Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Father's Army

A few years ago, my mother gave me a thick brown envelope containing papers and correspondence related to my father’s service in the United States Army. Although he was exempt from combat in World War II, he didn’t talk much about his military service, other than for two years he was never more than a few yards from the enemy. Through this treasure-trove, I’ve re-created a pretty good account of his Army years. 

Envelope containing U.S. Army records

After enlisting in the spring of 1942, my father was inducted on May 1. He was appointed a “leader” in overseeing the transportation of a contingent of men that day from Draft Board No. 90 at 2474 E. 75th Street (a little more than a mile east of the family residence) to the U.S. Army Induction Station at 515 S. Franklin Street. He was assigned to the Army Finance School and Replacement Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison, outside Indianapolis, being exempt from combat because of “defective vision [20/400 uncorrected], malocclusion [misalignment of teeth], pes planus [flat feet)] and varicose veins.” [Note: He would undergo surgery to remove the varicose veins on April 19, 1967, for which I used the opportunity to ditch school and attend a White Sox-Yankees game.] Two months later, dad was placed in charge of transporting himself and two other privates to Fort Jay on Governors Island in New York Harbor. They each received a $3 a day allowance (including meals) and shipped out by train at 21:30 hours.

Fort Monmouth, near the town of Oceanport, New Jersey, was the next stop. He served as a finance clerk (technician, 5th grade) at the same time Julius Rosenberg was stationed there as a radar inspector. The government several years later confirmed Rosenberg was part of a spy ring at the base. The folder contains no information about his term as Fort Monmouth, although he took some leave time after my grandfather died in October 1942.

Appointment to technician, 5th grade

My father came back to the Midwest to attend Officer Candidate School at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, in January 1943. He graduated on April 14, 1943, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. After a brief stint at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin (where several friends served reserve duty to avoid active duty in the late 1960s), dad was assigned as a personnel officer – basically a military policeman  (MP) – to Camp Ellis, east of Macomb near the tiny town of Ipava, Illinois. The camp would eventually house 5,000 German POWs. He held a number of specialty officer assignments, including Insurance and War Bonds, Canteen and Work Simplification, as well as serving on the House Committee of the Officers’ Club and the Post Forms Control Program. Dad was promoted to 1st lieutenant on August 25, 1944.

Graduation photograph, OCS, April 14, 1943

An undated, yellowed clipping from the Chicago Daily News describes his one military anecdote. Having studied German at Hyde Park High School, my father got along well with the POWs, including Reinhold Pabel. After being transferred to nearby Camp Washington, Pabel simply walked out in 1945 and made his way to Chicago. Pabel opened a bookstore at 1021 W. Argyle Street (now the site of the Pho Xe Lua restaurant), married and had a son. The FBI found him in 1953, but because of his “exemplary” life, he was allowed to leave the country and then return, where he operated a bookstore in Chicago Heights. The family later moved back to Germany, and Pabel became a noted Hamburg antiquarian book dealer and author. He died at age 94 in May 2008.

Undated clipping on Reinhold Pabel, Chicago Daily News

The papers include the recommendation for my father’s promotion to captain, dated July 21, 1945. The Germans had already surrendered, and VJ Day would come in less than a month, thus the promotion was not made. He was transferred to the separation center at Camp Grant, near Rockford, in November 1945 and honorably discharged on December 30, 1945. He left the Army with pay totaling $706.68 and returned home to resume his career as a CPA at the accounting firm of Katz, Wagner and Company. In those days (and when he graduated at the top of his class at the University of Illinois seven years earlier), the Big 8 accounting firms would not hire Jews; vestiges of this practice I’m told lasted until the early 1970s.

All was quiet until my father received a letter dated September 11, 1950, which my mother says caused the color to drain from his face. The letter from the headquarters of the Fifth Army began: “1.  This is to inform you that you have been selected . . . for extended active duty for a period of twenty-one (21) consecutive months . . .  Your name has been forwarded to the Department of the Army for final selection.” The Korean War had started less than three months before and, with my brother and me only18 months old, dad was none too keen on serving again. He used a three-part strategy to seek a deferment.

