IF you grew up in my generation you probably have a clear memory of all the “warnings” given to you by your parents. Remember “Put that stick down or you’ll poke your eye out!” (This also was applied to a b.b. gun, rock or any other object that could be thrown or shot.) Or, my mom would say, when my brother and I would make ugly faces at each other, “What if your face froze like that and you had to walk around the rest of your life looking that way?” The “freezing” ailment on ugly faces also applied to crossing our eyes and not being able to uncross them after being hit with something while they were crossed.
MY MOM also knew someone “who knew someone” who actually had an eye poked out with a stick. I’m sure it is likely that some kids have had an eye “poked out”. I’ve been a little more skeptical about the “freezing” of ugly faces and crossed eyes, but haven’t done any research about it. I think any parent who loves his or her children, will always warn them of “dangers” -- because they were also warned when they were kids.
TWO OTHER admonitions of my mother centered on cold weather: “Get something on your head or you’ll freeze!”, and, “Be careful when you’re walking on ice. I’ve heard about someone who fell and hit his head on the ice and he was ‘simple-minded’ the rest of his life.” To this day, I’ve never worn “something on my head” (except hair) when its cold outside. As recently as last week, someone downtown asked, “Didn’t your mom ever tell you to wear something on your head when it’s this cold?” Yes, she did -- many times on many freezing days.
I WAS walking from the Municipal Parking Garage to the newspaper office on a sub-zero early morning last week and there was ice everywhere. My mother’s admonition to be careful and not hit my head on the ice was actually on my mind as I walked carefully through the parking lot near the Millikin Court Building. Then, in a split second, my feet slid out from under me and I fell backwards on the ice, falling hard on my back and hitting my head! Oh, no! I knew what that meant! My mom had warned me when I was a little kid!
FORTUNATELY, I didn’t get knocked unconscious which probably saved my life -- because it was dark and no one else was around when I fell. There was a strong likelihood that I could have frozen to death before anyone came along. In addition to being thankful I wasn’t knocked unconscious, I immediately wondered if I was going to be one of those people someone’s mom would be talking about who fell on the ice and became “simple-minded”. I crawled off of the icy patch, picked myself up and seemed to be okay. Miraculously, except for a cut on the palm of my hand where my watch dug into the skin, I was okay.
I’VE always been a person who has never let weather, threats, or anything else, stop me from going anywhere I needed to go -- and I’ve found myself in some dangerous situations over the years as a newspaper publisher. However, last week’s fall that hit the back of my head on the ice (and broke part of the ice) sent a real message to me that I need to be more careful in the wintertime.
THIS COLUMN is not meant to make fun of anybody who has fallen on the ice and suffered permanent injuries. That certainly isn’t anything to joke about. However, my fall last week gave me a clear perspective on my mom’s warnings when I was a kid. The next time I walk on ice, I will certainly not be making an ugly face (at least intentionally) or crossing my eyes -- but I probably won’t be wearing “something on my head”. I guess, a little stubbornness on such things is hard to give up after a lifetime of not wearing “something on my head”. But, would you expect any concession on that issue from a guy whose head is hard enough to crack solid ice?
‘Christine’ Has An Automotive Nervous Breakdown
LAST SPRING, I wrote a column about a “pre-owned” car (it was a few years old) I had purchased to drive to and from the newspaper office each day. The car was like new, with very low mileage, and loaded with lots of features I would never use. I hadn’t owned the car very long when a series of strange happenings seem to be part of its “personality”. I wrote that I was beginning to wonder if the car was “possessed” (not repossessed).
I STARTED referring to my car as “Christine”. That was the title of the movie that was about a car that seemed to have a mind of its own. In my first column about the car, I detailed a lot of experiences I had with that electronically-advanced hussy. It seemed to me that “Christine” was giving me warnings and orders all the time -- “check this, check that, gas tank low, tire pressure two pounds low” and on and on. It was obvious to me that “Christine” knew a lot more about my car than I did -- and she liked to constantly remind me of that fact.
WELL, on the coldest winter day of last week, I walked to the parking garage where “Christine” was, got inside from the frigid weather -- and she wouldn’t start. I figured it must be the battery but, even with a dead battery “Christine” continued to alert me to problems. One message from “Christine” stated: “Drive carefully. There may be ice on the road”. Why did I need to worry about ice on the road when the car wouldn’t even start? I NEARLY got frostbite being outside trying to start the car with cables and I couldn’t even get the hood open! I finally called to get it towed. When the tow truck arrived, “Christine” had locked her wheels making her impossible to move. Apparently, Christine had suffered a massive automotive nervous breakdown and electronic heart attack! Everything was shut down! It took quite-a-while to drag her out of the municipal garage and “rush” her to the emergency entrance of a local automotive hospital -- also known as an auto repair garage. By that time “Christine” wasn’t talking to me -- I was talking to myself!
