Ron Massengill - Transcript

Transcription of Ron Massengill Oral History (Part 1)
Interviewee: Ron Massengill
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Interviewer: Howard Clauser
Date: August 3, 2012
Place: Chicago, IL
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Total time: 1:22:40 hours

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today is August 3, 2012 and this is Edgewater Historical Society and we’re doing an oral history with Ron Massengill at his house. Thank you for doing this Ron.

RM: OK. No problem.

DN: Basically what we want to talk about is other things than W.A.N.T. but just for a little aside, because I’d love to put this up on the WANT Facebook page, could you tell us a little bit about the treasure chest when you were President?

RM: Yes, it’s an object that Dorothy Johnson and I found when we were looking for the grade slope for the ?? Community and we came across this treasure chest of an old pirate’s wood – dark – and it had a padlock on it. And the object was that you would put something inside the treasure chest and then there little keys. You’d put the lock on, There were little keys and you’d mix them up and you’d put in a bowl and you’d charge people a dollar and they’d take a key and try to open it and stuff. And if they opened it, they got to choose… We’d usually put 3 prizes inside of it. Dorothy and I figured three was a good number. That way we wouldn’t…in case somebody got it on the first try, we wouldn’t be done for the day. We used it for Midsommarfest. We used it at the Flea Markets. We used it when we had a large meeting. Sometimes at one of the political meetings when we knew we’d have 110, 120 people. We didn’t make a lot of money at it, but it paid for itself in less than two years. And then after that, we’d make 40 dollars or 25, or 50. When I left the presidency all of that was turned over to the Board at that time. I’m not sure if it was Dick Pallotta, or Michaela, or Rick Roecher. But anyway somebody over there got it, because they used it in the ’94 flea market. OK. I think it was the ’94 flea market. I know they used it in 1994 because there’s a fiscal record that shows they made $44 from it. But after that, it seems that nobody knows where this treasure chest is. Now that’s not an easy thing to lose. I mean, it’s as big as the laptop.

DN: OK. We’ll have to look for it. I’d like to ask you one more thing in regard to W.A.N.T? When you were President, did the treasurer present a budget every year?

RM: To the Board. Essentially, usually in December. The treasurer would come and go, “This is what we spent this past year. This is how much money extra we have left over at the end of the year after we took away all our Christmas things, everything. And this is our projection for next year. We should make as much, maybe a little bit less, and this is what we should do next year. We should allocate, like $300 for Adopt a Corner, and $300 for the Garden Walk and $400 for the Volunteer Breakfast, because we always had a volunteer breakfast after the flea market for the volunteers.

DN: So it was a Board agenda item?

RM: Yes it was a Board agenda thing and stuff, usually at the December meeting after the Christmas party or the first Board meeting in January…not rigid, but an overview of an accounting of what we think we’re going to spend this year.

DN: Right. Well according to my husband, that’s what a budget is. It doesn’t necessary need to be rigorous, but it is a projection of what you’re going to do, and where you’ve been, and how that lines up.

RM: Right. So you have an idea of how much money you have, and how much money you make, and if you make more than that you can do other things, or roll it over.

DN: Well to broaden the interview to what we’re really here about, we want to talk to you more about how you came to Edgewater, why you got involved in community organizations, or started them, and what your feelings are about the community then and now. So let’s go back and just recap quickly because I know we talked about this with W.A.N.T. but this is a little different. How did you come to live in Edgewater?

RM: Well, when I actually came to live in Edgewater, I.. my wife was living at the Mansfield (?) building at the time, which is that building up by White Castle now near Clark and Ridge on the west side of the street – the big one there. And she was living there. We started dating in late ‘69 and stuff. It was easy for me to get to. I lived in Albany Park at the time. So Lawrence to Damen, and Damen to over here, Damen to Lawrence, and Lawrence home. Then when we got married we lived there until the lease expired. Then we moved out of the neighborhood. Specifically we moved over to… I’m trying to think. Well we moved back to Albany Park for a year. Then we moved into Rogers Park for three years. Then we wound up coming back to Winona.

DN: What made you come back to Winona?

RM: Well we always liked the area. We would come up here and shop. We still had some friends that lived in the area from 1969, 1970. So in 1977 when an apartment opened up on Winona and I found out from where I was working at the time, we decided to jump on it right away. Then we lived over on Winona, two different places, for three years. Then we moved here in 1980 on Gregory. And the funny thing is this address on Gregory… We were just out walking the neighborhood because we wanted to stay East Andersonville, West Andersonville. South Andersonville at that time still had a rough reputation. We weren’t real thrilled with that. When we were living on the east side of Clark Street, that was pretty stable. A lot of young kids in that neighborhood.

We were out walking around here, West Andersonville. We shopped at Jewel. We didn’t shop at Happy Foods. We’d come up to Jewel and came by here, and there was a little sign out here. Turns out that Peggy, my wife, attended Belden Baptist Church, over on Belden and Halsted. When she first came here, her pastor… I can’t remember his name offhand, but he was real nice and everything like that, and then he retired a couple of years after she got here in the ‘60s. It turns out; this is where he lived in the ‘50s. This is where him and his family lived in the ‘50s. (Chuckles) Now how’s that for strange?

DN: No, it’s kismet.

RM: Yeah. Kismet. It’s just like, “Wow!” Of all the people in the world, you know, three million people in Chicago, one apartment, hundreds of thousands, and we wind up living in the one that her first pastor, her first Chicago pastor, lived in. OK, this is kind of funny.

HW: This is where you have to live.

RM: Yeah, This is where you have to live. Since 1980, that’s where I lived.

DN: Once you moved into Andersonville – and do you see a difference between Andersonville and Edgewater – and what is that?

RM: Oh yes, definitely a difference. There’s definitely a difference. It’s… speaking in today’s terms, Edgewater is more aloof. A strange word to use, but kind of defines what people think of Edgewater – kind of an aloof neighborhood. Whereas Andersonville, we’re tight and you really don’t have to say I live in West Andersonville. You say Andersonville and they know you live somewhere between Foster and Clark and Ridge and Clark. They know you live in that area. It’s like 5, 6 neighborhood associations. But you say Edgewater and they pretty well know where you live.

DN: You mean Andersonville?

RM: When you say Andersonville, they know. Yeah. The people outside of the area… Now if I’m talking to someone up in the W.E.A.R. area, I’ll say West Andersonville, so they know I don’t live in the rich part of east Andersonville.

DN: Lakewood-Balmoral? (chuckles)RM: Yes. The snobby people over there. That’ll be our scene.

HC: That is so true. That is so true.

RM: I know it is. It always has been. Going back to, going back to the beginning of Edgewater Community Council (E.C.C.) was formed mainly by the people of L.B.R.C. (Lakewood Balmoral Residents Council) and Kathy will hate me for saying this, Ed Marciniak, and the people on Sheridan Road. They formed E.C.C. Now I went to one of the very first E.C.C. meetings when it was held at that church over there at Bryn Mawr and Sheridan Road – the big one there. It was held in the basement and there was like almost 300 people for this meeting. And I was only a teenager. I was a teenager when this happened and I had friends over on Winthrop by Catalpa in that big huge apartment building where the parking lot is. I had friends that were living in there at the time. And E.C.C. was formed to contain Kenmore and Winthrop. Now they will deny that. People there will now deny that to their dying graves, but I was there. And I know what the talk was. And it was to contain Winthrop and Kenmore. For years, that was the main focus of E.C.C. was Winthrop and Kenmore, how to contain that element.