Three letters were written to the Chief of the Illinois Military District. My father’s appeal pointed out his 44 months of service during World War II, his financial support for his mother and stated, “Our doctor advises that it is physically impossible for my wife to care for the two small children alone at the present time.” This was somewhat exaggerated, since one grandmother lived two blocks away and the other within two miles. Isaac Wagner, one of the accounting firm’s principals, wrote that dad was needed for the upcoming tax season and some of his colleagues had already left for the service. Finally, Congressman Sidney Yates, in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, reiterated those points and added the firm would seek no other deferments. Although we didn’t live in Cong. Yates’ district, he offered his assistance because his sister and my grandmother were good friends. The Army informed Mr. Wagner and Cong. Yates on October 3 that “a delay of six (6) months . . . has been granted.” Another order to report for active duty was revoked on January 3, 1951 (exactly 27 years before his namesake first grandchild would be born), and final discharge came on September 18, 1951, when he was “found to be unavailable for mobilization for a period in excess of 365 days.”

Letter from Cong. Sidney Yates to the U.S. Army, Sept. 30, 1950

With my eyesight even worse than my father’s, I figured I’d do stateside duty if drafted and military service didn’t faze me until the end of high school. By then, the Vietnam War was raging, requiring hundreds of thousands of draftees. I held a student deferment until the draft lottery in 1970, where my number was 265. At first I was relieved, figuring it was high enough, but rumors swirled that the available pool was so low that your number was meaningless. Luckily, that was not true, and the draft winded down.

I still have the crest from the Army hat in the photograph a few paragraphs up to go with the historical records. As a youngster, I wanted to serve because he served. Unfortunately, circumstances dissuaded me from doing so. Perhaps if the draft were restored, the country would deliberate a little more before sending their youth into combat.  I don't expect that to happen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Long Live the String-and-Button Envelope

The other day my daughter brought over some papers from her employer in an 8 ½ by 11 string-and-button envelope. Having not worked for a large organization for almost 14 years, I’d figured this type of envelope had gone the way of whiteout and correction tape. Since the envelope contained papers from the U.S. Government, it made sense that they were still needed. I don’t know how they’re produced but I once ran a string-and-button press, and you couldn’t find 7 hours of more tedious work. 

String-and-button envelopes

After failing to land a summer job after my freshman year, I worked at my father’s envelope company as a utility player. I cleared cutting tables, which involved stacking just-cut, unfolded, envelopes on a pallet (or “skid,” as it was called), moving the skid via hand truck into the adjacent building (being careful not to dump the load on the inclined bridge between buildings, for which the building permit was obtained from a cash payment to Ald. Tom Keane) and placing it next to the proper machine for converting. Making boxes was another task, made easier if you used the automatic tape-dispensing machine, which delivered the proper length at the push of a button. More fun was working on the loading dock, loading and unloading trucks, and driving the special-delivery station wagon, for which Mr. Signature, the head of the shipping department, was happy for me to do because I couldn’t stop off at a bar before heading back to the plant. All of this, except for the driving, was done in the un-air-conditioned heat of a Chicago summer.

The former American Envelope Company
3100 W. Grand Ave., Chicago

Mr. Rial, the plant manager, had a special assignment for me. The company had received an order for string-and-button envelopes, and he wanted me to assemble them. Assembly took several steps: first, you placed the button in the center of the top-back of the envelope, inserted a small brass grommet within the button, placed a small, square paper backing on the other side of the button and pushed down a lever that inserted a rod into the hole, fusing the metal to the button and backing.  The process was then repeated, attaching the button with string to the flap. The most precision involved placing the buttons in the proper position for an optimum crisscross tying effect. 

I don’t recall the order size or how long it took to finish the job. The end couldn’t have come too soon, and I was back to the loading dock. Mr. Rial, in fact, would achieve his ultimate goal. He knew my father, the chief financial officer, would ask me during the drive home how many envelopes I’d produced each day. With his photographic memory and accounting acumen (I once saw him balance a $500,000 bank statement in his head and know where the missing $2.50 was), my father quickly calculated the company was losing money on the job.  Rial had been after him to either invest in more automated equipment or stop taking string-and-button orders; my father chose the latter.

