For the record, Mary Phillips doesn’t think she is actually Brookfield’s oldest resident. But being the good sport she is, Phillips will be riding in an open-top, 19th-century carriage drawn by a horse in today’s Fourth of July parade, a symbol of the village’s historic past as residents mark Brookfield’s 125th birthday.
While, she may not be the oldest resident of the village, the 92-year-old Phillips has family roots that just might be the deepest.
Phillips has lived in the same two-story frame house on Henrietta Avenue since she was an infant — she was born in February 1926 — and she and her family have been, and still are, connected to past and present businesses, schools, fraternal organizations and even local government.
Asked about being in the spotlight at the parade marking the village’s quasquicentennial, Phillips was about as honest as you might expect.
“It’s a pain in the butt,” she said with a sidelong glance at her granddaughter, Nicole, who heard about the village’s efforts to find the oldest resident for the parade on Facebook and talked Mary into it.
A proud Bohemian, the former Mary Sedivy — she says it’s actually pronounced “shed-jivy” — was born in Berwyn to a pair of Czechoslovakian immigrants.
“At that time, all the Bohemians lived in Berwyn,” she said.
Her parents spoke only Czech at home, she said, and never learned to speak English. While her mom became an American citizen, her dad never did.
Mary’s older brother, Tony Sedivy, was born in 1921 and her younger brother, Jim, in 1936. All of the kids went to S.E. Gross School and then to Riverside-Brookfield High School.
Tony was excited to learn when he went to school in Brookfield, that the other kids in class spoke a foreign language — English. Mary says she doesn’t recall having a difficult time learning English even though only Czech was spoken at home.
“I learned it because [my brother and everyone else in town] did, I guess,” Phillips said. “I don’t have any trouble.”
The year 1943 was a big one for Mary. She was 17 years old at the time, and during those 12 months she graduated from high school, got married and had her first child, Donald, who is Nicole’s dad.
Mary ended up going steady with her future husband, Maurice Phillips, “because my girlfriend’s sister didn’t like him.” The two married before Maurice shipped off to the Pacific with the U.S. Army. Mary’s brother, Tony, also served in the Army in Europe.
For many years, Tony Sedivy was the owner of a popular restaurant at the northwest corner of Maple and Ogden avenues, The Blue Bonnet, which served Bohemian fare cooked up by his mom. Mary worked as a waitress and helped with the catering business.
But Mary’s future work life lay elsewhere in Brookfield. At the urging of Maurice, who didn’t like Mary working every Sunday in the restaurant, she ended up taking a job in a dry cleaning business on 47th Street — Swan Cleaners. The business was owned by Maurice’s aunt and uncle.
Mary Phillips would end up working at Swan Cleaners full-time until she was 89. She’d still be working if she could get there.
“I would if I could, but I can’t drive anymore,” Phillips said. “They took my driver’s license away.”
She still visits the shop regularly, though her relatives sold the business long ago to another former employee whose children continue to run the business.
Tony Sedivy was active in the American Legion, Phillips said, and was instrumental in helping bring a replica of the Liberty Bell to Kiwanis Park in 1976. Her younger brother, Jim Sedivy, was married many years to Sharon Sedivy, who retired in 2017 after working the switchboard and in the nurse’s office at Riverside-Brookfield High School for 30 years.
Sharon Sedivy’s son, Michael, is a village trustee in neighboring Riverside.
As for how the view has changed from the front steps of her Henrietta Avenue home, Phillips hasn’t given it much consideration. She’s been kind of busy since 1943.
“To me it seems the same,” she said. “You kind of grow with the territory.”