Of all the friends I had growing up, R.J. was my best. He and his parents and his grandparents lived in the large brick home on the northwest corner of Euclid and Chicago. I met him at Christmastime in 1948 when he and his parents came from Kentucky to permanently make their home in Oak Park. We met through my friend Charlie who lived in the coach house behind R.J.’s grandparent’s home.
R.J. was a tall, happy-go-lucky guy who always had a smile on his face and a penchant for playing war games. He had a collection of lead soldiers from Medieval times to WWII, and we played war games suggested by his dad, who was a graduate of West Point and who had seen considerable combat in the war. We must have fought all the major battles in history on the marble floor of the family room. We did this for three or four years until I grew out of the desire to play these games and devoted my game playing to baseball. R.J. devoted his time to chess, music, and art.
R.J. didn’t care much for sports, mainly because he was not well coordinated, but he came to many games and was an enthusiastic fan. He did engage in snowball fights, but because of his inability to throw far and with force, he usually retreated to the Clubhouse [See DOOPer’s Memories, Sept. 8] to seek safety, but when he was in the Clubhouse and it was attacked, he was pelted from head to toe. He was always a good sport, though, and thought that getting a snow bath was a lark.
As our teenage years unfolded, and I went to OPRF High School, and he went to St. Ignatius, it became clear that R.J. was very much a ladies man. As he became older, he grew to 6 feet, 3 inches and developed an amazing resemblance to the actor-singer George Hamilton, except he did not have a year-round tan, and he certainly couldn’t sing or act (though some would say neither could George).
Needless to say, girls were drawn to him, and he had no problem getting dates, but to my dismay, he rarely introduced me to any of his girlfriends. When I asked him about this, he stated that I probably knew a lot of girls and could get my own dates. The first part was true, but the second part of his statement was not entirely correct.
After we graduated from high school, he and his family moved to Jacksonville, Fla., because his dad’s company transferred him, and I never saw nor heard from R.J. again.
R.J. was a great friend with a grand sense of humor who took life in stride and was as kind as anyone could be. Even though we were opposites in many ways, we were also like brothers.
It seems that many people we meet during our younger days and to whom we swear undying friendship often slip away from us, and we continually make new friends, but we never forget the ones we had when we were young.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children, and an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 68 years.