Robert Freguson

Does MPHS have photographs:  Yes

Date of Interview: September 18, 1991

Interviewer: Judy Klien

Text of Oral History:

JUDY KLEIN: My name is Judy Klein, and I’m conducting an interview with Mr. Robert Ferguson. The date is September 18, 1991, and the time is about 7:15 p.m. in the evening, and we’re sitting in the lovely living room of Mr. Ferguson. I want to thank you again for giving us your permission to have this interview and for signing the release form for us. I think this is going be sort of exciting.
ROBERT FERGUSON: Well, thank you, Judy, for this opportunity.
KLEIN: You’re welcome; you’re very welcome. Just think, you’re going down in history. Okay, let’s just start by giving me your full name, were you born here, and if not where were you born and how old were you when you came to Mount Prospect? FERGUSON: My name is Robert Bruce Ferguson. I was born in 1932 in Marshalltown, Iowa, which is just outside of a little community where some of my relatives settled called Ferguson, Iowa, which is just a few miles from Marshalltown, as they came through into the area and settled into Iowa. I went to school in a small community downstate called Dallas City, Illinois. Then after graduating from high school when most of the people in our area, since it was a farm community, most of them didn’t even graduate from high school, so I was one of the very few that went on to college. And then, actually, right after college I was drafted into the Army for the Korean War. I spent two years in Washington, D.C., working for Army intelligence. In my second year in the service I applied for and accepted a job in Mount Prospect, which was back in 1956. The reason for coming to Mount Prospect was that they were paying about the highest salaries in the area for teachers. So, I took the job in that year for $3,700, and started teaching at Central Junior High, seventh and eighth graders, science and social studies.
KLEIN: That was Central Junior High?
FERGUSON: That was Central Junior High.
KLEIN: And where was that located?
FERGUSON: That was at the corner of Central [Road] and Main Street in Mount Prospect, where the present library is located and where the original schoolhouse was built which is now down by St. John’s Episcopal Church. The original school that was built in Mount Prospect back in 1896 is now right west of St. John’s Episcopal Church there.
KLEIN: Is that where the museum is located now?
FERGUSON: No. That’s on Main Street there in Mount Prospect.
KLEIN: Oh, so the original school, then, is over by St. John’s.
FERGUSON: It’s used as some office spaces there for St. John’s Episcopal, yes.
KLEIN: Okay, so then you came in 1956 and you came as a teacher.
FERGUSON: As a teacher.
KLEIN: And then you settled in here.
FERGUSON: Settled here and I lived in Mount Prospect with Mrs. Hazel Vorhees at 17 N. Emerson for about five or six years, and then during my teaching I taught for two years at Central. Mount Prospect was growing so rapidly at the time, they needed another junior high school, so it was a case of where Gregory was starting to be built and they needed someone to open up the junior high school over at Lincoln. So, I went as one of three teachers over to Lincoln Junior High and opened up Lincoln, and that had to be about 1958. We had three junior high school teachers at that time. I spent one year at Lincoln and then came back to Central where I was at Central for thirteen years as a teacher and principal.
KLEIN: Did it remain a junior high all that time?
FERGUSON: When I originally went to Central, it was a K-8 building, and from its inception back in 1927 it was a K-8 building. So, it was mainly junior high school. As more schools were built in the area, the lower grades were moved out of Central, but we always had kindergarten there and some of the lower grades, and usually one class of each grade.
KLEIN: Oh, you did, even while you were the principal there?
FERGUSON: No. When I was the principal there, it was just junior high school. We had grown so large that we moved them out. But we still had kindergarten there.
KLEIN: Oh, you did.
FERGUSON: But it was mainly junior high school.
KLEIN: Then it was sixth, seventh and eighth.
FERGUSON: No, it was just seventh and eighth. At that time, junior high school was seventh and eighth.
KLEIN: And you were principal there for how long?
FERGUSON: One year. I closed the building.
KLEIN: And the building closed in …?
FERGUSON: 1970. The last class was 1969-1970.
KLEIN: What school absorbed those children then?
FERGUSON: All right, well, this is one of the most difficult closings I ever had. Actually what was done, an addition was put onto Lincoln, and Lincoln was to take all of the junior high school students for the district over at Lincoln. That’s when we actually about doubled the size of Lincoln, put on the new north gym. It’s called the Busse Gym at the moment. The science wing, the library-that was all added on-and then Central was closed and all the students went over there. That was a very difficult closing, when you close a junior high school. All of the children that were accustomed to going to Central had to go to the south side school then.
KLEIN: Any time, I think, when a school closes that it’s always a tough adjustment for the children. So you’ve lived at this address-you lived when you were a young man downtown, and then was this your first house?
FERGUSON: When I was over at Lincoln teaching that one year, I met my present wife. She was teaching fifth grade there, and we were married in 1960. Prior to being married, we bought this house. We live on Robert Drive here in Mount Prospect, and  literally right south of Willow here, which is 100 feet or so away, was a corn field.
KLEIN: In 1960 that was still a corn field.
FERGUSON: Right.
