If you're from Chicago, know someone from Chicago, or want to be from Chicago, then you've heard of the Great Blizzard of '67. For those of you from Des Moines or farther west, just know it was a huge deal. On Jan. 26, 1967, snow began falling and did not dissipate for 29 hours. Approximately 23 inches fell. The front pages of the newspapers showed abandoned and mostly buried cars littering the streets and expressways. Time seemed to stand still. Well, maybe not time itself but just about everything else.
I was just a little girl then, a scrappy 7-year-old with braids and freckles. We lived out in the prairies, which are now the far western suburbs. I sat on the back of the sofa with my nose pressed to the window watching my sisters and the neighborhood kids sledding down the huge drifts in a sea of white. Every winter I had to sit out of a lot of outdoor activities due to severe asthma. So I watched, sometimes laughing as they tumbled off their sleds at the bottom of the hills and drifts. When they would come in red-faced and shivering, dropping their wet clothes near the back door, I would pick up a random mitten with bits of crusted snow and hold it to my cheek.
We have a cottage on a lake in Michigan. It's a year-round home and although our kids spent the first few winters ice skating and learning to ski, summer will always be the main draw. In an effort to get everyone up to the cottage last month, we put together a weekend sledding event for our family, including our two little granddaughters. We pulled out all of the old sleds from the garage rafters, bundled up in layers and headed off to a nearby state park.
In all of these years I've never sledded. I thought I broke my ankle the first time I stood on ice skates and skiing is pretty much a death wish as far as I'm concerned. Yet I never forgot that feeling of being left out years ago, wanting to feel that rush of air and thrill of almost flying as all the kids did during that blizzard. This time around I wanted to be the one sailing down the hill, rolling in the snow and laughing.
My daughter and I stood inside the warming shelter, which is much like a metal shed with windows. There's a huge stone fireplace and chopped wood if you are making a day of it. Emily held her little baby, Madelyn, just 3 months old, wrapped in layers and layers of warm blankets. We watched out the windows as our crazy family flew down the hill, screamed, tumbled, rolled and dragged themselves back up for...just one more!
I was wrapping my scarf around tighter, fixing my eyes on the top of the hill, ready to make that climb. Surprisingly, it was taking a lot more courage than I thought I would need. Then Emily turned to me.
"Mom, will you hold Madelyn? I want to give it a try." And suddenly I was looking into the eyes of another little girl, my Emily. The one always trying to catch up with her daredevil brothers; the tiny little girl who sat on the beach while everyone swam to the raft and dived off; Dad's little helper in cleaning up the boat every spring but rarely going on the lake. This was going to be a big deal. I took the baby from her and smiled. I watched through the window as she climbed the hill while I cradled and cooed to little Maddie. And I knew the thrill was all mine.
Supporters of Our Lady of the Ridge Elementary School in Chicago Ridge are doing everything possible to keep their doors open. I'm not sure what their odds are, but at least they have a chance.
At this point, you have to accept the fact the Chicago Archdiocese has sent out a warning that the school could close if they are unable raise enough money and increase enrollment.
But St. Louis de Montfort Elementary School in Oak Lawn did not have that opportunity. Unfortunately, the enrollment numbers at the school had continued to plummet over the years. Administrators there probably saw no alternative. But I always feel sorry for the parents who send their children to these schools and then receive the shocking news.
The announcement to close St. Louis de Montfort occurred on Jan. 11, which is the same day that Our Lady of the Ridge received its warning. I have brought this up to several supporters and parents who have children attending Our Lady of the Ridge about the warning. The archdiocese believes there is hope that this school can remain open.
While the enrollment numbers have been low at Our Lady of the Ridge the past few years, there does seem to be an organized effort from the school administration and the parents. That is a positive sign. The school also held an open house on Sunday, Jan. 29 to begin Catholic Schools Week. Banners could be found in front of the school mentioning the open house. Banners and signs also could be seen touting the positive aspects of the school.
