This article originally appeared in the Aurora Historical Society’s Summer 2015 newsletter. Become a member and receive our newsletters right in your mailbox.
Mary Andrews’ career at the Aurora Public Library spanned 47 years. Retiring in 2015, she penned these memories of her parents and growing up in Aurora.
Growing up on Woodruff Street in Aurora in the 1950s, you never had to look far for someone to play with. There were fifty kids on our block alone, and we made second homes at Solfisburg Park and Copley II Playground. I still have my championship blue ribbon for marbles! It was a great place and time to grow up.
My Aurora Story begins when my grandfather came to America from Kalamata, Greece in 1915 and changed his name from Andrustakis to Andrews. Once settled from Chicago to Aurora, he brought his wife and three sons over in 1918 and raised them on Second Avenue. My mom’s parents grew up and emigrated from Thessaloniki, Greece to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1910. My mom and her four siblings were born and raised in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a city just northwest of downtown Pittsburgh. In the late 1940s, my uncles changed their last name from Pantazoplos to Pantages.
Nicholas Andrews, my grandfather, opened Main Hatters in 1919 on East Main Street (later changed to East Galena Boulevard). Main Hatters was a hat blocking and cleaning business that thrived in that era when men wore hats. It was not only a place to have your hat reshaped, but you could also have your suit coat cleaned, and your shoes dyed or shined. And it was a public meeting place to discuss local and national news . . . and baseball.
My dad, George Andrews, became a sergeant with the US Army/Air Force, 101st Airborne Division, earning a Purple Heart in World War II. When he was honorably discharged, on his way back to Aurora he made a stop in Pittsburgh where he met a pretty, dark-haired girl named Jennie Pantazoplos at a USO dance. He went back to visit her several times. After their Pittsburgh wedding in 1946, Dad brought her home to Aurora and took over the Main Hatters business.
At first, they lived in the house on Second Avenue and then in 1948 moved with their two daughters to Woodruff Street, added two sons, and in 1973 moved to Smith Boulevard. It sure would have been convenient if we lived there when we all attended East High School!
In 1960 when Aurora National Bank began demolishing the stores east on Main Street to make room for their drive-up facility, my dad moved and remodeled the former Astor Millinery at 1 North Broadway. He retired in 1973.
My mom was your typical mom — quiet, patient, loving, and attractive. Young boys at church loved my mother and wanted to marry her because she made the best chocolate cake. After school, she would meet us halfway up Front Street to walk home with us — a glass of Kool-Aid and cookies or Jello would be waiting for us. I can still see my sister and I dressed up wearing our white gloves, each holding one of our mother’s hands walking down the stairs and hallways in Oak Park School for a Mother/Daughter Social and being so proud to be with her. When I retired, Ann Langan, my second-grade teacher whom I hadn’t seen in over forty-five years, sent me a lovely card and note. I was so surprised and grateful! Miss Langan had three of the Andrews children, three years in a row! Sadly, our lovely teacher has since passed away. My brother and I attended her memorial service.
In 1960 while attending seventh grade at the then K.D. Waldo Junior High School, I made several “Vote for Nixon” signs that were posted in the hallways. At the same time, I remember running downtown with my sister after school to the old City Hall building to see Senator John F. Kennedy who was campaigning for the presidency. Then, knowing he would be traveling up Galena Boulevard, we quickly ran over to our dad’s store and stood on the shoeshine stand to get a better look as he drove by.
On most Saturdays, my sister and I would take the bus downtown and go to my dad’s store where he would give us each fifty cents. We would walk around downtown, go downstairs to the record shop in Staudt and Neumann Pharmacy and buy the latest 45 rpm record, and still have enough money to each buy a cherry Coke at Kresges or Woolworths. Then we would walk back to ride home with our dad after he closed the store.
My dad worked six days a week, but weekends were family time. Saturday nights we were often found at the Hi Lite 30 Drive-In. On Sundays, if we weren’t spending the day in Chicago at the museums, Riverview, or at Comiskey Park, we would drive around the neighborhood streets of Aurora, stopping at Phillips Park, and then at Dairy Queen or Dog n’Suds. Aurora baseball was an important part of my childhood, too. A player and manager himself back int he 1930s, my dad became very involved in Little League and later helped found Aurora Boys Baseball, he also managed a Pony League team. I would help keep score for him, traveling to the different playing fields in Aurora. We were all so proud of him when the city proclaimed “George N. Andrews Day” on June 9, 1974, and again honored him by naming the “George N. Andrews Field” for him at Garfield Park in 1975. He was also inducted into the first Aurora Boys Baseball Hall of Fame.
With my parents’ strong Greek heritage, much of our socializing while growing up was with the many Greek families in Aurora. If we weren’t at their homes, we entertained them in our home. It was always a special time of much food, drink, and fund, and many Greek traditions. I especially remember Easters at a friend’s house when they would dig a pit in their back yard and roast a whole lamb.
My parents were founding members of St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church, my dad serving as its first president. I taught Sunday School for its first twenty-five years and have been fortunate to see my church grow from its 1965 humble beginnings on the East Galena Boulevard hill downtown to its iconic house of worship on Fifth Avenue. At my father’s funeral in December 1981, it was so overwhelming to hear stories of my dad and how he had helped many Greek immigrants coming to this area find employment, gain citizenship, and assimilate into society, not to mention the many baseball stories. Twelve years later we buried our mother on December 24, 1993, and seeing almost every pew filled in church and every table at the luncheon at Long Island Sound Banquets filled with our Greek and American friends was both awe-inspiring and humbling. It was Christmas Eve and everyone should have been in church celebrating the even of the birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ, not attending a funeral service! Her sudden death made us realize how blessed we were to have such great parents that instilled such love, care, and tradition in us.
I have had the privilege to have worked at the Aurora Public Library, retiring after 47 years. I was hired by and worked with the legendary Eleanor Plain. I have such an adoration for that old library building. The new, larger library is much needed if the city is to keep up with current technology and to provide excellent service to its residents.
Aurora was truly a great place to grow up and from someone who has lived and worked in Aurora her whole live, I could not imaging being in any other city.
. . .and, though I now live on the west side . . .Once a Tomcat, Always a Tomcat. GO EAST!