HC: And that element, you mean…?

RM: Drug dealers, prostitution, gangs.

DN: Well, if you would talk to Bob Remer, he would say that… he would say that as the huge apartment buildings were exploited by developers and the neighborhood changed and you brought in immigrants and so on, and as the developers did not take care of their buildings that there… you would have a lot of crime… let me finish Ron… he would say that E.C.C. was responsible for things like Operation Whistlestop and crime prevention and things like that…

RM: Contain, contain, contain, contain.

DN: Well, yes, yes. I mean, fundamentally the perspective… you’re looking at the activity as being the same but the perspective on why it’s happening, or the spin on it is different.

RM: Now I’m a strange person. I’ve roamed all over the city from the time I was seven years old. I would get on the bus and go. My mother would kill me if she found out. Free rides if you’re under seven. I’d always tell them I was six and a half. But I was really about eight. And then it cost a dime. So it didn’t matter. But, like I said, I had friends, like we’re talking, in 1960, 1961 that lived in that big apartment building there. And I had friends that I went to bookstores that I went to in 1959 and 1960 on Lawrence Avenue and Winthrop. So the neighborhood wasn’t that far from where I lived. When I was a teenager I lived at Fullerton and Southport so Foster and Clark, Broadway and Glenwood, Broadway and Granville – that’s not far from me at the time. That wasn’t a serious problem. But I remember going to the meetings. I remember going to a couple of the meetings, because I was a teen and you know, teen – thirteen, before I even got into high school. It was, like, this is kinda cool. I didn’t know any… because we didn’t have any neighborhood things over in… where I lived because everybody knew everybody. We didn’t have to have a meeting or anything… over here…

But the people that lived on Winthrop and Kenmore back in the ‘50s and ‘60s were mainly white southern immigrants and post war veterans with beginning families. And they divided up those big houses over there and turned them into… turned an eighteen room mansion into sixteen apartments and built them in the post war ‘50s and stuff. When it started changing in the mid ‘60s was when they started building the four-plus-ones. And E.C.C. is kind of responsible for the element that was drawn because they were telling everyone how great the place was and how you should live here and this is the place for up and coming people. So all the developers came in instead of charging $100 a month rent or $150 a month all of a sudden wanted to charge $500 a month rent.

Well, there’s only a certain amount of people that can afford that. Prostitutes can afford that. Drug dealers can afford that. So OK, that’s what moved in.

DN: That’s a very interesting take on it. And you know when you’re talking about containment and L.B.R.C., Reggie Griffin, whom I interviewed, who has been very involved with E.C.C. and has been past president, and just got a big award… He’s an African-American, talked to me about walking from Kenmore through Lakewood-Balmoral going to Clark Street for something, and how a carfull of young men, young white men, came up to him and started hassling him, saying, “What are you doing in this neighborhood and so on?” And they were not, they were not from Wisconsin. Let’s put it that way. They were local neighborhood kids and they were racially profiling him. And here’s someone who lives in the neighborhood. Well anyways, let’s move on. Let’s go back to when you moved to this house on Gregory and you became more involved in community activity. Now why did you become involved in community activities?

RM: Well, actually when I lived over on Winona, they were just starting a little fledgling organization over there on Winona and Ainslie and Argyle area. They had just had like one or two meetings. It was kinda interesting. And when I moved here in ‘80 I was more or less really involved in work stuff. I’d get the (W.A.N.T) Newsletter. I didn’t think too much of it. Then in ‘81 I went to a meeting. I went to a meeting up here at St. Greg’s…

DN: You’re talking about W.A.N.T.?

RM: W.A.N.T. And I said, “OK. I’ll go up there to see what it is.” I went up there… a couple of people introduced themselves. Then in ‘82 Marshall Horwitz tapped… and wanted me to work on the political campaign for Rickenbocker. I had always kept away from politics because I grew up in… I grew up, Dick Webber, Paddy Bauer… You don’t sign anything. You don’t have your picture taken. (chuckles) That’s basically… that’s the advice, that’s the advice you got from the alderman. Paddy Bauer sitting in the back of the bar there. Don’t sign anything. And don’t ever have your picture taken. Well, I lived with that for a long, long time. My friend John, he did the same thing. John’s not even in our yearbook. He didn’t even pose for the picture in the yearbook because he didn’t want to have his picture taken. This is something we grew up with. It was hard for me to start going to these meetings. But Marshall got me interested. And ‘83 was that year O’Connor came in, Washington, Jane Bryne. I’d always known what was going on in politics but I always said I would.… Marion Volini, the Volinis. I knew the Volinis from way back in the ’70s.

Then the next thing I know. I’m sitting on the Board. Marshall’s going, “We need a Member at Large. We need a Member at Large. We have the same people. We need some young people. And I was a young person.” I still am a young person. I was younger then.

HC: Absolutely.

RM: I said, “OK. I’ll be on the Board. There’s nothing to do. What do we do? We meet months and months. OK, that sounds good to me.” Before I knew it, I turned around, well Bob [Ikhtiari] retired. Bob resigned because he didn’t like the fact that we didn’t promote the playlot more. So we need a Vice-President. All those in favor of Ron, say, “Aye.” Aye. Ron – Vice President. And then Marshall moves out of the neighborhood. He used to live… he lived here in the neighborhood. Then him and his wife got divorced and he moved over to Sheridan Road. So he’s President, but he’s never here. So who has… who does it fall on? OK, so then, it’s OK. I inherited this job, and it’s not bad, and I get to do things. And I want to do things – my way. It gave me a chance to do things my way for awhile. OK. This isn’t too bad. I get to go to these little meetings. And I have time. The work that I was doing didn’t require me… It’s like I told people on the… at the Chamber of Commerce, when I went on the Board at the Chamber of Commerce from W.A.N.T. is that there’s two type of people that can do this, that can hold this position; people that are very rich and people that are very poor. And I guarantee you I’m not very rich.

But the time thing and it does take time, especially when you are trying to build an organization. And I wanted W.A.N.T to become a player in the bigger overall schemes. E.C.C. wasn’t addressing our concerns and we always felt that E.C.C. was, and it was, it was Broadway, Broadway, Broadway. So I got tapped into it, and after that, especially after Washington got…became mayor, he opened up meetings for people from all over the city. And they’d have these big conferences, and they’d have breakfasts and luncheons, and I never … And that’s the other thing Paddy Bauer told us. Never pass up free food. He said, “You never pass up free food.” Heh, that works for me too. So I got to meet all these people from around the city and run into some people I hadn’t seen from the ‘60s when I was a kid. They’re, “You’re in this now, Heh?” “So am I. It’s been twenty years. Look where we’re at!”

But I always want to be known. When we’d call the Alderman’s office or we called City Hall, and we’re talking to Department of the Sewers, and we’re talking to Streets and San. We’d call the Ward Office and we’d go,” This is so-and-so from West Andersonville Neighbors Together… ” They’d know. They’d know that they had seen that name, they’d seen that designation and that they should probably do something about this problem.

DN: So your interest in getting involved in W.A.N.T. and doing it what you’ve called ‘your way’ was to increase awareness of this community and its concerns. And have an impact on the city level of addressing those concerns.

RM: Right. And at the business level. I mean W.A.N.T… the Chamber was not very strong in the ’80s.

DN: The Andersonville Chamber?

