Dawn Wyman - Transcript

Transcript of Dawn Wyman
Interviewee: Dawn Wyman
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren and Robert Remer
Date: Dec. 2, 2015
Place: Chicago, IL.
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Time: 38:07

Copyright © 2016 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: This is Dorothy Nygren with Bob Remer of the Edgewater Historical Society interviewing Dawn Wyman at her home on Dec. 2, 2015. First of all, Dawn, let me congratulate you on being one of the 2016 Living Treasures and to thank you with deep gratitude during all of your life to help us grow and thrive.

DW: Thank you.

DN: The first question I would like to ask you is when did you come to Edgewater and why did you choose to come here?

DW: Well actually I was born at 1616 W Rascher. We lived a couple of years in Norwood Park, when I was maybe two or three. Then we came back to Edgewater and lived on the 1600 block of Edgewater and then in 1942 moved to 1239 W Norwood. So I really haven’t wandered away. Then when I was married, we moved to 1428 Glenlake.

DN: So you’ve lived in this particular location for many years and seen many things go on.

DW: Yes, since 1969 at 1428.

(1:28)

DN: During the time you’ve lived in Edgewater you’ve participated in many different kinds of activities. I’d like to ask you what inspired you at first to step up and volunteer to help the community. What problems did you see that needed addressing, that made you first want to involve yourself?

DW: Well first of all I think I’m just a busybody. When I see something I don’t like, I try to do something about it. In the early 1960s was when the 4+1s came into being; beautiful homes and apartment buildings on Winthrop and Kenmore were torn down and built housing that was only supposed to last for twenty-five years I believe. It’s a problem type of housing now. That’s really what started my involvement. The Edgewater Community Council had just come into existence, maybe the year before. It was started by some wonderful people – real treasures of Edgewater who worked many many hours in creating this organization. That’s kind of how I got involved. Then I was always interested in politics. At the time we had people in the Republican Party who were betraying the Republican Party in what was then the 49th Ward. A group of us decided we should create a citizens’ group to try to change politics in the ward. That’s actually where I met my husband. We did succeed at the time electing a State Representative – Ed Copeland. We did achieve some victory. Like many organizations it kind of just disappeared, but I think between the two things – politics and the Edgewater Community Council – it was a way to try to attack some of the issues that I thought were important in Edgewater. And I was young and foolish so…. (Chuckles).

RR: Didn’t Bud [Wyman] run for committeeman?

DW: That’s right. Then he was recruited many years after that for the Democratic committee. [Bob and Dawn chuckle.] He had a very interesting history and he was a real treasure of Edgewater too.

DN: So your first interest came because of the 4+1s that were going in…

DW: Correct.

DN: … and then you got more involved with the Edgewater Community Council. What were some of the volunteer activities that you pursued with the Edgewater Community Council?

(4:33)

DW: We had so many wonderful people who started initiatives whether it was saving what is now Berger Park…. I am trying to think of what else because there were so many things. The fact that Winthrop and Kenmore were known as Fire Alley and we were trying to do something about that. We did have some gangs, but it wasn’t the kind of terrible gangs you have now. They might have been involved in robberies. I remember the T.J.O.s, which was a white gang. There were issues but the big problem was really Winthrop and Kenmore, what was transpiring over there. West of Broadway still remained quite stable; different from what it is today, but still stable.

The churches were also very very important: the formation of E.C.R.A. [Edgewater Community Religious Association]. In fact it was the religious leaders who formed E.C.C. mostly. There were a couple like Ottis Rhinesmith and Bob of course who lived over on Winthrop. He had two children who were challenged. I can’t remember his last name. I can see him in my mind but I can’t remember. Anyway I’m wandering away from your question.

(6:20)

RR: What about Operation Ridge, that was after Operation Kenmore, when Kathy (Osterman) was president? Operation Ridge was focusing on the west of Broadway issues.

DW: I didn’t participate in that. One of the best things that E.C.C. had was a gentleman named Frank Zeman who went around Edgewater and noticed things that needed to be fixed, whether it was a broken sidewalk or dilapidated house or broken windows. He would very nicely either go the right agency to see it was corrected or he would drop a not off. I always wanted to re-establish that position and for some reason as E.C.C. matured, they felt that was inappropriate. I never quite understand why. He was a one man super power I think and just a very nice gentleman.

