Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Growing Up in a Quarry Town

I grew up in the town of Thornton, Illinois, a suburb just south of Chicago.

With a population of 3,700, we knew almost everyone in our town. We didn't have much of a downtown - just a small grocery store, a pharmacist, a filling station, and our favorite hot dog stand.

What Thornton did have was one of the world's largest limestone quarries.

In fact, I remember owning a t-shirt, printed in the 1970s, that boasted of this distinction. It read:

Home of the World's Largest Limestone Quarry

(and on the back)
Drop In Sometime...

Today I learned that the huge cement/stone chute that overlooked one of the main roads is being torn down. It made me think of how integral the quarry was to my childhood. It was a part of the landscape...the backdrop for our lives.

If you lived in Thornton, you were used to dust. Lots and lots of dust. The fine gray dust from the quarry was aggravating to housewives who struggled to keep surfaces clean and polished.

In addition, every day at the same time, a huge blast would literally shake the village. I remember the sound rattling the walls of our house and picture frames needing to be readjusted. Visitors, surprised at the boom, would exclaim, "What was that!?"

"What?" we'd say. Thorntonites barely noticed the sound.

In junior high, our school was located at the edge of the quarry. I remember running the mile with a view of the gigantic hole in the ground. I believe the hole was larger than our entire town.

As school kids, we took field trips down into the quarry. We rode a bus - and from the bottom, our town looked like a small miniature of itself. We used picks to chisel out some fossils, and learned about stones and excavation.

The Quarry was a bit rough and tumble - a lot like the people in our town. We were blue collar. We didn't have the fanciest cars or homes - but we were solid. It was the kind of town where games of kick the can happened in the streets and people sat on the curbs to watch parades. Thornton, with all of its blasts and rumblings, was a good place to grow up.

Internet sites say that Thornton Quarry is one of the largest in the world. It was started in 1924, by Colonel Hodgkins, and since 1938 has been operated by Material Services Corporation. It stretches 1.5 miles long and .5 miles wide. It is 400 feet deep. The interstates (I-80/294) pass over the quarry.

You can still tour the quarry! Next reservations are for October 2015 - so you need to plan ahead and be 18 years old. The cost is $20 a person - and the tour the first Saturdays of June and October. For more information, email: meloitz@att.net or write to: Quarry Tour, P.O. Box 34, Thornton, IL 60476.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pacific Garden Mission: A Bed, A Meal and the Bright Light of Hope

In 1877, a woman named Sarah Dunn Clarke and her newly-wedded husband George started a rescue mission on Chicago’s south side.

They were wealthy, but their hearts were broken by the men and women who struggled to survive on the city’s streets.

The Pacific Garden Mission is the 2nd oldest operating rescue mission in the United States. Now located on 14th St and Canal – just south of Chicago’s loop – they offer shelter to as many as a thousand men and women on any given night.

As part of my book research to understand how the work of Sarah Clarke continues today, I visited the mission with my friend Dawn Pulgine.

Entering through the side, we felt a bit out of our element. Men, black and white, old and young, clustered near the doorway. Some carried bags of personal belongings. Others were working the desk and security. It was mid-day at the Mission.

We were given a tour by one of the “program men” – residents who choose to stay and live at the Mission for a one-year rehabilitation program. He was well-spoken and heart felt. “If you don’t do each job with prayer,” he told us, “It won’t mean anything. If your change a bed, and it’s just about the sheets, you won’t want to do it. It’s got to be about the people…praying for each person.” He told me he was just one of the Missions’ many “home grown fruit” – successes by any measure.

The Mission moved to its current location on Canal Street when the city bought their former property. The new building provides ample room:  an auditorium, huge dining room (note the enormous soup pot), dormitories for men, women and children, even a green house.

This is a “green” building – with solar power, lots of windows, and root top gardens. Our guide told us one overnight guest, a young muscular Irish boxer, became a permanent worker at PGM. He fell in love with his assigned job – gardening – and now works as a horticultural specialist, teaching others. Each program resident is assigned a job – making beds, waiting tables, even gardening.

We were amazed to see the Mission’s full medical clinic that provides free doctors, dentists, optometrists and more to the poorest of the city.

Touches of the old original buildings remain. The Clarke’s first mission was adorned only with Bible verses printed on huge banners on the wall – today’s auditorium has framed verses that date back to the 30s.
At the front of the auditorium is Billy Sunday’s piano. Sunday, one of Chicago’s original baseball White Stockings players became an American evangelist of the likes of today’s Billy Graham. He was saved at the Mission and gave his life to Jesus Christ.

The Mission is not just about feeding and sheltering the needy. It is about meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of men and women. The old cross was moved to the New Mission and still lights the way with the words “Jesus Saves.”
Flossie McNeill, who directs the Mission’s long-running dramatic radio program Unshackled, told me about the day that the Mission moved to Canal Street from their old location. The residents, impatient to wait for a bus, began to walk in mass the ten city blocks form State Street to 14th and Canal. She looked out the door of the new Mission headquarters and saw “a huge army of men” walking slowly toward the new building. The sight brought tears to her eyes.

“That’s why I do this,” she said. She and her husband make less income now than one of them did in the 1970s. But it’s not about the money, she insisted. It’s about the people.
Love drives this place. It did in the beginning, and it still does today.

God bless the Old Lighthouse, leading people to safety and the Savior.

For more information about Pacific Garden Mission or to donate to this worthy cause, visit: www.pgm.org.