Homegrown novelist Jane Hamilton, from the ages of 7-14, was more interested in ballet than books. “She took the elevated downtown four times a week to the Ellis DuBoulet ballet school in the Fine Arts Building”, recalls her mother, Ruth who now lives in Holley Court Terrace, 1111 Ontario in Oak Park. “All of my three daughters took ballet, but they were not as carried away with it as she was.”

It was about eighth grade when she realized she didn’t have the right build or the talent or the dedication required. But she was becoming aware of her talent as a writer, according to her favorite teacher, Barbara Driggs D’Asaro, who also lives in Holley Court.

The Hamilton family of two boys and three girls was closely knit. They enjoyed doing things together. “My husband Allen read to the children every day, and they loved it. We didn’t have the constant fighting that I had with my brother”, her mother notes. Because Jane was the youngest by five years, “she was treated differently but wasn’t spoiled. She was an easy baby, a pleasant surprise.”

Her seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher at Hawthorne School (now Percy Julian Middle School) agrees that “Jane was a good student-well-mannered, quiet and a good writer. She had a great sense of humor and got my jokes. But I didn’t see the imagination she shows in her books. I couldn’t do what she does.”

Barbara taught a lot of grammar, literature and the process of writing, which may be the reason Jane termed her her “favorite.”

Ruth recalls her daughter telling her she had a crush on Barbara and wished she were her mother. About three years ago, Barbara received a letter from Jane, by then an established author. She wrote it on a lovely snowy day, sitting at the window remembering Barbara teaching about dangling participles. Of the hundreds of students she had taught, this was the only time she had direct feedback that she had touched a student’s life.

The family attended First Congregational Church, now First United Church of Oak Park. The family lived on Ontario, later moving to Scoville. In 1980 Jane’s father, who worked his entire career at the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in LaGrange, died. A devoted rock climber, he was killed in a fall at Devil’s Lake.

Jane remembers her mother writing newspaper articles, and that her grandmother was also a writer. “I thought that was what all mothers did,” she said. Ruth was born and raised in Oak Park, attending Rosary College (now Dominican University) during her last two years of college. She also acted in productions at Village Players.

An accomplished writer, she specialized in theater. When she submitted her first article on Uncle Vanya (a Chekhov play then running in New York) to Bill Newman, editor of the Daily News’ Panorama section in 1973, he asked, “What else are you interested in?” Ruth was stumbling for an answer when he asked, “How would you like to do some author interviews?” During the next seven years, she flew to London about 20 times, alone, to see certain plays, which resulted in articles appearing in papers all over the country. Some of the people she interviewed include Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Julie Harris, Carol Burnett, Robert Altman, Robert Redford, and Dustin Hoffman.

“I stopped writing about 1980,” Ruth recalls. “Things dried up and TV took over so many interviews.” Jane, who attended Carleton College in Minnesota, majored in English. After graduation, she was on her way to New York City for a job, when she detoured to stop at an apple orchard near Rochester, Wis. to pick apples. She fell in love with the proprietor, Bob Willard, a third generation apple grower, and never left. Jane loves the beautiful rural scenery, a fruitful climate to create words as well as apples and two children. Hannah, now 19, is a sophomore at Carleton and Ben, 21, is a senior at Lawrence University in Appleton Wis.

Who can tell? Perhaps a fourth generation of authors is in the making. After all, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

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