RR: He was unique. He was what got me in E.C.C.

DW: Really?

(7:33)

RR: I moved into Edgewater and two weeks later I get this little letter saying, “You need to fix your front steps.” At first I got all angry but then I said, “Wait. This is pretty good. I’m going to find out more about this organization.” Yes, Frank was a real treasure. Anyway this is about you.

DW: People kept on saying, “You’re going to irritate people,” but I thought, “Well, they should be irritated.”

RR: He was irritating.

DN: He sounds like the neighborhood gadfly. Now what offices did you hold while you were involved with E.C.C.?

(8:08)

DW: Let’s see. I was chairman of Planning and Development and chairman of the Education Committee and also President [of E.C.C.]

DN: When you were involved in Education what were your goals at that time that you wanted to accomplish?

DW: I wanted to bring together all of the schools. I’m a former history teacher and taught at Mather High School. I went to all Catholic schools for my education. Somehow or another two [school systems] were separated within the community and they both had strong reasons to be here and to help the community. That was my primary goal. We had several meetings where the Catholic and public schools got together. I don’t think the Jewish school at the synagogue existed at that time.

RR: No, that was much later.

DW: What was interesting and what came out of that was, “What do you most see as the need for schools in Edgewater.” It all went back to afterschool Programs. The public schools used to have afterschool programs in the big field houses; baseball, ukulele, all kinds of activities for kids. That disappeared. I suppose that was a budgetary decision. I never knew quite why. It just kind of gradually went away. Do you recall why that went away?

RR: No.

DW: I spent every day at Hayt [School]. It was just a wonderful place. Anyway, I had hoped that this meeting between the different kinds of schools would create more than it did. There was not really any conclusion to that.

DN: It’s hard to overcome the bureaucracy sometimes.

DW: Yes. Of course part of the answer was we had the [Broadway] Armory. But if you live in Lakewood- Balmoral or West Andersonville you’re not going to trot over to the Armory for afterschool programs.

RR: We didn’t always have the Armory.

DW: Yes. That was one of the really big achievements and Kathy Osterman more than anybody else saved that.

(10:51)

DN: Now you said you also chaired Planning and Development. What were your goals at that time?

DW: I worked with Jack Markowski on a program to create a plan for the different sections of Edgewater in terms of improving the appearance because the first thing you would ask anyone who came into Edgewater was, “What is your impression?” And it wasn’t a very good impression. The work that e emerged was what the high rises could do to improve the street scene; what Winthrop-Kenmore could do – mostly low-rises and what was appropriate; and then west of Broadway, what was appropriate. One of the funny things that happened was that at the time Bernie Stone was alderman of the 50th Ward and part of our proposal was to have a median strip down Clark/Ashland because north of Ridge Ave. it’s such a wide kind of soulless piece of real estate. Bernie Stone’s reaction was, “I never heard of anything so dumb. Planting trees down the middle of the street. Who would want to do that?” (Chuckles.) Soon after Bernie died I suppose we got the strip in the middle of Clark.

RR: Well we redistricted. At that time there were four wards that Edgewater was part of. Now it’s only two – [Ald. Patrick] O’Connor’s and [Ald. Harry] Osterman’s. What was interesting at that time was that E.C.C. had to deal with four aldermen.

(13:00)

DW: In a way that could be an advantage, but it could also be a detriment. Then the other achievement I think I had as President was to help initiate the Awards Dinners. That came about because when Marion Violini was retiring as Alderman, Megs Langdon asked my husband to organize a farewell dinner. I helped do that, but I was amazed how easy it was because if you reached out to people and asked them to help on a personal basis, they were more than happy to do that. So I thought – just as the Edgewater Historical Society is doing Treasures – for E. C. C. I thought it was really important to recognize so many wonderful people in Edgewater. Our first awardee was Kathy Osterman. She received the John Langdon Award. Megs Langdon of course was from Loyola [University] and very helpful to E.C.C. through the years. [John Langdon was a vice president at Loyola University and wonderfully instrumental in working with the Community. Megs was in charge of Loyola’s “Walk to Work: program that encouraged faculty and employees to live in the area and walk to work.] It was at the Breakers which was just brand new. It was a wonderful success. I was always kind of pleased. Again what amazed me was that it was easy because you have so many wonderful people in Edgewater. You ask them to help and they did it. I was smart enough to get really smart people. They did all the work. I just sat back and enjoyed.

