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Morton Times-News - Morton, IL
  • Tattle Tales: Smart as a Whip

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  • He was a bright kid. That best describes Fritz Witzig as he was a ‘hunk’ and a highly spirited class leader.
     
    Bobby Hauter and Velma Schrock were also ‘preppy’ and a step ahead of their peers. Bob Hauter was reported to be (faster than a speeding bullet) and could outrun a cotton tail.
     
    Morton kids never dreamed they could be college professors or admirals but some made it. Velma Schrock was ‘Miss Popularity,’ and Hauter may still be running for all I know.
     
    They come to mind as I write about a Morton family who (in the ’40s) were as ‘smart as a whip,’ yet unobtrusive in nature. That would be the Ben and Della Koch family of four kiddos.
     
    Their rosy cheeks matched their unquestionable love for the Village of Morton.
     
    A double-dip ice cream cone cost a dime at Koch’s Dairy in downtown Morton. It was hot enough to fry an egg on a sidewalk in July, and we’d sit under Koch’s ceiling fans licking on a cone or devouring a banana split if funds were available.
     
    The Koch’s owned the parlor, and they were as gracious as one could be in dealing with Morton’s youth. What a wonderful family I remember them to be, and when I left Morton I kept memories of the Ben Koch family.
     
    In the 1930s, the Koch’s delivered bottled milk all over Tazewell and that was to the kitchen door. My brother, Alpha, drove the milk wagon and as an 8 year old I’d tag along.
     
    Not many people I’d describe as ‘smart as a whip,’ but the Koch’s found more ways than one to fit that description. All business, for sure, and “ice cream was their game.” Rather sad that milk delivery ended.
     
    Perhaps Morton people had their nose out of joint. We thought of Peoria as a beer town with houses of ill repute and no mention of Caterpillar or the Bradley Braves.
     
    Villages did have an ‘attitude’ back then defining ‘clean from dirty’ as simply Morton. The clan awoke.
     
    Wilson Shows was a Carnival Troupe who pitched their tent in Morton every summer and caused quite a commotion in doing so.
     
    Page 2 of 2 - It was a five day affair with mechanical horses going round and round. A pint-size Ferris wheel and merry-go-round were big deals to kids who would otherwise watch Ben Freidinger slice baloney.
     
    Morton civic leaders thought Wilson was the more reputable of carnivals but still wary of anyone ‘pitching’ to Morton’s innocent. After all, we were in a ‘depression’ and pennies were spent wisely and not pitched recklessly to bag a prize.
     
    A small pasture a block off Main was the spot to stake the Big Tent and an aura of carnival mystique prevailed well into the midnight hour. A boxing ring was set up inviting any local bruiser to climb under the ropes and try and beat their thug.
     
    It was a $25 prize to anyone who could ‘stand’ 10 minutes, and a local Bartlemay accepted the challenge. Of course half of Morton stood at ringside cheering for Bartlemay and going ‘bananas’ when the Carny boxer was dropped to the canvas. To a subdued Morton, the fight was explosive.
     
    Ward Grundy was destined to fame. He was a celebrated teacher, principal, basketball coach and Santa Claus at Christmas.
     
    He was (beyond a doubt) the most recognized person in Morton.
     
    At Christmas, parents took the kids to City Hall (or the grade school) and Santa would distribute an orange and a box of ‘hard’ candy.
     
    We all knew it was Ward but went along with his frolic until we were well into our teens.
     
    After all, we chowed off of Waltz & Wieckhoff Ford for free hot dogs years before we could see over the wheel.
     
    Grundy was an educator of note and if he forgot an event in history he’d re-invent the wheel.
     
    When (Grundy) forgot your name he’d give you a new one and his gruff demeanor was simply a masquerade.
     
    What a guy to be long remembered.
     
    To hear Ward’s name is heartwarming.
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