It is always difficult to say how the Chicago Archdiocese is leaning when it comes to closing schools. Queen of Peace, an all-girls high school in Burbank, is closing in June due to low enrollment numbers that the archdiocese believes will not turn around. Many parents and students found out through a series of robocalls on the night of Jan. 24.
I have seen many Catholic schools close within the past 16 years. The archdiocese has usually indicated that they would like to seen an enrollment at or near 225. But that is not always the case. I think it often comes down to what impact does the school have on the surrounding community at large. And can the staff and parents at Our Lady of the Ridge raise enough money to validate staying open?
Sr. Stephanie Kondik, principal at Our Lady of the Ridge, gushes when she talks about the parents and the students at the school. She has served as principal there for 23 years and believes the students receive a better education at Our Lady of the Ridge. Sr. Stephanie said that she and the staff know the students by name. She added that the appeal of Our Lady of the Ridge is that is a close-knit family.
Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, a 1967 graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge, believes the school is like the heart of the community. For residents who have been raised in Chicago Ridge, Our Lady of the Ridge is important even if they did not attend the school. Tokar is confident that the archdiocese will allow Our Lady of the Ridge another chance because parents, community leaders and the business community have been raising money to keep it open.
The money aspect is important. I have seen some schools close whose enrollment numbers were higher but they had long-lasting debts. And some of the schools have closed because the archdiocese determined that they could not sustain enrollment growth.
But I have also seen schools with low enrollments who were able to raise lots of cash and remain open. St. Christopher School, 14611 S. Keeler Ave., Midlothian, was supposed to close at the end of 2014. But through an aggressive marketing campaign and the fact that supporters were able to raise money through businesses and donations, St. Christopher has remained open.
And this was a school that seemed certain to close. But graduates, the school staff and even the students fought against the odds and were able to convince the archdiocese to keep St. Christopher open.
So there is a precedent for Our Lady of the Ridge. The two key aspects are raising enough money and coming up with a long-term strategy to keep Our Lady of the Ridge viable. The archdiocese needs to be convinced that enough students will continue to go to the school and that the community remain involved.
The archdiocese has given Our Lady of the Ridge a chance. I think they believe it is worth preserving. It is now up to the school staff, the parents and the community. Without Our Lady of the Ridge, there would be no Catholic elementary school serving Chicago Ridge and nearby Worth.
Our Lady of the Ridge is needed in this community. I believe the archdiocese will ultimately agree.
Jeri and Fred Harte are seen above before their wedding in 1979, and at their daughter's wedding in 2016.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s befitting that I share a romantic but tragic love story. I want you to know how a big “Harte” was spread across the seas!
“Every love story is beautiful, but ours is my favorite,” said Jeri Harte, of Evergreen Park. She adopted the saying written on a frame that houses a picture of her and Alfred John Harte, her husband of 37 years, affectionately known as Fred.
“Everyone calls him their ‘best Fred’”, said Jeri. “He was like everyone’s best friend, including mine.”
Their romance began nearly four decades ago in the now demolished Evergreen Park Plaza. “I was working in a record store and Fred did maintenance for the Plaza. I guess you could say I chased him until he caught me,” blushed Jeri.
Jeri said she was drawn to Fred.
“I’d see him working every day. I used to flirt with him by giving him discounts on records when he came into the store.”
Fred eventually caught on and asked her to be his date to a friend’s wedding. The spark between them flickered from May through the 4th of July.
“There weren’t fireworks that night, only waterworks coming out of my eyes - he broke up with me,” recalled Jeri.
She said she later learned that Fred fled because he was falling for her and wanted to spare himself the pain he’d experienced in a previous heartbreak.
“His friends told him he was an idiot to break up with me,” laughed Jeri.
That was presumably because they found her to be easy on the eyes. Images of Jeri in the '70s display a tall, slender, blonde with long locks and a summer tan. She said it took Fred a few months to come to his senses and by October they were dating again.