KLEIN: I’ll be doggone.
FERGUSON: This was a DiMucci home, and at that time I had Bobby DiMucci as a student in school, and so Mr. DiMucci was very nice in making sure that the house was ready when we got married at the end of July in 1960 because, literally, we’re at the end of the block and he was building south of here. He came down and put this house in specifically for us, and literally we had a corn field south of us, and there was corn growing north of us, too.
KLEIN: Sometimes it’s good to be at the right place at the right time.
FERGUSON: Right.
KLEIN: When you first came to town here, what was considered the downtown area, more or less, when you first came back in 1956?
FERGUSON: Well, basically it was the area right across from the railroad tracks. That was the downtown area. I can remember the first five or six years eating here, because I wasn’t married and I had a room with Mrs. Vorhees, that I ate for five years or so at Kruse’s, which is now Mrs. P and Me. I can remember the price of the food. You’d go in for an evening meal and you paid a dollar, and that was your meal. Since I went in almost every day, the cooks in there and the waitresses treated me pretty good. But then there was one other restaurant in the community, which was across from the railroad station, which I think was called the Mount Prospect Cafe which is where, I think, there is a Hallmark card store which is right next to-what is it-a candy store there on the corner of Emerson.
KLEIN: Fanny May, now.
FERGUSON: Right.
KLEIN: So, both sides of the street, then, were developed.
FERGUSON: Right. But that was basically it, because the district offices at that time were there on Emerson Street, just off of Central. It was a big, white house, and it is now moved over-I believe it’s [at] Central and Pine Streets. It’s that big, two-story house there that’s painted red now. That used to be our administrative center for the school district. Before they did much developing in that area over there, they literally put the house on blocks. In fact, it was sold to a principal at that time in the district, Fred R~mond. I think the board more or less just gave it to him, but technically they sold it to him and then he moved it over to its present site. Some of the homes that are down where the present village hall is-there were some old Victorian-type homes there, and two of those are now moved down right at the corner of Rand and Central. There’s a couple of old homes in that area, if you notice, on the north side of the road there. Those originally were down there right at Busse and Emerson Street where the present village hall is located.
KLEIN: Who owned those homes, then? They weren’t farm homes.
FERGUSON: I really don’t remember who owned those farms.
KLEIN: Were they farm houses?
FERGUSON: They were old, like farm houses, right. But they’re still standing there, if you ever want to see them there. But then that was all moved out. That’s when the bank was at the corner of Busse and Main, over in-what is that ice cream parlor, there, that was Daneo’s there by that building with Sammy Scobel’s. That was the bank building there, and then they moved from there to where the village hall is now, and then finally the bank then moved from there to its present location.
KLEIN: Right on across the street. It basically sounds like it’s been changed somewhat, but. ..
FERGUSON: And then, of course, the big place was Wille’s Hardware Store. I mean, that’s where the antique complex is and Sara Lee is at the moment. Wille’s was the courtesy center for the whole community. I mean, they carried everything and had the nicest people. They kept us all busy with all the things that they had in that store for us.
KLEIN: That’s great. What do you remember most about shopping downtown, when it comes to the stores and the merchants? Do you remember the people or the stuff that they carried or anybody in particular that left an impression on your mind?
FERGUSON: Well, again, as a school principal and teacher at Central, which was right at downtown, I can remember, first of all, we had-what was his name? Nicholas, but he was the barber. This is back when we were fighting the battle of long hair. I can remember Nick Nicholas was his name, the barber there, and he was right at the corner of Main and Northwest Highway where the present chiropractor is located. I can remember we were good friends, and every once in a while I would march a student down to Nick and Nick would give him a free haircut. And then there was a clothing store on Main Street there-I believe it was called Alice’s-and they handled some very nice clothes in there. I can remember some of our students would go in and do their Christmas shoplifting a little early, and they would come down and talk to us and we would check some lockers out and return some of the clothes to them.
KLEIN: Kids are kids, huh?
FERGUSON: Oh, yes.
KLEIN: Where did your family mostly shop for groceries, especially when you lived down at this part of town? I imagine there wasn’t the Eagles and all of this, so where did you have to shop for groceries or for your clothes or for your shoes?
FERGUSON: Well, basically we went over here. There was a little Jewel store over here on Dempster and [Route] 83.
KLEIN: The one that’s still there?
FERGUSON: Yes, it’s still there. That’s an old, old one that’s been rebuilt. Actually, I bought a lot of my stuff, when we moved out here-right at the corner of Central’s school grounds was a little. ..it was almost like a present 7-11. I’m sorry I don’t remember the gentleman’s name that owned it. Golden’s? But anyway, it was a little grocery store with all kinds of good things in there, and then we bought a lot of meat from Meeske’s there on the corner of Busse and Main Street and did a lot of shopping in there.
KLEIN: Meeske is a name that’s been in Mount Prospect for a long time, isn’t it?
FERGUSON: Yes.
KLEIN: Because I can remember seeing the remnants of it when I came. Was he an old-timer that was here? Was his family pretty prominent?
