Recorded on February 6, 2015. Length: 30 Minutes.
JH: 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 Judy Hughes and I am pleased to welcome Pat Crown, who has lived and worked in Northbrook most of his life. I think he was 3 years old, he told me, when he first moved here. Pat, welcome.
PC: Thank you.
JH: When you first moved here, you moved here with your mom and dad and your siblings.
JH: What part of town did you move? Where did your parents settle in Northbrook?
PC: We were in Walters, down near Sanders. South side of the road, it was, at that time it was unincorporated Northbrook. They chose a house right in the corner of Cumberland and Walters. That’s the house I spent my whole childhood in, my whole upbringing in.
JH: Do you know what brought them to Northbrook?
PC: If I remember correctly, my dad was a roofer in the city, he worked for the Park District. I believe he got a job with a company, they had many houses to roof up here, because it was a booming area. He didn’t want to travel everyday. So, they came up in this area and they found the house in Northbrook and bought it, settled here. He worked for, I think the name was Kimbrel Roofing, I think that’s the name of the company he worked for. Then my dad opened up his own company, so roofing company.
JH: What was the name of that company?
PC: It was BJ Crown and Sons roofing.
JH: And the and sons, did he have a few sons?
PC: Yes, there were ten kids: five boys, five girls and two sets of twins.
JH: Oh my goodness. Where do you fall in that group of…?
PC: I am number seven.
JH: Number seven.
PC: No, eight, I am sorry, eight. My twin brother, Mike, he was seven. I am eight and I’ve a younger brother and sister.
JH: Okay. What was it like growing up in a household with all of those kids?
PC: Wellwe can have our own baseball team, it was fun. There were two groups of our family, there were the older kids and the younger kids, which I was part of the younger ones. I was part of what was known in our family as the four little ones: My twin brother, Mike, myself, John, and Theresa, we were the four little ones. As we grew up, we played mostly with ourselves and my older brothers and sisters had their own friends and played with themselves. It was almost like two different sections of family but when we were in the house together, it was a great feeling. We just all got along, it was just a really good feeling growing up.
JH: How many bedrooms were in your house?
PC: We had a small house. We had- My parents bought a ranch, two bedrooms, one bath, ranch. Most of my childhood, my parents slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room. What my dad did, he made himself four triple bunk beds, so there were two on each. There were the five boys in one room, five girls in the other room and the extra bunk was if we had a friend sleepover, that’s where they slept. My parents slept on the hide-a-bed in the living room.
JH: How many bathrooms in that house?
JH: One with all those people.
PC: Just one.
JH: That in today’s world, where every bedroom has a bathroom or one very close, that’s hard for people to wrap their head around.
PC: It worked. We lived with it, we dealt with it. That’s all we had.
JH: Now you said, where you lived was unincorporated, was it wide open spaces for you growing up?
PC: Yeahwe had a pretty good sized yard. Piece of property where my parents’ house was, I think it was about two thirds of an acre. Somewhere between two thirds of an acre and not quite three quarters, but it was a big yard. A lot of our neighbors had yards like that and we probably were close to everybody within about three, four, five house radius then had kids our age. We just collective and we all of us, our whole childhood we just stuck together. We still are friends today in adulthood.
JH: That’s wonderful.
PC: We still talk in Internet, we invite each other to parties, we talk on Facebook.
JH: That’s great. There are a lot of houses there now.
JH: Were there that many houses when you first moved there?
JH: In your first memories of the area?
PC: No, there were no houses on the north side of Walters, all the way up to Dundee. We had an Irish Setter when I was little. All us kids used to put the collar, the chain on him, we would be able to walk him from our house, all the way up to Dundee through the fields, turn around and come back. From our front porch, we had this, I don’t know, they are not columns but they were- They looked like columns, and my dad used to string two hammocks there in the summer because we loved it as kids. He would put us up in there and just sit there for hours, just playing with the neighbor kids. From there, we can count the semis passing on Dundee road.