RM: Yes, the Andersonville Chamber. And of course the Edgewater Chamber never existed… but the Chamber was very, I won’t say piss-poor, wishy washy and never did anything, except they had a Midsommarfest which was like three blocks on the side walk. That was their Midsommarfest. There were meetings of the Chamber of Commerce that consisted of … even though they had a President, they had a Board, they never met. Frank Sakamoto was the President. I remember one year, he was the eye doctor up there on Clark Street by the Philadelphia Church there, south of there. But I can remember a Board Meeting, a Board Meeting deciding on what to do for Midsommarfest for the Arts Festival that year where the Board, the Chamber consisted of me, who wasn’t a member, and Father Earl, who had the church over here in Andersonville, a little house church, and Ardel Nichols. The three of us would meet at her store, which was the Antique Mall, which was the camping store before that. She would say, “I think we should this.” And Father Earl and I would sit there and go, “That’s a good idea.” And she would say, “OK we’re going to do this.” And then she would go to the bank, and she would have whoever was in charge at the bank at the time, Ken or Bud Wyman, and they’d just sign, and they’d write the check. And she’d go through all the work to get the permits. And that’s how Midsommarfest ran for two or three years. It was just the three of us. We were the Board. We weren’t members, but we were the Board.

DN: A can-do organization. Let’s talk a little bit about W.E.A.R. because you were active with that.

RM: W.E.A.R. came about… for years… well… starting in about 1986, South Andersonville was formed, correction Andersonville South Neighbors Association. And about that time Bob and Karen Donnelly lived in that neighborhood. Now Karen was a writer for the Lerner papers, and she used to do articles on W.A.N.T. And so A.S.N.A. started, she told me they had started and I was interested in that, so I went to some of their meetings. And we had them over here. We had neighbor nights, so we’d have them over here. Then I started looking at E.C.C. and what they were doing. I actually… around 1990, no 1988, we had some W.A.N.T. members who lived over here on the north side of Bryn Mawr. Hazel [Robertson], our secretary, actually lived on Olive. They knew one or two people who lived around them. They’d come to our meetings to see what was going on. They expressed an interest to us about starting something, but they could never get…no one would give enough time to gather up people to start a steering committee. So it sat there. It bothered me for a long time.

Then when I got involved with E.C.C. it bothered me more because I’d look at the big board. It was all color coded on neighborhoods. E.T.N.A., L.B.R.C., the Triangle, Thorndale, all that kind of stuff up there and there’s this big spot over here… There actually was a neighborhood group north of Ridge from Peterson to Granville and then from Granville to Devon. There some neighborhood groups over there that were identified. But from Bryn Mawr to Ridge, that was just a blank spot. Between Ashland, Clark and Ravenswood was a blank spot. Nobody had ever gone in there and tried to cultivate it. I talk to Ken Brusk about it and I talked to… oh, what’s his name, Jack Markowski. I mentioned it to a couple of people. At the time it was part of the 49th ward, I think, in the early days, in what’s his name, the guy that’s now our County Clerk – David Orr. His office wasn’t real interested in it. Sol Gutstein’s office wasn’t real interested – the 50th ward – he wasn’t interested. Rittenberg wasn’t thrilled about it, especially when they put up Peterson Plaza. O’Connor was more concentrated on St. Gregory’s, where the church was. But O.N.E. at the time came along and had a meeting on… an educational meeting, because there was talk about putting a school up on Peterson where the old “Z” Frank lot is now…

DN: Peterson and Western?

DN: No. Peterson and this side of Damen just west of Ridge…that second street, that big lot – that was a “Z” Frank overflow lot and there was talk about putting a school up there to take the pressure off of Peirce and that other one up on Granville. So O.N.E. had this meeting, so I figured OK. They’re dragging people from all over there. I’m going to go to this. Maybe there might be enough people from north of Bryn Mawr that I can actually talk to. And I went and there were like six people there that I found that lived between Bryn Mawr and Ridge. I talked to them after the meeting for about fifteen to twenty minutes. One of them said… ”Well,” I said,”I’d like to talk more. You guys should really form an organization like W.A.N.T. They knew what W.A.N.T. was. One of them came up to me. I said, ‘You can have a meeting in our condo.” So the six of them said, “OK. Let’s have a meeting in the condo.” So I said, “OK.” So we set it up. I went and said, “This is the advantages of having an organization. It can start with six people.

You can go with it.” They were relatively new to the area. There was one person who had lived there twenty years. The other ones had all lived there for less than ten. Some of them, a couple of them, had lived there for two years, less than two years.

So we had that meeting and set up another one immediately the next month. I said, “Talk to your neighbors. Learn what your concerns are.” And then after the second meeting I went to E.C.C. and I said, “Look.” We had a developer over there, I can’t remember his name. A young guy. I said, “You should come sit in on this. This is going to be a part of Edgewater.” He came in and gave them an overview of what they should do, bylaws, yada yada yada, kind of thing. So I said, “Well let’s get the bylaws and do that.” So we did bylaws. We set up,… I gave them assignments to do. They decided they wanted to do a parking lot sale, a rummage sale in the parking lot of the hospital. One of them went over to the hospital and asked if they could have the meeting at the hospital. I said, “That’s what you have to do. You have to go out because you’re going to do it. You six are it for the next two years. Anything that has to get done, you six have got to do it. You may get a hundred people at the meeting, but you six are the ones that have to do it. You’re going to have to dedicate yourselves to it for at least two years. And after that you can go away. Because it’s going to be taxing.” So they decided and they had the first meeting. And there was like a hundred and … I forgot how many people were there. I got the sign-in sheets, so I have the sign-in sheets for the first meeting. (Chuckles)

DN: He’s the gatekeeper.

RM: I have the sign-in sheets. But there was over 120 people there at the first meeting at the hospital.

DN: Now when you talked to those people about what were the benefits of dong an organization, could you recount those for us?

RM: OK, benefits is number one, it increases the awareness of people around you so that any time there’s an inkling of a crime being committed, graffiti on the garage, or somebody getting mugged on the street, then more than one person knows about it. And the organization knows about it. Then they can go and say, “Look. We represent 1500 people. We want something done about this now. When you’re plugging into city departments, Streets and San, Dept. of Transportation, you go in and say, “My community organization wants to know what the plans are for the next year.” They will open up to you more than if you go in and say “I’m Joe Blow and I want to know what’s going on.” There’s a closet over here. You go in and go, “My organization wants to know so we can plan and we want to work with you. We want meetings.” When they did the Clark Street rescaping, they had to hold meetings because of community organizations. We had to all vote on it. We all had to give our opinions on what was going on. It gives a sense of security and fun. We did fun things. I mean W.A.N.T. did lots of fun things. We didn’t just do fundraisers. We did fun raising. (Chuckles)

DN: I like that.

RM: I will take credit for doing most of the work at W.E.A.R. It was something that I wanted to do. When I left the presidency of W.A.N.T., that was my lasting monument. I’m the one that catalyzed that. Without me, those six people would have gone their separate ways because only three of them lived within spitting distance. The other three lived far away or at least at the edges and they would have never… And E.C.C. never convinced me they wanted to put an organization over there. Even though we had a member on the Board, Eric Zimmer, who lived over there.

DN: So you’re… I’m trying to get a feel for this, Ron, because it requires an immense amount of time and effort on your part. But what you’re talking about here is really creating this group in the sense of empowerment… using the sense of power of empowering other people to build something rather than the sense of power of… You talk about the power of the City, how can I put it, almost like a negative hand pressing down. But in your heart, the idea of creating W.E.A.R. was more to empower these people that lived in that community to create something for themselves. Is that accurate?

