Walter Sherman

Walter Sherman has lived and worked in Northbrook since 1930. Sherman describes his life experiences, which range from his early childhood experiences in Northbrook all the way to his career as a football coach. In-between, he documents the incredible memories of his upbringing, careers, and how Northbrook has developed into the town it is today.…

Recorded on June 8, 2012. Length: 31 Minutes.


JH: Hello. Today is Friday, June 8th, 2012. 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 Walter Sherman, who has lived and worked in Northbrook since 1930. Walt has a lot to tell us about growing up here in Northbrook and about all of the things that he’s done during his years working in Northbrook. Welcome, Walt.

WS: Thank you.

JH: You want to start by telling us a little bit about growing up here in Northbrook?

WS: I would… I would enjoy that. My first recollection of Northbrook was when my dad took me to the Curtiss-Reynolds Airport on Shermer, which later became the Glenview Naval Airbase. They had an air show there every year with stunts and races. We would walk behind an old farm, which had small horses, to view the air show. I was always interested in horses. Mr. Richwardt farm was across Shermer from our house on Timber Lane. So, I watched their every move. And even when plowing with them on a Timber Lane field… It was this same field where we were able to fly kites. One day, I had a kite, which my Uncle Jay had given me. And my neighborhood friends helped me to fly it, as I was only about four. When it was up in the air, I pointed to it and said, “Ki Jay!” (Four year old gibberish) meaning, the kite my Uncle Jay had given me. Bob Landwehr thought that would be a great nickname, and Fritz Miller still calls me this. As a Deacon at the Village Presbyterian Church, I called on Mr. Richwardt, who was still in the farmhouse in the 1960s. He was bed-ridden but still remembered me. When I was 10, we went back to that horse farm on Shermer and bought a small horse. This was 1936. The first night we had the horse, it was able to get loose (interviewer laughs). On Sunday morning, my dad, and his bathrobe and bedroom slippers, chased it down to Grant Park on Lee Road, where he finally was able to grab the long rope. Before, whenever he came near the horse, the horse would move far enough away that he could not get this rope. And that’s why he ended up going from Timber Lane to Grant Park. While there, he thought the land across from the park on Lee would be a great location for a house. So, he built one there in 1941, a southern colonial with pillars going all the way to the roof. And, it was white. I believe this was the first house on South Lee Road. Next, I remember Wally Bernhardt’s hardware store in downtown Northbrook. It was across from Lorenz garage in Little East. He had everything in it that you needed in those days. But the thing that impressed me the most was the wood, pine knot floors, which were not smooth at all. When I was six, I remember starting at the Northbrook School. I could walk to it, as Timber Lane was not far away. When I came to Bartleme’s Northfield Inn, I would go behind it, as this was a shortcut to the school on Waukegan Road. I was intrigued with the horse and buggy barns behind it. I recall finding pieces of harness left behind. Then, at school, John Bartelme was in my class. As I entered the school, my first impression was that of Edgar Wessling. He was standing there with a broom in hand. He was the head custodian. I remember Edgar saying, “This school is clean, and we’re going to keep it this way.” He became a life-long friend. Edgar was also the town clerk for 40-something years, and we have a street named for him. I also recall the wonderful teachers I had. It wasn’t long before I started grade school football, and I soon discovered I really like the game and decided I want to be a coach. High school football at Northbrook was most rewarding, as I started playing varsity as a freshman. My junior year, I was elected captain and started calling the plays. After my senior season, I was voted the most valuable player and won the Tom Adams trophy, which I brought today. The original engraving is still on this trophy, but the figure at the top was broken, so I had to replace it. In addition to this Tom Adams trophy, I was All-Conference and honorable mention on the All-State team. Tom Adams had a drug store for many years next to the Landmark Inn. In these days, I also had time to date. Nancy Landwehr and I went to the prom together. It was held in the high school gym. My dad would not let me have the family car. He didn’t think I was a good enough driver as I had just started. So we took my horse and buggy. At this time, a Mr. Smith, who lived halfway up Laraby Lane, which is off Lee, asked me if I would help cut trees to make a road from Lee up the hillside. He owned all this and wanted to sell lots. This is now Eastwood Lane. Many of the trees were good size for a log cabin. I built two, one in our backyard and one in the forest preserve across from Lee Road. They were 10 by 10. I used my horse to haul the logs. This cabin was half a block north of our house. In exploring the old vacant house, where the Village Presbyterian Church stands today, I found very good red bricks on the floor of the cellar. It had an outside door where our cemetery is today. With Edgar Wessling’s blessing, I hauled these bricks to my cabins for floors with my horse and a tool wheel manure cart. The next event I recall was going in the Army Air Force. I had volunteered in June, at the time of my birthday. And in December of 1944, during my