(14:46)

RR: I’ve got to say about you Dawn is that you were always everybody’s draft choice to have on their committee. I’ve got to say that about you. You were everybody’s first draft choice. If you can get Dawn on your committee, then you’re halfway there.

DN: E.C.C. is not as functional as it once was. What problems do you see that need work on, resolution? Who do you jumping into that gap to deal with it?

(15:00)

DW: For a number of years before E.C.C. dissolved, unfortunately, my question was, “Have we gotten more like the history of Lincoln Park?” Max Langdon was one of the founders of the Lincoln Park Conservation Association. Eventually, when I was working down in Lincoln Park in the 80s and 90s, it was a one person organization because they had accomplished their goals and they didn’t need a great big board or any of that. I sort of saw that was happening in Edgewater. So many of the big problems were solved and part of it was that we had political leaders who were dedicated to the community. They really cooperated in trying to make things better. And they did. The housing on Winthrop and Kenmore, which was a big issue, has really settled down. I know there are spots that are big issues but I drive down there and see families and kids there and the properties are maintained pretty darn well. The Russian immigrants who came were a real positive because nobody was going to push them around or scare them. Then the Bosnians came. It’s been an interesting evolution I think.

(17:05)

RR: So many strollers on Winthrop now. That census tract around Swift School is over 50% foreign born and they’re good neighbors. They’re very very good neighbors.

DW: Wow. Yes, they work hard and get ahead. They own properties. That’s just amazing. You’re talking million dollar plus properties. I guess two million now for those buildings.

RR: We can’t afford to buy our own two flat and property taxes keep going up. Oh my God.

(17:41)

DN: I’d like to go back to a statement you made about the importance of churches in a community. We know that faith based communities not only provide a meeting spot for people especially for immigrants who feel a little lost somewhere. Faith based communities can provide a sense of community, and also reach out to help people. The charity of the churches is great. I know that in Edgewater we have many churches that do that. I’m wondering if, from your own personal experience, you would like to speak a little bit about what you see the role of churches in a community being.

(18:40)

DW: I think first of all that people that participate in churches have a philosophy of life that just goes into helping others and reaching out. There is also more of a discipline in these people; that you have to structure something in order to do that; that you just can’t make wishes that something would be better. They’re participants, so no matter what the religion, I just think that the inner strength of the religion, or whatever, is being communicated to the community.

(19:30)

DN: What inspired you to do the volunteer work that you’ve done? What inspired you to do what you’ve done? I could have just sat at home reading a book, but I don’t think I want to do that. I want to do something else – a b or c. What prompted you to go and do those things?

DW: I like people. I like working with people and accomplishing things. As I’ve said before, I’m also a busybody. One of my philosophies was, “If we have a busybody on every block, we would have a perfect community.” They reach out. They’re aware of what is happening. They can contact the proper source or authorities if need be. I wish I could have higher motives than that, but that’s probably it. (Chuckles.)

(20:22)

DN: What advice would you give younger people as far as the importance of volunteerism and the rewards of volunteerism?

DW: I’m confused about why young people aren’t participating more. Maybe they do it in different ways. Ruth’s List that exists – this is all the younger women. When we wanted to get them involved in E.C.C., they didn’t see a need for it. Ruth’s List fulfilled their interests and needs. Also the lack of what appear to be big problems in Edgewater doesn’t seem to exist anymore. So their participation is on a local level – maybe their local church or their book club or their bridge club or something of that sort. It is mystifying to me why there is not more participation. For instance, the Edgewater Glen organization which is very active and very effective, but frankly our Board happens to be senior citizens for the most part. We keep on urging. We reach out to the young people and they might come to one or two meetings and then they just kind of drop off. So it’s a mystery.

DN: Bob, do you have any other questions?

(22:04)

RR: Yes. Dawn is much too modest about her influence here. You were very successful and prominent in residential real estate. You’ve been active in a number of issues; in terms development; Broadway; zoning. I was wondering if you might trace or summarize what you see happening as Edgewater has developed over the last forty years in terms of change in real estate; change in development; what you see for the future of commercial development, for example on Broadway, and things like that?