FERGUSON: His family is pretty prominent. They owned property, and then they had that store there where the present bakery is located there. Their specialty was meats. Everyone in the community went in there to get their meats through the Meeske boys.
KLEIN: Oh, there was more than one of them.
FERGUSON: Right. They were brothers that owned it. In fact, one of the brothers had a couple of daughters, and one of the daughters married one of the boys that lived next door-Earl Meeske.
KLEIN: Now when you shopped for your hardware items and stuff-you mentioned Wille’s-so that where most of the gentlemen went?
FERGUSON: Always went to Busse-Biermann.
KLEIN: Where was that located?
FERGUSON: Busse-Biermann is still where Busse-Biermann is located, there, right next to the ice cream shop on
KLEIN: That old-time-with the old, wooden floors in it?
FERGUSON: That’s right. And that was a nice hardware store. We went in there to get all of our good stuff, and the school district still has an account there at Busse- Biermann’s. We went in there and bought all kinds of goods. If we needed something for the school, we’d go over and say we were from the school and we had permission to sign for hardware items and take them back.
KLEIN: Now, this is school district 57?
FERGUSON: This is school district 57.
KLEIN: Is that one of the original school districts here? Is that the first one that was. ..?
FERGUSON: Okay, that’s one of the original school districts. It was founded in 1896-from reading a little dedication to you a little bit from that. In 1896 it opened with seven students, and they didn’t have any equipment and the students were sitting on nail kegs. And then an addition was put on the little, white schoolhouse that’s now over near the Episcopal church. Then the original brick building was built in 1927, and then there was an addition put on ten years later. Now, the original building cost $25,000, then the addition was put on which was the gymnasium and,I think, four classrooms, and that was in 1937, and that was for $30,000. And then they put on the final addition to Central in 1947-and the prices have really jumped-and the addition there was, I think, $260,000.
KLEIN: Were the contractors, the ones that built the Central school and put the additions on, were they local men?
FERGUSON: I don’t know, but I can tell you this, that when we closed Central one of the things that I gave to the Historical Society, and they have it over in their archives someplace, is the nameplate from the original building there and, of course, the board members and the contractors are all on it.
KLEIN: Okay, good.
FERGUSON: So, I really don’t know. But that is in the Historical Society there someplace. I do know that when they tore that building down that the contractors were unhappy that we were tearing it down because some of the foundations there were three feet thick and they had a devil of a time getting some of that out, especially if you know how the library has the parking underneath; well, that was the foundation for the old school and they had to take all of that old foundation out in order to get the parking lot in.
KLEIN: Oh, lordy, lordy! We don’t have foundations three feet thick anymore when they build anything. When you talk about some of these stores that you went to, the dress shop and the hardware store, can you remember anybody that worked there or any of the names of people that worked in them?
FERGUSON: Not really.
KLEIN: When you mentioned the Busse hardware, what was that second name that you mentioned?
FERGUSON: Busse-Biermann.
KLEIN: Biermann. Were they friends?
FERGUSON: Okay. Mr. Biermann is one that I knew most of all. He was fire chief, I believe, and he worked in there for the volunteer fire department. When I first came to this community, the fire department was all volunteer.
KLEIN: Oh, it was at that time, even in 1956.
FERGUSON: And I can remember the first night that I came to this community-the first or second night-I’d just got out of the service and because of the position I had in the service I was on, really, twenty-four-hour recall. Along about two in the morning, the fire sirens went off in this community, and I thought that the Russians were coming, and I was fully prepared to go. But then I found out this is the way they call the volunteer firemen in for their fire runs.
KLEIN: You were up and armed, right?
FERGUSON: Right.
KLEIN: Well, let’s move on to some of the other businesses and manufacturing. One of the questions I have on this questionnaire here is, do you remember any or some of the earliest factories-if there were any factories-that were still around in 1956 or ’60 that came, and if you do, what did they manufacture or what type of service did they perform?
FERGUSON: I really don’t know. I was not really into the community that much. I was more into the schools. I saw the growth of the community but, if anything, the factories and the establishments were really dying out. But when I was over at Busse I had a custodian over there, Fred Pie~ekbrink who owned a lot of that land in the area of Busse School and the Bluett development down there. That was basically his farm that he had sold off and was subdivided over there right after the war.
KLEIN: So by the time ’56 came or ’60 came, if there were any factories or manufacturing, most of them had moved on or closed by that time and we just had our businesses left.
FERGUSON: Right.
KLEIN: What about other stores and businesses? Were there any hospitals? They mention in here a couple of times a power plant.
FERGUSON: I don’t know of any power plant.
KLEIN: It must have been something that was earlier that burnt down or something. Was there ever a hospital around or anything like that?
FERGUSON: No. When I came here there was really no hospital, basically. We had to travel quite a distance. One of the questions that I had with our PTA in the community at that time was to get Northwest Hospital built. I can remember the PTA having fund drives for Northwest Hospital, and we had work days for the students where they could go out and earn money to provide for a hospital out in this area. We were very active in trying to get enough money together to build a hospital out here.
