I first met Al in the fall of 1952.

My family lived next door to the Oak Park Art League, and Al was the custodian and part-time art instructor at the Art League. Every Thursday after school, my job was to burn papers in a wire receptacle near the fence that separated our yard from the Art League.

Al would do the same job at about the same time, so he and I talked to each other. I told him what I was studying in school, and he would tell me what he had been doing for the past week.

One day I told him that my class was studying World War II in history class, and he asked me if I wanted to hear about his wartime experiences. I was anxious to learn of his life as an infantryman, so over a period of time, I heard his story.

Al came from Springfield and enlisted in the army the day after he graduated from high school in June 1942. He served in Europe for almost three years.

He told me he had a buddy who was a dead ringer for the movie star Robert Cummings, so whenever Al’s outfit went through a liberated town, his buddy was mobbed by women who thought he was Cummings.

Al and his buddy got out of the army in the summer of 1945, and even though Al’s outfit was engaged in heavy fighting, both he and his friend were not harmed.

Al had a talent for art, so after a series of non-descript jobs, he enrolled in the Art Institute on the G.I. Bill. When he graduated, he got the job at the Art League where he lived, taught a few classes, and gabbed with me.

My family got to know Al, so he was frequently invited for supper on Sundays, and also for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

He often spoke to me about the value of an education, so when I was in high school, he would ask me how I was doing and what my plans were for college. He was pleased when I told him I planned to major in math in college, an area, he said, that was foreign to him.

In the mid-1950s, Al decided to pursue an MFA degree at the Art Institute and to obtain teacher certification. He attended night school and received the MFA in 1958.

To celebrate his graduation, my family had a party for him, and he was so overjoyed that he wept. 

Al obtained a teaching position at a Chicago public high school, and he moved to an apartment on the North Side of Chicago.

My family continued to invite him to our house to celebrate the various holidays with us, but in 1963 he accepted a teaching position in Springfield.

Even though my family received Christmas cards from him for many years, we never again saw Al, but I will always remember the kindness he showed toward me and the solid advice he gave to me.

Al De Georgio was truly a gift.

Join the discussion on social media!