Bernard Walchek (transcript only)


Oral History of Bernard Walchek
August 16, 1993
Evanston, Il. 60201
CH: Where were you born, Bernard?
BW: Born and raised in Edgewater. My parents were both born in Russia, emigrated, and were married here and were the parents of four children. My father, William, went into business for the first time in 1924. At that time he bought a store at the corner of Clark and Devon. We’ve been in and around that corner in the hardware business, well, since 1924.
CH: Where were you born?
BW: I was born at 1444 West Talman Avenue. I came to Clark and Devon when I was two years old in 1927. At that time we started living in and around the store. My first home was at 1513 West Highland Avenue; before that we were in apartments. From there we moved up to 6339 North Clark Street. From there we moved our place of business, not our home, to Highland and Clark. By this time, we were grown, and some of us were married off. The address was 6233 N. Clark. At that time my dad retired. I took over the place of business, and years later, we moved the business to the corner of Clark and Devon, again, for the second time, at 6401 North Ashland.
CH: Do you have any special family traditions? BW: What do you mean? In what respect?
CH: Oh, I don’t know, you don’t have any?
(Here there is extraneous noise on the tape making the conversation impossible to hear. EM)
BW: Of course I know all of There’s a lot of noise all
of a sudden. Conrad?
CH: Yeah.
BW: Conrad from Highland Avenue. Hewitt, from Highland Avenue.
CH: Yeah.
BW: He ended up as a superintendent in the fire department and his grandchild is now working for us. Interesting. A round robin on that one.
CH: Yeah.
BW: I’ve seen many people that we knew from the neighborhood…
CH: When you got here Clark was already widened?
BW: As a matter of fact, we had to move out of our first store in 1926, because they were widening the street and that building had to come down so they took the building that my dad was in originally at 6403 N. Clark, and they tore it down and they brought Ashland Avenue which at that time stopped at Arthur (?) and they brought it north to join up with Clark at Rosemont Ave. At that time the street was completely widened, everything from Rosemont north to Devon to Schriver was moved east. After it was moved east, they started to build the new theater. The new Ridge Theater hadn’t been built yet.
CH: Oh yeah?
BW: Of course the foundation for the new building was put in just west of the Ridge Theater, but it was never built.
CH: I remember that foundation.
BW: That foundation was the one that is under our property now. CH: Still there, huh? Didn’t take it out?
BW: Didn’t have to.
CH: I remember when I was a kid going by there. They had a fence around it, so you couldn’t fall in it but it was a big hole. And on the other corner was a bank, remember?
BW: That was on the southeast corner, the Bank of Rogers Park. That closed up during the Crash, never reopened, followed by
Drug Store. I remember the fixtures in that drug store were designed for the bank. It was a two story building on the inside so it made you feel like a bunch of midgets were running around in there. That was funny.
CH: I remember going by there once when they were tearing it down and what a job it was to knock the walls apart.
BW: Terrible, terrible. I think the general contractor who got the bid on that job lost his marbles on that one. They had to literally burn it out. They had to burn out the ceilings, then break the concrete, then burn out the ceilings again.
CH: Yeah, yeah. So we could go on and on, talking about the Crash, but let’s talk about the school you went to. Where did you go?
BW: I went to Hayt School through eighth grade, and Mrs. Tate was our principal. From there, we went to Senn High School….
CH: Were there any gangs in Hayt when you went there?
BW: No, no, just a marble group. I was a great marble shooter. And I loved baseball. Soft ball at that time. Then later on when I turned about sixteen we started a hard ball team, and we played at Amundsen High School. We also played at the orphanage (can’t catch name of orphanage - it sounded like Angel Guardian
Gardens - EM) And then sand lot baseball, not too well
organized, but a lot of fun, played that until we graduated high school.
CH: Your high school was Senn?
BW: Yeah.
CH: Go any further than that?
BW: No. I went into the Army, spent two lovely years there, ha ha, and from there I went to….as a matter of fact, before I went into the Army I went to Northwestern. They had just started a aeronautical engineering course and I was just getting
into it. I told the professor that I felt sure I couldn’t complete the course because I was about to be called into the Draft. He said that by all means that should I sit in. So I sat in for about six weeks in the class and from there I went into the Army. After I came back, I went to Northwestern Business School and learned how to stay the hell out the profession…went back into the business.
CH: What branch of service were you in?
BW: The Army Air Corps. Our missions were photographing the enemy airfields, primarily, and the means with which they
defended their ships and their islands. It was a nice…I was an A-70, they called it. What we would do is take the flight log of the pilots and print it on the film after it was developed. The print would show up as it was not high airfields or not a hot town, or whatever it was.
CH: Sounds like it was pretty dangerous.