RM: Right. I wanted them to be able to say, “We live in Andersonville. We live in West Edgewater area. That’s where we live.” Then Edgewater could say, because I was a member of the Board, then Edgewater could actually say, “Yes, we actually have an Edgewater organization here west of Clark Street that’s identified themselves as Edgewater. It’s on the map. It’s in the papers. That’s where it is.” So I was playing off … I have a basic belief… and it’s hard for people to understand… When I went on the Board at W.A.N.T. and I started being involved in W.A.N.T., E.C.C., the Chamber and everything… I believe that in helping this guy over here down the street in his life or her life, they make themselves better. By them making themselves better, that makes me better. I don’t do it for myself. I want them to be better. I want them to have a better quality of life. I want them to have a better quantity of life. I want them to have more. I want them to have whatever they think they need. And by them having that, that helps me. That just helps me.

DN: I understand that. I do understand that.

RM: And people just have a hard time understanding that. It’s really a hard concept to get across to people. What? What’s in it for you? What’s in it for me is, they’re better. That makes me better.

DN: I think…I like to say altruism is the highest form of selfishness because when you’re giving to somebody else, you’re receiving so much back, I think…

RM: It’s not that I’m getting something from them. It’s that I’m getting something from me. It’s me that’s benefiting from this.

DN: I think that makes a person more fully human. It brings out the best of what we are.

RM: I think so. The best of what people can be. That’s why I did most of things I did during the ’80s and ’90s. I wanted everybody on the boat to rise up. But the bottom rung was still out of the water.

DN: Could we talk a little bit about your concept of the cyclical nature of community organizations?

RM: Yes. Basically they go through a seven year cycle. First two years are your base laying groundwork. You have your most dedicated members. After the second year they start dropping off. By the fourth year, if you have 20% of those original hundred you started with… you started out with a hundred. W.A.N.T. started off with a hundred and thirteen at the first meeting. If you have 20% of those people that show up at every other meeting, you’re doing very well. By the fifth and sixth year, membership will dip and interest in the organization will dip. Number of reasons. Number one is the enthusiasm is always the starting thing, the enthusiasm, the anger sometimes… Sometimes it’s just anger. W.A.N.T. started because they were angry at the Fun Zone. That’s why W.A.N.T started. They didn’t like the Fun Zone.

DN: On Clark Street. Howard, were you in the neighborhood at the time the Fun Zone was there?

RM: The Fun Zone over there where Edgewater Produce is now – the video parlor game, that was like Dennis’ up on Clark and… up there. It was a gathering point for undesirables, or at least what people in the neighborhood thought were undesirables. That’s what started W.A.N.T. Heyward, Jerry Urbanis, Jackie Piotrowski, and…

HC: It was a rallying point?

RM: It was a rallying point. It was just outside our area, but because of St. Greg’s… we did a lot of… kids would go there and come back here and… they didn’t like that. By the fifth and sixth year, most of your problems that have started the organization have dissipated. They’ve been solved or they’ve come to the resolution that nothing’s ever going to get done and you just feel resigned to the fact that you’re gonna have to live with it. Then you get to the seventh year mark and the people have been in office, they’ve been there two or three years. Then they start looking around and they start to find people. Then in about the eighth and ninth year, you get a new influx of people. New people have moved into the neighborhood in the last two or three years. Because nobody moves into a neighborhood and immediately starts joining a neighborhood organization. It takes you about two years, three years, to become acclimated. First of all, if you’re going to be here for more than a year or two… And second of all to come to terms with what is this neighborhood, and what do I want out of it. What can it do for me? That’s basically what it is. It comes down to what can it do for me? Not for people like me. I’ll be honest.

DN: Well that’s good.

RM: Then about year nine and ten, there’s be a kick-off. They’ll be a little boost. They’ll be some things… a playground… people. They’ll be fun activities. We were involved with the museum so we got a lot of older Swedes to come in that hadn’t been members before. And all of a sudden, they’re going, well look the organization I belong to is actually helping my historical society. And then you get new people, what’s going on over there. Then, somewhere around fifteen years… 1993 when I finished… ten, fifteen years is when you… That’s your make or break period. That’s when either somebody comes into the organization and roots it and digs deep and roots it down deep into the community and spreads out the roots around, or it withers and dies. If you make it to year fifteen, then you’re probably going to make it to year thirty.

DN: Well that’s where W.A.N.T. is right now, about year thirty. So we’ll see what happens.

RM: At the end of the fifteen year period is your rooted, firm organization and then you become more of a social organization around year thirteen…somewhere around seventeen…you get to fifteen you’re pretty good. By the time you’re seventeen, eighteen then you become a social… you move into that area where you become wine and cheese parties. That’s what I call it – the wine and cheese parties. And that may last for eight or nine or ten years. But it will get you close enough to that thirty year mark where you should, at that point, become senior status – that kind of thing. And it probably… you should start drawing I some younger people around the thirty year anniversary because the neighborhood now has changed. There’s not a whole lot of people that were here thirty years ago. So there’s new people and depending on the economics cycle of the time, between thirty and thirty five, you’re going to get a whole new group. You’ve got five thousand people in the neighborhood. All of a sudden four thousand of them have lived here less than five years.

If they have an organization that’s already there in place, then they’ll have somewhere to go to when something goes wrong. And something will go wrong. Rahm Emmanuel says, “Never pass up a good disaster.” And it’s basically true. People would come up to me and go, “Oh, we only had twenty people at the meeting this last month.” A few years ago we were only getting twenty people at a quarterly meeting.

I said, “Well that’s what happens when you go from monthly meetings to bi-monthly meetings, then all of a sudden you become quarterly,” I said, “your attendance starts to drop.” And I always used to say, “Yeah, the attendance is down, but if we had three or four good arsons, we’d have attendance of two hundred people.” A couple of shootings on the street corner, we could turn out a hundred people. It’s one of the benefits and one of the downsides of living in a nice quiet stable neighborhood. And West Andersonville has become so stable in the last five years. I mean, we probably have I would say between Bryn Mawr and Foster, and Ashland and Ravenswood, we have the least number of homes and buildings that have been sold in the last five years than any other neighborhood in the city comparable. Really. I was talking to Mary Skinner the other day and she goes, “Well, there’s one that’s going to be coming up because the old lady died and they’ve got to sell the building. But you’re right. I think there’s only been one sold in the past year…two.” We were talking about that at the meeting. There’s only been one or two that people could think of that have been sold in the last year.

DN: So it’s very stable. Howard needs to leave so I wanted to give him a chance to ask any questions he might like to ask. Is there anything?

HC: Well, I guess I was curious to know about how the neighborhood has changed – per-organization to today. You just mentioned the stability which is quite an earmark.

RM: Well, there’s not as many kids around as before. Well, we had that gentleman from Trumbull that’s getting involved and that’s good. Thirty five years ago there were tons of kids up and down every street. We’d have a block party on Catalpa every year and there’d be fifty kids out there on the jumping thing. I can show you pictures from ‘79 and ‘80 where we’d have Clean-Up and there’d be twenty kids out there sweeping and raking all between the ages of eight to fourteen. You’d walk through this neighborhood today and if you’d find twenty kids between the ages of one and twenty, you’d be doing good. On this street here there’s one kid that lives a couple of doors down that is below the age of sixteen. There’s nobody else on this street. Now when we moved in here, there were two, four, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. There were like between fifteen to eighteen kids under the ages of fifteen that lived on this street.

HC: Well, the neighborhood is really mature.