KLEIN: So prior to ’56 or ’60 there wasn’t any hospital.
FERGUSON: No, not in this area. Northwest was the first one that was built out in this area.
KLEIN: Do you remember anything or any place called Wille Hall?
FERGUSON: No.
KLEIN: Okay. That must be before 1960, because one of the questions here is, “What kind of events do you remember at Wille Hall?” but that must have been previous. This is something that you probably would be familiar with, though, being that you worked with children all your life, is that back in the late ’50s, early ’60s, where did the children hang out, and was there any such thing like a lovers’ lane or anything in this area that you know of that maybe some of the kids might have gone to?
FERGUSON: I don’t know about a lovers’ lane, but one of the things, the parents have always been fairly active in this area, and I was associated-basically the highest grade I dealt with was the junior high school. The parents were always active in attempting to have as many parties as they could for the children. I chuckle that at the junior high school now they started having dance classes for the children. Well, back when I came, this was one of the big things that they had after school for the children where they brought in instructors to teach dance to the eighth grade boys and girls, and then they would have their little dances on Friday night and the parents would provide a party for them.
KLEIN: So the children had a lot of activities that were just right in the school.
FERGUSON: That’s right. We used the schools for a lot of activities.
KLEIN: They didn’t have a mall to hang out at, or anything.
FERGUSON: No.
KLEIN: Were the kids any different then, back when they had the boys and girls at dance class where the girls all sit on the. ..
FERGUSON: No, they haven’t changed.
KLEIN: I didn’t think so. It’s been about the same all of the time. How about on the Fourth of July or Memorial Day or Labor Day? Do you remember any type of parades or any type of special events that we ever had here in Mount Prospect? Picnics, fairs, parades or anything like that?
FERGUSON: Well, I always enjoyed the Fourth of July parades that we had in the area. The Kiwanis and the Jaycees were always active, doing different things as far as picnics and celebrations and get-togethers like that. But no one in particular stood out.
KLEIN: Were you, yourself, ever in any of the parades?
FERGUSON: No.
KLEIN: You never were in any of the parades.
FERGUSON: No, because usually at this time back then I was going to school to get my master’s degree in the summertime, so really we were in this area during the year, and then away as I was going back to school furthering my education, usually, during the summertime.
KLEIN: I wonder who they used for marching bands, like now they use Prospect High School or something like that. I wonder if they had any high school bands that used to march in those parades?
FERGUSON: Well, Arlington used to come over. ..
KLEIN: Oh, that’s right.
FERGUSON: …and march in the band because our students went over to Arlington. When I first came here, Arlington was the only high school in District 214, and all of our students went over there. Of course, we were dealing with a community of 4,000 or 5,000 people at that time.
KLEIN: You mean the children from Central Junior High, where you were principal went over to Arlington?
FERGUSON: From Central they went to Arlington for high school.
KLEIN: Oh! That was the only one in the area. When was Prospect built, then? That must have come in the ’60s, ’70s?
FERGUSON: Actually, Prospect was built in the late ’50s. I don’t remember what date it opened, but it opened just shortly after I came to the area.
KLEIN: They must have really bused those children in, then. But there wasn’t that many kids, probably, in [the district] then.
FERGUSON: Well, when Central was dedicated-the addition-in 1948, there were only 410 students in the school-I mean, in the whole school district.
KLEIN: Oh, in the whole district.
FERGUSON: That was kindergarten through eighth grade.
KLEIN: Oh, and they had it all in the one school then. Boy, has this place ever grown.
FERGUSON: Well, see, that’s been the amazing part of this community. When I came here, as you said, where were the businesses? They were right along the railroad track. They were north, Northwest Highway, and then just right south of the track, there. We had Van Dreil’s Drug drugstore. That’s where we went in and got all of our drugs, which was right there at the corner of Emerson and Northwest Highway, and then Louie Velasco and his barbershop right across the way over there that sold his roasted chestnuts at Christmas time. But was right along the railroad  tracks that was really developed, and then basically your homes were not more than a block or two, mainly, away from the railroad tracks, and then it just sort of spread out. When I came, the main housing development was the Bluett homes down there on the northeast side of town where some of those homes were built. I think some of them were going for $6,000 and $7,000 and at the time.
KLEIN: Prices have.
FERGUSON: But again, remember, I came to this district and made $3,700, so …
KLEIN: Everything equals out. Let’s talk a little bit about transportation and trains. One of the questions here is, “How did the people come downtown when you first came to Mount Prospect?” Well, I imagine they used cars. We’re not back to the horse and buggy here, but what about the trains? Did they stop as often then as they do now? Did there seem to be as many?
FERGUSON: I don’t think they stopped as often, but this has always been-in fact, I think back at that time more people actually commuted to Chicago than they do today because we have so much out here for people to work on. I actually think more people went into the city at that time.
KLEIN: You really do? You think there were more commuters then?
FERGUSON: But we’ve always had a heavy train traffic into the city.
KLEIN: I thought most of it came later on.
FERGUSON: Well, I feel that there are more people going into the city today, but I’m talking about percentage of people living in the community.