The loading dock
More fun than running a string-and-button press

So here’s to the string-and-button envelope, may it never become extinct. As long as there are intra-office memos, hospitals and government offices (scanning notwithstanding), these envelopes – with crossed-out names showing former routes – will remain office product staples. Some 25 years ago, one of my clients was a leading business-forms company. The CEO’s investor presentation always contained a slide or two on “The Myth of the Paperless Office,” which showed paper use had increased by moving from green-bar sheets to computer-generated forms. Hardly a dynamic speaker, he would read the presentation verbatim, except for his one ad-lib concluding that discussion: “The paperless office therefore will come about at the same time as the paperless bathroom.” Crude, of course, but true, and the same goes for the humble string-and-button envelope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

McGaw Hall Days

I have not attended a Northwestern basketball game at what I still call McGaw Memorial Hall in more than forty years. It’s a cozy venue with fond memories, so I should make it back sometime.

The 8,117-seat gymnasium and field house was built in 1952, replacing Patten Gymnasium as Northwestern’s home court. It even hosted an NCAA Final Four in 1956, when a record 10,656 saw the undefeated University of San Francisco, led by Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, defeat the University of Iowa, 83-71. After the 1982-1983 renovations, the basketball court section was named Welsh-Ryan Arena, as part of Aon Chairman Pat Ryan’s quest to slap his family name on as many venues at the university as possible. The raised, creaking portable floor, complete with dead spots and easy on the shins and knees, was scrapped, and theater-type seats replaced some of the uncomfortable bleachers, which still remain in abundance. The Wildcats rarely sell out, except against the University of Illinois, where the fans are evenly divided.

Welsh-Ryan Arean (fka McGaw Memorial Hall)

My father, an Illinois alum, took my brother and me to our first game on February 7, 1959. I don’t remember anything about the game (Harlem Globetrotters owner Mannie Jackson played for the Illini) but did get an autograph from NU football coach Ara Parseghian (“Mr. Parseghian, may I please have your autograph?” I politely asked him). Northwestern, which won 88-79, had one of its better seasons, finishing 15-7, tied for second place in the Big Ten. The next season, the opponent was Notre Dame and another autograph from Ed “Moose” Krause, who was the Irish’s athletic director from 1949 to 1981. Notre Dame was victorious that evening, 93-88.

Illinois vs. Northwestern, 1959

For our next game, one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time, Ohio State, took on Northwestern on January 6, 1962. The #1-ranked Buckeyes, led by Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, had won the NCAA championship in 1960 and lost its only game of the year in overtime to Cincinnati in 1961 final game. They would lose only to Wisconsin before falling again to Cincinnati in the final game again that season. Northwestern was no match for Ohio State, losing 85-62 despite efforts by Nick Mantis, Ralph Wells and Rich Falk. NU would finish 9-15.

Ohio State vs. Northwestern, 1962

We witnessed a most spectacular ending the next season. I remember arriving early on January 14, 1963, for the Illinois game and being introduced to Jack Mabley, a well-known newspaper columnist. Mabley and my father were editors of The Daily Illini and The Illio yearbook, respectively, for the Class of 1938. We were high up in row 31 as the #3 Illini, with Dave Downey and Bill Burwell, battled the 3-8 Wildcats. The game was tied, 76-76, with Illinois’ ball under its own basket and 13 seconds on the clock. Captain Bob Starnes eventually took a pass from Tal Brody (who would later star and coach in Israel) and hit a 55-foot shot at the buzzer, as 7,200 fans couldn’t believe their eyes. The Illini would eventually lose to Loyola in the NCAA tournament; the Ramblers provided their own excitement with a last-second put-back by Vic Rouse to take the NCAA title from Cincinnati.

