Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Uncle Adolph Turns 100

Last year, on the occasion of his 99th birthday, I wrote a blog entry about my uncle Adolph. He turned 100 today, so I’ve excerpted much of that here and updated for the recent and not-so-recent past.

Adolph giving a blessing at my parents' wedding (with Grandma Helen),
Sept. 3, 1946

Adolph and my father were the sons of Isadore, a Romanian immigrant who arrived in Chicago around 1900, 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 Carter Elementary School at 5740 S. Michigan and Hebrew school at South Side Hebrew Congregation at S. Michigan and E. 59th Street. The temple burned down during the 1920s but the Hebrew school on 59th Street still stands. He graduated from Bryn Mawr School (the alma mater of Michelle Obama) and Hyde Park High School. Adolph enrolled in the University of Michigan and transferred after one year – he admits to have been homesick – to the University of Chicago (Class of 1930), where he also earned his medical degree. 

The Former South Side Hebrew Congregation school and Bryn Mawr School

As youngsters on the South Side, the boys became White Sox fans. Adolph attended his first Sox game in 1921 (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, a 10-inning win on August 23. The Sox had four future Hall of Famers on the field that day: Faber, Eddie Collins, Harry Hooper and Ray Schalk. Adolph also saw the second-to-last time a pitcher started and won both games of a doubleheader, Urban Shocker of the St. Louis Browns, who defeated the Sox 6-2 in both games on September 6, 1924. Because the family didn’t have a car, they took the Wentworth Avenue streetcar from Bennett Avenue 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.

7430 S. Bennett Ave.

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, Adolph 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.”  After three days, the German measles were gone and the mumps arrived, resulting in two weeks of missed school. The children of White Sox, including the sons of shortstop Luis Aparicio (see the 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 became one of the world’s foremost pediatric oncologists and directly and indirectly saved the lives of thousands of children.

Luis Aparicio autographed picture

Except for his years in the Medical Corps, Adolph saw the Sox play every year until 2007. 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 (and it hasn’t happened since). I turned to my uncle and said, “See, all these years you’ve been coming to the ballpark and you still see something new.”

In fact, learning new things is an important part of Adolph’s life. He reads extensively, uses the computer to surf the Internet 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 the 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.

The past year has been a trying one for Adolph and the family. On June 10, Jim died suddenly while on his annual rafting trip to the Grand Canyon. Although he was a few months short of 63, he seemed so much younger to all of us. His funeral at North Shore Congregation Israel was virtually standing-room-only, and the University of Chicago held a memorial service a month later that featured the first and last time “Sholom Aleichem,” "Rockin’ Robin” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – fitting tributes to Jim – were played on the Rockefeller Chapel organ. (For my take on Jim, please read

With Jim and Adolph, 1988

Adolph has been always quite a Stoic, and he’s weathered this past year about as well as can be imagined. The downside of a long life is remembering those departed: father (1942), mother (1955), brother (1973), wife (1991) and son (2011). He still keeps his sense of humor: I called him after he attended a Sox game last season – almost 90 years to the day of his first game – to ask what he thought of the evening, a 10-2 Sox loss. “It wasn’t a bad game,” he said. “It was a terrible game.” He said he doesn’t think he’ll go to a game this season but perhaps we can arrange at least one visit and a tribute to a most loyal fan.

At Sox Park, July 30, 2011

So it's January 4, 2012, and best wishes to Uncle Adolph on #100. We're happy to be able to celebrate with you.