senior year of high school, they sent me orders to report to Fort Sheridan. After 21 months, I received my honorable discharge. World War II was almost over before I became active. As soon as I was released from the service, I wanted to go to college. However, this was August, and the only school that would take me was Northwestern University if I lived at home because of no housing available. So, I commuted from our house on Lee Road in Northbrook. I went out for football and then wrestling. After two years at Northwestern, I was invited to go to the Iowa State Teachers College to get a degree in teaching and coaching. This I did and continued with football and wrestling. Then May, 1953, Dr. Watson (Norman E. Watson) called me for an interview at the old Maple School across from the present one on Shermer Road. I was teaching and coaching at the Hinsdale High School. We won the football championship. He interviewed all the teachers here as this served as the district office. Three weeks later, he called me back to order the football equipment. He put me in a classroom of this little red brick school with the salesman, who had a color chart, and then he left. Dr. Watson went back to his office. First, the salesman asked me what colored jerseys we wanted, as he flipped through the greens. I picked dark green so we would be different from a nearby school. Then, he said, “What color do you want the numbers to be?” And I said, “Gold.” Once again, he flipped the color chart, and I said, “We want the same color gold as the old Northbrook High School,” because the colors there were crimson… crimson and gold. It was my good pleasure to select the colors for Glenbrook South, as I was the first football coach and athletic director. Some of the students suggested light blue, which we could not have since another conference school wore it. The salesman started flipping his color chart, and at this time, a Navy jet flew low and loud coming in for a landing at the Glenview Naval Airbase. I told the salesman we had to have navy blue. He then asked what color we wanted the numerals to be, and I said the same color gold as GBN (Glenbrook North). I added a third, which was white, for the basketball uniforms and other trim. Our first football practice field at GBN was where Sherman Drive is today. In the beginning of GBN, there was no road there. On the first day of practice on this field, I was explaining a play to the team, and the Chicago Tribune came to take pictures. I still have the picture they printed showing me teaching on this field. We were a new school and of special interest. My role, over the 41 years, was teacher, head coach of football and wrestling, athletic director, and head of physical education for girls and boys. The first highlight that comes to mind was the second year of Glenbrook when we won the football championship and went undefeated for two more years. We were number one in the state with the longest undefeated streak of 26 games. This was the beginning of the great Glenbrook spirit. The next highlight: we had a state champion in wrestling, GBN’s first. After another football championship in ‘59, we started GBS in ‘62 with boys who finished their freshman year at GBN, but who lived in Glenview. Since I had been the varsity head coach, the superintendent asked me to go to GBS and get athletics started. After two football championships at GBS plus three state champions in other sports, the superintendent requested I go back to GBN. We started winning more football championships including the state. At this time, my son, Dan, won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship, wrestling for the University of Iowa. He had started on the mats of GBN at the age of four. Also, at this time, our state started the football playoffs. Our first playoff game in 1974 was at Evanston. We had a close first half, but we fumbled and gave them the ball. At half-time, I coached our ball-carrier on how to carry the ball. Also, I gave, I thought, what was a good pep talk. We walked out of the locker room and saw an airplane going low over the field with a banner, “Go Spartans Go.” The Hillinger’s of the Cypress had ordered it. The old Cypress Inn. The next playoff game was at East Leyden, and we were using option blocking. The line in our defense played real’ well. Then we played Willowbrook at GBN. We were in the final four for the state championship. The Chicago Tribune picked them to win big. We were outweighed 40 pounds a player. Our crowd was standing room only, five people deep outside the fence. The Tribune had it billed as one of the greatest games of all time. We were losing at half-time as they had stopped us cold. However, I noticed that they would be open for our reverses. At half-time, I ran to our old locker room, which is a short ways east of our new fitness room. I diagramed our reverse plays on the blackboard and explained to each player what they needed to do and how to do it. You could hear a pin drop. I look at their faces, and they were beat. Then, I said, “We could do it. They will not stop our reverses.” We won 27 to 7. The reverses worked. This was probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, athletic event in the history of Northbrook. Next, we were in the state championship game with East St. Louis. We were losing in the second half. I noticed they were open for our banana pass, which I had developed in the 1950s. When we had to win, we called it. The result was a 50-yard touchdown. We tied the game, and we beat them in the overtime. In closing, it has been a joy to share my riches with my students and to reveal to them their own.