Illinois vs. Northwestern, 1963

High school and driver’s licenses brought independence and the best seats in the house. Freshmen were not eligible for varsity basketball until the 1970s, and Big Ten freshman teams did not play each other. The Northwestern recruits thus played various intramural all-star teams before the varsity main event. We paid $2 to see the freshman play and found seats in the student section close to the floor at mid-court for the varsity game. At 6 feet tall and over, we looked like NU students and nobody ever checked our tickets. On January 15, 1966, Cazzie Russell, a Carver High School grad who almost single-handedly revived the University of Michigan basketball program, poured in 39 points on the way to leading the Big Ten in scoring with a 30.8 points/game average and a 93-86 victory. Our seats were so low that several friends spotted us on television. The wildest game of all came the following season, when the University of Kentucky, led by Pat Riley (33 points) and Louie Dampier (32 points), defeated Northwestern, 118-116. Kentucky had been NCAA runner-up to Texas Western (now Texas El Paso) the previous season.

Kentucky vs. Northwestern, 1966

My last game was during college break in December 1969, when a number of us attended the Michigan game. Rudy Tomjanovich and a cast of teammates no taller than 6’3” defeated Northwestern with Don Adams (who would play seven seasons in the NBA) and Dale Kelley, 96-92.  The closest I’ve come to McGaw was the Michigan-Northwestern football game in 2003.  Maybe next year . . . but not in the student section.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Short, Sad Life of Reggie Harding

The first high-school basketball player drafted by the NBA was chosen not so much for his skill than because he had no place else to go. Reggie Harding, a 7-foot tall product of Eastern High School in Detroit, had brief careers in the NBA and ABA and even after death at age 30 suffered one final indignity.

Reggie Harding
Eastern High School

As a youth, Harding was arrested on several petty larcenies and is alleged to have raped Florence Ballard, one of the Supremes, when she was 17 and he was 18. He was chosen by the Detroit Pistons in the fourth round of the 1962 draft and again in the sixth round of the 1963 draft. After high school in Detroit, he attended a prep school in Nashville, then played two seasons in the Midwest Professional Basketball League with the Toledo Tartans and Holland Oilers. 

Reggie Harding
Detroit Pistons

Harding made his NBA debut with the Pistons in the 1963-1964 season, joining the team midway through the season because of a suspension on gun charges. He averaged 10.5 rebounds and 11.0 points per game in 39 games (almost 30 minutes per game). The following season, Harding played in 78 games (34.6 minutes per game) and averaged 11.6 rebounds and 12.0 points per game for the 31-49 Pistons. It was pretty much downhill from there. He was suspended for the entire 1965-1966 (reason unknown) and averaged only 18.5 minutes per game during the next season, recording 6.1 rebounds and 5.5 points per game. His next stop with the Chicago Bulls (traded for a third-round draft pick) in the 1967-1968 season lasted only 14 games, after which he signed with the Indiana Pacers of the American Basketball League (ABA).

Harding (right) and Laker Elgin Baylor
Los Angeles, 1964

Despite playing in only 25 games with the Pacers, Harding’s exploits became legend. Harding wanted $15,000 to finish the season but the Pacers only offered $10,000. Convinced by management the team could play 50 games if it went all the way to the ABA championship, he agreed to $300 per game. That the Pacers only played in three post-season games was immaterial; between fines and suspensions for missing practices and being late for flights, Harding ended up owing the team $4,000.

Harding and Wilt Chamberlain
Boston Garden, 1965

Because of a team policy of rotating roommates to avoid cliques, Harding roomed for a short stretch with my friend Jim Dawson, the Big 10 Player of the Year the previous season at Illinois and a college graduate from an all-white Chicago suburb. Jim fared better than teammate Jimmy Rayl, who awoke one night in a New Orleans hotel room to see Harding pointing a gun at him. “I hear you hate niggers,” he said. Rayl coaxed him into emptying the gun, to which Harding then asked, “You don’t think I only had six shells, did you?” Rayl decided to sleep in the lobby that night and shot 1 for 14 in the next game. Despite averaging 13.4 rebounds and 13.4 points per game, Reggie Harding was finished after that season and out of basketball at age 25.

The futility of his later existence is best exemplified by the most famous Reggie Harding story. With no other marketable skills, Harding returned to petty larceny in his native Detroit. He walked into a neighborhood establishment (reports have it as either a liquor store or gas station) with a nylon mask over his head, brandishing a gun and demanding money. The clerk took one look at the 7-footer and reportedly said, “I know that’s you, Reggie,” to which Harding replied, “It ain’t me, man.”