KLEIN: Right. Was there anything else that ever came into the depot besides people? Was it ever used for freight or anything like that, do you remember, back in the late ’50s, ’60s?
FERGUSON: Well, where Wille’s Hardware Store was, there used to be a side track, and they would bring their freight in and back it off to the side at the building there. But I don’t remember anything else.
KLEIN: I can remember, I think, reading about that, too, when I was reading some of the history of Mount Prospect, that Wille built a spur. Evidently there was a creamery that was in town at one time, and he built a spur so that the trains could bring some stuff into it. We’re getting towards the end of my questions, and then I want to talk more about your schooling, too.
[Side 2]
KLEIN: Let’s talk about some of your earliest, fondest memories of Mount Prospect.
FERGUSON: That it was always a friendly area. The people were just so nice; that they would spend time talking to you. Being in the field of education, they basically supported you, and they were out to get the best for their children. It was just a nice community to live in.
KLEIN: Did you ever know where our slogan, “Where friendliness is a way of life,” came from?
FERGUSON: I have no idea, but I think it can’t be that old because I believe that it used to have a different motto for the community. I don’t remember what it is, but I don’t believe that it’s the original one.
KLEIN: You know, talking about downtown Mount Prospect and things that go on, when Christmas came, or the holidays-especially Christmas-was there any type of special decorations that were done  downtown back in the late ’50s, early ’60s that were different?
FERGUSON: There were some. Actually, I can remember the decorations in the school more than the community because Christmas time was a big thing back into the ’50s and early ’60s. At Central we brought into the gym-oh, it had to be a fifteen-foot Christmas tree, and it was all decorated. We had a big Christmas program, and at that time it was Christmas. I mean, it wasn’t “winter holidays,” and we sang all kinds of songs there and we weren’t worried whether they were going to offend one group or another group. It was really a nice get-together, and usually we brought the community in and they would watch the children perform some little Christmas plays and what have you.
KLEIN: Don’t you wish sometimes we were able to do that nowadays, too.
FERGUSON:  Oh, I really do.
KLEIN: You know, Mount Prospect itself has changed over the years. I’ve seen it even in the short amount of time that I’ve been here. Let’s talk about it a little bit. Do you like the changes or do you think it was better the way it was?
FERGUSON: I don’t know. It had to grow. As you mentioned, the downtown-I used to look out Central; my classroom-across Mufich Buick, which was right where the old theater was. I could look across and see the theater, see what was playing, and the marquee came out like a V, which they had to take down because when they widened [Route] 83, they had to take the marquee down and make it against the building. That Buick company, Mufich, could not have survived. I mean, it just wasn’t big nough. You have the lighting company that’s there now, and at one time that was an automobile dealership. Well, you can see what they have now out on Rand Road. So, it just had to expand there. Mount Prospect still has its quaintness there in the community. It’s just a little too bad that there is not a little more parking there where more people could use the downtown facilities, I think. I think in this growing suburb that it just had to develop the way it did.
KLEIN: Do you think Randhurst had a big impact on downtown?
FERGUSON: Oh, when Randhurst opened up it had a big impact. I mean, it was bringing people in from allover. You talk about shopping-this is where we did our shopping, really, at Randhurst. Before that, we shopped in Arlington Heights or Des Plaines. We really didn’t shop that much in Mount Prospect.
KLEIN: Your money went someplace else.
FERGUSON: That’s right.
KLEIN: Was it just as hard to get across the lights there by Kensington and Rand as it is nowadays? FERGUSON: Oh, it is. I mean, I pat myself on the back if I make those lights.
KLEIN: What was out at that area out there at that time? See, we go past the school and past Gregory and we’re heading up towards.. .
FERGUSON: Where the furniture place is now at Rand and [Route] 83, that was a restaurant/bowling alley, and then west of 83 on Rand, that was actually a restaurant/tavern there.
KLEIN: Oh, really?
FERGUSON: Needless to say, both have been torn down now.
KLEIN: That’s something we haven’t talked about. Were there a lot of taverns, and such, in the area in the late ’50s, early ’60s? Being that Mount Prospect was settled by a lot of Germans, you would think that would have a lot of.
FERGUSON: Well, actually you had the two out there, and then Kruse’s was the big one there and then the one there-what was his name? Was it Wille that had the old one? Right there where the antique place is, on that little-the first little tavern was down there. I was never in it, but I know it was quite famous, and the gentleman-I think it was Mr. Wille that had the tavern there.
KLEIN: When did Sammy Scobel come to town? Was he in town when you came?
FERGUSON: No, I beat Sammy. I don’t remember when Sammy came, but I know he lived over in the Lions Park School area, and then I . became familiar with Sammy. I met Sammy when I was at Lions Park, because I was at Central as principal, and then I went to Lions Park, so I must have met Sammy about 1971 or ’72 …
KLEIN: Oh, that’s pretty recent.
FERGUSON: …because, again, with Sammy it was getting the food from his restaurant and he would give to the teachers and cater to the teachers over at Lions Park school.
