Friday, February 1, 2019

THIS ONE IS FOR THE BIRDS - PART II - Shirley Cedarquist Johnson

In my previous blog entry I told the story of this photograph, taken in the mausoleum of Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois in front of the crypt of Mrs. Henry Coit.  The photograph had been published in the Chicago Times newspaper on April 29, 1948.  It seems that Mrs. Coit, who died June 7, 1944, had left instructions that she wanted her two pet canaries, "Charles" and "Audubon" moved to the space outside of her crypt so she could continue to enjoy their singing as she had when she was still alive.  The photo shows Shirley Cedarquist Johnson of Evanston, an employee of the cemetery, preparing to put out feed for Charles and Audubon.  One of her duties at Memorial Park was to see that the canaries were well fed and cared for.  In the previous blog entry dated January 7, 2019, I told the story of Mrs. Coit and a little about Shirley Johnson.   

On January 29, 2019 I received an email from Shirley Johnson's daughter:

Hello. This is Jill Johnson Maltos, Shirley Johnson's daughter. I know this news article well - I have her copy.   She worked at Memorial Park until the late 50's, mostly part time. Her duties were secretarial, assisting people to locate grave sites, etc., and of course, feeding the birds. I think she was just assigned that task. I remember asking her about the article but info on the Coits is gone from my memory. When my dad would go to pick her up from work, I would go into the cemetery office and I recall there were birds in the office at that time-I could go behind the desk and look. My family had parakeets as pets, actually! I don't know any history of the Coits but I do know a lot about my mom!  Her parents and sister Jean (her daughter Wendy was a classmate of yours and forwarded this to me!) are buried at Memorial Park.      

I have mentioned before that I am always thrilled to be contacted by a member of the family of a person about whom I have written.  I welcome their feedback about the story and I can also correct any errors I might have made, remembering that any information I "dug up" came from the internet.  And although we know that "If it's on the internet it must be true," I can still make mistakes in my reporting.

Tying all the subplots together, it turns out that "Wendy" mentioned by Jill in her email to me was my date for the Evanston High School senior prom in 1974, Wendy Lundeen (now Wendy Wright). It turns out that Wendy has been a faithful reader of my blog so I'm sure she was surprised to see a blog entry about her Aunt Shirley Johnson.

Jill pointed out a few errors in my story and graciously agreed to furnish photos of her Mom and family so that I could expand what I had written about her.  Rather than just adding this information to the previous post I decided to give Shirley Cedarquist Johnson her own blog post so here is her story: 

Shirley was born Shirley Carol Cedarquist on March 14, 1923 in Evanston, Illinois.  Her parents were Oscar Linus Cedarquist (1887-1965) and Esther Elizabeth, nee Landin (1888-1966). Shirley had two sisters: Jean Lois Cedarquist (1914-2000), and Phyllis Elizabeth Cedarquist (1917-1971).  Oscar Cedarquist was a carpenter by trade.

Esther and Oscar Cedarquist

The 1930 Census shows the Cedarquist family living at 2034 Harrison Street in Evanston.  

2034 Harrison Street, Evanston, Illinois

Living there in 1930 were Oscar and Esther Cedarquist and their daughters Jean, Phyllis and Shirley.  In addition, Esther's mother Emma Landin (1864-1941) was living there and Esther's sister Abbey (Ebba) Landin (1890-1969) as well.  

Oscar Cedarquist reported that he owned the house which he said was worth $15,000.00 and that they owned a radio.  Shirley was 7 years-old and was not working.

In the 1940 US Census, the Cedarquist family was living at 1518 Central Street in Evanston, which is right across the street from Dyche Stadium.  An apartment building occupies that space today. The household consisted of Oscar and Esther, daughters Phyllis and Shirley, Esther's mother and sister, and two lodgers: 8 year-old Joan Higgins, and 6 year-old Jerry Ptassane.  They told the census taker that they had all been living in the same place in 1935.

Shirley Cedarquist graduated from my alma mater, Evanston Township High School (Go Wildkits!) as part of the Class of 1940.  Here's her yearbook photo:

Here's Shirley's "official" graduation picture:

She looks like a movie star!

After graduation from ETHS, Shirley got a job with Public Service Company of Northern Illinois, which later became Commonwealth Edison.  She worked as a billproving machine operator.  Little did she know how working at Public Service would change her life - and for the better!

In 1941 Shirley carpooled to her job at Public Service.  Another member of the carpool was young William Johnson, who was a meter reader for Public Service.  

My Dad started with Public Service in 1926 as a meter reader.  My older brother started with Commonwealth Edison in 1969, also as a meter reader.  In those days all men who worked for Public Service/Commonwealth Edison started as meter readers.
William Edward Johnson (1917-2010) was born February 23, 1917 in Chicago to Edward Philip Sheridan Johnson (1877-1966) and Daisy Carolyn, nee Fairhead (1879-1971).   Edward Johnson worked for the Chicago Telephone Company (which became Illinois Bell Telephone) and Daisy was the proprietor of a beauty shop.

Bill Johnson's first date with Shirley Cedarquist was May 20, 1941.  They drove to the Tic Toc Restaurant on Skokie Boulevard in a 1939 Ford.  She was 18, he was 24.

As their courtship continued, World War II intervened.  Bill Johnson was a Navy Frogman on Team UDT-4 (the precursors to the Navy SEALS).  Here's Bill in his Navy uniform.  I'm sure he gave one of these to Shirley:

Here's the story of the famous sign UDT-4 left on Guam after clearing the bay of obstacles so the Marines could come ashore:

Bill Johnson was awarded the Bronze Star for his role in the invasion of Guam.

Bill did manage to take a little time off from the war for other important matters.  On January 19, 1943 Shirley Carol Cedarquist married William Edward Johnson, at the Calvary Baptist Church in Evanston.  The bride was 19; the groom was 25.  

Shirley's father Oscar Cedarquist was a carpenter and built the altar stairs shown above.  Here's a photo of the Calvary Baptist Church in Evanston:

The newlyweds lived at 811 South Boulevard in Evanston, with the groom's parents.

Here's a photo of Bill Johnson's parents Edward and Daisy in front of 811 South Boulevard: 

Here's a photo of 811 South Boulevard today:

811 South Boulevard, Evanston, Illinois

After the war, Bill Johnson resumed his career with Public Service.  He became a substation operator and worked in the big Substation in North Evanston and the other in Skokie on Oakton Street.  Here's Bill at the substation in Evanston:

In 1948 when the photo at the beginning of this article was taken, Shirley was working part-time in the office at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie.  Shirley's daughter Jill told me that her duties were secretarial, assisting people to locate grave sites, etc., and of course, feeding the birds.  Jill said that Shirley was just assigned to take care of the birds but Shirley's family had been keeping parakeets as pets, so perhaps Shirley was assigned because of her familiarity with the care and feeding of birds.

Shirley also related that when she started work at Memorial Park as part of her orientation that they made her watch a burial and she had to watch a cremation - she hated that and never forgot that experience.

By 1951 when Jill was born, the Johnson family was living at 723 South Boulevard in Evanston:

723 South Boulevard, Evanston, Illinois

Here's the happy couple in 1952:

William and Shirley Johnson - 1952

According to Jill, Shirley continued to work at Memorial Park Cemetery until the late 1950s, mostly on a part-time basis.  

But it wasn't all work for Shirley.  Jill relates that "She sang in the women’s group called the Oaktones (— I went to Oakton school.) She had a great voice and also played piano and organ. She was also a seamstress and worked from home during our grade school years during the week and did her job on Saturdays at the cemetery."  

Here's a photo of Shirley and her two sisters from that era:

(l-r) Shirley Cedarquist Johnson, Phyllis Cedarquist Elms and Jean Cedarquist Lundeen

In 1959 when Jill's brother Gary was born, the Johnson family moved to 815 South Boulevard, next to William Johnson's parents:

815 South Boulevard, Evanston, Illinois

In 1967, the Johnson family moved to Crystal Lake, Illinois in connection with Bill's career with Commonwealth Edison.  Jill says, "He transferred there and drove all over McHenry County as a mobile area  operator  checking the substations and working when there were electrical emergencies.  He retired after 45 years with the company.  Dad's official headquarters was in Northbrook." 

After Bill Johnson retired, he and Shirley moved to the Carefree Village Mobile Home Park in Tucson, Arizona. Here's a photo from their 50th wedding anniversary in January of 1993:

Here's a photo of Bill Johnson (a member of the Greatest Generation) standing next to the Underwater Demolition Team roster in 2001:

Here's a photo of Shirley and Bill Johnson with their son Gary and daughter Jill:

William Johnson died February 4, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona right after their 67th wedding anniversary.  He was 92 years-old. 

Here's a photo of Shirley with Gary and Jill toward the end of her life:

Shirley Cedarquist Johnson died on January 30, 2013, also in Tucson.  She was 89 years old.

Both Bill and Shirley were cremated and their ashes returned to the family.

When people start researching their family tree, they are hopeful that they will uncover someone rich or famous in their line (even if they won't admit it).  A lesser number of folks hope they dig up someone infamous or notorious in their tree.  But the truth is that most peoples' ancestors are neither famous nor infamous.  That was certainly the case as I uncovered the roots of my family.  They were all just plain folks who were born, worked, married, had children and died.  They obeyed the laws, paid their taxes and tried to give their children better lives than they had.  Shirley Johnson certainly fits into this category.  A devoted daughter, a faithful wife, a loving Mother, a dear friend.  Shirley was neither famous nor infamous.  But she did have her fifteen minutes of fame back in April of 1948 when her picture was in the paper feeding Mrs. Henry Coit's canaries.  Shirley's daughter Jill said "if only...she would have loved talking about this."  I wish I could have known Shirley and Bill Johnson. I'm sure I would have liked them.  And I'm sure we would have gotten a good laugh about Shirley's fame in feeding Mrs. Coit's birds.  

Shirley and Bill Johnson - nice people you would have enjoyed knowing - may they rest in peace. 

(A big thank-you to Jill Johnson Maltos for telling me all about the history of her family and also for providing all the wonderful photos which add so much to the story.  Jill - I couldn't have done it without you.  Thanks also to Gary Johnson for correcting some of my errors and providing additional information and photos.  And to my prom date, Wendy Lundeen Wright, for bringing my blog post about Shirley to Jill's attention.)