JH: Thank you. That was wonderful. I have a few questions about what you’ve told us. What do you remember about the air races themselves-the planes flying over?

WS: There was a Gee Bee Racer, which was-had kind of a large fuselage and it won the races. They set up pylons-I think they were going like for five miles or something or whatever it is. It wasn’t just covering the airbase, which-I don’t exactly remember, but I’m sure it wasn’t anywhere near as large as the Glenview Naval Air Station. It was a little-like Sky Harbor. A little Sky Harbor sort of. (Chuckles) But anyway, they would have races, and you know the planes would go… 

JH: And circle around the pylons… 

WS: Right, yes.

JH: And were they way up in the sky, or were they low to the ground?

WS: Well, they were kind of in-between. No, they weren’t way up, but they weren’t real low to the ground either. But then when I say that-well I suppose that they were only up two or three hundred yards. Something like that.

JH: So that’s pretty-lot closer than you see planes today.

WS: True, yep. Well, that was very true. And remember this was-well, I’m sure my dad started going there in the ‘20s before we even lived in Northbrook because that was the air show of the area plus my father was a golfer, and he was playing all these golf courses.

JH: Which brings up another point. All these golf courses, did Northbrook have a lot of golf courses?

WS: Yes, they did. Yes, they did. There was one on Techny. Mission Hills had one. I believe where Green Acres is today-I think they called that Illinois if I remember. And then it seems to me where Glenbrook Countryside is there was a Black-Black Heath or-up there too now-there was a swimming pool up there also. I remember that. So, there were quite a few courses.

JH: And Sportsman’s was here at that time?

WS: I’m not sure. That I’m not sure about-Sportsman’s-just when they started.

JH: M’kay.

WS: Yeah, I don’t recall the first year of Sportsman’s, but then I was-you know-I was not into the golf. I was into the horses.

JH: Right. And you mention Bernhardt’s Hardware Store. What else was downtown Northbrook? Where did your mom shop?

WS: Grocery Stores. Melzer’s-Happ’s-I don’t recall if there was another one or not. Landwehr’s General Store was there, but that wasn’t a grocery store. But I remember Melzer’s. I remember Happ’s.

JH: If you wanted an ice cream cone when you were a kid, where did you go?

WS: That I do not remember. (laughs) I should.

JH: No, not at all.

WS: (Continues as he laughs) I should remember that.

JH: And you mention Northbrook School and then… 

WS: Excuse me. You know, across from the Northbrook School there was a little business there-right outside the front door. It seems to me you could get ice cream cones in there. It was like a little-a little store.

JH: A little mom and pop-yeah-store. You mention the Northbrook School and the high school with the colors of crimson and gold. The high school was the Northbrook High School. And then, you talked about Glenbrook. So can you tell the different-tell a little bit about Northbrook High School and how it later became-how another high school with another name came about?

WS: Well, in the late ’40s, the high school had to move out of the building where they were because it really belonged to the elementary district, and they were getting so many students. They needed all the space. And so, the township-Northfield Township-District 225 decided to build a high school, and they had a big debate whether it should be in Glenview or whether it be in Northbrook, but it was finally decided through a court case that it should be in Northbrook. But, when the old Northbrook School closed, Glenbrook hadn’t been built yet, so the students had to go to Palatine, Highland Park, New Trier, Maine for a year until we moved into Glenbrook in the fall of 1953. And an interesting thing there was-I being the first coach-Now I had players who had played at New Trier, who had played at Palatine, who had played at Maine for an example, and we had some pretty good football players to start with from those other schools. We had everything except a quarterback. None of them had any experience at quarterback. So, we had a total inexperience at quarterback, but other than that, we had quite a few juniors who had had experience in these other schools. And then the second year of Glenbrook, when we won the championship, these players, you see, were seniors, and I had had them as juniors-and so that’s why we were able to win the championship the second year.

JH: And you mention Dr. Watson (Norman E. Watson). Can you talk a little bit about Dr. Watson?

WS: Well, Dr. Watson was wonderful. He did a marvelous job, in the beginning of Glenbrook, selecting the teachers. He, one time, said that he would have the teacher live with him-when he was interviewing the teacher. He would have the teacher live with him for three days. But, he just did an outstanding job of hiring outstanding academic teachers to the extent that the fifth year of the school, 1958, a national magazine did a survey, and they selected the top 44 high schools in the United States. And low and behold, Glenbrook was, after five years, was one of the top 44 high schools in the United States. And the reason why: our students had been going to college and universities all over the country and doing well. So, the name spread real fast. So, Dr. Watson was absolutely marvelous and a great public speaker. He and his principal, Ray Etherton, could both stand up and deliver a speech of a half-half an hour or more and never look at a note.

JH: You’ve mentioned Ray Etherton. Tell me a little bit about Ray Etherton.

WS: Well, Ray was my high school history teacher. And, when I was being called up from the-for the Army Air Corps the middle of my senior year-December of my senior year, I went to Mr. Etherton and I said could I take the final exam so at least I would get credit for the first semester before going in the service. And, of course, he was very, very gracious and let me take that exam. So that when my class graduated in ‘45, I was in the service, but I did end up getting a diploma not being there the last semester. However, I knew that this could happen. So in the summertime, I took a course from May Richards, our math teacher in trigonometry. And I also went to New Trier, and I took physics-physics at New Trier that summer, so I had built up extra credits. So, I was able to graduate with my class, but I was not here.

JH: We are at the end of our interview. 30 minutes goes by way too fast. Is there anything that you haven’t told us about that you really want people to know?

WS: Well, not that I can think of. I pretty well covered about everything here.

JH: Okay, you did mention one son. You have two sons is that… 

WS: Two boys-yes-two boys. Yeah. One is a college professor, and he’s in administration and organization-He just came back from Germany where he was at the University of Rostock, there going to do a cooperative program with the University of Alabama, where he teaches, and he’s also an administrator there. And then my younger son is with Walgreens.

JH: Okay. So, I think we’ve covered just about all chapters. So, Walt, I want to thank you so very much for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook are going to add a very unique and personal perspective about the history of our town. Thank you so very much.