RM: And the people that have been buying into it, that have bought into it, have been older people. There’s aren’t any young people buying into it. And now that the young people, all their kids have grown up. Now it’s been thirty years. The ones that bought into it thirty years ago… Even though the houses on the street… this house has been pretty stable for the last twenty five years, these three apartments. People next door have been here for ten years probably, no more than ten years… People next door to them, now the people that were there before them, the Loches have lived there, god, from the time it was built, they’ve been there for forty years or something. But the people that live there now – they’ve been there five or six years. People next door to them – the Tujongs – their kids are all grown up and gone and they’re at the age now where they’re going to be departing us. The people next door to that – that’s a real transient building. They come and go every two or three years. The next one on the double lot, when Rose died, that building has been pretty stable. Those people have been… The people on the corner – they change about every three years. They stay for a couple of years and then they move on. They’re basically twenty year olds who come to stay and they move on. Across the street – the corner – they’ve been there for twenty years or more. The ones with the MIA, they’ve been there for twenty years. The ones next door to them – they’ve been there twenty years. The one next door to them is Jerry Urbanis’ old building and he left and he died. His daughter and son-in-law moved out. They took their two kids and they moved out. That’s been about over fifteen years now. The house there, that’s the last one, the next one here – that one was sold two years ago. They’re an older couple. I have no idea, no kids, but they’re an older couple. I’d say in their about forties or fifties. Now the house next to the three flat here – they’ve been there for probably twenty years. I mean the three flat here – nobody knows and nobody ever asks.

HC: So that’s a lot of stability.

RM: There’s a lot of stability. But people who have moved in, in the last twenty years, don’t have kids.

HC: Right.

DN: I’d like to amend that. The ones that do have kids are often young professional and they work and they have nannies. There’s a program at the church on Farragut and Paulina for kids, and there’s a playlot. They have one Grandma. Karen Minturn, who is bringing her granddaughter, and the rest of the people’s kids have nannies. So they don’t have the same investment in the neighborhood. And I would say are not looking to create the same sense of community as the other people.

RM: Not yet. They haven’t been here quite long enough.

HC: And the big problems have been solved… and the rallying point…

RM: Right. We know our sewers… all the sewers have all been cleaned out in the last twenty years. We don’t have to worry about sewers for the next twenty five years.

HC: You’ve taken care of the Fun House or Fun Zone.

RM: Yeah, the Fun Zone. We don’t have a gang activity problem here. St. Greg’s – the kids come and they go away. Basically they’re not the neighborhood kids, but they’re not here but just a few hours and they have… They used to have the British School over there and they used to have something else, I don’t even know anymore. And I don’t want to know sometimes. But those kids don’t… The railroad. We’ve got our garden now. It’s not unsightly. It’s a nice little stretch there. So we’ve solved that problem, that unsightliness.

DN: You don’t have any rallying points….

RM: Right.

HC: It sounds like it would be a mixed blessing. If you have any problem that may help you organize again, or get reinvigorated. On the other hand, then you have the problem to deal with.

RM: We’re at the point, as an organization, we have to respect of our political representatives.

HC: You’ve established yourselves.

RM: We established. They know who we are. (Phone rings) I’m going to let my answering machine pick it up – somebody I don’t want to talk to… Yeah. We don’t have the Flea Market anymore, and Midsommarfest, I think we should do more. That’s why I think the Treasure Chest would have be great. We could have used it to do a little fundraising. The people that are in charge of W.A.N.T. at the moment don’t see the value of reaching out to them, even though these people that are coming through here. And this is the point I heard. All those people that go to Midsommarfest, none of them live here anyway and they aren’t going to join our organization. And yes I understand that but they are here and if they like the neighborhood and if you ask people at Midsommarfest, “Would you like to live here? Do you think this is a good neighborhood?” They will tell you, “Yes.” You will get the vast majority of them to say yes. But there is no rental properties around that are vacant, especially in June. By then they were all rented out in May and nothing is going to open up until October. But they want to.

If we’re there making ourselves a presence and we give these people information that we’re here and you move here, you are not only moving into a good neighborhood, but you’re moving into a neighborhood with an organization that can get things done and can watch out for you. Its outreach, and it establishes itself in other areas of the city. “West Andersonville – Yeah, I know where that’s at. Oh yeah, my friend went up there. Oh yeah, my friend went to Midsommarfest. They said, ‘West Andersonville, you guys have a nice neighborhood up there.’’ So we spend some money. We spend some time. I think it’s important. I believe in outreach. I don’t think that… cast your bread on waters and it come back twofold.

DN: Howard, do you have a question? No?

HC: You know what. I have to leave. This is so interesting. I have an appointment at 11:30,etc… I have to run. Bye. Bye.

RM: I’d like to see you run.

HC: I’ll run very slowly. Nice meeting you, etc.

RM: Nice meeting you, etc…

DN: When I interviewed Tom Robb, he said, “In terms of community activism, his heroes were the people that out there every day doing the work, not the ones that were written up in the newspaper… not the politically prominent ones.” And he said, “Lynn Pierce, who was out there every day doing…”

RM: Betty Barclay. She was out there every day doing something… library volunteer. She was also on the membership committee of E.C.C. She was the membership committee for a number of years until I came along and they put me on there because I ran into Reggie.

DN: And by the way Lynn Pierce… I saw Lynn Pierce last night. She came by Summer Nights in Edgewater. And she said to say hello to you and that she’s missed you and to give you her best.

RM: I should give her a call. I got her number.

DN: She said that, to give her a call. So I was going to ask you, in terms of who are the heroes of the community? Who are the real treasures of Edgewater? Not to name names particularly, but what do think, because this if for the purpose of, not the next exhibit of the Edgewater Historical Society, which is going to be about the history of the society, but the second part is going to focus on the treasures of Edgewater, both things like the silver urns and people like you who we regard as one of the living treasures of Edgewater. Who do you feel are the real treasures of Edgewater besides people like Alderman O’Connor and Marion Volini who have the power to siphon money to the community?

RM: People who are long gone unfortunately. Unfortunately Annette Schroeder, Lynn Pierce of course, for her education things. Peggy was on the education committee. Betty Barclay had a big influence on that. Bob Remer. He was a big influence even when he wasn’t in E.C.C. Kathy of course. Without Kathy [Gemperle] there wouldn’t have been an historical society. LeRoy [Blommaert] for his fights. I have to give LeRoy props [proper recognition] for putting up with E.C.C. bureaucracy and activity for so many years because I only did it for three. And I had enough of it. Of course my wife died at the time, and that did help me ease out…

DN: Betty Mayian?

RM: Yeah. Megs Landon. She was a big influence in the neighborhood, in the Edgewater neighborhood. Who else? Actually I have some names down. Tom Kaysner. He was good. Reggie was… I like Reggie and I know he had a vision. But I always felt that they always treated him as a safe person. He wasn’t going to do anything outside the box. It’s not a slam against him. That’s just an impression I got… the dynamics around him is that he was always going to stay in that box that E.C.C. wanted.

DN: What about, Bob Remer mentioned Rabbi Schaalman?

RM: Oh yeah, Schaalman from over there on Sheridan Road. He was a big influence. Somebody that they won’t want me to mention and that you will get a myriad of opinions about is Sheli Lulkin. Sheli was a force. Now if you could tap into it and use that force in the right way you could get some things done. But if you ran afoul of her, there were some legendary battles between her and Annette Schroeder that will live in my mind for a number of years to come. I’m talking name calling, I’m talking just short of fist-a-cuffs. But Sheli was a force because she was on Sheridan Road and she’d been there and she was involved in the city. She had some political clout. She had some bad reps from the ’60s. There were rumors about Red Squads and that kind of thing. Rumors are rumors and stuff. But Sheli was a force to be reckoned with.