JH: Oh my goodness.
PC: I remember that as a kid.
JH: Oh my goodness.
PC: Now it’s all houses.
JH: Do you remember Dundee road at that time?
PC: No. Very, very vaguely but no.
JH: Or even in your early years?
PC: I remember once, I imagine we were about 11 or 12, all the neighbor kids, we all had bikes, we all ride all over the place. We used to go up to, there was probably six or eight or ten of us, we used to go up and sit by the south fence at the Sky Harbor airport and watch the airplanes land and take off. We would sit there for hours because all of us loved watching the planes come in an out. I remember the old A&P at White Plain Shopping Center, that’s where my mom did all her shopping. I lost track of how many times I went in that store with my mom, with all those kids. It was probably hard for her, pushing her shopping cart with four, five kids hanging off, probably begging to buy this and buy that.
JH: Yeah, kids are good at that.
JH: What else do you remember from your early years growing up here?
PC: Well in 1967, the winter storm. My two older brothers who worked for my dad with the roofing company and my dad, the three of them. They took wheelbarrows full of snow and from my back window at the kitchen, they made a ramp all the way out to the backyard. My dad had this ladder from his roofing company, it was called like a chicken ladder, hooks up under the ridge and has this little steps you can climb up. They would bring us one at the time and put us on a toboggan or one of those silver discs and push us down and we go right down into the yard and there was a line, all the neighborhood kids would come and do that. I remember that.
I remember being little and my parents had a Crabapple tree, a really big Crabapple tree in the front yard. Every spring it would turn this beautiful pink color, the entire- It was like a picture, like a postcard. That’s like the one, one of the pieces of our house that I always remember because my parents loved that tree because it was just perfectly round, it was pink and it was beautiful all summer long. Our house went under many transformations, my dad remodeled it two or three times. Eventually, they got their own bedroom. He remodeled the house and he closed the garage off. Gutted that whole western end of the house turned it into an office for himself and a master bedroom, but he never put a second bathroom. But at that time, he didn’t really have to because a lot of my older brothers and sisters had moved out already.
JH: Besides the roofing company, did your father have another interest in town?
PC: Yes, when he moved into town, he talked to some of the neighbors and a couple of neighbors were volunteer firefighters. They talked my dad into joining, so he did. I think it was around 1968 or ‘69 and after 29 years in the department as a volunteer firefighter, he retired. That’s how my love for the fire service started because of him and that’s how I ended up having an incredible career with the Northbrook Fire Department. I was actually on 29 years also when I retired two years ago.
JH: You’re still involved in a different kind of way with the fire department.
PC: Right, I retired from the fire department and shortly after I retired I applied for a position at the dispatch center for the fire department and I got a job there. I’ve been there almost two years now, working as a full time 911 dispatcher which is another aspect of the fire service.
JH: Okay, let’s talk- We’ll talk about the fire service in a minute, but let’s talk about school, where’d you go to school?
PC: The Leisure Center for the Park District was our grade school which was Indian Ridge, I went there kindergarten through 5th grade. I remember my brother Mike and I, I believe we were on the same classes in kindergarten and first grade, I think even in the second grade, but I believe by 3rd grade they separated us and I remember the two of us crying because we didn’t want to be apart from each other. That was tough. I remember that. I remember my mom talking to us about separating us in class. We went to Indian Ridge school and then I went to Wood Oaks. Wood Oaks is open, my sister Alison was a year and a half older than us, I think, a year older. She was the first graduating class, I believe she had opened it and she went to the first 8th grade graduation, that was her class from Wood Oaks. We went to Wood Oaks then we went over to Glenbrook North.
JH: Anything special about, a memory of any of those school years?
PC: Let’s see.
JH: Not an important question.
JH: Okay, Pat.
