‘Never too old to grow’
Reflects on eve of her 100th birthday
By Clementine Twardosz
as told to her granddaughter, Catherine Oh
My parents immigrated to Chicago from Poland in the early 1900s. They came to the Chicago area because they had many friends and family here. They did not like to talk much about their life back in Poland, Chicago was their home now.
My parents were married in 1918, and I was born on June 7, 1922. My mother had five children. All of us were born at home with the assistance of a midwife.
I grew up on Gross Avenue behind the Union Stockyards. The street is now called McDowell Avenue and is named after Mary McDowell, who ran the University of Chicago Settlement House.
I did not mind growing up by the stockyards. When you are young, it does not matter so much. We only noticed the stockyards when the wind blew a certain way; but there were a lot of kids in our neighborhood, so that was nice.
We rented three different properties on Gross Avenue and finally landed in a unit with a storefront for my father’s shoe repair business. Our family lived above it in an apartment.
This home was right across the street from the settlement house, and that was lucky. The settlement house was a godsend for all the kids in the neighborhood. They had so many activities and things for us to do. The kids in our neighborhood did not have anywhere to play outside.
The settlement house meant so much to me. I was able to play volleyball, baseball, checkers, ping-pong, and this is where I found my love of dance. I really enjoyed it. It was a great life for us.
After many years of renting units on Gross Avenue, my family was finally able to save up enough money to buy our first property, at 51st and Loomis. It was so exciting for my family to own a property; this was a very proud moment for my parents.
I worked in many places over the years, but my favorite job was Western Electric Hawthorne Works on Cicero Avenue. I worked there for eight years during the war. I was a coil winder. We built telephones that were shipped out to the military units during the war. This was my favorite and most rewarding job.
I met my future husband, Steve, after the war at a church dance at St. Rose of Lima Church, near 48th and Ashland. I knew I wanted to marry someone who was a good dancer, and Steve fit that description.
We danced throughout our marriage, and I have so many wonderful memories from that time. We were married at St. John of God Church in 1947 and then moved into one of my parents’ units on Loomis.
We had our first son, Russell, in 1948 then our second son, Jeffery, in 1953. Both of my sons were born at St. Bernard Hospital. But as our family grew, we knew we needed a place of our own and finally bought our home in 1956, in the West Elsdon neighborhood just east of Midway Airport.
People said we would regret living so close to the airport, but we have never had a problem. It has not bothered us one bit. I have nice neighbors, and my sons had so many children to play with growing up.
When my sons were young, I would finish the dishes quickly and go out on the front steps and socialize with the neighbors each night, I really enjoyed that. This neighborhood provided such a great childhood for my children, and I will always be grateful. We also found a great church when we moved and started to get involved in St. Turibius Parish in 1956. I have been a member ever since. Both of my sons attended school at St. Turibius, and I was an usher there for 18 years.
The city has changed a lot over the years, but Chicago is still great, and I would not want to live anywhere else.
I don’t know what I can teach people, but I would like to teach people to be nice to each other. Always try to be happy and think positive. If you cannot say something nice, just walk away. To each their own. Also, try to learn from your mistakes, I have made plenty, but I try to learn and keep growing as a person. It is never too late.
(Note from Catherine Oh: The Chicago City Council passed a resolution honoring Clementine’s 100th birthday at its meeting on May 23, 2022. The resolution was sponsored by 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn.
Clementine’s family will honor her at a Mass on Saturday, June 18 at St. Turibius Church, followed by a celebration. More stories about Clementine and her life can be found at catherineoh.com in a series called Conversations with Clementine.)
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