KLEIN: Was his restaurant at that time where it still is, and still carries his name?
FERGUSON: Yes, right.
KLEIN: Oh, it’s still that little place. I’ll be doggoned.
FERGUSON: The name of the restaurant that was across, really, from Scobel’s, that was Golden’s.
KLEIN: Golden’s?
FERGUSON: It’s like an insurance building now.
KLEIN: Right.
FERGUSON: That was actually like a grocery store in there.
KLEIN: In that little area, there, where all those Victorian little. ..you know, where Daneo’s used to be, was that an original part of downtown? Is that a lot older than some of the buildings that are along Prospect Avenue, say?
FERGUSON: I think that’s the older part there because, again, Daneo’s was like the bank there.
KLEIN: And then Wille’s Hardware was in there and the barbershop and stuff like that. I wonder who built that part down there? Who put that up?
FERGUSON: I have no idea.
KLEIN: I don’t either. I imagine someone will remember along the way who put that up. Okay, let’s talk a little bit about if there is one thing that you would like the children to remember about the history of their hometown, what would it be?
FERGUSON: Well, I think in the schools that we did a pretty nice job of teaching the history of this community. One of the things that I can remember my wife did on-what was it-the fiftieth anniversay or the hundredth anniversay of the community. ..
KLEIN: Fiftieth. The seventy-fifth will be next year, so it was the fiftieth.
FERGUSON: Okay. My wife was teaching at that time, and she took her class over to the original schoolhouse there at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and they were dressed as children would be back when the original schools opened and they held class over there. They let them go in, and they held class in the old school. We have been very active in supporting the historical society. I know I’ve had many classes go over to the historical society and visit there. We have donated a lot of things from the schools and from our family to the historical society. Whether we taught it in school, this area has grown so much with the children in the area that they have seen it develop right before their eyes as far as the history of the community is concerned.
KLEIN: I want to talk a little bit about your years as a teacher now, because we’ve done most of the questions. You’ve talked about the businesses that we could remember. All those years you taught, and after you left Central you went on to another school, didn’t you?
FERGUSON: Okay, when I left Central-I was a teacher for twelve years at Central; principal, one. During that time I spent one year at Lincoln. So, in thirteen years I was a total of twelve years over at Central, one at Lincoln, then I went over to Lions Park School for two years as principal, then from there I went to be principal at Busse School for about a dozen years. When they closed Busse I went over to Westbrook and was principal there for six years, and then I spent my last two years in District 57 at Lions Park School. So I just made a circle.
KLEIN: That’s what I was going to talk to you about. You saw a lot of children and you’ve seen a lot of children grow up. Can you remember any of the kids that you taught, and if any of them have gone on now and what they’re doing and if they’re leaving their footprints?
FERGUSON: I remember a lot, and remember a lot of the children that have gone through. They see me on the streets or shopping these days and they come up [and say], nOh, Mr. Ferguson, do you remember me?” Oh, what a question to ask! But yes, I’ve had several that have gone on. One of my students that I worked with in science over at Central is now the head field geologist for Gulf Oil.
KLEIN: Oh, really?
FERGUSON: I have several teachers. I have a couple college professors. One that I can remember that just drove me crazy in class because he kept drawing cartoons all the time is a political cartoonist with the Los Angeles Times.
KLEIN: Thank God you didn’t stifle him, right?
FERGUSON: That’s right. I just wish I would have kept some of his cartoons! Two of my former students are now teachers in Mount Prospect, school district 57 and, needless to say, a lot are parents in the area. There are some doctors; even some professional baseball players.
KLEIN: Oh, really?
FERGUSON: Ca~man went through our schools here.
KLEIN: I didn’t know that. That’s interesting.
FERGUSON: It’s just been great to see them grow and develop, and really to hear what they’re doing.
KLEIN: So Mount Prospect basically seems to be a town where people come to and they stay.
FERGUSON: But that always wasn’t true. Back in the earlier days when I came in, we had a very high turnaround of families. They moved from Chicago, and this was like a transient area. They were middle management. This was the middle- management community as they were moving up the ladder. They would be here a few years, and then they would move out into the Barrington area and the Inverness area. And then all of a sudden the economy really turned around and the price of homes really got out of hand in the area, and the people just really were locked into the area; that they were moving out here permanently. Now when they move out, they’re going to California or New Mexico, or what have you, as they are retiring. But the area used to be much more transient than it is now.
KLEIN: Oh, that’s surprising because I thought it would be just the opposite. I thought it was a lot less transient in the early years. So when you moved here and you built your home here, you had the corn field to the south. ..
FERGUSON: A half-block away, or less.
KLEIN: So then that was all developed then, how many years after?
FERGUSON: This area was developed in 1960, and the area around us to the south-well, to the west, this was all developed in 1960 and ’61. This area over here right south of us was developed in ’62, ’63. This whole area was a DiMucci development in here.
KLEIN: He did the whole south end of Mount Prospect down here, then.
FERGUSON: And then this area over to the east, that hasn’t been development more than about ten years-fifteen at the most-because there was a controversy on how the land was going to be developed.
