Romance for the ages: From couples who made it

by Mat Cohen

No one knows love more than the people who have been pierced by Cupid’s
arrow and withstood the test of time.

Two couples in the Streeterville neighborhood offered their stories and advice for others.

Bill and D Clancy, married 60 years, went on the most epic first date you can imagine, and Roger and Jeannette Becker are high school sweethearts who have been married for 56 years.

Both know a thing or two about the ways of love.

D, who goes by the first initial of her maiden name, met Bill when she was 10. She was seven years younger than her future husband and friends with his niece.

Bill’s and D’s families are from Chicago and knew each other.

“The reality is we both really knew each other’s families for a long time,” D said. “I think sometimes newlyweds have problems with families and we never had that, but we both already knew each other’s families really well.”

And everyone thought they’d be together, especially after their first date years later.

“Our first date was more than 24 hours,” D said.

They went to a lecture, to dinner and then out dancing, which is enough to last three dates, but there’s more.

Bill crashed on D’s couch for a few hours of sleep, then they attended 6 a.m. mass the next morning, drove north to visit his brother, and finally back home.

They’ve always had fun together, which continued when they had kids in the 1960s.

“Bill and I had so much fun with our kids,” she said. “And that’s not true for everyone.”

They took a month-long road trip along the California coast and camped in a van along with four kids and a dog.

“I don’t think too many people do that,” D said. “I’m not sure if we were wise or not, but it was great. Now that we’re older we still have a lot of fun as a family. We’re not smothering, but we still have a good time together.

“The ability to laugh at things helps your relationship, sometimes people take things too seriously.”

High school sweethearts Roger and Jeannette Becker started dating their junior year after Roger asked Jeannette to the prom, partly because of her shiny hair.

“There was kind of a click,” Roger said. “A fit that developed more over time. I went away to college, but we saw each other close to every weekend. And we got married right when I got out of college.”

Jeannette agreed, “It was really meant to be.”

When Roger joined the army, travel and distance were introduced to the relationship.

“It takes work to have a good marriage, and by that I don’t mean it’s a struggle,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to pay attention. It’s a miracle that people can change in compatible ways. Both of us are different people than we were back in high school, but we’ve been lucky the changes have been compatible. We’re still best friends and plan to stay that way.”

The Beckers grew up close to St. Louis and moved to Chicago in 1996. The move filled them with newfound energy. Roger teaches a current events class and joined a gentlemen’s club, and Jeannette stays active at church and various seniors groups.

“(Chicago) has so much energy, it revitalized us,” Roger said. “We take advantage of what Chicago has to offer. We like to go out to eat and do many other things together.”

For the Clancy’s, Chicago is not their permanent home. Having Florida to escape to during winter helped the marriage blossom from the start.

“Another thing that was wise of us,” D said. “Bill hates the cold weather, so after we got married we moved to Florida over the winter and into May. I think starting out life with each other there, we got a chance to know each other better. We got off to a really great start.”

Through thick and thin, the couples have grown together, mourned losses together, and loved deeply together.

But of course, there is always some luck involved.

“We’ve been lucky,” Jeanette said. “I got a really great guy.”

Chicagoan ready for round two of roaring 20s

by Mat Cohen

The 1920s was a decade unfamiliar to most. But Wanda Bridgeforth remembers it well.

Bridgeforth saw the Great Depression, World War II and lived in Chicago when the tallest building was eight stories high.

As the year 2020 begins, she’s ready to welcome the changes that a second shot at the ‘20s will bring. 

Bridgeforth, 98, takes a writing class at the Chicago Cultural Center but has more stories to tell that aren’t on paper. 

“My life has been different than average,” she said. “But I’m still a kid at heart.” 

Bridgeforth grew up in Bronzeville and has lived in Princeton Park, the Loop and now Hyde Park for the past 16 years. 

As a kid in the 1920s, Wanda’s family visited downtown Chicago once a year to see the Christmas decorations.

“We got dressed up to come downtown with gloves and hats,” she said. “Once a year we came down to Marshall Field’s to see the tree. Then we went up to the eighth floor to look down on it.”  She said although the Christmas setup is still the same, most things have changed drastically.