DW: In terms of the housing in Edgewater, as everybody knows we have three distinct areas: the high-rise, the low-rise and then the single family and two to six-flats. Every area has really improved incredibly in the last twenty-thirty years. The single family homes are priceless in the city where [in Edgewater]you have an expanse of them, not just one or two peppered among apartments, but whole blocks of single family homes. I think those are real anchors for the community. The high rises have changed from when they first created. They were wonderful places to be. Now they’re more ordinary and their values have not appreciated the way other properties in Edgewater have appreciated, which is somewhat surprising. The fact that we have so many condos I think has been important. Although one of the things about condo owners is they don’t have the sense of ownership. That’s puzzling to me. If you have one person in the condo association who electrifies the rest of them; who talks about landscaping and those kinds of things, you have a good condo association. But that’s what it takes.

Commercial – I’m just delighted with how Broadway is doing so well. Part of that is thanks to the new [Edgewater] library, thanks to Whole Foods, thanks to the new Walgreen’s building. But even the little shops, for example Lickety Split, are wonderful. This northern area on Clark Street is a whole different issue that it is so wide there that it is not appealing to pedestrians and the parking isn’t there so you can’t…. What is happening there is not too impressive. A couple of things like The Fuzz Ball that took over from the Walgreen’s Stein store. That’s a plus. But that’s a lot of work to keep going. The Raven Theater has been a plus. But the restaurants they wanted to pop up around the theater have just not occurred. I think it’s just because of the nature of that street.

Basically I’m thrilled about what has happened to the real estate. It’s been very good to me. I will tell you that working with the people in Edgewater is such a pleasure compared to some other places in the city of Chicago where there is an expectancy of privilege. The people in Edgewater are just so down to earth. I’m retired now but I loved it. I loved working with them.

(26:18)

DN: Dawn, I’d like to talk with you about the Edgewater Development Corporation. What were your goals?

RR: And also some of the development issues as it relates to the Broadway down zoning versus up zoning.

DW: I need to refer to my statement that when people used to come to Edgewater their impact was usually in commercial areas that are so sad. The Edgewater Development Corporation’s main goal was to improve the commercial and go out and find tenants and owners who would participate and improve their property. There were two plans that were done: the Broadway Plan and the Clark Street Plan. That was important because it was a kick off and it gave a goal for people to work for. Again you had wonderful energetic people who participated who were deeply involved in that organization; who recruited good people, good businesses; and so I think that the improvements that we have seen are from the Edgewater Development Corporation. Whether it was Andersonville or Bryn Mawr or Broadway generally speaking – the Edgewater Development Corporation really took the lead in that.

(28:03)

DN: The issue of down zoning was controversial.

DW: Yes. A few years ago they wanted to increase the zoning on Broadway and Clark. The Edgewater Development Corporation I think was opposed to that. Also the block clubs were also opposed and worked very hard and diligently with political leaders to make sure that the upgrading of the increase in the zoning didn’t happen. That was really residents participating and was very impressive.

RR: Some of the new developments that you’ve seen on Broadway – is that because you think we’ve been able to keep the zoning at a more manageable and lower level?

DW: Yes, I really do. Some of the work of the zoning was also to talk about the improvements in Edgewater in terms of the income level, the demographics, comparing it to other areas. [Dawn’s dog gets a little frisky.]

DN: That’s okay. I’ll just hold him.

DW: One of the very surprising aspects was that we had better demographics than Evanston. When you went to the major corporations and explained that, they didn’t completely believe you. Again there was someone who was an expert with these statistics. It obviously impressed some of the people eventually. I also think Loyola University has been important for the development of the commercial area. The fact they are there with their terrific student body as well as all their employees – so different corporations were interested in locating in Edgewater. Of course we don’t want to have a franchise row. We want to support the small businesses. That’s what gives the neighborhood flavor. Certainly the anchors, like Whole Foods and Walgreens are very very important.

DN: I think that movement going west on Devon where you see all the development happening; with new restaurants coming in; the cleaning up of the old restaurants; not particularly too many high rises or low rises although there are a few – and I think over time that will spread up to Clark Street and over to Loyola too, because the campus at Loyola has expanded and it’s gorgeous and beautiful. It’s remarkable.