KLEIN: Do you know who owned all these farms down here? It was mostly farm land down here?
FERGUSON: Again, Mr. DiMucci and I were pretty good friends, and he indicated to me at one time that he bought this land in this area during the second world war. I believe he told me that he paid $4,000 and acre for it, and he said everyone thought he was crazy at that time. He said he basically bought all the property he could from Route 83 west to State Road; Golf Road to Dempster-or is it Algonquin? Well, anyway, this was basically all of his area, and he said he kept trying to buy Klehm’s [Nursery] out, but the Klehms would never sell over here. They had the big area over here where the Rusty Scupper is, in that area. That was their farm/nursery area over here. But he basically owned all the land in this area, and then he built all of the shopping centers and homes out in this area.
KLEIN: Klehm’s is a name, too. The Klehms were here when you came in ’56, ’60?
FERGUSON: Oh, yes.
KLEIN: They had their nursery-that was over there?
FERGUSON: Their nursery is over here on State Road and Dempster, or Algonquin, over here. And it was a big, old barn, painted pink. Of course, down here on the corner where the shopping center is on [Route] 83, where it curves down here, that was a peony farm-a big onion/peony farm down there.
KLEIN: [Route] 83 and what?
FERGUSON: Well, as you go south and 83 curves going west before it goes south, that was a big farm there and they grew peonies and onions. This used to be a big onion-producing area. The farmers grew onions in this area. But again, the peonies were there, and then one of the big items that Klehm’s sold, they were a big peony producer, and they sold a lot of peonies out of there. You can still see over here along Dempster some remnants of their nursery-some of the trees that are growing in rows. That’s part of their old nursery that they had over there.
KLEIN: So they were some of the original people that were around here, too. I know I’ve read some history about Mount Prospect, and there must have been some people by the name of Linnemann, too, that must have had some property.
FERGUSON: Okay, well, this is Linnemann Road right over here by St. John’s School and church over here, and by the historical society. That’s an interesting, just a little community. It used to be that you would drive out there and it was like driving out into the country. It was just like a little country with the country church there. One of our maintenance men for the school district-his name was Mueller, and he still is associated with the church over there. We had taken a field trip over to the historical society, which is the old church there, and we went in there and Harold Mueller happened to be over to the St. John’s church, and he was doing something with a funeral there-the cemetery is right there-and we wanted to go back and study a little history of the community by going back into the cemetery; well, he gave us a little tour. And then he came over to the museum there and was telling about when he was a student at that school. He took everyone back to the cloakroom and he said, “I spent a lot of time in here.”
KLEIN: So the original cemetery, then, for Mount Prospect; is that over here by St. John’s or is that closer into town?
FERGUSON: Well, actually there are three old cemeteries here. There is an old cemetery over on State Road, right south of the tollroad on State Road.
KLEIN: Is that the same as Arlington Heights Road?
FERGUSON: Yes. Then over here at St. John’s-that’s a very old cemetery-and then the old one there. What was the name of that florist shop there, right by the post office? I can’t remember the name of it.
KLEIN: Busse’s?
FERGUSON: No, Busse’s was over on Northwest Highway, or on Busse Street, there, just off of Northwest Highway. Was it Kellen’s? I think it was Kellen’s.
KLEIN: It might have been Kellen’s because Kellen’s used to be on Golf Road. I know that.
FERGUSON: And there is a cemetery right close to there. But I think really the oldest cemetery in this area is the one out on Kensington in Arlington. There’s a lot of real old grave markers in that area, and I think they are really older than the one in Mount Prospect and the one out here. So I think really the two oldest ones would be the St. John’s over here and the one over in Arlington.
KLEIN: Okay. I think we’ve just about covered everything. I think we talked about the businesses, we talked about the depot, we talked about the peoples that lived here, we talked about the school years and the people who went to the schools. If there is anything else that you feel that you can add or want to talk about, I’m here.
FERGUSON: Well, in some of the development, as far as education, though-because you’re really into the community and I’m more into the schools-but you asked about some of the changes that I’ve seen here with children. One of the things, it’s become more necessary for mothers to go to work.
KLEIN: Yes, that’s true.
FERGUSON: So one of the things that I was active in was establishing the day-care centers here for the community, back when we were at Busse School there was a need. Of course, our need was that-see, this community grew so rapidly in the late ’50s and ’60s that our school enrollment went up to over 4,500 students. And then, as we mentioned, the community was growing rapidly and it was transient so there was turnover, but we were growing. And then all of a sudden the economy was such that people just didn’t move out that much, so as the people got older our enrollment went down. So, one of the things that we found at Busse School where I was principal; hey, we didn’t have enough school children to really keep the school open, so the PTA-and I encouraged them a little bit myself-we thought we could meet a need of parents by establishing a day-care center. What we were going to do was bring children in from the community and we were going to keep Busse School open. Well, we couldn’t sell the school board on that, and the superintendent didn’t think it was much of an idea. ..
KLEIN: It sounds like a pretty good one to me.
