Recorded on September 13, 2013. Length: 30 Minutes.
DG: Today is Friday, September 13, 2013. Good morning and welcome to Northbrook voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Public Library. My name is Donna Lee Gulley, and I am so pleased to welcome Linda Blessing Hapner, who has lived in Northbrook as both a child and as an adult, and has very fond memories to share with us. Welcome Linda.
LH: Thank you – happy to be here.
DG: I’m so glad you are here and that we’re going to get to hear two reflections as a child and as an adult. Northbrook must be a very special place for you to come back.
LH: Very much so, I was happy we were able to move back here.
DG: Good enough. The first time you moved here, how old were you?
LH: It was in the 4th grade, I think I was 7 or 8 years old. My father moved here in 1951, and as he tells it, he lived in Chicago and he just drove north as far as he could and he ended up in Northbrook. So he bought a house, and my grandfather told him he was nuts to move so far from the city. But he bought a house on Ferndale and he and his wife at that time had a baby, who is my step-brother Larry. That marriage didn’t last, and he ended up with Larry as a single parent. In about 1957, he met my mother, and we became a blended family.
DG: Unusual at that time.
LH: hat it was. (chuckle) So it was my mother Betty, my father Ward, my brother Larry and my older brother Don, and myself.
DG: Now Don is your…
LH: My biological brother and Larry is my step-brother and we are only 5-1/2 months apart in age. And my father adopted us, so I have the last name of Blessing. Larry and I were always in the same grade, and everyone always thought we were twins (chuckle).
DG: Of course…
LH: Yeah, with Larry and Linda….and the Baum twins were in our class also….Chuck and Sharon, so everyone always thought that Larry and Linda were also twins. One funny thing, when we were going through confirmation, the church called and said to my mother “Something must be wrong here, we have Linda only 5 months younger than Larry.” My mom replied “No that’s right, Linda just decided to stay in a little longer.” (chuckles) But she used to sign our Christmas cards – Betty & Ward and our 3 little Blessings”.
DG: How cute….that’s wonderful. So, 4th grade, where did you go to school?
LH: Crestwood. I was in Crestwood and it was really close to our house on Ferndale, so walk-able. And we had the forest preserve right near our house, which was our play place. Nowadays, I don’t think kids would be playing in the forest preserve. But, we would leave in the morning and not come back until dinner time and play in the forest preserve and we would also go over to Crestwood to play on the playground. So, we would walk to school. I enjoyed Crestwood, it was a fun time. I remember collecting fossils in the gravel play yard. I ran the projector in the AV Club, and I remember I had Mr. Olive as a teacher. So, 4th and 5th grade, I was at Crestwood and then I was looking very forward to going to the Junior High, and my parents bought another house on the other side of town. So we moved from Ferndale to the new White Plains area, that is out by Landwehr and Cherry, and we were one of the first residents of the White Plains area – but I had to go to Grove School for 6th, 7th, and 8th grades instead of the Junior High.
DG: Did you make the transition?
LH: Well, I had no choice. A lot of different friends – so I knew friends from both sides of town by the time I got to high school.
DG: So then you reconnected with friends there. And high school was in which building?
LH: Glenbrook North High School, the main building. I haven’t been back there to see what all they have now. At that time, we did have some mobile rooms, so they were probably in the process of expanding. I have fond memories of Glenbrook also. I often wonder if my Mom hadn’t met my Dad, and I grew up in Round Lake, where we were living, and not moved to Northbrook, what kind of education would I have had? I’m very thankful.
DG: Absolutely. So, let’s talk about high school – what did kids wear? What were hair styles like?
LH: (chuckles) Well, I have curly hair, and that was definitely out. Everybody wanted the stick straight Cher looking hair at that point, so, I had another curly head friend, Ann Breitenbach, and she and I would iron each others’ hair.
DG: Iron, like an iron for clothes?
DG: No, no, couldn’t be?
LH: Yes. We used stretch our hair out and put a little pillow case on it, wet it a little so you get that steam going and iron our hair.
DG: With the same kind of iron I use for my clothes?
