Sorry that I did not immediately place a blog on this site concerning the sensational weekend we had for the Naperville Train Memorial.
Since we returned from Naperville, my wife and I have been about as sick as we’d ever want to be! We are so thankful that this condition came when it did, and not during the dedication weekend!
We brought up our trip to Naperville into two days. The first day we stopped for wonderful lunch with our good friend, Doug Dieken. Doug is a former player for the Cleveland Browns and has been doing the color commentary for the Browns radio broadcasts for the past 26 years. He also wrote the Foreword for A Book of Prayers: To the Heavens from the Stars.
The second day we stopped at our favorite stomping grounds, the University of Notre Dame. I was delighted to sign a few books and meet the new personnel heading the Bookstore staff. I told my wife as we pulled into Naperville that I wanted to see the Naperville train sculpture before we checked into our hotel. It happened to be a wise choice because we came just as the crew had finished the pour for the foundation of the memorial. I saw Paul Kuhn, Paul’s Dad, and a friend at the site. We both recognized each other and hugged each other. Paul said to me, “You realize that we are now forever linked together in our lives!” The sculpture itself was covered, but Paul showed us pictures of the finished product from his iphone and then explained the process he went through to complete this task. He started working 8 hour days, seven days a week. He soon moved to ten hour days, then twelve hour days, and finally fifteen hour days. During this time he lost 35 pounds but completed everything on time. The sculpture of the three figures is composed of over four thousand railroad spikes that he fashioned to form even fingernails on his creations!
Thursday morning I had a 20 minute radio interview for the Dolly McCarthy Radio program. At noon I spoke at the noon luncheon of Naperville’s Rotary Club. I didn’t think I’d know anyone at the luncheon, but I was mistaken. An old time friend from my high school days, Ron Ory, reintroduced himself to me. So, did Jon Ripsky and Marty Walker who are members of the Memorial Committee who asked to be guests to hear me speak. Jon Ripsky has a long history in Naperville. His story bears repeating. He is one of very few people who never finished high school, but who went on to earn two master’s degrees and became a captain in the Naperville Police Department. The Navy straightened Jon out after he got kicked out of high school. The Rotary Club luncheon was held in the beautiful restaurant that I remembered as Willowway Manor.
On Thursday afternoon Patrice and I were invited to the home of Dick and Mary Locher for a wonderful couple hours of delicious fruits and desserts as well as delightful conversation. We learned again what we really knew all along…that Dick and Mary are wonderful people and Dick is a genius artist. Dick designed two of Naperville’s most recent sculptures..Dick Tracy and Joe Naper. Mary showed us a video of one of Dick’s latest works, Lincoln’s hat…which is now awarded to the winner of the annual Northwestern University – University of Illinois football game.
When we left the Lochers we met Al, Laurie, and Sara Siebert back at our hotel. Al was the best man at our wedding and we both have been there for each other at important events over the years. We went out to eat at Portifino’s on Ogden Avenue, one of our favorite, fun places to eat when we go back to Naperville. I believe that we may have closed the place…again, a great, great time catching up.
I should say that when we came to our hotel, Martha the woman who takes care of the breakfasts, came up and hugged us both. We have made good friends with Martha over the years that we have been coming to the Naperville Fairfield. The Sieberts soon understood why and they also enjoyed talking with Martha during their stay.
Friday was another special day. In the morning the Sieberts and the Spinners went to Saints Peter and Paul Parish Hall in Naperville which is just three blocks south of the train station. There we met Mike Brummond who worked with me to arrange my talk I would be giving on Saturday morning. The new parish hall is beautiful and Mike showed us where I would be speaking and how he had set things up. He had all the technical equipment ready for my power point presentation. He said he would have over two hundred chairs set up and would have a hospitality room with refreshments for the seventy relatives of the victims whom I was expecting to attend the presentation. Mike had everything covered…even name tags for the relatives!
