Woman, 92, lives a life of stories
January 31, 2014 10:50AM
Eleanor Baltz | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2014 1:41PM
“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
— C.S. Lewis
It has been nearly a decade since I interviewed Waldo and Eleanor Bartz for Valentine’s Day. A more delightful couple I’ve yet to meet.
Waldo, better known as “Babe,” was rough and tough and Eleanor reminded me of, well, Aunt Bea from “The Andy Griffith Show.” Babe and Eleanor were affectionately known as Mr. and Mrs. B, but referred to each other as Mom and Dad.
Babe also was a football star at Lowell High School and class president back in ‘39. Eleanor was valedictorian.
Once Babe left the room during that initial interview, Eleanor confided that during one of their class reunions about 15 or 20 years ago, Babe stood up, faced the crowd, and stated: “I went steady with the sexiest girl at Lowell High. Then I married her and she became a librarian and a Sunday school teacher.” With a twinkle in her eye, Eleanor whispered: “Jeff, I could’ve kicked him.”
Babe and Eleanor lived in Shelby most of their lives. Babe passed away about eight years ago and Eleanor lives in Crown Point at Chicagoland Christian Village. She is 92.
“Soon after Dad (Waldo) died, I was staying at a neighbor’s house when there was no power in Shelby,” Bartz began. “About 2 a.m. the next morning, I got up to go to the bathroom and my flashlight wouldn’t work; it was pitch black. I didn’t want to wake up Joe because he had to go to work at 4 a.m.”
I’m getting the feeling this isn’t going to end well.
“I fell four-and-a-half feet head first into a crawl space. They had put a generator down there before they went to bed and didn’t cover it. It took three EMTs a half-hour before they could get me out. I almost bled to death. This leg was just shredded. They had to cut my clothes off. I was in the hospital for 11 days.”
Oh, my. How long have you been living here?
“Almost ever since my accident. My sons investigated and found this was the best place for me to live. One of my sons lives in South Carolina and the other in Alaska.”
What about your daughters?
“They died of cancer two years after Dad passed.”
I’m so sorry to hear that, Eleanor. You were born a Sirois, correct?
“Yes, my father was Frenchie, the son of Sam Sirois who emigrated from Canada.”
They tell me Frenchie ran the hardware store in Shelby and was a die-hard Cubs fan.
“Yes, just like me. I hope I live to see a better team.”
Be patient young lady, those lovable losers have only let you down for 92 seasons.
“My kid brother, Jigger, was recently inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame. When I first saw him as a baby, I said: ‘Oh, he’s a cute little jigger.’ The name stuck.”
Were you with Jigger and your mother when they were nearly killed by that tornado back in the late 1930s?
“No, I stayed home while they purchased eggs from Marie Larson down the road. Jigger never uttered a word for weeks after that. When he did, that’s when he began to stutter.”
Jigger’s a good man. Do you miss Shelby?
“Oh, I miss Shelby. A few months ago we made a trip to Shelby on a bus. I requested they stop so I could see the barber. Bob Stuhlmacher is in his 70s now. He just hugged me and hugged me.”
Does Bob still give $5 haircuts?
“Yes, he does.”
Tell me about your days of being a librarian.
“For 16 years, my library was in the basement of St. Teresa’s Catholic Church in Shelby. My grandparents donated the land and a lot of money for the church.
“I hadn’t been there very long when I said to my husband: ‘Dad, we’ve got to start having gingerbread house classes.’ He looked at me like I was crazy. A lot of those children had never heard of a gingerbread house. I’d get up at 5 a.m. when we were going to do the classes and make 15 batches of red, green and white frosting. We had basket weaving classes in the afternoons and at night for adults.”
You also conducted story hour.
“Yes. I enjoyed that so much. I’m an avid reader who reads six or seven books a month. I enjoy mysteries, romance and historical novels. I collect cookbooks. I also love to work difficult crossword puzzles.”
Me, too. Here’s one for you, my all-time favorite crossword question: “Eve once.” Three letters.
“Hmm. Eve once. I have no idea.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! Jeff, in high school did you study writing? How did you get interested?”
Eleanor, as far as high school classes, I didn’t study much of anything. With that said, I had a grandmother who read to me from the time I was an infant. I’ve loved books ever since. You remind me a lot of my grandmother.
“All children should be read to.”
Our mutual friend, Lori, tells me you mentor the new residents.
“Yes, I try to get them involved in things. We have a wonderful chaplain. It’s nondenominational here; everybody can take communion.”
How long were you and Babe married?
“For 67 wonderful years. We eloped, you know.”
Every Monday morning approximately 20 children from the daycare center next door gather around at Chicagoland Christian Village. From the commons floor, they lie on their bellies, wide-eyed, with hands on their cheeks. The 4-year-olds listen. They absorb.
You see, it’s story hour, and Mrs. B is reading fairy tales again.