’t a very good student. His statement made me decide to be a better student and I wanted to play on his team. Mr. Sherman, like others, did a remarkable job of shaping youth – you just can’t say enough about them. This was a varsity coach taking time to say something to a sophomore because he had seen something in me when I was playing as a freshman. By investing a few minutes to try encourage me to change, he did change me.
Judy: And after high school, what did you do?
Jim: Well, high school ended up, somehow I graduated. I was offered a chance to go to Yankton College in Yankton, South Dakota, and was accepted. Along came a football coach who was from the Univ. of Tulsa. Univ. of Tulsa had some kind of a screwup in their recruitment and did not get enough freshmen for their program so this fella came in (believe it or not he had played in the college all-star game), I can’t recall his name, and he talked to my mom and dad who weren’t pleased about me going to college to play football. But I changed my mind about Yankton College and accepted a scholarship to play football at Univ. of Tulsa. I reported to Oklahoma in mid-August where the field was dust. I never forget all the 66 freshmen who had been recruited from everywhere – Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois. As my parents stood on the edge of the field the varsity was finishing practice and decided to run sprints. As they ran the dust on the field got thicker and thicker. I could see the tear in my mother’s eyes. Finally one of the guys passed out and my mother started being a mother. She tried to get around the fence to help the boy. The coach said – “No lady, you just leave him lay, he’s fine. When he feels better, he’ll get up.” My mother now really had tears. My dad was trying to tell her to let it be.
Judy: Jim, we’re getting near the end already and you have lots more to tell us. Did you graduate from there?
Jim: No, I spent one year and that was enough. I saw my friends hurt. They did things like fire a pistol during spring football and you kept hitting each other until they fired the pistol again. My friend from Barrington broke his leg. Chuck from Niles who was a novice Golden Gloves champion also got hurt.
Judy: That was enough. I know you spent some time in the Navy and after the Navy you came back to Northbrook?
Jim: Yes. I spent almost two years aboard the USS Orion, a sub tender out of Norfolk, VA, and came back home to work for Illinois Bell. They went on strike soon after I got home. Milt Lemke and I were paid on call firemen and he asked me if I would go take the fire department test. I passed and ended up #3 on the list. A week or so later the picket line went up at Illinois Bell. I went over to the fire station and accepted a job as full time fireman in July of 1971. From there until July 2005, I was a full time fireman. I was in the 2nd paramedic class out of Highland Park Hospital. Never a boring moment. My dad was upset because he worked for the phone company and couldn’t believe I would leave. I took a pay cut, had a new baby. My wife thought I was crazy too.
Judy: I don’t want to leave out your family. Tell me a little about them and then we will go back to the fire department.
Jim: I married my wife Carol in 1967. I met her through a friend of mine Joe Bianchi who knew her through his church. Our first date was at Riverview. We have been married ever since and have four children. Our oldest daughter Wendy lives in Cary, Illinois. She has two daughters. My daughter Christie is expecting a child, her second. She is married to Christian and they are both Chicago firefighter/paramedics. My daughter Carrie is married to a major in the U.S. Army, Drew, and they live at Fort Campbell, KY, at this time. Jamie, our son, graduated from Wittenburg. He met a girl from Glenview, Katie, and they married. They have a daughter, Hannah. Katie is a teacher at Glenbrook South and Jamie teaches history at Glenbrook North.
Judy: So it is full circle. Tell me what the firefighters used to tell you about the area around Cedar Lane.
Jim: Oh, with the lodestone. I have to compliment Bernie Schmidt. He was a Lieutenant when I went on the department. He was a very good guy, mentor, a guy who would stop you and make you think. Bernie was also a private linesman who did basically the same thing as the Edison linemen. One time Louis was there with Bernie and along came Tom Small who lived on Cherry Lane. They were talking about the numerous lightning strikes in the “downtown area.” Now they considered that part of downtown included the area of Greenbriar School, Center Street and the Village Hall where there were lightning strikes. They said it was because of the lodestone in the ground. And we did go on numerous calls for lightning strikes that would do all kinds of crazy things – hit a house, jump into the wires, go underground and blow a TV out across the street. We would be on one side of the street and someone on the other side would ask us to come and check out something. Bernie would say – “See I told you.” I don’t know how they discovered it or it came about so we would call it the lodestone area.
Judy: Jim, 30 minutes has gone by. Can you believe it?
Jim: Yes, I can.
Judy: Is there anything else you would like listeners to know about your life here in Northbrook?
Jim: I think I had the opportunity when I came to the Village to see two people besides Bernie who did not get the recognition they deserved. First, Bob Wiedaw, picked to negotiate the first contract with the firefighters. I was in a meeting and we were in a meeting to consider what had been said at a previous meeting. Naz Demonica said – “No, Mr. Weidaw, that is not what was said.” Mr. Weidaw, known to us as the “Great White Father,” said – “If Naz Demonica says that is what was said, that is what was said.” I always respected Mr. Weidaw. Another man whose leadership was undervalued was Augie Bennett, the nicest guy in the world. He was stepped on by others because he was such a nice guy. Then a fellow, Judy, that I had a hard time with when he came was Jay Reardon. He and I locked horns. I was upset because I thought Dan Bonkowski had the job and then they hired Jay. I didn’t think it was fair and we didn’t hit it off. When he made the first captains, I was not selected. It took six months and when he selected one more captain, I got it. Jay Reardon brought me back to life and made me learn that what you do and what you say is important throughout life. To this day I think Jay Reardon is a great guy. I would go to the nth for him. Those are three names along with many, many others I haven’t time to mention.
Judy: There is so much more you could tell us. We could go on for an hour or more. Jim, thank you so much for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook will had a unique and personal perspective about the history of our village.