Time to give thanks!

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We are all aware that change happens whether we want it to or not. I recall an older Roselandite yelling at me one time because I mentioned Martin Luther King Drive. Anyone care to guess what she yelled at me? She certainly took me by surprise because we were at a wake at Panozzo Brothers Funeral Home. What she said, as she put her face close to mine, “It’s South Park and always will be.” Of course, that’s just one example, because for some people, we still have “Comiskey Park” and the “Sears Tower.”

Recently my 90-year-old sister Jean Kirn passed away, as well as a friend who was one of the members of my CJ 500 Club, 95-year-old Cathy Sandona. My sister Jean had eight children and the group photo that I’m showing, are the majority of her 17 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Not one of the people pictured in that group is Jean’s child, but everyone in that photo is descended from my sister and her husband.

Cathy Sandona was a delight to pick-up and give a ride to St Anthony’s and other places. The CJ 500 Club came about because, if you added up the ages of my friends that I gave a ride to and my age, it was close to 500 years! Cathy was always ready with a smile or a story. She especially liked it when she would get in my car and be greeted by Antonio Michelangelo and Mona Lisa, my dogs. A few times I had to remind her to put on her seat belt before she took Mona Lisa on her lap. I took the CJ 500 Club on a field trip to Eataly while she was still recuperating from a broken leg, but once inside Eataly she grabbed a shopping cart and used that for support as she put her cane in the cart.

They were both members of Bonny Sandona’s Spaghetti-O’s and everyone always looked forward to seeing them. As we all get older, I think many of us become more appreciative of people we’ve known for years. We all know that change is going to happen regardless of how we might feel about it. Jean and Cathy were great to know and both will be missed by many and that is part of accepting change.

If you visited Pullman any time during the past year, you’re aware of the many changes that have taken place: becoming part of the National Park System as the Pullman National Historical Park; the Historical Pullman Foundation becoming a more formal operation as the area grows in the number of visitors; the opening of the Pullman Coffee Club in the Sessions building; the planned construction of the Veteran’s Roaster and Brewery; the planned 101-room Marriott Hotel; and the Florence Hotel being closed while plans are being made to retrofit, rehab and update the 1890’s building.

As the Pullman area has grown in ways we all appreciate, these changes have enabled the members of the community to take a step back. It was the members of the community that, throughout the years, did the hands-on work to save the Florence Hotel, the Greenstone Church, establish the Historic Pullman Visitor’s Center, maintain a bird sanctuary, give free Sunday tours of Pullman itself, and maintained the factory site for tours and events. Those things are now being sponsored by various organizations that require very little hands-on community involvement compared to previous years, as they tend to utilize professional assistance. Some volunteers are still needed, but it’s with a less personal involvement on the part of the community.

November is known as the month of Thanksgiving and especially as the month we give thanks to all veterans who have done their duty in the service of our country. To this end, I’d like to talk about the special “thank you” I and over 200 veterans recently received. On July 12, we were fortunate enough to be honored for our time in the U.S. Army by Honor Flight Chicago. For many years, they have been sponsoring flights of veterans to visit the military monuments in Washington, DC. My flight was the 109th provided by Honor Flight Chicago.

We veterans had to be there by 4 a.m. but the kicker is that we were greeted at Midway by hundreds of volunteers. Between the Washington and the Chicago, there were over a thousand volunteers giving of their time, some before going to work, to ensure we veterans had a great day. After being greeted by our Chicago Flight Ambassador, in my case Michele Kielbasa, we each received an Honor Flight grey polo shirt so everyone would recognize we were part of the same team. Then we were served coffee and donuts, followed by a greeting from Wayne Messmer, of CUBS fame, who sang the National Anthem with us.

We had a Color Guard presentation and were introduced to the medical personnel that would be accompanying us on our flight—all volunteering their time. Our Chicago volunteers were dressed in orange polo shirts and when we arrived in Washington, D.C. we were greeted by volunteers in green polo shirts. Every one of us—over a thousand people–stood out as special that day.

Upon arriving in D.C., we were greeted by our guardian for the day. I was fortunate to have the fun-loving, always-smiling Virginia resident, Janice Topf Shankman, as my guardian. We had a great time as she allowed me to walk rather than ride in a wheelchair as many of the vets did. We began with the World War II Memorial and after a short ceremony, headed to the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (The Wall), the Three Soldiers, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

The best part of the day was being able to share in the camaraderie with my fellow veterans. I am fortunate that I am in good health and didn’t suffer any physical disabilities due to my service. For many of the veterans it was indeed a special day of thanks assisted by their guardians.

As per the planned schedule, we were served lunch on the bus as we headed to the Udvar Hazy National Air and Space Museum. This was a day that none of us veterans would ever be able to duplicate and for which each and every one of us was sincerely thankful.

We had a hamburger and soft drink dinner at Dulles International Airport and I had to bid farewell to my new friend, my guardian Janice, as we hugged goodbye, I presented her with one of the two dog tag souvenirs I had — we’re still in touch. As we walked through the airport to our plane, we were greeted and cheered on by more than a hundred adults and children. On the short flight home, we had mail call and received a stack of letters of appreciation that were written by family, friends, and school children from the Chicago area.

We deplaned in Chicago right on schedule at 8:30 p.m. and, much to our surprise, were greeted by crowds of people cheering and clapping for us. As we approached the baggage area, the big surprise of the day awaited us as some of our family and friends we part of the crowd. Thanks to the organizing efforts of my daughter Jamie Martello Reinhardt, a dozen members of that crowd were there specifically to welcome me home.

As I spotted them with their signs and clapping, I was really surprised to see my ex-wife, the former Marilyn Chao, in the group. We’ve remained friendly all these years and she just happened to be in town to visit our daughter’s family.

My return from Vietnam wasn’t valued due to the times and I now understand why I easily put that event behind me without much effort. I very much appreciate that Honor Flight Chicago has brought those events to the forefront of my mind in a good and positive light for myself and all veterans. Honor Flight Chicago has also shown my son and daughter and grandchildren a part of my life that they weren’t really acquainted with and they now appreciate.

My book “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” has sold more than 800 copies since it became available. Copies are available from me at $20 + $5 s&h. Contact me at petalsfromroseland@gmail.com or 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; res: 773-701-6756. My book is also available at D & D Foods, 1023 S. Halsted, Chicago Heights, at Bookie’s New and Used Books, 10324 S. Western Ave, Chicago and at Miles Books, 2819 Jewett Ave., Highland, Indiana.

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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One comment

  1. Thank You for your service, CJ.. Thank you also for sending my sister-in-law Ann Vezina copies of your column each month. I talked to her this morning, which is her 90th Birthday, and she mentioned how much she appreciates that small gesture. Both my brothers Ron & Jerry took honor flights and loved it. Glad you did too.I enjoy your columns although I left to go to college in Colorado in 1967 and still reside there. Guess Roseland will always be a part of me.

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