MY FATHER, Sam Osborne, was a mechanical genuis and I don’t remember anything that he couldn’t fix. Dad once told me that “The more you get on a car, the more you have that can go wrong.” Dad was a wise man. “Christine” has so many features that can go wrong that it is impossible to anticipate even a few of them. But some of them can completely shut down the car, leaving the driver scratching his head trying to figure out what had happened. It seems to me that, somewhere along the line, the technology designed to make our life easier has made it more stressful. Sometimes, I think we’ve forgotten that the most important job of a vehicle is to get us to our destination safely -- not talk to us, or entertain us, or distract us with countless “features”. I DON’T blame the dealership that sold me the car. That’s the technology of the present age and what people want. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a car from them again. I think it’s probably my attitude. I come from an automotive era that, when my car’s battery went dead, I could push my “straight shift” car, jump in the seat, pop the clutch and start the engine -- and be on my merry way. A lot in the automotive world has changed since those days and, like a lot of people who remember those days, I feel somewhat lost in today’s automotive technology.
I GOT “Christine” back Monday and the mechanic, who has worked on countless vehicles over many years, told me he had never found a similar situation with any car he had worked on. A sensor had come loose that connected the brake with the starter. He said “I found out what had happened, but it’s still a mystery as to how it could happened.” He said that, the place the sensor was located could not “accidentally” be disconnected by human hands. Hmmmm. “Christine?” No. I refuse to believe that she would intentionally shut herself down. Still, even though “Christine” and I are now on friendlier terms, and I’m enjoying my car, I’m thinking of putting my mechanic on a retainer.
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Ray Made Us Feel Good About Our Community
WHEN I was the very young publisher of the Decatur Tribune and attempting to keep it going, I hit the streets a lot to sell advertising to local businesses. It seems like only yesterday that I walked into the lobby of a downtown bank to sell some advertising. I wasn’t quite sure where the advertising department was located and so I must have looked like I was in a daze as I scanned the lobby. Suddenly, I heard a voice ask, “can I help you with anything?” I turned around and came face to face with Ray Livasy, the president of Millikin National Bank.
I EXPLAINED that I was selling advertising for the Decatur Tribune and was calling on the bank to see if there was interest in running an ad. “Why, of course, we want to advertise in your newspaper,” he said in a very positive tone. “You’re doing a great job.” He asked me to walk with him to a nearby desk and he pulled out a month’s worth of ads and handed them to me. I can’t begin to explain how encouraging Ray was in the way he treated me.
RAY passed away on Nov. 26th and I immediately thought of that encounter with him that took place nearly 45 years ago -- and the way he made me feel by personally taking an interest in what I was doing and being supportive of my efforts. Our paths crossed many times after that as Ray was a “mover and shaker” in the community through leading the bank as president and later as chairman of the board of what later became Magna Bank for nearly 30 years, retiring in 1993.
BESIDES his position at the bank Ray was active in the community, serving on about every board and organization in the city, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corp., and many, many others. He was a proven leader and a tireless promoter of our community. Ray was also an extremely nice man. After he retired, I no longer had the usual contact with him and I don’t remember seeing him for many years. THEN, a short time after I served my final day as mayor, among the messages I received was a very kind handwritten note from Ray, complimenting me on the job that I had done during the years I served. The note meant a lot to me. A week later, I was in Doherty’s to pick up some food when Ray and three other men came in and sat down at a table near the front. Before I left, I walked over and thanked Ray for the handwritten note he had sent me after I had left the mayor’s office. He quickly replied, “No, THANK YOU, for your service to this community.”
AS I walked back to my office after hearing his response, I couldn’t help but think that, for the forty-five years I knew him, I always felt better after seeing or talking with him. He never looked to be praised for what he had accomplished, but was always offering encouragement to others for what they were doing or what he believed they had done. I never saw Ray again, after that exchange in the restaurant six years ago, but when he passed away on Nov. 26, I felt a sense of loss. My thoughts about him weren’t so much about everything he had accomplished during his life, or about what he said to me over the years -- but how good he made me feel when he talked to me -- or sent a handwritten note. RAY and his wife, Fran, were married for more than 65 years. Fran passed away on Dec. 1st, five days after Ray died. I was blessed to know people like Ray and Fran from the start of my business career. They were in the generation ahead of me and so many of the people I admired and respected have now passed on. They were pillars of Decatur because it was never about them, but about serving others -- and the community.
