Winnetka Way: Jim McFadzean

Gazette Article by: Joan Peck
Appeared in the Gazette: Winter 1999

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.

When asked to write this column, I remembered recently meeting Winnetka native Jim McFadzean. As a lifelong resident of the village—for 80 years—Jim had a treasurehouse of reminiscences about his school days and career in Winnetka. It seemed to me that these would be wonderful subjects for this piece.

Jim’s parents emigrated from Glasgow in 1914, and his dad, a carpenter, built the house Jim and his siblings grew up in at 932 Cherry Street. Later, Jim and his wife Mary lived not far away, at 883 Cherry.

Jim is disarmingly honest—a man with what might be called an old-fashioned sense of honor and discipline. He makes no bones about the fact that he was dyslexic long before that word appeared in our vocabulary. Every day all through grammar school he sat with a teacher and read aloud for half an hour to overcome his handicap. He gives a great deal of credit to the Winnetka school system. “Carleton Washburne,” he says, “forgot more about education than many educators today ever knew.”

Kate Dwyer (born 1856), one of Winnetka’s earliest teachers, was Jim’s first grade teacher at Horace Mann School. He recalls that she must have been 70 at that time and wore long dresses and her hair in a bob. He adds emphatically, “We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day.” Jim also distinctly remembers when Native Americans from Arizona visited the school to do sand paintings on the gym floor. An added pleasure, as any third grade boy knows, was getting out of class for this special event.
During this period of his life Jim ran the morning newspaper stand at the North Western station. When he started he was so young that he could not tell time, so his older brother instructed him, “You go to school when the big hand is here and the little hand here.” Jim adds, “I got to know a lot of the businessmen in Winnetka.”

Jim later attended New Trier, where he played football and ran track. He knew that he had to pass his schoolwork to be in athletics, and he credits the Winnetka Community House “ . . . as a great place for us to go. [It] . . . kept us out of trouble.”
In 1943 Jim joined the Navy, attended Officers Training School, and served in the Mediterranean. He wed his wife, Mary, during the war and afterwards attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.

Hired by New Trier superintendent Matthew P. Gaffney, Jim taught Physical Education, or what he smilingly tells me is now called Kinetic Wellness. At first he taught the freshman football team; he later started the boys’ lacrosse program. During the summers he worked with the Winnetka Park District baseball program and later ran the swim program at Skokie Country Club.
My interview with Jim included these and many other memories of his life in this village which he loves and has been a part of for so many years.

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