Just as soon as the weather turns warm and the buds begin to bloom, Anis Bsiso once again becomes the most popular man in Oak Park and River Forest. The familiar chimes ringing from his truck announce that the “ice cream man” is back, drawing dozens of squealing children from school playgrounds and ball fields.
Often referred to as “Dennis,” Bsiso has been driving his truck for three decades and now sells ice cream to the children of many of his original customers. His decision to operate in Oak Park and River Forest was a stroke of luck for those of us who eagerly await his return every spring. Bsiso discovered the community by chance because it is near the Pars Ice Cream company on Chicago’s West Side where he picked up his truck every day. He appreciated the historic homes, overarching trees and the friendliness of the residents, and decided to make it his sales territory as well as his home.
“I dreamed of a place like Oak Park for myself and my family. One day, while I was parked near the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, I saw an ad for an affordable one-bedroom condo near Fenwick High School. I called the Realtor and she met me at my truck so I could sign the papers. I gave her a $1,000 cash deposit on the spot and a week later she gave me the keys. What a life!” Bsiso said.
Bsiso’s life wasn’t always so idyllic. Born in a refugee camp in Jordan after his family was forced to leave their home in Palestine following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Bsiso is still bitter about their displacement.
“My father and grandfather owned a prosperous business and my family lived in a large, beautiful home in Palestine. We didn’t have any problems with the Jewish people. As a Muslim, I believe in all of the prophets of God — Jesus, and Moses and Abraham. I didn’t have any issues with the different religions — but imagine how you would feel if you spent all your life and money on a home and then it was taken away,” Bsiso said.
Although life in the refugee camp was very challenging, Bsiso’s father managed to put all of his six sons through college. Bsiso attended the University of Jordan, where he majored in economics. Following college, he got a job at a bank in Amman. Although he had a number of promotions, he still found it difficult to pay for milk and diapers for his children, so he decided to come to the United States in 1992 to improve his family’s life. He found work in a gas station in Chicago but left after being held up three times. He lived in Orland Park for several years before moving to Oak Park, where, at one time, nine family members shared his one-bedroom, one-bath condo.
“I love Oak Park. People treat me like family. I see that they love their kids and families. I once saw a 14-year-old boy hugging and kissing his mother. Even though I am not from here, people like me. They have helped me if I needed help. My children have told me they never want to leave Oak Park,” Bsiso said.
Bsiso supplements his income by driving a cab in Chicago during the cold months. He and his wife have raised six children: Nancy, 35, who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with a degree in medical engineering; Eanas, 34, who came to Oak Park with her two daughters last month; Rania, 33, who now lives in Florida; Mohammad, 31, who owns a grocery store in Chicago; Diana, 23, who graduated from UIC with a degree in nutrition science; and Tala, 21, who attended Oak Park and River Forest High School and graduated last month from UIC with a degree in nursing.
Bsiso asserts that now that he has put his children through college, he plans to retire in 2025 so he can relax and enjoy life. Until then, he will continue to drive his truck and sell ice cream, including his most popular treats–strawberry shortcake and ice cream sandwiches. The ice cream man has become a reliable harbinger of spring and summer, and our community won’t be the same without him. In the meantime, get those Drumsticks while you still can!