Reggie Harding burial
Sept. 1972

Reggie Harding was shot to death after an argument on a Detroit street corner on September 2, 1972, at age 30. Johnny “Red” Kerr, Harding’s coach on the Bulls, and Mike Storen, the Pacers’ general manager who he’d also threatened to shoot during a television interview, were two of the three white people to attend the funeral. According to a former Bulls executive, Kerr said it became apparent that the grave was not long enough to accommodate Harding’s large casket. The solution: Reggie Harding is buried at an angle. Even in death, the man couldn’t catch a break.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

First Team All-Bad Ass: John Brisker

The American Basketball Association (ABA) would be long forgotten except for its tri-colored basketball; “Semi-Pro,” starring Will Farrell; greats including Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, David Thompson and Maurice Lucas who started their professional careers there; and some of the craziest characters in any league. One of its biggest characters was John Brisker, who may or may not still be alive.

Brisker, a native of Detroit, could be a first-team All-Bad Ass in all of sports, not just professional basketball. Brisker played tuba in the marching band while starring with Steve Mix, who also played in the NBA. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pipers (later Condors) and was runner-up to Spencer Haywood for Rookie of the Year in the 1969-1970 season. Brisker averaged 29.3 and 28.9 points per game in his second and third seasons, respectively, combining a devastating outside shot with immense inside power from his 6’5”, 210-pound frame. He was better known, however, for his nasty personality. 

In one of the great basketball books of all-time, Loose Balls: the Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association – As Told by the Players, Coaches and Movers and Shakers Who Made It Happen by Terry Pluto, teammate Charlie Williams said of Brisker, “He was an excellent player, but say something wrong to the guy . . . and you had this feeling he would reach into his bag, take out a gun and shoot you.”  Billy Knight remembers an encounter with Brisker at a practice with the Pipers while attending the University of Pittsburgh. “The first time I played a game against Brisker, he just turned toward me and busted me in the mouth. . . . [H]e stood there waiting for me to do something about it. I didn’t do anything. He just scared me.”

Because Brisker only picked on bigger guys, Pittsburgh brought in an ex-football player to take care of him during one of the training camps to ensure he didn’t hurt his teammates. The football player was supposed to deck him the first time he got out of line. In Loose Balls, then-Pittsburgh coach Dick Tinkham recollects, “Well. the two guys are going at it. Then the football player said, ‘The hell with you, I’m gonna get my gun.’ And Brisker said, ‘If you’re getting a gun, then I’m gonna get my gun.’ Then the two guys ran off the court in different directions, presumably to get their guns.” The coaches immediately called off practice.

John Brisker
1970-1971 Pittsburgh Condors media guide

During the 1971-1972 season, the Dallas Chaparrals were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak before a game with Pittsburgh. In order to energize his team, Dallas coach Tom Nissalke offered to pay a cash bonus of $500 (a practice no longer permitted) to the first Chaparral to deck John Brisker. Len Chappell, in his last season as a pro after playing with seven NBA teams and normally a reserve, asked if he could start. As the opening jump ball was tossed, Chappell knocked Brisker cold with one punch. Oddly, none of the officials saw it happen. Dallas ended up breaking their losing streak that night.

Brisker drives on Trooper Washington of The Floridians
Nov. 17, 1970

After three years in Pittsburgh and the franchise’s collapse, Brisker jumped to the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA for the 1972-1973 season. His scoring average dropped from 12.8 to 12.5 and 7.7 points per game for his three years in Seattle, respectively, and he was cut from the team before the 1975-1976 season for causing “dissension.”

In early 1978, Brisker traveled to Africa, reportedly to start an import/export business. He was never heard from again after that year. Several theories exist about his fate. The one that he died in Jonestown has been largely dismissed. More likely, he traveled to Uganda at the invitation of dictator Idi Amin, a basketball enthusiast. Amin was overthrown in 1979, and speculation is that Brisker was executed by an anti-Amin firing squad. A King County, Washington, court declared Brisker legally dead in 1985. Still others think he may have escaped and is living who knows where with a new identity. This much is sure: one messed with John Brisker at your own peril.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Naked Boys Swimming

What seemed perfectly normal to one generation often becomes head-shaking at the very least and scarcely believable to many in later generations. One such practice was naked swimming in physical-education classes. I had the “privilege” to swim au naturale in both high school and college. It seemed quite normal to me back then.