However, this time it was Jeri who was cautious. Apparently that apprehension made Fred nervous so he sealed his commitment with a proposal and they married the next year, Aug. 4, 1979.
No one actually spoke out to object when the pastor asked “If anyone objects to this union speak now?” but Jeri said there were many naysayers. The 22-year-old newlyweds had only known each other 10 months with a breakup in between, their odds of longevity was questionable.
So some believed!
Nonetheless, the Hartes' love and loyalty for one another bloomed into something others marveled at. That love manifested the creation of a family of five. They had three biological daughters, Lauren, Krystle and Jenna, and two “adopted”; a calico cat named Ginger and a dachshund pooch named Midge.
The Hartes were known for hitching a boat to the back of their vehicle and driving to the nearest campsite that lay next to a body of water.
“It wasn’t really planned, but we got our first boat when our oldest daughter, Lauren, was just 6 months old,” said Jeri. “Fred was so talented, he could fix anything with his hands. A friend hired him to restore an old vehicle for $3,000 but once Fred finished, the friend could only come up with $2,500. To save face, he offered him a small 16-foot boat. After that, we were hooked.”
They named their boat “Harte’s Desire” and it would continue to be upgraded throughout the years; today it’s a 35-footer. When the Hartes' hands weren’t steering their boat, they could be observed holding each other’s and smooching. But, life wasn’t only about leisure. Fred worked as a carpenter for 20 years, with his last place of employment being Carpenters of Chicago (COC).
“He worked there with his best friend, Brian Elvidge, whom he referred to as his little brother,” Jeri said.
Fred’s resignation from COC was forced by a cancer diagnosis. Jeri tearfully remembered the day the news came.
“I had broken my wrist and was wearing a cast. Fred went with me to the doctor to have it removed. I had been worried about him because he was fatigued a lot and his legs were really swollen.” She inhaled and spoke through tears saying, “I remember asking my doctor if he’d just have a look at his legs while we were there. After a brief exam, he sent us directly to the emergency room for several tests. Those results confirmed cancer of the liver.”
Fred was diagnosed in October of 2015. Despite a treatment regimen which proved to have successfully shrank his tumor initially, it later metastasized to his heart. Fred passed away one year later, October 2016.
A month before he died, their youngest daughter, Jenna, got married on Sept. 23 at the Silver Lake Country Club in Orland Park.
“Fred was too weak to walk her down the aisle so I wheeled him while he and Jenna held hands,” cried Jeri. “At the reception when the DJ called for the father to dance with the bride, Fred’s brothers helped support his weight so he could stand while they danced to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 'Teach Your Children.'”
Jeri granted Fred’s wishes not to have his remains put into the ground.
“There’s a little of him spread everywhere,” said Jeri. “His ashes are in the waters of Galveston Beach, Texas; Seaside, Oregon and on June 3, to acknowledge his birthday, there will be a little of him in Lake Michigan.”
She said in each instance she’s only dispensed a small portion of ashes—the large urn of his remains is with her, closely guarded.
“We were connected at the hip, we did everything together. He was silly, with a great sense of humor. We enjoyed all the same things, we still held hands, kissed and expressed our love to each other daily. I miss our conversations. It’s hard going up to an empty bed at night and waking up the next morning knowing I have to start life without him all over again.”
Jeri said she knows what she and Fred shared was rare.
“His life imitated his last name, he had such a big heart.” Jeri tearfully said. “Please tell everyone to kiss their spouses and tell them they’re loved because you might not have another chance. You may not realize what you’ll miss until you don’t have it.”
Fred’s legacy lives in his family. His oldest daughter, Lauren, learned two weeks following his passing that she and her spouse are expecting.
Jeri said she has several fond memories of Fred she will forever hold near. One of her favorites remain them dancing on the bridge of Harte’s Desire to Van Morrison’s, “Into the Mystic.” While his ashes are spread within it, she will continue to sail upon it, until they meet again.
Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day, show someone they are loved right now!
Sunday is a national holiday of sorts with Super Bowl LI to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Fox-TV after a couple of hours of overblown and mostly unnecessary coverage. We should point out that the NFL, realizing that most of us are having difficulty in deciphering larger Roman numerals, has also been calling it Super Bowl 51.
And in the spirit of the game, the excess coverage and expensive first-run commercials, we will share a Super Bowl quiz with our readers.
Many football fans know about Garo Yepremian’s ill-advised pass after a blocked field goal attempt in the 1972 Super Bowl as Miami faced Washington. But who is the player who caught Yepremian’s pass and returned it for a touchdown for the Redskins?
The answer to that quiz question will appear at the end of this column.
This Sunday, the National Football Conference is represented by the Atlanta Falcons and their high-flying offense. The New England Patriots will represent the American Football Conference. The Patriots are accustomed to all the hoopla surrounding the Super Bowl. They have been here a few times.
New England quarterback Tom Brady is attempting to join some elite company. If the Patriots win, this will be the fifth time Brady has won the Super Bowl. He would join Terry Bradshaw, who yucks it up before the game and at halftime on Fox with other former football players and coaches, including Joe Montana. Bradshaw starred for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Montana won his Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49er’s.
Matt Ryan has had a standout season at quarterback for the Falcons. The so-called experts claim this will be a close game. Fox-TV is hoping that it will be a competitive game so that viewers will hang around long after Lady Gaga performs at halftime.
As for me, I can’t say that I have followed the NFL that closely this year. Maybe it has something to do with the fact the Chicago Bears were far from stellar this season. My weekends have been full of activities the past few months and did not always allow time to watch NFL football games on Sundays.
So other than what I have read about the Falcons and the Patriots, I can’t say I know a lot about either team. I didn’t see either team play this year.
But for the many people who tune in on Sunday, that’s not what the game is all about. The Super Bowl garners the most viewers for a national sporting event. They also have millions of people watching from many locations around the world.
While there are many die-hard football fans out there who are glued to the set to watch almost any NFL game or college matchup, there are a lot of us who fall into the casual viewers. Most Americans are watching the game not because the Falcons or the Patriots are playing; they are watching it because it is the Super Bowl. Families have parties and friends often get together to eat a wide arrange of food and drink. It really doesn’t matter if it’s the Falcons or the Patriots. The important thing is to pass the chips and the dips.
Some of us will tune in before the game to see those heart-warming interviews with players who have succeeded despite the odds. Some of us may even care who is going to sing the National Anthem. This year, country singer Luke Bryan will sing it. I have heard of him but don’t know much about him. I did read that he is honored to sing the anthem.
Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem at last year’s Super Bowl at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. She got some great reviews and will most likely perform some music from her album “Joanne” at halftime. She is a halftime act the Super Bowl now craves. Some costume changes, dancing and over-the–top productions are offered at the half. Lady Gaga can sing, but Adele declined an offer to perform at halftime. She was gracious and thanked officials for the invite, but she added the Super Bowl halftime performance has nothing to do with singing. She is right about that.
And that sums up the Super Bowl. The games are often competitive but they are often secondary. Most of us will talk about new commercials we liked or disliked. We will also discuss Lady Gaga’s performance, what she was wearing and whether she made any political statements.
That’s what most people will be talking about, not if Brady wins a fifth Super Bowl.
Back to that quiz question. With Miami leading 14-0 in the fourth quarter, Yepremian attempted a 42-yeard field goal and his kick was blocked and the football rolled back to him. He hurriedly tossed a weak throw that Washington cornerback Mike Bass caught and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. However, the Dolphins went on to win the game 14-7 and completed the only undefeated season for a NFL team.
Yepremian had the last laugh. He was named to the NFL’s “Team of the Decade” for the 1970s.