DN: I know we’ve talked about this before, but just for the purpose of this interview, what do you think makes Edgewater a unique community, if you think it is a unique community?

RM: Oh, I think it’s one of the most unique communities in the country. I mean, there is such a diversity and yet, outside of a very small percentage… We’re taking there are 70,000 people that live in Edgewater. And outside of the, if you can get rid of the 1400, the 2%, if you could get rid of the 2%, this would be one of the most peaceful neighborhoods, areas in the country. I mean, it is such a nice small town. It has its deficiencies on some things. We need a Walmart (chuckles)…

DN: You’re terrible.

RM: I know. We need a Trader Joes. If we could have a Trader Joes where the old Ace Hardware store is, and then we could tear down that entire triangle there from Rosemont back to Hollywood… we could tear that all down and put a Walmart there and I think they could co-exist very nicely in this neighborhood. In Edgewater. I think they could co-exist very nicely in Edgewater because there is so much diversity. It is a place where immigrants come here. We get a lot of new immigrants into the neighborhood. Africans, Europeans, South Americans, Eastern Europeans, Russians. They come and they flow here especially if they’re young and unattached. They’re entrepreneurs. They come here to Edgewater. Older established family members – they go to Rogers Park or they go to Little Village or whatever, south side, west side. But if they’re young and entrepreneurial, I’ll bet they’ll wind up there. At least for awhile. And on the flip side, we have the stability. West side of Clark Street – we’re very stable. And even east Andersonville is very stable. Most of their buildings are two flats. That’s very funny when you stop and think about it. When you stop and think about it, the mix of housing, almost… I’d say almost 80% of Andersonville east of Bryn Mawr are two flats.

DN: But L.B.R.C. wants to separate itself.

RM: L.B.R.C. are the snobs. I guess they’re not as snobbish as they were twenty-five years ago.

DN: Well twenty-five years or thirty ago they were very insular.

RM: Right. Very insular.

DN: I want to conclude this interview but I want to ask you if you had any other thoughts you want to contribute.

RM: Next time we can do the Chamber.

DN: Oh let’s do the Chamber a little bit now. You want to do that? Ten more minutes – do ahead.

DM: As I said earlier, starting in the early ’80s, even before I got involved in W.A.N.T., I was touching the Chamber, mainly through Ardel. When I met Ardel Nichols she was like a force to be… She was a force. You just meet certain people that are forces and that are strong forces and voices. “I want to do this now.” You kind of have to rein them in. But in the early ‘80s, ‘83, ‘84, the changing of politics, the changing of alderman, Kathy Osterman, the E.C.C. through the Alderman’s office… (unintelligible)

Kathy was extraordinary. She was truly a presence. She believed in outreach and when I was in W.A.N.T… this is really important. She didn’t reach out to me… I got a letter… in the early, mid-‘60s [sic]. In ‘86 Kathy sent a letter, “On behalf of the Edgewater Community Council may I extend greetings for 1986. We just finished electing our Board and Officers and look forward to a great year for Edgewater. I would love to come talk to you about E.C.C. and exchange information with you regarding our community. I want to hear your concerns. I am interested in attending your next meeting. Please call E.C.C. and let me know when I can come and speak to your group.” This is in January 1986. This is before she became Alderman. Now she was President of E.C.C. at the time and she sent that to us. We had her come. She was reaching out. She sent this letter to all the neighborhood groups in Edgewater. She was a force to be reckoned with. I just… I could see her as the Mayor some day. I think she could have stepped into that role and maybe would have. She had political support. She had political background. Harry’s gone through the state and now he’s the alderman. I don’t know how much further he’s going to go. I have a feeling he’s waiting for Jan to retire… just roughly… No, I could see Kathy, I could have seen Kathy as mayor… seriously. She was a force to be reckoned with… was loved by everybody that met her, except for a few people which we won’t talk about them. We know who they are.

DN: So back to Andersonville Chamber.

RM: OK, Chamber, yes. I can’t remember who was President of the Chamber at the time, right after Frank. The one after Frank. I think Theresa Cunningham. Somehow or another I think Bud Wyman got… Ken Brochs from the bank… Frank Corda from the other bank and Ardel figured out how to get a grant from the city. We’re talking the ’80s. We’re talking after Washington… Sawyer… and then they were having grants out for everything. They were promoting businesses. And somehow or other we got a grant. Andersonville got a grant to have an Executive Director for their Chamber of Commerce even though we didn’t have an office, we really didn’t have a Chamber. It’s like OK, this is kind of funny. The pastor over at Philadelphia Church, Dennis Sawyer, came in just about that time.

We got the grant and they found Terry Cunningham, Theresa Cunningham. And she shaped the Chamber the way it should have been shaped. She required meetings and bookkeeping and planning. She was on the street four days out of six knocking on doors, sitting down and talking to businesses. Then at night she’d come to community meetings. Then she’d have Board meetings. She’d have Board of Directors Meetings. She’d have Chamber meetings and the whole thing and she’d have programs and stuff. She worked two years, was the Chamber, and Ardel was just so happy. It just made Ardel’s life so much easier. They came to the realization that they really needed the neighborhood organization, East Andersonville and West Andersonville, to really join in with the Chamber so that they could become, instead of just being called Chamber, no we’re Andersonville, East Andersonville and West Andersonville, the Chamber of Commerce. So we’re bigger than just the Chamber.

The first Midsommarfest that they did that they closed down the street? You think there wasn’t controversy about that? There were people ready to pull out their picket signs from the ’60s and go marching up and down the street about that one. Lou Sussman from East Andersonville (E.A.R.C) and I, we were… we would attend the Chamber meetings. We weren’t members, and we hadn’t businesses on the street, but we’d be, you know, interested community people.

DN: No? Interested co-conspirator?

RM: Yeah, because Lou and I moved in… we shot a few things down in the Chamber at their Board Meetings. Actually Lou and I went because… because at the time George Stanton would bring over… before we started meeting at Ann Sather’s, we’d meet over at Augies or we’d meet at the Philadelphia Church… and George from the Swedish Bakery would bring over sweet rolls and cookies and stuff. He’d come across the street. He’d walk into Augie’s, he’d walk into Augie’s and he’d have these big trays that they used. I mean big trays. And he’s come in with one of those just filled with sweet rolls.

DN: So he knew he really had your number on that one!

RM: So he knew. But no, Lou and I, we’d go over and look and see what was on the agenda and we’d talk about what… talking with various business people about what they’d been told, what they wanted, what the Chamber wanted to do. And Lou and I would talk about it and we’d decide, you know, do we shoot this down or do we just be quiet, or do we say yes, let’s do this. How much enthusiasm do we have for this kind of thing? Do we really want to take this back to our organization and have them vote on it, which we know they would vote it down so we wanted to tell them.

Then Dennis Sawyer, when he became President – he was the preacher over at Philadelphia. He was real instrumental in firming up the Chamber, doing long range planning. I have a whole bunch of Chamber stuff that one of these days I’m going to give to the Historical Society because I don’t think the Chamber deserves it. But it’s got all kinds of five year plans from 1989, 1987, five year plans, all these things that never happened that everybody wished would happen. And the Midsommarfest, that was the crowning achievement. When Terry finally got to the point when she was… because she had a baby and family and started another… they hired a couple of wackos. Thankfully it didn’t last long enough. Bud Wyman was real involved. He’d been at the bank. That’s Dawn Wyman’s husband. Bud was… Bud was a money man. He was a money man. He had his fingers into a lot of different pies. He got into a little trouble here and there. But he came back to the bank. Ken Brucks was President, but Bud was, I don’t know, some kind of officer. I don’t know. Whatever it was. We didn’t care. He just drove the Chamber to an extent.

