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Friday, April 19, 2024

Growing up in Naperville – Correctly remembering the past


As a young boy growing up in Naperville—or any place else, for that matter—facts of events, things, experiences, if remembered, sometimes become a little distorted or even not remembered correctly.

I grew up on Ellsworth Street about a block and a half north of the Burlington Railroad tracks. My dad and grandfather worked at the Kroehler Furniture Factory, so they only had a block to walk to work.

I started kindergarten in 1944 at Ellsworth School and the first week of school, my mother walked with me until I got to School Street. Then she watched until she was sure I made it to school.

The second week, she let me walk alone, but followed from a distance, hiding behind trees so I couldn’t see her. But I did!

Every Friday I took dime to school and bought a stamp to put in a booklet and when it was full, you could buy a War Bond. Mr. Gates was principal and he asked me what I was going to do with the bond.

I responded, “I’m going to buy a bomber!”

Next in my memory was the train wreck in April of 1946. I was in first grade.

In 1947, my sister, Julie, was born. I joined the Cub Scouts that year.

And the next year, I began playing the tuba (the big bass horn) in the Ellsworth School Band, taking lessons from Elmer Koerner. In 1950, I played my first solo in the Naperville Municipal Band, and when I entered high school, Mr. Koerner put me in the Municipal Band. I now have been involved with the City’s band for 70 years!

In 1952, two kids went missing and the police, scouts and special agents looked for them. Officials even drained the big quarry looking for them. Later they were found under the ice in the DuPage River about a block from their homes. I was in scouts at the time and we helped by walking that river from the dam at Eagle Street to way past North Central’s football field.

As the population grew in the 1950s, so did the needs for more teachers and schools in Naperville. For instance, in 1955, Mr. Koerner was teaching band at Naperville High School, Washington Jr. High School, both Naper and Ellsworth elementary schools, as well as Ss. Peter and Paul. He went to Superintendent Ralph Beebe and asked for help. And the school district hired two new band directors, Ray Murfin at NCHS and Robert Hoffman at Naper and Washington.

When I was hired to teach back to Naperville in 1967, I had the great pleasure to work with both of those fine teachers.

Gene Drendel was principal at Naper School and when the district began to build the third junior high school, Jefferson Junior High, he was named principal and he hand-picked his staff. I was there to open Jefferson in 1970. And I stayed there until I retired in 1993. As I reminisce, it was the greatest staff I’ve ever worked with. And that’s a fact!

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Ron Keller
Ron Keller
Ron Keller is a lifelong Naperville resident, tuba enthusiast and has been conducting the Naperville Municipal Band for over 50 years.


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