Dick Gengler Remembered

Vol. XXI No. 2 - SUMMER 2010

Richard P. Gengler was born in Chicago on December 17, 1914, and died in Chicago on July 31, 2010. In between he traveled far and wide and lived a life filled with rich experiences and many friends. Dick wore many hats during his life: son, brother, uncle, supernumerary, scholar, philanthropist. Sergeant, pilot, business owner, sailor, commodore and friend.

His parents, Theodore and Mary Bisdorff Gengler, were from Luxemburg, although they met in Chicago. His father built the family’s Andersonville home at 1463 Balmoral Avenue, in which they moved in 1918. At that time, many neighbors lived on farms. This home stayed in the family until 2009, after Dick moved to the Methodist Home in Chicago. Dick was known to many as “The Unofficial Mayor of Clark Street.”

Richard was the youngest of six children, now all passed: Theodore, George, Agnes, Vincent, Raymond Dorothy (died in infancy) and Richard. He is survived by three generations of nieces and nephews. He did substantial research into the family’s Luxemburg genealogy and is the author of most of the family history.

Dick was a collector of knowledge and clipped and shared printed facts across a broad range of subjects. Charlie’s Ale House on Andersonville’s Clark Street displays numerous photographic reproductions from Dick’s collection of early Andersonville memorabilia, For seven years after Prohibition ended, Dick was in charge of bookkeeping and purchasing bar and liquor supplies for the family’s saloon business, Gengler Brothers, in the 5300 block of North Clark Street.

As a young man, Dick traveled the country taking whatever jobs he could during several years of the Great Depression. As many did in the 1930s, he was always able to hop a freight train to find adventure somewhere down the line. It could be said that he lived the hobo life elegantly before returning to his Chicago family and, ultimately, the call of service in World War II.

Serving across the South Pacific from 1943 through 1946, Sergeant Gengler’s squad repaired and maintained radio equipment for the 14151 Army Airways Communications System (AACS) of the United States Army Air Forces. His squad was one of the first support groups to arrive on newly conquered islands and was generally under enemy attack as they ran wires up trees and poles to establish early Allied communications.

He received many overseas service bars; the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Battle Stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and the World VW/II Victory Medal. In honor of his brother Vincent, who died in France serving in WWII, Dick funded a perpetual student scholarship fund for St. Gregory’s High School for tuition and space camp attendance.

Upon returning from the war, Dick and a brother started a fresh fruit business that prospered for a few years until giant supermarkets increased their competitiveness. Dick then took up window replacement. In his usual way, he became an expert in his new field and worked well into his 80’s arranging the replacement of windows all over Chicagoland.

For years, his Andersonville backyard was a fertile garden for flowers most notably Dahlias. Many were the women thrilled with the gift of his hand picked bouquets and, in the case of waitresses, supplemented with a tip constructed of $2 bills for correctly delivering Perfect Manhattans.

Dick sailed Lake Michigan for many years on his Lightening and then his Rhodes 19, Spoon Full of Sugar. He crewed on other yachts in the annual Chicago to Mackinac race. He bareboat chartered in many parts of the Caribbean. He was a founding member of the Skippers Club, which was chartered in 1953 after a number of Belmont Harbor sail boaters formalized their friendships into a social club devoted to their sport and passion.

Dick was a lifelong member and usher for many years at St. Ita’s Church. Dick will be missed by family and friends who gathered for his funeral at St. Ita’s on August 12, 2010. He was laid to rest at St. Boniface Cemetery in the family plot with his skippers hat and Skippers Club burgee.

When EHS opened its museum, Dick was a weekly visitor, always telling stories about Andersonville. We miss him already. Thanks to niece Anne Bergquist and Tom Vaughan for this recollection.