BW: It was for the pilots because they were not armed. They only had cameras in the plane.
CH: Did you make any flights?
BW: No. I didn’t do any flying. My work was on the ground. Under the table, sometimes. (Laughter)
CH: Do you belong any churches or temples?
BW: Oh, yes. I belong to a congregation here in Skokie. We’re of the Jewish faith, and my children are raising their children the same way, for which I am very happy. I’m very happily married. I’ll be married forty-five years on September 6th.
CH: How many children do you have?
BW: I have three children, two boys and a girl. The two boys are in the business and have taken it over. I have a son-in-law who is also in the business, John Summers, and, as a result, I have my family right under my wings.
CH: Ha ha. Watch them every minute, huh?
BW: I love it. Love every minute of it.
CH: So what was transportation like in those days?
BW: In those days? Well…
CH: Did you have a bicycle?
BW: Oh, yes. I had a bicycle when I was thirteen. And with it, I got a paper route and a basket to hold the papers. And in about two weeks my father said that I had to give up the paper route. I said, "Why should I give up the paper route?" He said,
"Because you are breaking too many windows!" Then I went to a cleaning store where I delivered cleaning.
CH: On your bicycle?
BW: On my bicycle. I’d make a pick-up at Pratt and Sheridan ­they’d do our pressing, and I would bring it to him in the morning and take it back in the afternoon, for the grand total of $3.50 a week plus tips I might get for delivery.
CH: That was every day?
BW: Every day. Including Saturdays. From there I graduated to chop suey at Granville and Broadway. That was a very fine job because the average order was $.97 and they would give me a dollar and say "Keep the change."
CH: Ha ha. You didn’t spend a lot of time working in the store then, did you?
BW: No. I did after I was about sixteen. That’s when I started to spend full time or at least as much time as I could give to my dad and I never did realize how much he needed help until I got into the Army and I had time to think about what I had done to my dad. I realized that here’s a man all by himself and trying to raise a family and run a shop all at the same time. I had a terrible guilt complex for years. Perhaps that’s why I ended up in the hardware business. I really wanted to be an aeronautical engineer but unfortunately I got a letter from a cousin of mine who was an aeronautical engineer in California and knew that I was interested in it. He advised me not to get into it. Curiously, I listened to him, and I never went back to school. And, here we are, forty-seven years later, in the hardware business.
CH: Yeah. Well, you never can tell. Do you think you would do it over again if you had the opportunity?
BW: Yes. I think so.
CH: I remember going into the hardware store and there were times when your mother would come out.
BW: Oh yes. Many times. Often my dad would have to go out during the day and if there was no one to take over the store, he would have had to lock up. That’s where I developed that guilt feeling.
CH: Yeah. So what do you do for entertainment when you work seven days a week?
BW: I don’t work seven days a week. I do gardening and I do sculpting.
CH: Now. What did you do when you were a kid, you played soft ball?
BW: That’s all. Marbles and softball.
CH: Did you get a chance to go to the show.
BW: Yeah, yeah. Once a week I’d go to the Ridge Theater. As a matter of fact, there was a real estate office next to the Ridge in one of the stores there run by a Mr. Nimwagon. Mr. Nimwagon was my buddy. Or I was his buddy, whatever. When I went to the show with my nickel or dime, whatever it was at that time, he’d say, "Save your money for candy. I’ll take you to the show." Then he’d put me on his shoulders and march me in.
CH: Yeah. But remember, there was a candy and pop corn store next door?
BW: Yeah.
CH: I never had much of a chance to get into that candy store. It was hard enough to get money for the show. What else do you remember about Edgewater?
BW: Edgewater? Oh, the old Green Hornet..Remember them?
CH: Oh yes. But before them there were the other ones that we used to be able to ride for two cents. Remember that?
BW: The conductor in the back and the motorman up front and the clanging bell. You know I saw one of those. They have a train museum ….
CH: In Union, Illinois.
BW: Is that where it is? The trains out there and the street cars. Delightful.
CH: Yeah. Those Green Hornets. They were really fast.
BW: The conductor stood in the middle and in order to get off, you’d have to tell the conductor.
CH: Yeah. The button. Do you know that they stopped by
lifting themselves off the track?
BW: No.
CH: They had magnetic things that grabbed the track and the more pressure they put to it the more it would raise the train off the track to stop it.
CH: So what do you think of Edgewater today?
BW: Well, it’s changed. There’s no question about that. There are many ethnic groups there and it seems to me that the most successful ones are Asian groups (Not sure of Asian - EM) I think they are hardworking people and it’s going to pay off for them. Don’t you seem to think that’s true? This is your tape. Don’t you want to offer an opinion?
