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Gary man’s love of books, movies and music led to career at library

Dick Burgess | Jeff Manes~For Sun-Times Media

Dick Burgess | Jeff Manes~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 8, 2013 6:19AM



“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

— Harper Lee, from “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Dick Burgess, 87, lives in the Glen Park neighborhood of Gary with his wife Kathy.

They’ve been married 57 years and have raised four children, all of whom attended Andrean High School. Dick and Kathy are retired from the Gary Public Library system. They are members of St. Mark Catholic Church in Gary.

***

“I was born in London, Ontario,” Burgess began. “ We moved to Miller in 1964; two years later, we moved to this house in Glen Park.”

Tell me a little bit about growing up in Canada.

“Actually, I only lived in Canada until I was 6 months old. My parents settled in Detroit.”

Did you know our mutual friend Dorothy Bishop is a die-hard Detroit Red Wings fan?

“Really? I loved hockey at one time. My father was a great hockey player. I was, too. But when it got to where every other period there was a fight, that just turned me completely off. I forgot about hockey.”

Dick, I went to a fight the other day and a hockey game broke out.

“Ha! That’s a good one.”

Yeah, I got a million of ‘em. But seriously. When you think about it, in other professional sports — besides boxing — fights are broken up as soon as possible. It is rather barbaric that the officials in hockey actually back off so the sadistic Romans, I mean fans, can scream with bloodlust while the toothless gladiators, I mean hockey players, beat each other’s brains out.

“It is insane to me. Other sports have gotten tougher on that sort of thing.”

Enough sports. I’m sure you’re a reader. Name one of the first novels that really made an impression on you.

“Without a doubt, the first novel to really make an impression was Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”

That was an important novel dealing with racism and more.

“Exactly.”

What do you enjoy reading most?

“Fiction, biographies and some history.”

College?

“At the time, it was called Michigan State Normal. It was for teachers. It’s now called Eastern Michigan. It’s in Ypsilanti. I decided I didn’t want to be an English teacher. I’ve always enjoyed libraries, so I became a librarian.

“At Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, they had a one-year library training program. I met my wife there. We both ended up with master’s degrees in library science from the University of Michigan.”

Was your first job in Gary?

“Yes, I started out at the main library on 5th Avenue. It was funny, I took a taxi to the library. When the cabdriver pulled up to the library I asked him, ‘Where is it?’ The library building looks like a storefront. I was used to the traditional looking libraries. Anyway, I started there and was eventually promoted as director of the John F. Kennedy branch in Glen Park.

“I was director for 22 years, then I was back at the main library the last couple years. The reason I moved to Glen Park was they had the perfect position for me. I’m a lover of classical music. They wanted a librarian who was knowledgeable in both music and film. I’m also a movie buff. It was a perfect fit.”

What famous actor made his film debut in “To Kill a Mockingbird”?

“I’m drawing a blank.”

Robert Duvall.

“Oh, yes! He portrayed Boo Radley.”

Ever notice the ridiculous amount of all-time classic movies that were made in 1939?

“Oh, yeah. ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ‘The Wizard of OZ...,’”

The list goes on and on. I think the original “Stagecoach” was made in ‘39.

“‘Stagecoach’ is one of the best westerns ever made.”

When I was a kid, I remember our family going to the outdoor movie theater and seeing “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

“Yes!”

John Wayne.

“Yes!”

Jimmy Stewart.

“Yes!”

For a couple of Republicans, they were pretty good.

“Yes!”

I hear you’re an avid fisherman.

“Oh, yeah. During the late1950s, Kathy’s brother and I fished in a big lake and a small river for the first time.”

What were the names of the lake and river?

“I don’t remember. It was about 150 miles north of Toronto. We had a great time, but they have what they call ‘no-see-ums.’ Ever heard of a ‘no-see-um?’”

Is this the beginning of a joke?

“It’s a tiny insect about the size of a fruit fly that bites like a mosquito, but hurts much more. You have to wear long sleeves and gloves. If they get under your clothing, they’ll put one heck of a welt on you. And it doesn’t go away for several days. We wore nets over our faces, too.”

Sounds like a real fun time.

“We were driving to a new spot while wearing our netting when we met an out-of-town farmer bringing in produce to sell. He almost ran off the road staring at us. He thought we’d just robbed a bank or something.”

Catch any fish or just West Nile?

“Lots of perch and bass.”

Let’s switch gears. Changes in Glen Park since the mid-‘60s?

“When we moved here, I believe there was only one black family on the block.”

Today?

“We’re the only white family on the block.”

Gary as a whole?

“I think Gary has gone down hill in some ways, but it has stayed relatively steady. Detroit is a disaster. There is no downtown. At least Gary has a little bit of downtown left. Nobody goes to downtown Detroit.

“Now, on the other hand, the downtown section of Chicago is still very vital. With that said there’s a lot of crime in Chicago. There’s a lot of crime in Gary.”

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson?

“I think the new mayor is doing an exceptional job. It’s not an easy job. They’re finally coordinating all of the sections of the police department and getting it together, it seems to me.”

Dick, it’s been a pleasure. Any final thoughts?

“Well, I feel sorry for children because they have everything but what they need.”

What’s that?

“The fundamentals. To me, if you’re bringing up children, let them be children. They should be able to have an imagination. They should be able to play outside. These kids are stuck in the house using their thumbs to play electronic games.

“Kathy and I volunteer at a children’s home in East Chicago. We’re baby cuddlers, that’s what they call us. It’s for children who are physically or somewhat mentally deprived.”

What’s the name of this place?

“The Nazareth Home; it’s state supervised.”

***

Good folks, Dick and Kathy Burgess.



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