A few months ago I wrote about the joys of volunteering at Oak Park’s nonprofit fair trade store, Ten Thousand Villages. [Find happiness through volunteering, Viewpoints, March 10] My essay ended with the hopeful call that some Wednesday Journal reader might donate a used vacuum cleaner to the store since ours was “a bit dated.” That call was subsequently answered, yet the Hoover inherited by the store did not come via the anticipated route. Instead, its arrival was connected to the untimely death of one of Oak Park’s esteemed community members and perennial volunteers. Here’s the back story.
In September 2009, long-time Oak Parker William J. Adelman passed away. For many who knew him (myself included), Bill was admired and respected as a labor historian and educator. He was also a cofounder and vice president of the Illinois Labor History Society, an organization that supports the preservation of Illinois labor history and shares that knowledge with the public. Through his published books on Illinois labor history, Chicago labor-site tours and numerous other contributions, Bill was the consummate storyteller of working people’s quest for fair pay and working conditions.
About seven months after his death, I learned an estate sale was planned for Bill Adelman’s furnishings. With the needed vacuum cleaner still on my mind, I asked my husband, the current society president and one of the many people Bill mentored, to query the family if there might be a vacuum cleaner to donate. The answer was yes, and a few weeks later, I proudly brought Bill’s Hoover to Ten Thousand Villages.
On May 15, the society convened its annual board meeting, the first one without Bill Adelman. A tribute was held to honor and remember Bill’s many contributions in telling the stories of heroes and heroines who advanced the rights of working men and women. It was at this meeting that I was struck by the significance of Bill’s Hoover vacuum ending up at Ten Thousand Villages. What better home could it have than a nonprofit store whose mission is generating vital, fair wage income for impoverished global artisans, and whose staff and volunteers are encouraged to share the artisan’s stories with the public?
One thing I know for sure is, the next time I help close the store and pull out that vacuum, I will be thinking of Bill. I will remember his passion for telling the stories of working people and their struggles and dreams. And I will smile knowing Bill Adelman’s legacy lives on in a uniquely special way at Oak Park’s Ten Thousand Villages.
Denise Rose, a sociologist and longtime Oak Parker, is an advocate for issues of social justice.