Swimming was an important part of physical education at New Trier East High School during the mid-1960s. Coach Dave Robertson was an Olympic coach, and the team (a girl’s team didn’t exist yet) won numerous state championships. I learned additional swimming strokes as well as the practice of drown-proofing, which luckily I’ve never had to use. Swimming was part of a rotation schedule for phys. ed., which meant you would swim five days a week for a month.

I was in the last class at New Trier East that graduated intact before New Trier West was a four-year school, which meant we had approximately 600 boys in all. The school claimed it made the boys (not the girls) swim naked for hygiene reasons, which makes sense if you buy the premise that boys are inherently, shall we say, more unhealthy than girls. I think it had more to do with not having to purchase 600 pairs of swimming trunks and launder them daily.

New Trier High School swimming pool

The routine was simple. First, a shower – coach Robertson always gave a lecture before the first class of the year on how to reach those nooks and crannies – and then on to the pool deck to take attendance. Like regular phys. ed. classes, you stood on your assigned number on the floor (deck), and a visible number was noted as an absence. The pool was locked down tight so nobody would wander in and see 60 boys of all shapes, sizes but usually only one color standing butt naked at attention. The unwritten rule was eyes forward, although for me it didn’t make much difference because of my severe near-sightedness. 

For swimming, the early periods were preferred over the afternoon ones. By the 11th period, one never knew what might float by and, no, I’m not going to relate that anecdote (somebody actually ‘fessed up to it). Swimming laps took up most of the class, which ended with free swim. To graduate, each student was required to swim 50 yards. A boy in the class ahead of me finally did it at his final phys. ed. class, after which he reportedly said, “Great.  I’ll swim 50 yards, then I’ll drown.”

I’d guess that almost all of my colleagues naked swimming days ended after graduation, but mine continued on a more limited scale as a freshman at Lehigh University, which was all-male at the time. Physical education was required, and classes were either two or three days a week. Swimming was only one of those days, which caused one of the most bizarre occurrences in my life. First, to Lehigh’s swimming requirement: only 25 yards, one length of the pool. On the very first day, the instructor told us that anybody who can’t swim or didn’t think he could swim the length of the pool should step aside for the remedial class. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he said.  “Every year, we have to go in and fish somebody out who thought he could do it.”  Sure enough, after jumping in and swimming a vigorous crawl stroke to the end, I looked back through my foggy eyes to see a classmate about 20 yards down his lane being pulled out.

Lehigh University swimming pool

A combination of logistics and forgetfulness resulted in the bizarre occurrence. The locker room was one floor below the Grace Hall pool, which meant we had to walk naked upstairs to reach the pool. Why nobody donned a towel I’ll never know. Our instructor was assistant football coach Wally King, a nice guy who would join our basketball games in his wing-tip shoes if we needed one more player. One day (and it may have been more), King forgot it was the swimming day. I reached the pool area to find a number of naked classmates shivering outside the locked pool door. Hoping against hope that King would show up, we stood there, trying to make conversation while looking any way but down, for a good five minutes. Finally realizing that waiting for King, like Godot and Lefty, was futile, we headed back downstairs. He was genuinely embarrassed (maybe not as much as us) and apologetic after hearing the news.

I returned to Lehigh to speak before a student group in 2000 and walked around the campus the day before. A student was standing at the entrance to the pool, which was in use for general swim. I was going to relate the story of the naked boys standing right there but figured he’d think I was nuts. You, my readers, were not so fortunate.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy Birthday Uncle Adolph

My uncle Adolph will be 99 on January 4. I figured why wait until he’s 100 to give him his due. Not that it won't happen, as he is as sharp as can be and in relatively good health.