DN: Where do you think the Chamber is at now?

RM: I think they’re at a crossroads for one thing, because of the politics that are coming down the road. Fees and everything like that. It’s going to hurt them. Loss of income. They’re a viable organization. They’re established. I think Ellen’s been there a little bit too long. I don’t like Executive Directors that make it a career. It’s like CEOs. They should be there and then they should go away after a certain time. There comes a limit. I find the same thing for people who tap themselves into not-for-profit organizations and they’re there for thirty years in that position. That isn’t good for the organization. It’s not good for the people outside the organization that are trying to tap into it. And I don’t think it’s good for them on a personal level. I don’t think it helps them grow.

DN: When you say it’s not good for the organization, from what standpoint?

RM: They become too dependent on that person. They become too dependent….

DN: The organization?

RM: The organization becomes too dependent on the person who’s in charge. That’s what happened with W.A.N.T. was they had really come… Ron will do it, and yeah, Ron’ll do it and he’ll like doing it. He won’t hate doing it. But it’s not… it doesn’t help the organization change. And there’s one thing about… nothing… Everything changes except change. You have to change. That’s what the political stuff that’s going on in the last three years is about. Not about Obama necessarily. Obama is the personification of the change in America. And that’s what people can…”I want my America back.” What America? I see it on my website. I go to a certain website, a Christian website. Bring back the ’50s. Why? Bring back the back of the bus. Bring back stagnation. Bring back everybody working together in their own little group, but not cross-grouping. We will… out of that… hopefully we’re moving out of the 1980s phenomena. Right now, I’d say we’re in the tail end of this 1980s phenomena of individual. Do it. I blame Michael Jordan. Nike. I blame them for what’s going on now. It’s the exceptional, the celebrity, the person who becomes the celebrity because they’re a celebrity. Not because they do anything. The Kardashians.

DN: That’s a good example.

RM: They don’t do anything, but they’re celebrities because they’re doing it. The Nike mentality. Basketball used to be a game of cooperation, point guard passes to the center. The center will pass it to the scoring person, who scores, etc. Now it’s become, since the ’80s, it’s become the superstar. We don’t have the Chicago Bulls, we have Derrick Rose. We don’t have the Miami Heat, we have Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. We don’t have the Los Angeles Lakers, we have Kobe Bryant. It’s become that, and that’s gone out into society as a lark. We got high school kids. Oh, he plays on the basketball team? He is the basketball team. He is the football team. He is… it’s me, me, me. It’s number one. And that’s what’s brought into the whole Rush Limbaugh realm of thinking. I am the most important person in the world because you say I am, and I’m telling you to say that. And if you don’t agree with me, then you must be against me. And anybody that doesn’t agree with me is against me. And let’s all get together so we can be against that person. It’s crazy.

DN: It goes back to what you were talking about organizations and people being there… Also, isn’t that about the idea how power corrupts and the more… when you have a sense of power… unless it’s empowerment and even then it becomes an aphrodisiac.

RM: Sure, I’m mean, after a certain point…

DN: When you bring in new blood and you bring in change, that mitigates against the flood, it almost brings it down.

RM: Right. You have to get outside of your comfort zone and that’s what happens with people in the Presidency or the Executive Director’s position or even secretaries in non-profit organizations. The secretary who’s been there for twenty years. You’ve got to get away from that because you become… You expect it and you work toward that expectation. Instead of working for the betterment, you’re working for what you expect.

DN: I’m going to stop. Thank you very much Ron.


Transcription of Ron Massengill Oral History (Part 2)
Interviewee: Ron Massengill
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: March 20, 2013
Place: Chicago, IL
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Total time: 65:34 minutes

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Thank you for doing this interview. State your name please.

RM: Ron Massengill

DN: And today’s date….

DM: God knows. March 20, 2013. The first day of summer.

DN: It’s beautiful outside. It’s gorgeous outside. Now were you born in Edgewater or did you move here as an adult?

RM: I moved here as an adult.

DN: And the first place that you lived in Edgewater… would you tell us about that?

DM: Ok. It was the old Mansfield Building. It was on Clark Street just before you got to Ridge on the west side there ..um..

DN: Do you remember the address?

RM: I don’t remember exactly… 59… I want to say 5916 but I think it’s a little bit father north… and stuff… the only entrance to the apartment building was…

DN: Can you describe the entrance to the apartment building.

RM: It was in front and we lived on the 6th floor. It was like a fortress building… retail on the ground, apartments upstairs. It was when the old Carson’s steakhouse was over there before White Castle, and Jack in the Box was across the street where the park is…

DN: So did you have to walk up those six flights?

RM: Oh, no, no. We had elevators.

DN: You had elevators. How many people would you say were in the building? How many units?

RM: There were probably over 200, maybe 250… there were about 20 apartments per floor and 5 floors… maybe 100 apartments or there about and probably 2 to 3 people per apartment and stuff…

DN: I believe you were married at the time. How many rooms did you have?

RM: The guy that owns it now has owned it for about 26 years… about 26 years now. For the first 3-4 years out in Stickney.

DN: I think you shared with me that you raised your children here and they went to school in Edgewater.

RM: Right. Both my son and my daughter went to Trumbull. My son started first grade over there… kindergarten. We were in Rogers Park. First grade we moved to Edgewater Terrace and started going to Trumbull but she started kindergarten at grade one. Because her brother went to Trumbull she went to Trumbull although technically she should have gone to Peirce… but… uh… because we knew people at Trumbull and they loved us and they didn’t want to lose us because they would have probably lost 10 points average on their testing… us… not saying my son was brilliant, but heh my son was brilliant. Um, so she got to be in kindergarten. They enrolled her up at Trumbull and my wife felt more comfortable… My wife really didn’t want my daughter crossing Ashland and then Clark St. too. You know, even through Peirce is much closer, it… crossing at that age, my wife didn’t want her crossing Ashland.

I was aware of it. I like knowing what’s going on in my area so… and I had met some people in the Chamber. My wife was friends with the newsstand owner at Clark and Foster, the guy that owned the newsstand there, she was… I guess they were planning the ‘81, probably the second city … so it’s like OK school age… and then I went to one of the meetings. I went to a number of meetings in late ‘82. I never stopped… I was still in my Paddy Bauer days. Don’t sign anything and don’t have your pictures taken… (chuckles)… Chicago ain’t ready for reform back in the ’50s and I remember Paddy Bauer saying, “Go to this meeting, go to that meeting, but don’t sign anything and don’t have your picture taken ‘cause you don’t know who you’re standing next to, or who’s standing in the background and that stuck in my mind for years and years. My best friend John, same thing. You cannot find a picture of him and me. I had one friend who dug up a couple of pictures of the two of us. The only pictures of the time of family stuff. The only two pictures of John … So getting back to WANT. I went to a few meetings and stuff. Ok, Ok, I tried to understand it. And I understand that. And, uh, Gregory we always felt that even though Jerry Urbanis was one of the founding members and he lived across the street from me here and stuff. And I knew his daughter, lived next door, Jeannie. She lived next door. And, um, even though I knew them, we always felt… the rest of us on Gregory… we always felt we were the stepchild. We were the far north end on WANT and our streets were pretty clean and our garbage always got picked up and even though I’ve always been politically aware of what’s going on because I always knew who my alderman was… one of the things my dad brought me up on is that Paddy Bauer, Dick Webber, Boreno when we lived in Albany Park, we always knew who our… Bernie Stone lived right across and Gutstein when I lived here…

DN: An excellent connection to the city of Chicago…

RM: Nice to know who they are…

DN: Because you can pick up the phone and call… nice to know…

RM: Nice to know…It’s better to know the staff than the actual alderman. You get more stuff done through the staff. I found out when I got involved in WANT. You get more stuff done with middle management (chuckles). You want anything done you go to the worker, you don’t go to the boss.