After our tour of the parish hall we showed the Sieberts the magnificent Saints Peter and Paul Church, next to the parish hall. They were mesmerized by its beauty and took a lot of pictures. From there we went down to the library to arrange things for my talk there that Friday evening. Afterwards, Patrice sat on a park bench and I walked with the Sieberts along the beautiful Naperville Riverwalk all the way to the Naperville Centennial Beach where as kids we would swim just about every day during the summer. I remember only one summer when we were forbidden by our parents from going to the beach. That’s the summer when George and Mary Ann Rice died from polio and there was so much confusion and conjecture as to how the disease might spread.
After our walk along the River Walk, Al and I drove up to the train station so that we would be there at 1:05pm, the exact time when 68 years before the tragic Naperville train wreck occurred. Not surprisingly there were about ten people there who also had the same idea! Among these people were my uncles Joe and Al Rechenmacher, and Joe’s daughter Claire. Uncle Joe and his wife Esther flew in with Claire especially for the dedication. It was great to see them! Also at the sculpture were Jim Christen (my technical adviser for my book), the sculpture Paul Kuhn and several others from the committee. On our trip we also stopped at Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery to visit our family gravesite.
While Al and I were at the train station, Patrice and Laurie and Sara were sitting at Starbucks (the former Naperville Liquor Store once owned by our Dad and his brother Bill) where they met our former neighbors and longtime great friends, the Dixons. Al and I joined them for lunch at Ted’s in downtown Naperville. Debbie and Dennis, Scott, and Gramma Izzy joined the Sieberts and us for a rollicking time at a great restaurant. Whenever we get together with the Dixons, it’s like we never left our old neighborhood. Debbie and Dennis are both very close to retirement and looking forward to relocating their home base to Texas and then spending much time traveling throughout the U.S.
After our long lunch Al and I went to both Andersons Bookstore and Barnes and Nobles where I signed the books that they had on hand. Then we joined up with the Sieberts and showed them the 5th Street Station that was once the Kroehler Furniture Factory where our Dad worked for 25 years. Then we freshened up back at the hotel and then drove to the Nichols Library where I gave my second talk at the library that, for the past ten years, has been named the best library of any city over 100,00o in population. It was another responsive crowd and Al, Laurie, and Sara were really helpful setting up and helping to sell copies of my book.
We topped the evening by another great meal, this time at the Brick which was within walking distance of the hotel.
Saturday morning would begin just an absolute dream day. When we arrived at the parish hall, Mike had set up a hall full of chairs. I never thought there would be enough people to fill that many chairs…but, as it turns out, they had to find more! There was coffee, and bakery for the relatives of the victims and a separate room for these people to sit and share stories. Our son Scott, his wife Elle, and our two precious grandsons Caleb and Joshua, were among the first to arrive. They were amazed as well at the facility and the boys quickly volunteered to help set up and sell books with the Sieberts. Relatives of the victims soon began arriving and before you know it I was called from the Hospitality Room because it was getting close to the 10am starting time. We heard word that the 9:47am train from Quincy would be late, so we delayed the start time by ten minutes. I had arranged with Annette Wehrli of Naperville’s Trolley Tours to pick up the people from the train station. I wish I could have seen the faces of the Quincy party when they discovered their means of travel. Annette was just fantastic. After my talk she even drove these people to lunch and then back again for the dedication!
Since the pastor of SSPP was in Rome with the church choir for the canonization (the choir sang in St. Peters Basilica on the day of the canonization) and the associate pastor was at a college graduation for his niece, I arranged for Father Don Kocher to lead the opening prayer. I have to email Father Don to ask for a copy of the prayer. It was the best. After I was introduced by Mike Brummond, I told the crowd that if I just left before my talk, the purpose, meaning, and closure to the event was already beautifully explained and underlined by Father Kocher.
My power point presentation went very well. It was great to see so many people there. Al and Sheila Spinner were there. Sheila is really a trooper! She looked great even though she had just finished months of chemotherapy. Al and Sheila were there for both the talk and the dedication. We really appreciated the efforts both of them made to attend. It should be noted that they also were very helpful when I first unveiled the train book back in 2012.