“Downtown is so different than what it was,” she said. “ The department stores, the theaters, all the high-rises. Sometimes I just have to suck in my breath and go with the flow. Everything is moving so fast these days with all of this technology. It’s just amazing to me.” 

As a kid, she saw neighbors stick together through thick and thin.

“The Depression came when I was about six or seven,” she said. “That’s when everybody’s life turned upside down. We had a closeness and a strong community spirit that we don’t have now.”

This tightness helped during World War II when her husband was stationed overseas.

“When he went overseas it was 56 days from Chicago to India,” she said. “I didn’t know he was in India, I just knew he was away from home.”

Beth Finke, who leads the writing class, has grown close to Bridgeforth.

“(Wanda) is profoundly deaf and I am totally blind,” she said. “Maybe we connect because both of us acknowledge  our disabilities without letting it de ne us. We both are resourceful and have to figure out ways to do certain things  that others do with their ears and eyes.”

Bridgeforth said there was another reason she was drawn to Finke.

“We clicked immediately,” she said. “Primarily through (Finke’s guide) dog because I love animals.”  

Singers in Chicago Children’s Choir ‘have to be excellent’

by Jacqueline Covey

The best young voices in Chicago perform with the Chicago Children’s Choir in storied locations like the grand glass-roofed third floor of the Chicago Cultural Center.

Members of the Voice of Chicago choir, the Chicago Children’s Choir’s premier mixed-voice ensemble, have performed overseas and in front of international leaders, such as former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The mantra for this elite group, instilled by Judy Hanson, senior associate artistic director with the Chicago Children’s Choir, is “the more excellent, the more magic.”

“They have to be excellent,” Hanson said.

At a recent holiday-themed performance of “We Are One” at the Chicago Cultural Center,  students in leadership roles addressed the audience at an open rehearsal.

“We connect to people through music,” said Isaiah Calaranan, a member of the choir. “We’re breaking down barriers and outside social constructs.”

During performances, the reaction of the crowd gives immediate feedback to the performers. “I love seeing their faces light up,” Calaranan said.

During the civil rights movement, the choir was  founded in Hyde Park to bring children of diverse backgrounds together.

Hailing from Rodgers Park, Calaranan followed his brother’s footsteps throughout each level of the organization, starting when he was nine.

“We have to be role models,” Calaranan said. “We are what (other groups) want to be. We are the end goal, but we keep inspiring and changing lives even after high school.”  

Chicago experiencing a Magic Renaissance

By Elisa Shoenberger

Chicago has been known as a cow town, a town of bootlegging gangsters, and even a town with long-winded politicians but few people know that Chicago was also a place for all things magic. 

At the turn of the 20th century, famous magicians, such as Harry Houdini and Howard Thurston, performed in theaters throughout the city. Chicagoans were hungry for magic and other live entertainment.  Another famous magician of the era, Harry Blackstone Sr. was from Chicago and took his name from the Blackstone Hotel, noted David Witter, author of “Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft & Spectacle.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, Chicago was known for its magic bars, where magicians delighted patrons with tricks right at their tables.

“From the ’20s to the ’90s there were at least 16 different magic bars operating around the city,” writer Raf Miastkowski said.

Starting in the 1970s, Marshall Brodien, who played Wizzo the Wizard on TV’s “The Bozo Show,” brought magic into homes as spokesperson for TV Magic Cards, Watkins said.

But by the end of the 20th century, the age of magic in Chicago becan to dry up, and magic bars and shows began disappearing.

Now Chicago’s rich magic history is re-emerging throughout the city as well as the US.

Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N Clark St., opened a permanent location in 2018. Dennis Watkins,  a magician, mentalist and entertainer, does five weekly shows of The Magic Parlour at the Palmer House hotel since 2011. He’a also performed in Chicago plays that have incorporated magic into their shows.

Shows like “Penn and Teller: Fool Us” are getting people interested in magic again, Watkins said. 

“Magic isn’t just for kids,” he said. “People are looking for childlike wonder, a virtuosic performance, a puzzle and mystery.”

Close-up magic was Chicago’s speciality in comparison with big-production value disappearing acts. “Chicago magic history has been rooted in close-up and parlor style for a long time,” said Watkins. 

He said his intimate show for 44 guests takes place in the famed Empire Room, where magic legends have performed since the turn of the century. Audience members “get to experience something magical, not in front of you, but with you,” he said.

