Recorded on April 13, 2012. Length: 25 Minutes.
DG: Today is Friday, April 13, 2012. Aren’t we lucky! Good afternoon. Welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. My name is Donna Gulley and I am pleased to welcome Rob Bassler who has lived and worked in Northbrook his entire life. Good afternoon, Rob.
RB: Good afternoon, Donna.
DG: I am so glad you came. I have enjoyed knowing you the past eight years in Rotary and I understand that you have been a Rotarian for over 30 years and been involved in many other community activities.
RB: Yes, that is correct.
DG: So, what would you like to start with telling our listeners today.
RB: First, I would like to say how much I have enjoyed Northbrook over the years. When I was born here it was a very small community.
DG: Do you recall how many people lived here in your boyhood?
RB: I don’t but I remember that pretty much west of Pfingsten was mostly farms. They had Sky Harbor Airport, etc.
DG: Are you willing to tell us when you were born?
RB: I was born in 1953.
DG: That helps to put your comments in perspective since we have interviews with people up into their 90s. How did your family come to move to Northbrook?
RB: My father was a farmer in the Roselle area. The farm was sold so he moved to Northbrook and started his own insurance business with offices in Chicago. He would travel to the city every day. We moved to Northbrook, just north of Dundee Road, and lived on a golf course, right off the 15th tee of Green Acres Country Club.
DG: I suppose that means you are a golfer?
RB: I used to be an avid golfer but now am more of a duffer.
DG: Do I recall you being quite enterprising while living in that location?
RB: My first job was when I was about 6 or 7 years old and I would sell lemonade to the golfers on the 15th tee. That would give me a little bit of spending money and give me fun times to go and play on the golf course. We had a big area by the pool and then an area on the golf course where we could play baseball and other things without disturbing the golfers.
DG: Was this pool on the golf course or was it your family’s pool?
RB: It was my family’s pool.
DG: That must have driven your parents’ crazy at times.
RB: Yes, especially when I rode my bicycle into the pool which I did many times.
DG: I’ve heard stories about how you wore bicycles out. Is that how you did it?
RB: No, I would ride all over town on my bicycle and we would have to replace the bicycles, not just the tires.
DG: Were your parents willing to keep buying you bicycles or did you have to help with that?
RB: They were OK with that as long as I stayed out of trouble, they were fine with that.
DG: How many miles a summer did you put on your bicycle?
RB: I couldn’t really tell you. I used to ride to downtown Northbrook and everywhere in town.
DG: That was a kinder and gentler time where kids could just go out and take off. Kids just don’t get to do that today. Could you tell us a little bit about that time?
RB: Well, our own house – we didn’t even have a key to the house. It was always left open. People didn’t even lock their doors back then. One time we came home from a vacation and saw the chairs all corralled around the fireplace. Someone had come in, made a fire and enjoyed it, but nothing was ever stolen.
DG: Amazing. That’s the flavor of Northbrook I like. I have only been here about 15 years but it is the nicest village I have ever lived in.
RB: Yes, and the people are very nice, very socialable and easy to talk to.
DG: It is people like you who make the community that way so I am glad you are here.
RB: I have enjoyed it and I wanted to move back here so my children could also enjoy it.
DG: And how many children is that?
RB: I have four children and my wife has three children.
DG: So that is seven children you have been responsible for raising?
RB: Well my wife raised hers. It is just that we put seven children through college.
DG: I don’t think I would say “just through college,” as that is a big undertaking. Are they now all adults? Are you a grandfather?
RB: I am a grandfather several times over and it is lots of fun to spend time with the grandchildren.
DG: How many?
RB: I have to count. I have four right now of my own and one more arriving any day and I have two other grandchildren from my wife’s side and will have one more in August.
DG: What an extended family. Do they all live in this area?
RB: Most of them live in the surrounding area, some in Chicago. The only one at a far distance is in D.C.
DG: So at Easter and Christmas, do you have a houseful?
RB: Yes, we had about 20 people at Easter and had a lot of fun. Everyone enjoyed themselves.
DG: The house you live in now – is this the house you were born in?