Adolph and my father
Sept. 3, 1946

Adolph and my father were the sons of Isadore, a Romanian immigrant, and Helen, whose parents came to the U.S. from Germany in the 1880s. They lived in the Van Dorn Apartments at 6054 S. Michigan Avenue until moving to 7430 S. Bennett Avenue in the early 1920s. Adolph attended Hebrew school at South Side Hebrew Congregation on E. 59th Street before the move. He graduated from Bryn Mawr School (the alma mater of Michelle Obama) and Hyde Park High School. I thought he would have walked past the scene of the recent tragic fire on E. 75th Street on his way to and from the Stony Island streetcar and high school in the 1930s but he informed me the streetcar stopped at 73rd and Bennett before heading west to Stony Island. He then told me its entire route and that their neighbors, the Hirshmans, had owned the building for their Banner Cleaners business (it turned out to be the building next door). He enrolled in the University of Michigan and transferred after one year to the University of Chicago, where he also earned his medical degree. 

7430 S. Bennett Ave.

As youngsters on the South Side, the boys quickly became White Sox fans. Adolph attended his first Sox game in 1921 (sadly, the year after the eight members of the Black Sox were banned from baseball) and remembers that Red Faber pitched against Eddie Rommel and the Philadelphia Athletics. Because the family didn’t have a car, they took the Wentworth Avenue streetcar to the ballpark. He would wait 38 years to see a World Series on the South Side (thanks again for getting us tickets for Game 1), then another 46 to see his second. They also attended Chicago Black Hawks games at the Chicago Coliseum in the mid-1920s. 

The family (minus Jim) at the last game at Comiskey Park,
Sept. 30, 1990

Adolph received his physician’s license on July 31, 1936, which he retained for 53 years, and began practicing as a pediatrician affiliated with Michael Reese Hospital. He enlisted in the Army Medical Corps during World War II and served in the South Pacific. While there, he played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Manila after the end of the war. Returning to the South Side, he resumed his medical practice at the corner of E. 71st Street and South Shore Drive, across the street from the entrance to South Shore Country Club (now the South Shore Cultural Center). He married Rosalind Munk in 1947, and they had three children – Jim, Bob and Cathy – and lived at 7411 S. Oglesby Avenue. After most of his patients’ families moved out of the neighborhood, the family pulled up stakes for the North Shore in 1963. He joined a group practice in Highland Park and worked at a clinic in Waukegan well into his eighties.

7411 S. Oglesby Ave.

I will always associate Uncle Adolph with the physician’s black bag, for his were the days of house calls. One such call was for me, when as a high-school freshman I was expecting the mumps after the gestation period from my brother was over. “This boy doesn’t have the mumps,” he said after a bedside examination.  “He has the German measles.” The German measles were gone in three days and the mumps arrived, resulting in two weeks of missed school. The children of White Sox, including the sons of shortstop Luis Aparicio (see my personally autographed picture below), were patients on the South Side. My cousin Jim also became a pediatrician and, at his father’s urging took up a specialty; he’s now one of the world’s foremost pediatric oncologists and has saved the lives of hundreds of children. Later, I found I was getting old when people asked if I were related to Dr. Nachman . . . Dr. Jim, not Dr. Adolph.

Luis Aparicio

Except for his years in the Medical Corps, Adolph saw the Sox play every year until 2007 and has made it out to a few games since, including a trip this past season. It was thus fitting that we were at the August 17, 2006, game vs. Kansas City, when the leadoff men for both teams hit home runs in the first and second innings. The scoreboard later posted this was a first in Major League Baseball history. I turned to my uncle and said, “See, all these years you’ve been coming to the ballpark and you still see something new.”

Ticket, Aug. 17, 2006

In fact, learning new things is an important part of Adolph’s life. He reads extensively, uses the computer to surf the Internet (I still have to give him a primer about blogs) and sponsors adult education programs at his synagogue. During the previous decade, after Rosalind passed away, he traveled extensively, including river cruises of the Amazon and Danube (a trip to the ancestral city of Iasi, Romania, turned out to be logistically impossible). When asked whether he dined at the same group table nightly on the Amazon trip, Adolph replied, “No, those are for old people.”  He still plays an excellent game of bridge and had a regular game, as well as a poker game, until a few years ago.

So Happy Birthday, Uncle Adolph, and best wishes for many more. May you stay hale and hearty and continue to amaze us. I still have many questions to ask you.