Technically, Tom and Lorrie Michael have lived in their home in River Forest for 60 years, ever since they moved in as a young married couple in 1962. In truth, Lorrie’s tenure in the home goes back to an earlier era.
Lorrie’s parents built the home at 1227 Ashland Ave. in 1934. As the country was coming out of the Great Depression, Lorrie recalls the family lore that her parents had problems getting financial backing to build the house. The first architect they approached refused to work with them telling the couple they would never make it financially.
“He didn’t know how determined they were,” she said.
Lorrie’s parents already had three children, and their two youngest daughters were born after they moved into the house. She recalls the neighborhood was not very developed during her childhood.
“There were some houses on Division Street, but then on our street, there was nothing up to the red brick house on the 1300 block that was built in the 1920s,” Lorrie said.
As construction on new houses began, she says that one of the kids’ greatest joys in life was playing in the holes left by construction crews digging foundations for new houses. The kids would climb piles of dirt and sand to jump into foundation holes.
“I still rejoice in the thought of that,” she said.
Eventually, a house was built next door to theirs and Lorrie remembers another family story of the large curb built between that house and the family driveway. According to her sisters, her mother was learning to drive at the time and nearly drove over the curb and into the ditch next door.
When the children were young and their parents went out for the night, Lorrie says the kids could go to the back porch on the second floor of the house to watch for their parents’ car coming from North Avenue.
“It was a clear view,” she said. “There were no trees then. It was all farm land.”
Being a part of a large family with two active older sisters meant Lorrie had several stand-ins for motherly attention. Her older sister registered the two youngest girls at St. Vincent grammar school, but then her mother squelched her plans to go to the Catholic School.
“Mom said I couldn’t go there because I had asthma, and in those days, you had to go home for lunch and walk both ways,” she said. “So, I went to public schools.”
While her sisters later went to Trinity for high school, Lorrie was the lone child to attend Oak Park and River Forest High School. When she enrolled in Marquette University for college, she says her sisters teased her about finally getting some Catholic education.
At Marquette, Lorrie says she paid $250 for a semester of school. She met her husband, Tom, at the school in Milwaukee, and the two married. He finished school in Texas where their first child was born. They returned to the Chicago area, just as her parents were decamping for an apartment.
Tom and Lorrie moved into her parents’ home in 1962 and over time, raised their seven children on the block.
“I loved raising the kids in my childhood home,” she said. “It was home.”
Christmas morning stands out as a particularly warm memory. She and Tom wouldn’t let the children come downstairs until they themselves were awake, so that they could record the children’s reactions to the Christmas tree on their movie camera. Then, Lorrie would try to find the shortest Bible passage on the Christmas story to read before the children could open their gifts.
Much of her parents’ furniture remained in the house, and she says that the seven children brought new life to the old things.
“They figured out a game they called couch flipping,” she said. “It looked like fun. The things we did, my mother would’ve died.”
Through all their child-rearing years, the couple was active in the community. Lorrie says her husband, Tom, a long-time volunteer with the Kiwanis Club, is a big fan of village parades and would interview marchers with his megaphone every year.
In 2016, the village honored Tom with a street sign that reads “Tom ‘Big Guy’ Michael Way,” and he is known as the honorary mayor of the village.
“My husband is ebullient and friendly and always cracking jokes,” Lorrie said.
On a recent summer Sunday, friends, family and neighbors turned out to celebrate the couple’s long tenure on the block with a party — a fitting event for two long-term pillars of the community.