RB: No. The house I was born in was, as I said, by Green Acres Country Club. It was a farmhouse which was added onto many times by my parents. Then they moved to Northfield. I went to New Trier West and went to Glenbrook North one year. Right out of college I was married and moved back to Northbrook. I have lived in Northbrook ever since in three different houses. The house we are in now, we purchased from my wife’s parents.
DG: Is your wife from Northbrook also?
RB: She is from Northbrook and she graduated from Glenbrook North and was a teacher at Glenbrook North. She has loved the community and loved teaching.
DG: We should also interview her.
DG: Do any of the homes you have lived in have historical significance?
RB: No, I wouldn’t say so. I would say the first house I was raised in was probably the oldest. It was a small house at first which had been added onto. As a matter of fact, our ex-mayor Polock purchased the house from my parents. He lived there for a number of years but it has since been torn down.
DG: I want to go back a number of years and talk about elementary school. You were enterprising, you had a lemonade stand, you wore bicycles out – what was school like?
RB: I went to Crestwood School for elementary school. It was very good for a number of years. My sixth grade year was a little more difficult. Our class was in the cellar and we had bars on the windows. I had a strict teacher and we didn’t get along very well so I got well acquainted with the principal. We did have bars on the windows and you could only see daylight from the very tops of the windows.
DG: It sounds claustrophobic.
RB: It was a small room. Crestwood was Crestwood. It had a very long tenure as a school, starting out as a high school, then becoming an elementary school and now it is Crestwood Place, a number of retirement apartments.
DG: You spent a lot of time getting to know the principal that year. Do I recall you telling me about another principal that was important in your life?
RB: He happened to be the superintendent, Dr. Homer Harvey. I had to watch my p’s and q’s because the Harveys were very good friends with my parents. I knew my parents would find out about anything that I was up to.
DG: Tell me about 7th & 8th grade. Did you have a little reprieve there?
RB: Everything was find in junior high school. I had no issues. I enjoyed it very much. Nothing special to speak about.
DG: What did kids in elementary and junior high school do besides riding bikes?
RB: Well, for the most part we were able to go out and play safely just about anywhere we wanted to go.
DG: Was the Village Green a park at that time?
RB: Yes, that is where I used to go and play baseball. It has been a wonderful park.
DG: Was baseball your main sport?
RB: No, I would say football, hockey and downhill skiing were my favorite sports.
DG: Did your interest in sports help you to choose a college?
RB: Absolutely. I wanted to attend a small school so I could play college ball. I played my freshman year and in the off season, I was able to ski quite a bit. I went to school in Colorado at Western State College. The town was at about 7,600 feet altitude and the stadium was at about 8,000 feet so the oxygen was rather thin.
DG: I’m curious how other teams did playing at that altitude and how your team did at the other elevations.
RB: Other schools came with oxygen tanks and when we went to lower levels, we could just go and go and go. When I came home for Christmas break it would probably be about two days before I would have to get some sleep.
DG: Can you go back and think about the differences in technology, television and what the family did in the evening? Can you compare family life when you were growing up to today?
RB: Well, the one thing was that in our family we always had dinner together. We were all required to be at the dinner table. Sometimes it would be a quick dinner before we left for some activity. We had two meals together, breakfast and dinner.
DG: That seems to be something that is missing today.
RB: Definitely. Sometimes the children are involved in too many activities. I would say that I was involved in things but we just seemed to work it out.
DG: I think that would be good advice to young parents.
DG: Tell me about movies, television, music.
RB: Well, I have one interesting story about a movie. They filmed a movie at our home, the home where I grew up, and they asked me to be in the movie. I was approximately six or seven years old.
DG: Oh, this is when you were enterprising with your lemonade stand.
RB: It involved a group of army men from the fort on Frontage Road in Northbrook which used to be a Nike base. They would come over with their equipment and jeeps and at six or seven years old I learned how to drive a stick-shift jeep and I had a lot of fun with that.
DG: Wow, at six or seven, how big were you?
RB: When I would go play sports, I would usually have to take my birth certificate with me to prove my age because I was the tallest in my class most of the years.
DG: Now, I sometimes have trouble reaching the clutch pedal so I can’t imagine you doing so at the age of six.