THAT’s a lesson that many of us in my generation learned from very special people and we work to pass that perspective on to the generations coming after us. People like Ray and Fran Livasy, and so many others who have passed on, were great examples to those of us following them -- and although they are gone, we won’t forget what they taught by example. We won’t forget what they said and how they made us feel about ourselves and our community -- especially in the simple conversations of life.
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Decatur: The City With A Big Heart
YEARS AGO, our newspaper office was located next to Subway on North Park Street when I wrote a column about “panhandlers” constantly asking me for money when I walked down the street to and from my office. I decided I wanted to make sure those who constantly asked me for money for a meal were going to use the money for food and not drugs. So, when I was stopped on the street and asked for money for a sandwich, I offered to step into the handy Subway and buy him or her a sandwich and soft drink -- but I wasn’t going to give them money. Several, who indicated to me they needed money for a meal, would usually walk on down the street when we got close to the front door of Subway.
OTHERS, who had asked me for money for a meal, and actually accompanied me inside Subway, I learned later, tried to sell the sandwich and drink to someone else in the restaurant a few minutes after I left. In one extremely creative move, a panhandler who left the Subway shop with me with a sandwich and drink I had bought him, went back into Subway after I walked on down the street and asked for a refund for his sandwich -- the one I had purchased for him! An employee told me about it the next day.
ONE panhandler, when I offered to go inside Subway and buy him a sandwich and drink because he was hungry, told me he actually preferred to have KFC chicken and, if I would give him the money, he would walk several blocks and get a meal there. I told him the offer was for Subway and if he was hungry, he should accept the offer.
ONE local resident, after reading my experiences in that earlier column, sent me a “Human Services Directory”, a sheet of paper listing where help (including food) was available for those who needed a helping hand -- and many of those resources were within walking distance of where panhandlers ap-proached me. I carried copies of that list, and, when I was approached for money to buy something to eat, I would buy the meal -- but I would also give him or her the sheet listing where free food and other services were available. I even read the names and addresses (in case they couldn’t read) of a few of the closest places. In a couple of instances, I offered to walk there with them, but my offer was rejected.
I’M not mentioning those experiences again to give myself a pat on the back or demean anyone who is in need or struggling with life’s problems. What I did was very small compared to what many people in our community do in going out of their way to help others -- including panhandlers. My “Human Services Directory” approach was not meant to drive people away from seeking help, but to give them several options where they could get some of their basic needs free of charge -- food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment (if needed). I KNOW that Decatur area people constantly open their hearts to help those in need and huge efforts, like the Community Food Drive, and so many others, demonstrate the generosity and compassion of my fellow citizens. Every week, in this newspaper, there are stories of people and organizations helping make life better for those who need a helping hand. If you need help, Decatur is a community that will help you -- simply out of the goodness of its heart.
SINCE our newspaper offices moved to the Millikin Court Building several years ago, my encounters with panhandlers are not as common -- but that doesn’t mean the need for help, whether it is accepted or not, has disappeared. The need is even greater now. I’VE FOUND, in this community, people who help people, individually and collectively, whether it’s a panhandler on the street, or members of a family struggling to cope with the problems besetting them. That’s why I am so thankful to live in the “City with the Big Heart” and never want to leave. May God bless those people who are always helping others in need, while He comforts and strengthens those who are in need. God cares about all of us and, deep down, that’s what all of us need to know -- especially in dark, cold times.
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Touched By The Angel On Eldorado Street
IT’S been a little over a month ago since a reader asked for information about the statue of an angel that is located above a fountain at 1210 East Eldorado Street. I found very little public information about the angel. However, through the responses of our readers to the article, the “mysterious” angel is not mysterious any longer.
AS MOST of you know, from reading a follow-up article in the “Editor’s Notebook” in the Oct. 22nd edition, the angel is located on property next to where The First Church of The Living Dead” met in the old AIW Union Hall on the northeast corner of Jasper and Eldorado. Glenn Portwood informed me the building was used for religious services and The Church of The Living Dead painted it black and put the sculpture in the lot next to the building. “The Church took its name from the scripture which says ‘We are all dead in trespasses and sin’.”
THIS WEEK, I received an email from Tiavi Rudow, who identified himself as the CEO and President of The First Church of the Living Dead. Tiavi said the statue was the work of a Japanese immigrant to the United States, whose name is Kosa Sato. “He is a very talented artist who works with concrete and also does painting as well as miniature statues,” said Tiavi, who added that Sato has paintings on display at Donnie’s Homespun Pizza in Decatur.