Ultimately, Watkins said that he and most magicians hope that their audience members will experience the “childlike wonder” of the show. After all, that’s what magic strives to do.

Picture perfect: New Eastsider Randy Martens documents the neighborhood

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

New Eastsider Randy Martens wasn’t always interested in street photography.

Growing up in the country, down in Mendota, Illinois, Martens said he got his start taking sports photographs for the local paper and then photos of barns and cows for fun. He’d taken a correspondence photography course, and over time he fell in love with the art.

“I feel in love with photography when I started working in an office in Mendota,” Martens said.

Martens worked as a billing supervisor and his career was moving along, but it didn’t move him.

“The day they offered me a promotion, they were going to make me assistant to the treasurer, I told them I wanted to quit because I wanted to be a photographer.”

He moved to Chicago in 1982 to pursue his passion. Looking through a viewfinder, it changed him

“It was freedom,” Martens said. “Just to do what you want. Not to have clocks and desks and things like that. Just to go around and see what you see. I was always a storyteller. I wrote poetry and things, but that was sort of labor intensive compared to just taking a picture.”

Martens first trained his camera on skyscrapers and the manmade world, though soon, wandering through the loop, he took a look at the river of humanity passing him by and when he wasn’t working his office job, he was out on the street, taking photographs.

In 1983, Martens met his future-wife and in 1986, they got married.

“I was working in an office in downtown Chicago, and after we got married she and could see I wasn’t very happy working in an office, she basically said to me, ‘I’ll make you a deal,’” Martens said. “She had a job in human resources in a law firm. … She said, ‘I tell you what. If you learn how to cook and keep the house clean, you can be a photographer and I’ll earn the money.’”

It sounded like a good deal to Martens, so he got busy in the kitchen.

“I learned to cook,” he said.

He also fell deep into photography. Today, thousands of photographs into his work, Martens has photographed all types of people in all sorts of places. For the most part, Martens said, people in the Loop have been receptive when he asks to take their picture.  

“I don’t know if I have a different aura or what, but I get a lot of yesses,” he said.

But not always. As Martens spends most of his time on the street, his photos include a lot of the street people he sees, but one man has remained elusive.

“There’s one guy I haven’t seen in three months, a black guy with rasta hair,” Martens said. “He used to walk around for 15 years and I hope he’s not gone. He has the darkest skin. I’ve walked up to him and I asked him if I could take his picture and he says ‘no I don’t do pictures,’ and I said, ‘I’ll give you $5 bucks and he says, ‘no.’ I’ll see him a year later and I offered him $10, and he turned it down. I once offered him $50 and he turned me down. Some people just don’t like the idea.”

Martens has self-published one book, though it’s not for sale anywhere. He said he is planning a show in the near future, and in the meantime people can check out his website, randymartensphotography.com.

Get to know the only biplane pilot in the Air and Water Show

(Published July 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The Chicago Air and Water show may be famous for its display of high powered state-of-the art aircraft, but one airplane featured this year is not like the others. 

Chicago-based pilot Susan Dacy’s biplane is a throwback to pre-war piloting, to a time before jet engines, but her performance is no less technical and it is no less thrilling. 

Dacy, one of the pilots featured at the Chicago Air and Water Show Aug. 17-19, is one of the few female pilots in the U.S. performing in a bi-plane. But this isn’t her first Air and Water show. Dacy is a commercial pilot and, when she’s not doing tricks during her day job, she tours the country performing rolls, spins and other acrobatic tricks. She said she started in the 1990s and her decades of acrobatic performances is the realization of a goal she’s had since she was a kid and went to her first airshow.

“Of all the performances what impacted me was the biplane that flew,” she said. “It had the smoke trail and it was loud and it really excited me. I always remembered that.”

The early inspiration is reflected in Dacy’s plane, a bright red, 450 horsepower Super Stearman named Big Red. Although biplanes are among the earliest planes, the Super Stearman is a WWII-era plane, developed as a reliable craft for young pilots to learn to fly. Because of their reliability and their ubiquity, Dacy said quite a few planes were retired after the war and they flooded the civilian market.

“This type of plane trained bunches and bunches of cadets,” she said. “They made Army and Navy versions so they had gobs and gobs of these airplanes after the war. A lot of bombers and things like that were crushed up melted down and repurposed but a lot of the Stearmans luckily survived because it was determined they were good for crop dusters.”

