According to the proclamation that Village President Cathy Adduci read at the regular River Forest Board of Trustees Monday night meeting this week:
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman has been a staunch supporter of social justice movements throughout her life as exemplified by her presence in the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery and her role as an Executive Board Member for the ACLU; and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman researched, wrote, and published the book, Reflections: The History of River Forest in 1975. Her book is now included in the Library of Congress collection for local history; and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman was named Woman Entrepreneur of Year by the U.S. Transportation Department (1992); and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman received the Carl S. Winters Community Service Award from the Oak Park Rotary Club (1992); and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman received the Oak Park Temple Leonard J. Mervis Award for Social Justice (2000); and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman served as a River Forest Township Trustee for 12 years; and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Law from John Marshall Law School (2014); and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman was awarded the Ulyssean Award from the Senior Citizens Center of Oak Park-River Forest for significant contributions to our village (2017); and
WHEREAS, Harriet Hausman was awarded her own weekly column in the Wednesday Journal in 2022 after years of writing op-eds,
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Catherine Adduci, Village President of the Village of River Forest, do hereby thank Harriet Hausman for her extensive contributions to the United States of America,
DATED this 24th day of April 2023.
Twelve days earlier, Harriet Hausman, defender of democracy, honorary doctor of law; woman entrepreneur of the year; social justice advocate; ACLU board member; local historian; township trustee, triple-award winner for community service; and the oldest weekly newspaper columnist in America (and probably the world) told her daughter Barbara and me (sweetly) that she had “not lived an extraordinary life.”
It was her lead-in to some observation that she never got to.
Because we pushed back.
We were having lunch at Hemmingway’s Bistro during that glorious stretch of summer weather the second week of April, now gone and mostly forgotten. Hemmingway’s is her favorite restaurant. She loves the crabcakes and loves eating outside. We were there, ostensibly, as an act of penance on my part for missing her 99th birthday celebration the previous week at Maya del Sol.
I flat-out forgot, but I was quite pleased with my atonement because I had Harriet and Barbara all to myself. Well, almost. Tom the waiter came by for a chat. Then owner Chris Ala stopped by. Everybody knows Harriet here.
But we weren’t buying her non-extraordinary life bit, which led to a fascinating life review. She recalled the anti-semitism she endured at school in Melrose Park in the 1930s, when classmates would feel her hair to see if she had horns and asked if it was true that Jews drank babies’ blood. She overcame sexism, not to mention grief, when she took over her husband’s business after he died and ran it successfully, leading to the aforementioned entrepreneur of the year recognition. She served on the ACLU board with a young up-and-comer named Barack Obama before most had even heard of him.
I suggested she write about how life had changed for women over the course of a century. Her hashtag could be #Me, Too … And Then Some.
After the presentation Monday night, President Adduci announced that a portrait of Harriet will soon adorn one of the panels on the train embankment in front of village hall, which serves as a River Forest “wall of honor.” Holding her plaque, Harriet told those assembled, “This shouldn’t be for me. It should be the other way around. This should be my award to the village. I love River Forest, always have. When we came here so many years ago, it was the right choice.”
Trustee Katie Brennan came up and asked Harriet to sign her copy of Reflections, followed by a group photo with Harriet in her chair-iot, flanked by the village board. As her daughter Barbara wheeled her out, we heard the president say to those in attendance, “How do you beat that?”
You don’t, but Harriet has it all in perspective. “Everybody,” she said, “if you delve into their life, you’ll find things to be proud of.” Barbara agreed, calling them, “small kindnesses.” But Harriet’s list is longer. Like all the times she sent candy to the firemen across the street for their many assists — for instance when they evicted the world’s largest raccoon from her living room. That was exciting.
Getting in the car to return home, she said, “Oh, these legs.” I played along, “If you knew you were going to live this long …”
“… I’d have taken better care of myself!” she finished, laughing. “Did you know that Eubie Blake said that when he was 95?”
Just a kid!
Having just turned a remarkably youthful 99, Harriet Hausman has more than most to remember … and write about.
I’m reasonably sure I won’t forget her centennial celebration next April.
But if I do, we’ll always have Hemmingway’s Bistro.