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Columns

Pat Wallis: Route 34 in Sandwich, a perfect location for a lifetime

Students are shown outside Woodward School on the monkey bars many years ago. Last year, most of them celebrated their 65th year of graduating from Sandwich Township High School in 1952, and some will be celebrating the same event this year. In the photo, we think, are Sandy Schultz, Jerry Mall, Warren Westbrook, Fred Smith, Janet Wesson, Pat Jensen, Bev Hupach and Idalia Schorsch. The name of the cute little girl in the middle is not available.
Students are shown outside Woodward School on the monkey bars many years ago. Last year, most of them celebrated their 65th year of graduating from Sandwich Township High School in 1952, and some will be celebrating the same event this year. In the photo, we think, are Sandy Schultz, Jerry Mall, Warren Westbrook, Fred Smith, Janet Wesson, Pat Jensen, Bev Hupach and Idalia Schorsch. The name of the cute little girl in the middle is not available.

Location, location, location.  

I’ve read and heard that term so many times as an important guide for those searching for a new or old “new” home. And, I’ve often believed I was lucky to grow up in a house on a corner lot alongside U.S. Route 34.  

We moved there in the early 1930s when my folks bought an older home just a couple blocks from the business district where we bought nearly everything, including our groceries, shoes, clothing, prescriptions, toys and school supplies. We even paid our electricity, natural gas and telephone bills uptown, usually with cash. 

Best of all, we lived next door to A.E. Woodward School, where my brother and I attended kindergarten through sixth grade.

Local residents called it the South Side School and most of the kindergarten through fourth-grade students lived on the south side of the railroad tracks.

The school’s playground covered half the block and was partially bordered by a tall chain-link fence to keep children safe.

Of course, it was open year-round, so neighborhood youngsters played ball, rode the merry-go-round, teeter-tottered, went as high as we could on the swings, played marbles, and hung from our knees or climbed the monkey bars on and off, for days on end.

With the school so close, I almost felt it was an extension to our home. I loved school, and by the time I was in fifth grade, my mom would let me go over to visit with one teacher who worked alone in the evening, usually making classroom decorations for her second-floor classroom. It was often after dark and I could see her at her tasks.

Can you believe, the front swinging doors on the first floor were left open to the entire building while she worked?

Something else that was special about living on Route 34, in earlier days, was that travelers would pull around the corner and ask any adult in the yard for directions.

That’s how most people found answers to their questions, whether they were looking for an individual or family who lived in Sandwich, wanted to know if there was a dependable car fixit shop, or how far it was to Mendota or Aurora.  

During their entire lives, if my folks were in the yard or sitting on the porch, they’d have folks waving and yelling “Hi” when they drove down the highway. Sometimes they’d turn at the next corner, come back and sit for a while to visit and catch up on the town news. 

In later years, former Sandwich residents who had moved away would be driving through town, and they’d park and would knock on their door just to see if the folks still lived there. Then they’d stay a bit for a laugh and conversation.

With so many relatives and friends of the family living close by, it was common for everyone to just walk in the front or back door and yell “Anybody home?” If someone knocked on the door, it was a stranger. In fact, I was so shy when I was young, I can remember hiding behind the sofa when someone knocked at the door.

My folks’ parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews and all of their friends were in and out of the house for many years, long after my dad had passed away and mom was living alone.

Mom’s lungs were damaged because she weighed less than 3 pounds when she was born on the farm. The farmhouse was heated with a coal stove in the dining room and a cook-stove in the kitchen. She survived because her parents gave her the very best care, using grandpa’s boot box lined with cotton batting for her bed.

It was a miracle she lived, but after she was 80, the Sandwich ambulance often took her to Sandwich Community Hospital just a mile from her home, and the staff on the ambulance and in the hospital brought her back, over and over.

She’d be in the emergency room, ICU, and a regular room a few days, then go to Willow Crest Nursing Home for physical therapy. Then she’d be home again, greeting visitors, watching the Chicago Cubs on television and traffic go by on Route 34 through her big window.

She’d see: Ron Cunz turn his plumber’s truck from Route 34 into the alley behind his business; modular homes being hauled on big trucks to Wildwood Communities south of Sandwich; her neighbor, Lee Colby, turn his living room lights on when he got up early; and often wondered how many of the shiny new white cars driving down the highway were paid off.

We had purchased a house right behind the Woodward School in the mid-1960s, and other immediate family stopped to see mom, so there was plenty of willing help to fill all her wants and needs until she passed away in 2005, just before her 97th birthday.

Yep, we were in the right location for our family.

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