It’s a Stearman crop duster that chases Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.”

Dacy’s plane was used in air shows before she bought it. Aside from a new engine, a new “skin” and some aileron flaps, it’s the same plane as the cadets would have piloted in training.

“It’s been a plane that’s pretty much worked its whole life,” she said. “It’s never been in a shed collecting dust.”

Later this month it will be at it again. Although the pilot schedule isn’t set until the day of the show—weather affects what planes can perform—Dacy offered a behind-the-scenes sense of what audiences can expect. Like all the other pilots, Dacy will take off from Indiana but Big Red is the only bi-plane scheduled for the day.

Dacy said audiences can expect “barnstormer-type moves,” including some twists and circles, shooting her craft high into the sky, trailing environmentally-friendly smoke before tumbling back down to earth and ending in a barrel roll.

While her performance may shock, surprise or even make audiences anxious, the one person who won’t be wowed is Dacy.

“Of course, we know what to expect, so it’s almost everything seems routine,” she said. Dacy said she’s got an exit plan in case of the worst, but said she doesn’t worry about it.

“You’re always thinking that stuff and it’s not being fatalistic but it’s just common sense,” she said. “But my airplane is so reliable, and of course I make sure maintenance is performed regularly”

Sticking with the queen of tape

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Anna Dominguez is the queen of tape. It’s a self-proclaimed monicker but it’s also something she can back up. 

Not video tape nor audio tape. Sticky tape. The sort of stuff people use to seal packages and paint walls. She is a tape artist; at once the inventor of a medium and a leader in the Chicago arts scene. 

Dominguez, a Gold Coast resident, has a piece displayed in the St. Jane Hotel in New Eastside. St. Jane owner Carrie Meghie said she’s glad to work with local talent. 

“We are thrilled to support an up and coming artist who is unique, innovative and extremely talented,” Meghie said. 

This is the second work Meghie’s bought from Dominguez. 

“I first saw Anna’s work when she created a piece for me and my husband for our charity (the Jackson Chance Foundation) a few years ago,” Meghie said. “I was impressed, not only by her talent and creativity, but also by her generosity to create such a special piece for us personally. When selecting the artists to work with at St. Jane, she immediately came to mind.”

Dominguez has been creating art since she was a girl. Following graduation from the arts program at Dominican University, she delved into the tape designs—a style she invented. 

“It’s really cool to see that this has become a form of art,” she said. “A lot of us that create with tape call it ‘tape art’ and I refer to my work as ‘tapings.’ When I started this nine years ago, no one was doing what I was doing as far as I know. In the last two years it’s really picked up as a form of art and more people are creating with tape now.”

Dominguez focuses on sports figures, most recently the tennis champion Serena Williams, with the kinetic energy illustrated with various shades and textures of different tape.

“I’m a huge sports fan and athlete myself,” she said. “To me sports and my art relate so much. It’s like you work towards this goal, it’s grueling sometimes, you laugh, cry, mentally push through some of your biggest obstacles. In a way, art is both physically and mentally enduring for me like sports. I could be up for 21 hours straight working on a piece I’m really into and it does take a toll on your body. But a lot of it is mental for me. At the end you find out all the hard work you’ve put into that one piece was worth every emotion and physical obstacle you’ve hit.”

To check out her work, visit www.queenoftape.com. 

How one realtor helped build the neighborhood

(Published on May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright for Sheetal Balani

New Eastside residents know what a gem the neighborhood is. But years ago, before Magellan developed the area, Compass realtor Sheetal Balani was asking her prospective buyers to have faith in her and the future of the area.

Balani has been selling in New Eastside for 13 years, and she recalls bringing clients to the developer’s trailer on Upper Wacker  Dr. to look at scale models and floor plans.

“The sales staff would make their pitch and I’d hold buyers’ hands as they took a leap of faith,” she said. “For most folks there was definitely a lot of uncertainty over what it would ultimately become and what the community would look like.”

With the units stil two to three years away from completion, Balani saw the vision of what could be, and made the sales. Over time, she helped build the familial community.

“Those early buyers, a lot of them are still in the neighborhood and they attract other family members and friends,” she said.