PC: I remember the first time I was ever on a school bus. My mom used to take us to school but we started taking the bus. My twin brother Mike and I were at the end of the driveway when the bus pulled up. My brother Mike didn’t want to get on the bus, he started crying. I am already on the bus, I was a little excited but then I did not know why he was crying and I thought something was wrong so I started crying. Then we got off the bus and I remember my mom trying to coax us unto the bus but we were scared to get on the bus. We eventually got on the bus, but there’s photos of us, that my sister took of us, crying next to the bus when we were trying to get into the bus for the very first day on a bus. I’ve never been on a bus before, so then I got scared because my brother was scared.
JH: Absolutely. As you grew up, did you work as a teenager?
PC: Yes. I got a work permit and my two older sisters worked at Edens Theater. I got a work permit, I believe I was 14, 1977 and I was working there for a couple months right before Star Wars came out. Edens One had a- Building one had this long point that came up and building two was the round building. When Star Wars came out it was at Edens Two. We used to go, there was a hatch on the second floor with a ladder climb up, we used to go under the roof, everybody that worked there. The lines were so long, they would wrap around the building at least two times waiting to get into see Star Wars. That’s how popular that movie was. We had to make so much popcorn in advance of opening, they had this big giant garbage bags because they couldn’t keep, the machines couldn’t keep up. People were buying so fast. The backroom had big things of popcorn and we had made couple of hours earlier just trying to keep up with the sales.
JH: The Edens Theater has been gone for a long time, can you explain people where it was?
PC: Sure. Right now, there’s a shopping center there and on Skokie Boulevard there’s that new McDonald’s it was basically right across the street from there, just north of the bridge were the tollway spur goes over and meets the Edens (I-94). When you go under the bridge there, that was Edens One and then couple hundred feet up was Eden Two and they had that whole piece of property there that backed up to the Route 41 there. Great looking buildings. I remember there working like it was yesterday with my sisters.
JH: How long did you work there?
PC: Probably about a year, maybe a year and a half tops.
JH: Did you have any other jobs as a teenager?
PC: Yes.My neighbor, a couple of doors down, had a travelling catering service, it was called Pancakes a plenty, the owner was Al Bailey. and my brother and I and a bunch of our friends from the neighborhood, we all got jobs there. It was because of that job that I have some really close friendships today, still today I should say. One of the ones that really stands out is a Civic member, I believe Matt Jaeger, I believe he’s a Civic member. Former marine, he’s now a pilot for an airline but I met Matt. That was one of the supervisors and I was just a young kid, he was a few years older and he was rough on us because everything had to be done right. Absolutely love that guy today, we have a good friendship, we don’t get to see each other a lot but we have a great friendship that’s lasted and it all started back from working a part-time job out of high school.
JH: I want to just before we go to the fire department. You mentioned Civic. Tell me about Civic you’ve been involved with Civic for a long time.
PC: Yes. A good friend of mine John Quinn, lifetime member from Northbrook Civic Foundation, he always used to drag me up to the park, when I was young and help set-up with Mike Marzigliano as we all know as Ziggy. I did that for years.
JH: That’s setting up Northbrook Days?
PC: Correct, yes I am sorry, yes. Setting up Northbrook Days. Did that for years. Finally one day, John just put an application in my hand. I looked at him, “What’s this?” He was like, “You need to join Civic now, you’ve been doing this for so long.” I filled it out and was accepted as member and I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve been involved but I am a lifetime member, which takes 20 years, 20 year membership and then you become a lifetime member. I about could involve with Civic for 35 years, but an official member maybe 25 years? Great experiences, great friendships have been made from there. What they do, I just like what they do, they raise money, they give it to good organizations and clubs and groups in town that need that money to help other people. It’s just a good feeling, it’s a good organization to belong to. I truly believe they do really good things for Northbrook.
JH: They definitely do. You mentioned John Quinn bringing you up to downtown Northbrook, to the brook. What else do you remember about downtown Northbrook?
