I would like to commend Bob Skolnik for his wonderful Sept. 21 on the Eastland Disaster (“Riverside connection to the Eastland disaster”), and its connection to Patty Gill’s grandfather.
We tend to forget or lose track of people and events in our busy lives. For example, the Eastland Disaster has not really been in the public consciousness for decades as Mr. Skolnik pointed out in his article.
The story was ingrained in my mind as a Czech and Slovak American since many of the passengers were Czech- or Slovak-American laborers and family members from Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works in Cicero.
Another example that many of us have forgotten is the Hawthorne Works itself, and what that factory represented not only in terms of world renowned U.S. industry but well-known industrial studies.
Today, however, when I speak about the Hawthorne Works and the amazing Hawthorne studies that revolutionized labor in the United States, people, including my students, look back at me with glassy stares.
How can we remember these people who have passed and influenced our families and communities and how do we teach future generations about these pieces of history that provide the foundation of our community consciousness? What can we do? I have some suggestions.
First, we can talk about these people and events when we see others during the holidays or go on a trip to the city or just walk around our communities. I am amazed that, today, people get together during the holidays, eat a big ham or turkey, talk about a football game or guess what a recently elected candidate will do once in office but do not speak about family matters such as what some relative did in World War II or whether parents or siblings have a will or power of attorney for medical care or who would be guardians of minor children if family members accidentally died.
Just like the passengers on the Eastland, we cannot predict the future. One hour you are laughing and excited about a trip on Lake Michigan to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana, and then, later, you see loved ones die in front of you.
Second, we can build museums and memorials, write books and go to classrooms to teach our youth about history. For example, Richard Dolejs, the adjutant of Riverside American Legion Post # 448, this past Veterans Day visited Hauser Junior High School along with other veterans who talked about their experiences during World War II and the Korean Conflict.
He and others from our American Legion Post want to refurbish the Gold Star Memorial in Guthrie Park, but they also understand the importance of telling young people, fellow veterans and their families about what the memorial represents to the community.
You need museums, memorials and books to start the discussion. Without them, the discussion dies as members of a particular generation die off.
Another example is that of Chuck Michalek, who is chairman of the Eastland Centennial Commemorative Project. Mr. Michalek could not get the necessary donations to complete an Eastland Memorial at Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago so he, with the help of some other Czech and Slovak Americans, built the memorial with personal funds.
The Eastland Memorial, along with many of the structures at the Bohemian National Cemetery, are historically amazing and cannot help but engender conversation and discussion by all those that visit them during tours sponsored by the organization Friends of the Bohemian National Cemetery.
One last example is that of the Hawthorne Museum at Morton College in Cicero. Through the museum and some inspiring educators at Morton College, the Hawthorne Works lives on and on in the minds of young people.
We can only do the best we can as a community to find ways to preserve our heritage. Frankly, some people do not care to pursue such preservation. A strip mall or a fast food restaurant demonstrates progress in their eyes.
Luckily, a community has many eyes and many memories. Remember the amazing people and events from the past. Find ways to preserve those memories for the future.