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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Growing up in Naperville – Growth in Naperville


In the fall of 1944, I entered kindergarten at Ellsworth School. The first week of school my mom walked with me so I could learn the way.

From 616 N. Ellsworth Street, we walked south across 6th Avenue, 5th Avenue and under the tracks by Kroehler’s, then past 4th Avenue, two blocks from School Street.

We turned east past Brainard and Loomis and headed toward Sleight Street where Ellsworth School was on the corner. My mother told me that her father (my grandfather) laid the first three bricks of that building.

Back when Ellsworth School was first built, it was called the Eastside School because at the time, Naper School was called the Westside School.

We didn’t own a car. We walked everywhere. We walked as far as downtown, cutting through Burlington Park.

The second week of school I walked on my own, but I caught my mother hiding behind a tree checking on me to make sure I knew the way!

It’s always interesting seeing articles about Kreger’s Grocery Store as Jim Kreger and my dad were cousins! In those days, Ellsworth School and Naper School were both K-6th grades and 7th through 12th grades were at the high school which became Washington Junior High in 1950. That was the year when the school board built the first section of what is now Naperville Central High School.

The townspeople were mad at the school board because the school was built “way out there!”

Naperville was beginning to grow as men and women came home from the military. I ended up going to 6th grade at Washington. When I entered high school, they already were building the rest of the school which included more classrooms, the music department, woodshop, agriculture and a gymnasium. It opened in 1955. The first two years of high school were spent riding buses to North Central for PE and to the old high school on Washington for band, art, shop class and chorus. Somehow we survived and in 1955, we were in the school to end all schools. We were not going to need any more schools to be built. Ha!

The next school built was Beebe Elementary on the old Fry farm, north of Ogden Avenue and east of Washington Street. My sister went to Beebe as did all elementary students who lived north of Burlington tracks. At recess, the kids would pet the cows that were still on the farm.

The year I graduated from high school was 1957 and the population of Naperville was 7,000. There were still many stores and businesses locally owned. The only big store names were Kroger, National and A&P grocery stores. Sears Roebuck had a mail order store where you could order from the Sears Catalog and have items delivered to the store to pick up.

When I graduated from college, Naperville’s population was 10,000!

Lots of changes were coming to “this little sleepy town in the boonies,” as Naperville was called. “Not any more!”

Band Director Elmer Koerner auditions Ron Keller to play the Sousaphone in 1947. (PN File Photo, Courtesy the Keller Family)

And who’d have thought that this kid who started playing tuba in third grade would end up with a career in music in a town of nearly 150,000 today!

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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.