PC: When I was a kid, I came up to the baseball league there, playing little league and pony league. I thought I would play that in high school but I never did. I remember, I believe it was the VFW, I believe at Pfingsten and Dundee, Pfingsten and Walters-
JH: American Legion.
PC: American Legion, I apologize, American Legion, the carnival. In Northbrook we were lucky as kids because we got two carnivals we got one by the American League, American Legion, I’m sorry, then the one from the Civic. I just remember playing ball there in the ball diamond as a kid.
JH: You mentioned something about a triangle.
PC: Yes. You would probably have to be my age or close to it and older to remember the triangle in town. Anytime, anybody in Northbrook mentioned the triangle, your thought went right to Shermer and Walters, I wish that was here today because that is Northbrook. That little piece of triangle, little of piece of land there, this triangle is Northbrook. It was right by the Hardware Store, it used to be there by the tracks and used to come down Shermer, going south of Shermer and you could peel off and go, without stopping go right under Walters or go on Shermer, stop at the stop sign and then continue on Shermer and Walters met there. I just remember that with that big Evergreen tree in there and it was decorated for the holidays. That is a great piece of memory for me as far as downtown Northbrook, because it’s not there anymore. I’ll always remember that little piece of land.
JH: It was very interesting because the road split and the state changed it, I guess, because they felt it wasn’t necessary but it was also was that you may have run into the fire department. Shermer Road and Shermer Avenue, do you remember that at all?
PC: No, that I don’t remember.
JH: Okay, because it was Shermer Road from the triangle, south and it was Shermer Avenue from the triangle- from the railroad tracks, north going towards Waukegan, East going that way where it turns east to Dundee and that was all Shermer Avenue. They had the same addresses, which must have made it very difficult for the fire department.
PC: It had to be.
JH: Let’s talk about the fire department and your years at the fire department.
PC: I started testing for the fire department right out of high school. I got hired by Glencoe Public Safety, they do police and fire over there, the same position. As I was going through my hiring physical and the steps to get hired there, that’s when I got the phone call from Northbrook, that’s where my dad was, that’s where I wanted to be. I said thank you to Glencoe and ended up getting hired by Northbrook. It was the best time of my life to be able to work on calls, to go out on calls with my dad. I had so much fun just being with him on calls, it was sad the day he retired because that meant I couldn’t go on any more calls with him. It was because of him, because I used to see the way that changed him when I was growing up. It changed him in a good way to want to do that job. It’s hard to explain, it’s like a calling but he just got so much joy out of it and I saw it and that’s what I wanted to do. That’s the only thing I ever want to do in my life, I never want to do anything else. I got hired, I spent my whole adult working years there, I was promoted up to the ranks to Lieutenant, to Captain, to District Chief, retired as a District Chief. 29 and a half years there, I had 26 years full time and I worked as a paid-on call, slash volunteer firefighter when I was young for about three and a half years. My total time was about 29 and a half years, which I really never thought about until I retired and the thought about my dad there. He was just over 29 years in total.
JH: Do you have any special memories of fires or people in the fire department?