LH: Yes, if you got a little too close to your scalp, you felt it for a few days. (chuckles) So the straight hair was in, longer hair. I had hair down to the middle of my back. And if I went to a dance or anything, your hair would be pulled up. They must have stuck 50 bobby pins in my hair to keep it in place. As far as fashions, of course that was the mini-skirt time – which I could never pull off. But I remember madras plaid as being very big and triangle scarves, which I never see anyone wearing anymore, but they were always the thing to wear – tied in the back, not under the chin.
DG: So, on your head, not around your neck.
LH: For the people who wanted to hide their curley hair, it was a good way to get it out of your face.
DG: So you could wear it in school?
LH: Oh yeah. I do remember that when the mini-skirts were really popular, the principal would go around with a measuring stick and he would actually send people home when their skirt was too short. Now, I see the kids wearing these Daisy-Mae shorts, and I wonder how they can be in school.
DG: Fashion changes.
LH: That it does.
DG: What kind of music was popular.
LH: Oh, the Beatles, of course. I worked at the Meadow Save Mart in high school and we had a wonderful record department. So I had a really good collection of records and always got them when they first came out. The Beatles were big, The Dave Clark Five – I remember one of my first albums was Roger Miller…but of course, The Beatles. In fact, my friend Ann and I actually got to go down to White Sox Park, Comiskey Park and see The Beatles.
DG: Oh, how lucky!
LH: Yes, it was wonderful. Her Mom took us and we had cameras and binoculars, and they confiscated our cameras when we came in. So we couldn’t get a picture, but it wouldn’t have been a very good picture because we were in the Bob Uecker seats – way far away.
DG: Describe a camera.
LH: Oh, wow. I think my girlfriend had a Polaroid that would shoot it out. I think it was just black and white at that time, and I had an Instamatic which had little cubes on the top that flashed and blinded you for a few minutes. Of course, no zooms. And it was a cartridge that once you got finished with it, you could take it up to Huerbingers to get it developed.
DG: Now you’ve talked about a couple of stores. Let’s go back and identify those, what were they, where were they?
LH: Well, Huerbingers was the drug store at that time that everybody used. It was on the side where Chicken Charlies or something is now. The Country Maid Bakery was over there too. And, then Fashions by Jane, which was a great place to find the in clothes was there…also, a shoe shop. On the other side of the shopping center was Sunset where they have a Chase Bank at this point. Ben Franklins [correction Woolworths] was there and they had a fabulous soda fountain area, and of course all the kids hung out there and bought their candies and everything else there. Next to that where Best Hardware is now was the Meadow Save Mart, which was a discount goods store. Handled everything, beddings, hardware, records. And then, one of my favorite places was where Subway foods is now – it was Ted Gees. That was a hamburger place that had these little juke boxes on the table that you could flip through and play music. I think each song was a dime or something like that at that point. They got me hooked on olive burgers. That was a great place to be and of course…. I can’t remember what was were Walgreens used to be, I don’t remember what was there. The downtown area was the place to be, the place to be seen – kind of like the way the malls are now for kids.
DG: And how would you get there?
LH: Oh, by bicycle. That’s the one constant in my life has been my bicycle. I rode it even when it was looked on as being kind of geeky to ride a bike. But I’ve always enjoyed biking and now that I’m back here as an adult, I bike everywhere. I kind of feel like I’m lowering my environmental footprint with little jaunts to the dentist, to the eye doctor, Walgreens, and the library.
DG: And are you a helmet wearer?
LH: I have to admit that I do not wear a helmet. I was recently on a group bike ride where they required a helmet, so I bought one. I did not really enjoy wearing a helmet.
DG: I think those of us who rode a lot as kids have difficulty with that.
LH: One day I was riding over to Techny Park, and there was a family in front of me and the little boy said to his mom “Mommy, she’s not wearing a helmet”. So I just told him a little white lie that I forgot it.
DG: So that’s a change between being a kid and being an adult. What other changes do you see in Northbrook when you came back here as an adult.
