Winnetka Way: Boyhood Memories

Gazette Article by: Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr.
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1997

Winnetka Way articles are written by guest columnists who have been asked to share their memories of an aspect of Winnetka that they remember fondly. Winnetka Way articles debuted in 1994 and continue to the present.

My parents moved to Winnetka 75 years ago. They had heard that the Winnetka schools were the best. My brothers and sisters and I all benefited in many ways from their wise decision. Many lessons I learned were helpful for a lifetime.

I attended Horace Mann School, located where our post office now stands. The school had a fine playground and first-class athletic equipment kept locked in a large box. There were baseballs and bats for the boys, jump ropes and volleyballs for the girls. When I reached the fifth grade, Miss Brockway, our physical education teacher, offered me the key to “The Box” if I promised to open it every morning without fail one hour before school, locking it again each evening. I carried the key on a string around my neck for the whole year. Her admonishment was such that I never failed coming on time, even when I had the chicken pox. From this experience I learned the importance of being on time, and having once given a promise, to perform faithfully.

Kitty-corner from the school, where the Runnfeldt and Belmont Service Station operated for many years, was the Winnetka Dairy. They delivered milk and ice from horse drawn wagons. When a family needed ice, they placed a sign in the window specifying the amount wanted; for example 25, 50 pounds, and so on. The deliveryman broke up 100-pound blocks with an ice pick in order to deliver the desired size. Consequently, there were always small pieces of ice left in the wagon. Sucking on a cold piece of ice on hot summer days was the Depression era equivalent of sucking on a Popsicle or Good Humor.

One day, tempted by the prospect of such a treat, I climbed up onto the wagon when the driver was delivering ice. Unfortunately, the horse started up. My leg got caught in the spokes of the wheel, turning me around and around. I fell off badly skinned up. From this I learned that crime doesn’t pay!

Since our family didn’t have an automobile, I was sent uptown for the groceries that I brought home in my little red wagon. We traded at Rapp’s Grocery Store, located where Harris Bank is now. My mother wrote out her order, which I gave to Mr. Rapp along with the money. He put our groceries in a box and gave me the change from which I was permitted to keep 10 cents for running the errand. The lady next door hired me to deliver for her at the same price. By combining the two orders, I doubled my income. When another neighbor asked me to deliver for her, I realized I’d need to make two trips, which meant more work for little more pay; so I screwed up my courage and asked her for a quarter. When she didn’t object, I raised my price both to my mother and my other customer. From this I learned that if you render a good service, you needn’t be bashful about charging a good price. What I learned about pricing when I was 10 worked pretty well years later for the A. C. Nielsen Company.

Which reminds me that at the bottom of the Great Depression my father’s business had fallen off dramatically from 45 employees down to six. The survivors held a meeting to decide whether to close up the business and divide what was left in the cash box, or let my father travel to New York, hoping that he could sell a survey to his last remaining prospect. There was only one problem. There was just enough money to get him to New York. If he didn’t make the sale, there was no way to get home. That night he asked how much money I had in my piggy bank, going on to explain the wonders of the capitalist system. He suggested that I could become a stockholder and collect dividends. Before long he had my $56, and I had 14 shares of stock in A. C. Nielsen Company. Later that night I heard my mother berating him for taking that poor boy’s life savings and pouring it down what she called “the rat hole.” It turned out to be a pretty good “rat hole.” Without my $56 investment, there might never have been an A. C. Nielsen Tennis Center in Winnetka. From this I learned the importance of getting in on the ground floor of a good investment. I’m still looking for another!

During my career I worked in many different countries. Together with other travel, I visited more than 125. Every time I came home to Winnetka, I realized once again how fortunate I’ve been to have lived in this fine village for so many years.

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