All the ID ever necessary.
I mean when you’re Val, when you’re wonderful and kind, bigger than life and salt of the earth, hard-working and carefree, as good a friend as one could be, an icon in Oak Park and in so many parts of the music world I’ll never know about.
Well, that’s why it is just Val.
Our friend died last night after a brief hospice stay, after a short, sharp decline in health, after two years of quietly living with breast cancer, after a remarkable life lived with gusto and very few regrets.
Like a lot of us, I knew Val in a lot of ways. I first experienced the Val’s halla magic on a Christmas Eve in the late 1960s. It was the two-foot-wide store on South Boulevard. Record albums in over-stuffed bins lined two walls and were displayed on nails in the brick all along the way.
Maybe there were 100 people in that store. Felt like 200. Shoulder to shoulder, happy to be there, Val’s voice booming over the crowd as the turntable played loud. Somewhere a dog. That was Christmas.
A couple years later I was looking for a storefront to plant my used book store. I got up my courage, because honestly Val intimidated me, and I went in to inquire if I could rent the small storefront next door that she did not appear to be using.
“Ah,” she said. “Used books. Well, I’m actually about to start selling used records in that space.” But, at least now we knew each other.
For more than a decade my friend Lynn Kirsch and I ran May Madness, the fantastic, bootstrapped street festival on Oak Park Avenue. And for all of those years Val handled our music stage. With a budget of maybe $1,000 to fill hours of stage time, Val would call in chits from her music pals and every year we had a fabulous, eclectic sound. And I still miss Bumblebee Bob.
A few years back, with the music industry fully disrupted by digital, Val’s halla was in trouble, in debt and without a way forward. I was talking with Val on a Wednesday morning at George’s Restaurant, just downstairs from the Journal.
Val had a routine. Every Wednesday she stopped by our office, bought a copy of each of our papers and spread them out at a table in the window at George’s to read over breakfast.
(Actually, there is an item on George’s extensive menu named for Val. Val’s Request is Thick French Toast topped with blueberries and strawberries. Goes these days for $9.85.)
As hometown entrepreneurs, Val and I could spend some time talking things through. And in recent years we often talked about how our businesses had been discombobulated. Val wanted my advice that morning.
A group of close friends told Val they wanted to stage a major fundraiser/capital campaign to pay off the store’s debt and set up a path to keep the store viable. Val was touched but a little mortified. Something in her independent, Eastern European roots made it hard to accept what she saw as charity.
I told her it was love and respect not charity. That people needed to know that Val was there, in business, less stressed and ready to offer advice on music and on life. The fundraiser was a big success both in the cash accumulated and in the loving embrace it offered.
Another Wednesday, two years back, same booth at George’s and Val wanted to know all about Mary. She knew my wife was just coming through breast cancer surgery and rough treatment.
I told her the good news and the hard path. And then Val told me she had just been diagnosed. The docs wanted to take her down the same path as Mary and she wasn’t having it. She was feeling fine and wanted to live her life as it unfolded. Later, she acquiesced and went on some trial medicine regimen. Maybe that helped.
In any event, she bought two good years of being Val. Funny, a long talker, always there, always supportive, always wanting to know about the kids. Never a harsh word from her or toward her, she was pioneering and, in every earned way, an icon.
Val. As good a person as you’ll ever know.