TIAVI said the artist was a member of their congregation and built the fountain and the statue. “Unfortunately, we were unable to run the waterfall this year due to water pipe damage over the winter and have been unable to have it repaired as of yet.”
I ALSO heard from John Patkus, who confirmed that a Japanese American artist named Kosi (John spelled his name with an “i” instead of an “a”) created the statue. “Kosi lives in Decatur,” said John. “I see him around occasionally. He is hard to understand since English is not his first language.” John added that “the statue is made of chicken wire covered with cement. The statue is probably three years old. Kosi would like to make more statues. “The First Church Of The Living Dead has been around in one form or another for over 20 years. It claims to be a Gothic Christian church that was started by some high school students. There are still a few original members around.”
JOHN SAID, “The group has met in homes, in the park, and in restaurants. They consider themselves to be artists and dreamers. For over ten years they met in the building on Jasper and Eldorado. They built the little garden next to the building for prayer and meditation.
“At one time, they had church services and concerts in the building. About two years ago they stopped most of their activities in the building and pursued other activities. Thanks to Facebook, we keep in touch and look forward to a new season in our lives.”
NOW we know who created the statue and fountain that can still be seen at 1210 East Eldorado Street. Although the statue was created for a little garden of prayer and meditation, it has been responsible for attracting the interest of a lot of people to learn more about that church.
I HAVE not been able to contact the artist. That’s the final piece of information that we need. It’s evident that anyone who can take some chicken wire and concrete and sculpt that impressive work of art has an amazing talent. A few people have written to me to indicate the Bible doesn’t refer to any such being as a female angel, but this artist has created a statue with his concept of an angel. Regardless of the gender of an angel, this statue located in an open lot that stands next to a big empty building along a busy street, has attracted a lot of attention and most people see the depiction of a heavenly being as they pass by. There’s not much doubt that many people driving and walking on Eldorado Street have been “touched by an angel”.
Today, the building at 217 South Maffit Street,
where Romano Pizzeria was located over a
half century ago, has its windows boarded up.
A Good Memory Now Has A Name
I WAS in high school in the late 1950s when I ate my first piece of pizza. I bought it at Romano Pizzeria at 217 South Maffit, a little storefront a half block south of East Wood Street. That was years before the pizza business swept the country and numerous franchises popped up everywhere -- including Decatur.
ROMANO’s was strictly a carry-out business and, as soon as I got my driver’s license, Romano Pizzeria was usually a Friday or Saturday evening stop. Since cellphones wouldn’t come along until decades later, I usually drove to Romano’s, ordered my pizza and then waited in my car and listened to the radio until it was done. The large pizza cost $1.00 or $1.50 and, since Romano’s didn’t have inside dining, I did what a lot of teenagers did -- I drove to Steak ‘n Shake (with my date), ordered Cokes and we sat in the parking lot and watched all of the “cool cats” cruise through the parking lot in their automotive creations while we listened to Dick Biondi sing “On top of old pizza all cover with cheese” on WLS. All was right with the world back then -- we had Romano’s Pizza, Steak ‘n Shake with curb service and AM radio.
I DON’T think I ever saw anyone working inside of Romano Pizzeria other than an attractive woman, probably in her thirties, during the years I bought pizza there. I always wondered if she was an employee or the wife of Mr. Romano -- but I never asked. Later, Romano Pizzeria moved to a location on South Jasper, behind Johns Hill Middle School. I bought a lot of pizzas at Romano Pizzeria -- especially at the South Maffit location.
OVER THE years, when I would be out covering a story for this newspaper and drive by the former locations of Romano’s, especially the Maffit Street location, I thought about all the times I had bought pizzas there and wondered what had happened to the woman I always saw there that seemed so nice. I was going to ask a member of the Jim Romano family about how they were related to the Romano of Romano Pizzeria-- but, for some reason, I never did.
EACH WEEK, when we are in the process of putting this newspaper together I scan the obituaries to see if anyone I’ve had contact with over the past half century, has passed away. Obviously, by the very nature of what I do as editor and publisher, and serving as mayor for a number of years, there’s almost always a name, or names, I recognize from the present and past. As I grow older, it seems like the number of names increases each year.
LAST WEEK, I was glancing over the obituaries in this newspaper and I read that Marie Potrafka had passed away at the age of 93. I did not know her -- at least I didn’t think I did. But I was wrong. Then I read in her obituary that she “owned and operated Romano Pizzeria for over 24 years”. Marie Potrafka was the woman I always saw when I picked up my pizza! Her maiden name was Romano -- the name given to her pizza business. She was always there because she owned the place.
