Oak Park's oldest ice cream shop waved goodbye April 1 to "Sweet" Helen Siciliano, a waitress for 31 years there.
Siciliano said she loved working at Petersen's Restaurant, Ice Cream Parlour and Sweet Shoppe, 1100 Chicago Ave., but that at 72, it was time to spend more time with her four kids and seven grandchildren. When the family would gather at her son's home in Indiana, she couldn't go because of work.
"It's kinda nice that they want you," Sicilano said, in a melodious voice that makes her nickname seem right-on.
Petersen's owner Daryl Bartelson "pinned" the nickname on her, despite her protests.
"I'm really not that sweet," she said.
She and her husband moved to Oak Park in 1971, and she took her first waitress job at Petersen's when her kids got to school age. She was hired by one of the employees the original owner gave the operation to, then worked for owners Bob and Diane Raniere before Bartelson.
Bartelson said Siciliano was invaluable when he bought the operation three and a half years ago.
"She helped me a lot in understanding the traditions of how [Petersen's] was before," Bartelson said. "Having that continuity?#34;it's really important in a business."
The shop celebrated with a day-long sendoff for Sweet Helen during her last shift. Longtime customers and family members came in to wish her well.
"They weren't just customers. To me, they were my friends," Siciliano said.
Ben & Jerry's treats next week
The Oak Park Ben & Jerry's location will offer free ice cream from noon until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19. In lieu of payment, the shop will accept donations for Wonder Works?#34;A Children's Museum in Oak Park.
The shop will treat diners to a free cup or cone in the company's 27th annual Free Cone Day, with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting Wonder Works.
"We're particularly pleased to be partnering with Wonder Works Children's Museum in Oak Park this year," shop owner L.T. Dillard said in a press release. "They do so much for this community in their effort to provide a hands-on environment intended to strengthen the social, emotional, and intellectual development of kids, it's an honor to scoop side by side with these folks."
Fox News Chicago anchor Robin Robinson will scoop from noon until 1 p.m., as will Wonder Works Executive Director Elizabeth Smith.