CH: Well I’ll tell you. One of the reasons that I am as bright as I am is because when I went to Hayt School, it was primarily Jewish. And the Jewish were much more diligent in learning.
BW: Either that or get a punctured eardrum from a blow to the head. (Laughter)
CH: So in order to keep up with the Jewish people, you had to compete. I think that brought me up to their standards.
BW: Very interesting aspect.
CH: My first girlfriend was Shirley Winsenberg (not sure of name EM).
BW: Oh.
CH: Until she took me home. BW: Ha, ha, ha.
CH: But this is one of the problems we have now. Keeping these people who are not cultured up to our standards like I was brought up to respect the Jewish families.
BW: Education is first and foremost. It is so important to them. You have to understand that the country that my parents came from there wasn’t that opportunity. My father I think luckily went through sixth grade.
CH: Yeah.
BW: So getting back to today and the education thing. They are hardworking and they push their youngsters. There’s no question. They are going to remain in Chicago. I was just reading an article about homes and the buying of homes and guess who is buying all the homes? Asians are buying the homes. First thing they do. As soon as they get any money ahead, they buy a home. And where are they buying? They buy in Skokie, they buy wherever they can afford to buy. And there are others that are more industrious and buy apartment buildings, a three or six flat. They buy it on a shoestring, but they do buy it. They work very hard. I see it every day.
CH: This is one of the things that bothers me. The colored have been here for two hundred years and of course a lot of us immigrants and the first generation or whatever….and to see these people coming to the United States and the colored end up by having to work for them.
BW: The opportunity is there for everybody and certain people will grab at it and hang onto it; others don’t. There are golden opportunities in Chicago and unfortunately there are just some who will go for it.
CH: And so, where do you think the city is going?
BW: I would say that if anything, the community is getting better than it has been since 1993, I think it’s better now than it was ten years back. Let’s take it back fifteen years.
Fifteen years ago there was a big influx of Cubans. They were also hard working, very, hardworking, but for some reason, they have disappeared from the area. I don’t know what happened to them, but they don’t seem to be in the neighborhood anymore. Several that I still know are in the automotive business. They are hard working people and they are obviously going to be or are successful. But they’re not around anymore. I don’t know why. There are some very fine businesses in the area that are still owned by Cubans - that place on Devon Avenue (transcriber can’t catch name EM) and the health center across the street and many many businesses. There are some rough guys in there,
CH: Getting back to what you call the Crash. How much did it affect your life?
BW: My personal life? CH: Yeah.
BW: Oh, not much. Parents during that time, our parents particularly, they would never take a spoon of food. The children would have it first and the result was whatever we did - ­I remember when I was a youngster and during the so-called Crash, coming home from school with my two sisters, and the dining room table was set for us for lunch. What was there for lunch? There was a loaf of bread, a can of sardines which we had to split and perhaps some fruit, and my mother was gone. She was helping my dad in the business. By the time we got back from school she was there, preparing supper and then we all had supper together. What I do remember from that time is there were happy times, too. My father bought a piano on time - that was the only thing he ever bought on time. He fixed up the girls, my sisters with piano lessons. Of course, I took a violin lesson, at least once, Remember those guys who used to come around after school –
CH: Yeah, yeah.
BW: They’d say, "Here, sign up." Well, I did. Then I found out that the lessons were on Saturday and I’d miss Flash Gordon.
CH: Oh boy!
BW: I didn’t want to miss Flash Gordon. CH: What about your parents paying for it?
BW: Well, it was 25C a lesson. Not that bad. They loved it when I started playing Danny Boy on the G string or whatever the hell it was. They were tickled pink. But no way could I continue with this, if I was going to miss Flash Gordon.
CH: That reminds me of the guy who was out there trying to get you to sell magazines, remember?
BW: Oh yes. I met many of those guys.
CH: I don’t think that’s illegal anymore.
BW: My worst job was selling papers because we would deliver the Sunday papers early in the morning and then we would have to come back in the afternoon to collect. Ha, ha.
BW: What a terrible job that was! Yeah. We kept busy.
CH: I don’t think there are those jobs for the kids nowadays.
BW: I think they are there, but the children don’t take advantage of them. They’re there. You go out early in the morning in certain areas, and you’ll see young kids, high school age delivering papers.
CH: Oh yeah?
BW: Nowadays, everybody’s got a vehicle. CH: Yeah. They deliver my papers in a car.
BW: Mine, too, but those fellows can do five times what a kid can do walking. That can be a living for an adult now, so that’s the money that the youngsters used to
CH: Yes, but I imagine that if a kid was willing, he could get a job cutting grass or something, but I don’t see….
BW: No question about it. I just don’t see that. They’re not motivated.
CH: They don’t need the money like I feel we did. Do you think it gave you more of an appreciation for money by having to go through the Depression?
