He’s Greek, but he lives in the greenest house in town. Two-tone green, yellow trim – with a couple of wooden shamrocks adorning the façade.
When he bought the house 47 years ago, “It was red,” Pete Apostle recalls, shaking his head. “Jesus!”
Since then, the retired member of the International Painters and Applied Trades Brotherhood, painted the house charcoal, then beige. About seven years ago, he painted it green as a gift for his wife, the former Bernadette Burns.
Together they raised 11 kids in this modest four-square on the 1000 block of South Clarence. Peter and Bernadette and the 11 Apostles.
Bern died five years ago. She was wheelchair-bound at the end, so Pete rigged up a hoist with heavy cable, connected to a truck battery that swung out over the front steps and lowered her chair to the ground. It’s still there, and it still works. His son plans to put it in his garage to lift deer carcasses for dressing. He and Pete used to go hunting. Maybe they still do.
Pete’s a pretty resourceful guy, for someone who’s legally blind and getting up in years.
“I’m looking at 94,” he says, in response to the age question. A 93-year-old who’s looking ahead. That’s Pete Apostle.
The exterior of the house is a memorial to Bern, but the rest of the house is Pete’s. He has worked, it seems, on every square inch and remembers it all in fine detail, including what it cost. His eyes may have given out, but his mind’s eye is sharply focused.
“I’m a tool and die man,” he says, “and a lifetime member of the painters and decorators union.” After he retired (28 years ago), he worked for one of his sons, a general contractor, until his eyes got bad. One of his daughters paints murals for Olive Garden restaurants. “Kathy’s real short,” Pete says, “but she’s got a Harley.” Her flaming red 1976 VW beetle sits under a corrugated plastic canopy next to the garage where it winters. “She drives like hell,” Pete says. “All my daughters are mean drivers.”
His oldest daughter is 70. “She takes care of old people,” Pete says, “and she’s a third degree black belt in karate.”
Every Easter, Greek Easter that is, the entire clan of 70 or so (20 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild) converge on Clarence to consume two roast lambs, a vat of Greek stew, a big Greek salad, and three cases of Rodytis. The only problem this year, he says, is that Easter comes so early, they might not be able to eat outside. He’s thinking of delaying the feast till May 1.
But St. Patrick’s Day still gets its share of the lime-light (so to speak). That was when Bern made corned beef and cabbage.
“She could cook,” Pete says, “Greek, Italian, Irish. My daughters can’t duplicate her turkey stuffing.”
They met in the old neighborhood, St. Charles Borromeo Parish near Karlov and Roosevelt, when he was 16 and she was 14. They were married for 66 years.
A quiet woman, Pete says, she had “beautiful hair,” brown, tinged with red, attested to by walls covered with family photos.
“I miss her completely.”
Waterford crystal from Ireland still fills the china cabinet in the dining room where the ceiling collapsed once upon a time thanks to relentless jumping from rambunctious kids. Pete and Bern replaced the ceiling themselves.
Was he angry?
“No,” he says, “it just happened.” Before the 11 Apostles there were the 12 Hanrahans, whose energy level is still the stuff of village legend. Besides, Pete probably enjoyed the challenge.
How’d they fit all those kids and themselves into four small bedrooms upstairs?
“Geez, I don’t know,” he explains.
But he knows just about everything else. This is the kind of do-it-yourselfer who installed bookshelves along the sides of the basement stairwell (“My library,” he calls it), jacked up the front of the house so all the doors would close properly, has kept his snowblower running for 45 years, and would like to light up the eyes of the owl in the backyard with a small generator to scare the crows away from his vegetable garden.
He’s been bowling for 43 years in Ascension’s Holy Name League and has a shelf full of trophies to show for it. A couple of weeks ago, at an alley in Hillside, he “turkeyed out” the 10th frame.
“I did pretty good,” he said.
There is more disguised storage in this house than any other home in Oak Park. And Pete Apostle probably has more stored memories than any other 93-year-old in the village. He reminisces about the car trips the family took to Churchill Downs; Ely, Minnesota; and the Blue Ridge Parkway (“I said, ‘Bern, holy God, look at this!’ It was the Shenandoah Valley”). He points to a 1949 Buick Roadmaster hard-top that his daughter airbrushed for him, framed on the wall. “Boy, that baby could roll on the road,” he says.
Though he can’t really see it, Pete holds a 1938 photo of himself and his wife leaning against the hood of their 1931 Nash, the year before they got married.
“We had so much fun,” he says, and sighs.