Balani knows the story well. She sold a unit to her in-laws, who moved from the suburbs and she watched their stress melt away.

“They used to always enjoy going to the theatre but the distance between the city and the suburbs was too daunting,” Balani said. “Now they frequent shows two-to-three times a month.”

While Balani could understand the appeal of raising kids in the suburbs, the community of New Eastside allowed her to have a neighborhood and be in the heart of the city–it was the best of both worlds.

“Having lived in the city and moved to the suburbs, wanting to come downtown with two kids, it was clear to me that Lakeshore East was an oasis in the city,” she said. “It felt comfortable and welcoming to a young family.”

Balani knows firsthand the biggest selling points of Lakeshore East.

“My kids learned to ride their bikes around the perimeter of Lakeshore East Park,” she said. “We walk to Mariano’s several times a week and we can walk to work in just minutes.”

Whether you’re raising young kids and want a city meets neighborhood experience or your kids are off at college, Balani knows the ins and outs of New Eastside and can help make it your home.

Spertus to honor Justice Ginsburg in song

(Published May 6, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, will honor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the musical “Notorious RBG in Song.”

The musical will be performed once, May 19 at 2 p.m.

Ginsburg has served on the high court for 25 years and in recent years Ginsburg has become a pop-culture icon known to fans as Notorious RBG, a wry nod to fellow Brooklynite, rapper Biggie Smalls, the Notorious B.I.G.

Ginsburg’s life and work are celebrated in this one-act dramatic concert featuring soprano/composer Patrice Michaels, who has been called “a formidable interpretative talent” by “The New Yorker” with her collaborative pianist Kuang-Hao Huang and their guests, soprano Michelle Areyzaga, tenor Matthew Dean, and baritone Evan Bravos.

Justice Ginsburg, this concert and the accompanying CD are personal. These songs about her life are presented (and in many cases, written) by her daughter-in-law, Michaels, and produced by her son, Cedille Records founder James Ginsburg.

James Ginsburg will sit for a post-show question and answer session and an accompanying CD will be for sale at the post-program reception.

Performance is 75 minutes long and there is no intermission. Tickets are $18, $10 for Spertus members and $8 for students and Spertus alumni. They’re available at spertus.edu.

SHE SAID YES!: The Maggie Daley marriage proposal heard ‘round the world

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Bob Lempa wanted to do something big for Peggy Baker, his longtime girlfriend.

They’d been dating for years and he knew she was special and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. It was just a matter of finding the right time and place to ask her to marry him.

So, one snowy morning, armed with twine, some stakes and a snow shovel, he went to work in Maggie Daley Park, first marking out the letters and then shoveling.

Six hours later, the words “marry me” were written across the snowy canvass of Maggie Daley Park.

“I had no idea whether security would kick me out when I started doing this,” Baker said. “But they were supportive. I wasn’t writing something negative, it wasn’t something political and it wasn’t a commercial.”

It was painstaking, Baker said.

But it worked.

After he wrapped up, Lempa called Baker. It was a day after Valentine’s Day and he had told her she’d be getting a card.

“At four he called and said, ‘Did you get my card yet?’ and I said, ‘no’ and then he said ‘look out your window,’” said Baker. “I knew it was for me and I saw the message and my co-workers overheard and they started congratulating me and giving me hugs. They clapped and cheered. I met Bob at the park and the park district people were there and I got to say yes officially when I went down there.”

Lempa caught more than Baker’s attention though. Since the public proposal caught the attention of downtown, Lempa said he’s seen his name pop up in stories around the world.

“I wasn’t doing it for the publicity, although I thought I might get some,” Lempa said. “But it is all across the States and it hit Mexico, Spain and New Delhi.”

Baker said she’s thrilled to be part of a good news story.

Prior to the engagement, Baker had been thinking about a fun vacation as a way to shake up her winter.

“I was thinking a week ago, I need to plan a vacation or something exciting,” she said. “Who knew how the week would go? So many people are reaching out and this got so much attention. It is amazing. I was on TV this week! So many people are talking about it.”

Lempa said he certainly doesn’t mind.

“I was looking to hit a homerun and I hit a grand slam,” he said.

The couple hasn’t set a date for the wedding yet, but Lempa said they’re thinking about sometime over the summer.

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