BW: I think it gave me the feeling that I wanted my own children to understand more about - not necessarily money - but more about work and the work ethic. I think that they did learn that by watching their grandfather or father, whoever. They did learn the work ethic and they are not afraid to work. I wish, but unfortunately, not all children have the opportunity to work with a father or a grandfather, and it’s too bad that they can’t. We try our best to get young kids into the store, pay them, see if they can develop, but as soon as they get a few dollars, they buy a car, and they’re gone. Now these are kids eighteen, nineteen, or high school age. I know we went to the high school several times and they had a work program, but none of them made it. Not one was successful. They would last for a week, maybe two, then gone.
CH: My father was an unemployed bricklayer, and I spent a lot of time with him, whatever we did, whether it was fishing or gardening, and I think that it gives you something of a work ethic.
BW: Yes. The work ethic of your dad.
CH: Right. It seems that nowadays kids don’t have that sense.
BW: They don’t have any parents at home. The mother is working, or it is a single parent family, the mother usually; the father is no longer there; I don’t where they’re at. This divorce thing is taking over.
CH: What I have found it that we get a lot of suburban divorces in Chicago because this is where they can rent an apartment and whatnot.
BW: Yep. That might explain that.
CH: I have friends who got divorced and they ended up going to Hayt School from out from Deerfield.
BW: Is that so?
CH: So, do you think we’ve covered everything or is there anything else you can think of that you would like to bring up on the Edgewater community?
BW: Nothing. I think I have to thank them for my life.
CH: What’s your opinon about getting drafted into the Army? Do you think that we were born into that special crypt that we were the persons that were affected more. I mean, why us?
BW: It had to be somebody and …the time was that we had to take our chance. I remember very distinctly we were playing football on that Sunday morning or afternoon and the flash came over and at that time we were seventeen, about to finish high school. We talked it over, "What are you going to do?" "Oh, I’m going to get into the Army immediately." They were quite nationalistic in their feelings. Like I say, I didn’t mind the Army at all. I thought it was a necessary thing.
CH: Did you volunteer?
BW: Yes, I volunteered to get into the Army, but of course my number was come up, and I had a choice. If I volunteered, I supposedly could choose the branch that I wanted to get into. I wanted to become an airplane mechanic. At that time it was the Army Air Corps. They offered me the Navy, Marines, everything but the Air Corps. I kept fighting and fighting until I finally got into the Army and I went to a school in Boston. There they taught me topographical engineering. We would take and make a map of an area showing elevations. The point that I want to bring out is that our barracks was across from - not Ebbets Field - but what’s the place in Boston - that baseball team - At any rate, our barracks was in a factory zone and what do you think was in the factory where they were filming? Airplane mechanics. Ha, ha. All the training and here I was in Army
Engineers, learning how to make maps.(Note: Some of this may be
inaccurate due to transcriber’s inability to hear clearly-EM) CH: You were in the Army Air Corps?
BW: Yes. From there I went to Army Drafting, learning how to draw maps.
CH: Whereabouts? East coast?
BW: Boston. And from there we went to Peterson Field in Colorado. From there we organized and went to Tulsa to some air strip out there. From there we shipped overseas. Most of us went to Asia, and some of us went to Europe. (Here voice becomes too soft to hear -EM)
CH: What year were you born?
BW: 1924. September of ‘24.
CH: Do you keep in touch with any of the kids you went to school with?
BW: Sure. We went to the fiftieth high school reunion at some big hotel downtown. There must have been two three hundred people there, believe it or not. Most of the men I could recognize by their faces, but the women, not any of them. These were not just wives, but students at the high school. That was a most interesting evening. Most interesting. But I am in touch with about a half a dozen guys from school. When they’re in town, they stop over. And when I’m in their town, I stop over, from Dallas, to Brooklyn, all over. Anyway, that’s life in the big city.
CH: Yeah. Do you travel much?
BW: I travel as much as I possibly can, and when my wife is feeling good, we travel more. We’re getting to the point right now where she can get out more and this fall we’re going to the East Coast. Wanted to go to Italy, but we’re settling for the East. We’re going to take a bus tour, for the first time, up and down the coast.
CH: Why’d you want to see Italy?
BW: It’s just a place I want to see. I’d love to see Northern Italy, not Southern Italy. If I ever go to Southern Italy, I’ll go to Sicily. Rome doesn’t interest me.
CH: Oh, you’ve been there already.
a trip down the Rhine, see the wine country. That and Northern Italy. And then my wife would like to see Norway and Sweden. Well, some day, if we still have our health. That’s a big item at our age.
CH: Yeah.
BW: So that’s the story, Carl.
CH: We’ve covered everything?
BW: Yeah. Thank you for this opportunity.