DW: Isn’t it? I went to Loyola and then I went to Mundelein. No Quonset huts anymore! It’s absolutely marvelous and beautiful with the landscaping.

DN: The landscaping is marvelous and the theater is so enjoyable and amenable, accessible to the neighborhood. Bob, did you have another question about another effort that Dawn was involved in besides E.C.C.?

(31:47)

RR: Well it was about the Broadway zoning. I think we’ve covered it. You’ve been involved in so many things: the 50th Anniversary Planning Celebration and all kinds of activities. What about the block club?

DW: I served as Edgewater Glen president and what we did was Glen Fest.

RR: Do you remember when?

DW: In the 90s – sometime in the 90s.

(32:12)

RR: So Glen Fest started then?

DW: Yes we did. Mary Simon actually came up with the name for Glen Fest. I wanted to do a festival for the entire Edgewater Glen area. It was very successful, but I think what happened was some of the block parties became more and more…..Initially, actually it was this block, and not me – two years before we moved here, that created this block party. It has just become ridiculous. Some of the blocks have two or three block parties a year.

RR: Glen Fest has a city wide reputation doesn’t it?

DW: No.

RR: Well what’s the new festival that St. Gertrude’s has?

DW: Oh that’s called the Gralley.

DN: Anything else?

RR: Dawn if she wasn’t so humble could go on for hours.

DW: I’m not humble, but I participated with all kinds of other people who initiated things and felt strongly about issues. I was just one of the many many participants in that. Has Jack Markowski ever been [selected as a Living Treasure]?

DN: Not yet.

(34:01)

DW: I was elected president [of E.C.C.] and at the first Board meeting Jack announces that he’s retiring as Executive Director. I thought, “You rat!”

DN: That must have felt like a bucket of cold water.

DW: He and Ken Brucks were the only successful directors of E.C. C. Jack was so very special.

DN: Dawn, this is your interview and your chance to say anything that you might like to say that we haven’t touched upon or covered.

(34:33)

DW: Two things about my husband [Bud Wyman]. He founded the bank in Edgewater which is now the U.S. Bank and that was really a trigger for rejuvenating Andersonville. That seems weird now because it seems so popular. We sat around our little breakfast table around 1972 maybe. Bud had served on the Board of a bank on the northwest side. He said, “I always wanted to form a bank.” I said, “Well, why don’t we? You’ve got contacts with people who might be willing to invest.” So we opened up the Sunday Tribune and looked at the real estate ads. There was a building on North Clark Street. At that time everybody was really very parochial. You didn’t go out of your immediate neighborhood that much. I had been shopping in Andersonville once. I said, “It’s a cute little area.” So actually he bought the building. We got the investors. I had two requests. He was the one that did everything, but…. I said, “We’re redlined in this neighborhood and so it’s important that we concentrate on our neighborhood and make loans in our neighborhood. Number two: at the time banks were charging fees for checking accounts. That’s ridiculous. Our money is sitting in there and we should pay to have our money there? So free checking was part of the original thing. But he did all the work.

The other thing he did was to stimulate the whole concept of Andersonville. He said, “You know there are numerous multi-ethnic shopping areas in the city, just like Andersonville. But you have to create a sizzle. So what is the sizzle? The sizzle in working with Kurt Mathiason, who had a little Swedish museum at the time, was to create the Swedish concept of Andersonville. That’s what initially distinguished it as something very special and different. That was really a very exciting time. Then of course the recession of 1973 hit and at the same time the Federal government increased the amount of capital that you needed to open a bank. So it was a little bit hairy there in terms of being able to do what we wanted to do. He should be well remembered for what he did there.

(37:20)

Also he was one of the boosters of the Edgewater Historical Society.

RR: He was our founding treasurer.

DW: He lucked out. He was born and raised in Glencoe. His parents thought he was a traitor because he moved to Chicago. At one point when I said we had outgrown our home and we should probably move out to the suburbs, he said to me, ‘You’re not going to do that to me. You take away an hour of my life every day.” So we committed to Edgewater.

DN: At that note I think we’ll conclude the interview. Thank you so much.