The Park Ridge Historical Society has just completed an oral history of what it was like to be a teenager during World War II. Maine Township high school students from Maine East and West interviewed alumni who graduated from between 1945-1948 and asked them to share their memories of growing up during World War II.
How did this start? During World War II, Maine High School students had a fundraiser to sell over $500,000 in war bonds to “buy” a C54 aircraft built in the Douglas Aircraft plant on Mainheim road. In today’s dollars that’s over $7 Million dollars. Paul Adlaf, President of the Park Ridge Historical Society recounted this to fellow Society trustee John Murphy. “I was amazed by the story and quickly realized that the students were in their mid-80’s. We had to get their story documented asap”. With that, Murphy started the Wartime Memories oral history project. The project kicked into high gear with a Wartime Reunion in May of 2013. There, alumni shared stories and laughs of the challenges growing up during WWII. Students and Society volunteers then interviewed alumni over the next year. These wartime alums shared:
Ralph Bishop ’45. – He also worked at the Busse Buick dealership temporarily converted to a defense factory “We had to load 300lb boxes into rail cars at the rail siding near the Hines lumber company”. ” He supplemented his family’s diet by hunting West of Western avenue “I shot my first pheasant where eventually the Washington schools principals office is at”
Anita Stewart ’48 recalled skating on the Des Plaines river in the winter time. The mayors house was next to the river “He rigged up lights and had donuts and hot chocolate in his basement. If it snowed we shoveled the river so we could skate on the river.
Bill Amundsen ’45 I bought a Model A for $65 and one time I ran out of gas ration stamps…I went into a paint store and filled with my tank with paint thinner instead. A friend in school had a 1931 Cord and heard that and he filled his tank with benzene and destroyed his engine.
Bob Peacock ’48. My freshman year I remember ringing doorbells and selling bonds. We bought the C54!A number of neighbors went and got killed during the war…there was. You’d see blue stars and gold stars in the windows. Gold stars meant a fatality.
Clarence Herbst ’46 In my lifetime growing up in Park Ridge in the 1930’s and 1940’s people who had developmentally disadvantaged really had no place to go and the parents put them out of the house during the day so they could wander. They were up and down the streets in the cold and rain… They were not accepted in schools. That’s the reason the Avenues to Independence exists today.
Dorothy Findall West ’46 “When I was 15 working downtown for and import/export firm and I had to check lists of people who were Nazi sympathisers to make sure we didn’t do business with them. When VE day happened, they closed the office and everyone was shouting and hugging. We went to the Palmer house, everyone could have drinks but I couldn’t since I was only 15”
Marcia Scheunemann ’45 – recalls the hard times just before the war “my Dad was paid in scrip (an IOU issued by cash strapped Chicago” and to make ends meet “my Dad would walk along the coal yard at Greenwood and Busse Highway and the coal that would fall over the fence my Dad would pick up. I remember having sugar bread and milk thinking that was a treat.”
Nancy Welty Clark ’46 – At 15 years old “I used to substitute (for musicians) in the Chicago Symphony. They then asked if I could play for the USO.
Richard Stranahan ’47 – A lot of places that served liquor didn’t care how old you were…I remember one time having a beer when the phone rang and the bartender answered. He then went down and shut down a steel door behind us that had four slot machines in a little room.
Robert Lins ’45 Regarding the war bond drive to buy the plane “After the plane was finished….everybody, the whole school went out to be photographed with it. “Faster and Higher, That’s the Maine Flyer”, that was printed on the plane.”
Phil Ash, the TV & Radio teacher at Maine East and Maine South then gathered a team of students to put together a documentary on the war bond drive. Entitled “Faster and Higher, That’s the Maine Flyer”. Based upon the interviews of the Wartime Memories oral history project, the documentary includes period stills and expert commentary to paint a picture of the amazing story of how teens came together during the war to raise the mind-boggling sum of over $7 million in today’s dollars to buy a C54 plane.
To celebrate this documentary the Park Ridge Historical Society is hosting a premier of the documentary “Faster and Higher, That’s the Maine Flyer” at 4PM Saturday May 2d, 2015 at the Park Ridge Nonprofit center 720 Garden Street. Joining us will be alumni interviewed for the Wartime Memories project, student interviewers, TV & Radio teacher Phil Ash and students who edited and produced the documentary. Following the screening we will have a question and answer session where citizens can ask wartime alumni what the war was like.
2015 is the 70th anniversary of WWII and the Park Ridge Historical Society is proud to kick-off Park Ridge’s series of events to commemorate the end of WWII.