RB: I was able to get a lot of driving experience. My parents would have a party each year and my brother and I would valet the cars. They would pull up to the house and we would park the cars about a half block away in the local cemetery and we would bring them back when they were ready to leave the party.
DG: I think in Iowa you can get a learner’s permit at 14 but here in Illinois you need to be 16 or 17 before driving.
DG: Now, let’s think about TV and music.
RB: We had television sets. I don’t think that when growing up we watched nearly the amount of TV that adults and children do today.
DG: Was it color or black and white television?
RB: It was color but we did not have a VCR until when I was in college. There were no computers, no cell phones.
DG: Did you use a typewriter?
RB: I did not.
DG: So, you had someone else type your papers. Now, your business is your family business?
RB: My father started the insurance business and I have now taken over as owner of Bassler & Company insurance. We moved our office in 1981 to Dundee Road. We moved once but are still on Dundee Road about one-half mile from my home. There is very little commuting.
DG: Do you walk or ride your bicycle to the office?
RB: I plan to ride my bike this summer but will not wear it out anymore.
DG: How many employees do you have?
RB: I have three employees and the agency has been in business for almost 70 years.
DG: Wow, that is really something. Are you thinking of something else that you would like to talk about?
RB: I have a couple of interesting stories from my youth that I should probably not tell.
DG: I’m sure the listeners would like to hear them.
RB: As I said, there was a cemetery real close to our home. As little kids we used to play in and around the cemetery. Unfortunately, we would climb the walls at the entrance where they had a cross up on top. My friend and I would climb up there and wave at all the people as they drove in for a burial. My mother was not pleased. Later I would bring her flowers and of course she knew where they were coming from because they had the little green vials to keep the flowers fresh. That was one of my mischievous times.
DG: Do you remember mischievous times with your own children?
RB: Oh, yes. I think every family has those from time to time.
DG: Kids grow up and say they are never going to be like their parents. Did you find that to be true?
RB: Sometimes I would start laughing when I would see what they were doing. I had to turn around and no laugh in front of them. They would do some of things that I thought about.
DG: And your grandkids – do you have fun with them too?
RB: They are so much fun to be able to play with. I just can’t enough time with them.
DG: During your lifetime, can you think of some political events that have been important?
RB: I can remember watching on TV, the day that John F. Kennedy was shot. That was a shock to everyone. It is one event I remember from my childhood.
DG: You are young enough so that you were not involved with the Vietnam War.
RB: I just missed that by a year or two. I was a policeman for a short period of time in Colorado.
DG: You were? Tell us about that.
RB: During my last year of college, I was married and was a fulltime police officer and still going to school. It was quite an interesting first year of marriage. It was very busy but it was a very interesting time. Any psychology course I think I could have taken, I think I learned while being a police officer. It provided quite an education dealing with all types of people.
DG: But you didn’t continue as a police officer when you moved back to Northbrook?
RB: No. One of the main reasons was that I wouldn’t even be able to support my own wife at the salary they were offering. Every policeman in town was eligible for food stamps.
DG: So, when you came back, did you immediately go into the family business?
RB: I came back the middle part of the summer after I had graduated and immediately entered the family business. My father was involved in some other activities, some foundation work so I jumped in with both feet.
DG: How quickly did you get involved with some of the organizations in the community?
RB: It was probably a couple of years. I started looking at the various organizations in Northbrook. I wanted to be involved as I planned on living in Northbrook for quite some time. I decided on the Northbrook Rotary group. It has been an excellent experience. I have gotten to know some really nice people and I have enjoyed my membership.
DG: Are there other organizations you have been involved with?
RB: I have been involved with a local business networking group called LATIP. I’ve been involved with a church, served on their board and was on the District 28 school board for several years. That involved a lot of work but it was interesting and I enjoyed it very much. When my children were almost out of District 28 schools, it was someone else’s turn.
DG: I want to thank you for all of your involvement in the community. Thank you for all the stories you have told us today. Is there a final thing you would like to tell our listeners?
RB: One thing I would definitely suggest is that if you don’t live in Northbrook, you consider this community. It is an excellent community, a very safe community and one of the superior towns in the Northern Illinois area.
DG: What a wonderful personal testimonial. Thank you very much Rob.
RB: Thank you, Donna.