The Biography of
Lester Arlyn Wallingford
As Narrated By His Family on November 28, 1999
When Lester A. Wallingford was born in Geneseo, IL, on October 27, 1908, radios, televisions, and computers were still in the future—a future Lester joined enthusiastically.
Born to Lydia Roos (pronounced "Rose") Wallingford and Elverson K. Wallingford, a carpenter, Lester had an older brother, Vernon, two years his senior. Lester's younger brother, Eldred, was born five years later and his younger sister, Margeurite, was born twelve years later.
Les often told about his dad taking the oldest boys on a train to Davenport, IA to get new eyeglasses. What made the trip special was getting a treat from his dad—a ten-cent bottle of soda pop!
But Lester's favorite reminisces had to do with the circus. He and his brothers would cheerfully distribute circus flyers all around town so they could earn free passes to the circus when it came to their area. As a dad, Les loved to take his family to the circus town, Baraboo, WI, on family vacations.
Around the age of 19, Lester moved from his hometown to the Hyde Park YMCA in Chicago. After just a couple of months of short-term jobs, he landed an office job with Armour & Co., on the Fulton Street meat market. He worked for Armour and its various divisions for over 40 years.
During these years he earned several promotions and moved into the position of credit manager. As his own children grew up and entered the working world, Les would relate stories about various scams that people tried to pull on him. He used these stories as a way of teaching caution to his own children. But one of the strongest lessons he passed on to his children was that of providing full service for a day's pay. Honesty was what mattered; slacking off on a job wasn't even a consideration.
Les' forthright attitude and sense of ethics stood him in good stead in his own community, too. During the lean years when he had a wife, four children, and two in-laws to support, he sometimes had to apply for credit. All he had to say was that he was Armour's credit manager, and he received the credit he needed. Les never abused this privilege because his good name was important to him.
Lester met his wife, Roseanne, when she went to work for him at Armour & Co. Roseanne's dad, Ernie Jones, was a laborer on the meat market, and knew that Lester was looking for office help. In those days, there were no human resources interviews! Ernie simply talked to Les about his daughter. Les had seen Roseanne working at another business, Butler Bros., on the market, and hired her. She walked in and started to work. (This was during the start of the war years, 1942.) Lester quietly defied convention by hiring Roseanne; she was the first girl to work for the Fulton Street branch of Armour & Co.
After three years, Les married his bookkeeper and Roseanne Jones became Roseanne Wallingford. At the same time, Les and Rose bought their first home, a two-flat on Nelson Street. Les and Rose lived on the second floor and Rose's parents, Ernie and Pauline Jones lived on the first floor. The Jones' were part of Les' family, too.
One modern invention that Les happily enjoyed was the automobile. In his latter years, he often commented that he'd had his driver's license for over 70 years. In fact, when his second child was born, Dr. Zimmerman teased him about affording a new daughter and a new Nash at the same time! Les frequently talked about his early cars and compared their primitive styles to modern vehicles. He babied his last car, a red Cadillac, even after he had stopped driving. In fact, one of the first things that everyone asked when discussing the funeral plans was "Who's driving the Cadillac in the procession?" Les' car had to be there.
As Les' family grew—a son, Dan, and three daughters, Anne, Betty (Elizabeth), and Kathy—so did the house on Nelson Street. Les spent a weekend demolishing the coal room so the old coal furnace could be replaced with a more modern heating system. A finished bedroom was added to the attic. Finally, a paneled bedroom was added to the basement. Being the son of a carpenter had taught Les important skills!
Eventually, though, despite the additions, it became time to move the extended family into a single family home. Les and Rose spent a long time house hunting, and finally settled on a house on Sunnyside Ave. Remodeling was done to accommodate everyone's needs, and the family moved in. On Sunday mornings, Les, Rose and whichever kids were around would walk to church at Queen of Angels.
As a teenager, Les worked at a soda fountain in Geneseo. In later years, when making family dinners, he'd joke that his stint at the soda fountain trained him to be a short-order cook! He enjoyed cooking; not fancy gourmet meals, but simple meals that fed a large family. To this day, his sons-in-law talk about Les' homemade chicken soup and his granddaughter, Danielle, remembers Grandpa making jelly sandwiches for her lunch when he babysat.
Mealtime was also a time of sharing. Les and Rose would sit around the dinner table relating events of the day, and the kids would join in with their own stories. Sometimes, if Rose was working a night shift, Les would do arithmetic games with his kids while everyone ate dinner. His kids would be amazed at how fast Les could do lengthy addition and multiplication problems in his head and would try hard to match his skill.
During the family's growing years, Les was always part of his children's lives. From being a Cub Scout leader to attending Father/Daughter breakfasts, from chaperoning sock hops to attending student plays, Les participated in his children's activities without complaining. The year his son went to Kansas for military duty, Les drove Rose, Dan, and Betty to the military base. He was proud of his son but he was also sad that the oldest was leaving home. But when Dan graduated from college and landed his first "real" accounting job, Les radiated pride.
The only serious family dissent was when various family members dragged home stray animals. Les grew up without having pets in the house and never quite understood why his wife and kids always wanted to have assorted dogs, cats, parakeets, hamsters, and mice around the house. Les would grumble that it was against his better judgement, but underneath it all he had a soft spot for the assorted menagerie that lived with the family through the years. He would even take the dogs for walks and feed the cats when others forgot!
Eventually, Les retired from Armour but kept working part-time jobs. When he'd do piano inventories, his youngest daughter, Kathy, would often accompany him. She would crawl on the floor to read piano serial numbers while Les did the paperwork; Les often spoke gratefully about her help. When Les worked for a floral supply firm on Western Ave., he hired his oldest daughter, Anne, to work for him part-time as an accounting clerk. No one at the office ever caught on that this was a father/daughter team!
When his children married, Lester was one proud father. And when he would babysit his grandchildren, his eyes sparkled with delight. Les certainly cared for his children, but during their growing years he had many responsibilities—not only did he often work two jobs, he took care of the houses where he lived. But the grandchildren—that was another story! Here was another generation with which to play—and he could do it with a carefree spirit!
Les taught Danielle and the others to play his favorite games, dominoes and checkers, just as he had with Dan and his other kids. He taught Adrienne, Erica, and Sarah how to bake cakes and bread pudding. And just two weeks before he died, he asked his grandson, Michael, to explain the different Pokemon stickers. Lester took time to learn what e-mail was, and even asked to be shown what all the fuss was about with computers and kids. On his one and only excursion to Orchestra Hall, when he was 88, he proudly listened to his eldest granddaughter, Sarah, play in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. And when Les went to the Skokie Library to hear Sarah perform, he told everyone around him that "that was his granddaughter."
Les and Rose always enjoyed listening to the family sing. When Betty and Sarah had friends over for a song circle, they would go upstairs to listen. When it became too difficult for them to go upstairs, the song circle came down to them. At his last song circle, Les looked at Rose, requested Let Me Call You Sweetheart and said, "This was always the final song at the dances." He knew the end was near. When David Bragman, one of the song circle participants, heard about Les' passing, David said, "It was a gift to play for your dad."
Even during the last few months, as Les became disabled, his strong sense of responsibility gave him the drive to keep going. He made sure Rose knew how to handle all the paperwork that would be generated by his passing.
How does one sum up the life of a good, gentle man? Lester loved and respected his wife. Lester loved his family. He gave us the gifts of honesty, caring, and inner strength. And we loved him.