DN: So Marshall brought you into W.A.N.T.?

RM: Yeah, more localized, more concerned with what’s going on. We had a little blimp in ‘84-‘85. We had a little group that wanted to form their own little gang and stuff. And they were … we found out who one of them was anyway. And we just went to the parents and said, ‘You’re a renter and if you don’t stop your kid from doing this, we’re just going to go to your landlord and scare the beejesus out of him. And then he’ll evict you and stuff. And then they moved about two months later and when he moved, three little members of the gang just faded away. And we didn’t have that problem. But for awhile we were getting gang symbols in the early ’80s. Young Style is what they called it. YS on peoples’ garages and doors and stuff like that. We had a little talk. I don’t know who scared them, but we made them aware that their kid was the one that was leading them. There were 130 people at that meeting. At the second meeting there were 111. So, OK, and it wasn’t uncommon during the ‘79 period … Anywhere during the ‘70 period they had meetings from anywhere from… I think the lowest I saw was 53 up to 85 members at every meeting. And they were meeting almost monthly at that time.

DN: What was the impetus to have so many people meeting like this

RM: Well, the Fun Zone was the thing that started it. The Fun Zone was a… I remember back in the ‘70s… was a pin ball machine, video games. And a place called the Fun Zone had opened over on Clark St. where the Edgewater Produce Company is now. And they opened up a huge game room over there. Well they had so many undesirables to put it bluntly and stuff hanging around and coming from north Andersonville and even Broadway, because there was no place on Broadway. So they even had kids coming up from Broadway. And they were drawing in… there was a lot of youth in this area in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I never recall any acts of overt violence… some fights and rumors of drugs being sold. You know the big drug marijuana – wow – wow. Everybody run away from that one. In 1980, ‘79, that was the bad thing, umm…

DN: So it was a loitering problem?

RM: It was a loitering, and you know it was just … they strolled through and caused group problems. When you get a large group together, it causes problems for individuals…

DN: The kind of thing when you get a group walking down the street it causes older people to step off the sidewalk into the street and…

RM: Right. And of course they were all representing, profiling. They’re all like, “I’m a member of this. I go to… blah, blah, blah” and everything.

DN: So the FUN Zone issue brought the community together?

RM: Yes, brought West Andersonville together. That was the big issue. They did a survey and I have the results somewhere. I’ll find them. I have so much stuff from ‘78. I have the minutes of the first meeting. I know everybody would love to get those. The only thing… I have them. I have them packed away somewhere. When I pass away… OK… they might be over there. I’ll find them because I do have them.

DN: I would like to make a suggestion to you. Maybe you’ll write down if anything should happen to you, they might go to Edgewater Historical Society.

RM: Well I plan on doing that. I plan on giving them to the archives. I do have all my newsletters that I did. The 66. I’m giving those to LeRoy. I’m going to drop those off when I know he’s going to be there. I’ll drop those off. Those are the 66 that I did.

DN: That would be a valuable addition. I have most of those digitally but to actually have them…

RM: know that at one time I had all of them except for two… and my question has always been, “Those two don’t exist.”

DN: I think you’re right.

RM: Judy Benjamin at the time, in the ‘70s, early ‘80s, she was involved in doing the newsletter. And when I talked to her before she left, she didn’t remember doing them for those two months. And then I stopped doing newsletters in ‘85… and stuff… you know. I’m not going to do a Decemeber newsletter because we had the Christmas party. And that’s it, you know. Anyway getting back to ‘83, they pushed me onto the Board as a Member at Large because no one else was going to do it. It really was to the point… I’m trying to think… ‘85 I was Vice President, ‘83-‘84 I was Member at Large. ‘86 I was elected President.

Vice President… I took over… Marshall was President but he was going through an acrimonious divorce… almost every one of them that year was being run by Ron (chuckles)… and stuff. And then they elected me President. They wouldn’t let me go. Matter of fact, hang on just a second. Let’s stop this for just a second. I want to show you something.

DN: I can keep going. Ron, what have you got there? Tell us.

RM: In ‘87 my wonderful co-Board of Directors got together and gave me a little surprise at the end of the year because I’d been President, Vice President, Member at Large. I did most of the meetings and they gave me this nice little gavel to convene the meetings because up until then we never had one. We’d just bang on the podium or we’d go, “Everyone look.” So they presented me with this nice little gavel with my name on it in 1987, so that I could actually stand up and go, “Bang, bang” It says, “1987 Ron Massengill.” So from that point on it was my little hammer. I thought it was very nice of them to do that. It was a total surprise. I’m going, “Wait a minute. How did you pay for this, if I didn’t sign the check?” They said, “Don’t worry about it” because at that time we had to have two signatures on the check and almost every check had my signature on it. This time they used the Vice President and the Treasurer.

DN: So, they had the Vice President and the Treasurer sign the check? Oh, because Marshall was not there?

RM: Yeah but that year I was the President. Every year we changed. I mean, one year we kept everything the same. Two years. When Marshall was president they kept the same Board for two years. When Bob retired, they moved me up form Member at Large and Bob resigned. He didn’t like the fact we weren’t pushing the playlot. We wanted a playlot in the area. That’s one of the things. In ‘84 ‘85, I kind of wanted one. I thought we deserved one in the area from Ashland to Ravenswood. I wanted the area by the railroad tracks. Some of the other people wanted one. The Park District came in and said “No. The property belongs to the railroad. We’re not going to spend the money on it.” It was a major concern during the survey. People wanted a playlot other than the one on Ashland and Farragut, and the one on Bryn Mawr, because you have to cross a busy street. We didn’t have one on our side of the street. We worked on it… there were a lot of people that worked on getting a playlot in this area. There were two areas, one by the Noyes-Deppert building, OK, on the Berwyn side that we felt could have been converted, but apparently the Park District didn’t want to spend the money on it. And then there was another one on Summerdale. There was an empty lot. I think it’s still there. It’s right across the street from Dick Palotta’s house and we were thinking they could put one there. Even through it would be kind of small, it wouldn’t be the smallest one in the city. There’s one over on Winnemac just west of Broadway that’s really small. We were thinking we just wanted three swings, a slide and a jungle gym and a sandbox. We weren’t looking for trapezes and all that stuff. Just something small.

And Bob [Ikhtiari] got a little upset. He didn’t think we were doing enough so he resigned and moved out of the area. He moved and took his kids and moved away. He was a nice Vice President. He was energetic and involved. So then they voted me into the VP position that year and then the President. And I’m going, what’s going on here? Well Marshall did it for two years so I can do it for two years. So, OK. And then Marshall just kind of went away. That why I say I was president for four years technically, but really five…kind of thing.

DN: I thought according to bylaws you could only be President for two years…

RM: Thank you. Up until that point there was no limitations.