LH: Actually, the character of the town is pretty much the same. Everybody is pretty involved with their churches. I’m happy to see the turn out for events like Shermerfest, Northbrook Days. When I was a kid, we had both Round-Up Days and Northbrook Days. The Round-Up Days were held at the American Legion, which was up on Pfingsten. Northbrook Days, of course has always been at the Village Green. When I go back to Northbrook Days, they’ve got a food court now, they’ve got bands. We didn’t have all that – it was just a few rides, a lot of booths that took your money for throwing baseballs. But it was the place to be and to be seen. I think Northbrook Days caused me to go out to buy a new outfit, get my hair done (chuckle). Later on in high school, of course, I had a steady boyfriend and we went to movies mostly. When I was a senior, I was pretty serious with John Kottmeyer, who was the bankers’ son. His father was the banker at Northbrook Trust and Savings. At that time, I was also working on the Torch at Glenbrook on the paper and I don’t think they knew quite what to do with me, so they made me the movie critic. I’ve got to say I saw hundreds of movies up at the Edens Theater. I wrote about a few of them for the Torch.
DG: Tell us about the Eden Theater.
LH: Oh my, when that was built, it was definitely the most modern theater in the area. It had a nice architecture to it and the seats were nice and roomy and padded. I think they had two theaters at that time, which was big news that you could have two theaters in one building. It was a sad day to see that be torn down.
DG: So in high school, you wrote for the newspaper. Did you write anything besides the movies?
LH: No, they had a lot of very talented journalists. And although I knew I wanted to be a journalist, I don’t think I ever really excelled in high school. But I was also in the shadow of Bonnie Miller Rubin, who you might have seen writes for the Tribune. She was one class ahead of me, but she was the editor and very good. And, so, like I said, I think they just gave me a bone.
DG: You had your niche.
LH: Yes, but I enjoyed it. We took a lot of field trips downtown for journalism conventions, I enjoyed working with them, and I did some work on the Laconian, the year book also.
DG: Any other activities in high school?
LH: The sports – I really enjoyed field hockey, which I wonder if they still play? And gymnastics, I was pretty good at – but, no I didn’t participate in as many activities as I should have.
DG: Well, maybe baby-sitting?
LH: Baby-sitting, a lot. I saw two families, grow from 2 children to 8 children. And when I was very young, one of the neighbors, the O’Connells’ hired me to come over and play with the children, and they just kept having child after child. That was on Ferndale. When I moved to Adirondack, the Psalidas’ hired me, and they had two children when I first started. I always wondered why she hired me to come and play with the kids and feed them lunch, and she’d be in her bedroom reading a book or taking a shower. I never understood that, but of course, now I do. They grew to, I think they ended up with 5 children. I became close to both families and seeing their families grow was very rewarding.
DG: Wonderful. So you finished high school, and then what?
LH: I went to work for Underwriters Laboratories here in Northbrook. I moved up quite a few positions in a number of years when I was working there. I started out in their steno pool of about 30 women and I think there were 5 Linda’s at that time, so I became Linda “B” for my Linda Blessing. After moving around at Underwriters and I was eventually an engineering aide there, I decided to strike out on my own and start my own business. So I started Linda B’s Secretarial Service.
DG: Here in Northbrook?
LH: At that point, I was living in Wheeling. I had gotten an apartment in Wheeling and at that time had five customers – none of them were in Northbrook. But I had one for each day of the week, and I had a computer, a Radio Shack computer that weighed 40 pounds and it had an external bay that weighed another 40 pounds. I would tote that to all five customers homes.
DG: What a change to now a laptop!
LH: When I show people an 8-inch floppy disc that I worked on, they think it is a joke. But my computer at that time had the storage and memory of a calculator now-a-days. And very cumbersome, but I was, I guess I would say on the forefront of the computer industry.
DG: I would say so.
LH: I pretty much self-taught myself and learned quite a bit about computers and programs and had my business for over 30 years.
DG: Wow. It took you away from Northbrook, but something brought you back.