FERGUSON: …but then when I moved over to Westbrook and we were able to establish the day-care center over there, and now that program is in every school in our school district and it’s even been expanded to meet the needs of parents. It has a kindergarten day care and day-care program. I believe at Westbrook where we started it, Margaret Bohzo, who heads that one up, I think she has well over eighty children in that day-care program there this year. And then always to meet the needs of children, the school district participated in and started an early childhood program. We have a program for children as early as three years of age. We started that one at Busse School, and we were the third school district in the state of Illinois to establish an early childhood program. At one time we were testing all three-year-old children to see if they were eligible for the program, and we had a lot of people really coming in to see that program, which is one of the landmark programs for the state of Illinois.
KLEIN: Oh, that’s marvelous. So, you left a good mark.
FERGUSON: Oh, I caused a few waves in this community.
KLEIN: Yes, but that’s what counts.
FERGUSON: All of the schools in the area have learning resource centers now. Back when I went to Lions Park School, I didn’t know whether I would survive my first year because I pulled a teacher out of a classroom-one of the best teachers they had-and put her in what I called a learning center at that time. Well, the parents were up in arms that this thing would happen, that they would lose a classroom teacher, and for half a day children from her class would go in and make the other classes larger. Finally the board bought into that, and they now have LRCs in every’ classroom, and every school in the area has learning  resource teachers now. And then another one over at Lions Park School, that particular PTA, I would say we were THE school responsible, but we were sure one of the schools responsible for instituting and getting the state legislature to approve a teacher aide program. Before this, only certified teachers could be in classrooms working with children. We were able to, through the support of the PTA; and the PTA-Randhurst Council pushed the state PTA and the state legislature to establish a guideline for a teacher’s aide program. This is another program that has been well received for the state, especially in this area. Every school that I know of now has some kind of a teacher aide.
KLEIN: So you had a lot of innovative programs thatyou were a part of or you started in ’57 and it has gone one from there.
FERGUSON: Another one is the science program. We have an outstanding program in this area, and as a school principal one of the things I always supported was really high student achievement. This is one area that the schools just do a super job as far as the achievement is concerned. Another is that the parents have been active in the education of their children in this area. They’ve established some nice cultural arts programs, and those came out of Busse School. I’ve just been pleased working with the
KLEIN: It must give you a great sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment to be able to look back and know that you were a part of this or instigated it or helped it along.
FERGUSON: Well, one of the things, the Jaycees-I don’t think they still have it, but back in the ’60s they selected the outstanding educator for the area and I was, I think, the second one selected by the Jaycees.
KLEIN: Congratulations!
FERGUSON: And then in 1975-and again, this is ancient history-they still do it today; I’m sure you’ve heard of the Golden Apple award for teachers?
KLEIN: Yes.
FERGUSON: I was the first administrator in the state of Illinois to receive the outstanding administrator’s award.
KLEIN: Well, congratulations. Now I know why, when I told people at the library or my co-workers that I was going out to interview today and they said, “Who are you going to talk to?” and I said, “Mr. Robert Ferguson,” [they said], “Oh, I know him!” “My daughter. ..” or “I had him when I was in school,” or, “My children had him.” And me, being such a newcomer, was completely ignorant of all this. Your name is very well known and very well respected amongst a lot of people.
FERGUSON: And one of the things that we always did, we used to go down to Braidwood and hunt fossils.
KLEIN: Oh, I did that out at Harper when I went there.
FERGUSON: And it’s still amazing how these students-you know, they don’t remember that they learned how to read or write; they remember going to Braidwood and finding the fossils.
KLEIN: Well, I want to thank you very much for all the time, before our tape runs out on this side, that you spent with me reminiscing a little bit and making the history more alive for myself and, I think, more alive for a lot of people in the future when they have the tapes transcribed and they are able to sit and listen and read it in years to come-our children, your children.
FERGUSON: It’s been fun in this community. It’s just been a super, super nice community. We’ve had our problems, but the community has supported each other.
KLEIN: You seem to be.
FERGUSON: It’s just been a nice group of people. I’ve been here over thirty years, and there has really been nothing that has been a major catastrophe where I haven’t seen the people really get in and work together. And when the community has needed something, they’ve been there working their tails off with their own sweat or labor or money to get things developed; whether it be the police department, the fire department or the school district, it’s just been great to see them work together. I have never known of another community whereby the schools, the park districts, the police department or the fire department have worked so closely together. We’ve gone into the fire department and police department and asked them for some help, and they’ve come right over and they’ve given it to us, and we’ve helped them in some areas. The park district has been most active. I can remember over at Busse we didn’t have any money. The school district didn’t have any money, the park district didn’t have any money, but we got all three of us together and each of us had a little bit of money and we put up literally the first playground equipment for the community. It was a joint-sponsored program between the school district, Busse PTA and the park district, and the park district sent their men in to put it in. Now virtually every school has some playground equipment that’sdone the same  way. You look at Westbrook, you look at Lions Park, you look at Fairview; those are all park/school board/PTA projects that have been put together and funded by …[tape ends]

Switch to mobile version
%d bloggers like this: