[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Gentry: You spent your whole thirty-five-year career in journalism on Chicago newspapers. Were you also born in Chicago?
Wille: I was born in a hospital in Chicago. But my parents lived at the time in Arlington Heights, which is a suburb northwest of the city, and that's where I grew up.
Gentry: How far is that from Chicago?
Wille: Oh, I don't know. Not driving, I'm never sure about distances. I guess it's about twenty-five or thirty miles.
Gentry: For the record, what is the date of your birth?
Wille: September 19, 1931.
Gentry: I've been told that you came from a German family, that your father was a German immigrant. Did you live in a German neighborhood?
Wille: Arlington Heights was settled mainly by Germans and still was predominantly German, I think, when I was born there. My father—do you want me to give a little bit of his history now?
Gentry: I sure would. That was my next question.
Wille: All right. My father was born in Leipzig, which is in the eastern part of Germany, former German Democratic Republic, now part of Germany again, and he studied architecture there. He came to this country in 1924 when he graduated from school.
Gentry: From college?
Wille: From college, right. His father, who was a politician and a union leader in Leipzig, was president of the Leipzig city council; he knew that the political situation in Germany was such that it was better if his son get out of Germany as soon as he could. My father came—he lived in Chicago, I believe at first in the Lincoln Avenue area, which was a German neighborhood, then came out to Arlington Heights and was in construction work there. And that's where he met my mother, who was born in Arlington Heights but whose ancestry also is German, also from the northeast part of Germany.
Gentry: What were they like in personality? Tell me a little bit about them.
Wille: My father has a—I guess I would call him an intellectual, a humanist and intellectual—a very inquisitive mind. He always read everything, was interested in archaeology, astronomy, lots of sciences—mathematics especially, maybe because I guess all architects would be interested in mathematics—liked to draw, also interested in art. I just remember him always reading and his library growing enormously. Although he worked for the Army Engineer Corps during World War II, he set up his own architectural business at the end of the war and was away a lot; there were a lot of evening meetings involved. He did a lot of houses but
specialized in churches and commercial buildings, so there were always evening meetings with church building committees. He worked long hours.
Gentry: Did he design a certain kind or all kinds?
Wille: No, all kinds. It depended on what the building committee wanted and they often changed their minds in the middle of it. He always worked long hours and, you know, running your own business takes a great deal of energy and time.
My mother did not work outside of the house after she was married, or at least after my brother and I were born, and loved keeping house, loved raising children, had a lot of friends and family. Arlington Heights at that time was small. It was just six or seven thousand, so if you grew up there you knew everybody in town.
Gentry: Did she go to college, too?
Wille: She didn't. And she was always a lot smarter than she thought she was. I think she felt because she didn't go to college and didn't have the kind of academic background, say, that my father had, or that I acquired later, that she wasn't that smart. Always underrated herself. She had great strengths that blossomed more later in life. As my father got older and more frail and their roles almost became reversed, my mother just took over a lot of the financial management that he used to do.
Gentry: Was he older than your mother?
Wille: No. Actually, he was a couple of years younger. My mother died three years ago. My father's still living. He's eighty-seven—he was just eighty-seven two days ago.
Gentry: Oh! But she took over the leadership role toward the latter years?
Wille: Or at least it seemed to me that she did—she began keeping their checkbook and keeping financial records and loved that. My mother also—I guess especially when I began to pay more attention to her, which was probably when I was older—was very interested in current events and sports. I got my first taste of being a baseball fan from my mother, who loved all sports, collegiate, professional, spent a lot of time watching them on TV.
Gentry: Did you and your family go to the games in Chicago?
Wille: Oh, yes. A lot, a lot. My father never—maybe because he grew up in Germany—was not as ardent a fan as my mother, but he liked them. I think he liked football. He always thought baseball was kind of boring so my mother would take my brother and me to games when we were little.
Gentry: The Cubs or the White Sox?
Wille: The Cubs, because we lived on the North Side. My mother also loved news, current events. I think she listened to radio talk shows all night long because she was always quoting what somebody or other said on the Larry King Show or—
Gentry: Was she an inspiration to you? Was she one of the ones that sort of led you?
Wille: No, I'd have to say that my father did that.
Gentry: He did?
Gentry: Led you more into journalism?
Wille: No, he didn't lead me into journalism. Just led me to think that I could achieve something.
Gentry: I see. How long did he work as an architect?
Wille: He retired from his business maybe in his late sixties but he then worked as a consultant to his firm into his early seventies. At least. Maybe mid-seventies.
Gentry: I see. Was the firm in Arlington Heights?
Gentry: You mentioned a brother. Is he older or younger?
Wille: He's three years younger and he lives in Virginia. He was a career army officer for twenty years and retired in one of those great early retirements you can do with the army, when you're about forty or forty-one. And while he was in the army he got his Ph.D.—management information systems is his specialty. And he's now dean of the school of business and economics at Radford University, which is part of the University of Virginia system.
Gentry: Management systems—is that computers?
Gentry: Okay. You mentioned Leipzig and your father's father. Did he ever come to the United States?
Wille: No. The family plan, my father has said, was that his parents and his younger sister would follow him to this country in several years. But his father died two years after my dad came here. He was only about fifty when he died. So my father's mother and his younger sister were stuck there and they lived there throughout the war.
Gentry: Throughout their life?
Wille: Right. His sister married a man from Czechoslovakia during the war and lives in Czechoslovakia now. And my father's mother died in 1964—but remained in Leipzig. He has been back a lot to see them since—
Gentry: Have you met them?
Wille: Oh, sure. The first time—well, he didn't know whether they had survived the war because there was no way to keep in touch with relatives on that side of the fighting.
Gentry: No. Of course not.
Wille: And Leipzig was heavily bombed. He really assumed that his mother and sister were killed until—I remember sometime early in 1945 when the U.S. troops first moved into Leipzig, my father got a letter from his mother. There was just a great joyous day because he hadn't heard from her for years.
Gentry: How wonderful!
Wille: And he didn't assume that they were living. That was a day that I really cherish. Then the U.S. troops pulled back and the Soviet troops moved in and their life did not improve from that point on. But the first time he went back, it was difficult because that was on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Travel was very hard for
U.S. citizens, especially a U.S. citizen who had been born there. There were a lot of problems about him going back. But my husband and I went with my mother and father in 1958, which was his first time back, the first time he saw his mother and sister again, and that was wonderful. We all met in Berlin and went back to Leipzig.
Gentry: That was a long time you didn't see them.
Wille: Well, it was. During his early years in this country, the Depression hit and it was not a time for traveling the world, especially if you were in the building trades. And then there was a war and that made it impossible. The post-war years, during the worst days of the Cold War, travel to Eastern Europe was impossible. So this was about the first chance he had to get back.
Gentry: Do you remember what year your father came to the United States?
Gentry: And his father just died two years later.
Gentry: The Chicago area is all so ethnic. Was your neighborhood one that preserved some of the German customs?
Wille: No. The suburbs were really generic suburbs. Most of the people in Arlington Heights—and especially the school I went to for grade school because it was a Lutheran grade school—most of them were of German origin. But except for certain Christmas carols and maybe some food, I don't recall any particular customs. Germans, when they came to this area, scattered much more widely and didn't remain that much in the city except for the area around Lincoln Avenue. So you don't get—there's not quite as much of a German neighborhood with German traditions preserved as there would be, say, with Italian or Polish or Lithuanian or Ukrainian and some of the other ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago.
So when I grew up, ethnic backgrounds were rarely discussed. Kids I knew in high school were—oh, we did have one Italian boy, didn't we? They were mostly blond people but there was one dark-haired boy whose parents came from Italy. And Arlington Heights had some Irish and people from the Netherlands. It wasn't until I was at Northwestern and got to know some people from the city, or came into Chicago for parties, that Chicago's obsession with ethnic origins made an impression on me.
I remember one time at a party on the Near North Side when I was a sophomore or junior in college, somebody said, "What are you?" And I said, "I'm a sophomore." He said, "No. What are you?" And, well, I'm a female, I'm studying journalism, what do you mean? And, of course, what he meant was, you know, what ethnic origin. I've gotten to know in the years since then that it's a very common question in Chicago. "What are you?" he said. Well, I'm German or I'm Polish—or my mother's Polish and my father's Ukrainian. It's a common question.
Gentry: That's kind of why I asked because I think of Chicago's neighborhoods being Polish and Italian and Irish.
Wille: That's true. The neighborhood I live in now is Italian. And if I take a cab there, the cab driver will look in the mirror and say, "Hm, you don't look Italian." And I have to explain how come I'm living there. That's very much true. But the suburbs were—it was not that big an issue in the suburbs.
Gentry: Now, your other grandparents—were they alive as you were growing up? Your mother's parents?
Wille: They were when I was very little. They died within a few days of each other when I was probably about five. I think it was before I started school. So I don't—I remember them somewhat but not a lot.
Gentry: Did you enjoy going back to Germany and meeting your father's family?
Wille: Oh, yes. It was very emotional. I mean, all through my childhood, I had kind of romanticized and daydreamed that moment because I was very aware of the fact that he was separated from his family. It made a big impression on me, especially when they were in peril.
Gentry: Sure. I'll bet he was worrying about them all the time.
Wille: Yes. It was wonderful. And I didn't speak any German so I had to rely on my parents. My mother, although she grew up in this area, learned German as a child. And so my mother and father would translate.
Gentry: That's something I was going to ask. Since your father was from Germany, did he speak any German in the home?
Wille: No, they never did. They both spoke German but never used it when I was a child. I think people didn't in those years. It's a shame because I've had to learn it now the hard way.
Gentry: In college?
Wille: I didn't in college but I took some night school courses later. And that's much more difficult than if I had learned it as a child—I probably heard words—there are a couple of things that I remember but they probably used it only when they were saying things they didn't want my brother and me to hear.
Wille: But the reunion in Berlin was wonderful. And I never saw my grandmother again; that was the only time. But my father's sister we see a lot—oh, every couple of years.
Gentry: Has she ever been over here?
Wille: Yes, she came here in—I think it was the summer of 1965 when there must have been some little lifting of restrictions in Czechoslovakia. Her husband was not able to come but she was able to come and spent three months here and my parents drove all over with her. She got to see Washington and New York and Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon and California.
Gentry: Did they have children, too?
Wille: No. No. She hasn't. And that trip still—it was a great part of her life. If she and her husband had been able to, they would have emigrated here but that was impossible. That was the only time she was able to—
Gentry: Now that it's possible, she's too old, I suppose.
Wille: Yes. Yes. Not until just last year were they able to travel together. She'd been to Vienna a couple of times to meet my parents.
Gentry: They couldn't travel together?
Wille: No, because the Czech government would figure that if they ever left the two of them out together, they'd defect. So while my aunt I think twice met my parents in Vienna—that was very difficult, she had to go through a huge amount of bureaucratic jumble to be able to get permission to do that and a couple of times was denied.
But my husband and I went to see her and her husband in May. It was their fiftieth wedding anniversary. And we drove to Vienna with them and it was wonderful because it was the first time her husband Toni had seen Vienna, even though he lives just a couple of hours from there.
Gentry: Finally free, huh?
Wille: Yes. We had a wonderful time.
Gentry: Are they in their 80's now?
Wille: My aunt is—let's see, she was born in 1910—she'll be eighty-one and I think her husband is maybe a year younger. But they're in really good shape.
Gentry: Did they have a decent lifestyle there in East Germany over the years?
Wille: They live in Czechoslovakia.
Gentry: Did they become professionals?
Wille: Her husband was in construction also, which is all state—Czechoslovakia was the most thoroughly socialized of the Eastern countries, had no private industry at all. My aunt worked as a cashier in a hardware store and her husband worked in construction on various industrial plants. In a sense, it was okay. They always had enough to eat. They've always had a housing shortage in Czechoslovakia since the end of the war. Their apartment is tiny. But they've got the necessary appliances, got television, got radio. They haven't been able to travel and they couldn't buy books they'd wanted to buy and their news was all censored and all propaganda, so in that sense their life was unpleasant. But they always knew they'd have a job. There was no unemployment, no inflation. Medical care was free. They were sent on vacations by the state. I remember when my aunt had her gall bladder out she was sent to a spa for six weeks to recuperate.
Some of the social benefits of communism and of those governments were pleasant and they've lost those now. And they've had a hundred percent inflation in the last year. So they've got much more personal freedom but they don't have all the economics benefits they used to have. This is a very painful change for people in Eastern Europe. We also keep in touch with my father's cousin and her children in East Germany and it's been rough for them, too. The transition is awful.
Gentry: So your father was really the only one in his family who made it over here; is that correct?
Gentry: And were there just the two of them, his sister and himself?
Wille: Yes. Right.
Gentry: Did you have any German newspapers that he read that came into the home?
Wille: No. Maybe because not that long after he arrived here, there was a war. But he never kept any—he didn't belong to any kind of German-American friendship organization or whatever they were called, and never kept any ties except writing to his mother and sister.
Gentry: But church architecture was his major specialty?
Wille: It developed into that. Houses for a long time.
Gentry: Can you go all around the Chicago area and see the churches he built and designed?
Wille: There are a lot of them here. Right. In fact, for a long time I wanted him to make a list of them, so I'd have that. And he never got around to it. And now I'm sure he's forgotten where they are.
Gentry: You could photograph them or have them photographed.
Wille: He's got some slides of them, I think we've got a fairly complete list.
Gentry: That's interesting. Now, you were born during the Great Depression but I assume you probably don't really remember what life was like, do you? At the tail end of it?
Wille: You know, I remember a couple of things that were adjunct to the Depression. My father was with the Works Project Administration, the WPA, and he also worked with the Army Engineer Corps on the Mississippi River. And when I was maybe two, we lived in Dubuque, where he worked on bridges, and also in Quincy, another Mississippi River town, in downstate Illinois.
Gentry: It was real tough being an architect during the Depression, I imagine.
Wille: It was. You really had to get on federal projects.
Gentry: So this was a good thing to get on.
Wille: He was also a civil engineer, so that got him the job with the Army Engineer Corps. He always had work to do during the Depression. And then I think the WPA built some field houses and swimming pools and some other WPA-financed projects. I'm sure it was rough for my parents, but I just don't remember a lot of it. I do remember people knocking on the back door and asking for food and my mother making—just spreading some lard on a piece of bread with a little sugar and giving sandwiches to people. That's about—
Gentry: People passing through Chicago or through the suburbs?
Wille: No, I think these were just—
Gentry: These were local people?
Wille: There were lots of people just drifting around, you know, looking for food or part-time jobs wherever they could get it.
Gentry: Interesting. Do you remember coming out of the Depression? I mean, a change in lifestyle? You were a little bit older but you were still very young.
Wille: Yes. As I said, my Dad was fortunate because of the tie with the Army Engineer Corps and with the WPA; he was always employed. He and my mother could probably tell you — would probably recall a lot of hardships, but all I knew was that there always seemed to be something to eat and I had clothes to wear. When the war began, he went back to work for the Army Engineer Corps. I guess the war is what brought the country out of the Depression more than anything else.
Gentry: Did he somewhere along the line design the house you lived in?
Wille: Yes, but originally we lived in my grandparents' house till I was about six or so. After that, it was always a house that he had designed, and always in Arlington Heights.
Gentry: Were they different?
Wille: Well, yes. The styles changed with the times. I guess the first one was small, naturally, because that would have been late Depression years. It would have been the late thirties. It's very little. It's still standing in Arlington Heights. Then he built quite a large two-story house that also had his office in it where we lived while I was in high school and then later built a ranch-style house, when he had a separate office.
Gentry: So they were a variety of styles.
Wille: Right. But nothing that looked out of place in Arlington Heights.
Gentry: Right. Right. It's been a long time since I've been in Arlington Heights but I do remember it vaguely.
And you said your mother never did have a job?
Wille: Not after she had children. When she was working, she worked for the Northwestern Railroad Company, as—what? what did they call it?—key-punch operator, I believe. Some kind of business machine operator. Commuted into Chicago for that.
Gentry: How did they meet?
Wille: They met because her parents had a large house in Arlington Heights and took in boarders from time to time. And my father had lived in Chicago but moved into Arlington Heights to be near some kind of construction job he was working on and lived for a while with them. And that's how he met my mother.
Gentry: I guess we should have their names, your maiden name.
Wille: Oh, that's a good idea. My father's is Walter Kroeber. The German spelling would be K - r - ö with an umlaut - b - e - r. And my mother's name was Adele. Her name before she was married was Taege.
Gentry: And your brother's name is?
Gentry: When you were growing up, were you supposed to behave in any certain way because you were a girl? Was there any difference in the way they raised you and your brother?
Wille: No. We were both supposed to be smart and get good grades. And there was no less—I mean I didn't feel—I shouldn't use the word "pressure" because I always liked school. I don't think I felt under pressure. But we were both expected to be good students and excel, and me no less than he. I was always—I don't know if this was said to me in so many words but I always assumed that I would do something.
Well, one thing, my mother didn't particularly like housework and when I had to help her clean and dust, I didn't like to do it, either. So whatever kind of silent signals passed between us, it was that "Oh, I hope you don't have to grow to do housework." Although she loved her home and kept a wonderful house, was very finicky about housework, except that it just didn't appeal to me. And I think I resolved early on that there's got to be something more to life than dusting this furniture.
Gentry: So they were always pushing college to both of you, I assume?
Wille: I don't think they ever had to push it. It was just assumed.
Gentry: I see.
Wille: I don't recall ever being told, well, you've got to do well so you can go to college. It was just—I always knew that's what I would do and at some point I suppose that was said.
Gentry: Was that pretty much true in Arlington Heights, most kids went to college? This was in the fifties, I guess.
Wille: Right. In the high school I went to, the great majority did. And it would have been odd if I hadn't planned to go to college. I do remember something that—I don't know, maybe I fantasized this, but I'm sure I can remember when I was real little, and because I had good grades, someone discussing me with my father while I was there, maybe someone saying to me, "Well, what do you want to do?" And my father saying, "Oh, she'll probably be a teacher." But he said it kind of—you know, as though he hoped I would try to do something other than that. And I think that I just got the message that I should try something a little more daring. Those were the only jobs that women usually did at the time.
Gentry: Sure. Teacher or nurse.
Wille: Right. And then I also remember one of my early school-oriented memories, I think I was in second grade, going to some kind of—it was probably a church service since this was a church school. My father was not particularly religious but I know that I went to church with him one Sunday when I was maybe about seven. And I'd written something, it must have been some little essay. A teacher who was in one of the upper grades said to my father—I guess knew my father—"Oh, is this the little girl who wrote that good thing?" So it must have been considered good for a second-grader to write and my father was obviously very pleased and came home and told my mother. And that stuck in my mind so I guess that impressed me that, hmm, I write well.
Gentry: Very good.
Wille: And I always did like to write. I would write—if we read a story in class or a little play, I would write a version of it. I don't think it was particularly creative writing. In fact, it probably wasn't creative. But I would write versions of that story.
Gentry: Well, you would have been, what, seven years old, probably, and that's early to start writing in that manner. That's fairly creative writing.
Wille: I guess. And I had books. One of my favorite books was one that my father made for me. He liked to draw and that was kind of a tradition in our family, too. My brother and I always drew—we never bought greeting cards; we always made our own. And instead of buying coloring books or children's books—see, maybe this was a factor of the Depression; it didn't occur to me at the time. My father would make them, you know, and the cover would say, "Lois's Coloring Book," and it would be comic strip characters or whatever that I would then color.
Gentry: That's great. Do you still have some?
Wille: Yes, I do. I have one of them.
Gentry: Oh, how nice. What kind of a boy was your brother as you were growing up? What was he like? Was he different than you?
Wille: Yes, I guess that the typical—I guess this is typical—the typical younger child seemed to be more rambunctious and naughtier.
Gentry: Did you get along?
Wille: Oh, yes. We were very close and we still are, as evidenced by the fact that we're moving to live near him. He was also a good student but, you know, maybe not as diligent a student as I was but I think that's typical of boys and girls in grade school. It may be typical of first and second children, too.
Gentry: Was yours a pretty close family?
Wille: Very. We did a lot of things together.
Gentry: What did you like to do most in your family, as a family?
Wille: I liked going to movies together. Without television, much less VCR's, people went to movies.
Gentry: Did you have to go to Chicago?
Wille: No. There was a theater in Arlington Heights and in various nearby suburbs. But I loved going into Chicago, loved going to the Chicago Theater because it was so grand and palatial.
Gentry: Even as a child you went into the theater?
Wille: Oh, yes. Do you remember the Chicago—did you ever go in the Chicago Theater?
Gentry: I think I did.
Wille: It was wonderful. It looked like a fairy tale palace. And there were other theaters that were on that kind of rococo scale, the Uptown and the Granada on Chicago's North Side.
Gentry: They're probably not there any more?
Wille: No, they're not. The Chicago Theater has recently been rehabbed and it's gorgeous. Some of the others are gone. But we also went to museums. We went downtown a lot. Kids growing up in Arlington Heights then were much closer to the city than kids growing up there now. Now they go to Woodfield Mall.
Gentry: You didn't have the traffic, either, probably, at that point. But you didn't have the roads.
Wille: We didn't have the traffic but the trains ran more frequently and there was also bus service. My mother had a sister who lived in Chicago on the North Side and we often went on the bus, my mother and brother and I when we were little, to see her for the day. We would do our shopping at Marshall Fields; I loved going into Fields.
Gentry: Did you go every Christmas like I did?
Wille: Oh, yes.
Gentry: To see the big tree?
Gentry: It was a pilgrimage every Christmas.
Wille: Absolutely. And the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry.
Gentry: Brookfield Zoo?
Wille: Brookfield Zoo. Lincoln Park Zoo. I think kids growing up in the suburbs today are not as familiar with the city as I was. Since Arlington Heights was small, and had a lot of countryside around it, my brother and I rode bikes everywhere. My mother would pack a lunch for us and we'd set out and spend the day on bikes. And there was a swimming pool and in the summer we went swimming every day.
Gentry: Oh, that's nice. Who did the disciplining in your family, your father or mother or both? Or wasn't there any?
Wille: No, there was and I guess it was shared. My mother was around more because my father was gone during the day and often had meetings at night so I suppose she did because she was there when we did bad things.
Gentry: Was there anything that they taught you that really stayed with you as an adult and molded your personality or values, that you can think of, that came straight from your parents?
Wille: Interesting question. I can't think of any one thing. There's just a whole atmosphere of growing up. And I think I mentioned to you earlier my father was—I guess I would call him a rational humanist; although maybe the bulk of his career was doing churches, there was a lot that went with the Bible that he couldn't accept. I remember being yanked out of Sunday school at a very early age because I came home and was scared about Hell. The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, hell fire was real important to that church, punishment, and he was horrified when I mentioned something nervously about that. So that was the last time I went to Sunday school.
The Lutheran school I went to was good in many ways because it was tougher than the public schools. School days were longer and I think we learned a lot more. There were also things that my father thought I should unlearn and that probably sticks with me more than—
Gentry: Such as?
Wille: That only Lutherans go to heaven. That there's something wrong with other people. Both my mother and father taught tolerance to us early on. Arlington Heights was a homogenous community and there weren't even any Jews, let alone blacks. But we were taught how wrong this was.
Gentry: That shows later in your work, I think, the tolerance.
Wille: Ethics was very important. My father had a lot of opportunities for unethical conduct, especially when he dealt with the Chicago Building Department, and despised corruption and the payoffs that were often demanded. He hated doing business in Chicago because of the corruption of the city building department.
Gentry: Could he avoid it?
Wille: No. He couldn't. But he would resist it and often there would be delays in building permits because of that. Sometimes he had to cooperate or things didn't get built.
Gentry: He instilled in you a love of architecture, I'm sure. By reading your book, I can see that, and city planning?
Wille: Oh, probably. He had a lot of books on it and I know that names of great architects through the years were real familiar to me. Walter Gropius and Oscar Niemeyer in particular were two that he admired a lot. Mies van der Rohe also. Not Frank Lloyd Wright. He thought his buildings were impossible to build.
Gentry: When he built a church would he take you to look at it?
Wille: Yes. Well, the churches came—I was a little older then. But when I was little and we went to building sites, it was more homes. And I got to be very familiar with construction sites. I can read a blueprint.
Gentry: Very good. That's going to come in handy.
Gentry: Have you worked out an architectural style that you really appreciate more than any other, for your own home that you're going to build?
Wille: No, just something with a lot of light.
Gentry: But his churches were across the board, as you say, very traditional and modern?
Wille: Yes, I guess so. One reason he liked churches was he liked the chance to help design stained-glass windows and chandeliers and work with the fixtures in the church. He enjoyed that a lot. He did some drawing when he was in school and brought some of his drawings with him to this country, a couple of which I still have, framed. But then after he retired, he painted a lot as a hobby. So that side of it has always appealed to him.
Gentry: Painted buildings or painted all kinds of scenes?
Wille: Oh, scenes. Landscapes mainly.
Gentry: Out around here or from his head or—
Wille: No, mostly—oh, let's see. He liked farms, he liked falling-down shacks. For a while he had a series of falling-down shack buildings. Some were from the Virginia area where we're going to be living, which is very pretty. And then scenes from some of the really picturesque towns in Germany.
Gentry: Now, will he be moving to Virginia also?
Wille: If he's still here he will, sure.
Gentry: Oh, good. Good. Was yours a home where politics was discussed quite a bit?
Wille: Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely. My father, and then my mother because of my father, were the only radicals in Arlington Heights—probably the only radicals. The two votes that Henry Wallace got in Arlington Heights in 1948 were my parents. It made me very proud of them. My father—and I suppose because of his father—was a Socialist, at least early on, and he always thought that that was the most compassionate, best, efficient way to organize the economy in a country, a benevolent socialism. While I'm sure he supported Roosevelt, I think he always voted for Norman Thomas, who was a Socialist party candidate. At least he liked him best.
And then in 1948—was it '48 Wallace ran? Yes. That's when the world was splitting into these two armed camps. Wallace was preaching detente with the Soviet Union, that we can get along with them, we've got to. My father thought that was the only way, the best thing for the world. I'm sure that he was greatly influenced by the fact that he had a mother and a sister living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But Wallace also would have appealed to him just because of his progressive politics.
The [Chicago] Tribune was just—he hated the Tribune because the Tribune at that time was isolationist, hated Roosevelt—the Tribune hated Roosevelt and its news columns vilified him as much as its editorials.
Gentry: Very conservative Republican at that time.
Wille: Oh, yes. More than that. More than conservative Republican. It was zany, just right-wing zany, bordering on fascism.
[End Tape 1 Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: Well, if your father hated the Tribune so much, what newspapers came into your house?
Wille: The city had more newspapers at that time. The Chicago Daily News did. One of the Hearst papers—I don't even remember what it was called at the time, maybe the Herald-Examiner. I think the Tribune was around for a while, anyway. There was a local paper, the Arlington Heights Herald. But the Daily News was I think the main source of news.
Gentry: And you, as a family, you would argue political issues or talk over political issues?
Wille: Not argue. Well, I was probably too little to join in discussions during a lot of it. I would listen. I would listen to my father arguing with—well, he had no relatives in this country. My mother had two sisters and a brother and their spouses. So there would be family gatherings or friends of theirs. And my father was always on a side opposite from everybody else. I always assumed that he—I knew that he was right.
Gentry: Did your mother agree with him?
Wille: Oh, sure. Yes. I don't think she really participated. She got much more interested in politics later on and became just an avid follower and would get great emotional attachments to various politicians and feel things much more deeply.
Gentry: Did she have a particular favorite? Was she liberal?
Wille: Well, they were normally Democrats. Yes. I mean she hated Republicans. I shouldn't say she hated all Republicans—hated most Republicans. She hated Ronald Reagan. She just thought he was a fool. I don't know how she felt about the old [Richard J.] Daley but she thought Richie [son, Richard M.] was nice. Of course, that was typical of suburban women. Suburban women of her age thought Richie was such a good son. That is one of the ways he got elected when he ran county-wide.
Gentry: Oh, really!
Wille: Sure. He was the nice boy.
Gentry: That's interesting. I didn't know that. So looking back, would you say you came from a liberal family?
Gentry: You said almost socialistic, your father.
Wille: That's what he believed, that that was the best. He thought it was wrong—well, especially natural resources—I can remember him arguing this way all through the years, that oil and coal and such things should not be owned privately. That they belonged to all people and should be government-owned. Transportation services should be government-owned.
Gentry: Was he an environmentalist, too?
Wille: That was not a political issue until fairly recent years.
Gentry: Sixties, I guess.
Wille: Yes. So I don't recall that.
Gentry: So you said that he was not so fond of the Lutheran religion but you still went to a Lutheran school because it was the best school?
Wille: Right. And my mother had grown up in that church. My father, because he came from the eastern part of Germany—Germany is divided into Protestants and Catholics almost by where the Thirty Years War was fought, which cities were conquered by whom. And he came from the Protestant section in Germany so he was raised as a Protestant, I guess, because of where he lived.
Gentry: Did you go to church?
Wille: We did. We went more because I went to that school and because my mother was raised in that church and all her friends and family went. And yet I can't say it was a religious household. There were certain parts of the church that my father just didn't like. But, for him it also became a way of making business contacts. Initially he designed a number of Lutheran churches but then branched out into other denominations.
Gentry: You talked about their love of education, their great expectations for you and your brother. Did they work with you early on, teaching you to read and write? Do you remember that?
Wille: Yes. My mother had a cousin who was a schoolteacher who gave her some phonics books a year or two before I started school. And I think she showed me—I still think phonics is the best way to learn to read, you know, sounding out the alphabet, and I learned how to do that. Then when I started school, my father, because he liked history and science a lot, helped me with a lot of projects like that and always would like me to do something a little extra. If it was a geography class, I remember him helping me make some kind of physical map out of—
Gentry: Relief map. I remember doing that.
Wille: Yes. And doing something to make it more than what was required.
Gentry: And they worked with your brother similarly, I suppose.
Gentry: Did he show an interest in any field early on like you did?
Wille: My brother?
Wille: Well, let's see. He showed an interest in everything. He went through a phase where he wanted to be a pilot and always some adventurous kind of thing, where my father really, more so than me, because I kind of knew what I wanted to do, tended to steer him toward engineering. He studied—maybe it was chemical engineering for a while at Northwestern, didn't really like it, and got very interested in political science, decided he wanted that to be a major. My father thought, well, what do you do when you're a political scientist?
Gentry: You joined the army.
Wille: He took the foreign service exam and he passed that. But because there was a draft in those years, anyway, he enlisted so he could go to OCS [Officer Candidate School]. I think his intent originally was just to stay in the required number of years and then to go into the foreign service. After OCS, very early on got to be a general's aide de camp. This was at Fort Riley, Kansas. I think the general persuaded him that he could have a great career in the military, too.
My brother would have been the perfect aide de camp. He was tall and very straight, very straight back and broad-shouldered, slim-hip, blonde, great jaw. He looked like a recruiting poster. And part of his job as aide de camp was escorting the general's wife to tea parties where I'm sure he was a great success. Anyway, this boosted him a lot in the army and he decided to stay in a while longer and eventually it became a career.
Gentry: Was it twenty years?
Wille: Twenty years. He was in Vietnam, survived that, luckily.
Gentry: After that war, I suppose he was ranked pretty high.
Wille: I think he went to Vietnam as a captain and came back as a major.
Gentry: So he was in heavy fighting.
Wille: He was. Yes. It was a real dangerous time to be there. He also had a couple tours of duty in Germany where he met his wife who was a librarian—she's from Alabama and studied library science at the University of Alabama and was working as a librarian on the base. So they lived there for seven years.
Gentry: But they met in Germany, not the U.S.?
Wille: Yes, they met in Germany.
Gentry: That's interesting. What was your earliest recollection of enjoying reading and—you mentioned your writing? Second grade for the writing. Did you enjoy reading even earlier than that?
Wille: Yes, I loved fairy tales. I remember my first library card at the Arlington Heights library and what a thrill it was to find—I had some books at home but to have all these great books at my disposal. I also remember being very frustrated. My father bought me Heidi, which was the first book other than little children's books that I had, and I read a couple of pages and decided that it was too difficult for me. I must have been seven or eight, probably eight. I was angry and frustrated and probably crying, that he had bought me this book and I couldn't read it. And he said, "Well, you know, just try. It says here that it's for eight years up"— and I suppose I had just turned eight—and he said, "You should be able to do that." So then I worked at it a little bit harder and I finally was able to read Heidi. And I loved Heidi. I guess every—do boys read Heidi? Probably not. Every girl. Did you read Heidi as a child?
Gentry: Yes, I did.
Wille: Maybe that's why we like hiking in the Alps so much now. We see all these Heidi scenes. Making it through Heidi kind of opened up bigger kinds of books for me. And I just spent a great deal of time reading.
Gentry: Did you have favorite authors that you could remember? I know you didn't at seven years old, but a little later?
Wille: Fairy tales were by all kinds of—I was just so disappointed when I ran through all the fairy tale books in the library and there were no more because they don't—well, they're all old, aren't they? They don't write any
new fairy tales. I think those are wonderful reading for children because it forces you to use your imagination and I think they should—and I'm sure the versions I read were the original versions that are violent and had terrible, grotesque creatures doing terrible things to each other. And that's great. I think it's a good thing for children.
But then I went through the phase where I read all the career-oriented books. You know, Sue Barton, public nurse. I remember a whole series of books about Sue Barton, public nurse—or visiting nurse, whatever she was. Anyway, Sue Barton—for a while she worked as a visiting nurse among poor people. I remember that. She knocked on doors and helped them.
Gentry: Were you ten or twelve at that point?
Wille: Probably. I probably went through a phase where I wanted to be Sue Barton, visiting nurse, except I don't think I would have liked all the work that goes with being a nurse. There were other career-oriented books for little girls and I don't remember their names. There were adventure-style books for kids, too. You know, mysteries.
Gentry: Did you go through the Nancy Drews?
Wille: I'm sure I did. My father had in his library books that I tried to read. Oh, I know some; I was so pleased when I could understand them: the S.S. Van Dine murder mysteries. These were adult books and after I made it through Heidi, I thought, well, now I can read big books. So I read those as a little kid and discovered later that so had my husband. They're great murder mysteries and it was nice to read adult books.
Gentry: So you read a lot.
Wille: Yes, I did. He had a couple of other books that I—
Gentry: And you wrote a lot, too. Or rewrote?
Wille: Yes. Rewrote.
Gentry: Did you have daydreams about what you wanted to be?
Wille: Oh, sure. Sure.
Gentry: Can you remember specific things you wanted to do? You mentioned a nurse.
Wille: Yes, but that wasn't really serious.
Gentry: Did you get the idea of being a writer real early?
Wille: Oh, I think at one time I wanted to be a movie actress. Or I wanted to be a detective or an explorer—an archaeologist. I read a lot of adventure-style books. Dad had a lot of books on archaeology; I liked that a lot. But I also liked writing. The grade school I went to had a newspaper and I wrote little things for the grade school newspaper. So I think I always thought of newspaper work.
Gentry: Even at what, eight or ten? That early?
Wille: Well, maybe eleven or twelve, if not eight or ten.
Gentry: That's early.
Wille: There was one other role model, Brenda Starr. I loved that comic strip. Did you ever read Brenda Starr?
Gentry: No, I don't think so.
Wille: Well, Brenda Starr was a glamorous reporter. It's still in the comic strips. In fact, an excellent Tribune feature writer writes it now, Mary Schmich. Brenda Starr had all kinds of adventures as a glamorous red-haired reporter. And it combined writing—
Gentry: Chicago reporter?
Wille: No, I don't know where. It was a mythical city on a mythical paper. It combined adventure with writing and reporting, so Brenda Starr was my role model.
Gentry: Oh, that's interesting. It's important to take each journalist through certain periods of history and I was curious to know if you remembered much about World War II. I guess you were about ten years old when the United States became involved.
Wille: I remember a lot about it. I was younger than that. One of the first—because of having relatives there. I must have heard in '38 and '39 a lot of worried talk at home about the war and the possibility of war, and people taking sides because there were so many German-origin people in Arlington Heights. There probably were a lot of pro-Hitler people roaming around, too, there.
Wille: Oh, sure. Sure. Those towns—there was something called the German-American Bund which, if it wasn't pro-Hitler, at least it wanted America to keep out of it. That was the role the Tribune took. Let's see, 1939—the fall of '39. I was probably entering third grade. When did Hitler march into Poland? It was August of '39? I was just starting to be able to read newspapers and I remember the newspaper spread out on the floor and I was lying on it, on the kitchen floor, reading about the outbreak of war in Poland and Czechoslovakia. And it was a great concern. It worried me.
Gentry: And your parents for sure. Your dad especially.
Wille: That's why it worried me. I think we talked about it a lot at school. I just remember it being a subject of classroom conversation. And I remember Pearl Harbor because it was a Sunday afternoon and we were going to go to a movie in Park Ridge. And there had been—it was felt that the war was imminent in any case. But when an attack came, it was scary for a child. And I can remember coming out of the theater that night and as we were driving home, I listened to hear if I could hear planes overhead and being scared, you know, as we came into the house. Are they going to bomb tonight?
And my father was an air raid warden. They had mock air raids and people had to go out and make sure that heavy shades were being drawn and that no light shone.
Gentry: Oh, they did?
Wille: In the early days when there was still fear of a bombing raid. And I worried about him going out, thinking he's going to get caught in the bombs.
Gentry: So you were really scared.
Wille: Oh, kind of. It didn't shape my life but sure, I can remember it. And I think there must have been a lot of conversation among the kids at school about this, too.
Gentry: Was there any discrimination toward German families?
Wille: In Arlington Heights? No, because that's what nearly everybody was.
Gentry: Everybody was German.
Wille: The only topic of discussion was whose side were you on in the early days. No, there wasn't any discrimination. Later on in grade school, we got a minor influx of Japanese kids who had been put in concentration camps on the West Coast and then they were moved to the Middle West presumably so they couldn't cooperate with the Japanese invaders when they invaded California—whatever terrible reasoning was used. You know, kids whose homes were seized and property seized. And that was a big event for our grade school, these children who looked different and were exotic.
Gentry: Was this during the war?
Wille: Yes. And they were great romantic figures in our school because they were so different and this terrible thing had been done to them. And a lot of them stayed around this area after the war ended. But they were put in a concentration camp, somewhere in the suburban area, and put to work.
Gentry: I was curious because I'm writing a book on a three-generation Japanese-American family taken from California—right now—through the concentration camps. That's when you said Midwest, I was trying to think. I don't think there are any camps themselves in the Midwest but that's why I asked if it was after the war.
Wille: They were kept in some kind of compound. Maybe it wasn't under barbed wire but they were put to work on some farms in this area.
Gentry: Yes, I think after they signed a loyalty oath, some families could get out before the end of the war and go to work. I know Chicago, even the family I'm working with, the man got out and worked in Chicago for two years. That must have been a major place they went.
Wille: Probably because it was far from the coast.
Gentry: The industry needed the workers because everybody else was at war.
Wille: Sure. So there were a smattering of these kids who came and later on, there was a German prisoner-of-war camp in a neighboring suburb, Palatine. I was close enough that we could—my brother and I could ride our bikes there and look at them.
Gentry: Oh, my.
Wille: They waved. They had blue denim jackets. It didn't say "POW." I think it just said "PW." And it was a fad then among kids to get denim jackets and put "PW" on the back with white adhesive tape. They were told not to do that because it could get—with bigger boys, confusing if you'd see people bicycling around with a "PW" sign. But because it was such a German area, people used to go to the fence and give gifts to the prisoners. And I think a lot of them—not a lot but some of them got out and were absorbed into the general population.
Gentry: Did your parents follow the war very closely?
Wille: Oh, of course.
Gentry: And with you, you and your brother? Were you involved?
Wille: Yes. We had a short-wave radio. This was even before the war started. I remember Hitler's voice screaming shrilly. And then followed short-wave broadcasts from England and elsewhere throughout the war. And then also kids that I knew had older brothers who were drafted. I didn't have any—no one in my immediate family. I had no cousins or anything old enough. But there were kids I knew in grade school who had relatives in the army. And then I worried about my father being drafted. He had to enlist—not enlist, he had to—whatever you do, you sign up with the Selective Service system.
Gentry: He would have been the right age to be called.
Wille: Right. On the older side, but within the limits. But because of his engineering background because he'd already worked with the Army Engineer Corps, he got a civilian appointment with the corps. It was like the equivalent of a captain's rank but it was as a civilian. And he worked at Fort Sheridan and at Fifth Army headquarters in Chicago, in the Merchandise Mart.
Gentry: Did your mother work in any part of the war effort?
Gentry: Rolling bandages?
Wille: Oh, she may have done things like that, collecting tin cans or whatever.
Gentry: Do you remember a change of lifestyle during those war years? Rationing and things like that?
Wille: Because my father had a government job, he got the kind of—whatever level of gas rationing, we were able to get a little more gas. There weren't vacations but then that didn't seem much of a change of lifestyle. We had never taken big, long vacations as a kid, anyway. Maybe a trip to the Ozarks or Wisconsin Dells as a vacation. When my father was with the WPA and the Army Engineers earlier, he traveled a lot and sometimes came home just on weekends. During the war, for the first time in his life, he was a commuter going to the Merchandise Mart. During part of it, he traveled around. I don't recall any other change. There were no new cars. Oh, and I guess there was food rationing. When a sugar shipment came in, my brother and I would go stand in line to get some; there were certain things that were scarce and rationed.
Gentry: Stand in line to get a big bag of sugar or something?
Wille: Yes. I just remember sugar. I'm sure there were other commodities but I can't remember what they were.
Gentry: Did you go to high school at this Lutheran school, too?
Wille: No, this was just a grade school. I went to the public high school, Arlington Heights High School, which was just a few blocks from where we lived.
Gentry: At either the elementary level or the high school level, do you remember any great teachers that worked with you on your writing?
Wille: Not that worked with me on my writing. I remember a lot of teachers that I really liked. I remember a first grade teacher that I loved. When I went to that Lutheran grade school, it was sort of the end of an era in which the teachers were mainly male. They may have been all male when I started. And I had a first grade teacher that was very old. When I was in the first grade, he must have been in his early seventies. To me he looked about ninety but I don't know, maybe he was in his late sixties. His name was Rudolph Kranz—K-r-a-n-z, which means "wreath" in English—and had been the first grade teacher at the school forever. There were already some complaints that he should be replaced and by the time my brother was in first grade,
a young woman was the first grade teacher. But he was a great teacher because he had wonderful stories to tell. And one that I remember is that he knew George Washington Carver and had gone to visit him in Mississippi where Carver was doing great things with peanuts. Was he a biologist also, Carver?
Gentry: I think he was.
Wille: I don't even remember whether—the impression I carried away is that my teacher knew him intimately and worked with him. Maybe he just told us about him and that's how I romanticized it. But one of the messages he carried to us was of the evils of discrimination and what a great man this black scientist was.
Gentry: So that really stuck with you.
Wille: Yes, that did. And there was one black man in Arlington Heights.
Gentry: I was going to say, you probably didn't have any black friends.
Wille: He was a barber and his name was White.
Gentry: His name was White?
Wille: His name was White. He was also very old by the time I was little. His wife founded the Arlington Heights Women's Club and they were a rather prominent couple in town. I don't think I ever knew them but I remember my mother telling me about this distinguished Negro family.
Gentry: So you didn't see discrimination of blacks back in your childhood days?
Wille: Well, I saw discrimination in the fact that there weren't any others.
Gentry: But these were really respected.
Wille: Except they were old and probably retired. If I recall, the message my parents gave me is that there aren't any others. Now a black family can't—or Negro family couldn't move here if it wanted to. The town was terribly bigoted. As I said earlier, there weren't even any Jews, I'm sure, that could buy property.
Gentry: Not even German Jews.
Wille: No. I remember hearing rumors from kids at school that—there was a beautiful junior or senior when I was a freshman in high school, beautiful young girl with dark hair and lovely olive skin. Someone said, oh, her family's Jewish, as if this was terrible. And that really repelled me. Those towns were awful.
Gentry: I really didn't know that.
Were there any teachers later on that encouraged you in your writing, like in high school, at the high school level?
Wille: All through grade school they did, really, because they knew I was interested in it. And again there were all these older male teachers. I had no female teachers till I got to high school. I remember them praising my writing and liking it.
Gentry: So that made you want to write more, I'm sure.
Wille: Right. Sure. Then in high school I worked on the school paper but I'm sure we did some creative writing. We did in English classes, too, and I enjoyed that. I remember several English teachers I liked. It was interesting to me to adjust to female teachers since I'd never had any before. I didn't like that originally.
Gentry: I had just the opposite, no male teachers.
Wille: That's what grade school—I'm sure the grade school I went to is that way now but this was just the end of an era when I was there.
Gentry: But at the age of eleven or twelve, you said, you were fairly interested in being a newspaper reporter.
Gentry: Had you veered from it after that or were you pretty much confirmed that's what you wanted to do?
Wille: No. The only thing that shook my confidence a little bit was as I got older and got further on, especially in college, I didn't think I could get a job. So that made me wonder if I should learn some other phases of the business, too.
Gentry: Were there any real-life role models on the Chicago papers that you read? You know, reporters, women reporters at that point.
Wille: I don't think—the only by-lines I remember were male. No, that's wrong. There were two women, one at the Daily News and one at the Tribune. The one at the Tribune was named Norma Lee Browning and the one at the Daily News was named Edan Wright. But they both did these first-person—oh, I ended up doing some of them, too—these first-person stories of their silly adventures and I didn't like what they did.
Gentry: Is that what they called "Our Gal" stories?
Wille: Right. That didn't appeal to me.
Gentry: Silly things.
Wille: Yes. The other by-lines—and I didn't pay that much attention to them, really—I think were all male. The Tribune had a fine music and theater critic named Claudia Cassidy but that wasn't an area that I was interested in.
Gentry: When did you avidly start to read newspapers? Was it during the war, or earlier?
Wille: Well, when I was old enough to read, I always read them. Probably read them less in college.
Gentry: You didn't have time.
Wille: Right. But I read the sports sections—oh, I read the sports sections thoroughly, more than anything else, as a little kid, because I kept scrapbooks of the Cubs and cut out their box scores and stories about my favorite players.
Gentry: Did you have favorite male columnists or writers on the Chicago papers?
Wille: They would have been sportswriters. John Carmichael of the Daily News and Arch—I'm sure I read Arch Ward of the Tribune.
Gentry: Did it ever cross your mind to be a sportswriter?
Wille: Oh, yes. In fact, I don't know if I've told [Tribune Washington correspondent] Elaine Povich that or not, but my hero was someone I assumed to be a female sportswriter named Shirley Povich, a great baseball writer, the greatest of the baseball writers. I thought, ah, she can do it! That's really what I wanted to do—to be a sportswriter, especially baseball. And then I found out later Shirley Povich was a man. He's either Maury Povich's father or uncle and Elaine's grandfather. But I assumed that he was a woman.
Gentry: That was his real name, Shirley?
Wille: Yes. That's what inspired me, all through late grade school and high school.
Gentry: But you just kind of gave it up, thinking a woman couldn't do it?
Wille: I think maybe my interests turned elsewhere and I decided—but also because there weren't any others when I found out. I do recall being terribly disappointed when I found out Shirley was a man.
Gentry: I didn't know about that. What year did you begin college?
Wille: The fall of '49.
Gentry: And that was Northwestern.
Gentry: And I assume you were a journalism major?
Wille: I was, although I think I had planned to go to Northwestern before I knew it had a good journalism school. That was just felicitous. I remember early on that—my parents talking and my father said, "Well, Lois can go to Northwestern and Don to Illinois Tech"—or IIT [Illinois Institute of Technology], which he never did. He went to Northwestern also. But because they were close—although I lived on campus, I didn't commute.
Gentry: I was going to ask that. You were so close. I thought maybe you lived at home.
Wille: No. I was lucky to get a room on campus. It's much better to do that, I think. You get much more a feel of college life. But yet I was glad to be close. I didn't want to go across the country. A lot of kids in my high school class went to school in—Colorado seemed to be especially popular, Colorado and Florida. But I never wanted to be that far away. I liked to be able to get home occasionally.
Gentry: Even in those early days did you envision yourself being a career woman?
Gentry: You were going to be a newspaper writer, first and foremost, huh?
Wille: Yes. If not a newspaper writer, something bold and different and adventuresome.
Gentry: How did your parents feel about your career choice?
Wille: Oh, they loved it.
Gentry: They were really pleased.
Wille: You know, I don't recall ever discussing—they knew I was in journalism school, they knew I liked working for newspapers, they may not have expected I would get a job on a Chicago newspaper fairly early on. I had a couple of little minor jobs before that. But they had read the Daily News for many years and were thrilled to see my by-line in the Daily News.
Gentry: I'll bet they were.
Now, did you meet your husband early on at Northwestern?
Wille: No, I think I knew who he was early on because the journalism school wasn't that big, but didn't really get to know him till my senior year when I took a couple of—that was his graduate year when I took a couple of graduate courses, because I had gone to summer school a couple of summers. I was sort of in between a senior and a graduate student. He lived in Des Plaines, which was not that far from Arlington Heights. During summers a couple times I took the bus in to school and I think I saw him on the bus. Anyway, when we found out we grew up not that far from each other, we got to know each other that way.
Gentry: And he was a journalism major also?
Gentry: Just a year ahead of you?
Gentry: You started to say you veered a little bit from it. Were you a journalism major all through?
Wille: I was always a journalism major but my major within that was advertising because I thought that was the best career opportunity. And I kind of liked—I didn't like drawing that much but I liked design and there were parts of advertising that appealed to me, layout and design in particular. So for the first three years or so I was an advertising major. Although you don't get that many journalism courses early on so it didn't make that much difference. It isn't as if there was a lot of catch-up to do. Most of the courses we took were the same. It wasn't until maybe the senior year and the graduate year that you began specializing.
Gentry: Was there anything like an apprenticeship or internships of any kind at that time?
Wille: No, internships there weren't. There weren't then. No, those are great.
Gentry: So you didn't get to work in an agency or try it out or anything.
Wille: No. But I worked on the Daily Northwestern. I ended up being the editor of my high school paper which I suppose a lot of the people you talked to were. And then as soon as I got to Northwestern, I signed up for working on their school paper, which is not put out by the journalism school, it's a separate entity, and enjoyed that. I spent more time working on that than on classroom work. And got to be managing editor of that in my senior year. And then was very briefly editor—the editor had quit in probably the only act of campus rebellion in the fifties. The journalism dean had censored an article—he chaired the paper's advisory board—and the editor quit in protest. The advisory board appointed me editor. I promptly quit, too, and led a walkout joined by nearly everyone on the staff. Very exhilarating!
There was one journalism professor I liked a lot, named Jacob Scher, who had worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a copy editor—maybe also as a reporter—and still did that during summertime, or filled in on its copy desk. He was one of the few people at Northwestern that had worked on a big-city newspaper. And I liked him a lot and we had a good rapport. He was my adviser. I remember him saying to me one time, "Well, if what you really want is to work on a newspaper, go for it, do it. Don't feel you've got to go into advertising.
Do it. You can if you're determined." So I switched my majors to the news sequence my senior year.
Gentry: Your senior year. That wasn't too late.
Wille: No, it was really the graduate year where you specialized. I had taken some advertising courses that it turned out I could have done without but it didn't matter. It didn't set me back.
Gentry: Of course, there's always that debate whether to prepare to be a newspaper journalist with a liberal arts degree or a journalism degree. Do you feel strongly?
Wille: Yes, I think the liberal arts is much better. Northwestern does require—they have just like maybe one journalism course a quarter but you've got to have a liberal arts major and minor.
Gentry: Oh, I didn't know that.
Wille: I think that's wise. And mine was—economics was my major and sociology my minor, or maybe it was vice versa. No, I think it was economics and sociology, enough to qualify as a liberal arts major. So that's why my switching sequences didn't matter that much because you don't really get—they mainly just keep you interested as an undergraduate and then give you whatever training you're going to get as a graduate student.
Gentry: So everybody that was a journalism major, or most of them, went on to graduate school?
Wille: You were encouraged to do that. Northwestern really always considered it a five-year program. A lot didn't but I think most of them did. In the graduate program, you also got a lot of people transferring in from other schools.
Gentry: And your husband did that, too?
Wille: He went as an undergraduate and graduate student, right, straight through.
Gentry: And what did he want to do?
Wille: He also was in the news sequence and wanted to work on a newspaper. But then when he got out of the army, he went back to Northwestern for a while to take some radio-TV courses because there appeared to be more jobs available in that. Then when he finished, he went to work for the Sun-Times after all—a newspaper instead. He was at the Sun-Times for a while and then went to the CBS outlet in Chicago, in public relations, and then from there—let's see now. He worked at the National Safety Council in public relations for several years, and then went to World Book Publishing, Inc., in the mid-sixties.
Gentry: When did you marry?
Wille: Right after school.
Gentry: After you graduated?
Wille: I finished my graduate work in December of 1953. It was a little bit early and I should have finished in June—because I'd gone to a couple of summer schools, I graduated early. Then I worked for a business publication in Chicago for five months and then we were married in June. Wayne was in the army, stationed in New Mexico, so we lived there. And I worked for an insurance company in Albuquerque for a few months and then when he was transferred to Alamogordo, downstate New Mexico, I had an air force civil service job.
We came back to Chicago in August of '55 and I worked for another business magazine called Specialty Salesman for maybe, I don't know, August '55 until I went to the Daily News, which was the fall of '56.
Gentry: Was the business magazine a journalism job?
Wille: Yes, doing some writing and some editing, some layout. It was a small staff.
Gentry: Did you enjoy that? That was your first real journalism job.
Wille: Yes. I liked it. The editor of it was someone I had known at Northwestern. The first job I had when I graduated, before we were married, was doing some writing and editing for Commerce Clearing House, which puts out business publications.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Gentry: How did you get these first jobs in journalism, the first and second job? Did you just go looking for a job or read the want ads or did someone tell you about them?
Wille: Northwestern had a placement agency that had some jobs listed but if they were newspaper jobs, they were maybe someplace in North Dakota or out of the region and I knew I was going to be married in June and didn't really want to move away and get started on something like that.
So I went to an employment agency and got that first job at the Commerce Clearing House. Then later after Wayne got out of the army and we came back to this area, there was an employment agency that specialized in journalism jobs and I got the Specialty Salesman job through them. It turned out that the editor of the magazine was someone I had known at Northwestern so that worked out real fine. I was a the same employment agency that then heard about the job at the Daily News that I went to a year later.
But I had a couple of little jobs while I was in college. I did work for an advertising agency one summer, Leo Burnett in Chicago, but as a typist.
Gentry: That's a good agency.
Wille: Yes, it's a good one. A couple of summers I also did typing for my father, working on specifications.
Gentry: Did you get a feel that you didn't want to be in advertising?
Wille: Well, I never—it was always only a second best because I felt that it was out of the question to get a newspaper job. And I never wanted to work in a small town. So if I wanted a newspaper job, I wanted it to be on a big city newspaper, which was kind of limiting.
Gentry: Did you want to stay in Chicago?
Wille: I wanted to stay in Chicago or at least in a market where Wayne could also get a good job. Preferably stay in Chicago because both of us had parents there and friends and family and we liked the city.
I worked while I was in school, part-time, once for the United Auto Workers and once for the Electrical Workers on their union publications, just doing a little copy-editing and writing that I got through—I think through Jacob Scher, the professor I told you about. So I had a little tiny bit of experience. But I did try, when we were in New Mexico, in Albuquerque, to get a job at one of the local papers and got nowhere, and tried also to get a job at a Chicago newspaper when we came back, when Wayne was discharged.
City News Bureau, which is an agency jointly run by the papers and broadcast stations, a wonderful training ground for young reporters, was hiring only men. They hired women briefly during World War II and then stopped at the end of the war. So that was closed to me. I couldn't even get an interview there. I applied at the Tribune, I think they had some little suburban newspapers at that time, applied at the Sun-Times and the Daily News. Wayne and I both had kind of a contact at the Sun-Times through Jacob Scher, the professor that we both knew and liked a lot, but there weren't any openings.
Gentry: Do you think it was because you were a woman or there just weren't any openings, period?
Wille: Well, being a woman made it a lot harder. The Sun-Times had a couple of women but there was nothing for me. So the Specialty Salesman magazine job turned out to be okay; at least I was doing some writing and some editing and learning something about magazine layout, working for someone who'd been a good friend at Northwestern. It was a nice, little collegial group. It wasn't anything I would have wanted to do for a long period of time.
Gentry: What was Wayne like when you first met him, when he was real young? What attracted you to him?
Wille: He was really cute. We had a lot in common because we grew up in the same area. It turned out that our parents—who didn't know each other—had a lot of mutual friends. I think our mothers discovered they had once dated the same people. And that worked out well. I had gone out with other students who came from totally different backgrounds, which was interesting, too. But this just felt right. And he has a great sense of humor, a great imagination, very creative.
Gentry: So you dated how long before you married, a year?
Wille: Well, let's see. My senior year in college and then he went in the army. We were married in June '54, probably knew each other a year and a half before then.
Gentry: Then did your parents become friends, his and yours?
Wille: Well, they had met by the time we were married but they didn't see each other all that often. They became close friends later, even took vacations together.
Gentry: How interesting!
Wille: In fact, all six of us went to Europe together a couple of times, too, later in the marriage.
Gentry: Was Wayne as a young person when you first got married, was he a liberal—oh, this was in the fifties, a liberal enough guy to say you could be a career woman and that's okay?
Wille: Oh, I thought you meant politically liberal.
Gentry: No, no. You know, most men were not that liberal about career women, they wanted her to be a little wife and mother.
Wille: Well, he knew me by that time and he knew this was what I wanted to do. So if it had upset him—no, that never seemed a problem at all, even though it was different, I guess, in those days.
Gentry: In the fifties I think it was.
Wille: But we had the same political views and the same set of friends.
Gentry: What was that?
Wille: We must have met in the fall of '52 because I know we were both ardent supporters of Adlai Stevenson so that must have been about when we met.
Gentry: Do you remember where you met?
Wille: Oh, it was in some class situation where you get gradually to know each other, it was no special occasion. And I just know from groups of students getting together at one of the campus hangouts, you know, we would see each other and shared the same political views. But the question of my not working—it never came up because it would be unthinkable for it to come up. If he had wanted that kind of wife, he would have married somebody else. It was never an issue.
Also, one thing that made it different was that his mother always worked. He was used to that. His mother worked at a clothing store in Des Plaines, women's and children's, called Brown's, and worked there—I suppose she took off for a few years when he was real little but worked at least part-time during most of his childhood and then full-time and was both a sales person and a buyer and worked until her late sixties.
Gentry: She was a role model, too.
Wille: That was just something he grew up being familiar with.
Gentry: What does his father do?
Wille: Wayne's father was a carpenter and involved in home rehabilitation and construction, which gave us something in common, too, because our fathers knew some of the same people. But he also—and this I guess was an outgrowth of the Depression when you needed another kind of job, was a director of a suburban insurance company that his father helped found. So he was like an insurance agent on the side, at least kept up part of it, even after the Depression.
Gentry: I guess Wayne was drafted into the army before you were married then, so you knew you were not going to be in Chicago immediately.
Wille: Yes. He went into the army in the fall of '53 and we were married the following June.
Gentry: But he never went overseas.
Wille: He didn't, no. I think we both would have liked it if he had been sent—not necessarily to Korea, though I think the Korean War was pretty well over by that time or at least was winding down. But New Mexico was wonderful. It gave us a chance to see another part of the country. It was like one long vacation. It was a great place to be stationed.
Gentry: Even though you are in the army, it was still a vacation.
Gentry: Where were you in New Mexico?
Wille: In Albuquerque first from maybe—we were married June 6th of '54 so June through maybe the early part of '55, and then Alamogordo, which is in the southern part of the state, not too far from El Paso, for the remainder. And he was discharged, I think, in July.
Gentry: Is that where they were making a bomb?
Wille: That's Los Alamos, the northern part of New Mexico.
Gentry: Okay. Okay.
Wille: But Alamogordo was a missile testing site, or maybe it still is. Both of the places where Wayne was stationed were air force bases, although he was in the army but he was in an ordnance unit, and Alamogordo was near a place called White Sands—well, actually the base was White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, which has got wonderful white sands flats and it's also great for missile testing, so it was a fascinating place to be.
We took an archaeology course at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and went to a lot of Indian sites. In fact, it was really odd—it turned out that was a night school course in archaeology we signed up for. The teacher turned out to be one of my high school teachers, a woman that I liked a lot named Miss Whipple—I don't know her first name, teachers don't have first names. She taught science at Arlington Heights High School but had always been interested in archaeology. She ended up being a professor at the University of New Mexico.
Gentry: I'll bet you were surprised to see her.
There were so many places you could drive to within a short distance and see either Indian villages or ruins.
Gentry: Have you been back?
Wille: I think we went through there a couple of times but not really. Did we go back to Santa Fe one time? I thought we went to Santa Fe. I don't remember. We went to Arizona once or twice at advisory board meetings of the World Book Year Book. They had annual gatherings at various sites. One was in Tucson so we got to see a little bit more of the Southwest there.
Gentry: So how long was it before he got on the Sun-Times? Was that his journalism job in Chicago?
Wille: It was. We came back to Chicago in August of '55 and that's when I went to work for the magazine Specialty Salesman and Wayne decided to use the G.I. bill to take some radio-TV courses because we thought that was a better job—had more job opportunities than the newspaper. He may have gone September through March, perhaps, or June, and then went to work for the Sun-Times.
Gentry: And were you jealous at that point?
Wille: No, just proud. I was just pleased he was working for the Sun-Times.
Gentry: Was he a reporter?
Wille: Yes. And it was only a few months later that I got the job at the Daily News.
Gentry: I see. Okay.
Wille: The Daily News was a Knight newspaper at that time, it wasn't owned by the Field family. So there was a brief time in which we both worked for newspapers.
Gentry: For the benefit of those who listen to this that live other places than Chicago, tell a little bit about the Chicago Daily News and its history. It was quite an old paper.
Wille: Yes, the Daily News had its hundredth anniversary while I was there. I believe it was 1875, perhaps, when it was founded; sometime in the 1870s.
Gentry: A little after the Tribune, I guess.
Wille: Yes. The Tribune was, I think, in the 1860s?
Gentry: That's what I would guess.
Wille: The Daily News was an afternoon newspaper, which proved to be its undoing. But in the days I started, it had a circulation of more than 600,000. It always had the reputation of being politically independent. In those days, the Tribune was solidly Republican. It openly backed in its news columns, as well as its editorial columns, any Republican candidates. The Sun-Times had already merged from the Chicago Sun and the Chicago Times, both of which could be considered Democratic papers, I guess, as was the Sun-Times.
Gentry: The Sun-Times and the Daily News were not owned by the same person then?
Wille: Not then, no. So the Daily News was the one that had the reputation of being unaligned politically. And there was also a Hearst paper. By the time I started to work, it was called the Chicago American. I think before that it was—I think it was a merger of the Herald-Examiner and the Herald-American. There may have been two Hearst papers at one time. Three or four papers—
Gentry: A lot of competition.
Wille: Right. But that was greatly reduced from what it used to be. I think there was a time when Chicago had seven or eight papers. The Hearst paper and the Daily News were both afternoon papers. The Sun-Times and the Tribune were morning papers. The two papers that were widely read in the suburbs where Wayne and I both lived were the Tribune and the Daily News. The Sun-Times and the Hearst paper did not have much of a suburban circulation. The Tribune and the Daily News were probably the dominant papers in town.
Gentry: I guess you were thrilled to get the job on the Daily News, weren't you?
Wille: Yes. I didn't read it—during college I paid more attention to the Sun-Times, probably because it was considered the liberal paper. It was just the more fashionable thing for students to read and because the professor that we liked so much, Jacob Scher, had worked there. We all read Ann Landers every day so it was—and Kup [Irv Kupcinet], Kup and Ann Landers—so it was a paper by that time I was more familiar with. But the Daily News had a great tradition. It had some great columnists—Sydney J. Harris that I recall reading and John Carmichael, the sports editor, a good sports section.
Gentry: Were they around when you got on?
Wille: Oh, yes. They were both still there. And some of the other—Pete Lisagor, the Washington correspondent, who had a great reputation; Ed Lahey—well, it had a whole string of great writers, going back to Carl Sandburg and Ben Hecht and many others. It was known as a writer's newspaper. I wasn't hired as a writer.
Gentry: Oh, you weren't?
Wille: Well, not really. But I was just thrilled to get a newspaper job. It was very tough to get.
Do you want me to talk more about this now? Or had you some other question? I could start telling you how I got that job.
Gentry: Yes. I was going to ask you that and I was going to ask you what did you start doing at the Daily News.
Wille: I got the interview through an employment agency, Birch Employment Agency, which was run by one man named McHugh, specializing in journalism jobs. But it was very rare for a newspaper ever to use an employment agency. And he called me one day while I was working at Specialty Salesman and said the Daily News was looking for someone to work in their women's section as an assistant to Peg Zwecker, the fashion editor. I don't know how come they happened to use an employment agency. It may have been Peg's idea. It was odd, an exception.
Gentry: Yes, it is odd.
Wille: But anyway, it got me an interview, an interview with Peg. And she liked the fact that I had been to a journalism school and she had a daughter my age or a little bit younger who had belonged to the same sorority I had belonged to—or actually, now that I think of it, she hadn't but when she mentioned her daughter's sorority, I told her that's the one I'd belonged to. I had belonged to a different one. So she liked me instantly.
The job was as her assistant. Under the union contract it was classified as a reporter but it clearly was as her aide rather than as a writer. And she told me that the paper had preferred—and the tradition had been—that she hire someone with some fashion experience, someone who'd worked at Field's or one of the other department stores. But she felt that someone with journalism experience would be more valuable to her. She was going to have to sell the managing editor on that concept but that's what she wanted to do. Apparently it was a difficult selling job. They didn't particularly want me. I had never worked on a newspaper. I had no experience that would make me—
Gentry: But you had worked for college newspapers for three or four years.
Wille: Yes. But that doesn't qualify me for being the assistant to the fashion editor. It was not what they thought would be useful in that job.
Gentry: Were you interested in fashion?
Wille: No. But it was a way to get a job and I thought it was better than society. There were three categories in the women's section: food, fashions and society reporting.
Gentry: Were there women in any other section?
Wille: There were a couple of women in the news staff, I learned later. The Chicago papers always had a tradition of having a few, as did most major newspapers. A lot of the work that Peg did was cooperating with the paper's advertising department and the big department stores, the big advertisers. For all I know, they paid part of my salary. I don't know; I didn't know. But I just had the wrong background for that job, and the managing editor told me later that Peg really had a fight. I remember him saying, "Well, Peg stamped her little foot and she said this is what I want."
Gentry: To keep you on?
Wille: Yes, to hire me. I still correspond with Peg. I owe everything to her.
Gentry: How do you spell her last name?
Wille: Z-w-e-c-k-e-r. Peg Zwecker. She had worked on—well, maybe somebody should be interviewing her, too. She was one of the women who I believe got reporting jobs during the war and then gravitated into the fashion editor's job. She was a very influential fashion editor. She discovered Halston.
Gentry: She did?
Wille: Yes. He was a young hat designer at a beauty salon on Chicago's Near North Side. She wrote about him and got him on his way. She was a delightful person.
Gentry: Did she stay in that position, in fashion?
Wille: Yes. I think she may have retired about the time the Daily News folded. She worked a long time. She lives in West Virginia now. She lived in Oak Park at the time. And her son writes a column for one of the community newspapers in Chicago now, Bill Zwecker, Jr. She was wonderful.
Gentry: She was really an ally for you.
Wille: Oh, yes, an ally. As I said, she insisted that I was the one she wanted, although I didn't have the clothes for that job, because a lot of it involved going to fashion shows and interviewing designers.
Gentry: You really had to dress up and look very stylish.
Wille: I had one nice suit that I wore to the interview and one pair of black pumps. I had no hats and I discovered that one of the things I had to do was wear hats to various kinds of things.
Gentry: So poor old Wayne had to shell out all the money for all these clothes you had to buy?
Wille: No, I had a salary and I didn't buy that much. Anyway, I had enough to get by.
Gentry: Did you enjoy it?
Wille: I was so thrilled to get that job that of course I enjoyed it. Much of it involved doing errands for Peg but that was okay. She needed a birthday present for her husband or whatever and I ran those errands. Some of it was just keeping her schedule. She had to judge a lot of—I don't know what all she did, judging fashion shows or commentating at fashion shows. And I did a little bit of writing. I've got those early clips. You can see the kind of writing it was when we go back to my place.
Gentry: Was she a real mentor? Did you sit down and talk a lot about journalism with her?
Wille: Somewhat. Peg loved fashion and as I said, she was very influential in the fashion world. I think she was probably the leading fashion writer in the Midwest and she knew a lot of the designers.
Gentry: Did you get to meet Halston?
Wille: I can't say she was a role model for me as a reporter and a writer but I liked her enormously, and I liked the way she handled herself. Oh, sure, I met Halston a lot. At first he worked out of a beauty salon doing hats. And then he got his own little shop, mainly a hat shop, and every once in a while he'd have a sale. So Peg took me there and I bought some. I had all these original Halstons that since I've given away to rummage sales or who-knows-where.
I remember one time I told my mother and my mother-in-law, "Oh, you've got to come down to meet this designer that Peg knows, Halston. He's having a sale on his hats." So they went down with me. We had lunch at the Pump Room and then went to Halston's and they bought some hats. They were amazed because when he answered the door he was heavily made-up and he had on eye makeup. My mother and mother-in-law had never seen this before but he explained that he was trying on some hats and they had little veils and it didn't look right unless you had makeup on. But Halston was a different type than my two mothers had ever seen before.
Gentry: I'll bet.