LH: Yes, well, I married Richard Hapner, who is also from Northbrook and he was in my class at Glenbrook, but we didn’t date in high school. He worked at Underwriters and we kind of rediscovered each other, lived together for quite awhile, to his mothers’ dismay. Then we got married and we’ve been married now for 32 years, and his mother passed about 5 years ago – Marty Hapner, Marianne. And she still had the family home here on Lincoln Avenue and so when she passed, we purchased Rics’ brothers’ portion of the house. So now we are living in his family home and we’ve been here for about 5 years now. It’s wonderful being back in Northbrook.
DG: What type of activities are you involved in now that you are back here?
LH: Well, I work at home – even though it’s not my own business, I did take a position with … one of my bigger customers was a publishing company and they were bought out by a big corporation. They did not wish to employ me as a contractor, but they offered me a job. So I went to work for benefits and vacation for the first time in my life. So I work at home a good 40 – 48 hours a week – doesn’t leave a whole lot of time.
DG: I guess not.
LH: But I try to partake in everything I can. Love the farmers market, the Shermerfest is great, the cars, I just love seeing the vintage cars. Of course, the Tuesday concerts in the park – we made almost every single one of them this year. There were a couple that were a little hot that we did not go to. I bike every day over to Techny Park and ride my bike around there. And when I get my husband out to bike, if there is a ball game, we’ll stop and watch the ball game for a little while. He played on the baseball teams. My father was actually an umpire for the baseball at the Village Green. So I would come up to watch him umpire, and flirt with the boys, of course. My husband tells me, although I didn’t know this – that players always used to chuckle when they saw my Dad coming from Cypress Inn before the game. So, he and his buddies would have a few beers and then go over and umpire the game. I didn’t realize that he might have been under the influence.
DG: Now the Cypress Inn….
LH: Is now the Landmark. I don’t recall being in there much as a kid, but apparently, my father was.
DG: So, I remember you saying that the character is pretty much the same now as it was before. How would you describe the character?
LH: It’s a place where even today, I’m not worried about leaving the door unlocked. Everybody is friendly. About the only change today that I see is that there is more diversity in the residents. When I was here, it was lily white and we only had 1 black child in our high school. So, it’s nice to see the diversity and everybody is just so friendly.
DG: So, would you advise people to move here?
LH: Oh, God, yes! If you can afford it, move here. Inheriting half of a house is about the only way we could afford it. I originally didn’t really want to give up…we lived in a condo that was fully paid for, and moving here was going to cause an expense – a mortgage, more expenses than we had at the condo, so I was a little leery about making the jump. But I am very thankful that we did.
DG: Well, a few more memories. Pot-Lucks that your parents had?
LH: Yes, it’s a shame they don’t do that still. I was at a luncheon the other day for one of my neighbors that had passed. And it was all of us neighbors, and even though we live next to each other, we don’t see each other much. So we’re talking about maybe organizing a block party. But the pot-lucks, everybody brought a dish. I believe it was every week, actually. They would just change houses that they would go to. I remember my parents hosting the pot luck parties and what a spread they put out. And of course, we had to come down in our Sunday best and act like perfect children. I remember one time, my mom had ordered cold-cut trays from Jewel and put it in our laundry room and our dog ate half of it. So she just kind of melded is all around and still served it though. (Chuckles)
DG: Another memory – how about the storm of ’67?
LH: Oh, wow – now that was a snow storm! Snow and ice storm. We were on Adirondack at that time, and our family room had a fireplace. We didn’t have electricity for a whole week and so we lived in the family room in sleeping bags – cozy around the fire. My mom would even cook over the fire. Thank goodness we had some camping equipment. But the snow was just amazing. I honestly don’t remember how much we got – but it was a record that is even referred to now. After the snow started to melt a little bit, it froze again, so the streets were just completely ice. We were actually ice skating out in the street. But, yeah, the town was paralyzed. In fact, my father was on his way home and had to park his car on the side of the road and walk the rest of the way because he couldn’t get home.
DG: Weather dictates.
LH: That it does. The car was there when it all melted, but I think at that point, he had trouble with one of the gears in the car and he had to drive home in reverse to get home.
DG: Memories are wonderful. I am so glad you let me interview you today.
LH: I appreciate the opportunity.
DG: Thank you.
LH: Thank you.