MARIE Potrafka’s obituary stated that she “loved cooking and baking cookies; remembered special occasions in the lives of others by sending a countless number of cards throughout her life.” She impressed me in my teenage years as a woman who would do kind, thoughtful things for others. I find it interesting that, although I never knew her name until now, I always remembered how she treated me when I came into her business.
WE NEVER know the extent of a positive impression that we create in the people whose lives we touch as we travel through life. An action that we do, or the way we conduct ourselves, even in what we would view as insignificant contact, may cause that kind attitude to be remembered by someone decades later. I remembered Marie Potrafka over the years, not by name, but by the positive impression of goodness she unknowingly left on me. Now, I have a name to put with that special memory that I’ve revisited countless times during my life -- Marie Potrafka, the owner and operator of Romano Pizzeria.
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Posted from print edition of the Decatur Tribune Nov. 7, 2014
The Surrey: Tasty Memories From The Past
A CITY of Decatur employee stopped me on the street the other day and asked if I could remember where “The Surrey” restaurant was located downtown. The answer was easy for me, even though The Surrey disappeared decades ago. It was located in the 100 block of East Prairie Street in the first building east of the alley, on the north side of the street. TODAY, The DemirCo building occupies the entire north side of the block from the alley to North Water Street. Talbot’s, a tenant in the building, is located over the site where The Surrey building stood. Inside the restaurant, there was some of the most beautiful woodwork and paneling that you could see anywhere in our city. It had stools for a counter, plenty of booths and a mezzanine.
I ATE lunch there often when I was a young businessman downtown. My lunch was the same every time -- chopped steak, potato, two onion rings, a side salad and iced tea. The cost was $1.99. The service was always great and it was a meeting place for a lot of the people I became acquainted with downtown. One of the waitresses is still a subscriber to the Tribune after all of these years and often ends her notes to the newspaper with “Your friend from The Surrey”.
WHEN I became publisher of this newspaper in the late 1960s, I moved it into the former Shinners Market building that was located in the first storefront east of The Surrey. Businessman Phil Hecht, who owned a lot of property downtown including the Shinners Market property and the three-story “Hecht Building” that occupied the rest of the north side of that block, remodeled the market building for the Tribune. It was very convenient for us to walk out the front door of the Tribune, take a few steps and walk inside The Surrey.
AS THE newspaper grew, we needed more space and I moved the Tribune to another site. My visits to The Surrey became infrequent. Over time, “The Surrey”, like a lot of other restaurants downtown, closed its doors and faded into local history. New Art Beauty Salon, which had been located in the 100 block of South Water for many years, moved into The Surrey building and was there for many years before the building, along with the Shinners Market building and the Hecht building, plus the entire west side of the 200 block of North Water Street, were demolished in the 1990s. All of those buildings, and a ton of memories for a lot of us, just disappeared. Rising in their place was the new multi-story retail and office building which is a great asset to the downtown area.
MANY YEARS ago, when the subject of “The Surrey” came up in this newspaper, a reader wrote to describe how she loved going to The Survey, first as a kid, and then as an adult. “I wanted to go to The Surrey,” she wrote. “I always ordered the same thing, a shrimp salad (that was really loaded with those tiny salad shrimp) and covered with the best Thousand Island Dressing that I have ever eaten. I’ve tried plenty since then, but none of them ever compared to The Surrey’s. “I always accompanied the salad with a big chocolate shake. We sure don't have as many personable restaurants nowadays as we did years ago. What a sad day it was when The Surrey closed its doors.”
WHEN I was asked the other day where The Surrey was once located -- the first thing I thought of was the $1.99 lunch I bought there decades ago and how good it tasted. I think, as many of us look back on restaurants that we liked years ago, we not only remember where they once stood but our favorite food that we ordered there -- and how the taste of that particular food never tastes as good today as when we ate it at a particular restaurant, like The Surrey.
TODAY, a lot of the restaurants from years ago are gone, so we can only point to the site where they once stood. (I’m still looking for a photo of The Surrey.) Although the restaurants may be long gone, the memories of the great food that we ate there can still be savored as tasty morsels of the past -- and bring a smile to our face. The Surrey was one of those restaurants that does that for me.
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Posted From 10/22/14 Print Edition of the Decatur Tribune.
Editor & Publisher
Columns Are Printed With The Most Recent Displayed First
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The photo across the top of the page shows the northeast corner of downtown's Lincoln Square and the statue of Abraham Lincoln marks where he gave his first political speech.