Wille: But I loved Peg dearly and she was a great friend.
Gentry: How long did you work under Peg then?
Wille: Only nine months. It's as though it was years. I was interested in doing other kinds of stories and whenever there was an opportunity to do so—the editor of the women's section at the time, a man named Tom Collins, knew that I wanted an opportunity to try different things, and that was fine with Peg. So she was pleased if I had an opportunity to write feature stories from time to time.
Gentry: Oh, that's good. You had a chance. Were they women-oriented, like "Our Gal" stories?
Wille: No, not then. That was later when I got into the newsroom. There were some silly things. There was one that I enjoyed doing; it was a series on different women telling what they thought were the best years of a woman's life. I think the Daily News had some kind of contest. Winners were picked out on why the twenties were best and why the thirties were best, and the forties and fifties and so on. I went out to do interviews with them and that was the first kind of general interest feature writing I was able to do and I liked that a lot.
But I really wanted to get on the news side. I knew who the city editor was and let him know that I wanted to do news reporting. They had a tradition of just two women doing news reporting at a time, one of whom was the education reporter because that was kind of considered—because it was child-related, that was a woman's job. And then one woman who was on general-assignment reporting and that was the one who did, among other things, the gimmicky feature stores, the "Our Gal" thing.
There were a couple of times when I saw opportunities to do stories that I thought could run in the general news section. And I did them and they ran.
Gentry: How old were you then, by the time you were writing these news stories?
Wille: How old was I? It was the fall of '56 so—I would have been twenty-five.
Gentry: That was pretty early.
Wille: And then twenty-six when I eventually transferred into the newsroom.
Gentry: When you did transfer, were a couple of women there?
Wille: No, I had to wait until one left. The one who was a general assignment reporter enlisted in the Marines and that opened up the job. No, they wouldn't have taken on—
Gentry: Oh, they wouldn't have taken you on.
Wille: No. No. The man who was city editor, who I got to know and who meant a lot to my career, named Maurice Fischer, known as "Ritz" Fischer—
Wille: Ritz, R-i-t-z. It was his nickname, for Maurice. He knew that I wanted to work on the city side and he liked the few stories I had handled—when I think of it now, it was violating all kinds of protocol for me just to go out and cover something on my own and give it to him. That just wasn't done.
Gentry: I was wondering.
Wille: It brought me to his attention and he decided I was aggressive and ambitious. One was just fortuitous. I was waiting for the elevated train on the way to work when at the station just ahead, I could see that it had burst into flames. It wasn't a serious thing but it was kind of dramatic. As people were standing on the "el" platform, they saw this fire. And not too long before then, there had been a serious fire on the el and some people died. So I did something on people's reactions, screaming and yelling, and got to the office as quickly as I could and gave it to them. It was an afternoon paper so he had it for the afternoon edition. It was kind of an eyewitness account. I fudged a little bit because I wasn't as close to it, I think, as maybe it gave the impression I was. He liked that and there was another time when I was—
Gentry: So he was pretty encouraging. He wasn't holding you down, really.
Wille: He wasn't holding me down. It was just unthinkable that he could transfer me over while there were already two women there. It was a matter of waiting and biding my time.
Another time I was out with a photographer on some fashion assignment when we heard on the photographer's car radio—through the city room—of a fire in a factory nearby. And there we were. I persuaded him to drive over there so I could jump out and cover it. He thought I was crazy. There already was a city-side reporter covering it but I ran around and got additional interviews and turned them in. Whoever the guy was covering it must have been furious at me because my stuff got in the paper.
Gentry: And his didn't?
Wille: It may have but it was added to his stuff. I got more than he got.
My first front-page byline was that Christmas of—let's see, it must have been the Christmas of '56. We bought some stamps for Christmas cards and couldn't lick them. We licked them and they curled up. They didn't have enough glue. I complained to the drug store where I had bought them. And a salesman said, "Oh, yes, a lot of complaints." So I called the post office and "Oh, yes, the glue is bad on all kinds of stamps." I thought, hmm, interesting story. So I did the story on the frustration all over the city, of people buying these stamps for their Christmas cards and not enough glue on them. And that ended up as a feature story across the top of the front page, which was thrilling for me.
So by the time a job opened up in the city side, I pretty much had a commitment that I could move into that job.
Gentry: And do you remember when that was?
Wille: If I started in September of '56, it was less than a year later. It was not a real long time.
Gentry: I wanted to ask you, when you first started on the Daily News, what was your starting salary, do you remember?
Wille: No. It was not a hundred dollars a week. Whatever the Guild—there was no discrimination in pay, because I got the Newspaper Guild scale for a beginning reporter.
Gentry: There wasn't? Women weren't paid less?
Wille: No. It was a union paper.
Gentry: Oh, okay.
Wille: It would have been the reporter's minimum. But that's okay. That's what I should have gotten, according to the union contract because I had no experience. I was always paid union scale until the point where I would get merit raises. I was never paid at a different rate.
Gentry: Now, at this point when you were doing this, what was Wayne writing? What kind of stories? Did he have a specialty or general?
Wille: He worked for a long—well, it seemed like a long time—the midnight shift in the detective bureau at the Chicago Police Department headquarters. So he did a lot of crime stories. He came home with wonderful stories because the people who worked the midnight shift at the detective bureau from the various papers and the City News Bureau formed their own little society that was really—it was the last of that wild Chicago school of journalism that you read about in The Front Page. And they did the same kind of stunts, pulling tricks on each other. It was a great period and I loved hearing—a totally different kind of thing than I was doing, but fun to hear about.
There were no women. No, the Tribune's dayside reporter at police headquarters was a woman named Pat Leeds. That was really kind of exceptional, to have her. But the midnight crew was just a madcap group. I'm sure they did some work but I just remember hearing the fun. Mike Royko was there for the City News Bureau. I didn't know Mike then but Wayne did. I think he was still working that midnight shift. Women were never put on that shift, which was both nice in a way but also a drawback because there was a certain kind of experience you didn't get, working that shift.
About the time I transferred to the city side, or maybe just before I transferred to the city side, Wayne took the job at CBS. I remember there was a famous murder in Chicago, two young girls, the Grimes sisters. Their frozen nude bodies were found. It's still unsolved. They were found at the side of the road at someplace on the Southwest Side. They were from the Bridgeport neighborhood. Every reporter in town was working on it. Wayne was, at the Sun-Times. I was still in the women's section. And I remember being told—maybe Peg told me—that Ritz Fischer, the city editor, had wanted to borrow me to do some sidebar, you know, some feature interviews, maybe in Bridgeport, in the neighborhood, and I guess our managing editor or someone said, "Oh, you can't. Her husband works on the Sun-Times." Thinking that I would sabotage the story or tell Wayne about this great secret assignment I had.
Gentry: So you never got it?
Wille: No. I never did. But that's kind of interesting because there have always been, and there still are, spouses who work for competing papers. It took editors a while to get adjusted to that and to learn to trust people.
Gentry: Did you and Wayne always talk about each other's stories?
Wille: During most of the time, I was in the women's section and he was working the detective bureau, so we never—neither of us was working on anything that would have—
Gentry: Been secretive.
Wille: Been secretive, so that never arose.
Gentry: But did you just talk over your stories?
Wille: Oh, yes, always. And then, our circle of friends, a lot of them people we had known in the journalism school, came from the two papers, too. So, most social gatherings—in those days, people couldn't afford to go out to dinner that much—were at people's houses and most of the talk was about newspapers.
Gentry: So most of your friends were old Northwestern friends?
Wille: A lot of them were or else they were from the papers where we worked at the time. But journalism was kind of a link.
Gentry: Are you still loyal to Northwestern?
Wille: No, we don't do anything there, although Wayne got a big kick out of Northwestern beating Illinois last Saturday. We haven't maintained any ties. I shouldn't say that because they gave me an honorary degree.
Yes, we're loyal to Northwestern.
Gentry: Okay. Back to those early years in the fifties on the Daily News, were there women on the paper whose work you really admired, as writers?
Wille: I admired Peg Zwecker enormously because she got me my job. I probably never would have ended up at a paper if it hadn't been for Peg. She was very supportive and really proud of me the way my mother was proud of me, all the way through my career. I loved Peg.
Then I developed some close friendships with some of the contemporaries that I met in those early years in the women's section. Pat Moore, who was a society reporter at the time and is now a business reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, Pat and I have been close, dating from the fall of 1956 on. In the newsroom there were really just two women, the one that I mentioned who joined the Marines and made the opening for me—
Gentry: You loved her!
Wille: I love her. I don't even know who she was. I forgot her name and I never really did know her. Then there was the woman who covered education that I was very fond of. Her name is Helen Fleming—Helen Fleming Johnston is her married name. She is from Wisconsin, went to the University of Wisconsin and studied journalism, was one of the women hired at the City News Bureau during the war and got to be a reporter in those days. She went to the Daily News and I think covered education during most of her career, which was always a good beat in Chicago. And Helen was, when I transferred into the newsroom, the only other woman there and I was very fond of Helen. We saw each other after work at parties and I still keep in touch with her through a newsletter that a former Daily News secretary keeps for all the people who work at the Daily News.
Gentry: There must have been hundreds and hundreds of them.
Wille: Yes. Helen eventually married the editorial page editor at the Daily News and one day retired and moved to California. She lives in Santa Barbara now.
Then there was another woman, Edan Wright, who had been one of those feature, gimmicky type, "Our Gal" reporters that I mentioned, that I used to read when I was in high school. By the time I started, she no longer was a reporter or working full time. She wrote an advice column for teenagers. It was an attempt by the Daily News to counteract the Ann Landers column which was already greatly popular by that time. I knew who Edan Wright was but I didn't know her that well.
So I can't say that there were many women I admired a great deal professionally.
Gentry: Did any of them start out at one of the papers in Chicago?
Wille: Ann Landers started at the Sun-Times but it wasn't the current Ann Landers. It was somebody else named Ruth Crowley, I believe, who started the Ann Landers column. And she died—the Sun-Times owned the name "Ann Landers" and then Eppie Lederer was hired to become the new Ann Landers.
I can't give you a list of women I admired a lot professionally at the Daily News because there were so few women.
© 1992, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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