PC: Yes. Unfortunately, I was working the day that Wayne Luecht was killed, I should say injured. He died 10 days later but I was on the truck company, bad storm in town. We went to Northbrook Court for a call and we got turned around because they didn’t need us. We were back in the station. Pulled the truck into the station and we got called out again right back to Northbrook Court. We went back to Northbrook Court and the storm was just getting really bad, thunderstorm. There was a lot of yelling, talking and a lot of radio traffic that we could hear and we couldn’t make sense of it. We got to Northbrook Court and we heard that there was an explosion inside Neiman Marcus. We didn’t know how many people were hurt, we didn’t know what was going on in there but we were just given our assignments to bring equipment in from the south side. My lieutenant, Jim Lee, we grabbed our equipment, he was our lieutenant, we came into the south doors and we were making our way north. It was pitch black in there. Because the power was out. Through the stream of the flashlights that were being waved all over the place, we could see there were fire crews pulling people out through the east door. It was later on in the call, that we realized Wayne had been hurt during this explosion. 10 days later he passed away from his injuries. That’s probably one of the most difficult call that we ever experienced. As a member of the fire department, you can ask anybody there. I am a self-appointed historian for the fire department. I didn’t want anybody to lose the history of the fire department. What I did was, I started contacting everybody that I knew that was ever involved. Asked them for photos, newspaper clippings, stories, anything and I would scan it in and put it on a hard drive, the fire department bought me a hard drive, external one. I put everything there, just thousands of photos and everything. Anything you could imagine I would scan it in, you would get your original back, but I would have a copy of it then. I created a notebook that had all of the history from Wayne’s injury. Every time there was something else about Wayne from that day forward, I would add it. I made copies for anybody that wanted it, there were dozens of copies out there. As a officer on the fire department, I made sure that I gave a copy to every new employee. My conversation to them was, “I don’t expect you to memorize this. I don’t expect you to recite pages out of here or dates or anything like that. All I ask is that, break the seal, look at it, just try to get the feeling of who Wayne was because this book kind of tells his life and what kind of a person he was, not just in his death but when he was alive. When you feel it’s necessary you can give me the notebook back.” Sometimes I would get it back, two or three months later other times I would get it back in the mail a year later. I just wanted guys to remember, I always wanted people to remember Wayne because they don’t know Wayne, but I did. He was a friend, he wasn’t a great friend to me, we didn’t go out hanging out with families and dinners but he was a friend. And I cherish that.
JH: That incident and Wayne’s death, brought, as I remember, a logo or a slogan about the fire department family.
JH: I think the whole story- tells a story of the fire department because they are really, they work together 24 hours. They are really a family.
PC: It’s just like everybody… You hear a comment about our second family and I worked for 24 hours and then I was off for 48 hours. I was on duty for one day and off for two days. For a third of my life, for just over 26 years, that was my family for 24 hours. Everything that happened to us… If something happened to one of us, it happened to all of us. It is, it’s truly a second family, the fire service.
JH: And am I correct? Wayne’s son is now on the fire department?
PC: Yes, he is. I can’t remember, he’s been on probably 5 years now, 6 years. Steve is… There’s times when… Because he worked on my shift, there were times when I just looked over, glanced at him and all I saw was Wayne. He would just smile because he knew because I’ve told him that before. When I do that, when I have this weird look on my face, he just smiles at me because he knows what I am thinking. Probably one of the best things that ever happened to me as District Chief with all the new people that came in was getting him on my shift. I felt proud to have him on my shift.
JH: Well, let’s… We’re about ready to wrap up, so let’s talk a little bit about dispatching.
JH: And that kind of- What kind of a job is that? Stressful?
PC: It’s tough. It’s a lot tougher than I thought. The organization that does the dispatching, we dispatch for 16 communities now.
JH: And its housed here in Northbrook.
PC: The center is here in Northbrook and not only do they do the dispatching for these 16 communities but we have mutual agreements with a lot of surrounding towns. On top of all, managing all those resources, our center is in charge of state resources through MABAS which is the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System in the state. If a disaster is declared by them, by the governor, our office manages all the fire service resources in the state. Then, what we do is we just branch out to all the other centers in the state and we get the needed resources for whatever community has been struck. Our job is to maintain that and manage all those resources while that disaster is going on, while we are still doing day-to-day operations for the other 16 communities. It’s quite a task. All the information that these people need to know and now I am one of them, it’s overwhelming. I never understood what a critical role our dispatch center was until I became one.
JH: Yeah, they are the people who get the fire department there to help you.
PC: Yes, yes.
JH: Well, Pat, I thank you so very much for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook will have a unique and personal perspective about the history of our village.
PC: Thank you for inviting me.