After the talk I was amazed at the amount of books that I signed and, again, Patrice, the Sieberts, and Caleb and Joshua helped move things along. After everything was done, we realized that there really wasn’t much time for us to go to lunch and then comfortably return for the dedication ceremonies at the train station so we drove three blocks North to the station where Ron Keller already had the Naperville Municipal Band playing a number of pieces including one from 1886 called “The C.B. and Q”. Over 300 people would assemble for the dedication ceremonies. After the band played the bagpipers played a turn…then the band played the National Anthem and the program, mc’ed by Brand Bobobsky began. It was great to have Scott, Elle, and the boys, the Sieberts, the Dixons (Scott brought his girlfriend Stephanie), Uncle Al, Uncle Joe, Aunt Es, Claire, Donna Abrogast Campbell, Al and Sheila Spinner, and Dick and Mary Locher in attendance. The fourteen member memorial committee became like a fraternity in just the short time over the weekend. I was honored to be able to be able to give one of the speeches. Caleb and Joshua had gone to lunch with their parents and came back just in time for the dedication. They were in back of the crowd, but when their Papa spoke I was gratified to see the boys move up to hear me speak. It was a simply gorgeous day. Al Siebert (always the mathematician) had estimated from the train schedule that my talk would be interrupted by a passing train. Fortunately for me, just before the event the order of speakers was changed and I somehow avoided the several trains that passed by. (I should mention that the Sieberts were so mesmerized by the trains that, after the ceremonies they took a train into Chicago for the rest of the day!). It was so gratifying to meet and talk with so many people, especially the relatives of the victims who were being finally provided with some closure to their tragedy. Also, these relatives were grateful that their grandchildren and grand nieces and nephews were now able to know about the tragedy that so affected their families.
After Paul Kuhn gave his talk, he, his father Tom, and Mayor Pradel unveiled the magnificent sculptures to a thunderous applause.
People didn’t want to leave and gathered long after the ceremonies had ended. We finally had to leave for the private reception that was given at Bella Familia restaurant at the 5th Street Station.
Patrice and I were again one of the last to leave and were quite bushed when we returned to our hotel. We just spent the rest of the evening resting and reminiscing over how well the events of the last few days had gone.
On Sunday Patrice and I went to mass at Saint Peter and Paul Parish Hall. Then we went to Bianco’s Restaurant for a brunch compliments of Uncle Joe and Aunt Esther. Twenty two of our relatives were there. I sat next to Mike and Don Rechenmacher and their wives Dianne and Linda and also Uncle Joe. Patrice was with Sue and Judy Rechenmacher, Dianne, and Claire. But, most of the time, stories were told across the whole room and it’s unbelievable how joyful a gathering of our relatives can be. Between Uncle Joe and Mike I think we all learned stories of Uncle Dick that many of us hadn’t known. Of course, Uncle Al provided his share of stories as well. Thanks to Uncle Joe and Aunt Esther for providing this wonderful gathering!
Our final event of the weekend also was very special. The committee knew that Patrice and I would be leaving Naperville on Monday; so the email was sent around for the committee to meet at the sculpture at 4pm on Sunday for a group picture of the Memorial Committee. As I said earlier, this group, for me, had become a close community over such a short period of a weekend. Paul Hinterlong should receive large commendations for heading this committee and I so enjoyed getting to know him and working with him. Paul confided in me “Chuck thanks for staying on my ass about this project” and he told Paul Kuhn “thanks for working your ass off to complete this magnificent sculpture on time!” I was proud to stand next to Jon Ripsky and Ron Keller in the pictures, although I would have been equally as proud standing with Jim Christen, Bope Schader, Paul Kuhn, Jack Shiffler, of the other members of the committee.
Well, that’s about it. On Monday morning Patrice and I drove six hours to Mechanicsburg, Ohio and in the next two days we got our bank bridge loan and then signed the closing papers on the house we bought to be closer to our son’s family. It is very, very difficult to leave the beauty of a lakefront home; but, the decision is made easier by how happy and excited our son’s family is about our move.
We drove home on Wednesday and that’s when we both started to get as sick as we have been in a long, long time. Again, we are just so thankful that this condition didn’t come during the dedication weekend. Even this writing has taken a lot out of me, so I will sign off. The statue at the Naperville train station will be there to always remind us of both a tragic event and a triumphant rescue efforts by so many.