My parents wrote a song called “Direct Your Feet to Wright and Green Street”. That’s the corner of the coed theater in Champagne, Illinois where they met. My sister and I woke up hearing them sing it one morning during the last week of Mom’s life. Here’s the story behind the song. –Debbie
It all started in September of 1948. As I mentioned earlier, I felt I had been called to be an architect. Wisconsin didn’t have an architectural school in those days so I did a very serious study of the other schools I should go to. I checked out Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and I took the one with the lowest out-of-state tuition. I think it was about $100 a semester so I chose the University of Illinois. Through a friend at church I rented a room and my Dad drove me down.
I let the Landlady know I was looking for a part time meal job. She told me the house across the street served meals so I went there and got hired working with her two sons. I set tables, served food and did the dishes for each of the three meals during the day. I got all my meals free so that worked out well.
The evening of the first day that I was on the campus, I went to a movie with some of the guys. I still remember the film, it was called Wallflower. We walked in, and I don’t like to leave empty seats in rows, so I sat down next to this young lady. I’d kind of glance at her and talked to her as best as I could in a movie.
In those days, the movie would just keep replaying; you could come in at any time and stay until you saw the whole thing. We got to the place where she had come in so she and her girlfriend got up and left. We stayed on until the part in the movie we had come in and when we got outside, would you believe this same girl was walking by? She later told me she recognized my saddle-shoes. So I introduced myself and struck up a conversation. I learned her name was Dolores Rahn and that she lived on a farm in northwestern Illinois outside of a town called Lanark. We went for a Coke and found it very easy to talk to each other. That was the beginning. I walked her home and ended up taking her to the registration dance the next week.
The stadium at Illinois is huge – I think about 100,000. I went to the football game and imagine this; there she was sitting right behind me. It just kept growing from there. So it wasn’t in a Bible study or church, I picked her up in a movie. What we found though was we really liked going to church together. We went to the Presbyterian Church. It became a ritual that we’d go to church and then go out to lunch. I earned enough for my tuition and my books but didn’t really have enough for lunch. Fortunately, my parents sent me $10 a week and that was enough to cover lunch.
As time went on I got to learn more about Lanark. Her Dad raised beef cattle along with corn, oats and hay to feed them. I learned she went to a one room school — they had a very large class — the largest class in the school. There were five students.
When she finished 8th grade, she went into the town school and she ended up being valedictorian. It was interesting to me that, that little school could teach all eight grades and teach well enough for someone to end up being valedictorian. That says a lot to me about what we’re facing in our city today, and our country. It’s not about how much money we’re spending — I don’t know what the budget was there. I know they had to put wood in the stove in the winter. It was a very simple life. They didn’t have electricity until she was 13. Up to that point it was just a windmill, a pump and an outhouse. When I think about it, look at how green that was! I don’t know, if things really get tough, we may be back there.
Along the way, she told me a story about when she was four years old — that would have been the middle of the depression. Someone gave her a silver dollar for her birthday. Of course, that was a real treasure. She went to Sunday School and put the silver dollar in the offering. The teacher saw that and then talked to her mother about it and asked if it was alright she put the silver dollar in the offering. Her mother said, “If that’s what Dolores wants to do, then that’s what Dolores will do.”
She had piano lessons at a very early age. They had a piano in the house and her mother encouraged her to play. By the time she was 10 years old she was playing the hymns in church so she really had a gift.
After the school year ended in June of 1949, we stayed in touch by letters and occasional phone calls. I took the train for my first visit — in those days we had one that went from Milwaukee to Lanark — no stops in Chicago. She didn’t know I was coming. They were having a street festival — I found her, we talked for a bit and then I asked her to marry me. I showed her, her ring — she was pleased. She was the first one in her class to get engaged.